October 3, 10:03 p.m.

Dear Parents of Madison, Jacob, and Austin,

I’m sending this e-mail from a Comfort Inn somewhere in Texas. They only have dial-up connections here, but that’s life on a teacher’s salary! Anyway, I want you to know that I’m sorry for this whole incident and I’m doing everything in my power to track down your children and help bring them safely back to earth. Talk about the best-laid plans going astray! I thought the Albuquerque Daze Carnival would be a great field trip for the whole class, and when they saw the hot-air balloon, your kids were first in line. It was supposed to be a short, safe ride that was tethered to the ground the whole time. But there was a miscommunication. I thought the carny was in the basket with them, not taking a marijuana break behind the trailer. So when I told Jacob it was OK to cast off, nobody was more surprised than me to see them just rise and rise and … Soon they were just a speck. Went straight up like they were going to heaven. Let me tell you, I gave that man a tongue-lashing when he came back. From his clothes, I don’t think he’s from a nice family, to be honest.

Right away I made the bus driver take me to my house (I trust the other kids got home OK) and jumped in my car and hit the highway. I lost some time because I thought the jet stream moved east to west like the sun (doesn’t that make more sense?), but I called my husband after a few hours and he set me straight. I turned the car around and made good time. I’m sure I’ll be seeing them soon enough, as long as they come down around the highway. But I wouldn’t worry too much. You know, 8-year-olds are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

October 4, 9:53 p.m.

Hi to All of You,

I’ve never known three kids who were more intent on missing a few days of school! As you can probably guess, I haven’t spotted them, although I’ve been scanning the skies as much as a person can while driving 80 mph. I’ve made it as far as Oklahoma City, which seems a little tacky from the road but has a really nice zoo. (I needed some down time.) I’ve been listening to the radio constantly for news of their safe landing, but the only reference I hear is about the takeoff, and how it’s all somehow my fault. We’ll straighten that out later. At night I’ve been watching the Weather Channel for updates on the air currents, but they don’t mention them. I don’t know what the point of that channel is if they can’t tell you one simple thing.

October 5, 10:24 p.m.

Me again,

First off, I want to make sure you don’t pay any attention to what they’re saying all over the TV. They keep talking about how cold it is at high altitudes, and how the kids have been without food and water, and yak yak yak. All three of them should have their brown-bag lunch and a can of soda from the field trip, and I know from looking at her that Madison probably carries snacks with her. (No offense, it’s better than anorexia.) Nobody knows if the kids are that far up anyway, and even if they are, they can huddle together for warmth. Now, about the ocean: I realize it may be cause for concern, but I seriously doubt they are going to go that far. In the end, I think something like this is a great bonding experience, and what a story for later! Their classmates will be so jealous. By the way, Graceland is fantastic—I highly recommend it if you have reason to pass through this area. (Hopefully not the same reason as mine!) I sent each of you a nice postcard; something else to go in their scrapbook.

October 6, 9:43 p.m.


My heart was in my throat this afternoon when I thought I spotted them, but it turned out to be a buzzard. I’m sticking to back roads now for obvious reasons. (I don’t know why my husband gave the police one of my worst photos, but never mind.) The Georgia air is warm and “close,” as they like to say, so the kids are probably itching for a change of clothes! I’d say Motel 6 is better than Comfort Inn by a hair. Ever had boiled peanuts? Not bad. I’ll bring some back for you.

October 8, 6:36 p.m.

Guess who,

Well, when you get to the edge of land, there’s no point in driving any farther! I’m in Charleston, which is absolutely charming. I wish the kids could have gone on the Fort Sumter tour with me—they could have learned so much. Try not to get discouraged. The Coast Guard is on the case, and I’m sure they’ll scramble some more helicopters before long. Besides, if I remember correctly from Parents Night, you’re all young enough to have kids again. Despite all the stress this episode has caused, it also has been an awakening for me. I was standing at the fort, gazing out over the water, when I had an epiphany: I need to forgive my father and retrieve my relationship with him before it’s too late. And then something even more important: I want to write fiction! I’m going to sign up for a class at the community college when I get back.

I wouldn’t worry about the kids’ homework assignments. If we find them, I’ll give them a few extra days.