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Jewish World Review June 16, 1999 /2 Tamuz, 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Hide and seek --
WEDGED UNDER DAVID'S BED, hidden by the trundle, I lie in the dark listening to the patter of my three sons. We are playing hide and seek -- not everyone's idea of a good way to settle the children before bedtime -- but it's our way. Rarely during the day do I witness the kind of brotherly cooperation and elan that the three boys demonstrate when searching for Mom. Jonathan, 7, attempts to take command of the operation.

"OK," he announces, in his best platoon-leader voice, "she's not in here. We need to split up. David, you go that way. Ben, you check in there. I'll go this way."

Benjamin, at 3, is wary of hunting around for a missing mommy all alone. "I think we need to work together as a team," he advises Jonathan. Jonathan is willing to let Ben tag along, just so long as the action continues and the talking is kept to a minimum. David follows. So much for Jon's plan.

When they do eventually find me, the moment is one of surpassing excitement and delight. There are shrieks and war whoops and victory dances. But while David and Ben are enjoying the moment, relishing their discovery, Jonathan is already chasing out of the room, shouting, "Let's do it again!" He is a man of action.

It confused me mightily, when Jonathan was younger, that he didn't like to be read to. Later, we discovered that he has difficulty understanding spoken language. Thirty or 40 percent of the words he hears don't get processed, which is frustrating for him and for those around him. Add to that the physical need to be active -- this is a child who does cartwheels while putting on pajamas -- and you have a challenge.

Now that he is reading, his innate preference for visual learning can open the world to him. If he can hold still long enough to find it ...

But at bedtime, asking Jonathan to read quietly to himself is like asking the bullet train to pull cargo. Only after he has discharged some of his rocket thrusters can he imagine settling into bed.

The oldest child sets the tone for the family in very many ways. And though David and Benjamin love to read and be read to, they soak up Jonathan's energy when he's around. Many is the night when I stand in the kids' bathroom, a Barney toothbrush in hand, while a blur of children flies by. I announce, with varying degrees of exasperation, "There will be no 10 minutes tonight if I don't see three boys in this bathroom by the time I count to 3." ("Ten minutes" is code for the special playtime before bed. It is also wildly inaccurate, since it always stretches to at least 30 minutes.) Good cheer and a sense of humor are vital tools in the parental arsenal. It is so easy to feel persecuted by children, annoyed by their dawdling, exasperated by their lack of forethought, appalled by their table manners. But if you can manage to keep your sense of humor, you can assert authority without feeling or acting churlish.

And let's face it, children are incredibly easy to entertain. We do our own version of Fractured Fairy Tales, in which I tell a familiar story using the wrong words ("Little Red Riding Wood") or mispronounced words ("If you give a moose a muddle"). This reduces the younger two to such paroxysms of hilarity that tears roll down their dewy cheeks and they gasp for breath. With adults, I can make the occasional (OK, once in a blue moon) witty riposte, but with children, I am Bill Cosby.

They are all beyond babyhood now. None in diapers. The bottles have all been stored away. The crib stands empty, as Ben has decamped permanently for David's trundle bed. Ben is still round and diminutive, but the older two are beginning to look like little men. David is planning to be a paleontologist and president of the United States (his platform: He will not lie). Jon is going to be an athlete. Ben is thinking of becoming a fireman/astronaut/cowboy.

I am savoring their evanescent youth.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate