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I recently interviewed a Chattanooga doctor who said one of his childhood pleasures was taking apart toys and then putting them back together.

Now, he repairs humans. It's called surgery, and I hear it pays well.

I realize there are happy endings to boyhood impulses. I try to remind myself of this when our 17-year-old and 12-year-old sons ask permission to demolish things.

Just in the past 10 days I have said both "yes" and "no" to the 12-year-old, who launches nonstop assaults on my sense of order.

One night he texted me while I was shopping at Walmart and asked if I would pick up a popcorn-ceiling scraper.

A what?

By the time I got the text, he and Mom had already set out for Home Depot to get the tool.

I am not a fan of popcorn ceilings. They scream 1980s, and I know from watching HGTV that young home buyers find them revolting, in the same way they think non-granite kitchen countertops are prehistoric.

But I am also not a fan of home-renovation messes, and removing (and replacing) popcorn ceilings is as messy as it gets. Plus, the thought of a 12-year-old turned loose with a scraping tool terrified me.

We eventually compromised. The popcorn scraping would be contained to his second-floor bedroom, I said. With a partial green light, he quickly covered all his bedroom furniture with plastic sheeting and set his iPhone to his favorite music. He was taking no chances that I might change my mind.

The next day, when I returned home from work, I asked: "So how is the popcorn project going?"

"I find it strangely satisfying," he mused.

This kid is from another planet.

Part of the joy of childhood is pushing boundaries,

Fresh off his popcorn-ceiling victory, our younger son decided to press his luck.

"Dad, can I take apart the old television upstairs?"

"My, no," I said reflexively. "You cannot take apart the upstairs TV."

I could feel my blood pressure rise. The "old television" to which he referred is actually a lightly used Sony high-definition unit with a cathode-ray tube and an HDMI input. It is a relic of a brief moment in time when hi-def programming was available but flat-screen plasma and LCD TVs had not become ubiquitous.

The large picture tube in the 30-inch Sony results in a set weighing well north of 200 pounds. When it was new, I loved the thought that I had a high-performance television that was basically burglar-proof.

I remember that one of the movers who carried the TV into our house years ago said, "When you move again, don't call us." He was the low man of two wrestling the Sony up to the second floor, and when the weight shifted it was like dead-lifting a middle linebacker.

The thought of our 12-year-old attacking it with a screwdriver and a set of locking pliers made me slightly nauseated. (I later discovered a similar set selling for $1,800 on eBay.)

I must have been sufficiently forceful with my emphatic "no" that he didn't ask again.

Meanwhile, our older son seems to have internalized some of my teachings.

Upon returning from a yard sale last week, he showed me a vintage Nintendo game cartridge that he bought for 5 bucks that might actually be worth hundreds.

"Nice catch, kid," I said. "Was that your only purchase?"

"I almost bought a lawn mower," he said.

some text
Mark Kennedy

"Well, why didn't you?" I asked.

"I just wanted it to take it apart," he said. "But I decided that somebody who lives here might not want to look at the mess."

With that, he glanced at me sideways and smiled.

"A perfect child," I thought to myself. "My work here is done."

Meanwhile, from upstairs I heard a familiar 12-year-old voice.

"Hey Dad, do you still want these old stereo speakers?"

D'oh!

I think I stretched a hamstring running up the stairs.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645.

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