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Nature or nurture, boys will always be boys

From the Nut-Doesn't-Fall-Far-From-the-Tree Department, here's a recent exchange between my fifth-grader and his teacher, who was explaining to her class some of the finer points of short story writing:

Teacher: It's very important to make sure all your characters are well-developed.

My son: But what if my characters haven't reached puberty yet?

Obviously, he can't be blamed for his heredity, nor I suppose for his conflicted upbringing.

After all, this is a child who for his 11th birthday received the following: a laser-tag party, in which he and his friends ran around for an hour "shooting" each other with light pistols; a rapid-fire Nerf dart gun, with which he and his friends gleefully pelted each other for another hour; and an illustrated book on non-violence.

I'm not taking all the blame, though. Left to their own devices, the six 11-year-olds who spent last Friday night and most of Saturday at our house proved that the exorbitant amount of money we shelled out on toy weapons was probably gratuitous. Their idea of a good time involved running around in the woods whacking each other with sticks. Excuse me, "swords."

So in the nature vs. nurture debate - is aggressive behavior among boys innate or is it learned? - I'm coming down on the side of nature.

Here's another thing I don't understand about adolescent boys: How can they keep forgetting their clothes? I mean, every time we host a sleepover, we wind up with enough extra T-shirts and hoodies to stock an Old Navy store.

Shoes are the worst, though. It seems like whenever any of the neighbor kids come over to jump on our trampoline, they wind up leaving their shoes in our backyard.

How do you go off without your shoes? Wouldn't you notice at some point, as you walked home, that you were just wearing socks?

Speaking of which, that's another sore point at our house. Our boys don't so much wear socks as use them, the way one uses paper plates or Q-Tips. We find discarded socks all over the place - behind the couch, under the refrigerator, hanging from tree limbs in our backyard.

Of course, actually finding them in the laundry basket is even worse, given that a basketful of boys' socks has approximately the same aroma as the contents of your refrigerator would have if you came home from vacation and found that the power had been out for six days.

At least their socks aren't as bad as their underwear, which - alarmingly - we also tend to find in various unusual locations around the house. The worst part is, some of those briefs and boxers don't even belong to my sons. (See above-referenced sleep-overs.)

But hey, I suppose I should be relieved. At least I'm not finding underwear out by the trampoline.

Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.