As soon as they could walk, Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka began the tradition of The Run. It was their way of saying goodbye to visitors. When someone they loved was leaving our home, they’d announce, “We’re gonna run!”
“Just to the corner,” I’d call after them as they dashed off.
And then they’d race the length of the sidewalk, trying to beat our visitor who drove away on the street next to them. When the girls got to the end of the block, they’d stop and wave at the vehicle as it turned and drove out of sight.
I always stood in the same spot—on the sidewalk in front of our house—watching the girls run to the corner alongside our departing guests. Once the visitors had disappeared, the girls would turn and sprint back to me.
In the early days, I memorized the details of The Run: the flyaway blonde hair, a sundress strap slipping off a toddler shoulder, a sagging diaper. Sometimes the girls even galumphed to the end of the block in plastic, play high heels. But over the years, efficient strides replaced stumbling steps, and self-awareness edged out innocence. Eventually, the girls didn’t race our guests to the corner anymore.
I didn’t notice the exact day the girls stopped running. But it fit in with all the other things that marked their growth: being old enough to stay at home alone, concocting delicious things in the kitchen without help, walking to the corner store by themselves. I grieved the loss of The Run—a sign their training days under our roof were numbered. But they were growing up and away from us as they should. The beauty of it all knifed my heart.
During the training years, many lessons for our girls rippled through our days, but one washed in again and again: “The world is broken, but that changes nothing for us. We love everybody anyway.”
I wondered often about the neighborhood kids—and their own life lessons—as I watched them grow too. After long winter separations, they came from the surrounding blocks in the spring to play basketball in our driveway. They were taller and thinner or more filled out. But during those dark, cold months, what had they learned about life? And during every season, what lessons flowed into their finite days?
One weekday morning in the spring, I glimpsed sixteen-year-old Antoine shooting baskets in our driveway. From the kitchen window, I could see he had a friend with him—someone I didn’t recognize. I went outside.
Approaching the gate, I smiled and then cocked my head. “Why aren’t you in school?”
“I just had a court date.” Antoine made a basket from the “three-point line.”
Antoine’s friend hopped into his car, which was parked in Glenda’s driveway. Behind the music and rolled-up windows, I knew he wouldn’t hear our conversation.
I rested my arms on the gate. “Oh? What happened?”
Antoine dribbled the ball, his focus on the basket. “I got in a fight. Judge says I have to do community service.” He sank the shot.
“That doesn’t sound like you. Why did you get into a fight?”
Antoine did a lay-up. “A guy was messing with my girlfriend.”
I imagined him as a four-year-old—like the little boys we had cared for through Safe Families for Children, all of them with soft, eager hearts but precarious beginnings. Antoine still had that heart.
“You have a case worker, right?” I said. He nodded. “Tell him you can do your service hours here with us, if he lets you.” I held up my hand. “Wait here. Don’t leave.”
I went back into the house, jotted our contact information on a scrap of paper, and then headed outside again. Antoine watched me, his basketball now quiet and tucked under his arm. I gave him the note. “Have your case worker call us. I mean it.”
He shoved the paper into his pocket, his gaze flitting off toward his friend’s car.
“Antoine,” I said, and he looked at me again. “You’re a good kid.”
His mouth smiled, but his eyes didn’t. He climbed into the car with his friend, and they drove off down the alley.
A few months later, Antoine was back, shooting baskets in our driveway with two friends. Husband strolled out to say hi. Later, he told me about the exchange.
“I asked Antoine if he was working this summer. He said, ‘Not anymore.’ I asked him why not. He said another employee was giving him trouble, so he got in a fight with him and got fired.”
I shook my head and sighed. “Oh no.”
“I told him, ‘Sometimes you have to let that stuff go.’”
“What did he say then?”
Husband shrugged. “He just nodded and said, ‘I know.’”
Like Antoine, I thought of Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka—sometimes overlooking certain lessons to choose their own ways. But outside the protection of right choices, the path is tangled and thorny, and the wandering leaves a mark.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
We parents are charged with a task, and we hope to make the most of it, because time is slippery, and the training days are fleeting. For all our kids. And for Antoine.
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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.