A Fairy Tale Day

June was in the bath, chewing on a toy boat and growling. I’d just finished telling her a story about a sea monster that menaced boats and the dolphin that rescued the hapless passengers. I held the sparkly purple dolphin squirter toy in one hand. June played the part of the monster with gusto.

Before she even had the boat completely out of her mouth, she was asking me for a story “about a queen and a prince.” Stories about royalty are popular around here. June’s first-ever attempt to play story-game with Noah a couple weeks ago went like this: “Once upon a time, there was a king and a queen and a princess. They had soap. They had a bathtub. The princess took a bath.” An impressively cohesive start, I thought, but after Noah took his turn and it was June’s turn again she just repeated her opening word for word. It never went anywhere from there.

I thought for a minute. “Once upon a time,” I started, “there were two queens who lived together with a prince and a princess. One day the princess took a bath. Then she put on a pretty dress and went to her playgroup. It was one queen’s turn to host that day and she had to stay on the playground with her guests so the princess did not run into the woods. They swung on the swings, slid on the slides, climbed the twisty ladder, rode on the pony and the motorcycle, threw rocks in the creek and had a snack. Then they came home, had a nap and went to drama camp early see the prince’s performance. Then they ate ice cream. The End.”

This was my plan for the day. It was a busy day in a busy week. On Monday June and I picked up the pottery the children had painted for my mother’s birthday at Color Me Mine (http://www.colormemine.com/). Noah painted a cat and June painted a butterfly, or rather the underside of one wing. She refused to touch the other wing or the top of the ceramic insect. Tuesday we mailed the pottery and went to Circle Time at the library. Tuesday evening Beth and I left the kids with a sitter and went out for Burmese to celebrate our anniversary. (The food was great; the uninterrupted conversation even better.) Wednesday we tried out the Co-op’s new story time. Thursday we went to the playground and I inspected the familiar space, trying to imagine what I might need for the next day’s playgroup that I hadn’t considered. The answer was a tablecloth for the picnic table that was covered with bird droppings. Every afternoon we took the bus to Silver Spring to pick Noah up at drama camp. During June’s naps I wrote a short article about the nutritional benefits of organic milk and produce. I’ve been doing research and editing jobs for my sister’s freelance writing business for almost a year but this was the first writing project I’d tackled.

After June’s bath, I put white barrettes in her hair and dressed her in a blue and white striped dress over a white t-shirt, white socks and black Mary Janes. “A dress for my birthday!” June exclaimed. The dress was a birthday present from my mother, but I don’t think that’s what she meant. She’s been eager for another birthday ever since she turned two in late March and she claims it is her birthday whenever she sees balloons. She’s probably worn a dress a couple times since March but it’s not an everyday occurrence for her so that it was some kind of holiday was a reasonable conclusion.

As I pushed the stroller—laden with five pounds of organic mixed green and red grapes (all sliced neatly in half), cheddar bunnies, whole-wheat bunnies, bowls, plastic cutlery, napkins and the tablecloth—toward the playground, June commented, “It’s fun to play with our friends.” I thought it was kind of funny, given that the kids really don’t do anything that could be described as playing together yet, but I was glad to hear she enjoys these weekly Friday morning outings.

We arrived just before the official starting time of ten a.m. I scanned the playground for familiar faces. There were three teenage girls sitting on rocks down by the creek and a grandmother with two little girls, one about the right age, but I didn’t recognize her. After a cautious conversational opening, I concluded the girl was not part of our group. I chatted with the grandmother a little while longer. She was from Hawaii on a visit to her daughter and her family. She wanted to know if it was always so humid here in the summer. Not always, but often, I conceded.

I got the picnic table set up with snacks, shooed an interested June away from it and pushed her on the swings, but June wanted to roam. I compromised with her. We could walk to the footbridge and look down at the water, but we were not going into the woods. She seemed agreeable. As soon as we were on the bridge, she took off running, the heels of her shoes clattering on the wooden planks. She’d made it a few feet onto the narrow, muddy path that runs into the woods when I caught her and carried her, twisting and kicking and apparently surprised and outraged that we weren’t going into the woods.

I looked at my watch: 10:10. I decided to let June start eating in the interest of keep her on the playground. She settled in happily. I’d bought her favorite snacks. Once she’d eaten a few bites, she looked around and noticed something was missing. “Where people?” she asked. “Where our friends?” I told her they were coming.

I watched as a dad with a two-year-old girl and then a nanny with another one arrived. Neither was from June’s class, but one of the girls stared so intently at the food I invited her and her father to join us. Why not? It was 10:20 and we had a lot of food. I asked her name and it was June! Someone had told me there was another June about my June’s age who frequents this playground, but we’d never met.

The other June and her dad began to eat. “You’re so good. You cut the grapes in half,” he observed. I was glad someone noticed. It took an hour. I’m sometimes a bit lax about choking hazards with June, but I’m conscientious enough not to serve whole grapes to other people’s toddlers.

June and I threw rocks into the creek. I let her get her shoes and socks and the hem of her dress wet and muddy. She found a little tree with sturdy branches just a foot or so off the ground and fulfilled a long-standing goal of climbing a tree.

It was 10:40 now and I was wondering, was I at the wrong playground? Was it the wrong time? The wrong date? Where were our friends? I decided if no one showed up by 11:20 we’d leave the food on the table with a note, go home and watch Mr. Rogers. It was a hot, sticky day and I don’t like to keep June out much past eleven anyway, as she tends to fall asleep on the way home if I do.

At 10:45, Hayden and his parents arrived. Then at 11:05, Mia and her dad came. It ended up being a very nice play date. I do better socially in small groups anyway and I got to talk to Hayden’s mom and dad long enough so I felt I got to know them a little bit. June and Mia had a good time watching each other throw rocks in the creek. The other June and her dad continued to hang out with our group by the slides and at the picnic table. Between the four kids and five adults, we ate more than half the grapes. I mentioned it was a really hot day, right? That’s probably why more people didn’t come, everyone concluded. Either that or a lot of people were on vacation.

Around noon, June wrapped herself in the baby blanket I keep in the bottom of the stroller and wore it like a robe. She wandered around, perhaps imagining she was a princess. She declares herself a princess (or a king, or a queen) quite often while wrapped in her after-bath towel. Then, still wrapped in the blanket, she lay on the grass near the picnic table where I was packing up our things, and she said she was going to sleep. Hayden’s dad said it was a “positive sign” that she needed her nap. We said goodbye to everyone and set off. It’s only a ten-minute walk but June was fast asleep when we got home.

I woke her so she could have a proper nap, lying down in an air-conditioned room, instead of a short snooze in the stroller on the porch. In the hour that followed, I had plenty of time to regret this decision. She couldn’t get back to sleep, but she desperately needed to. She was cranky, then mad, then full of despair. Finally, she slept. What am I going to do about naps, I wondered, when she gets out of nursery school at 11:30 and then we have a fifteen-minute walk home? But that was a question for another day. While she slept I exercised for the first time this week, and worked. I woke her up at the last possible minute to go to Noah’s drama camp. Actually, it might have been a minute or two too late.

We got to the bus a few minutes late and I didn’t know whether or not we had missed our bus. So when another one that takes a less direct route to our destination arrived, we boarded it, just in case. It was the wrong decision. At the place where the two routes intersect, I saw the bus we should have been on whiz by. We didn’t miss it after all. It was just running late. Then our bus got stuck in traffic the other bus’s route avoids. We were only five minutes late to drama camp, but we missed most of a song that all the kids were singing together. Noah had only one other part in the forty-minute performance. It was interesting, though, an improv game. He did well and the skits with the other kids were fun to watch, too. Once Noah’s part was finished, he sat down in a row of kids and counselors right in front of the audience. June, who had been loudly insisting we “go see Noah” the whole time he was performing, bolted from me and clambered into his lap. He threw an arm around her and they watched the performance together.

It wasn’t a perfect day, but fairy tales aren’t perfect either. They just have happy endings. Here’s ours: And then the queen and the prince and the princess had ice cream. The End.

  • sister sara

    You mentioned 2 wrong decisions in this post…one about waking June from her nap, the other about taking the alternate bus. Forgive me, but being from the West coast and all for the past 16 years, I’m compelled to say there are no wrong decisions. We make the best choices we can based on the information we have available. “Wrong” is an idea we use to beat ourselves up with. Either decision could have easily gone the other way.

  • Steph

    Don’t worry. I really don’t sweat the small stuff.  It’s like my friend Chris said, parenting presents us with a endless stream of small decisions.  Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you hoped when you made the decision, but that’s life.

    Beating myself up I save for the big wrong decisions– like entering that Ph.d program in the first place when I knew the job market was so brutal.