It was a story at the top of the page of our newspaper, and it should have been. The paper routes of the newspapers in many large American cities will no longer be delivered by kids, but by adults in cars.

Get outta here! Tell me Barbie bleaches her ponytail. Tell me Dick Clark has a picture aging in his attic. But don't tell me that a tradition as old as the word is going down the tubes.I was a paperboy's mother for more years than I care to remember. It's on my resume. For years I listed it on my driver's license under "occupation." It tells you a lot about a person. (Your capacity for guilt and endurance for pain, to mention two.) I used to mention "our" route at parties and immediately be surrounded by admirers.

The job, however, was more than just status for my son. Forget the fact that for a period of five or six years he was the only person we knew with a savings account and could have bought and sold his entire family. More important, those were the years he was introduced to that great American threat that parents use to scare their kids half to death: the dreaded "real world."

It was his first encounter with responsibility, lousy hours and deadbeats. And he learned. He learned that birds that soar with "The Tonight Show" do not sprout wings at 4:30 the next morning.

He learned that people who live in $225,000 houses do not have a cash flow of $1.50 for their newspaper.

He learned that you cannot plan your retirement around a broken bicycle chain, and that a boy with a paper route has no friends when he wants a day off.

He found out rather quickly that working on Sundays could give you a hernia.

But the most important thing he discovered was that even though he represented nothing more than a "thud" to those still asleep in the morning, he was right up there in importance with the editors and writers of the paper he was carrying.

He balanced on his bike the most perishable item being consumed by people: a newspaper. All the planning of the editors, the color, the sports scores, the Pulitzer Prize-winning exposes and the comic geniuses were all in the hands of an army of small kids, some pedaling their way through the darkness in the small hours of the morning. Without them, all of the people at the paper might just as well have been writing and illustrating history books.

The reasons being cited for the demise of these carriers are fears over their safety, delivery costs, the weight of the Sunday editions, and a shortage of willing youngsters.

Maybe that's the "real world" now.