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It doesn't take a geat leap to conclude that boys and plaster are archenemies


THE SKY MAY not be falling, but our ceilings are shaking.

At home the other day, I looked up at what used to be a relatively smooth ceiling and saw that a chunk of plaster was missing. Immediately I had a suspect, our jumping, thumping teen-ager.

He quickly confessed. He explained he had been out in the hallway and had slapped his hand against the ceiling when, for no reason at all, this chunk of plaster came loose and fell to the floor. He had meant to tell me about the incident, he said, but it had slipped his mind.

I felt more relieved than angry. I had been worried that the falling plaster was a sign that the foundation of the house was about to give way. Instead, it was just more evidence that my wife and I now share our home with beings who have an urge to jump and touch every ceiling, every archway, every tall door frame.

The thought process of these jump-and-touchers seems to work something like this. See that 9-foot ceiling? Think you can touch it? Get a good run at it. If you miss it, you might want to try again. If you touch the first time, come back and touch it again.

The behavior seems to be contagious. Our 14-year-old started throwing himself at door frames about a year ago and soon his younger brother, now 10, was flying right behind him, trying to put his fingerprints high on the wall.

This need to soar appears to be especially strong among boys 9 to 14 years old . While I was wandering around a middle school recently, trying to finding missing members of our car pool, I stood near a double door leading from a playground to the school. Virtually every other boy who passed through the doorway felt compelled to fling himself in the air and touch the top of the door frame.

A woman I work with told me that when she walks down a street with her teen-age son, he peppers her with questions. "Think I can touch the top of that stop sign?" he will ask. "How about the top of that street sign?" More often than not, she said, her son is airborne before she can answer.

I am all in favor of jumping as long as it is conducted outdoors, in schools or in other buildings with reinforced concrete floors. When, however, the leaping is done inside the average American home, I rail against it. It is hard on the house and on the householders. Our kids, for example, may try to leap like gazelles, but they can land like a ton of bricks. One day, I was working on the second floor of our house when a leaper landed on the floor of the room above me. The windows shook. I thought it was a sonic boom.

When I went up to reprimand the kids, they tried to draw me into their competition. "Come on, Dad," they said. "You can touch the ceiling. You're not that old."

PD Usually the only way I can reach the spot the kids are trying to

touch is with a step ladder. That is what I will use when I patch that hole in the ceiling. I will get up on the ladder, remove the loose plaster, then wet the perimeter of the hole with water. Dampening the nearby plaster increases the chances that the patch will stick.

Using an old metal bread pan, I will mix water with some of the patching plaster that I bought at a hardware store. I will get a clean putty knife and put the patching plaster in the hole, stopping about a quarter of an inch short of the lip of the hole. I will add a second layer later. While the first layer of plaster is still wet, I will scratch its surface with a dinner fork.

Scratching the first layer with a fork increases the chances that the second layer of plaster will stick to it. The second layer of patching plaster goes in the hole about 24 hours after the first coat has dried. Then, after the second layer has dried, a process that usually takes another 24 hours, I will smooth the patch down with 150-grit sandpaper.

So, a week or so from now, the hole in our ceiling will be fixed. And the replacement patch will, I bet, make a perfect target for the guys who feel the urge to jump up and touch something.

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