Skater Boy was pretty young, maybe three or four, when he started coming over to our house. He lived, in those days, just next door which meant he didn't have to cross a street to go from his house to ours. He'd just show up. A tiny kid with a crewcut, he rarely said a word to me, but joined in with whatever the gang of kids in the house were doing. In late afternoon, when it was time for my kids to do their chores, I'd assign stuff to our extra kids, especially the ones old enough to actually do something helpful. I'd tell Skater Boy that his chore was to pet the cats.
He took this chore very seriously. When I'd walk from the kitchen to the living room, looking to see if Boy in Black was picking up the blocks or Croaky Voice was putting away the traintracks, I'd see Skater Boy sitting cross-legged on the floor with a cat on his lap. I'd ask, "Is everyone cleaning?" and he'd look up at me with serious eyes, "I'm petting a cat."
Skater Boy is sixteen now. He's still part of our household, even though he doesn't live next door. He comes snowboarding with us on Sundays in the winter, and on Saturday nights, you can find him in our living room sitting at the drum set or playing the guitar. His crewcut has been replaced by a mop of shaggy brown hair. But he still remembers the chore I assigned to him many years ago. Amidst all the noise and confusion in the house, which often includes me yelling at the teenagers to clean the kitchen or pick up their stuff, he'll sit for long minutes on the couch, patiently and gently petting a cat.