- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2001

This is the year, I'm convinced, that my ship will come in. I will make my first million dollars.

I won't have to go on some dopey game show and know the answer to some idiotic question about Gwyneth Paltrow to do it, either. No, the beauty of it is, I simply can do what I like to do and already do just more of it.

It started with my wife, Lisa, who suggested I turn these Baby Steps columns into a children's book. After all, she reasoned, Jeremy and Sean get into enough adventures in one day to fill a bookshelf. I smiled politely and nodded my head, thinking to myself, "Write a book?

Surrrrrrre … just as soon as I get through splitting those atoms in the basement and finishing up that cancer cure I've been toiling on these past few years."

I thought that was it, but Lisa brought up the idea again a few days later. This time, I mumbled something about needing "the right illustrator." After all, to me, the most memorable things about children's books are the pictures.

Again I thought the conversation was over, but my mother-in-law was more than happy to pick up the ball and run with it. "How about the guy who does the illustrations for your columns?" she suggested one day. "He always does a good job."

I readily agreed, but I couldn't help pointing out that I have never met him and have no idea whether he is too busy to undertake such an enterprise.

Then, one night, I was putting Sean to bed, reading the two books he picks every night from his library, which these days rivals the Library of Congress. Usually there is a Dr. Seuss book or an Arthur book, which always makes the bedtime ritual worthwhile, plus one wild-card book. This particular night I zeroed in on the wild-card book, which shall remain unnamed, and the light bulb finally snapped on.

Lisa and her mother were right. Some of the stuff written for children is execrable. I finished the book, kissed Sean goodnight and waited for him to fall asleep. Then I sneaked back into his room and began working my way through the top shelf of his book collection. After flipping through the first few pages of his first book, I tossed it down in disgust. I picked up the second one. More doggerel. And the third.

I can do this, I thought as I walked back down the hall to our bedroom, my eyes glazing over with gold-dust fever. We're talking children's books, after all, not "The Iliad."

The next morning, I plopped Sean and Jeremy in front of the TV in the rec room, shoved a "Sesame Street" tape into the VCR and dashed into my home office. I sat down at my PC, grabbed the Consumer Reports 2000 Car Guide and turned to the Lexus pages while the computer booted up. I cracked my knuckles once or twice and typed, "There once was a little boy named Jeremy. He lived …"

There was a howl from Sean in the rec room. I peeked around the corner. Jeremy had picked up the VCR remote, which I foolishly had left on the sofa for him to find, and turned off the VCR, reducing Sean to watching "SportsCenter."

I liberated the remote and told Sean there was nothing wrong with watching "SportsCenter." He could draw inspiration from watching all the dunks and home runs and touchdown runs because, after all, he is going to be a three-sport star and earn a college scholarship so Daddy and Mommy won't have to worry about coming up with the 30 zillion or so dollars a year it will take to send him to Ohio State in 2014.

"But on the other hand, Sean," I said, pushing the "Sesame Street" video back into the VCR, "You won't have to worry about that, because Daddy is going to write a best seller about you and Jeremy and you'll both be able to go to Ohio State."

"What's a best seller?" Sean asked.

"Never mind," I said, retreating to my office.

Where was I? Oh yeah …

"There once was a little boy named Jeremy. He lived with his big brother, Sean … "

Now Jeremy was howling. I grunted and peeked around the corner again. He had found the remote to the TV and was trying to keep Sean from grabbing it away from him.

"All right, break it up you two," I said. "We're watching 'Sesame Street,' and that's it. If you don't want to watch it, Jeremy, you can play with your blocks."

"Jeremy doesn't like to play with those blocks," Sean informed me. "He only likes to play with the blocks that are upstairs."

"Then I'll get them," I said. Taking the steps two at a time, I collected the nesting blocks Jeremy likes to stack and knock down and hurried back downstairs.

Sean and Jeremy were enmeshed on the floor, with Jeremy apparently trying to climb up onto the sofa and Sean, ever the dutiful big brother, trying to dissuade him as physically as possible.

"All right, neutral corners you guys," I said, putting the blocks down in front of Jeremy.

"Jeremy wanted to get on the sofa," Sean said, knowing Lisa and I don't approve of the climb because of several vertebrae-breaking possibilities.

"And it looks like you decided to stop him with a body slam," I said.

"What's a body slam?" Sean asked.

"Never mind," I said. "Jeremy, here are your blocks."

One more time …

"Once upon a time there was a little boy named Jeremy. He lived with his big brother, Sean, in a little town called … "

"Jeremy's climbing on the sofa," Sean yelled from the rec room. Before I could peek around the corner, there was an unnerving thump, followed by a squeal from Jeremy. I sighed and hit the "save" key.

That was two months ago. I have returned to that file three times since. The file still reads, "Once upon a time there was a little boy named Jeremy." Each time, sentence No. 2 has been interrupted by another minicrisis, the third one involving Jeremy, a box of crayons and a loose basket of fresh, clean laundry trust me, you don't need to know the details.

I'm saving it for the best-seller list in 2002. Or 2003.

2005 at the latest.

Mark Stewart is the father of two boys, Sean and Jeremy. He is a staff writer for the Family Times. He can be reached at [email protected]

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