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MAN OF THE HOUSE

The cream pie days of a 6-year-old

October 31, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

Boys are weird, true. They play all the time with capes and lightsabers and all manner of fantasy. And those are just the dads. The 6-year-olds are even worse.

Six-year-olds have a language all their own. It is spoken in a high-pitched squeal, in the voice of too-tight fan belts, of prepubescent violins. To hear a 6-year-old, you'd think he'd never become a man. But that's exactly what a 6-year-old is becoming . . . one yelp at a time.

"We have a soccer game today?" the little guy squeaks.

"Yes."

"I hope I don't fall on my head," he says.

That should be the least of his worries, for his head is mostly hollow still, a blank canvas, an empty beer stein. A 6-year-old is all hat and no horse, as they say in Texas.

You know how a first-grade boy processes information? He doesn't.

At the risk of getting too technical, here is what happens when new information reaches a 6-year-old boy: First, it swirls into his ear canal. About 10 minutes later, when it has cleared the ear canal, the information loops back out of the boy's body. It is like a quarter in a broken soft drink machine, clanging directly to his coin return, bypassing the important parts, never nearing the brain.

When the frustrated parent repeats the information, it enters the little boy's other ear canal, then is routed directly to a clearinghouse in Des Moines, then overseas, usually the poorer parts of Asia.

For the boy, this information pipeline is for his own self-preservation, for there is never a shortage of people -- bug-eyed chattering adults like me -- just waiting to tell him how to live a better life.

But the boy can't imagine a better life. He is 6.

::

"I made some new friends today," the little guy yelps.

"Cool. What are their names?"

"I don't know," he says.

See, that's the kind of friends I like. No names. No cell numbers. Real friendship should be as anonymous as possible. You hang out. You play a little freeze tag. You split.

I love 6-year-olds the way you would an odd, fermenting uncle or the late, great Soupy Sales. A 6-year-old lives in the moment. He appreciates nothing more than a good cream pie in the schnoz.

And a 6-year-old is consistent. He always chews his milkshake straw. He always swallows his gum. If something itches, he scratches.

Sometimes, at soccer practice, their shoelaces all untied, school glue in their hair, the 6-year-olds all start to talk to me at once, and I just have to hold my head the way I used to during the Bee Gees disco period -- the merciless noise of cats having their chests waxed.

To silence the boys, the only coaching tactic that really works is to whisper. This confuses them and makes them think something is mortally wrong. At that point, they circle around as if to watch me die.

"What's wrong with him?" one asks.

"Beats me."

"Kick him."

"I already kicked him."

"Look, he moved!"

So they gather closer, and I whisper instructions, and then they do exactly as I say for about 3 seconds, before cruelly blasting a teammate's soccer ball all the way to San Diego, which results in an enormous riot and occasional vomiting.

That's just good coaching.

I don't need a whistle, I need a Taser gun.

::

Only 6, the little guy is in his third season of AYSO soccer. We wanted to start him in utero but that particular age group was all booked up.

Seriously, if some Americans had their way, they'd be starting many childhood activities even before the little tyke is actually born.

I've long imagined how an in utero soccer team would work. I suspect there'd be 11 pregnant moms per team, in their third trimesters, at that stage where they waddle and start to molt and flames shoot out their noses. It's as if they are prepping for battle, which they are. Just adorable.

At practices, we'd get them all together and rehearse sideline screaming, so their future soccer stars would become accustomed to the Saturday din: "TOMMY, DON'T LET HIM PUSH YOU LIKE THAT!" or "HEY REF, ARE YOU BLIND? THAT'S A WHISTLE, NOT A BREATH MINT!"

Ideally, this would precondition the children for their long, nurturing AYSO careers, while also giving them the edge they need to perform in an increasingly loud and confrontational world.

We'd end the practices by rubbing cocoa butter on our tummies and doing our team cheers. "My ankles are killing me" would be one. "I have to pee again" would be another.

As you can tell, I can't get enough of pregnant women. They remind me of retired older dudes at the gym, or of myself -- same thing.

Yep, pregnant is the new 50. Hug them whenever you can. Congratulate them in excess.

Because in no time, half will be having little boys.

--

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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