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Jewish World Review / May 5, 1998 / 9 Iyar, 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

The joys of boys

"OH YOU HAVE THREE BOYS," people say with a mixture of pity and fear. "You are busy."

Well, free time is overrated.

Jonathan, now 6 and a half, is playing T-ball, which he enjoys much more than soccer -- last year's game. You hear stories about the terrors of kids' sports leagues. There are tales of aggressive, snarling adults upbraiding umpires, of tension-filled "drafts" for the most gifted athletes, and of parents spending $30,000 per year for private coaches.

Perhaps I will witness all of this someday. But what I have seen so far is delightful adults taking time out of their schedules to teach distracted former babies -- who are as often as not watching the clouds float by -- how to kick a ball, pass it to a teammate, swing a bat, tag a runner and be a good sport.

At Jonathan's first soccer game, all of the parents spent the first game suppressing guffaws as we tried frantically to signal to our kids which goal they were, in theory, heading for. And if you've never seen 5-year-olds lining up after a game to shake hands with the other team, you have missed one the sweetest sights of American life.

Jonathan is taking to the sliding part of T-ball a bit more than I'd like. All of the other T-ball players (for the uninitiated, T-ball is baseball without pitching -- the ball is placed on a T) emerge from practice pretty much the way they went in. Jonathan is invariably covered in dirt from head to toe. Even when he was assigned to play home plate, he found a way to slide in the red dust. I tried to tell him that the runner, not he, was expected to slide into home, but I suspect I took much of the fun out of it. He has real aptitude for this game but has missed more than one high fly ball when a beetle crossed his path.

We've kept David and Benjamin from Jonathan's games because David, at 4 and a half, just misses the minimum age for play, and we don't want to rub it in that Jonathan gets to do so many things he cannot -- yet.

Besides, David is very busy. He swings open the French doors to our bedroom and intones, with the deepest voice he can manage, "Welcome to my dinosaur museum. Buckle your seat belts. You are going to see amazing things." Then, with a wave of his hand, he continues, "This is the pachycephalosaurus. And this, as I think you know, is the Tyrannosaurus Rex."

David loves to pretend that he is a dinosaur baby, hatching out of an egg. He examines his whereabouts and compares them with life in the late Cretaceous era. "We didn't have buildings," he explains with great earnestness, "and of course we did not have electricity." He then relates some terrible tale about what happened to his dinosaur parents and asks if he can come and live at our house. When I express worry that I may not have the proper food for a dino, he reassures me that, as a herbivore, he will happily forage in the backyard.

If you play this game with David a couple of dozen times a day, he's content. The museum proprietor receives janitorial services from Benjamin, 2. Ben has not figured out yet that sweeping the floor is a task, not a game. He actually throws food off his tray so that he will have more things to sweep up later. (This has met with stern disapproval.) On the other hand, his fastidiousness is real. He will survey a toy-strewn family room and declare, "Look at this mess!"

Whatever "the boys" (Ben's term for his older brothers) are up to, Ben is game for. He is pining to go to school. "I'll wear a backpack," he says. "And Mommy will pick me up." We have tussles over cup lids because Ben is the only child who still uses one, and he thinks (wrongly) that he is above it. Ben's greatest anxiety is that he will miss out on something. "I'd like to go to Mars," David offered dreamily one day. "I want to come," said Ben, rushing for his sneakers.

Free time? Who wants it?


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.