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Thinking outside the box

"Okay," I heard him say to his older brothers, "I know Mama and Daddy said we shouldn't hit girls, but," he continued, "has anyone ever said anything about kicking girls?"

He's 7. He lives outside the box. He moved out years ago. Often, he picks up the box, looks in at the rest of us mind numb sots running circles, gives it a good shake, and listens for us scrambling against the sides, just for thrills.

Child, quit knocking us off our wheels.

On vacation in June, my friend Charlotte and I, and our husbands, sat by the hotel pool. Static electricity from video screens in the adjacent arcade had grabbed our offspring by their hair follicles, pulled them over, and plastered their faces to the monitors. We overheard my seven-year-old speaking trance-like to his comrades, "Go ask your mom. I'll ask my dad. He always says, 'Yes.'"

They sauntered over, each trying not to arrive first, looking very conspiratorial. Using a variety of whine-tones, they begged for quarters.

We had no quarters, but, believe me, we would have surrendered them, along with our IRA's, to keep the little buggers occupied a while longer. I advised the lads to play the games using their imaginations. Remarkably, they trotted off to give it a shot.

Charlotte checked the expiration date on that tactic and determined that it wouldn't provide harmony for long. I pondered why my clever child, who has proven himself much craftier than me on many occasions, fell for it.

Hmmm. Based on past experience I suspect he has our box in his grips.

Three summers ago, as he bobbed and toggled in the ocean with too much confidence, only eyeballs cresting mighty waves, anxiety shot out of my pores like someone released a crimp in the hose.

So I made a rule, one of many on a long, long list, that he could go no deeper than the top of his bathing suit. I threatened dire consequences should he venture too far again.

Yet, within minutes he had waded out until only his head and shoulders glistened above the water. Furious, I called him in. As he emerged, step by step, from the sea, it became evident that he had, in fact, not broken the rule. He sported a wedgie so jacked up he wore the waist of his trunks in his armpits.

Put our box down, son, we're thinking in here.

Just as Charlotte predicted, our offspring soon returned, dissatisfied with the results of their telekinetic labors. "Mama," one of her boys protested, "it keeps doing the same thing over and over, no matter how hard I think about it doing something different."

My ringleader said, "C'mon y'all, I have a plan."

Hold onto to your wheel. I feel a tremor coming on.

A few moments later, a group of snips and snails huddled in front of a machine, brainstorming how to procure quarters.

Our son, ever the problem solver, proposed, "If we had a stick or something, we could pick the lock. Then we could get the quarters out."

As our pride and joy assigned scouts to seek implements, my husband leaned over the surprised plotters, and suggested, "That would be stealing, don't you think?"

"Oh, no sir, daddy. We're not keeping the money. We'll put all the quarters back in the slot when we play the game."

Yep. I don't think he has plans for moving back in the box as long as his father and I continue to spin our wheels and make that frantic scratching sound on the sides.

Web posted on Wednesday, August 2, 2006

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