December 31, 2011


Time for reflection

Yesterday, I took a long walk with an old friend. (To clarify, it’s the friendship that’s old, not the friend.) Her husband and son, who had driven in from out of state with her, joined us for a hike around Pretty Colour Lake. On a cold winter day, the lake wasn't its usual deep green-blue colour, but a shifting pattern of greys and light blues. “That’s what I love about this lake,” Poet Woman said as we walked. “It’s always different. You never get bored.”

I could say the same about friendship. I’ve been friends with Poet Woman for 20 years, Artist Friend for 10 years, and Kindergarten Friend for 45 years. Most of my friends are people I’ve known for at least a decade. But my friends keep growing and changing, showing different aspects of themselves as the light changes, and our conversations never get boring.

Through the brambles



Quick, a long-time extra in our household and an amazing musician, got light-up drumsticks for Christmas.

December 29, 2011


New toy

I was just leaving the house with Little Biker Boy to buy him a birthday present — I’d decided to let him pick out his own present this year — when we discovered that freezing rain had sealed the car shut. I tried every door, but none of them would budge.

“This is terrible!” Little Biker Boy screamed. He ran around and around the car, periodically stopping to kick the metal. Kicking the car did no good whatsoever, especially since he wasn’t even kicking at the doors, but it served to help vent his anger.

Little Biker Boy isn't a patient kid even on his best days, and he’d been having a bad week. Vacations are tough for him. School is a safe place with a consistent routine, filled with teachers and counselors who know how to handle him. A week in his mother’s apartment left him filled with frustration and anger, two emotions he does not handle well.

“Why did you let Shaggy Hair Boy take your car?” he yelled. “Now we can’t go to the store!” He yanked on the door handle, but it didn’t move.

I’ve had frozen car doors before, and I knew we’d get them open eventually. In my old station wagon, I used to just open the hatch in the back and crawl to the front. I tried to think of what I could use to thaw the locks out. A hair dryer and an extension cord might work, if we owned a hair dryer, which we don’t.

The cold wind whipped my hair into my face. I didn’t have the energy to handle both Little Biker Boy and the frozen locks. I brought him back into the warm house.

Boy in Black was already putting on his boots and coat. “I don’t care what you have to do,” I muttered to him. “Just get the doors open.”

It was a bad start to the afternoon, but thankfully, Boy in Black was able to pry open a door and get the car started. Our first stop was the pizza place. “It’s our tradition,” Little Biker Boy said. I kept the car running so that the doors would thaw, while he went in to buy a couple slices of pizza, and we sat in the warm car, eating and talking. Once he’d told me about his week and calmed down, we went to the toy aisle of a big store, where he debated for a long time before choosing a remote control car, some plastic wrestling figures, and a basketball.

By the time we returned to the house, his mood was calmer. I built a fire while he tested his car out in the living room, the hall, and then outside in the yard. It was dark before I said to him, finally, “I have to take you home now.”

He looked out into the driveway hopefully. “Maybe the doors will be frozen shut, and I’ll have to stay here.”

December 28, 2011

Smells so good

Welcome Red-haired Sister and her two kids are always doing cool craft projects, which means we get nice homemade presents from them, like this lovely holiday wreath they made for my house. Every time I open the front door, I can smell fresh cedar and pine.

December 27, 2011

Always, music

Always, music

In my family, our holiday activities are mostly eating and talking. And in between, there’s always music.

December 24, 2011

Ready for Christmas

The last couple of days, we’ve had a flurry of cooking and cleaning, getting ready for the Christmas holidays. The elderly man who tunes our piano made a special trip to the house on Thursday to make sure our holiday music would be in tune. We’ve made countless trips to the grocery store. When the kids are all home, we go through about three gallons of chocolate milk each day: they consider in the perfect food after a workout. Each day that we get closer to Christmas brings more of our extra kids home from college, so we’ve had a gang in the living room every evening, talking and playing games.

The out-of-town family has arrived, which means text messages from Urban Sophisticate as she does her traditional last-minute Christmas shopping trip with my father. Taekwondo Nephew and Dandelion Niece showed up at my house early this morning, volunteering to be my sous chefs, and helpfully chopped up vegetables while I prepared food for Christmas dinner. My husband and the rest of the gang are busy cleaning, which is a never-ending job in this household. Shaggy Hair Boy, as usual, is at the piano, filling the house with jazz music as we work. My kids all learned early on that the way to get out of doing chores was to play the piano -- I can never bring myself to ask them to stop playing so that they can clean.

My kids had given themselves an athletic challenge — which was to run 100 miles in December. Because my daughter is leaving on a trip the day after Christmas, the goal morphed into running 100 miles before Christmas Eve. With-a-Why had to drop out of the challenge because he strained something in his foot and was forced to rest, but the other three kids were determined to reach their goal, despite the end-of-semester busyness.

Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter finished the 100 miles easily —running anywhere from 5 to 10 miles every time she went to the gym. Boy in Black missed some days during a stretch when he was taking finals and grading exams, but then he caught up by running 10 or 12 miles at a time. Shaggy Hair missed some days when he was off visiting his girlfriend, so yesterday he still had 19 miles to go. He went off to the gym early in the day, right after his piano lesson, and said, “I plan to be there for hours.” More than three hours later, he sent everyone in the family a text message: he’d completed his goal.

The weather has been unseasonable warm, but this morning we woke up to snow. That means it’s time to build a fire in the fireplace as we gather to celebrate the holidays.

Cold, with snow

Cold, with snow

December 21, 2011

Holiday music

Holiday music

Because I never listen to the radio and rarely go into a store with piped-in music, I don't hear the sappy Christmas music that everyone else seems to complain about all November and December. But that doesn’t mean I don’t hear holiday music. In fact, this month has been filled with music, mostly jazz and classical.

The first musical performance we went to this month was held in a castle-like building built more than 100 years ago: it’s the music building on the Snowstorm University campus, but looks like something that belongs at Hogwarts. In an auditorium marked by lovely woodwork, Shaggy Hair Boy accompanied the jazz ensemble on a black grand piano. Because he’s the pianist, he’s the one musician who doesn’t face the audience, which is why it’s lucky he’s got such great hair.

The next weekend, we crowded into a bookstore to hear Shaggy Hair Boy and With-a-Why play a duet, and then the next weekend, they played two piano recitals at the music studio. The families of the other piano students know my two by now, and I often hear people whisper as they get their programs, “Oh, the brothers are going to play!” They know Shaggy Hair Boy for his jazzy numbers, and With-a-Why because he can play songs like Flight of the Bumblebee, which requires playing really fast.

Last Saturday, we went to “Cabaret” night at the local high school. For the first half hour, as people mingled and talked and found their seats, With-a-Why played song after song on the piano. It’s amazing how classical music, nice tablecloths, and dim lighting can transform a high school cafeteria into a cabaret. He sang with the chamber choir, but the evening also featured him playing DeBussy’s Clair de Lune on the piano.

The holiday music season ended yesterday afternoon with the boys playing in a more humble setting: the lobby of the assisted living center where my mother-in-law lives. Although the boys each did a few show-off instrumental pieces, most of their time was spent playing traditional Christmas Carols while my husband took the microphone and got all the old people to sing along with him. My mother-in-law kept turning and saying in a stage whisper, “That’s my son! And my grandsons!”

When the event was over, my husband and I helped move chairs while aides came in to assist some of the residents. But Shaggy Hair Boy stayed at the keyboard, playing songs like “Over the Rainbow” and “Georgia on My Mind.”

“This brings tears to my eyes,” my mother-in-law said to me. I could tell that some of the elderly women sitting near her felt the same way. None of them wanted to move. I’m not sure how long they would have all stayed there — Shaggy Hair Boy playing the old standards, the old folks listening — if the staff didn’t come in to politely tell them that it was almost time for the first dinner shift.

An elderly woman let go of her walker to grab my hand. “Your sons have a passion for music,” she said. “That’s a wonderful gift.” Then she went down the hall, singing under her breath as she pushed the metal walker over the linoleum.

December 19, 2011

Spitting distance

Over the tracks

When I picked up Little Biker Boy, I could tell he was in a difficult mood. He stomped out of the little apartment where he lives with his mother without saying goodbye to her. Then he began telling me a fictional story about the life he’d had when he lived with his father. “I owned two snowmobiles. No, three snowmobiles, all to myself. And we used to race them.”

I’d planned to bring him home to my house to help decorate our Christmas tree, but I could see right away that his mood wasn’t a good fit for a living room filled musical instruments, boxes of fragile Christmas tree ornaments, and laptop computers balanced on small tables.

So instead, we went to the green bridge. It’s a pedestrian bridge that rises up three floors above the railroad tracks. To climb it, you walk up cage-like tunnels made of metal grates, first one, then another, and then a third. The fourth tunnel goes across the railroad tracks, high enough that even a double-decker train can pass underneath. When you run up and down, the metal shakes and rattles. The scariest part is that you can look down through the metal and get an incredible sensation of height.

Little Biker Boy ran ahead of me, yelling as he went up the metal ramps. He kicked metal grates and they rattled. At the very top, he stopped and looked down. “It’s so scary when you look down,” he said. He and I are both afraid of heights. We walked across cautiously, looking down whenever we wanted a shot of adrenaline. At the very middle we stopped. Five tracks lay beneath us, and when we walked, the metal bridge shook under our feet.

“Look!” Little Biker said. In this distance, we could see the light of an approaching train. It came rumbling and clanking toward us, moving fast through the big train yard and then swerving on the track that led right below our feet.

The whistle blew. Little Biker Boy yelled, but I couldn’t hear anything he was saying. We both jumped up and down on the rattling bridge. It felt like the whole town was shaking. The train whooshed by underneath us, car after car: yellow, orange, brown, red.

Little Biker Boy lay down on the grate and spit. His saliva landed on the top of the train. We could both see the mark as the train passed through. He laughed and stood up again, and we watched as the train kept coming, car after car.

After the train had gone through, we climbed down the other side of the bridge. “I spit on a train!” Little Biker Boy kept saying. That was apparently the accomplishment he needed to shift into a better mood.

The green bridge

December 17, 2011

Binge cleaning

It happens every December. I click the little button that allows me to submit my grades and think to myself, “Hurray! I’m done! I can sit back and relax!”

Then I stand up from my desk, look around my house, and think, “Ugh. When was the last time I cleaned this place?”

It’s amazing how things pile up during the semester. Oh, we manage to keep up with some of the day-to-day stuff like washing dishes, doing laundry, and even occasionally cleaning the bathrooms, but still, at the end of a busy semester, the house looks worse than a cheap hotel room occupied by a bunch of Ultimate Frisbee players.

I’m a binge cleaner by nature, and I have to admit, I sort of enjoy the kind of cleaning and purging that’s necessary at the end of the semester. When my kids were little, I’d go through their toys and clothes every December, getting rid of anything that was outgrown, outdated, or broken. I still get a sense of satisfaction when I fill a bag with stuff to take over to the Rescue Mission. I’ve figured out the formula over the years: every bag of stuff that leaves the house will make my home just a bit easier to clean.

At a Christmas party last night, someone said to me, “Do you have your shopping done?”

It seemed to me a very odd question. This isn’t the season for buying stuff. It’s the season for getting rid of stuff — the shirt that doesn’t fit me any more because it shrunk, that board game my kids out grew, and that book that got dropped into the bathtub. It's time to fill up bags with clothes that just hang in our closets and let someone else get some use out of them. It’s the season for sorting through the folders, papers, and books piled on the floor of my office, or the bin of mail and papers on the kitchen table.

It’s time to clean for the family and friends we'll be seeing over the next month. It's time to make space for the new year.

December 13, 2011


The semester is winding down. My older two kids have moved back home for winter break, but none of us are quite in vacation mode yet.

My daughter, sitting by the fire, has her computer open and a stack of papers in her lap. She’s preparing for her thesis proposal defense – something to do with social norms theory and the sexual behavior of college-age women. With-a-Why, at one end of the couch, is writing a paper for his graphic novel class. He’s arguing that Batman represents conservative values while Superman represents liberal values. Boy in Black, who has claimed the other end of the couch, is studying for a physics exam. Smiley Girl is preparing for her dendrology final by flipping through index cards filled with facts about trees. Shaggy Hair Boy is writing a paper about how he considers jazz a sacred music. My husband is checking graphs that show what the stock market is doing, and muttering about a “head and shoulders” pattern.

After a day of long meetings on campus, I came home to make veggie lasagna so that we could all eat together before getting back to work. I’ve got a stack of portfolios in my office, but I need a good night sleep before I tackle them. I’ll start grading them tomorrow.

December 11, 2011

Made for walking

For a couple of years now, my piano teacher has been saying she needs to take me shopping. She’s a beautiful woman who is always dressed gorgeously, in carefully chosen clothes and jewelry. I, on the other hand, tend to wear the same pair of jeans over and over again, paired with whatever t-shirt I happened to grab out of the closet. Once when my daughter was trying to tactfully describe the way I dress, Boy in Black said, “You’d never be surprised to find a twig or leaf in Mom’s hair.” Yep. That about sums it up.

Friday afternoon during my piano lesson, Beautiful Piano Teacher told me she’d just bought a pair of boots. She even pulled out her cell phone to show me a picture of them. “They’re warm and comfortable,” she said. “I hate cold feet.” 

“I hate cold feet too,” I said. “I should get a pair of boots.” It’s not that I don’t own a pair of boots. I do. They’re insulated hiking boots that have to be laced up every time I put them on. I wear them with jeans all winter long, but they’re fairly clunky and my feet end up sweating, which makes them cold. I liked the idea of a pair of boots that I could just slip on and off, so that my feet won’t sweat when I’m indoors.

“I used to have a pair of regular boots,” I told Beautiful Piano Teacher. “But it was before my daughter was born so it was more than 25 years ago.”

She stood up. “We have to get you a pair of boots. Let’s go.”

“Right now?” I asked. I liked the idea of owning boots, but the thought of shopping for them made me feel queasy. Shopping for boots would be a Herculean task, one I’d need to prepare for with food and drink, perhaps some meditation.

“Yep,” she said firmly. “My next lesson cancelled — we have time.”

The next thing you know, we were in her car and heading to the mall. Yes, we were going to the mall on a Friday afternoon just two weeks before Christmas. Beautiful Piano Teacher is a brave woman. 

She led me into Baron & Seamstress, an expensive department store. “Don’t worry,” she said. “They’re having a sale.”

It wasn’t the prices that scared me, but rather, the store itself. I’m afraid of department stores. They confuse me. There are always pillars and mirrors and escalators and racks of stuff set up in paths that get me completely lost. The merchandise is set up in a way that seems to me completely random. I much prefer thrift stores, where all the red shirts are put on one rack, or all the jeans in one bin. That method of organization is at least logical.

But Beautiful Piano Teacher has no fear of department stores. In fact, she actually likes to shop. Without hesitation, she marched past racks of shirts and holiday sweaters, swishing past counters of perfume and weird cosmetic gunk, turning this way and that, leading me right to the shoe department. She was right about the sale. Big signs proclaimed the prices. Women were everywhere – grabbing at the boots on the tables, sitting in the chairs to take off their shoes, and tossing boxes aside as they tried the boots on. It’s the kind of scene that made me want to turn and slink out of the store, although escape at that point was impossible since there’s no way I could have ever found my way back to the car.

The confusion didn’t bother Beautiful Piano Teacher at all. She scanned the tables quickly, while I muttered objections. “No heels. No pointy toes. No suede. No weird buckles.”

She found a boot that met my requirements and held it up. “See? It’s lined so they'll be warm. It’s stylish.”

I gave in. “Okay.” Then I looked around. All the chairs were filled, so I figured it might take hours before anyone waited on us. Usually in that situation, I give up and go home. I’m invisible when I’m in a department store — I never get waited on. And more than twenty minutes in a mall makes me lightheaded.

Beautiful Piano Teacher went up to the counter, held up the boot, and called out in her lovely Russian accent: “We need this in size 8.” A salesperson appeared from nowhere.

Within minutes, I was trying on the boots. They were as comfortable as slippers. They were lined with soft, warm material. Beautiful Piano Teacher assured me they were fashionable.

“Even if you wear jeans, they look so much better than the sneakers or hiking boots you usually wear,” she said. We drove back to the studio just in time for her next lesson, and the next day, I tried the boots out. I wore them for hours, and my feet stayed warm and comfortable the whole time.

“It’s a start,” Beautiful Piano Teacher said when I showed up at my sons’ piano recital wearing the boots. “Next time, we will buy you some clothes.”

December 09, 2011

What I learned this semester

On the last day of class, I gave each of my first year students an index card and asked them to write one thing they learned during their first semester in college. Then I shuffled the cards and read them aloud.

Apoptosis is programmed cell death.

In my first semester of college, I learned that Dungeons & Dragons is more fun than it sounds.

The average American teenager sends and receives about 80 text messages every day.

How to do stoichiometry.

Eight hours of sleep a night will not happen. Naps are great. So is coffee.

I learned more about the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is awesome.

I learned more about steel than I ever thought possible.

Twenty-four percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 50 have at least one tattoo.

Time management. Finally.

A medium-sized dog has double the environmental impact of driving an SUV for 10,000 miles.

Only 8 percent of the energy in the United States comes from renewable resources.

I learned that there are people here and around the world who think like me about the environment.

I learned how to recognize bad writing.

350 ppm is the safe limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We’ve passed that.

I learned that I look decent with a beard.

I learned the importance of stress release and sleep.

I learned that formaldehyde is what makes me feel light-headed while dissecting things.

I learned that I procrastinate way too much, have a horrible work ethic, and am too obsessed with Facebook. 

I learned why God created Sunday as the day of rest. It's because Friday and Saturday kicks your butt.

There is a subspecies of drosophila (fruit fly) that has sperm that is 5.8 cm long.

Time management is extremely important.

I learned what dimensional analysis is.

When times get tough, and there’s a right or left in the trail ahead of you, you must go straight through the brush, because nothing is easy.

I learned that the molecular mass of carbon dioxide is 44.01 grams and water is 18.01 grams.

I apparently have an accent of some sort.

I learned how to properly light my hand on fire.

Dining hall food gets old. 

This semester I learned the basics on why animals behave the way they do.

Temperature influences turtle gender.

Pulling an all-nighter to study and taking a caffeine pill is not a good combination.

I learned that power naps are the key to survival.

Having a lab partner is a lifelong commitment.

You must let the little things in life that bug you slide because in the end, they don’t really matter. 

Chemistry is harder than I thought. I would rather build a real life replica of the Colesium.

I learned how to solve problems with my roommate.

You are not supposed to reduce a fever.

My study habits aren’t good enough.

Monecious means that something has male and female organs.

I learned more in this one semester of college than I did in 12 years of grade school.

How to budget my time.

I learned how to do calculus. Sort of.

The cemetery is a great place to go for a walk and escape the stresses of school.

Science is a lot of hard work.

I learned to accept those who have different political views than I do.

I really learned a lot about different movements and current events going on in the world around us. 

The easiest decision is rarely the right one.

 Life goes on.

December 07, 2011

jo(e) athlete

A few years ago, when a new gym opened near us, my husband joined. He’s gone faithfully, usually three times each week, and that’s kept him in pretty good shape. I went with him once and decided that a regular gym wasn’t really for me. I prefer to exercise outside in the fresh air. I’ve never been one to exercise just for the sake of exercise. I’d rather take classes like karate or belly dancing, snowboarding or skiing, so that I’m learning a skill while I exercise.

But this winter, my Ultimate Frisbee playing kids are using the gym to stay in shape while the Ultimate fields are covered with snow. They coordinate the times by cell phone and travel in two groups – one group coming from campus and one group from my house. They’ve pledged to each run 100 miles in December.

So last night, I drove over to the gym with my husband, who had gotten out of work late. By the time I walked into the big room with the treadmills, their workout was already in full swing. The five kids (Smiley Girl is part of the group) were lined up on five treadmills, all running hard. They were a noticeable group because they were all wearing bright-coloured Ultimate shirts. Shaggy Hair Boy’s hot pink outfit and With-a-Why’s bright purple make them very easy to find.

I took the treadmill next to Boy in Black, which may have been a mistake. He thinks it’s fun to do things like the set the treadmill at top speed so that he can run a five-minute mile. I ran for hours — okay, maybe it wasn’t really that long — and went only two miles.

But still, I congratulated myself. So far I’ve run 2 miles in December. Only 98 more to go! I abandoned my family, who were all still running obsessively. I went to the hot tub for a few minutes, then the sauna. Those, I could get used. Then I changed back into my clothes and found the rest of the family, who were gathering in the lobby.

“Do you think you’re going to make the 100 miles?” I asked my daughter. “December goes by fast.” 

She pulled her coat on as we walked toward the door. “Well, today is Day 6, and I’ve already run 30 miles. So I think I’m good.”

December 05, 2011

Chilly day for a swim

Into the water

I stood on the shore of the lake wearing a winter coat over a wool sweater, plus a scarf and mittens, to protect me from the cold December wind that blew across the lake. Volunteers from a local diving club, clad in dry suits that kept them warm, stood waist-deep in the lake, waiting for the event to begin.

“I’m disappointed that it’s not snowing,” said the cheerful woman standing next to me. “That always makes this more fun.”

“Some years they have to break some ice,” said an older man with a camera. “They lucked out this year.”

To my right, hundreds of people gathered under a big white tent. Some teams wore matching t-shirts or crazy hats. Many had stripped down to bathing suits and barefeet. Blond Brother-in-law had on bright green shorts, but I kept losing sight of him in the confusion.

Someone with a microphone began a countdown, and suddenly they all started running — across the muddy ground and straight into the cold lake. 

It was one of the craziest fundraisers I’ve ever seen. Folks of all ages were splashing, squealing, and yelling as their bodies hit the icy water. A teenager in a bikini kicked her feet and splashed her friends. Some friends locked arms and ran together. Some dove under to get their hair wet while others were content to run splashing and screaming in a wide arc. Within about ten minutes, more than 300 people had jumped into the lake, all to raise money for the Special Olympics.

The event didn’t last long. Within minutes, people began running back out of the lake, eagerly grabbing dry towels from family and friends who stood on the bank. All around me I could hear excited chatter as folks dried off and began putting layers of clothes back on over their goose pimples. I found Blond Brother-in-law talking to my parents. He was soaking wet, but that didn’t seem to bother him at all. “Nice day for a swim,” he said.


December 03, 2011



Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter and Sailor Boy went out to buy birthday presents; they called to say that they’d pick up Drama Niece on their way home. Boy-in-Black and Blonde Niece went to the grocery store to buy cookies, granola, fruit, and gallons of chocolate milk. Smiley Girl cleaned the kitchen while Shaggy Hair Boy picked With-a-Why up from his piano lesson. I carried logs in to build a fire. My husband texted to say he'd be home soon.

As everyone began to gather in our living room, I brought out dozens of beeswax candles from the monastery.

“No candles near the laptops!” warned Boy-in-Black. Our living room has so many little tables that it looks like a library or coffee shop, and my kids have strict rules about their computers. Drinks and melting wax are not allowed near the piano or on any little table that holds a laptop. So I pulled over several wooden stools. Soon plates of candles were balanced amongst the bodies and laptops crowded into the living room.

The many little flames combined with the glowing logs in the fireplace lit the faces of the kids as they talked, telling stories and funny anecdotes about the two teenagers whose birthdays we were celebrating: Drama Niece and Smiley Girl.

I’ve known Smiley Girl for more than a year now — she was my student before she started dating Shaggy Hair Boy — and I’ve known Drama Niece her whole life. I well remembered the morning of her birth. “I held you when you were just minutes old,” I said.

“You win at the candle ceremony,” she said. “No one can beat that.”

Of course, if there’s any competition at the candle ceremony, it’s who can come up with the funniest story. Drama Niece, whose pseudonym comes from the amazing theatrical talent she showed during high school plays, won that competition by jumping in with backstory to anecdotes her cousins were telling.

By the time we were done with stories, some of the candles had burned down completely, and the plates I’d set around the room were filled with pools of melting wax. And now Drama Niece and Smiley Girl, born the exact same day, are no longer teenagers, but young women in their twenties.

December 01, 2011


One Thanksgiving when I was very small, my grandmother taught me how to serve cranberry sauce out of a can. While I knelt on the kitchen counter and watched, she used the can opener to cut both ends, then pushed the sauce through so that it came out neatly, beautifully red and perfectly molded. 

Years later, long after my grandmother had died, my mother decided to make fancy homemade cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving. She spent all kinds of time making it, and admittedly, it tasted good, but I was horrified. “But we always have cranberry sauce that’s shaped like a tin can,” I said to her. “It’s a tradition.”

I’ve never been someone who embraces change.

If there’s someone who likes rituals even more than me, it’s Little Biker Boy, the ten-year-old who used to live down the street. When I picked him up after school, we didn’t even have to discuss where we were going. I drove straight to the pizza place in Traintrack, and he said, “Park in front of the sign, like you always do.”

I handed him the money, because he likes to be the one to pay, and he carried the pizza slices out to the car. While we ate, we talked about his week at school, his new social worker, and his weekend with his older sister. Then we drove around his old neighborhood. “Don’t forget to go down to the railroad track,” he said. “We always do that.”

So we drove down to the end of my road to watch the trains going by. When the train went by going east, I told him stories about Big City Like No Other, and we imagined what the people on the train might do when they get to the city. He knows the details by heart, even though he’s never been to the city.

When a train went by going west, I told him stories about the large midwestern city on the Great Lake. Then we went back to my house, where we sat on the kitchen floor by the heat vent and talked until it was time for me to take him back to his mother’s apartment.