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Kids

The Wading River Shoreham Chamber of Commerce hosted its first Fall Festival Oct. 13, and while cold rain fell throughout the morning, the community still came out in costume to celebrate the arrival of autumn.

While Halloween is still weeks away, kids dressed up in costume as zombies, firefighters, superheroes and many others, to march in a short parade from St. John the Baptist’s Church to the Wading River duck pond. Though not many kids participated in the walk because of the rain, young people still got to participate in a pumpkin decorating contest, crafts and shop at booths featuring local vendors.

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I didn’t see a horrifying and preventable accident this morning. I didn’t see a little girl, let’s call her Erica, on her way to her first week of school.

Erica, who, in our story, is 10 years old, wants to be a veterinarian, and has pictures of animals all over her room. She begged her parents so long for a kitten that they relented. They saw how well she took care of the kitten, putting drops in her eyes when she needed them, making sure she got the correct shots and even holding her kitten in the office when they had to draw blood to test for feline leukemia, which, fortunately, her kitten didn’t have.

Two years after she got her kitten, Erica continued to ask for additional animals, adding a fish, a rabbit and a hamster to her collection. Each morning, Erica wakes up and checks on all the animals in her little zoo, well, that’s what her father calls it, to see how they’re doing.

Her mother is convinced that the animals respond to her voice, moving closer to the edge of the cage or to the door when they hear her coming. When mother leaves to pick up Erica from school, the animals become restless.

I didn’t see Erica walking with her best friend Jenna. Like Erica, Jenna has a dream. She wants to pitch for the United States in softball in the Olympics. Jenna is much taller than her best friend and has an incredible arm. Jenna hopes the Olympics decides to have softball when she’s old enough and strong enough to play. Jenna thinks bringing a gold medal to her father, who is in the Marines and has traveled the world protecting other people, would be the greatest accomplishment she could ever achieve.

I didn’t see a man, whom I’ll call Bob and who lives only four blocks from Erica and Jenna, put on his carefully pressed light-blue shirt with the matching tie that morning. I didn’t witness him kissing his wife Alicia, the way he does every morning before he rushes off to his important job. I didn’t see him climb into his sleek SUV and back quickly out of his driveway on the dead-end block he and Alicia chose more than a dozen years earlier.

I didn’t see Bob get the first indication from his iPhone 7 that he had several messages. I didn’t witness Bob rolling his eyes at the first few messages. I didn’t see him drive quickly toward the crosswalk where Erica and Jenna were walking. The girls had slowed down in the crosswalk because Jenna pointed out a deer she could see across the street in a backyard. Jenna knew Erica kept an animal diary and she was always on the lookout for anything her friend could include in her cherished book.

I didn’t see Bob — his attention diverted by a phone he had to extend to see clearly — roll too quickly into the crosswalk, sending both girls flying. I didn’t see the ambulances racing to the scene, the parents with heavy hearts getting the unimaginable phone calls, and the doctors doing everything they could to fix Jenna’s battered right arm — her pitching arm.

I didn’t see it because it didn’t happen. What I did see, however, was a man in an SUV, driving way too quickly through a crosswalk, staring at his phone instead of looking out for Erica, Jenna and everyone else’s children on his way to work.

It’s an old message that we should repeat every year: “School is open, drive carefully.”

This Column is reprinted from September 14, 2017 issue.

Comsewogue Library Director Debbie Engelhardt, third from left, and Port Jefferson Free Library Director Tom Donlon, second left, with others, cut the ribbon on a Free Little Library in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

Steering a community institution as it crosses the half-century mark in its existence is an enormous responsibility. But when the institution has the inherent added degree of difficulty associated with morphing to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world, fulfilling that responsibility likely feels like threading a needle. As the third director in Comsewogue Public Library’s 50-year history, Debbie Engelhardt has gracefully and masterfully threaded that needle.

Engelhardt got her start in the library world as the director of Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton in the early 2000s. She was also the director of the Huntington Public Library from 2009 to 2012, before being selected as just the third director in the history of the Comsewogue Public Library.

The Comsewogue Public Library’s only three directors — Richard Lusak, Debra Engelhardt and Brandon Pantorno — in front of the newly dedicated Richard Lusak Community Room. Photo by Alex Petroski

In October 2017, Engelhardt played a vital role in planning, organizing and conducting a 50th anniversary celebration for the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville community staple. The day, according to many of her colleagues, had fingerprints of her enthusiasm, one-track community mindedness, and passion all over it, though that can be said about every day she’s spent at Comsewogue’s helm.

“Very rarely do you find anybody as dedicated to her profession and to her community like Debbie,” said Richard Lusak, Comsewogue Public Library’s first director from 1966 through 2002. The Oct. 14 anniversary celebration included the dedication of the building’s community room in Lusak’s honor, an initiative Engelhardt unsurprisingly also had a hand in.

“Those who come to know her quickly value her leadership ability and her insight into things,” he said. “She never says ‘no,’ she says, ‘Let me figure out how to do it.’”

The director tried to sum up her feelings about the anniversary as it was still ongoing.

“The program says ‘celebrating our past, present and future,’ so that’s what we’re doing all in one day with the community,” she said in October.

The event featured games, a bounce house, farm animals, crafts, giveaways, snacks, face painting, balloon animals, music, a historical society photo gallery and tour, and a new gallery exhibit.

“We thought of it as a community thank you for the ongoing support that we’ve had since day one, across all three administrations,” the library director said.

Engelhardt’s vision has been a valuable resource in efforts to modernize the library and keep it vibrant, as Amazon Kindles and other similar technologies have infringed on what libraries used to be about for generations. As the times have changed, Engelhardt has shown a propensity to keep Comsewogue firmly positioned as a community hub.

“I think she’s done a superb job with respect to coordinating all of the interests of input from the community as to what services are being requested by the public, whether it’s the children’s section, the adult reference and the senior citizens, including all of the activities we offer and the different programs,” said Edward Wendol, vice president of the library’s board of trustees who has been on the board for about 40 years. He was the board’s president when Engelhardt was selected as director.

Wendol credited Engelhardt with spearheading efforts to obtain a Free Little Library not only for Comsewogue, but for several other area libraries. The program features a small, outdoor drop box where readers can take a book to read or leave a book for future visitors.

“Anybody can use it as much as they want and it’s always a mystery when you open that box — you never know what you’ll find,” Engelhardt said during its dedication over the summer. “There are no late fees, no guilt, no stress. If you want to keep a book, you can … we are pleased to partner with the historical society to bring this gem. The books inside will move you and teach you. We say that libraries change lives and, well, little free libraries can too.”

The Little Free Library, a free book exchange, is located near the playground, alongside the shack at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai. Photo by Fred Drewes

Wendol said she also played a huge role in reorganizing the interior structure of the library. Engelhardt has created reading areas on all levels, placed popular selections near the entrance of the building, and taken an overall hands-on approach to the look and feel of the library. He also lauded her role working together with the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, an organization dedicated to serving the 56 public libraries in the county and assisting them in sharing services, website designs, group purchases and other modernization efforts.

“She’s great at what she does and seems to be having a great amount of fun while she’s doing it, and it’s kind of infectious,” said Kevin Verbesey, director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System and a friend of Engelhardt’s for more than 20 years. “She is one of the leaders in the county, not just in Port Jeff Station and Comsewogue, but somebody who other library directors turn to for advice and for leadership.”

Her community leadership efforts cannot be contained by Comsewogue Public Library’s four walls however. Engelhardt is a member and past president of the Port Jefferson Rotary Club; a member of the board of trustees at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital; and vice president of Decision Women in Commerce and Professions, a networking organization dedicated to fostering career aid and support, and generating beneficial community projects.

When she finds time in the day, she participates in events like the cleanup of Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck in Center Moriches, a facility for children with special needs. This past November she helped, among many others, clean up the camp with  husband, John, and son, Scott.

Suffolk County 6th Precinct's Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman talks to sisters Natalie and Katherine Byrnes at the Coffee with a Cop event in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Suffolk County police officers recently paid a lengthy visit to Park Avenue Plaza in Miller Place — not to make arrests, but to make friends.

Three members of the 6th Precinct mingled with residents of all ages at Crazy Crepe Cafe July 13 for “Coffee with a Cop,” a monthly initiative that gives police officers and community members a chance to meet one another, discuss concerns, or just share a coffee and some laughs.

Sisters Natalie and Katherine Byrnes received badge stickers after meeting with members of the 6th Precinct at the Coffee with a Cop event in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

Originally launched in 2011 in Hawthorne, California to better connect officers with the citizens they serve, the concept was adopted by each of Suffolk County’s precincts just over a year ago.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to approach the police in a nice, calm setting,” Community Oriented Police Officer Enforcement unit Sergeant Walter Langdon said. “Usually when we have interactions with the public it’s when dealing with something bad or stressful. [Coffee with a cop] is a way for them to see we’re not just here to arrest people, we’re here to help people and give them advice any way we can.”

Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman called the initiative a “homerun” for residents.

He said discussions with them ranged from suspicious activity in their neighborhoods, to the county’s heroin problem, to future employment with the police force.

“It’s a unique forum and it’s unconventional by prior standards in a sense because time isn’t always there for us to have that extended conversation with people,” Zieman said. “So here we can engage on a totally different level, and it’s really cool and we see incredible results from this.”

Suffolk County 6th Precinct’s Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman and Crime Section Officer Dena Miceli talk to residents about issues, concerns or anything else they’d like to talk about at a Coffee with a Cop event hosted by Crazy Crepes in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

With crayons and junior police badge stickers in hand, Zieman knelt at a table to chat with 7-year-olds Natalie and Katherine Byrnes, who asked him what it took to be a police officer.

“The most important thing right now is everything you do in school and how you behave and interact with people matters,” Zieman told the Miller Place elementary students. “School is super important, because they go back to your schoolwork, check report cards and want to know what kind of students you were, and if you pass that process, you can become a police officer.”

When Zieman gave them free passes for a police event at Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Mount Sinai next month, the girls beamed.

“I thought it was awesome,” Natalie said with joy after meeting the officer.

Rocky Point resident Debbie Donovan, who wandered into the cafe for lunch with her kids not knowing about the event, said it was a great idea.

“I think people need to see the presence of the police and this takes away the distance, the fear, the intimidation and the stereotypes for both kids and adults.”

— Debbie Donovan

“I think people need to see the presence of the police and this takes away the distance, the fear, the intimidation and the stereotypes for both kids and adults,” said Donovan, who wanted to speak to the officers about escalating drug problems in her community.

“Unfortunately, Rocky Point is changing and not for the better, especially on a particular side of town,” Donovan said. “It’s hitting way too close to home. I do see police more visible than I recall growing up, which does provides a sense of security.”

Her 11-year-old daughter Rhiannon said she likes that the police interact with the community.

“To some people, cops are just, ‘you did this, so you’re going to jail,’ but cops here want people to enjoy themselves,” she said.

Sixth Precinct Crime Sections Officer Dena Miceli, a plainclothes cop who explained to Rhiannon and her brother Jake about daily tasks on the job, said it means a lot when kids show an interest.

“If we can make some kind of difference in their lives and be a positive role model, that’s really all that we can ask for,” Miceli said. “This is such a helpful thing not just for residents, but for us also.”

Suffolk County 6th Precinct’s Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman, Crime Section Officer Dena Miceli and COPE Sergeant Walter Langdon talk to kids, like Jake and Rhiannon Donovan about what cops do in the area. Photo by Kevin Redding

Zieman said through the initiative, the department aims to collaborate with any and all local businesses and elected officials within each precinct to try to expand community involvement as much as possible. When he reached out to Crazy Crepe Cafe on a whim, manager Nick Mauceri was immediately on board.

“We love getting involved with the community in any way and this is something different than we’ve ever done before,” Mauceri said. “The conversations and exchanges are so personable and relatable, it’s great to see.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) worked alongside the 6th Precinct to make the event happen.

“The best resource for our law enforcement are the residents and they need to understand the police are here to help them,” Anker said. “Communication ties the fibers in our community and this is a great way to encourage people to create a relationship with our police.”

The next “Coffee with a Cop” event will be held at Smith Haven Mall Aug. 3 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. All ages are welcome. Visit www.facebook.com/SuffolkPD/ for more information.

Legislators DuWayne Gregory and Leslie Kennedy smile with young Suffolk residents. Photo from Leg. Gregory’s office

By Victoria Espinoza

Beneath the sunny rays in Smithtown’s Blydenburgh County Park June 29, Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) announced a new program to celebrate Suffolk’s youth community.

The Distinguished Youth Award program is meant to promote and recognize the achievements and initiatives in service of Suffolk County’s youngest contributing members.

The program is open to county residents between the ages of 13 and 18, and registrants will work with local officials throughout the course of a year to lay out plans and goals that touch on volunteerism, personal development, exploration of Suffolk County, and physical fitness.

Gregory announced the program alongside young residents who have already registered, and with colleague, Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset).

“Suffolk County is lucky to be home to so many wonderful young people who have distinguished themselves in many ways.”

— William Spencer

“The goal in establishing this program is to encourage young people to become well-rounded and engaged in local issues and initiatives,” Gregory said. “Our young people are our future. This program is one way to build a foundation on which these young adults can continue to develop a connection to their communities, to understand their needs, and to explore solutions. We are encouraging them to be leaders whose roots are firmly planted in Suffolk County.”

According to Gregory’s office, the program is modeled after the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, and challenges participants to take part in two or more program categories: volunteer service, personal development, exploration of Suffolk County parks, and physical fitness. Medals will be awarded to participants based on the number of categories in which they engage  as part of their individual challenge. The bronze medal will be awarded to teens that successfully complete two of the four program areas. The silver medal will be awarded to participants who complete three of the four program areas. The gold medal, which signifies the highest achievement, will recognize participants who complete their established goals in all four program areas.

Fellow legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) co-sponsored the resolution.

“Suffolk County is lucky to be the home to so many wonderful young people who have distinguished themselves in many ways,” Spencer said in a statement. “It will be a great honor to recognize them individually.”

Kennedy echoed the sentiments.

“In Suffolk County we have many accomplished young men and women,” she said at the event. “The Distinguished Youth Award will foster an environment where our youth will continue to accomplish great things, and grow into civically minded adults.”

Registration forms are available online on the Suffolk County Legislature’s Distinguished Youth Award program’s web page at legis.suffolkcountyny.gov/DYA.html. They can also be mailed to Suffolk County Legislature Distinguished Youth Award, Office of the Presiding Officer, Suffolk County Legislature, P.O. Box 6100 – Bldg. 20, Hauppauge, NY 11788-0099.

The best way to get to know your kids, especially if they are teenagers, is to drive them and their friends, teammates and classmates. If your daughter texts you from school and asks, “Hey, Mom and/or Dad, can one of you drive three of my friends around?” don’t hesitate.

The answer, of course, can’t be what you might think. You can’t say, “Yes! Of course, that’d be great.”

You’ve got to play it cool, because the moment she catches on to the fact that you actually have ears and are listening to the conversation in the car, you’re done.

Yes, I know the temptation, after a long day, is to pick up only the kid that you’re responsible for, the one whose clothing you washed for the 10th time this week and whose teeth are straightening because you brought her to the orthodontist for yet another visit. However, the rewards from just a tad more effort more than tip the scales in favor of the few extra miles.

The key to making this supersecret spy mission work is not to let them use their phones, to take routes where cell reception is poor or, somehow, to encourage conversation. If they’re all sitting in the back seat, texting other people or showing each other pictures on one of the social networks, then the effort, time and assault on your nose aren’t worth it.

Seriously, anyone who has driven a group of teenagers around after a two-hour practice should keep a container of something that smells more tolerable nearby. When it’s too cold to stick my head out the window or when the smell becomes overwhelming, I have become a shallow mouth breather. But, again, if the conversation goes in the right direction, it’s worth it.

Put four or five or seven, if you can fit them, kids in a car, and you might get some high entertainment. If you’re quiet enough, you might learn a few things about school or your kids.

“So, Sheila is so ridiculous,” Allison recently declared to my daughter. “She only talks about herself and her feelings. Have you ever noticed that? She turns every conversation into a story about herself. I mean, the other day, she was telling me about her brother, and her story about her brother isn’t nearly as interesting as my story.”

At that point, Allison then talked about her brother and herself for the next five minutes.

Tempted as I was to ask about the story Sheila told about her brother, so I could compare the stream of stories about Sheila’s brother to Allison’s, I knew better.

The boys also enter the realm of the car social laboratory experiment after a game or practice.

“Hey, what’d you think about the movie in French?”

Wait, they watched a movie in French? Again, you can’t ask any questions or everyone retreats to their phones or remembers that the car isn’t driving itself. You have to be inconspicuous or you will be relegated to the penalty box of listening to one-word answers from your suddenly sullen sports star.

“You did well in that presentation in English?”

A presentation? English? Quiet! Quiet! You have to breathe normally and act like you’re giving all of your attention to the road.

Once the car empties and it’s just your son or daughter, you can ask specific questions. You might want to mix up some of the details, just so it doesn’t seem like you were listening carefully.

“So, you had a presentation in history?”

“No, Dad, that was in English,” your son will correct. Then he may share details that otherwise would never have made it past a stringent teenage filter.

Little Sprout students smile and plant flowers in a Northport park for Earth Day. Photo from Amy Dolce

By Victoria Espinoza

Students at Little Sprouts Preschool in Northport helped Earth Day blossom this year with a school project.

Amy Dolce, director at Little Sprouts, said she wanted to top the events she did last year with her students, which was also her first year as director.

“Last year we hatched butterflies in the school and released them on Earth Day, and we had a picnic in the park, but this time I wanted to do more,” Dolce said in a phone interview.

Dolce said she got in contact with William Forster at Northport Village Parks Department and asked if it would be possible to plant flowers somewhere in Cow Harbor Park.

Forster, the senior groundskeeper for Northport Village, said he and his colleagues help out with projects like this for Eagle Scouts, Girl Scouts and other groups, and he and colleague Kevin Kenney were happy to help with this one.

Little Sprout students smile and plant flowers in a Northport park for Earth Day. Photo from Amy Dolce

“It was fun to do,” he said in a phone interview. “We had some cobblestones lying around and we found a spot that was kind of bare [in the park] and we make our soil ourselves, from the foliage and leaves we collect in the fall. It worked out really nice. It’s looking awesome; they did a wonderful job.”

Dolce was grateful for the help Forster provided.

“Willy met me at the park the next day to try and find the right spot to plant some flowers,” Dolce said. “He was so nice; he ended up making us a flower bed and providing the soil for our project.”

Dolce and her students slipped on their rain gear last Friday morning and headed down to the park from their school at the Trinity Episcopal Church on Main Street in the village.

“Our three- and four-year-olds took turns planting pansies and enjoying a snack on the blanket,” she said. “Afterwards they played in the park — it was just a really fun day.”

She said the kids had a lot of fun, and weren’t afraid to get to work in the dirt.

“They loved it — until they found a worm,” Dolce said with a laugh. “One young girl dropped her shovel as soon as she found a worm.”

Little Sprout student and director Amy Dolce smile and plant flowers in a Northport park for Earth Day. Photo from Amy Dolce

The director said her favorite part was when she heard the following Monday morning how the kids had all gone down with their families to check on their flowers during the weekend at “Cookie Park,” the nickname they’ve given Cow Harbor Park after its proximity to Copenhagen Bakery.

“It brings a little ownership to the community and a sense of unity,” she said. “It was really a lovely experience. Now their flowers will always be there. They all live in the area, so they can continually check on them.”

Dolce said the idea has inspired her to start planning a fall trip back to their flower box to plant mums, as well as continuing this tradition for Earth Day next year.

“This was about teaching them to be good to Mother Earth,” Dolce said. “But I really loved seeing the camaraderie. These kids will now always have their flowers at Cookie Park.

Northport Village and St. James residents were ready for the Easter Bunny this year, as families and children of all ages came to hunt for eggs, take pictures with the Easter Bunny and play Easter-themed games.

By Kevin Redding

A beloved Mount Sinai administrator, whose kindness and compassion have served the district for nearly four decades, is retiring at the end of the year — leaving behind huge shoes to fill.

Mount Sinai Elementary School Principal John Gentilcore dresses up on Election Day in 2008. Photo from John Gentilcore

Every morning for the last 17 years, principal John Gentilcore has stood in front of Mount Sinai Elementary School to greet his students with his warm trademark smile as they hop off the bus.

As part of his daily routine, he also makes a point to put time aside in his administrative schedule to visit classrooms and engage with the kids, oftentimes sitting, legs crisscrossed on the floor with them. When lunchtime rolls around, Gentilcore pulls up a chair and eats with them in the cafeteria, making sure to sit at a different table each day.

“I definitely get more from the kids than they get from me … they’re so genuine,” the principal said, adding that there’s something about the kids that brings a smile to his face.

When Gentilcore became principal in 2000, kindergarten teacher Willow Bellincampi noticed right away just how much the kids loved him.

“Sometimes with the principal, kids are afraid, but when John comes through the door, they’re so happy,” she said. “He’s always around, he gets down to their level, looks them in the eye when talking to them and not a lot of adults do that. ‘I’ll send you to the principal’ is never a threat to them because they love him. He’s compassionate.”

At 60, Gentilcore admitted although it wasn’t an easy decision, retiring at this point in his career will give him more time to spend with family and friends, and travel.

“I definitely get more from the kids than they get from me … they’re so genuine.”

—John Gentilcore

“I’ve been really proud to be part of the Mount Sinai district and I will miss the people, the great faculty, staff, and, first and foremost, I will miss the children,” he said.

Before becoming principal of the elementary school, Gentilcore taught several grade levels and coached girl’s varsity soccer at Friends Academy, a private school in Glen Cove, after graduating from SUNY Oneonta.

As the son of a superintendent — his father — and an elementary school principal, Gentilcore said he received informal education at the dinner table with them.

He was first named principal at the school in 1987, before being named the assistant principal at Mount Sinai Middle School in 1991, and principal in 1995. Ultimately, he landed back at the elementary school in 2000, where he said he “felt at home.” In 2003, he received his doctorate from Hofstra University.

Mount Sinai Elementary School Principal John Gentilcore dresses up in pajamas with students. Photo from John Gentilcore

“There’s something about kids that is very refreshing,” he said. “The elementary school is where their educational journey begins and it’s where we can start a real foundation together. Throughout the day, if a little one needs my assistance, I’ll conference with them. I try to make each day a little bit better than the day before.”

Although reluctant, the school board voted to accept Gentilcore’s August retirement.

“He is the consummate elementary school principal, a gentleman who deeply cares about his students, and we will miss him as a board and a school district,” Board trustee Robert Sweeney said during the Feb. 15 meeting.

Assistant principal Elizabeth Hine considers Gentilcore the best mentor she could ask for.

“I can’t say enough about how wonderful he is as a boss and a principal,” she said. “He taught me how to handle students, parents, everything … he’s just amazing. He enjoys what he does. It’s all about the kids, and he keeps that in the forefront of his mind and that’s how he makes all his decisions. It’s going to be a challenge for a lot of teachers to come in on a daily basis knowing he’s not going to be there.”

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The first time we hold them, they fit into the corner of our arms with room to spare. Their impossibly small pink toes fit neatly in our eyelids as we kiss their wiggling feet.

We lower their grocery-sack-sized bodies gently into their cribs. During the day we bring food to their toothless mouths, and their bodies process the food as they take what they need and leave the rest for us to clean and remove.

Suddenly they are coasting, looking into the side of a couch, a chair or our legs, standing for the first time. Amid the cheers and squeals, they fall and we rush to the floor near them and congratulate them. Before long we’re bending down, gently holding tiny hands engulfed in our oven-mitt-sized palms.

From their first walking steps, they progress to trotting. It’s a wonderful yet terrible transition, as their developing minds can’t process dangers at the same rate that their feet propel them. We keep up or race ahead, making sure they don’t step off a curb until all movement on the street has stopped.

They no longer want to sit in the car seat. They arch backs that are shorter than our arms, making it impossible to buckle them in. We distract them enough to close the clasps, run to the front seat and bring the car to a high enough speed that they sleep.

We take them roller skating, skiing or ice skating. We start them early so they’ll become naturals. Brilliant idea, except that they need us to put our hands under their armpits to keep them upright. After a time far too short for our kids’ liking, our backs scream to stop. We can’t bend down or our spines will go on strike. At that point, these small people want hot chocolate or the chance to try skiing, snowboarding or rollerblading on their own.

We stand on a field, tossing a ball lightly near their gloves. They throw the ball back in our general direction, discouraged that they haven’t discovered the magic of a catch. We get down on one knee, look them in the eye, pull up their small chins and smile, hoping we can teach the mechanics of throwing before they become too upset to keep trying.

We protect their heads from colliding with the tops of tables, reach for glasses from the cabinet, and help them into the seats at restaurants where their feet dangle far from the floor.

Pretty soon, they want to ride a bike. We promise to hold on but our backs, yet again, have other ideas. They shout at us for letting go or, maybe, they decide they want to do it on their own because they saw Timmy down the street on his bike.

Their faces, arms and legs get longer, they pick up speed everywhere they go and, before long, their heads are above the level of the kitchen table. They reach down to pet the neighbors’ big dog, and they sit in restaurant chairs with enormous feet that rest on the floor and which we wouldn’t dare put anywhere near our eyelids.

We no longer have to bend our necks to kiss the tops of their heads. In fact, with their braces gleaming in the sun, they stare or glare from under the long hair of adolescence directly into our eyes. Pretty soon we hope, as we go to sleep each night, they will be taller than we are.

Wonderful as that moment is, maybe — just for an instant — we remember that the head perched atop this growing body is the same one that fit so snugly into our arms all those years ago.

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