When the Tooth Fairy Finally Came

When Poppy fell
on Leo and knocked out
his very first loose tooth
he sprang up from the ground
sweeping the carpet with his hands
searching, as if for a silver coin.
Finding it he rose,
triumphant, a ribbon of blood
separating his lip from his bottom row
of remaining teeth, his entire face
a gap-toothed smile.

That night he placed his tooth
in a small plastic box where it rattled
when he shook it and when he took it,
nestled it under his pillow, perhaps
a little bit afraid of
what it meant for the tooth fairy
to visit him while he slept.

Two mornings later (because his tooth
fairy is tired and feeling the gray February
days deep in the bones) Leo woke to find
a crisp, folded $5 bill in the place of his tooth.


he cried, because a piece of him was
gone forever
and what use does a 6-year-old have
for $5?

I wonder about the pieces of us we have lost
in the last year, and if we will ever find value
in what we’ve received in exchange.

I kept his tooth in a small plastic bag under
my bed, didn’t have the heart to throw
it away. And I meant to replace it
the next night with a note
from the tooth fairy, explaining
how he could keep this one. But, alas,
I am tired and feeling these gray
February days deep in my bones,
so I forgot. And
after another day,
so did he.

So now there is a tiny tooth, a little piece of him,
in a small plastic bag that I keep
beside my bed. A reminder, I suppose,
of the things we lose, the pain
of loss, and how quickly
life moves on.

* * * * *

Did you know Maile and I are offering a fiction-writing course called The Nine Month Novel? If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, or have a novel you haven’t been able to finish, we’d love for you to join us. Check out the details HERE.

Finding Light on the Darkest of Days


Mostly, I remember Christmas Eve at my mom’s parents’ place, their little house lost in the middle of all those rolling hills and farmers’ fields. It was a small, cozy house, alone in the valley, a light on those dark Christmas Eve nights. We always arrived with hugs and shouts of “Merry Christmas!”, Grandpa looking at us with his lopsided, mischievous grin, and Grandma’s round face kind and beaming Continue reading “Finding Light on the Darkest of Days”

What Our 6-Year-Old Leo Wrote a Book About

He sits quietly with me at a small, old-fashioned school desk in the basement where we’re preparing a space for my office. He is six years old, writing a book, a book that is nothing more than printer paper folded in on itself, stapled to keep it from falling apart. But he works on this book for hours. Finishing it, he is as proud as I’ve ever seen him.

* * * * *

What I remember most about Leo’s birth begins two years before his actual birth, with a miscarriage. A long, painful day filled with blood and tears and contractions and a weary grief that was like a long needle, pushing the pain into my joints, into my bones. It led to a box we buried in the woods, standing around it as a family with four children, thinking it was set in stone. There were six of us, and that was good, a blessing. Something to be cherished. But never more than that.

Still, that miscarriage, Maile’s second, left us feeling empty again.

Hours after Maile miscarried, we attended my grandmother’s funeral.

This loss is where Leo’s story begins, at least for us.

* * * * *

Nearly two years later, Leo. Unexpected. Unhoped for, if only because we had stopped hoping. The kind of gift you can no longer bring yourself to think about.

And ever since he arrived, it’s like he knows what his existence came up out of, the light he brought. He is smiles and long hair and cleverness. He is light and kisses and spindly arms around my neck. Leo carries with him the kind of joy you feel when hope is regained.

A friend of our lost her son weeks before Leo was born, and I think of them all the time when I see Leo, and a different kind of grief mingles in me. It’s a what-if kind of pain, a wondering.

* * * * *

Leo sits at the small desk in my office. He confirms the spelling of words he is only just now learning.

“God is G-O-D?”

“You got it.”

“How do you spell guide?”


He works his way through the book, adding drawings, words that are arranged willy-nilly on the page. He asks if he can read it to me, so I stop working and swivel around, facing him. Every page has something on it, but there’s one page in particular that jumps out at me.

It’s the picture of a boy, a stick figure with large eyes and long hair. And written beside the drawing are three words.

“God guide Leo.”


* * * * *

I watch him work on his book and am suddenly aware of all the long years between us—him, 6 years old, and me, 44 this year. That’s 38 years. I have a few memories from when I was his age, but they seem long ago, like from a book I read and can’t quite remember how it goes.

When he’s my age, 38 years from now, will I still be alive? Will he have a little boy, one who asks him to sing “There’ll be a light for me at the river” or “Great is Thy Faithfulness”?

I hope he’s at least as happy as I am. I hope he has someone in his life who brings him as much joy as he brings me.

* * * * *

I keep his book in the bottom drawer of a desk my grandfather used, a desk that is now mine. I was around Leo’s age when that grandfather died. Such a strange world we live in, with so many twists and turns, so many unexpected crossings. What is this life, and where is it leading us?

How can we ever find our way, without a little guidance?

What Poppy Told Me

The afternoon sun shines through our windows, bright and promising. The winter has been gray. I help 5-year-old Leo and 3-year-old Poppy navigate their bikes through the breezeway, brushing against the gritty brick all the way to the front of the house where the sidewalk runs wide along James Street.

Back and forth they ride, from the lamp post in the west to the metal gate in the east, a span of two or three row homes. “Here, Dad?” Leo calls out. “I can go this far?” There is the whole wide world, 26,000 miles around, yet they are completely happy to exist in that 90 feet. Pedaling and turning.

I sit on the front steps and read a book. Leo gets cold, parks his bike against the front porch, and goes inside, but not Poppy. She keeps going back and forth, back and forth, humming to herself, her cheeks bright pink from the February air, her hands red.

“Aren’t you cold?” I keep asking. I’m cold. “No,” she calls out, making another lap.

Eventually, she pulls to a stop in front of the steps. “I’m finished,” she says, and I carry their bikes to the back porch. She trails behind me.

“It’s a good day,” she says with a smile, her face glowing and I kiss her icy nose and she giggles and I wonder if this will be one of the memories that sticks, the day she rode bike through a February day, or if it will fade into her past the way most childhood days do.

“It IS a good day,” I reply. How little it takes to please a child. How eager they can be to find happiness in their narrow world.

Our Life in Title 1 City Schools

Around 6:45 a.m. I unlock our front door so that when the neighborhood kids start arriving, they can just walk in. These days, it’s chilly in the mornings, and the golden hallway light spills out onto our porch. When I open the door to see just how cold it is, I glance at the cars parked on James Street, waiting for the light to change. It is busy at that time, on a Monday.

I make plenty of breakfast and go upstairs for something. Maile is looking at her phone.

“I don’t know what to do,” she says. She received a text, addressed, “Hi Abra’s Mom.” Abra’s friend, who usually comes to our house to walk with Abra to school, went on to say that her younger sibling didn’t have anyone to walk her to school, and the elementary school starts after the junior high school, and since she had to walk her sister to school, she wouldn’t be able to walk with Abra. She’d be late to school, too.

She’s eleven years old. She just wanted to let us know, so we wouldn’t worry, or wait for her.

* * * * *

I know for a fact that a lot of people who don’t have children in the School District of Lancaster (the district that serves nearly 11,000 kids in our small city) think of these kids in a particular way.

I know, because I used to be one of those people.

When our oldest son, back in 2018, told one of the moms at his home school co-op that he would be attending McCaskey High School in the city later that fall as a freshman, her first response wasn’t to encourage him or wish him the best but to go on a mini-tirade about the pregnancy rates in the school.

When Maile shared that our kids would be going to public school, she was met with a similar barrage of fear. “I don’t know how anyone could send their kids to city schools,” one mom said.

“Is it even safe, walking around there?” someone else asked.

“You mean during the day?” Maile asked, incredulous. The person nodded.

Yet our personal experience couldn’t be further from these fear-based narratives.

Yes, the young people here in the city are presented with challenges I never had to face in my rural upbringing. And yes, there are a small percentage that make negative decisions that will have huge implications for the rest of their lives.

But the overwhelming majority of kids I’ve crossed paths with since our children started attending the SDOL have been respectful, motivated, and kind. They’ve befriended our kids. They’ve shown themselves to be hard workers. They make a huge effort every morning JUST TO GET TO SCHOOL. Many of Abra’s junior high friends are responsible for picking up younger, elementary-aged siblings. Many of them walk well over a mile, no matter the weather, so that they can learn.

There’s too much garbage out there about the schools in the city, and I’m weary of hearing it, especially when it comes from people who don’t know a single child that lives or goes to school here.

* * * * *

Abra’s friend was able to work it out so that her younger sister could get to school with someone else. In the meantime, we told her to bring her sister to our house next time, and she can join us when we take Sam down to the elementary school.

Our house is quickly becoming a morning magnet of activity, and to be honest, we love it. We make extra pancakes. We invite kids in. We leave our door unlocked. As usual, we asked the kids if they wanted to pray with us, and they all crowd into the dining room.

Am I claiming nothing bad will ever happen to us? Am I saying our kids will make perfect choices their entire life?

No, but that’s not the point. These kids we’re meeting in the city are the point, and they’ve been a gift to us. I hope we can be the same to this wonderful district full of precious young people.

A Normal Morning at Our House (Where 13 People Congregate to Start Their Day)

I come up out of sleep and into the darkness of an early morning. I hear the cars out on James Street, idling. You can almost smell the coffee the drivers are drinking. I check my phone. 5:53. I wake up almost every morning just before 6 a.m. without an alarm. I’m not sure why. The fans hum in the house, and I would rather roll over and go back to sleep, but I reach over to Maile’s side of the bed. The covers are pulled back, the bed empty.

Usually, 5-year-old Leo is up before me, at around 5:30, and then I tell him it’s not time to get up so he sits on the chair in our room and waits for me to wake up. But on this morning he’s not up yet, so I put on some pajamas and make my way from Cade’s room to Abra’s room to Lucy’s room, making sure they’re awake and turning on lights.

I creak down the stairs, from the third floor to the first floor, and the family room light is on, and Maile is having some quiet time. We exchange gentle words in the half-light. A hug. And so our morning begins.

She makes her way back up to our bedroom, where she will do yoga or pray or sit quietly until 7 a.m. In the meantime, I make some pancakes, and little people begin their descent to the kitchen. Cade moves wordlessly into the bathroom and takes a shower. Then, Leo comes down, big smile on his face, asking about cereal. Abra is usually next, dressed in her school uniform, prim and prepared and ready for the day. Poppy peeks around the steps, her pacifier in her mouth, her hair braided from the night before. Lucy wanders down a little later. Sam can still sleep until 7:15, because he’s in elementary school.

By 6:45, things are moving: kids are eating pancakes and asking for more, looking for lunch boxes (which they pack themselves), checking their laundry for clothes, getting their backpacks in order, asking me to sign papers. I go and unlock the door for Lucy’s friend—her parents drop her off at our house every morning. By 7:00, Maile comes down. By 7:10, Abra’s three friends (and one of their younger siblings) have arrived (they go to school together).

“C’mon, we have to go,” one of the older kids will say while their sibling is running around in a panic looking for their school ID or the shoes they wanted to wear but can’t find or a jacket they left at school the week before.

At 7:15am, we gather in the dining room. We ask the other kids if they want to pray with our family before going to school.

“Oh!” one of the girls said the first morning we asked them this. “I looooove to pray!”

So, there we are. Two adults. Three teenagers. Four middle-school students. Two elementary-aged kids. Two littles. We stop, and we ask God to go with us. We ask for courage, and kindness, and positive attitudes. It is a small pocket of peace in a world that usually forgets to stop.

And then the whirlwind returns, as kids go out and walk their separate ways. We stand on the porch and watch them leave us, and then Maile drives others to school, and I take a deep breath, and put on some workout clothes, and walk to the Y.

These are good, hard, tiring, wonderful days. There is sometimes forgotten homework, and bad attitudes, and kids wishing they didn’t have to go, and lost things that can’t be found. And there are touching moments of love and grace and joy. They are full mornings.

And God is with us. I keep hearing the voice of the middle school girl, her eyes beaming.

“Oh! I looooove to pray!”

* * * * *

I’m sharing some big news in my newsletter tomorrow—the title and cover of my next novel, releasing the summer of 2020! You can sign up for the newsletter HERE if you’d like to get this info before anyone else.

And if you didn’t buy my newest release, Light from Distant Stars, maybe treat yourself to that today? Find out more about it HERE.