Jewish World Review August 16, 2004 / 29 Menachem-Av, 5764

Carl P. Leubsdorf

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Consumer Reports

King of the mountain about to get dose of reality | For our family, this summer marks a time of transition.

Ben, the newly minted high school graduate, is enjoying the laziest summer of his life while preparing to enter college next month. Will, off in the wilds of West Virginia as a camp counselor, is looking ahead to life without the daily torment by his older brother.

And the parents wonder what life will be like without a daily dose of sibling rivalry.

In our household, it started at an early age, when Will was about 9 months old.

As he pulled himself to his feet along the edge of the sofa, 2-year-old Ben parked himself in front of him in a futile bid to block our sight lines and reached behind to push his brother back down.

Seventeen years later, little has changed.

I can't imagine ever subjecting my younger brother to the kinds of abuse that Will has had to endure. But I do recall him commiserating with Will at a family gathering some years ago.

The maturing in their teenage years hasn't helped much yet.

On the day Will took his driver's test, Ben called. "Did he pass?" the older brother wanted to know. "How nice," I naively thought.

But when told he did, Ben exclaimed "darn" and expressed the view that now the roads would be less safe.

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Fortunately, we decided years ago that one way to minimize this sort of thing was to send them to different schools.

The other good news is that, while resentful, Will has stood up pretty well to Ben's ragging and has learned to give as well as he has gotten. And he has managed to match some of his older brother's achievements, both in the classroom and outside.

It was with great delight that, at a moment when Ben was acting especially officious, we were able to seize the opportunity to note that his younger brother had surpassed his score on a standardized test, albeit by a single point.

None of this has kept Ben from behaving like king of the mountain. And with some reason, since his high school record earned him an array of awards and kudos from admiring teachers.

At his graduation ceremony, he proudly led his classmates down the aisle and gave a brief, well-received speech that chronicled the changes in him - and them - over the past six years.

His next change may be more difficult. In three weeks, he will again be a freshman. Meanwhile, Will not only will be a high school junior but the elected president of his class.

Perhaps in reaction to an inability to get in many words at home, he has shown an unexpected talent for performing on a stage, including a wicked imitation of "Saturday Night Live's" Chris Matthews look-alike.

He's also diversified his interests, adding a nascent expertise on sports to the fascination with politics he first showed at 10 when he divided his hour of allowed television watching between "The Simpsons" and CNN's "Inside Politics."

"Did Garciaparra get traded?" were his first words when he called home one Saturday. Having not watched television for three hours, I was behind the curve on that one. The next afternoon the phone rang again. "Who did the Yankees trade?" he asked.

There's only one downside to this; in an obvious reaction to my fervent support of the Yankees, he seems to have developed a rooting interest in ... the Red Sox. An awful burden for a nice kid to assume.

Still, it's already clear I won't lack for companionship at Redskins and Capitals games.

He'll also begin his portion of that family perennial, the college search. He's already been to the 13 schools Ben considered, though he avoided most tours in favor of visits to the campus bookstore.

And he seems in no hurry to start the discussion. When I sought to fill him in on a discussion of collegiate testing at a recent school parents meeting, he asked, "Can we wait until next year?"

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Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Comment by clicking here.



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