- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

One of the first laws my wife Lisa laid down when Sean was born five years ago was: "No more 'Three Stooges' on television."

Of course, I grumbled about it a bit, but she was adamant. The thought of Sean watching me laughing hysterically at the punishment dished out in one "Three Stooges" short was too much for Lisa, particularly in light of the penchant young children have for imitation.

"All I can say is, you'll be the one going before the board of elders at church and explaining why Sean poked one of pastor Small's grandkids in the eyes in Sunday school and then said, 'Daddy thinks that's funny,'" Lisa said. "No 'Three Stooges' when he's in the room."

I had to admit she had a point. Well, not necessarily about the board of elders at our church, but about children and imitation. I'm proud to report that in the past five years, Sean and Jeremy have watched exactly zero "Three Stooges" on television. At least not on my watch.

And it's a good thing, probably. The way they both glom on to what they see on television probably would portend disaster if they ever saw a few seconds of the "Three Stooges."

These days, Sean and Jeremy are head over heels about "Rescue Heroes," a series of videos and action figures that surged in popularity after the events on September 11, when our country woke up and realized what constitutes a real hero and lo and behold, it wasn't somebody who sings, acts or dunks basketballs.

"Rescue Heroes" follows the adventures of firefighters, mountain climbers and other people in the search-and-rescue business. The names are a little hard to take Billy Blazes, Rocky Canyon, Hal E. Copter, etc. and the production quality of the videos is a baby step or two above the old "Clutch Cargo" cartoons of the 1960s. But if Sean and Jeremy are going to watch cartoons and play with dolls excuse me, "action figures" we would rather they watch and play with Rescue Heroes instead of the cartoon fodder pumped out on most of the cable stations.

But since Sean started collecting Rescue Heroes, Jeremy has developed a fascination for them, too, which has led to near fistfights over them. And it has led to an entire secondary vocabulary for them.

On any given morning, our house sounds like a police scanner. Sean walks around parroting the dialogue from the Rescue Heroes videos, talking about things such as "Class 5 avalanches." Jeremy walks around holding one of the figures and saying, "Can you hear me, Rocky Canyon? Copy that. Come in, Rocky Canyon. Copy that."

Neither one has any idea what he's saying. And it doesn't matter. What matters to them is they're in their own little fantasy world and enjoying themselves immensely. What matters to me is that they're not killing each other (for once) and I am reminded once again how quickly their little brains soak up everything they see and hear.

When it comes to "Rescue Heroes," the lessons are often funny to watch. But when it comes to imitating Mommy and Daddy (particularly Daddy, for some reason), the lessons sometimes aren't so amusing. One day last week we were driving to Sean's preschool and Jeremy, for some reason, was especially fussy. At a red light I tried to distract him by offering him juice and Pepperidge Farm goldfish. He continued to whine.

Sean, sitting next to him, slapped his forehead and rolled his eyes.

"Jeremy, you're killing me," he said. Which is exactly what I have told Jeremy once or twice trying to get him ready to go out the door somewhere. I tried to explain that yes, Daddy has said that more than once. And it's not a really bad thing to say, but it's not a really good thing, either. And Daddy's going to try not to say that anymore, either.

"You copy that, Sean?" I asked when I was done.

"Roger," Sean said.

Mark Stewart, the stay-at-home father of two boys, is a free-lance writer.

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