Boy mystery No. 547: Why dig holes to China?


BEFORE ANYONE CALLS SOCIAL SERVICES, I need to explain why my youngest son upon occasion stands in a deep hole in our backyard with an upturned tomato cage over his head.
Please note that Ray, 6, views the wire structure above him as some sort of spaceship nose capsule, not as cruel entrapment. He clearly feels as proud of his spot as an astronaut must feel before blasting off to the moon.
We know this because as soon as both of his older brothers — Carl, 10, and Andy, 8 — lean on their shovels during our backyard dig, Ray scrambles with Chinese fire drill haste into the hole. Then, he helps them fit the tomato cage on its rim before squealing as they applaud.
This drill could provide all of us with endless cheap entertainment this summer if the boys stopped digging.
Instead, they dig every day, and their buddies hop in the hole to help out during visits.
Their friend, Jack — the boy who lives on the other side of the fence from the hole — monitors progress from his little sister’s room when he is grounded or supposed to be spending an hour of quiet time in his room.
We wonder sometimes if he worries about all three of them popping up in his yard, resurfacing with Alcatraz-level jailbreak euphoria.
Jack would not want to miss this — especially since he, too, has spent time digging in the hole.
If you are a boy between the ages of about 3 and 12, you understand the intrigue of this pastime in ways that a mother approaching 50 cannot.
Until this summer, I considered the hole between our garage and the fence a fad — something my husband and I would backfill during our abundance of spare time.
Seriously, though, how could something so boring and labor intensive hold a boy’s interest for so long?
Now that I have read aloud to my kids 26 of the 50 chapters in Louis Sachar’s book, “Holes” (Frances Foster books), the question seems even more reasonable.
The fictitious story features a boy convicted of shoe theft and sent for 18 months to Camp Green Lake — a dried-up Texas lake where each boy does hard time by digging a hole 5-feet wide by 5-feet deep every day in blazing heat.
Our boys launched their voluntary backyard hole dig months before we opened the book, a John Newbery Medal winner.
So, the story has failed so far to stigmatize digging holes, especially after the main character unearthed a monogrammed gold lipstick tube the warden treasured for reasons yet unknown.
The other homespun fun my sons pursue makes sense to me.
Most recently, that list includes filling the tub to put the plastic Navy destroyer out to sea; burying each other on hot days with wet sand in the sandbox; tying twine ropes on the banister to climb upstairs, Indiana Jones’ style; and sleeping in their Halloween costumes.
What a relief that my husband, David, understands something more about them. The kids recently ratted him out — told me that he dug a starter hole for each of them, though they quickly pooled resources to make more spectacular progress on one.
These days, that hole could swallow both Ray and the tomato cage without a trace.
But as it gets deeper and wider, the boys have given me more hints in understanding their hole digging habit, more hints in understanding the importance –even to young boys — of flexing their muscles to dig to China or some place else.
“One reason that I dig holes is so I can grow up to be a strong man,” Andy said.
Pam Mellskog can be reached at or 303-746-0942.


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