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My son and I wake at 5.30am every Thursday, drive several kilometres into town to meet with friends for an hour-long run. Afterwards, we buy croissants at the village bakery and drive home to find the rest of our household rubbing sleep from their eyes.
On the drive back this morning, I glance across at eleven-year-old Ashlin. "You know what I'm rapt about?"
Ashlin makes a face that says, No … but go on, surprise me.
"Well, I was talking to your teacher yesterday. He told me how kind you're being to the new kids in your class."
I'm looking straight ahead. At the potholes I try to remember to avoid, at long strips of bark hanging from the roadside gums.
"Oh," Ashlin says. "Well, I suppose I am being kind to Josh."
I ask why Josh in particular, and Ashlin tells me a story about his first week back at school.
"There were about twelve of us sitting around," he explains, "and there's this one kid, Alex, who whinges all the time about how tough his life is 'cause his parents are divorced. He carried on about it all last year, too, so this day I said to everyone, 'Okay, hands up if your parents are divorced', and everyone put their hands up except Josh."
"Were you surprised?" I ask.
"Yep," Ashlin says.
For several years, Ashlin has been upset about his father and me splitting up. Whenever he's having a rough time, he'll say, "How would you like it if your parents were divorced?"
"So what's the story with Josh?" I ask, my grip on the wheel feeling lighter. "His parents are still together?"
"No, they're not," Ashlin replies. "I said to Josh, in front of everyone, 'Ahh, so your parents are still together!' and Josh said no, they're not, 'cause his mum died when he was three."
Keeping my eyes on the road, I reach over and give Ashlin's leg a squeeze.
"Imagine not having a mother," he says. "I mean, wow. Imagine ..."
in the cold grass