I was just a terrible kid. 

I mean, no. I wasn’t really. All things considered, I was all right. I had a paper route and sometimes actually delivered the papers. I was generally nice to animals, babies and old people. I said please and thank you and I ate all my vegetables, unless I could get the dog to do it. 

OK, so maybe I got into a few fights on the playground. Maybe I two-timed a girl or three. I may have thrown some snowballs at cars, and I skipped school more than I went to class. 

I know what you’re thinking. Someone as wickedly intellijent as me a lousy student? Hard to beleeve. 

I wasn’t an outright rotten child, when you get right down to it. But I wasn’t a great one, either. 

Not like that showoff Valerianne Hinkley. 

So, last week I was assigned to write a story about a teenage girl, a University of Farmington student, who hatched a campaign to write positive messages on sticky notes and plaster them around the school to cheer up her classmates. 

Pretty nice story, right? I figured a couple paragraphs would suffice, but then, on a whim, I decided I should check the ol’ archives to see what else Ms. Hinkley had been up to during her young life. 

Wasn’t hard to find her. There she was in 2017, a fresh-faced kid who took it upon herself to wage war against bullying in schools.

“Working two part-time jobs this summer,” the story related, “one at her grandmother’s store in New Vineyard and an ice cream shop in Wilton, Hinkley has used her earnings to purchase and distribute bright blue bracelets and posters bearing the message, Be Bold — Stand Up to Bullying.” 

There she was again a year later, collecting the Miss Teen Maine International crown while at the same time continuing her philanthropic work. 

“Valerianne has donated toys and activity books to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland,” that story informed me. “She and her mother made several hats that were given to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.” 

A couple clicks away was another story about how Valerianne was continuing her work to combat bullying while also making the honor roll, organizing fundraisers, competing in school sports and, presumably, still working those two jobs. Plus the time it must have taken to get fitted for a halo. 

There were other stories, but by then I was mired in self-loathing, thinking about my own sordid childhood and pondering all the things I didn’t do more than the things I did. 

I sat there straining my brain, trying to think of any personal accomplishment even remotely on par with the good works of Valerianne Hinkley and those like her. 

I distinctly remember mowing the lawn of a very old woman up the street a couple of times and accepting no payment whatsoever other than a bottle of soda. And it wasn’t even GOOD soda. It was Pepsi Twist, or something heinous like that, so you can see I had altruistic tendencies.  

There was the time I launched that neighborhood detective agency based around the exploits of one Encyclopedia Brown. The agency never really took off, mainly because I forgot about it, but I clearly recall one stunning success wherein I helped a sad, blubbering neighbor girl find her missing cat.  

Although if I’m being honest, I believe I may have swiped the cat myself in the first place just to get my business off the ground. But I did reunite the pair, so I’m putting that in my admittedly puny list of grand childhood achievements. 

I mended the wings of injured birds a time or two and I fed any stray cat or dog that came my way, but did I ever speak about a worthy cause at the school assembly? Did  I ever organize a fundraiser of any kind to ease the suffering of others? Nah, bro. I never organized anything more complicated than a game of dodgeball and I generally slept through assemblies.

As far as I can remember, my main concern back in those insouciant days was putting in just enough work to get me through the looong school days so I could get outside to climb trees, chase girls, play baseball, eat bugs and perform ill-advised stunts on my Huffy to earn valuable street cred. 

I don’t recall a single Saturday morning where I woke up and said. “OK, screw cartoons and running through the sprinkler today. There is injustice in the world and by gum, I’m going to do something about it.”

I imagine there are plenty of kids who choose to live that way. I encounter many these days who are so organized, so efficient, so in control of their fledgling lives that it’s downright spooky. 

Covering school graduations — which no police reporter should ever have to do, by the way; there ought to be a law against it — is a sure way to run into sprawling legions of kids who will make you look back on your own unimpressive childhood with a sense of shame and inadequacy.

Here are kids, not yet old enough to shave, who have their whole lives planned, their futures meticulously charted right down to the finest details.

Here are kids who do so much of the extracurricular stuff that you honestly wonder if they ever sleep. Kids no older than your oldest pair of socks who nonetheless seem to understand the world enough, not just to navigate it, but to conquer it. 

I marvel over the fact that these young souls manage the focus and determination necessary to achieve all of that when things like hormones, peer pressure and temptation are all around just waiting to trip a brother up.

It happened to a guy I know.


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