Editors’ Picks: Some of Our Favorites from 2014

Editors’ Picks: Some of Our Favorites from 2014


On Shame and Parenting

onshameand parentingBy Adrienne Jones

I did for them everything I believed a good mother would do for her children and clenched my teeth and prayed it was enough, or right, or that at the very least they would be OK in spite of the depth of my brokenness.




Brave Enough

sunsetBy Jennifer Palmer

She was mine, this sweet baby girl, but she belonged to others, too.





For Life

For LifeBy Sarah Kilch Gaffney

We named her Zoe because it means “life” and we could think of no meaning more fitting for our child.





This is Adolescence: 16

This is 16 artBy Marcelle Soviero

Sixteen is full of paper thin promise, delicate due to the decisions I can’t make for her anymore, decisions that will determine what happens next.





Till Death Did They Part

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 12.57.07 PMBy Molly Krause

When my dad came back after two decades of divorce, I wondered if my mom had somehow been waiting for him.




Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 5.04.33 PMBy Dawn Davies

At 6:15 a.m., take the children downstairs for breakfast because, even though you are exhausted, the onus is on you. It is always on you.





My Daughter at the Blue Venus

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 12.03.52 PMBy P.L. Lowe

She tells me she is not allowed to give lap dances or blowjobs. She smiles kindly, reassuringly, as she tells me this, as if I have been waiting for this exact information, secretly hoping she will divulge such details to assuage my motherly worries.




Bury My Son Before I Die

Bury My Son Before I DieBy Joanne De Simone

It goes against everything we believe about motherhood, but I’d rather bury my child than leave him behind.





The Boob Tube

boobtubeBy Susan Vaughan Moshofsky

On my second day in the hospital, the nurse worried that Rachel was getting little, if any, milk, so she suggested formula supplementation. I refused, determined to succeed. New mom though I was, I knew that supplementing was the Dark Side.


Bringing Him Home

Bringing Him Home

By Susan Vaughan Moshofsky


Adoption is opening your heart to a baby, then waiting six months to meet him. Adoption is worrying about who rocks him at night, then hoping someone just comes when he cries.


“We could call him Riley,” my husband, Brett, said, referring to the Chihuahua mix playing on the Humane Society floor with our son, Ryan. Snuggled close, Ryan and Riley touched noses.

Ryan looked up at me. “Can we bring him home, Mom?”

The papers we signed that night were labeled “Adoption Papers.” But bringing home a new animal, as much as our pets are members of our families, is not adoption.

Adoption is opening your heart to a baby, then waiting six months to meet him. Adoption is worrying about who rocks him at night, then hoping someone just comes when he cries. Adoption is squeezing your eyes and ears shut when people tell you what happens in Eastern European institutions. It’s filling out forms with questions so personal you wonder how having a biological child, no forms required, is even legal. It’s inviting a social worker into your home to review all those questions and ask even more.

Seventeen years ago, Brett and I flew to Moscow, then took a train 14 hours east to meet our 18-month-old adoptive son. The medical report, proclaiming him healthy, had allayed our concerns. But not until our visit to Filotav Hospital in Moscow did we learn how wrong that report would be.

“See his big forehead? Water on the brain,” the doctor said in a thick Russian accent.

I felt dizzy. The exam room was sweltering in the 95-degree heat. Ryan’s fine, short bangs were plastered to that big forehead. Sweat rolled down my back, my short-sleeved top glued to my skin.

The doctor had quickly reviewed Ryan’s medical records, then turned his attention to the eerily quiet toddler on the exam table.

“Boy wasn’t breathing when he was born. Hospital gave oxygen,” he added.

I felt like I was fifty yards away. “How long?” I mumbled from that far away place, looking at the limp toddler on the table.

“Not so long.” The doctor moved our son’s legs. “Boy’s legs are weak.”

The doctor scooped Ryan up off the table, then set him on the floor, where he stood looking at the wall. He spoke in Russian to our son, who glanced at him for a split second, then quickly away before he took slow steps in his odd, Frankenstein-like gait. I looked over at Brett. His face was ashen, eyebrows furrowed.

“Pyramid insufficiency,” the doctor pointed to Ryan’s legs. “This is problem.”

What was he saying? His words conjured medieval charlatans.

“Will he get better? Maybe he needs more practice walking,” I said in a small voice. Why wasn’t Brett saying anything? A knot of anger formed in my chest. I looked at Ryan, so eerily still.

What were we doing here? What about the medical report they’d faxed that said Ryan could “speak in full sentences”?

Just then, Brett, a strong, 6’5″ man whose height regularly brought stares, crumpled onto the bench in a fainting heap.

The doctor slipped quickly out of the room while I used a diaper to fan Brett. Ryan stood there, eyes wide, meeting mine occasionally with furtive, sideways glances. I reached out to our boy, but he looked away, unmoving. Brett sat up slowly but still looked pale.

Returning with a can of soda pop, the doctor handed it to Brett. “Drink this. I need to see next patient.”

“But, but—we have more questions,” I insisted. “How can we help our son? His leg strength?”

“Get ultrasound of brain.”

“Can we get that here?”

“Ultrasound office closed,” he answered, handing us Ryan’s records.

“When does it open?” we asked in unison.


We stared, open-mouthed. This was July.

“On waycation,” the doctor added, arms wide in an expansive gesture as if to say everyone took long holidays. “Get ultrasound in States. He is good boy. Only 25, mebbe 30% chance of real problem. Doctor will tell you in America.”

Was Ryan okay, or wasn’t he? He’d gone to sleep in my arms. We knew that institutionalization could cause developmental delays, but we hadn’t prepared ourselves for other issues. Now, without understanding the extent of his needs, how could we help him?

Back in our hotel room, Brett called our pediatrician. Ryan stood stiffly near the edge of the bed, eyes averted. Even the toy I offered didn’t interest him.

“Does he what? Walk on tiptoe?” Brett was saying. “No. He hardly walks at all. Stands and stares.”

I looked at our son, remembering all the warnings from well-meaning friends and family. News of children adopted from Eastern European orphanages had generated a flurry of concerned phone calls and emails.

“What’s that?” Brett put his hand over the receiver. “He says to offer him something, get him to walk to you, Sue.”

I reached into my bag, fished out some crackers, and held them out to Ryan. He took some goose-steps my way, reaching tentatively for the crackers, pushing three of them into his mouth at once.

“Yes, he walks stiffly, but not too wobbly,” Brett was saying. “What do you think?” he asked this doctor, whom we trusted. Then he was silent, listening. How I wished for a speakerphone! More listening, then Brett’s eyes welled up with tears as he put down the receiver.

“What? What is it?” I reached up to hug him.

“He says—” he choked up for a minute. “He says, ‘I think he’s your son, and you need to bring him home.'”

As I watched our son playing on the floor with the dog that night at the Humane Society, I’d thought about that day in Moscow 17 years ago. Ryan. Our born athlete, our prankster, our tall, lanky, typical teen. Our son.

“I want a dog, Mom,” he’d said, “but will he get along with the cats? Will he be okay? Can we bring him home?”

“Of course, honey,” I’d said, tears in my eyes. “Trust me. He’ll be okay.”


Susan Vaughan Moshofsky is a mother, teacher, and writer who lives with her family of five in Portland. Her work has appeared in Brain, Child, Huffington Post, The Oregonian, and Seattle’s Child.

Photo: ThinkStock

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Still Pregnant

Still Pregnant

By Susan Vaughan Moshofsky

white lily

“Aunt Susan, are you still pregnant?” my four-and-a-half year-old niece, Elena, asks. Her clear, blue eyes reveal no understanding of the seriousness of her question. I wonder this every day. Am I still pregnant? Is the baby’s heart still beating? Will it beat tomorrow? Will I hold this baby, or only see its form floating on a cold, black ultrasound screen, the ghostly white figure preserved as still as a photo, like the baby we lost a few months before Elena was born?

I’m working as hard as I can to prepare not to have a baby. At least it seems that way. I wear baggy clothes, so people won’t guess. Overweight by more than just a few pounds, I just look fat. With my ample bust line, it will take at least another month before baby outpaces boobs, so I can still hide it. What if I lose this baby, too? I don’t want my grief to be that public, again.

We haven’t told anyone except family and very close friends. What am I waiting for? The magic moment when I can stop worrying? My doctor says the magical point is when I’m in her office for my six-week, post-delivery appointment, holding the baby. Will I hold this child? What if, I think?

Since the plus sign popped up on that seventh pregnancy test strip, I’ve kept a list of the few people we have told. That way, if something goes wrong, I’ll know whom to call. On the rare occasion I break protocol and tell someone, I add that name to my list. We weren’t planning to tell Rachel, our 10 ½ year-old, this soon, but her propensity for walking into the bathroom unannounced, and the heparin injections I have to give myself make it impossible to keep the secret any longer. Seeing your mother shooting her bulging tummy with a needle would be scary. Seeing my bruised belly, a patchwork of dark blue, violet, and light green blotches, would be even worse. I don’t want her to think I’m a junkie or a chemotherapy patient.

One morning, I shoot the heparin in my belly, but the precious, clear liquid, prescribed but not guaranteed to prevent pregnancy loss, seems to leak right back out. Panicked, I call the perinatologist. “The abdominal tissues are saturated. Use your upper thigh. Perfectly normal,” is the reply. I want this baby, so my thighs will be next to turn black and blue. I’d shoot the heparin in my face if it would help.

I’m tired of trying to hide it. I want to be happy, embrace the joy, really expect this child. But eight years of secondary infertility and two pregnancy losses—one late-term—have made me so careful, so guarded. I wonder if I’ll stop worrying in another couple of weeks, when I can hope to feel the baby move. To get some reassurance, I visit my patient-as-Job doctor’s office once a week to hear the heartbeat. I go in for monthly ultrasounds to check for growth retardation, a sign that things are going south, like last time. I shoot myself twice a day with the heparin, hoping it works.

The nurse, Sandy, checks the heartbeat each week before I see the doctor. This week, Sandy is on vacation, so I see someone new, an older woman. “So, how are we feeling?” she croons. “What do you want?”

I stare at her. What kind of question is that? My eyebrows knit together in puzzlement.

“Boy, or girl?” she asks, smiling.

I freeze. Who cares? Hasn’t she looked at my chart? “I just want a live baby,” I answer, gulping air to keep from choking up. I realize with a catch in my throat that this baby may kick and hiccup in utero sooner than I think. That’s when I’ll really believe that he or she might make it. Until then, in between weekly visits, I poke my bruised belly every so often, hoping to elicit some evidence that the baby is still alive, hoping for that kick to reassure me.

I know I need to go on with normal life as much as possible, in between heparin injections, doctor visits, and hours of worry. My doctor says it’s okay to go camping with my husband’s sister and her friends—as long as I take it easy, don’t lift over ten pounds, and keep up with the injections. “You need to stop worrying so much. It’ll be good for you and your family to get away,” she reassures me.

Squatting on the air mattress in our tent, trying to stabilize myself on the unsteady surface, I figure out how to give myself the shots. Kind of like starting an IV in a raft on the ocean. I have to get my husband to hold the flashlight at night, as it’s too much to handle. It works okay, but I finally ease up on my privacy issues the second day and go to the camp bathroom, using a stall just for the stability of the floor. The camping trip is a success, but I don’t stop worrying. I can’t.

At the next doctor appointment, it’s time for a urine sample. Something of a milestone to get this far in the pregnancy. I’m wearing an off-white, cotton knit maternity dress I wore when I was pregnant with Rachel, but not during the other pregnancies. A good-luck charm. I pick up the plastic cup after providing the sample and reach down to smooth the front of my dress. My clumsy gesture jostles the cup, spilling the contents down the middle of my dress. I panic. It’s July. I have no jacket or sweater I can artfully drape across the obvious stain. What will I do? I haven’t seen the doctor yet, so I have no choice but to walk back to the waiting room sporting a bright yellow stain down the front of my white dress! Fabulous. Then I recall my doctor’s comment that pregnant women are often clumsy with their growing girth. I am pregnant. Still pregnant. I’m so happy to be pregnant, still, this moment, that all I can do is laugh at my yellow badge of courage.

What stories I’ll have to tell this child, I hope. Will I? Living with a high-risk pregnancy is like being strapped to a train track at the Y in the track. Who knows which way the train will go?

Susan Vaughan Moshofsky is a mother, teacher, and writer who lives with her family of five in Portland. Her work has appeared in Brain, ChildHuffington PostThe Oregonian, and Seattle’s Child.

The Boob Tube

The Boob Tube

By Susan Vaughan Moshofsky

boobtube“Your nipples are inverted,” the nurse announced as she eyed me. Sitting in my hospital bed the day after I delivered Rachel, our first child, I hoisted each gargantuan breast into position to help our daughter “latch on.” At one day old, it seemed she’d sprouted teeth. I gritted mine through each brief breastfeeding session.

“You’ll need these,” the nurse explained as she handed me two clear, plastic nipple shields. Shaped like three-inch-diameter spaceships, their purpose was to help draw out my nipples, she explained while stuffing the little ships inside my nursing bra. Pre-pregnancy, I was a full-breasted woman. Now, I was practically a size 46 GGG: Wonder Woman without the waistline. At least with those qualifications, I knew I’d have no trouble breastfeeding.

Or so I thought. On my second day in the hospital, the nurse worried that Rachel was getting little, if any, milk, so she suggested formula supplementation. I refused, determined to succeed. New mom though I was, I knew that supplementing was the Dark Side. Would prevent bonding. A sure-fire way to shave off a few IQ points. A failure.

“Try tea bags,” one nurse suggested. I looked at her quizzically. “It helps with the pain,” she explained. Several cups of tea later, I dutifully applied the cooled tea bags to my nipples after each abortive attempt at nursing. After the tea bags grew cold, I replaced them with the nipple shields to make my introverts more extroverted. Another nurse demonstrated the “football hold,” but even that didn’t help. A few friends who visited shared their breastfeeding advice. “Oh, I could never get that close to my child if it was nursing time,” one friend reported. “My milk would let down all over the front of my shirt.”

Another asked, “Don’t your breasts hurt just before it’s time to feed your baby?” I rolled my eyes. They hurt all the time. Now I knew: breastfeeding is the female peeing contest.

By the third day, I had to admit my failure to the nurses, my OB/GYN, the pediatrician, visiting friends, and extended family. Could being discharged from the hospital help? Surely, breastfeeding would be more natural in the privacy of my own home.

But I was wrong about that, too. After a few more days of painful, home nursing sessions broken only by applications of cold tea bags, icepacks to the chest, and wearing the plastic spaceships, it was clear I would not be invited into the LaLeche League.

When Brett, my husband, insisted we call the doctor, sure it shouldn’t be this hard, our pediatrician warned that if Rachel didn’t have enough wet diapers, we should bring her in to his office. There, the doctor suggested we supplement with water until my milk came in. But a couple of days later, she seemed even hungrier—and angrier. And nursing hurt more than ever. It was time for formula and a lactation specialist, the doctor explained.

The specialist prescribed a Supplemental Nursing System, a contraption designed to stimulate milk production. The largest part of the device was an eight-ounce plastic bottle suspended upside down from a white, cordlike “necklace.” Two 1/16-inch surgical feeding tubes dangled from the neck of the bottle, each tube taped to a nipple. Rachel would nurse “normally” (if one could consider this getup normal) but would get formula from the tubes as her suckling stimulated milk production to such proportions that the contraption would soon no longer be necessary. Being rid of this “boob tube,” then, became my goal—every feeding, every day, for three long months.

Parenting books had pronounced nursing such a convenience: one could meet the baby’s need at any moment and in any location! Not with the boob tube! Before each feeding, I had to sterilize all parts of the apparatus by boiling them in a pot, fill the bottle with formula (after preparing that), remove my shirt and bra, dangle the bottle around my neck, get out the tape, tape a feeding tube to each nipple, grab Rachel, now purple-faced and screaming, from a helpless-looking Brett, hoist up a nipple, and finally, position her so she could latch on—over seven or eight times a day. No discreet feedings for me! I went almost nowhere unless I was guaranteed a private room.

After a few weeks with the boob tube, it appeared Rachel was taking less formula each day, but the lactation specialist felt we weren’t progressing quickly enough. To further stimulate milk production, she prescribed three-times-a-day hookups to a mechanical breast pump. Why not? We certainly weren’t entertaining guests under these circumstances! My life at the time was drinking tea so I could put the used tea bags on my nipples, wearing the Amazon-woman nipple shields, and looking like a permanent ad for a 48-hour bra. Add the seven or eight 45-minute boob tube feedings plus the thrice-daily breast-pump sessions, and I felt real sympathy for cows in dairies.

To pass the time one night while hooked up to the breast pump, I watched the movie “Frankenstein” with Brett. I felt like a freak myself, sitting on the couch, the funnel-shaped cone attached to my breast, and the hum of the pump’s motor muffling the creature’s roar in the movie. During a commercial, I reached proudly for the milk container to show Brett how much I’d produced (two ounces of milk after two hours of pumping!!)—and clumsily knocked it over. I watched helplessly as the precious liquid spilled onto the carpet. I know what it means to cry over spilled milk.

Desperate to reclaim any vestiges of self-respect I still had at the time, I vowed not to become some bathrobed slob, hair in curlers with nothing more to say at the end of the day than, “I fed the baby today, dear.” Though that’s all I did, I took pains to get dressed every day before Brett left for work. Then I’d boil the boob tube, prepare the day’s formula, and wait for Rachel to wake up so I could begin the arduous task of feeding her.

One morning I put the boob tube into the pot as usual, started the water to boil and headed downstairs to get dressed, but it was so cold, I decided to climb back into bed for just a few minutes. It had snowed the night before, and the heat hadn’t come on yet. Rachel was still asleep; the chilly house was peaceful and quiet. My plan: get warm under the covers while the boob tube was being sterilized, then run back upstairs and perform the morning feeding once the house had warmed up. Three months into this project, the lactation specialist now estimated Rachel was getting 80 percent of her nutrition from my breast milk—only 20 percent from the formula in the boob tube! With only 20 percent to go, I was determined to make the grade. But weeks of sleep deprivation pulled me into a deep slumber.

I woke to the smell of smoke. Racing upstairs through a gray fog, I rounded the corner to the kitchen, expecting flames. Instead, a black cloud billowed from the pot glowing on the hot burner. Grabbing the pot’s handle, I shoved open the deck door and sank the pot into the four inches of snow outside. I flung open every door and window and darted downstairs to find Rachel sleeping, oblivious to the danger.

I ran back upstairs, worried about the pot sitting on our wooden deck. It had melted all the snow it sat on. I looked inside the pot for the boob tube: nothing. Thinking the contraption had fallen out of the pot in my hurry, I retraced my steps but again found nothing. The boob tube must have melted; the black smoke, its cremation.

Without the boob tube, I couldn’t give Rachel enough breast milk. All my efforts would be wasted! I’d have to get a new device! And with the delay the snow might cause, I’d never get to the 100 percent point now, if it had ever been possible.

I squinted into the pot as if to find some insight. There, etched indelibly into the now-distended bottom of the pot was the word “Medela,” the brand name of the boob tube, and all that was left of the three months of turmoil.

Now it was clear. If ever I’d needed a sign to set me free from the prison of straps and tubes, free from the dread of hearing Rachel’s cry to be fed, this was it.

I reached into the cupboard for the formula and the one bottle we owned, feeling such relief. No more boob tube! No more hermitlike seclusion, sequestered away with Rachel and this odd contraption! I could now feed her with the bottle I’d been avoiding all along. Freed of the boob tube and the terrible mother-guilt that prodded me to exceed the limits of reason in my quest to properly nourish our child, I began to enjoy feeding her. No more wasted bonding time getting her “hooked up.” No more purple-faced, screaming baby. No more days measured by ounces, caught up in a competition with no winners.

Author’s Note: While I’m proud that I tried to breastfeed our daughter, it took burning up the boob tube to show me that motherhood is not a competition. I didn’t need to jeopardize my bonding with my baby just to prove that I could breastfeed, as if I were in some kind of Mom Olympics. Being freed of the boob tube helped me start that bittersweet journey of motherhood—that letting go of what I think is best to make room for what is truly needed.

Susan Vaughan Moshofsky is a mother, teacher, and writer who lives with her family of five in Portland. Her work has appeared in Brain, Child, Huffington Post, The Oregonian, and Seattle’s Child.

The Importance of Keeping Ernest

The Importance of Keeping Ernest

By Susan Vaughan Moshofsky

Keeping Ernest Art“Can I bring home Ernest, Mommy?” four-year-old Reed begged. “For the summer?” Ernest, the preschool class turtle, for the whole summer. I loathe reptiles.

Reed clung like a barnacle when I dropped him off at preschool and melted down when I finally peeled him off. Keeping the turtle might ease Reed’s re-entry to school next fall. Plus, he’d earn celebrity status. I nodded.

“Here are his worms,” Teacher Lynn handed me a small plastic tub with tiny holes in the top. She smiled at the grimace on my face. “Keep it in the refrigerator or they turn into beetles.”

Lynn also suggested outings for Ernest in our back yard. “He likes the fresh air,” she explained. I wondered how she could tell.

Only a mother desperate to help her shy child adjust to school would keep a turtle that’s been the preschool pet for twelve years. And this isn’t just any preschool. People put their babies on the wait list in utero for this one. These parents pay attention. So Ernest’s stay had to be perfect.

First I had to find a safe spot for his aquarium-style tank, away from our slobbering, curious Labrador Retriever. My choice: the kitchen counter. Yes, Ernest lived near my stove, and yes, turtles carry salmonella. Let’s just say if I can keep worms in my refrigerator, I can have a turtle on my countertop.

I congratulated myself for being such a great mom. (Look! I let my kids keep pets I can’t stand to touch!)

Two weekends later, my husband Brett helped Reed scrub the tank while Ernest took a stroll on the kitchen floor. I practiced my deep breathing exercises. The task done, Reed and his older brother Ryan gave Ernest his first backyard airing.

While Ernest’s tank dried in the sun, he lumbered through the flower garden, neck outstretched, enjoying the fresh air. Ryan and Reed kept an eye on him. But since he moved at — well, a turtle’s pace — they checked on him in between slides down the hill. I planted some perennials. Rachel, our teenage daughter, lay tanning on the deck. Life was good.

Good until Ryan hollered, “Where’s Ernest?”

“What do you mean, ‘Where’s Ernest?'”

“I can’t find him, Mom. He was here just a minute ago.”

Choking back vomit, I ran to the flower bed where Ernest had been. No turtle. Get a grip, I thought.

“Well, he can’t be far.” I barked orders to all three kids. “Rachel, establish a perimeter; Ryan, check the inside of the dog’s mouth…” We scrambled through flower beds, peered under bushes, combed the hillside. Even the dog sniffed around.

An hour later, still no trace. Turtles don’t leave footprints or make a sound. And Ernest’s coloring was the perfect camouflage for our wooded backyard.

“Rachel,” I begged my daughter, “Call Petco. See if they sell box turtles.” She ran inside to make the call. Ryan and Reed pulled ivy. I made silent bargains with the Almighty.

“Mom,” Rachel called down to me from the deck. “I called them. We can’t get one.”

“What do you mean, we can’t get one?”

“They said it’s not legal to sell box turtles here, Mom!”

There I stood, knee deep in plants I had yanked in our frenzy to find little Speedo. I pictured myself lugging Ernest’s empty cage back into the classroom. I pictured wide-eyed children peering into that empty cage. I imagined Reed’s expression as the children pointed stubby fingers at him — the turtle loser.

My husband came back from his run and saw us razing our freshly landscaped garden. “What’s going on?” he asked.

Gesturing with dirty hands in a pose reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, I wailed, “We lost the pre-school turtle!”

Brett’s expression told me it was time to call the teacher.

“My first concern is the kids,” Teacher Lynn began. “This will be the first real loss for some of them. We’ll have to tell them the truth.” As she paused, I realized just how deep a pit of bile had collected in my stomach. She asked if Reed was worried and suggested I emphasize the fun Ernest might be having on his adventure. “But the little guy has done this before: one summer, he was gone for three months and turned up in a neighbor’s yard,” she continued. Now you tell me, I thought. “You may find him yet,” Lynn reassured. I hung up, feeling ill. I had to do something.

I called Reptile World, described our hilly area and asked if a turtle could survive there. “He’ll have nutrition and hydration. He might winter over just fine there,” the reptile expert told me. Winter over? The return to preschool was less than two months away.

We printed up flyers: Lost Box Turtle. Answers to the name of Ernest. Size of a teacup saucer. Reward! Many neighbors, some I’d never met, fought smiles when we knocked on their doors, brandishing the flyer.

“I’m really worried,” I said to Brett later that night. “Could we rent some heat-seeking infrared binoculars to help us find him in all the brush?”

Brett bit his lip. “Sue, honey, Ernest is cold blooded.”

The summer passed. The first few weeks, Reed and Ryan filled Ernest’s food dish daily with strawberries, worms, and grapes and set out small water dishes around the yard. But gradually, their daily backyard searches gave way to twice-weekly searches.

If I talked about Ernest, Reed murmured happily, “He’s in the backyard on an adventure, Mommy. Now I get to keep him for always!”

Soon it was September, time for the back to school open house. Filled with dread, I sneaked in and stood by the coffee, trying to hide my scarlet E. Lynn took me aside. “Two boys asked where Ernest was. Before I could answer, one of them remembered that Reed took him home for the summer.”

I gulped, speechless. Lynn nodded. “I’ll be letting the parents know a little later tonight. But I won’t tell which backyard he was in,” she winked. My coffee tasted like mud. I walked to the classroom meeting like a condemned woman.

I tuned out Teacher Lynn’s welcome back talk. But I sat bolt upright when she added, “I have some other news. Ernest has gone missing. He was in a backyard and just wandered off.”

The room was as quiet as a turtle cage. My face grew hot. My scalp prickled. I realized I might as well spill the beans since a four year old had already figured out the truth.

“The backyard where Ernest wandered off,” I began in a small voice, “was mine. We are the ones who lost him.” When I got to the part about the flyers we printed and the infrared binoculars, my voice trailed off.

There was a silence, then a chuckle. “Let’s take Sue out for a glass of wine. She’s had a rough summer,” a couple of moms sympathized. Another mom blurted, “I’m just so glad I didn’t volunteer to take him!” And then everyone in the room laughed out loud.

And the preschoolers? How did they deal with it? A few really missed him. But mercifully, Teacher Lynn didn’t point them out to me. According to Reed, no one noticed Ernest missing — but then Reed believes Ernest is roaming the woods behind our house and we get to keep him forever. Who knows? He may turn up yet.

Author’s Note: I live with my family in Portland, still hoping that Ernest may someday waddle back into our wooded backyard.

About the Author: Susan Vaughan Moshofsky’s work has appeared in The Oregonian, Seattle’s Child, and Portland Parent. She teaches English at an IB World School in Beaverton, where she has used her own stories to teach her students the rigors and joys of writing and rewriting.

Photo credit: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / ALong