“Thank goodness you’re here,” Mom said as she wheeled my suitcase off the curb and tossed
it into the back of her SUV. “I can’t get the pangram.”
I had nothing to offer. “We’ve been too busy to try it yet today,” I replied, lifting Elsie into her
car seat as Evan locked Sawyer in his.
“Well, I feel like an idiot,” Mom whined, returning to the driver’s seat. “It can’t be that hard.”
“Pangram uses all of the letters,” five-year-old Sawyer announced in what we called his “reporter
voice.” Sometimes that touch of autism just kicked in. As he stared out the window and Evan
and I tapped away on our phones, Mom started the car and pulled out of O’Hare. The trip felt
quick, the driveway so familiar that when Dad came out to greet us I could have been nineteen
again, arriving home for a college break. Dad grabbed the luggage, the stroller, the diaper bag—
he paid no attention to what he was toting but somehow fit it all in his Gumbyesque arms and
deposited everything in a pile in the guest room.
Evan and I trailed after him and then went into our now familiar pattern, leading the children
to my old bedroom that these days housed a crib for Elsie in addition to the twin bed that
accommodated Sawyer. I changed Elsie’s diaper and lowered her into the crib, pleased that her
whimper of protest seemed to quiet in surrender to a little nap. We all hit a bathroom, and in
no time we were settled into the family room for the extended Thanksgiving weekend. Dad
hoisted Sawyer high in the air in order to assess, and then inform Sawyer, how much bigger and
heavier he’d gotten since summer. Mom had already positioned herself snugly against a worn
throw pillow on the couch.
“I’ll start dinner in a few minutes,” she said, opening her laptop. “We’re having hamburgers. I’ll be
doing enough heavy cooking for the holiday. Sawyer, honey, Tom Turkey tomorrow!”
“I barely have any words,” I told her, frowning at the tally on my phone screen. I’d been working
the puzzle of the day from my phone since we’d left the airport. “And I don’t have the pangram,
either. Must be something we’ve never heard of.”
“It’s not an everyday word,” Evan confirmed in a boastful tone, since he’d obviously figured it
out during the ride. “Want a hint?”
“No hints!” Mom and I shouted in unison. By this time Dad was ambling off to the garage to
conduct a safety inspection of the car seat installation.
“You may continue with your little game,” he said, dismissing the rest of us with a wave of his
hand. Sawyer perched himself on the sofa next to me to help me come up with words, which
sometimes he actually was able to do.
“You have to use the center letter in all of the words,” Sawyer instructed. “It’s an O on this one.
But for the pangram you also have to use the other six letters.” He had the game down pat.
“When I can’t get it, that means it’s too hard,” Mom complained. “There are so few words on
this one. Worst daily game ever.”
“It was like that other time we just couldn’t come up with the pangram, remember?” I prompted
Mom. “We were at the park right by our house.”
“Oh, what an annoying puzzle it was that day!” Mom’s face lit up. “Sawyer was almost three. He
was putting together bigger sentences and talking up a storm. Evan had begun his new job, and
you were huge, about to have Elsie. It was such sunny, beautiful weather. I remember telling you
about the house fire down the street from us and how Dad, of course, had gone over there
to help out that night. I had that knee injury going on, so I sat on the bench while you pushed
Sawyer on the swing, and we shouted back and forth to each other every possible combination
of short words, assuming that the pangram had to be a compound word. Then it turned out
to be ‘reliant,’ not a compound word at all. Not ‘tearnail’ or ‘rateline,’ that’s for sure. I still say
‘rateline’ should be a word.” Mom started laughing the way she did when she was the one who
made the joke and wanted to signal to us that we should laugh along.
“‘Rateline’ shouldn’t be a word, Mom,” I huffed, trying not to laugh. “Anyway, there’s this thing.
Evan, tell Mom about the thing.”
“Mama, you still need twelve points to get to ‘genius,’” Sawyer interrupted, laser-focused on
“Well, you would know, my little genius,” Mom said. “How did you figure that out? You’re
amazing, Sawyer. I’m ready to give up.”
“The thing, Ev,” I nudged. “And, okay, just tell us what the pangram is.”
Evan looked up from his phone. “Huh? Mugwort.”
“Never heard of it,” Mom said. “I don’t read the Harry Potter books.”
“It’s a real word,” I informed her. “A weed, I think. Some guy I used to work with took it for
stomach problems. Evan, the thing. Tell Mom.”
“Oh, well, the thing is, the work thing, is that, Sawyer, come on, buddy, no snacks before dinner.”
Sawyer had gotten bored and was now in front of an open refrigerator door in the adjacent
kitchen. I could tell that Evan was stalling.
“Mom, we’re moving to London because the company is opening a branch there and Evan’s
going to manage it. I made a deal to work remotely, so I’ll just be able to do more or less my
current job and cut down on the daycare expense. London is not that far. I’m already planning
for you to come out in early spring. And, well, also I’m kind of three months pregnant. I have to
agree about this being the worse puzzle ever. I don’t get why they’d pick a pangram that you
can’t make other words from. No words use these letters.”
At just that moment Dad wandered back inside and paired up with Sawyer to survey the
contents of the refrigerator.
“Are we going to have dinner tonight?” Dad asked. “I’m not getting any younger here. Geez, you
three, all you ever do is that word game. You kids never get a chance to even tell us what’s going
on with you, because it’s always ‘no words use these letters’ or whatnot.”
I looked at Mom. “Dad, don’t worry,” I said. “If anything happens that’s important enough to talk
about, we’ll stop doing the game and you’ll be the first to know.”