The boys know our block well and, like homing pigeons, once we hit it they fly the rest of the way. I see their new khaki pants patched etched against the sky – smudges of speed and delight at the sound of their own hammering feet and hearts and breath racing the sidewalk home.

A passing car, a jogger and these trees with their dying leaves – we watch. Boys panting, whooping, hollering and stamping their wild lives onto this moment. Like so much play-doh the evening makes a silhouette imprint of my two sons and I hold it in my hand.

I am their mother and I still don’t feel old enough for the job.

They ask me a thousand questions in a day and believe I have the answers to every single one. I wish they could see me through my own eyes and understand how much any answer is mostly improvisation. My shadow follows as I push Zoe in the pink stroller that is my friend because it reassures me, “you have a daughter.”

I feel leaves and questions crunch beneath my feet. Surely every parent is filled with the wild hope that they will get it right. That they will do better than their own parents, love fiercer, listen gentler, argue less, support more. I am a six-year-old parent and my dad tells me, “You know, we also wanted to be the best parents possible.”

Fall lines the sidewalk and I remember how I wished for years that my parents would’ve done things differently; I have a wry smile of sympathy now instead.

I have leaves and questions and the red, orange, yellow view from these boughs that must have been watching boys for decades.

Time turns for all of us.

From up ahead I can hear them calling for me. The warm doorway smiles at Zoe and I out of the night and I know there will be baths tonight.

Tomorrow is still an improvisation. But tonight, healthy dirt will ring the tub.

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