- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

I'm not sure when it started to dawn on me that my boys are growing up. I'm supposed to notice those things now that I'm out of the work force temporarily, working from home and spending so much "quality time" with them. I'm supposed to notice the expanding vocabulary, the intensifying curiosity, the sophistication of the questions, which went from "What?" to "Why?" almost overnight.

I'm supposed to notice these things, but I don't. When grandparents or friends of ours say, "The boys are getting so big," I shrug. They're supposed to say that, aren't they? When we put clothes on them that fit like shrink wrap, we simply put the clothes in garbage bags to give to our friends or the local thrift store and plan a trip to Target or Wal-Mart. Time to buy new clothes, that's all.

I almost miss the miracle of it all.

I'm reminded, painfully, every afternoon when we play Sean and Jeremy's favorite game, Escape. The game has two rules: Run into Daddy as hard as you can, and do whatever you can to escape from him when he wraps his arms or legs around you.

The game was easy to play, oh, only a few months ago, it seems. I would sit on the floor in the living room and watch as Sean and Jeremy raced from the front door, through the kitchen and dining room and into me at full speed. I would topple over backward, with one of them in each arm, make some loud pronouncement such as, "Ouch" or "Slow down," and then watch them wriggle and squirm out of my wrestling holds.

The game expended a lot of their energy, particularly on rainy or otherwise bad-weather days, and they loved it.

Then the collisions began to take on a Butkus-like quality. The toppling backward began to be less and less contrived. Then the bruises started forming little ones on my chest and arms, put there by kneecaps and elbows and foreheads and other hard little body parts.

Escape became an endurance test.

Sometime along the way, Sean started stating facts and discussing topics we didn't think he knew anything about (not those words or topics, fortunately). We would ask him where he had learned something, and he matter-of-factly would say, "School."

I'm supposed to notice these things, but I don't. Not all the time. I notice the things men are supposed to notice how sporty the new Honda Accords look, how easily the St. Louis Rams are able to score, how unrecognizable Teri Hatcher has become. (What happened to her, anyway?)

I'm not quite as observant when it comes to how quickly my own sons are growing up. Unless it's Sunday morning and Lisa gets them dressed for church, and in their corduroy vests and slicked-down hair, suddenly they don't look like rough-and-tumble children anymore, they look like young men. Even 2-year-old Jeremy.

I'm sitting at my computer, with Sean on my lap, navigating another Web site that's supposed to have some fun games.

"Click there, Daddy," Sean says. "I think that's the link to the games."

Just as I'm marveling at how easily Sean speaks computerese, Jeremy walks into the office and states flatly, "I want to go to Larry-Boy.com. Can we go to Larry-Boy.com?"

"When we're done here, Jeremy," I tell him.

I shake my head, and Sean and I play a few games, but because we don't have DSL, he gets bored waiting for new games to download. I tell Jeremy it's time to go upstairs and have a snack and then play a game or two of Escape. They race for the stairs, Sean elbowing Jeremy out of the way just as older brothers have done since the beginning of time.

It's 4:30 in the afternoon. All around me, men my age are checking the clock on the wall or the desk, waiting for 5 o'clock to come so they can start their drive home to children they barely recognize, wondering where the months and years are going.

I plop down on the living room floor and wait for the first stampede from the front door. Sean and Jeremy plow into me, and I go over backward, taking them with me. They wriggle free and run back to the front door, cackling all the way.

I see my sons every day, from sunrise to bedtime. Sometimes I still wonder where the months and years are going. I forget to notice the differences. The second stampede bowls me over again, and the first welt forms on the right side of my chest.

Oh yeah, that's right. The boys are growing up.

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

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