My turn: A mother responds to letter flap

Posted: Monday, June 18, 2007

I have read with interest the numerous letters responding to my daughter Gabriella Hebert's (June 1) letter to the editor criticizing the new Wal-Mart coming to Juneau.

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Initially, I did not want Gaby to read Doug Cooper's vicious attack (June 6), but as more letters came in, my husband and I decided that she should be aware of her letter's effect.

Rather than focus on the issue of Wal-Mart, I would like to respond to some of the questions raised concerning an 8-year-old's ability to care about her community and to articulate her position in writing.

The discussion about Wal-Mart began around our dinner table many months ago. Like many Juneau families, we talk about current events, and the issue came up about Wal-Mart's ability to sell items cheaply. As parents, we want our daughter to know that a good deal for us may not be a good deal for those who make the product or sell the product. We used Costco as a local example of an employer that, according to news reports, provides employees good wages and benefits.

We want to pass on our family's legacy of being good Juneau business owners. My husband's father began Lyle's Hardware in the late 1950s and treated his customers and employees well. Lisle currently owns a Juneau movie theater that provides an affordable place to watch good films. We believe there is more to business than the bottom line, and we have conveyed that value to our daughter.

A couple of months ago, Gaby missed a week of school to go back East to be with her grandmother as she went through a series of medical tests. I asked Gaby to spend 30 minutes a day writing. I didn't care if she wrote in her journal, e-mailed her dad or created a cartoon strip. On the last day, she handed me her letter to the editor. She had misspelled "appalled" and "people" and I suggested she correct them. But she replied that if she did, no one would believe an 8-year-old would have written it!

The Juneau Empire corrected the misspellings before publishing the letter.

My response to those who question whether our child is parroting our personal beliefs and values is to assure them that is far from the case. Recently, Gabriella informed us that while she admires us for working in the nonprofit, social service sector, she fully intends to be "really rich" and have a huge home in Hawaii when she grows up!

If I didn't have a child, I think I would have been skeptical of anyone so young taking the initiative to care this much about her community. But she is not unique. I have often overheard her friends and classmates discussing "grown-up" issues. It is just not very often children are aware of the avenues they have to express their feelings in public.

I believe we can instill in our children a passion for their community and the people in it. I believe we can allow them to speak freely and be open to other points of view. And I hope and pray that this new generation of Americans will use their intelligence, compassion and resources to steer our country on a nobler course.

• Claire Richardson and her family are in London, England, this summer while she pursues her graduate studies as a chaplain at St. Christopher's Hospice.

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