My mom is a lot prettier than she thinks she is. Sometimes I think I’m the only one who knows this.

Last summer we went to the Grand Canyon. We couldn’t afford plane tickets because Dad’s company had to close for a whole week in February and he didn’t get paid. I thought, “that’s like five snow days in a row!” but I didn’t say it out loud because Dad was extra quiet when he told us.

It was a long drive from Wisconsin. I could tell you the states we drove through. Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona. I could also tell you how many times my older brother Tony complained about how stupid the trip was. 37. I’m not exaggerating. I kept track in my notebook.

Tony is two years older than me. He thinks 16 is too old for family trips. He’s probably right, but I guess you have to complain 37 times before your parents will agree with you. Based on what Dad said somewhere in Iowa (he doesn’t use those words very often except when the Packers are losing) I’m pretty sure Tony will get to stay home this summer. Probably with the neighbors – the ones with the kid who goes to Tony’s school, not the ones with the dog that’s always getting into our trash.

Unless we go to Disneyworld. Tony says that Disneyworld is just for kids, but I happen to know he’d want to go anyway (if Dad would let him). There’s no way he could turn down the chance to see that Indiana Jones stunt show again. Once, last week, I caught him wearing the hat and holding a belt like a whip and quoting lines from the movie and even though he threatened to beat me with the belt if I told anyone I didn’t care because he looked like my brother for a few minutes and that doesn’t happen very often anymore.

I know more stuff than I say out loud these days.

I used to say everything that came to mind. I kind of had to. There were too many words and I couldn’t keep them all inside. My brother hated it and usually just walked out of the room. Dad listened until he heard something I got wrong (which was often) and then corrected me because he didn’t want me to embarrass myself someday. He was usually very polite about it all and I learned a lot, too – like why your pee smells funny after you eat asparagus. Mom was the only one who liked listening to every word. Sometimes she rolled her eyes, but not on purpose.

On the day we drove through Arizona, Mom was complaining about the heat and I was sure an ice cream stop would fix that and I think she agreed but Dad said maybe and then Tony complained again how stupid the trip was (complaint number 23) and Dad yelled and said we weren’t stopping until we got to the hotel. We went to a restaurant that night and I thought it was really good (chicken strips and French fries!) but I guess it wasn’t because Dad sent his steak back twice and Mom never got her salad.

The next morning is when it happened for the first time.

We all got in the car and drove to the Grand Canyon. Everyone had slept in late so Mom didn’t have enough time to put on her makeup, but it probably wouldn’t have stuck anyway since she kept rubbing her eyes. I don’t think it was allergies. Tony threatened to throw me over the railing - if they even had one. We didn’t know. I was only a little scared about that. Dad drove like his back hurt or something.

When we got there, we all walked up to the viewing area and stood there. They did have a railing. Tony complained that it was just a big stupid hole in the ground, but then he shut up for a while. I said “wow,” and that was probably when I stopped saying everything out loud because there were a lot of other words I wanted to say but didn’t. Then I looked over at Mom and I couldn’t find any words at all. She looked tired and a little sad but her eyes were green and her mouth was almost smiling and the wind was blowing her hair a thousand ways at once. She was so beautiful it made my stomach hurt. I kept waiting for Dad to say something. He looked at her at least twice. But he didn’t say a thing. I figured he was stunned, like me.

I don’t think that anymore.

Today my baseball team won our first game. I only got one hit, but I made a diving catch that should be on ESPN. Mom and Dad were in the stands, cheering. Tony had other plans, but he did tell me “have a good game, kid” before we left. After the game, there was a moment that was kind of like in a movie. I had just come back from the team huddle and the sun was starting to go down and all the colors were showing off in the trees and everywhere. Mom’s hair is different now, shorter. And there might be more lines around her eyes than last summer. I don’t know. I don’t keep track of things like I used to. But with her short hair and the way the wind was blowing it and the way the sunset was painting everything gold she looked like an angel. She was even more beautiful than the time at the Grand Canyon.

I saw Dad look at her for a long moment and I was sure he was going to say something. I mean, how could he not? Even “wow” would have been enough. But instead he just picked up the cooler and walked away.

I wanted to tell Dad he was stupid not to say something. I wanted to tell Mom that he probably meant to but couldn’t find the right words. I wanted to say a lot of things, but I don’t say everything I think these days.

So even though I was sweaty and dirty and probably smelled bad, I hugged her. I’m the only one who still hugs her.

I think it was the right thing to do.
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