Children may be bad for Oriental rugs, gourmet meals and Saturday mornings. But working parents know that kids have a hidden asset. Children have friends. Friends have parents. In a town where contacts count, kids are connections.
If the truth were known, there is as much lobbying conducted in the Greenbelt McDonalds or Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theater in Rockville as there is in Mel Krupin's or Lion d'Or.
I discovered this quite innocently. One visiting day at kindergarten, I found myself nametag-to-nametag with the father of another finger painter. He also happened to be a federal official I had been trying to reach for weeks.
Before you could say "Sesame Street" the conversation moved from children and creativity to the federal program he administered. I called his office the next day, and miraculously, he was not "in conference" as he had been during my previous attempts to communicate. Shortly thereafter, the nonprofit service organization I headed became a federal grantee.
Shamelessly, I worked Sunday School plays and skating rinks the way a seasoned pol works a precinct. What's more, after comparing notes I learned that I was not alone. Inside information, professional favors and legislative leads are exchanged at Scout meetings as often as the three-finger salute.
The uninitiated may think that PTA presidents, carpool drivers and soccer coaches are out there merely to make points in heaven. Not so! Kids in cleats aren't the only ones scoring.
Occasionally I suffered a few twinges of guilt about the blatant use of my innocent offspring for fun and profit. Perhaps I am sharing my secrets so that I also can share the blame for the evils of Little League lobbying. These are the ground rules:
1. Know Your Neighborhood. It was dumb luck that landed me in Bethesda, the natural habitat of federal administrators. The blue chip lobbyists live in Chevy Chase, the lawyers in Cleveland Park. If I ever need a military connection, I'll have to bus the kids to Northern Virginia.
2. Timing is Everything. At the age of 3, my daughter had a sizzling summer romance with the son of the general counsel of the Department of Transportation. But by the time I wanted to exert some influence over DOT regulations, both the summer and the sizzle were over and the general counsel was on her way out of town with the old administration.
3. Be Prepared At All Times. The same people you accost over the finger paints feel free to make their case to you between plays at football games or at the local pool. Last summer at the Wildwood Manor Swim Club, I was lobbied to support EEOC guidelines while thigh-deep in the pool teaching my daughter breathing techniques. It's a wonder she didn't drown!
4. Get Religion! One of my friends works for a tiny federal agency that he manages to get into the news as often as some cabinet departments. He is a master at making media contacts over the punch and cookies after religious services. It's not that he's an articulate guy. He just knows there is something about standing in front of a stained glass window while you sell your ideas that gets them every time.
5. Do Not Expect Your Children To Cooperate. No amount of pleading, bribery or other inducements can convince a child to select friends according to a parent's professional needs. My son's best friend has been the son of the national authority on sleep--a subject not likely to advance my professional aspirations unless I begin to write for the mattress makers of America.
Conversely, I salivated when I saw my son's third-grade class list and discovered that one of my journalistic heroes also had a child in the same class. I did everything I could to get Jeremy to strike up a friendship or at least split a peanut butter sandwich with the child--all to no avail.
Was it my fault that she happened to be a girl?