My Name was Supposed to be Elizabeth Ann

— Stories from the Roads (Not) Taken

(Warning, the following contains spoilers for Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.)

If I hadn’t retired, I’d be hanging kites in my classroom and prepping my Kite Runner unit, which I taught to my seniors every spring. I don’t miss being a teacher, but I miss teaching, and I miss spending spring with Khaled Hosseini’s glorious book.

Three springs ago, when Covid quarantines forced physical schools to close indefinitely, I wrote about teaching it through Google Meets.

Like nearly everyone we knew, my husband and I were juggling exhausting schedules of working remotely and caring for family. In our case, his mother, who moved in with us and our two young adult children after a fall from her kitchen chair nearly killed her six days into quarantine. I never finished the series I planned, and she’s partly why.

Continued effects from her TBI had worsened her physical and cognitive health and stolen her independence. She couldn’t keep track of the days or her medication. She awoke convinced her dreams were real, her paranoias manifest. She couldn’t see to read, let alone drive, and she couldn’t prepare food more complex than a peanut butter sandwich. Which was just as well, because the few times she tried she left pots simmering on the stove while she meandered my back yard or sat on the deck, arms crossed and staring at the neighbor’s house. She hadn’t merely forgotten to turn off the stove, she’d forgotten the hunger that prompted her to turn it on in the first place.

While she had never been the easiest of people to get along with, the TBI also fed her worst tendencies and strangled her better ones, ultimately endangering her well-being to the point that her doctors told us she needed to be re-hospitalized for evaluation and treatment. 

The breaking point came mid-July, when she disappeared for several hours and wouldn’t answer her cell. My daughter waited at home in case she came back, and I drove the neighborhood in increasingly wider and more frantic circles, alternating calls to her cell with calls to my husband, who was six hours away checking on her home and mowing her overgrown fields. I’ll try one more time, I told him, and then I’m calling the police.

Finally, she answered. Turns out, she’d been wandering the neighborhood and struck up a conversation with a stranger who “seemed nice,” so she asked said stranger for a ride to church. They’d been to Mass, recently reopened to small, socially distanced gatherings, and ignored the phone’s ringing. My daughter and I paced at the curb until they returned. The driver was embarrassed and apologetic, concerned I’d still call the police. My mother-in-law was confused and disoriented, but thankfully unhurt. It could have been so much worse.

Four days later it was. 

Four days later, her daughters granny-napped her from the hospital, the same daughters with whom she’d barely spoken in years. 

The oldest daughter hadn’t visited in nearly a decade. The middle one occasionally popped in unannounced, on her way to a lengthier stay somewhere else. And when their father struggled with Alzheimer’s, neither had offered her help or solace of any kind, instead telling their mother to just put him in a home and stop complaining.

Meanwhile, in the years before and after her husband’s death in 2016, her son (my husband) called every day, visited one long, chore-filled weekend every month, and scheduled twice yearly weeklong “vacations” to cut firewood for the stove because it comforted his dad.  Even our kids and I helped out every summer, in whatever ways we could. 

The girls, she always called her daughters, and rightly so. They never outgrew the narratives each spun in adolescence.

They promised to take her home. 

They lied. 

Instead, abetted by the oldest, the middle child drove their mother five hours across Pennsylvania with only the clothes on her back and a grocery bag of undies, then dumped her at a care facility owned, in part, by the oldest child’s husband, after which the middle one drove back across the state for home. 

No money. No identification. No phone and no food.

And no medicine. 

None of her life-saving prescriptions, not a single pill. 

She went for nearly two days without. 

Two days, before the oldest could get them refilled. 

Did I mention the oldest used to be an RN?

Shortly thereafter, she reluctantly admitted to my husband that she should have believed him. Although the girls had accused him of misrepresenting their mother’s condition, he had been entirely truthful. Their mother was, in fact, no longer able to live independently. My husband had been following doctor’s orders for her care.

Now what?

When you eff up, you fess up.
And then you strive to fix it.


“Granny-napping” is a form of theft in which the perpetrators remove an older person from their caregiving situation, usually to establish physical and/or financial control of said older person. That is exactly what happened to my mother-in-law, even though later her daughters claimed they “rescued” her.

Tomato, to-mah-to.

In The Kite Runner, Baba explains to his young son Amir that theft is the worst sin, that every sin–every crime, in fact–is theft in disguise. 

Commit murder, and you’ve stolen not only the victim’s life but someone’s spouse, sibling, friend, and their impact on the greater world. Tell a lie and you’ve stolen the truth, you’ve stolen the opportunities truth engenders. And when you thieve, you not only steal from the present. You steal from the future.

Things can be replaced, yes. But theft is permanent. Its effects, immutable.

As an adult, Amir nearly dies learning that lesson. Turns out, Baba lied by omission. Baba was no paragon. Griefstruck over his wife’s death, he had sought consolation with his servant’s wife and conceived a mixed race son whom he never publicly acknowledged. 


Rahim Khan confesses this to Amir, after Amir visits him in Pakistan. Nearly everything Amir has believed–about his father, his heritage, himself–has been a lie. And acting on those lies has abetted  horrific consequences throughout all of their lifetimes…

And the lives of those to come.

No choice, after all, lives in a vacuum.  Not for Amir, and certainly not for those of us navigating the real world.

Fortunately, there is a way to be good again. 

Amir finds it, yes, but does he take it

Does it even make a difference?

No more spoilers.

Read the book, please. No cheating.

Because discovering answers to that question is why I always ended our school year with Amir’s journey. His struggle is in many ways our struggle, and relevant to my once-upon-a-time students facing graduation and the real world beyond. I wanted them to identify and evaluate their own choices, their own potential impacts on our shared world. 

Because we do share it, this flawed yet beautiful world.

Year after year, despite characteristics and experiences that separated them–that defined my students as somehow “different” from each other–every single one of them wanted similar futures. Futures defined by basic human rights. Worlds in which they–and therefore, we all–are welcome. 

So how do we get there, I’d ask them. How do we create the world we want to live in? 

Of course, I’m neither so naive nor arrogant to think I or my students figured out all the answers. But on this we always agreed:  


And then you strive to fix it.

That’s where the girls got it wrong. 

Confronted with the truth, the evidence of their own eyes, they chose instead to manifest their paranoias and prejudices.

In the months and years that followed spring 2020, they continued to lie. About my husband. About me. About the care their mother received in our home. 

Rather than attempt to fix what they had broken, they chose instead to make a difficult time far worse than it ever needed to be.

Just ask the Orphans Court judge who ruled in my husband’s favor.

My mother-in-law spent the rest of her life in a care home, and passed in December 2021. 

I wonder if she’s found peace. 

I doubt her daughters ever will.


Looking for the other posts in this series?

You can find them here:

Part 1: A Thousand Times Over

Part 2: Ghosts in the Grocery Store

Part 3: Choices and Consequences

And coming next month, IT MUST BE BY HIS DEATH, on character assassinations and the lies we tell.

Thanks for reading 🙂



  1. Brenda Rech says:


    Thru the Window


    Brenda Rech, writer


  2. mapelba says:

    As I am dealing with my aging father, his aging wife, and his wife’s mostly unhelpful children, this resonates hard. I haven’t read The Kite Runner, though I have a copy of it. Thanks for being such a terrific teacher, opening the door to such stories for your students, and thanks for sharing this story of your own. I’m sorry you and your husband and his mother went through that. It’s a shame when people have to make difficult journeys more difficult.


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