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Burning the Roman candle at both ends

My 13-year-old son found a Roman candle yesterday while cleaning his room.  Stranger than that - cleaning his room, I mean - he actually read the WARNING on the side of the Roman candle.  The WARNING prompted him to abandon all the books, homework that never left home, dirty socks, candy wrappers, and various unidentifiables, all of which he had pulled from under his bed into the middle of the floor, and immediately seek my counsel.

"Why does it say, 'WARNING: DO NOT HOLD IN HAND?'" he asked me, casually rolling the incendiary device between his palms.  "That's so random."

"Because it could explode," I redundantly explained.

"Yeah, but why not hold it?" he said. "That's what makes it fun."

"The U.S. Surgeon General warns that holding Roman candles in your hand may result in loss of fingers or your thumb," I quipped.

"Beast," he murmured and returned to his room, kicking all the stuff in the floor to the side and reclining on his bed to read the rest of the Roman candle warnings in hopes of unraveling more mysteries of the universe or, at the least, acquiring material useful to a 13-year-old boy's quest to test fate.

As I turned to head downstairs, telling myself I have about five more years to get through to him, my two other sons, ages 11 and 9, excitedly came out of their room chattering about their best 4th of July memory ever.  "Tell me," I guardedly ventured.

"Remember that time we were shooting mortars out of a tube and it fell over and balls of fire shot back at everyone?" the older boy questioned. 

"Yeah, I accidentally kicked it over with my foot," said the younger one, reliving it in slow motion. 

"Everyone ran," the 11 year-old hooted. 

The nine-year-old enthusiastically added, "It was soooo disgusting.  Totally naaaaasty," which I interpreted to mean, It was the bomb.

The "everyone" of whom they speak refers to their devil-may-care relatives from my side of the family. Everyone spends hundreds of dollars on explosives, dressed in pretty papers by child laborers in a communist country, and defends the expense as a patriotic duty.  Everyone knows someone who knows someone who has connections to black market industrial-grade Saturn missiles.  Everyone loves a good fireworks show; the more hazardous the better.

Of course, genetics does, or tries to do, as genetics is programmed.  This past New Year's Eve, unable to put his hands on anything more menacing than sparklers, firecrackers, and a few bottle rockets, my 13-year-old asked if he could get an aerosol can and spray it into the flame of a torch lighter.  "Yes," I told him, "If you would like to spend the rest of seventh grade in the hospital undergoing reconstructive surgery and skin grafts."

"Really?" he responded, having only heard, "Yes."

New Year's Eve colliding with the pending 4th of July holiday, I sought to alter the genetic predisposition of my boys, now ruminating on the perks of peril.  Doggedly, I got in the last word on Roman candles and mortars and all tools and manner of destruction ever dreamed up by pre-formed males.  "Danger is not cool," I insistently called while standing in the hallway between their rooms.

I know full well, however, they didn't hear anything but, "Danger wah-wa wah-wah-wah COOL!"

Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny.  She lives in Thomson.  Lucy invites readers to contact her at and to visit her web site,

Web posted on Thursday, July 02, 2009

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