The conversation turned from baseball and book reports to serious matters, and the boy with the longest eyelashes in the world snuggled deeper into his mother's lap.
"We're your what?" she asked, coaxing 8-year-old Gabe back to security.
"We're your forever family," Vicki Besore told her son, a boy she's known only about half of his life.
Thousands of children have crossed paths with Mrs. Besore, a Jackson Elementary teacher whose years of experience have graced her with the ability to quiet a room of 25 third-graders, explain the reason for carrying the 1, correct boys who earn attention from girls with flying projectiles, deliver high fives around the classroom, assign "points" to the good listeners and remind her students they're smart -- all in an hour, without breaking a sweat.
For 35 years, almost all spent in a third-grade classroom at Jackson, Besore has taught the children of York City. With husband John,
she raised two sons during that time.
And now, at age 57, Besore is once again the mother of a little boy, who also happens to be in third grade this year.
"No matter what he does, I just want him to be successful," Besore said. "I want Gabe to be happy with himself."
Mentor: About five years ago, the Besores volunteered to mentor a mother of three children. The family had arrived to live in an apartment owned by the Besores' church.
"We were here if she needed us," Besore said. "We were a support system for her."
Things got tougher for the family, and eventually the mother asked the Besores to temporarily care for Gabe. The York County Children and Youth agency became involved. Reunification of the family was always the goal.
But, as more time went by, the Besores realized Gabe's mother's issues would not be quickly resolved.
They sat down with their adult sons, who said, "Go for it," Besore said.
With the mother's blessing, the Besores formally adopted Gabe in late 2010. The mother's other two children, Gabe's brother and sister, are being raised by their grandparents, who also live in West Manchester Township.
"He needed someone to love him, to guide him," Besore said. "And I guess John and I still have enough to do that. It's one more person to love."
New approach: As new parents the first time around, the Besores read all the books and kept track of all the milestones, she said.
This time, as Gabe's parents, with a little less energy but a lot more wisdom, the Besores have taken a different approach. They're treating Gabe as Gabe and no one else.
"Your priorities change. I think you learn what to sweat and what not to sweat," she said. "You have to remember that they're all individuals."
Besore said opening her heart to Gabe opened her eyes to the lives of her students and the baggage so many of them carry to school.
Steps: Today, Gabe is a boy full of questions and stories.
He eagerly boasts about impressive progress reports. He's working on a book report about "101 Dalmatians," and he's proud of his honorary post as an assistant coach of the West York baseball team. He's so tickled to have a teacher for a mom that he wants to be homeschooled.
"You're tough," Gabe told his mom. "I found out the hard way."
The two have bonded over their passion for learning, Besore said.
Gabe's also a jokester. He's jockeying for parental approval to claim all of the home's bedrooms once his 24-year-old and 28-year-old brothers move out. Ask him to name his favorite subject, and he doesn't miss a beat.
"Recess," he said.
(He quickly admitted he likes computer lab, too.)
There are days after work, Besore said, that "I don't feel like I have any more to give when I come home."
But then, she drives to the baby sitter's to retrieve Gabe. And he's wearing that smile.
"You just kind of find a way," she said.
After 35 years, this will be Besore's last in the classroom. Her retirement plans are vague for now, except for hopes of traveling more and maybe joining the church choir.
And, of course, raising Gabe.
"In one respect, it does make you feel young -- but a tired young," she said with a laugh.
-- Reach Erin James at firstname.lastname@example.org.