published Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Kennedy: Older eyes watching life unfold

Two boys, two birthdays.

The last week in October brings a whirlwind of activities at the Kennedy house. It's a blur of cakes, cards and costumes.

Our boys turned 7 and 12 respectively last week, and it makes me want to put stones on their heads. As we say goodbye to ages 6 and 11 at our house, I'm trying to freeze-frame some memories.

For our older son, 11 was the year of braces, middle-school soccer and an Airsoft obsession. At night, I often find him under a blanket, watching YouTube videos of people dressed in camo shooting one another with plastic (Airsoft) BBs. Ping. Ping. Ping. Given the other "adventures" on the Internet, I find these war-game videos strangely comforting.

On weekends, he begs to go to a local Airsoft field, where he is the kid in the orange Under Armor jacket among the grown men in full battle gear. He comes off the field sweating and smiling from ear to ear.

His other compulsion is sticky candy, which he claims he only "sucks on." His braces, which mysteriously become bent and twisted like spoons in the hands of illusionist Uri Geller, tell another story.

Making the middle school soccer team as a sixth-grader has also been a high point of his year. There's something character building about tangling with guys who outweigh you by about 50 pounds. After one collision, he even admitted to squinting back tears.

I look at my older son and see a young man emerging. The other day, I offered him my right shoulder for punching -- a little father-son ritual we have. He hit me with a right hook that started somewhere down in South Georgia and rattled my entire skeleton. I managed a weak smile and quickly pivoted so he wouldn't see me grimace.

As for our younger son, six was the year of nervous beginnings, thought-provoking questions and bracelets made from rubber bands.

Back in August, and despite climbing the daycare/preschool ladder for years, he decided to try to make the Guinness Book of World Records for "most morning hugs." On one memorable day he hugged me five times at the door to his first-grade classroom -- including one final sprint around the corner and down the hall as I was making my getaway.

He surprises me with his off-the-wall questions. The other day he asked why the little silhouettes of men and women on restroom doors don't have eyes.

"It's a privacy issue," I said, and he nodded, pretending to understand.

His favorite pastime these days is making bracelets from rubber bands, which are knitted on something called a Rainbow Loom. With his mother's gift for detail work, he labors for hours making intricate "jewelry" items for his friends and family.

I sometimes get calls and letters from older parents who say they would give a small fortune just to go back in time and experience one more day when their children were young. One advantage of being 55 years old and a parent of young kids is that you get to cherish every sweet moment with grateful eyes.

One advantage of being a writer is that you see life as a unfolding story anchored in the details of the here and now.

I am doubly blessed.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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