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December 2004
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February 2005


Last week I met a friend for lunch at McDonald’s. It was Monday, so it was just Raphael and me. Tre and Max were at their homeschool enrichment program. My friend only had her youngest with her, also a three year old boy. Our sons wolfed down their lunches and thundered off to climb in the plastic jungle.

My friend pulled out a large manila envelope and slid it across the table.

“There it is. Could you look at it?”

I pulled the papers out and started leafing through them. Her divorce papers. She’d asked me to look at them, because she was having trouble getting them all together.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” I said, “I had a lawyer to handle all this…” I sighed and felt the heft of the stack of papers in my hands. “They’re so heavy, aren’t they?” She nodded.

“I know. I think that’s half my problem. Every time I pick that envelope up, it’s just so heavy. I think, ‘I can’t deal with all that right now,’ and I shove it in a drawer.” I nodded, remembering how unthinkingly I would sign papers in my lawyer’s office. He’d put something in front of me and point at a line with his pen and I’d sign, blinking at the glare of white off the page. Yes, yes, don’t tell me any more. I don’t want to think about it.

“I wish I could be some sort of help to you…” I trailed off again, helplessly.

“I know. I guess I just wanted someone else to see them. To understand.”


I remembered the day of my divorce, the women who sat with me in the courtroom. My mom and two dear friends. I hardly spoke to any of them that day, but I felt their presence. They were my silent witnesses, praying for me. On a day when so much I’d believed to be true was being put asunder, they were there as touchstones to reality. And love.

Legally, I am of no help to my friend. I don’t know the law I somehow navigated once. I don’t understand the language or the ramifications of the statements. But I could be her witness. So I sat, leafing through the pages, quietly reading the issues to be faced. Who will make the major decisions for the children on medical issues? Educational issues? Where will they live? What nights will they spend at the noncustodial parent’s house? Where will they spend their summers? Christmas? What will be paid in child support? What is owned in common? What debts were incurred during the marriage?

A million details, each another weight on the heart. I couldn’t change a thing in those papers. I couldn’t add or subtract a single mark. But I remembered my witnesses, women who stood and wept for me when I could hardly breathe for myself. So I read each page.

Witnessed. And wept.

I’d been out at a meeting at church with Mom and Dad had stayed home with the boys. By the time I got home it was 10 and they were all asleep, even Dad, who was dozing on the couch, ruing the hour. Not one minute between 9 PM and 5 AM is worth seeing, according to Dad. NOT. ONE. MINUTE.

Anyhow, after I said goodnight to Mom and Dad, I headed upstairs. I called Clay, chatted while I polished my shoes, and just generally fussed around a bit. After I’d said a heartfelt goodnight to Clay (“I miss you.” “Me too.” – this after three and a half hours of separation. Someone shoot us now, we are insufferable), I started putting laundry away. I carried a basket of Tre’s clothes into his room. He is a great huge whacking boy and can put away his own socks, thank you very much. I paused by his bed to smooth his hair and pull his agitated blankets back up to his chest. He stirred and muttered sternly. I gathered up a fistful of Max’s shirts and headed into the room he and Raphi share. I put the shirts in Max’s drawer, first pulling out a toy frog and a note that read, “Come back latr, Tre. 123456.” Not my job to understand. I looked at Max, who had inexplicably lined up all his stuffed animals on his pillow and was sleeping with his head rested precariously on this pile. I smoothed his hair and turned to Raphi’s bed.

He wasn’t there.

Blink. Blink blink.

He wasn’t there.

I looked on the floor, behind the bed, under his covers.

He. Wasn’t. There.

Instantly, my mental chatter became a Reader’s Digest Story In Real Life.

“When Kira came home from church that evening, she never suspected what had taken place in her own home that night. While she’d been out, radical anti-Iron Giant extremists had climbed in the second story window of her youngest son’s room, and snatched him out of his bed.”

I started walking madly around, clutching the phone, poised to dial 911. I checked the bathtub. I checked my bed. I checked the closet.


I started to punch the button to call the cops and the FBI and CIA and EVERYONE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, when I glanced down and saw him.

He was on the other side of Max’s bed, on the floor, half under the bed, with the bed skirt draped over his back. He was face down, butt up, sound asleep and leaving a tiny circle of drool on the carpet.

I picked him up and just SMELLED him for a moment. He murmured something and flung one arm around my neck. I placed him gently in his bed. He smiled beatifically and flopped over on his side. I pulled his comforter over him and tiptoed out, shaking my head, my heart still hammering.

That child shall be the death of me. He’s making me old and twitchy and grey.

I couldn’t be more grateful.

Ways my sons baffle me

Tre has divided his clothes into two categories: clothes for church and regular clothes. I’m not sure what qualifies clothes as being for church, as he NEVER NEVER wears those clothes. When I asked him why he doesn’t wear church clothes…say…TO CHURCH, he sighed and said, “MOM. At CHURCH I’m usually an acolyte. So. Who CARES what I wear under the robe?”

Which brings us back to the original, impenetrable question: WHAT ARE CHURCH CLOTHES, then?

                                                 * * * * * * *

Monday, when I picked Max up at school, I pulled his papers out of his file. I was standing at the door of his classroom, chatting with Ms. Sue, when I glanced down and saw the name at the top of one of his papers. “Tim,” it read.

“Oh,” I said, “Tim’s papers got mixed up with Max’s.” I paused for a moment, thinking. “Wait. Is there a Tim in this class? There ISN’T a Tim in this class.”

Ms. Sue shook her head wonderingly.

“No, there isn’t. I don’t know WHY Max does that.”

I leafed through his papers. They were signed TIM, MAT, WAX, and MAXI32. By the way, you should know that the I in Maxi32 is a SHORT I SOUND. So. Not like the feminine product, so much.

“Max?” I asked him, “WHY did you sign all these other names on your papers?” He fixed me with an inscrutable stare.

“You know, WAX rhymes with Max,” he replied, as though that were an answer.

                                                 * * * * * * * * *

Raphael has taken to waking up around the hour of FOUR AM. In the MORNING. That sort of AM. He did it again this morning. He wandered into my room and climbed into bed with me. I struggled to the surface of consciousness and asked him the cogent question, “Whaaa?”


“Whaa? Why?”

“Ah wanna PLAY!”

“Whaa? NO.”

“Can ah WATCH TV?”


“OK! Ah will go wake up MAX.”

At this point it penetrated my sleep fog that the evil little child would, in fact, WAKE his big brother, causing Max to LOSE ACTUAL SLEEP, which, if you’ve been following Max’s sleep problems AT ALL, is Not What We Do. I half sat up and fixed Raphael with a stern glare.

“No, you WILL NOT wake Max up. Lie down and GO TO SLEEP.”

Which he did. Like a little angel.

After an HOUR of singing happy little songs, driving pretend trucks, pulling different sections of my hair to see if they ALL made me yelp, and exploring my actual nostrils with his toes. Yes, toes. I’m NOT MAKING THIS UP.

Then, around five in the MORNING, he drifted off sweetly to sleep. This morning he slept in a little later than usual. I mean, HE WAS TIRED. So, to sum: he wakes out of a perfectly serviceable sleep, sets to work waking me up, then reclaims his missed rest in the morning, when I have to be up and doing things. Josh, STOP LAUGHING. It isn’t funny.

Where do these kids COME FROM, anyhow?

Burnin' down the house!

The other day in history Tre learned about the great fire of London, in 1666. We talked about how it got started, how long it burned, and how much of the city was destroyed. He was especially impressed by the tales of exploding barrels of tar. Also the exploding stone in the cathedral. Exploding things are BIG with Tre. He would like to explode things at dinner, just to liven things up.

Anyhow, I got the bright idea to make paper models of houses and place them close together and LIGHT THEM ON FIRE, to demonstrate how the closeness of the buildings contributed to the fast spreadingness of the fire. No really, I thought this would be a great idea. Still do, actually. Any lesson that includes FIRE or FOOD is a lesson that STAYS. Just ask the boys what sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic rock are. They’ll tell you! Hot fudge, ice cream and brownies, that’s what they are! Well, sorta. You had to be there.


I’d told Tre about the great FIRE plan, and since it was such a COOL plan Max was invited in. He and Tre worked on the houses, coloring and gluing and plotting their destruction. When they’d been at it a while the doorbell rang. It was the woman from down the street, who was bringing her son over to see if he could play with Raphael. I was standing there at the door, carrying on a normal mom conversation with a normal mom, when Tre and Max accosted me from behind. They were leaping and shouting their great glee.


The other mom sort of blinked at them.

“Did…did they say…’burn the houses down’?” she said slowly.

“Oh,” I said weakly, “it’s this history lesson…we’re studying the fire… in London, in 1666…and they’re not REAL houses…see?”

I wonder why she’s not returning my calls.

Bathroom boys

One day when Tre was seven years old, he stopped dead in his tracks outside a McDonald’s restroom.

“Go on, honey,” I urged. I had Raphi on one hip and Max was dancing ahead in imminent need of the facilities. I glanced back at Tre, who was unmoving.

“No, Mama,” he said evenly, “I think I need to go in the BOY’S room. I’m JUST TOO OLD to go in that GIRL’S room.” I stood there for a moment, looking at my little man. He was right; he WAS too old for the women’s bathroom. I heaved a sigh of defeat and nodded in assent. Tre pushed through the door and strode into the land of men alone, his shoulders back and his face aglow. I shuddered and proceeded to spend the next two minutes with my ear pressed to the McDonald’s men’s room door, glaring at men who would have otherwise entered.

When Max was five he tried one day to follow Tre into a men’s room (again at McDonald’s – no interpretation of our eating habits needed, thankyouverymuch). I put a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, buddy, where are you going?” He looked at me, brows knit in anxiety. “Can’t I go with HIM? Do I HAVE to go pee with all those MOMS? I looked at him and sighed, but I knew it was hopeless. He had that look, that stubborn, oh-please-let-her-listen-to-me-and-by-the-way-I-think-I’ll-get-a-little-mad-just-in-case look. He was five and there was no stopping this train. Besides, I was older and wiser and calmer, so I waved him on.

And stood outside the bathroom with my ear pressed to the door, glaring at men who would have otherwise entered.

Last week I was in Wal-Mart with the boys and on the way out we stopped at the bathrooms. I gave Max and Tre exit orders (“Don’t talk to anyone, don’t forget to wash your hands, and meet me RIGHT HERE!”) and turned to walk into the women’s room with Raphael. He planted his feet. The child can turn the soles of perfectly normal shoes into some sort of linoleum Velcro device. He was unmovable.

“Come on, let’s go in so you can pee,” I urged him. He shook his head.

“Ah wanna go in there with my brothers. Ah am a BIG BOY and GIRLS go in there.” I looked at him…then shook my head and scooped him up. I carried him into the bathroom and set him down. He stood in the corner, glaring at me, and refused to pee in there. Tough, kid. I’m not sending my three year old, who is fabulous BUT HAS NO SENSE, into the men’s room.

It’s probably a good thing I didn’t have that fourth boy I wanted. He’d be the newborn in the nursery, agitating to have the girl babies removed before he allowed his diaper to be changed. HONESTLY! Boys!

Outward and visible signs

When my ex moved out, Raphael was four months old. A few months later I decided to have him baptized. Raphi, not my ex. Anyhow, it was time. Tre had been baptized at nine months old, Max at two months old. It was the first big parenting decision I made on my own without input from my ex. I didn’t ask him, I informed him when it would be. And invited him to come, which is a blog for another day…ugh.

Well, then I had to decide what Raphi would wear. He was too small for Tre’s nine month old sized little white sailor suit. He was too big for the tissue thin gown handed down from my great grandmother that Max had worn. So I hit the stores.

The thing was, nothing I could find was special enough. I had this THING in my head, you see. I looked at my tiny youngest son, and my heart clenched at the fact that his dad was gone. Gone, and Raphael was just SO YOUNG. I worried about him. Would he grow up to interpret his life from that one event? Would the rest of his days be seen through the lens of, “My dad left right after I was born”?

If there’s anything I’ve found, nothing is too far in the future to spoil my sleep tonight.

So for Raphael’s baptism I wanted a special outfit, one that he could see years later and know, KNOW that he was cherished, that he was not the “also ran” child in the family. I wanted him to look as special as his is. I wanted the world to see how precious he is, not the tacit message of his father’s abandonment.

What I eventually found, at exorbitant expense, was an antique christening coat. It’s lovely, a mellow cream colored cotton, with embroidery around the collar. It fastens with two mother of pearl buttons at the throat, and Raphael’s smooth brown belly poked regally through the gap below.

Of course, the day of his baptism I was struck by how silly it was to worry about what others think of my son’s worth. That day was about how cherished he is by God Himself. Christ’s own forever.

Nonetheless, I was satisfied with the choice of garment, and hung it on a tiny satin covered hanger that evening, with a prayer that Raphael would always know he was loved. Always know he was special.

This afternoon was golden and warm. The thing that makes


winters bearable is that every so often a few 60 to 70 degree days fall right in the midst of snow and slush. All of


breaks out in shorts and outdoor activity, and for a few days it’s fabulous. Then, of course, a few days later it snows three feet, but FOR TODAY it was very very nice. All the kids on the block were running around outside, building dams in the gutter to block the flow of water from the rapidly melting snow. Raphi was riding a scooter with a friend up the street when he decided to leave. He sailed down the street, unconcerned that his friend, his friend’s mother, and eventually most of the neighbor kids were racing after him, shouting. I heard the hollers and came outside to see what was up. I got to the street just as the mom caught up with him. She ushered him back up the sidewalk toward her house, looking embarrassed.

“He just TOOK OFF! I don’t know if he couldn’t HEAR me in his helmet, but I was yelling and he just kept GOING!”

I looked at Raphi’s face, glowing under his bubblegum blue helmet. He was thrilled with himself.

“Yeah, he does that. He just doesn’t seem to have that filter, that sense of being too far away. He gets away from me all the time. It just doesn’t seem to scare him.”

She looked at me, wide-eyed at the thought.

“Well…I guess he’s pretty SECURE, huh?”

“I guess.”

Later, while Raphi was still at his friend’s house, I went out for a bit. When I came home, Raphi was downstairs with my parents. I went down to tell Mom something, and as I stood there talking to her, Raphael started trying to get my attention.

“HEY! HEY MAMA!” His voice could take paint off the walls when it gets like that. It makes my eyeballs rattle in my skull like a cartoon character. It’s LOUD. It’s PIERCING. “MAMA! MAMA! HEY! LOOK AT ME!”

Finally I interrupted my conversation to turn to my son. He patted his belly and smiled beatifically.

“Ah came back,” he said smugly, happy to share the wonderful news.

I think he knows he’s precious.

Hey, you know what? *said in the tone of a good friend who is rambling because she's having that sort of day and will now inflict it upon you*

Ok, so everyone remember the BoBs? Hmmm? Yeah. Um…I didn’t win. OK? ‘Nuff said.

Except let me add this: The people who put this contest together are truly kind and hard working people. And although I got SPANKED, my daily hits are way up, and really, *big sincere eyes* aren’t the STATS what it’s all about? Really? So thanks, guys. Y’all rock.

Why does my cat sit outside my bathroom door and meow plaintively the entire time I’m in the shower, punctuating my steamy little oasis with her sad demands to be let in? And then when I am out of the shower and relent and let her in, why does she sniff the toilet, rub up against my leg, bestowing a smear of cat hair upon my freshly lotioned skin, and then leave? What’s wrong with her?

What’s with the constant stream of people Googling “honeycomb cereal jingle”? Not a day goes by, it seems, without someone wandering my way, looking for the elusive jingle. And I’m suddenly the web authority on the subject? PLEASE, we need someone to STEP FORWARD to answer the DEEP YEARNING people seem to have for knowledge on the subject. I mean, we don’t even eat the stuff anymore.

Raphi took a while to go to sleep tonight. He got up a hundred times to shout down the stairs, “BUT WHAT IF I DREAM ABOUT THE MONSTERS?” and to go to the bathroom and to ask me if I was going to go to bed yet. I was busy smooching on putting together a puzzle with Clay, and COULD NOT understand why Raphi was being so very sleep resistant. When I checked on him later I found him with his head at the end of the bed, with a Rescue Hero helicopter, the attendant Rescue Hero, a fire truck, three dinosaur books, a book light (still turned on),  a stuffed Arthur doll, the talking box from inside the Arthur doll, and twelve little plastic soldiers in bed with him. And yet he didn’t find it a peaceful sleeping environment. Go figure.

Saving grace

Today I was cleaning the large window at the front of the house. That window is the BANE OF MY EXISTANCE, because it’s right there, smack in the middle of the front of the house. And it’s a HUGE FREAKING WINDOW, just one massive pane of glass. Carmi (maniacally shedding dog) likes to sit there and mourn whenever I drive away with her boys. Part of her mourning process is apparently to rub her slimy nose on the glass. The boys like to stop by the front window every so often to pat their grubby hands on it as they gaze out into the street. If they ARE out in the street they like to come up to the window and pat it from the other side. It’s so LARGE that birds sometimes smack into it, leaving little nubbins of feathers fluttering on its surface. All of it together becomes a statement of sorts. Like, you know, if a welcome mat says WELCOME, my front window says FILTHY. I must wash that stupid window eleventy billion times a week, and it pretty much always looks the same.

Today I attacked it with a vengeance, spraying, wiping, and polishing with a dry cloth. Inside and out, twice each side. I’m not normally so INTENSE about cleaning projects, but that window BUGS ME. By the time I was done I’d broken a sweat, the neighbors had passed me on their walk and were whispering and stealing glances at my fevered work, and the window, she gleamed. A thing of beauty.

I went into the kitchen to start on dinner, aglow with my glass polishing prowess. I heard Max trotting down the stairs, then after a pause he came into the kitchen.

“Natalie’s not home yet,” he sighed.

“Sorry, honey. I’m sure she’ll be home soon.” He shrugged and headed back up the stairs to bug Tre. Natalie is his friend who lives across the street. He’d been watching for her return home for about an hour, peering out the front window…

The front window.

I smacked my knife down on the chopping block and marched out to the living room. Sure enough, there it was.

One small hand shaped smear RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WINDOW. I called Max down and SHOWED him and asked him AGAIN not to touch the window. He showed his deep regret by peering over my shoulder to see if Natalie had arrived home yet. I released him and snatched up the cleaner and rag again. That stupid window was going to stay clean for at least one evening if I had anything to say about it. But as I approached my glass nemesis, I saw the handprint in the middle of it and paused.

It was gorgeous, a perfect tracing of the shape of Max’s hand. Looking at it I could see him leaning one knee on the window seat, one hand on the glass, and hopeful eyes out at the world. It was a snapshot of Max and a moment in his life.

I remembered when Tre was little, just barely two, and one day he’d put his hand right in the middle of a circular mirror we had. I’d showed the resulting tiny print to his dad, and together we admired its itty bitty perfection. It was perfectly positioned in the middle of the mirror, and we agreed it was art. We vowed not to clean it off (FIRST TIME PARENTS, OK?).

After a while it started to bug me a bit, because I was worried that people were going to think I didn’t know how to CLEAN THINGS. This might have been supported by all the EVIDENCE all around me in the MESSY DEATH TRAP APARTMENT. Suffice to say, I’ve come a long way. Well, some way. Anyhow. I started agitating to Windex the art into history, but the hubby would have none of it. He scowled and shook his head. I glared. Even with thoughtful discussion like that, we couldn’t come to an agreement.

Finally one day he broke down and relented. I polished that sucker clean and we moved on with our lives. It was a great relief.

The thing is, you can’t SAVE your kids’ childhood. Mementos are poor substitutes for the real smell, sound, taste, texture of their lives as they are happening. It all washes over you day by day, and is gone. No use trying to keep it, you’ll end up burdened by reminders of what you can’t have ever again.

That’s why I can’t keep Max’s handprint there on the cursed window. And I’m gonna clean it off.

Probably tomorrow.

Kids these days

Today I went grocery shopping with Raphael alone. When I arrived at the store, he’d fallen sound asleep in his car seat. I heaved him out of the van and patted his cheek, but he was out. He’s getting so big, so heavy and long, that it was all I could do to hold onto him in his slick winter coat. But I managed to haul him into the store, where I laid him down in a shopping cart. He turned over on his side, hooked his fingers through the side of the cart and slept on.

I walked the aisles of the store, unencumbered by any child’s attention, and carefully stacked groceries around Raphi. I piled them in the child seat, I balanced a great load of them on the underneath part of the cart, where Max always wants to ride and brush the floor with his fingers (it makes me crazy, he’s always sneaking down there, and when I notice what he’s doing it gives me a heart attack. I just know he’s going to break a finger some day, and the ER doc will think I’m a terrible mother. Yes, it’s all about me).

As I made my way through the store, I watched people. I’m usually keeping an eye on three little boys as I shop, simultaneously keeping tabs on their whereabouts, gauging their direction, and comparing prices. So today, with my only attending child slumbering peacefully, I had a surplus of attention to go around. I scanned the faces of the people shopping alongside me. I surreptitiously looked in their carts and decided who was cooking for a family and who was on their way home to do some binge eating (I mean, cookie dough, potato chips, diet coke, and a box of discounted Christmas chocolates?).

I don’t know if I’ve never noticed it before or if today was a bad day in Denver, but people DID NOT seem to be enjoying themselves. They squinted down aisles, glared at their lists, and generally stomped through their shopping. I tried smiling at people, but I couldn’t get hardly anyone to make eye contact, much less exchange a weary smile.

As I rounded the tortillas I saw a boy coming down the aisle toward me. He looked to be about 15, with classic teenaged “you don’t get me” uniform on. Sagging shorts (HELLO, IT IS JANUARY IN DENVER), torn t-shirt, a lime green Gilligan hat pulled down over his ears. As he passed me he glanced in my cart, where he saw Raphael. He paused a moment, right there in the aisle, then looked at me and chuckled.

Of everyone in the store, moms and dads, checkers and baggers, he was the only person who looked around him long enough to notice a sleeping boy amongst the groceries. And he not only noticed, he appreciated his silly beauty there in the cart, surrounded by broccoli and spaghetti.

I don’t know what was up with the patrons of the grocery store today - I hope their week lightens up on them a bit. But I know this: I like that kid.

In-between time

Last week my grandfather came home from the nursing home where he’s been for rehab since his bout with pneumonia. He was supposed to come home a few weeks ago, but he fell and broke his wrist. Then another homecoming was scuttled when he was sick. But finally the day came and he and his belongings were trundled over to his apartment.

This was a very good thing, as Grandma had had just about all the time apart from him she could stand. Neither of them does well when they’re separated, and it was a relief to everyone to have them together again.

Unfortunately, they need help there in their little apartment. Caregivers come in morning and evening to usher them through their daily routines. The cost is astronomical, and the loss of privacy is upsetting. They still see themselves as living independently, and don’t understand all why all of this is happening.

They just want everything to be normal.

Saturday I went over to collect their grocery list for the week and Grandpa was being interviewed by a physical therapist. I sat down at the table to wait until they were done talking and watched. Grandpa answered questions as vaguely as he could, stretching for answers, or to at least maintain the image of one who knows the answers. At times he would shake his head and wave his hand vaguely, inserting some oft-repeated witty statement instead of the information he couldn’t recall. Grandma sat off to the side, circling her wheelchair helplessly around the kitchen and living room, jiggling her foot in impotent anxiety. She knew how difficult it was for Grandpa to try to answer all those questions, and she longed to help.

Not that she could remember the answers either.

After a while I took their list and went to the store. When I came back with their groceries I found Grandpa walking aimlessly around the apartment, leaning on his walker. He greeted me softly, so as not to awaken Grandma, who was taking a nap. I carried the groceries to the kitchen and started putting them away, making small talk. Grandpa didn’t seem to be in the mood to chat, so I fell silent, tucking cartons and boxes away in their kitchen. I watched him check the thermostat, pat the dog, check the thermostat again, and wander over to the window. He stood there for several silent minutes, peering out at the sky as though he were reading its meaning. When I put my hand on his shoulder to tell him I was done, he turned to me and smiled that sad resigned smile he has these days, and patted my cheek wordlessly.

I went back to my van and sat in it without moving for a while. Above me passed several dozen geese. The Canadian geese come here to winter in our relative warmth, and many of then have made their home in the fields by Grandma and Grandpa’s apartment. When they’re here over the winter they don’t fly in the tight V formation that the use when migrating, but seem to amble through the sky. I watched them pass overhead in random lines, like foam tracing the edges of an invisible wave. They honked back and forth, and veered off in different directions.

When they are here over the winter it is as though they are no longer home. Yet if it isn’t time for them to leave, they have nowhere to go either.

I wonder if this in-between time is as anxious and sad a place for them as it is for Grandpa and Grandma.