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Relating to children - Joel Hall

I love my family, and since my parents and five siblings are scattered across the four corners of America, I rarely get to see them all in one place. This past Thanksgiving, I got to see just about everyone, including all of my nephews, for the first time in a very long while.

This holiday was also the first time I had ever interacted with all of my nephews in a holiday setting. My oldest brother has three boys, around the ages of three, five, and 11, while my younger sister has a boy who is just two-months old.

Seeing my older nephews smash LEGO cars into each other and practice take downs on the living room floor of my middle brother's home made me realize that it had been a while since my nephews had seen their uncle. The last time I saw them, the younger ones were barely walking and I was pulling the oldest one in a Radio Flyer wagon.

My nephews now are little people with individual likes, dislikes, and personalities. The one thing my older nephews all have in common, however, is that they all like to wrestle.

My middle brother, a muscular, ex-football player, is a favorite with my nephews when it comes to roughhousing. Whenever they see him, they jump on top of him and try, with all their might, to bring down his immovable, tree-trunk legs and massive, door-sized frame.

While I had the genetics to become an athletic powerhouse, I somehow ended up becoming this big, six-foot-two-inch nerd. While other kids were playing pick-up games and jumping off of rusty playground equipment, I was busy doodling, reading Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias for fun, and taking apart computers.

To be honest, I didn't play well with others when I was a kid because I was always busy tending to my own little world. I was confronted with that fact again when I found myself being initiated into playtime with nephews.

Small children have always terrified me, not because I dislike them, but because I'm always self-conscious about my ability to relate to them. Because my playtime was so different from the playtime of other children, I'm always afraid that if I try to engage children now, they'll scoff at me, say something like, "What do you know about the joys of crayons and paste?" -- and walk away.

The children, perhaps more perceptive than some of the adults, could pick up on my apprehension. As I poked at my turkey and tried to engage other adults in conversation, my middle brother was busy engaging my nephews in some kind of "bucking bull" game, in which my brother was the bull.

It then hit me that the time with my nephews was limited, and if I was going to leave them with any lasting memories, I was going to have to overcome my apprehension, reach deep down, and access the inner child I had locked away some time ago.

After letting my food settle, I sat in the middle of the living room, waiting for one of my nephews to tackle me. Eventually, they took the bait and all those years of watching Hulk Hogan and the "Macho Man" Randy Savage go at it came in handy. I was soon putting them into merciful versions of the "torture rack" and "Texas clover leaf." Tapping into some of my dorkier skill sets, I was later able to impress them with my extensive knowledge of LEGO construction methods.

Thanksgiving helped me realize that, maybe, I'm not as hopeless with children as I once thought. I think deep down, every adult has the ability to relate to a child, if he is willing to step outside of his own world and step into the child's.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.