Grain by grain, it's a sand castle for the worm unburied in their quest for April treasure. His is the Quaker Oats family size tower, with snail shell steps for snaky climbs, hers the finger width doorway for sinuous morning journeys. 

I suggest a couch and bookcase for the castle's family room. They point out that worms can't read, but I see them thinking about bringing a book out to read to their pet. Using her Teaching Voice, Colleen informs me that a small hill would be much more appropriate for a worm, as worms can't sit, and immediately begins to construct one. 

I refrain from pointing out that in that case the worm won't need the shoebox garage they made either. Their worm castle could be the beginning of a subdivision with a life of its own, a life only a seven year old and three year old can create. My job is to take pictures and stay out of their way. 

Together, they're determined to make a better life for this poor, sand-covered worm. If they can find it again.

Already they have made a better life for each other. Last night I overheard Older Sister informing Younger Brother that next time he has to throw up he really does have time to get to the bathroom from his bedroom, but if he doesn't make it, cleaning up the bathroom floor is easier since it's not carpeted. Knowledge like that isn't cheap. In exchange he shows her how to make a letter using Q-tips. 

*** 

Timing, like money, can be everything. Largely because I can never get it right. 

The man I harassed for a marriage proposal offered just that one week after I found the perfect apartment in a city an hour away from him. 

A publisher called one minute after I put the hot food on the table and finished explaining to the children that dinner time is sacred and no phone call is important enough to interrupt it. 

An editor asked me to name a column he wanted to put on-line in two days, and the only name I could think of was Glen, the one I didn't give the last child. 

It is the last child who tells me about the things he did when he was my age and refers to anything in the past as happening "last later." For now, time is just so many words that don't tell him what he really wants. 

I feel the same way every time I look at the clock and see that I have ten minutes to make the half hour drive to work or 35 minutes until the bell rings to mark the end of a 42 minute class period. 

"Mom!" His yell is a juice cocktail of pain and fear. Could be a dreaded fly or ant in the house, but I answer just in case something's broken. 

"Look at the clock!" Volume, I forgot, isn't a good indication of urgency. "What time is it?"

"It's ten before seven."

"What does that mean?" This query follows every request for the time. 

Before he was born, ten before seven meant twenty minutes since the last contraction and time for another, if this was the onset of labor and not gas. Twelve hours later, it meant an hour and ten minutes of his life. But I don't think that's what he wants to know. 

He wants to know if it's time for a story, or time to play cars, or time to rough-house. Is it time to eat again, or time to play baseball outside? Usually it's none of those, at least until he asked. It's likely to be time for me to go to work, time for him to take his dishes to the kitchen, time to go to bed. Time to start or finish yet another task. I'm left with the sense that, once again, my timing is off.

*** 

Unlike his mother, he has perfect timing.

After I pour the third glass of juice and determine that I will not get up from the table again, he fixes me with his garden patch eyes and in his most twinkling voice sings, "I love you, Mommy." 

Early in the morning, before the birds begin their whistling worm quest and my eyes prefer to remain shut, he climbs in bed to cuddle and stretches his arm across my neck, stating "I'll keep you warm, Mommy." 

As I'm reading the seventh or eighth Thomas the Tank Engine story and starting to wish I could wash dishes or pay bills, he kisses me oh so softly on the cheek and says, "I love you as much as the wolf blows down houses," then asks "Is that a lot?"

Yes, Riley, that's a lot. 

So much that I decided to throw time to go to work to the big bad wolf and take the dust cover off time to stay home. Again. This unpaid leave of absence, though, won't follow a birth. It will simply give me a chance to follow, more closely, two lives. Two people who won't be shorter than I am for long. 

*** 

I recently needed a babysitter on a weekday and decided to do the job myself. At breakfast, Colleen announced, "This is going to be the best day!" 

"Why's that?" 

"Because you're home, and it's my day to bring snack to class." 

It's harder to get higher praise than that. Gosh, to think that I rated as high as bringing snack. 

But the decision to stay home wasn't the no-brainer I thought it should be. Stay home with the kids? Of course! But the long road that brought me here is littered with years at college so I could teach and, now and then, proof that I really can. 

Andy is reading silently and without the accompaniment of an audiotape for the first time this year. Thank you, R.L Stine. "This book...it's so imaginary." 

"Yes, Andy, it's all in your head."

"I never knew words could be so powerful." 

Geez. It's hard to get higher praise than that, too. Not that it was easy getting here. Like almost all my students, Andy was positive he didn't need my class, that somehow he'd get out of it, that reading is a waste of time. 

It's more than a paycheck I'll miss, more than lunch with grown-ups, more than time by myself in the car. 

Before I was married, before children, I thought I could make a better world by recycling, using the public library, eating right, and teaching. That's still true. The children I call mine will do that, too. One worm at a time. 



Write "Ellavon" at ellavon@ellavon.com.
Editor: Robert Basil. Special thanks to June Denbigh, Ray Szeto, and the Raylock Design Group.
Copyright retained by all contributors.

Released: July 21, 1998