Back to the Drawing Board

June said “I love you” to me for the first time yesterday. That was the good part of the day, the part I’m holding onto. About a month ago she was loving a lot of things: Beth, her “best bear,” her hair (I’m not kidding). But shortly after the word “love” surfaced in her vocabulary, it disappeared. Then yesterday, after a diaper change, and for no apparent reason, she looked at me and said, “I love you.”

“I love you, too, June,” I said, sweeping her into a hug. I was already in a good mood. We’d just come back from the “twosies” circle time at the library. It’s a special version just for two-year-olds, with extra stories and a craft project at the end. Enrollment is limited so I asked permission from the librarian ahead of time to bring a not-quite-two-year-old. The librarian cheerfully agreed to give it a try.

June didn’t do any of the hand motions to the songs, even though they are familiar to her from the regular circle time. She never does, not at the library anyway. At home she does them all. In fact, just the day before she’d stood up on the changing table so she could watch herself do “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” naked in the bathroom mirror.

At the library, she either sat in my lap or ventured a few steps away to stand near the librarian. I don’t think she took her eyes off her the entire time, even as the group dwindled from twelve toddlers down to eight, as restless or cranky children were carted off by their parents or nannies.

I’d been somewhat skeptical of her ability to do a craft, but it was very simple. All she had to do was decorate a seal cut from poster board with crayons and stickers. She made a few tentative scribbles with the crayons, but then she lost all interest in them as soon as the stickers arrived. I don’t know why stickers are so universally beloved by little kids but apparently June is no exception. Her face lit up when I showed her what to do with them and soon her light blue seal was covered with red hearts and a couple of stickers depicting fruits.

“Noah always brings things home from school to show you and now you have something to show him,” I told her.

The librarian came by, admired her work and affixed a popsicle stick to the back for a handle. This was even better. Now she could hold the seal with the handle, and she did for much of the rest of the day.

“She did great,” the librarian said as we left. “She was very attentive.” I thought about how much she was going to like nursery school in the fall. She’s really enjoying community playtime and library activities and she loves to play at the Purple School itself while Noah is at drama class. It’s already a familiar place to her.

Outside I chatted with a nanny to a boy who is in the 2s class there this year. I mentioned we’d applied. “It’s a good school,” she said enthusiastically.

We were, in fact, supposed to hear from the membership committee that very day. Beth had missed their call at work the day before and we were waiting for the representative to call back. I was a little keyed up about it, checking my email and phone message a good deal more often than usual. As the day wore on, I grew puzzled. Why hadn’t Beth called with the good news?

She came home early, a little before six and I went to greet her at the door. She gave me a hug that went on too long. I knew before she said it. “We didn’t get in.”

Apparently the preference for siblings of alumni (though not the one for siblings of current students) was revoked this year and there were concerns about our ability to co-op with two-year-olds, though we’d never heard any complaints or criticism about our co-oping when Noah was in the 4s class. None of it made any sense.

I went back to the kitchen to finish dinner while Beth interacted with the kids. Figuring out whether to toast the hot dog buns or heat the baked beans in the microwave first seemed like an overwhelming decision. At the table, Beth asked Noah about his day while I moved food around on my plate and finally managed to eat most of it.

During the course of dinner, Noah lost a tooth. It’s been fifteen months since he lost both of his bottom front teeth and he hadn’t lost any since then so it was a noteworthy occasion. One of his top front teeth had gotten so loose it twisted around almost perpendicular to its original position and remained that way for several days. Beth and I were amazed it stayed in his head so long. It makes an impressive gap in his smile. He looks a lot older now, more like the seven-year-old he’ll be in two short months.

I felt a wave of unreality sweep over me. The “I love you,” the unexpected rejection, my son’s new smile. “This day has been too much,” I said to Beth quietly.

After Beth and Noah had left the table, I sat watching June, who was gobbling down her second veggie dog. She glanced at me. “What crying, Mommy?” she asked.

Noah, oblivious, called from the hallway, “I don’t think Mommy is crying, June,” he said in the bemused tone he uses when she has misinterpreted something. But of course, she hadn’t.

More than anything, I wanted to sleep, to be done with this day, but it took until 9:45 to get June to sleep and then I just lay awake until late in the night, turning things over in my mind. What had we done wrong? What should we do now? It’s too late to apply anywhere else. Of course, two-year-olds don’t need to be in school, but I think she’s ready and she’d enjoy it. I was also looking forward to a regularly scheduled break from her and perhaps the chance to work a bit more. I’ve been updating my resume and I recently submitted it to a clearinghouse for freelance researchers, writers and editors.

The 2s class only meets for five hours a week and I would have spent a lot of that time either in the classroom or walking back and forth between home and school, but the hours increase each year and I was looking at June starting school as a turning point, the time when I might start to regain a little of myself that has been submerged in motherhood since I lost my job almost three years ago. Now I feel like I know a lot less about how the next three years will unfold. We have options, of course. We can hire a babysitter if it’s time for me we want, enroll June in kindermusik or find a playgroup if it’s enrichment or socialization for June we want, but it’s not the same, not what we planned. And even though we were encouraged to re-apply for her 3s year, we’re certainly not regarding it as a sure thing anymore so we might end up doing applications at multiple schools.

When I got June dressed this morning I noticed matching fluorescent green paint stains on her shirt and pants. She’s been painting a lot recently but we don’t have any paint of that shade. It must have been the remnant of some long-ago art project in the toddler room of Noah’s daycare another morning when Beth or I decided the gold turtleneck would look nice with the gray corduroys. Today some orange paint joined the green paint on June’s sleeve. I wish we could pick and choose which of Noah’s childhood experiences to pass down to June as easily as we do with his clothes. But of course, we can’t.