He hurls his backpack to the floor and kicks off his sneakers. His eyebrows slant down in a whimpering frown, and his bottom lip curls up. "How can I do my homework without a table?" he wails.
My grandson Elias, who's 9, comes to our house after school every Wednesday, along with his 7-year-old sister, Hazel. Sometimes I read to them—books like James and the Giant Peach and Charlotte's Web—even though they read as well as I do. Sometimes we play Crazy Eights or Rummikub. It's quality time with Grandma Jo and Grandpa Lou.
The dining room table is missing because we've bought a new one, which won't arrive until tomorrow. My suggestion to Elias that he use my desk or the floor is greeted with screams of protest, which soon escalate into a full-blown tantrum. Hazel quickly flees to the TV room.
"What's the homework?" I venture. "Maybe I can help. We'll sit together and . . . . "
Elias cuts me off with a teary diatribe. "You don't know what the teacher wants. . . . You can't help!"
He flings his notebook onto the couch and throws his pencil across the room.
"You never understand," he says between sobs. "You're mean. You're always mean," he adds.
Suddenly I flash back to my childhood. "Why won't you ever listen?" I'd shout at my mother. "You're so mean. You don't understand!" Same words, same trembling fury, same torrent of tears.
I glance over at Elias, now curled up on the couch, weeping quietly. His chest is…