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Beyond the latest, greatest gadget

Dec 23, 2012 - By Randy Tucker

A quick fix rarely works -- at Christmas or any other time.

We live in an interesting and occasionally entertaining time. The combination of "instant gratification" and "expert driven" marketing creates a confusing environment that confounds many of us.

How many of you will watch your children and grandchildren open Christmas gifts in the next couple of days with bated breath? You may have dropped a lot of money on the latest, greatest gadget, toy or game and now await an ecstatic expression of joy on the child's face.

Sometimes it happens, but many times the kid just looks at the box, throws it on the pile, and rips apart the next neatly wrapped gift. Rampant consumerism is a trait learned at an early age.

My favorite observation on Christmas and birthdays is when a doting parent or grandparent looks eagerly on as the child tries out a gift only to find the child playing with the empty box a few minutes later while the forgotten gift it contained lies nearby. That kid has an imagination and, by default, a bright future.

As a young child I remember my favorite toys: a fire truck (hook and ladder style), plastic cowboys and Indians, and a stuffed dog named Soldier. While these remain in my memory, my favorite things to play with were empty wooden spools of thread, oatmeal boxes and wooden blocks. How many of you have similar memories?

Often I would wrinkle up one of my grandma Sally's heavy throw rugs and make hills, mountains and valleys for the plastic toys to sit on. In memory it looked amazingly like the scenes I read about in books. Greens and blues rolling across a miniature landscape right on the floor in front of my grandpa's wood-burning stove.

I had relatives who received ridiculous numbers of gifts, but they played with very few of them. While they always had the newest, shiniest toys, they preferred the simple creativity of common things when we got together.

The entire concept of "stimulating toys" plays to the collective guilt of young couples deep in debt, and driven by the need to always buy more, more, more.

What a child really needs is a parent's time and attention. Buying a plastic, computerized toy that spells words, sings the alphabet, or plays songs is nice, but it is no replacement for a parent's time. Not necessarily "quality" time, but simply time in copious amounts lavished on your son or daughter. The overextended, materialist junkie trying to appease their children for the lack of time they've allotted for them only make themselves feel better without actually helping the kids. It's a study in aggrandizement that advertisers and toy importers bank on.

Building something with dad or grandpa goes a long way in a child's development. Sewing, baking, writing or working out with mom does the same thing.

The elected "experts" and talking heads rarely acknowledge to role of parents until something goes drastically wrong. Then they are more than happy to lament mom and dad's shortcomings. The useless buffoons who pass for fathers on television only add to the problem. When was the last time you watched a sitcom when mom wasn't raising both dad and the kids?

Quick fixes abound to address the lack of time many people actually spend with their children. All the teachers in the world can't fix what parents either refuse to do or are incapable of doing.

Education is the last component of society applicable to a fix-it-quick, Band-Aid approach.

The fruits of a teachers labor usually blossom 10, 20 or 30 years in the future. It is invigorating to encounter a former student successfully making it in the world. It is often the best gift a person can ever receive.

I'm not the only teacher or coach who experiences this. Many of my friends share the same sentiment.

While covering a basketball game last week I noticed a guy in the stands who looked vaguely familiar. This happens to me a lot. I have a very limited ability to remember people's names.

I walked by and he stopped me, "Coach Tucker?"

Yep, that's how it usually starts.

"You don't remember me do you?"

That's always the second step.

"You look familiar, but no I can't place you."

He said, "Paul Clark."

In an instant it was the fall of 1984, and names cascaded into my consciousness. There is a huge difference between a 41-year old father and a 13-year old football player from three decades ago, but the time evaporated.

"You and Ron (Knuth) playing defensive end out at Fort Washakie," I said. "They went up 6-0, I put you guys on the outside, and we ended in a 6-6 tie."

Paul grinned and started to reminisce about other games that Tom Zingarelli and I had coached him in so long ago.

I'm not sure who gets the most out of these exchanges. I have them with my old coaches and teachers on occasion and enjoy them immensely.

Paul has a daughter playing for Hanna and works as a miner in Elk Mountain.

His wife is a teacher there, and we both briefly related what we'd done since our last outing as player and coach on a warm October day 28 years before.

Education will never have a lasting value connected with instant gratification. Good things take time, they take initiative, and they take effort. Giving them to your child is a lasting gift for the future.

Sometimes playing with the box, leads you to thinking "outside the box" and that makes all the difference in your life.

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