On the standing-room-only Dulles G-gate shuttle at 8 a.m., I'm next to a mother traveling with three kids, approximate ages 8, 4 and 2. All are tired. She's in full Mom mode, jollying them and keeping it light. As we're lurching back and forth, I step on my shoelace, untying it. The woman notices, says commandingly, but not unpleasantly, "Tie your shoe." I do so, saying cheerfully, "Thanks, Mom." I don't even think she realized she'd done it -- she didn't react to my response. I headed off to my business meeting, smiling.

Phil Smith III

Herndon

The dog paces. The cats scratch the door. The parrot speaks. (Actually, he meows.) I walk the dog, feed the cats, water the garden and breathe the fragrance of lavender. Inside, I prepare for work, kiss my husband, leave notes for the teenagers. At Thetford House, the assisted living facility I own for people with dementia, a resident greets me. "Oh, your feet are green, too!" she says anxiously. I gaze at my brown shoes. "At least they aren't red," I reply. Happy now, she hugs me. My day of improvisation has begun.

Emily Carton

Washington

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