In reality, Walter Hawkins found himself morphing into the dreaded policy wonk, tending decimal points, flipping through computer printouts, reciting boring statistics on education and philanthropy that nobody gave a blast about, all in an isolated four-by-six basement cubicle under the ghastly green cast of fluorescent lights.

When Walter got a call from an old friend about a faith-based K-through-12 school in the Midwest needing a headmaster, he knocked over his desk chair, two computer monitors, and a trash can to lunge at the opportunity. He couldn’t wait to roll up his sleeves and actually do something hands on. This would be dealing with people, not paper, and real-time as opposed to distant projections.

The timing for the job offer had been perfect. Both Walter and his wife, Claire, had never seen themselves in D.C. for the long haul. They’d hoped to get back to the Midwest eventually. Their oldest boy was in grade school and the youngest hadn’t started, so the trauma of changing schools would be minimal. Walter and Claire Hawkins didn’t need any more trauma with the boys. Some days the two Hawkins boys were a trauma unit in themselves.

Just this morning the boys had attempted to launch themselves from the top bunk bed after wrapping one another in bubble wrap and mailing tape they “borrowed” from the packing supplies Claire had on hand for shipping out-of-town gifts. Walter heard the crash from the kitchen and knew immediately it had come from the boys’ bedroom.

“What going on up there?” he yelled.

“Nuttin’!” a voice answered.

It always spelled trouble when the boys were engaged in “nuttin’.” Walter slammed the coffee pot back on the warmer and raced up the stairs. Claire bolted out of the bathroom with toothpaste still foaming in her mouth, grabbing a hand towel on her way.

Griffin, the older of the two boys, was sprawled on the floor, momentarily stunned. Quinn was oblivious, stomping on a sheet of bubble wrap that had ripped loose from his projectile brother. No serious collateral damage, other than one sore bottom belonging to Griffin and a blue wad of Crest that had dripped on Claire’s white sweater.

Claire had been ready for the move back to the heartland and family roots as well. They sold the cookie-cutter house, packed a moving truck, and headed for The Cypress Academy. The founders had thought that a good name when they began the school twelve years ago. Cypress is the wood Noah used when he built the ark. Jim Ross, one of the original founders and still a board member, noted that in some translations the wood is called gopher wood, but Gopher Academy hardly seemed fitting for a school committed to academics. The founders shared a common belief that a school is like an ark, a place of safety and refuge from turbulent waters, so they settled on Cypress.

The Cypress was only a fifteen-minute drive from the Hawkins’ home. That was a commute time savings of forty minutes a day, three and a third hours a week, thirteen hours a month, 156 hours a year. The first month or so at Cypress, Walter recited those statistics almost daily, puffed up and pleased with his efficiency. Then one day Claire asked if he planned on using any of those extra 156 hours a year to help around the house a little more and he stopped mentioning it.

A wide grassy median separated northbound and southbound traffic on the parkway. Old-money mansions lined both sides. There were grand Italianate manses with second floor porticos, and magnificent Tudors with heavy wooden doors. The mercury had plunged below freezing last night, leaving a heavy frost glistening on the lawns. From just the right angle, prisms of color flashed in the sun’s rays. Many of the homes had enormous wreaths and boughs of evergreens accented with artificial fruit hanging on their front doors. When Walter had mentioned to Claire that, other than the Harry and David Fruit of the Month Club, he didn’t grasp the new fruit trend that accompanied Christmas this year, Claire just smiled and told him that sometimes he thought too hard.