Kids. Rugrats. Bundles of joy.
Whatever a person chooses to call them, children have been a huge part of my life for a long time.
Anyone who knows me to any degree, knows how much I love kids and how much I want to have some of my own someday. Whenever there's a roomful of family or friends, I seem to find myself choosing to entertain the tinier people in the room, rather than engaging in conversations with adults. I seem to be able to make the kids laugh.
Granted, that's probably because I normally employ a funny voice and act even goofier than normal when I'm around them. But it's worth it if it means seeing a smile on a child's face.
I think it all started during my junior year of high school. I attended a Christian school that had students from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade. In those days, there was a little blond-haired girl named Jennifer, who thought I hung the moon. Her eyes lit up every time she saw me, and I was pretty much hooked on that kid from the first time I met her.
Through the years, I've had the opportunity to get to know children of co-workers and people I went to college with. Watching those children grow has been so rewarding, and knowing that they want me to be a part of their lives, even as some of them are entering those pesky teen years, is an honor for me.
These days, I'm an uncle to my sister's two boys, and several children belonging to various longtime friends of mine refer to me as "Uncle Jason."
As much fun as I have when I'm around them, I'm at a stage in my life where I don't want to limit my interaction with them to the fun stuff. In some cases, those children's fathers aren't a constant presence in their lives. I have an opportunity, and even a responsibility, to invest as much of myself as possible, to help those kids grow into adulthood.
Don't get me wrong. By no means do I think I have it all figured out, and I don't have any rare pearls of wisdom to impart to younger generations. I also don't have any desire to take the place of the children's parents, or to use the kids as an experiment for when I have children of my own.
I don't have all the answers.
What I do have, however, is time. That, and all the love I can muster, are the best gifts I can give to those kids.
I don't know what's become of that little girl named Jennifer, who I first met more than 15 years ago. She could be finished with college by now. If she has any memory of me at all, I hope she remembers more than just a guy who made funny faces.
As for the children who are in my life now, I pray that I'm able to teach them something positive, something that will stay with them for the long haul. I definitely don't want to look back, years from now, and wonder whether they remember me.
I think the best way for me to ensure they do remember me, is for me to stick around for that long haul, and to commit to being an active part of their lives. They deserve at least that much.
Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.