Childhood memories stir laughter, teach lessons

I love how children are so carefree and innocent. Reporters can learn a lot from children, particularly because they are always asking questions in search of answers to the “why” questions in life. When I’m stumped for a story idea, I try to put myself in the shoes of a child, not to become innocent, but to help myself become more inquisitive. When doing so, I think about my favorite childhood pastimes. Oddly enough, many of them can be related to reporting.

1.) Selling lemonade. I used to have extravagant lemonade stands as a child, which would involve me jumping on a pogo stick in the middle of the road and waving around pool noodles to attract customers. Along with selling Paul Newman’s lemonade, I would sell handmade bookmarks and what I called Refwingems — little plastic disks that I’d cover in glitter glue. I would attach embroidery floss to the disks so that they could be hung. I can’t recall why I called them this, but the name stuck. When I told my friends in college about selling them, they all got a kick out of the story. Sophomore year, we ended up naming our room “Room Refwingem.” I also sold bookmarks, which I made out of old cards, and eyeglass pins. My grandma used to bring me boxes of eyeglass lenses that her optometrist would have otherwise thrown out. I used to cut up cards, wrapping paper, etc., and glue them to the lenses. I’d put cardboard and felt on the back of the paper and glue a pin-back on them, then I’d pray they didn’t fall apart when customers stopped to look at them …

Reporting lesson: Just like I didn’t just sell lemonade, reporters can’t just write a story. They have to put themselves out there — even if that means jumping in the middle of the road on a pogo stick while waving pool noodles — to get the information they need. And, reporters have to be creative. Stories are so much better when they have added components such as multimedia — the bookmarks and Refwingems of a story.

2.) Skateboarding. My neighbor Shannon and I used to skateboard down our neighbor Joyce’s long driveway across the street. I would stand in the middle of the road and direct traffic so that Shannon could safely ride down the driveway. One time, there was a three-mile car backup …

Reporting lesson: Stop traffic with your articles. Make them shine.

3.) Feeding the ducks. There used to be a pond in my backyard, which was home to dozens of mallard ducks. I used to say “QUACK, QUACK,” as loudly as I could, trying my hardest to imitate a real duck’s quack, and the ducks would fly to my backyard right away. I used to pray that my parents would let the bread in our house grow stale so we could feed it to the ducks. When they weren’t looking, I’d grab a few slices of bread or some Ritz crackers and feed them to my furry friends. For some reason, I named my favorite mallard “Robert.” He had bright green feathers and a brown spot over his eye. Sometimes, the ducks followed me all the way up the hill to my house. I’d literally have to make a mad dash into my back porch and shut the door quickly behind me so they wouldn’t come inside! My first “published” book was about feeding the ducks. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Keefe, bound it for me, along with some other stories I wrote that year.

Reporting lesson: Turn fun experiences/pastimes into story ideas; think about how they could be affecting children/families in the here and now.

4.) Baton twirling. I twirled competitively for about five years and would always practice in my front lawn. My favorite song to twirl to was Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine.” I would bring out my oh-so-classy boom-box with stickers on it, turn it up loudly, and start twirling in my front yard. I also loved to twirl my Devil Sticks. Sometimes I’d wear my leotards, which were supposed to be reserved for competitions only. Oops. When people walked by, I’d entertain them by doing a “tripple,” meaning I’d throw up the baton, spin around three times, and try to catch it. One time when doing a tripple, the baton landed right on my right front tooth. I can still remember seeing bits of my tooth fly out of my mouth. Thank goodness for dentists.

Reporting lesson: Stories should entertain readers, even if they are just run-of-the-mill city council meeting recaps. To make them seem more exciting, try to think of a theme song to go along with them, i.e. “Walking on Sunshine” is the theme song of my baton twirling story.

5.) Playing the clarinet. I used to bring my grandma’s 1930s music stand that she used when playing the accordion and my lime green vanity chair outside and plop myself in the middle of my front yard. I was in the marching band fourth through seventh grade, which means I had to practice outside of school. I always thought, “Who wants to practice the clarinet, or drums, or saxophone inside when you could play outside for an audience?” I like to joke that once I started playing, my neighbors would nonchalantly start closing their doors and windows…

Reporting lesson: Don’t let closed doors stop you. Keep interviewing, keep writing, keep playing the reporting game.

6.) Imaginary games. I used to play a game called “Sissy Little Rich Girls,” which would involve me pretending I was a rich girl who drove around in a limo with a swimming pool attached to it. Sometimes I’d dress up in dresses with frilly lace and talk in a British accent while playing this game. What was I thinking?? There was a time when I was obsessed with medieval times. After going to King Richard’s Faire with a friend from middle school, I became well-versed in my medieval lingo and would create games that involved princesses, knights and squires. I also used to play imaginary games based off of the books “Bridge to Terabithia” and “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

Reporting lesson: If you’re bored with a story or can’t think of how to start your lede, think of your favorite books for inspiration. What do you love about these books? How can you incorporate what you love into the story you’re writing?

7.) Harriet the Spy. When I was younger, I always pretended I was a spy. In my next post, I’ll explain how spying launched me into my career in journalism.

Do you have any fun memories that give you inspiration for stories? What are some of your favorite childhood pastimes?

Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at

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