There’s a hilarious scene in the 1963 movie musical, Bye Bye Birdie, in which three adults in a kitchen sing an age-old lament about kids.
The song, Kids, is sung by Paul Lynde, Dick Van Dyke and Maureen Stapleton, a drama mama who, as she sings, sticks her head in the oven as an attention-getting tactic.
Lynde tells Van Dyke (Stapleton’s son), “It’s not gas; it’s electric.”
Then these insecure adults launch into their boo-hoo lament:
“Kids, I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today.
Kids, who can understand anything they say?
Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy – loafers!
And while we’re on the subject . . .
Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids these days?”
These days, that song keeps going through my head every time I hear some adults whine about good-for-nothing kids, about how they have no respect, no values, no work ethic, no direction in life.
Well, I don’t know which kids they’ve been meeting, but the ones I’ve met are just the opposite. I’m constantly impressed by the kids I meet when I’m doing news assignments at schools and elsewhere. The ones I meet are kind, connected, intelligent, sensitive, talented, motivated and, as a rule, goal-oriented achievers in academics and in extracurricular endeavors.
We keep hearing about the failure of education in the United States. Well, somebody is obviously doing something right – very right – because the quality of kids I’ve observed in area schools is extraordinary. Yes, many of them might need help along the way, but the overwhelming majority, including those who need remedial help, are good young people with all kinds of qualities.
I cannot count how many times at stores in the greater St. Cloud area I’ve met young people, fresh out of high school or even younger, who went out of their way to provide excellent customer service. They are polite, energetic, eager to please and always sport a breezy sense of humor.
Recently, I went to Menard’s to get a faucet for my kitchen sink. The old one was leaking all over the place. I asked a young employee where the faucet aisle is. He pointed me to it. Suddenly, with all the varieties of faucets in front of me, I was stumped and had no idea what kind to buy. In less than a minute, that employee walked back up to me and asked if I had any questions.
I tried to describe what my kitchen faucet looked like, and then he said, “I’ll bet it’s something like this. This is standard, and so is that one over there. I’d recommend this brand because the less expensive ones don’t last very long.”
“You can say that again,” I said. “A neighbor put in that faucet a year ago. It cost only $12.98. Leaky bargain.”
That good clerk, with patience and expertise, talked the fine points of faucets for 10 minutes, answering all my questions.
Then he asked if I needed a basin wrench.
“A what wrench?” I asked.
He explained that kind of wrench is pretty much essential to installing a faucet. Then he led me over to the wrench aisle, took a basin wrench out of its package and showed me how it works.
“You think I could fix the faucet myself?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said. “Why not?”
“Well, because I’m an un-mechanical clutz.”
“Nah! Any monkey can install a faucet,” he assured me.
“You callin’ me a monkey, you big ape?”
We burst out laughing.
As it turned out, brother-in-law Kurt, an expert monkey, installed the faucet. He was afraid I’d seriously injure myself if I attempted it.
But I sure did appreciate that employee’s shining optimism, his faith in me. Like so many other young employees I meet, he went the extra mile to help a customer. He’s a good example of why we should stop denigrating young people and give them the credit they deserve.
By the way, the Bye Bye Birdie song has an upbeat ending, once the dysfunctional adults have finished their kitchen whining.
“What’s the matter with kids?” a young boy asks them.
“Yeah, what’s the matter with kids?”
Then, enlightened, they launch into a rousing one-line finale: “Nothing’s the matter with kids todaaayyyyy!”