- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2001

This hasn't been one of the better summers I have had in recent memory. My mother died, I went through an unexpected job change and oh yeah my softball team failed to recapture the divisional title it lost last year.

Still, like all summers, it ended too quickly. I missed my 4-year-old son Sean turning into a little man and 2-year-old Jeremy turning into a boy. I'm not sure where I was when all that happened.

But there we were, at the pool one weekday afternoon, with Jeremy the daredevil threatening to jump feet first into the "big pool" and Sean telling me a story about a nature walk he had taken the night before with my wife, Lisa, and some other neighborhood children.

"We found a pond that was very interesting," Sean reported.

"Interesting"? Since when did Sean start talking like William F. Buckley?

The mere fact that Sean was hanging out with neighborhood children every night is a minor miracle in itself. Last summer, he was still Shy Sean, worrying us that he would never come out of his shell and want to play with other children. Two summers ago, he practically growled at other families in our court who dared to say hello to him.

This summer, he matured into a party animal, constantly looking out the front window to see if Zack and Jessie or Ashley and Julie or A.J. or Jaire or anybody else was outside. He then would run out the door, shouting, "Hi, what are you doing?" Lisa almost has to drag him back inside when bedtime comes.

Our prayers for him were answered. And then some.

Jeremy, meanwhile, began the summer speaking in Neanderthal grunts and communicating with fevered gestures. He ended it speaking in sentences. Not complete ones, mind you he still needs subjects, but the verbs and direct objects are there.

"Want 'side," he says when he wants to go outside. "Want water." "Want pool." "Thanky." (For the uninitiated, that is translated as "Thank you" and means, "Take this, please." We're still working on the order of things.)

In short, both boys grew up a lot this summer. I can't help but wonder why. I think some of it has to do with the "It takes a village" concept, that spending so much time outside with their friends helped Sean and Jeremy develop their social skills. They saw their friends at the pool in the evenings, on the weekends, just about every waking moment, it seemed.

On top of that, they actively sought out playtime, which also surprised us, especially in the case of Sean, who not long ago couldn't have cared less what the other children on our street were doing. Not anymore. Now he stares out the window for the slightest glimpse of one of his friends, then begs to go outside to meet whoever has appeared.

We're lucky to live on a dead-end court with friendly families and children who can run in and out of each others' houses every night. Parents bring out Popsicles and snack crackers every night and stand and talk on the corner while the children play. A friend of mine who visited recently from California marveled that we lived in "Mayberry RFD."

Maybe we do. But it all ended too quickly. Now fall is here, and school is back, and order has been restored in Sean's and Jeremy's lives. The days will get shorter, and playtime will start getting cut back. Part of us can't wait, of course, but part of us will miss the growth spurt the summer brought the growth in our sons' personalities and development.

The way the months fly by these days, next summer will be here before we know it. By that time, Sean and Jeremy may be writing complete sentences, for all we know.

Mark Stewart is the father of two boys, Sean and Jeremy. He is a copy editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected]

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