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Enough's enough

I'M NOT easily shocked. In this permissive age, the shock-buds of any mother are inevitably numbed to the point of extinction ... but yesterday I heard a four-year-old utter two words that have caused me to redefine The Meaning Of Life. Standing in a room that contained nothing but 18 romping children, 36 colored ballons, and enough toys to stuff 65 Christmas stockings, this wide-eyed moppet turned to her hostess and solemnly announced, ``I'm bored.'' I hold the world to blame that such an obscenity should fall from the lips of a babe.

Has mankind's addiction to perpetual entertainment finally been transmitted to the innocent? Given that greater minds than mine are tangling with technology's traumas, I hesitate to observe that, as the video-culture escalates ... the mental muscles of our imagination atrophy accordingly.

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Spinning saucepan lids on the playroom floor simply fails to register on the Richter scale of childish occupations, and tea towels that once flapped freely behind Superman in flight now lie forgotten and forlorn on the kitchen sink. Cherubic children manipulated by money to master the art of playing Pac-Man and playing Space Invaders have momentarily mislaid the art of playing, full stop.

School holiday time, that ultimate test of a child's endurance (and a parent's ingenuity), must appear on the family budget as a financial outlay rivaled only by the national debt. Yet within living memory I can picture a pint-sized backyard that served as center-stage, without change of sets, for battalions of small boys to reenact, endlessly, Shintaro's conquest of the Ninjas and Thunderbird Two's conquest of space ... the same scrap of fence-paling doubling as Samurai Sword and Rocket Control.

That other event absolutely guaranteed to produce enfant ennui, the long car trip, has spawned a whole new amusement industry ... and today's family car (for even a quick dash to the supermarket) takes on all the overtones of a traveling Toymobile. Could it be possible that we blended a bunch of boys in the back of a station wagon (for a coast-to-coast crossing of the United States) without a single artificial additive?

Admittedly boredom broke through on one occasion, when the youngest, after 12 weeks of confinement, finally cracked enough to ask, ``When are we going to be there?'' Producing our large map of the continent, we carefully folded it in half, and pointed out that we were past the fold line ... if only just! This graphic demonstration of our progress had such an immediate effect that you could almost see his nostrils twitch as they scented the Atlantic ... and he suffered only minor relapses thereafter, when discreet enquiry would be made, ``How much past the fold are we now?''

Before the ability to entertain oneself is completely lost from the child's repertoire of party tricks, perhaps some form of therapy could be introduced. Say, compulsory National Service for Nippers -- whereby they must spend two weeks in a bare room (or backyard) thrown entirely on their own resources ... bereft of BMX, Barbie, and the Box. Once past the initial shock -- push-button fingers again flexing freely and eyes unglazed from continuous viewing -- they may even recall that ancient ritual, now shrouded in mystery called muckin' about.

And while not wishing to condemn any tot to a totally Teddy-free tomorrow, I do aver that our small-people population would be very much better served with a smaller portion of playthings. After all, if the arms race can be slowed, why not the toys race?

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