On MLK Day, we did not do all that we had planned, but we did do something we hadn’t. “Let’s go for a walk,” I suggested to Elliot. “Okay. I’ll take you to Starbucks,” he said.

Well all right then! Even though what I’d had in mind was more athletic and less sitting-at-a-table-consuming-calories, I agreed with alacrity! Plus, I need to ingest more calcium. Win-win.

This is the second time he’s done this now. I know that I had many dreams for him when he was first born, but I never imagined that my 15 year old son would take me out for coffee, and sit and chat with me while we drank it.

Elliot has always liked to talk. When he was about 6 or 7, his favorite time to settle down for a real heart-to-heart about all that was going on at school was bedtime. It took me a while to wise up—what parent DOESN’T want her child opening up to her?—and realize that these times were carefully planned to delay the inevitable lights out. Donn and I started taking our kids, at random, on “special times” as we called them. There weren’t a ton of options in Nouakchott, but one or the other would take a child to a café for a shwarma and fries, or to the town’s one ice-cream shop that lasted about 2-3 years. (Aside: Donn stopped going after he took Abel there one time. Abel ordered, and the girl scooped out his ice-cream. Then, while she was waiting for Donn to decide, she licked the scoop, and then used it for Donn’s ice-cream. Life in these developing countries!) These times ensured that we heard what the kids had to say, and enabled us to keep bedtime a little closer to the ideal. We’ve mostly dropped the habit now although it still happens sporadically.

So Elliot and I walked over to Starbucks, where he bought me a grande cappuccino with his own money. The place was packed, as it always is, so we sat outside, warm enough from our walk, and talked about everything from the possibility of the historical existence of giants to colleges to marriage—he’d overheard part of a phone conversation about a Moroccan friend of mine who’s getting divorced. We chatted for about half an hour, double-checked that the library was, in fact, closed (I told him!), and then headed home.


Today, after school, Ilsa and I head out the door into the purples and pinks of a winter sunset. We climb the steep hill behind our house—so steep and grand that it’s called a mountain. From the top, other mountains are visible, and the long wide valley of the Willamette, where Portland is nestled. Don’t you feel it only right that any city located in a long wide valley be nestled? These are the rules, people. I don’t make them up.

We climb up past palatial houses, where I once saw a deer, discussing how those decorative rocks are arranged like fish scales, and how those cedar trees remind us of the ones in the hills behind Volubilus.

Ilsa and I are trying to lose our tummies. We discuss this on the way up—at least once we are more than halfway, as the first half is brutally steep and not so inducive to discussion. “Isn’t there a pill you can take to lose weight?” she asks, so I tell her about pills that raise your heart beat or cause you to expel all fat violently from your body. “Why would someone want to take a pill like that?” she asks. “Why do you think?” I reply. So we chat a bit, about body image and health and other deep topics.

We spend most of the way down discussing Ilsa’s dream house, which is set on some acreage and includes wild woods and horses and a house with a tower and a circular staircase since, naturally, every dream house must include a circular staircase. We discuss stone paths and wells and birch glades for moonlit dancing and a glass hill—not a big one, more of a glass hump—just because.

If you want to live in Fairie when you grow up, I highly recommend letting Ilsa design it for you.

Today the sun shone through the misty pearl clouds and the weather was crisp but not cold. I bought tulips on sale yesterday and filled vases with them, and they make the house feel like the earth has turned, that spring is coming. And though I thought that our walk might provide me a blog post, it didn’t quite. It was nice, but our discussions were not especially deep or meaningful, just part of our ongoing conversations about the life we find ourselves in. And that’s enough, for now.