I have great guys. A new round of birthdays has bumped them up to the wizened ages of 9 and 11.

Yesterday, like all Thursdays, was a long day. Up at 4 a.m., run, work from 6 to 5, battle traffic across town to school from 7 to 10, home by 10:30. Tired and hungry and just want to hit the hay, but she's awake and wrapped in a blanket on the couch, watching Without a Trace, her favorite show, and she says, "Sit here with me."

So I do.

Her legs stretch out across mine, and I rearrange the blanket. I absently start rubbing her feet, massaging her toes like prayer beads, and we catch up during commercials.

"The boys did everything today," she says. It's how we refer to them. The two oldest, SweetFaceBoy and Vonda MaShone, are always "the boys."

"Such as?"

"They played with RunningHammer outside after they did their homework. Then they helped set the table and get dinner ready. I didn't even ask them."

"Are they up to something?"

"Let me finish. They cleared the table and washed the dishes. Then they took Hammer in to the shower with them, washed him -- they actually used soap -- then, get this, they dressed him in his jammies and put him to bed."

"And there was no screaming or tears?"

"None. Well, he fussed a little, but then they told him, 'Listen, tomorrow you have a big day of playing over at Madison's so you have to get a good sleep tonight.' It was like they were singing it. He just said, 'OK', and put his head down."

"Did it work?"

"He was asleep before the room went dark."

Thoughtful pause. "Think they're up to something?"

"That's just it. You can usually tell. You know, drop hints about the next trip to Target or the rockclimbing gym or the Lego store. This time, nothing."

Another thoughtful pause. "So does this mean we're doing a good job, or is it just them?"

"I'm not worrying about that."

We watched the show for a while. She shifted on the couch, pulling the blanket higher, and the cat jumped up to perch and purr on the geometrically perfect curve of her hip. I saw her eyes slowly close.

"And SweetFace rescued a turtle from the street and put it back in the forest and MaShone found that rocket he lost in the next door backyard."

I stay awake long enough to get the recap of the debate, hoping that Dean's reshuffling and new strategy will post a few wins and soon. Carefully I lift her legs and slide around them. She does not stir, and the cat doesn't move.

In the half-light from the bathroom I see the boys on my bed. MaShone buried under the comforter, but stretched out like he's flying. SweetFace curled like a squirrel on top, dismissing this heatless house. Despite their size, there isn't an inch of room for me.

I grab a sleeping bag from the closet and unroll it at the foot of the bed. A good night's sleep, dreaming in their own space, is the least I can give my great guys.