Wings

Wednesday to Friday: Perching

The Wednesday before her birthday, June had a friend over and they were talking about how their older brothers have more homework than they do. David’s brother attends the Highly Gifted Center, where Noah went for fourth and fifth grade.

“I might go there,” June said.

“I’m waiting, too,” David sighed.

It’s been a long wait to find out whether or not June (and most of her friends) got into the HGC, since we applied in November, but we found out the next day that she did not. A few of her friends did get in, including her very best friend Megan, and some more friends are wait-listed. June has taken this hard and we’re sad, too, because I’m familiar with the program and I think it would have been a good fit for June’s learning style.

We got the letter on a Thursday and Beth was working late that night. I decided to take June for a walk down to the creek after dinner because the crocuses have finally bloomed and it’s her favorite place when they’re in bloom. We swung by the 7-11 on the way and I bought her some Starbursts, which she loves. She ate them while we sat in the gathering dark on a tree stump surrounded by tiny purple flowers. She leaned against me and we were quiet together.

Mostly she hasn’t wanted to talk about it, but shortly before her party, she asked me tearfully if I could contact her guests’ parents and ask everyone not to talk about the HGC at the party. I didn’t think censoring her friends was a viable, long-term strategy but I thought just for the duration of the party she deserved a break, so I did. Among her four guests, two were admitted, one was wait-listed and the other I wasn’t even sure if she’d applied, but in either case we hadn’t heard anything about her status. The only child whose mother I didn’t contact was the wait-listed girl because she’s very reserved and I just didn’t think she was likely to talk about it.

Luckily, June’s parties always involve decoration so over the next couple days June and I cheered ourselves up making her Pin-the-Wing-on-the-Bat game and by hanging decorations on the porch (a big crepe-paper-and-cardboard parrot we bought this year and some bats from our Halloween collection) and inside the house, where we strung leftover butterflies from her forest party two years ago and more bats from a fishing line between the living and dining rooms. On Friday evening, Beth went to buy balloons, including a bee-shaped one that said, “Happy Bee Day.” The theme of the party, if you hadn’t guessed by now, was wings.

Saturday Morning and Afternoon: Flying Up

June’s Girl Scout troop held their bridging ceremony for Brownies who are flying up to Juniors at Hillwood Estates, Gardens, and Museum. The estate belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post, an heir to the Post cereal fortune and an art collector. It now serves as a museum of her collection, which specializes in Russian imperial art and nineteenth-century French decorative art. The reason they celebrate it there is because there’s a nice little bridge that goes over a fishpond in the Japanese gardens.

The last time I was at Hillwood, coincidentally, was the day I found out I was pregnant with June. Beth’s mom was visiting and we all took Noah to an event for gay families. He enjoyed using the put-put course on the grounds and jumping from rock to rock in the fish pond and I remember being filled with secret happiness. It seemed fitting to be back at the very same pond, so close to her birthday.

The ceremony consisted of the troop leader talking about the difference between Brownies and Juniors and everyone walking over the bridge and receiving a green ribbon and a wing-shaped patch for flying up from Brownies. There was also hand holding and singing and cake.

The wings patch was a fun coincidence because of June’s party theme. Suddenly I was seeing wings all over the estate. An angel statue in front of the mansion, cupid statues and geese in a frieze over a fountain, metal eagles on slate roofs and flag poles.

We had a lot of time to kill after the bridging because June and I were staying for a tour of the mansion and a craft inspired by the decorative items inside. (Beth went home to work on party preparation, including frosting the tiered cake and decorating it with candy butterflies.) There was a worksheet about flowers for the girls to do. They had to find five flowers in bloom on the grounds or in the greenhouse and speculate about why flowers are scented, etc., but June was finished by 11:20 and the tour didn’t start until 2:30. We went to the visitor’s center and read and ate the lunch we’d packed, but that didn’t take long because I had not brought enough reading material.

A couple other families we’ve known since June was in preschool were also hanging around the grounds and they had decided to explore the mansion on their own, in advance of the official tour, so we joined them for that and then the girls played on the grounds until it was time for the tour. We went through the mansion again, this time with a guide to explain it all to us. The craft activity was to decorate a box with jewel stickers and ribbon and other materials. Beth came back for us at four and we drove home.

Saturday Evening to Sunday: Soaring and Roosting

June invited Megan to come over early to help with the final preparations for the party. She arrived a little after five, resplendent in a phoenix costume and they filled goody bags with butterfly pencils, dragon tattoos, plane whistles, bat-shaped clappers, and fairy charms. Then they tested out the craft for the party, making an angel charm bracelet, which turned out to be trickier than I thought it would be, so I was glad they rehearsed it and there was time for Beth to give them a hand.

At six, the rest of the guests started arriving. Maggie was a bat and Zoë was Maleficent. Marisa came without a costume. Her mom explained she wanted to be Daedalus, but she ran out of time to make a costume. “We have Daedalus wings,” I said, which surprised Marisa’s mom for a second until she correctly surmised, “From Greek Fest?” The sixth-graders in the humanities magnet, which Marisa’ older sister also attends, do a big unit on Greek myths, that includes skits. Noah had been Daedalus two years ago and the wings were still in the basement. I brought them up but they were dusty and a little worse for the wear and Marisa politely declined them.

We fed the guests right away, setting the table with leftover thematically appropriate napkins from various birthday parties (ladybugs from her first birthday, butterflies from her fifth, and owls from her seventh).

Sometime while the girls were eating pizza or cake, they started talking about whether they got into the HGC and who else they knew did or didn’t. At first Maggie looked startled to be asked, and perhaps remembering her instructions, mumbled her answer but then nearly everyone was talking about it animatedly. I had told June that she should ask people not to talk about it if it came up at the party and eventually she did. There was silence for a moment until someone said she had “just one more question,” and to my surprise and relief, Marisa piped up and firmly said, “She said she didn’t want to talk about it.” And that was that.

Next June opened her presents. Some were wing-related, a fairy coloring book from Megan and a stuffed penguin from Maggie. She also got watercolor colored pencils, a Mandala sand painting kit, a magnet kit, and a big book of Mad Libs.

The girls then settled into their sleeping bags to watch Hercules, which we projected onto a sheet in the living room. June said it was related to the party theme because Hercules spends a lot of the movie riding around on a Pegasus.

The movie was over a little before nine and I told them they could talk quietly until ten. They changed into pajamas (June wore the new tropical bird pjs I gave her as an early birthday present) and then they played a game called “I Confess.” It involves someone making a confession and anyone who has also done what was confessed gets a point. I think the object of the game is to have a high score and not a low one, but it wasn’t entirely clear. I eavesdropped for a while but I have nothing salacious to report. I think they may be a little young for this game.

They weren’t too noisy after ten, though I did hear some talking. I think everyone was asleep by ten-thirty, and even better, they all slept until around 6:45. They watched an episode of Magic School Bus on air pressure and then we fed them bagels, cream cheese, and fruit salad for breakfast.

Someone suggested they all put their costumes back on and soon they were constructing a story line that involved an angel, a bat, a phoenix, and Maleficent and played at that until they got bored and we shepherded them to the dining room table where they assembled the angel charm bracelets. Megan was the best at it so she was helping everyone else and finished her own last. I slipped a couple extra kits into her goody bag, figuring she might like to teach her sister how to do it.

Next they went out to the porch for Pin-the-Wing-on-the-Bat and the piñata. June’s big on pinning games. Over the past few years her guests have pinned tails on a cat, legs on a spider, and rings on Saturn. She always paints the target herself and the game is always a hit, as is the piñata. Who wouldn’t want to whack a crepe-paper-and-cardboard butterfly until it disgorges candy?

By the time they finished these activities it was 9:05 a.m. and the party wasn’t over until 10. They decided to watch another Magic School Bus episode, this one on bats, and then they went to play outside until the parents arrived.

Beth took June to get a manicure in the afternoon and that evening we went out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant that happened to be having fundraiser that featured the jazz band from a local middle school (not Noah’s). As a result, we saw a couple families we know but haven’t seen for a while with sixth-to-eighth graders, most of whom I would not have recognized if they were not accompanied by their parents. It was a bit of a poignant reminder of how quickly kids grow and also suggested to me that our nine year old will be an adolescent some day in the not too distant future. And as if we needed any more tempus fugit reminders, one of these families was of Noah’s best buddy from preschool, a boy he does not even remember but at whose house he slept the night I went into labor with June. As with our return to Hillwood, it seemed fitting to spy this family precisely nine years later. The boy, who was always the tall lanky type, looks older than Noah now, at least sixteen if I didn’t know him and had to guess. There’s something manly about the bone structure of his face.

Monday: The Bee Day

June’s actual birthday was Monday. She went to school with some leftover temporary tattoos of knights to distribute to her afternoon class. (She’d given away the dragons from a knights-and-dragons set at her party.) Beth came home early to take her to California Tortilla for dinner at her request. I stayed home to keep an eye on Noah, who not only had a large project due the next day, but also came home with news of three separate overdue assignments of which he’d lost track and which he hoped to complete before the quarter ended on Thursday. I felt bad not going to June’s birthday dinner, but we’d been out celebrating the night before and then we’d left Noah at home alone to work so I decided to split the difference and stay.

After Beth and June got home, we ate leftover birthday cake and she opened her family presents. She got a lot of clothes and books, an iTunes gift certificate, and a promise of a shopping spree at a second hand clothes store, another promised shopping trip from YaYa and a pewter fairy perched on a crystal ball from my mom. The next day more gifts arrived, a coloring book with complicated interwoven animal and plant designs from my mom, and a birdhouse with suction cups you can attach to window and can lift a panel to see inside, from my sister.

June’s birthday week has come and gone, though the multicolored parrot still hangs on our porch and June confided in me yesterday that it’s still exciting to be nine. A friend of mine told me recently, “I am so confident in June’s ability to kick ass at life in the short and long terms.” I am, too. She’s smart, imaginative, and resilient. Her wings are strong. I can’t wait to see where they take her in the next nine years.

Find Your Girl

Last week on Thursday evening toward the end of basketball practice, June’s coach divided the team into halves and they played a brief scrimmage. “Find your girl!” he yelled, encouraging them to stay near the opposing players they were supposed to be guarding.

I was sitting on a bench with Kerry, Megan’s mom, chatting with her and enjoying the chance to watch the Pandas practice and to relax a little near the end of a busy week. We’d had three inches of snow early Tuesday morning, which led to a snow day that day and two-hour delay on Wednesday. It had been my first normal workday in a few days and I was feeling a little harried, but I was looking forward to Saturday because the Pandas would be playing their first game of the season, and we had other plans as well.

Saturday morning we arrived at the parking lot of the school where the game would be played around 9:40. Mike, the coach, and Maggie, his daughter, fellow Panda (and one of June’s oldest friends) were getting out of their car. “Hooray! It’s June!” Maggie cried. Clearly she was excited about the game, too.

After incarnations as the Purple Pandas (kindergarten), the Red Pandas (first grade), and the Golden Pandas (second grade), June’s basketball team is the Blue Pandas this year. Most of the girls are returning players, though there are two newcomers. We lost our star player from the previous three seasons because she’s playing on a fourth grade team this year with her sister to streamline her family’s hectic schedule. (They have four girls and I think they’re all in organized sports.) It’s possible this girl may have scored half the baskets in all of Panda history, and I suspect this might be a rebuilding season.

It will be different in other ways, too. They’re playing in a middle school gym this year instead of an elementary school gym, which means instead of sitting on the floor or standing, parents watch from the relative luxury of bleachers. Now that they’re in third grade there’s official scorekeeping for the first time and some rules are more strictly enforced (Mike worked hard reviewing the concept of travelling at practice).

One new rule we didn’t know about ahead of time was that the girls can’t wear any jewelry on the court. June’s been wearing a necklace with a tiny dolphin on it for months, maybe as long as a year. She never takes it off. The clasp at the back was completely wound up in hair that had gotten tangled around it and wasn’t even visible. It was starting to remind me of Victorian hair jewelry, but right now it was presenting us with an unexpected problem. Could we get it off before the game started? Beth tried to saw the hair with her keys but it didn’t work. We asked around to see if anyone had a penknife, but the closest we could get was a set of nail clippers. Thanks, Kerry! Finally, Beth got the hair off the clasp and removed the necklace. Meanwhile, two girls with newly pierced ears fretted about whether or not to take out their earrings, which were not supposed to be removed. One girl took hers out and covered the holes with Band Aids to ward off infection and the other girl secured one-time permission to leave hers in her ears.

Once that excitement was over, there was a short practice period. I saw June make a basket, but I missed seeing her get hit on the nose with a ball. I only saw her crying and Mike putting his arm around her shoulder and comforting her. She recovered quickly enough to play in the first quarter.

When it was time to play the teams were lined up and each girl was assigned a player to guard. I was glad to see there was a girl almost as small as June on the other team (the Red Warriors) and that she and June were paired with each other. The Warriors scored almost immediately and Beth predicted, “They’re going to lose.” I thought it was a little soon to say and sure enough the Pandas scored two or three times before the Warriors scored again. At the end of the first quarter the score was 6-6. June’s counterpart was fast and a good passer and Mike had to remind June, “Find your girl” a few times until June started sticking closer to her.

June sat out the second quarter and played again in the third. She said later she liked this arrangement, getting to play and then rest and then play and then rest. The Pandas didn’t score after the first quarter and lost the game 12-6, but it felt closer than that. There were a lot of baskets that teetered on the rim and ended up falling the wrong way. I didn’t see quite as well thought out and strategic passing as the Pandas had last year, and as Mike pointed out at the next practice they weren’t hustling for the rebounds, but it’s early in the season. They play until early March this year, so there will be plenty of time for them to gel as a team. I am looking forward to watching that.

After the game June was hungry and wanted an early lunch at California Tortilla. It’s in the same shopping center with a Starbucks and a Trader Joe’s and we needed to pick up some mac and cheese anyway, so we headed over there and got quesadillas and coffee— I tried the new Flat White, which is kind of between a cappuccino and a latte in terms of foam—and more than $50 worth of groceries because that’s what happens when you go into Trader Joe’s for mac and cheese, or it’s what happens to us anyway.

Back at home, I helped Noah study for his science and English midterms for a couple hours and then Beth and June and I went to the community center to hear a storytelling presentation. One of the storytellers was Noa Baum, whose CD (Far Away and Close to Home) Noah loved when he was younger and June loves now. In fact, when we invited Noah to come, too, he wavered and almost decided to come, too, before opting to stay home and practice his bells and drums. I think he would have enjoyed it because in addition to an Anansi story I hadn’t heard before (Noah used to be a big Anansi fan), she also told both kids’ favorite story from the CD, about a clever turkey who defeats the rich man who steals a gold piece from him. June, who had been listening intently all along, lit up when she started in on that one.

We came home and had a quick dinner. I reheated leftovers for Beth and myself while Noah made the mac and cheese for June and himself because Beth and I were going to a movie, which we don’t do nearly enough, especially considering we don’t even need a to get a sitter anymore. But it was the day before our wedding anniversary, so that spurred us to go on a date.

We went to see The Imitation Game on my mother’s recommendation. Toward the beginning of the film, during the first boarding school flashback, Beth’s phone vibrated and she went out into the lobby to answer it. I could hear her saying, “What’s up, Noah?” as she went through the doors. She was gone a good ten minutes, which was confusing, because I thought if it was an emergency she would have run back in for her coat and we would have been out of there, but if it wasn’t an emergency I thought she’d tell him it could wait.

When she finally came back, I whispered, “Was it an emergency?”

“A minor emergency,” she whispered back. June had a splinter in her foot and Beth had been trying to calm her down and then talking Noah through the removal process. It was the first time he’s ever taken a splinter out of someone else and he did a good job staying calm, but then again calm is his default setting (not unlike Alan Turing, though it seems unlikely Noah will break a code and help win a war).

I tried to remember the parts Beth had missed and to fill her in as they became relevant later in the film, which was very well acted and moving, I thought. Even with the small crisis at home, it was a fun evening.

The next day was our actual anniversary. We exchanged practical gifts. I got Beth a new case for her phone, because she needed one and she got me swim goggles and an umbrella, because I needed those. In the afternoon I made a cake, the same cake we had at both our commitment ceremony twenty-three years ago and our wedding two years ago. In her card I wrote, “Thank you for making my middle age much less terrible,” because we’d recently discussed this article from the Post.

It was another hectic week. Two more two-hour delays (one for ice, upcounty I guess—I didn’t see any here, and another one for a dusting of snow) cut into my workdays. I was so hurried getting dinner ready before June’s violin lesson on Monday afternoon that I didn’t answer the phone call that would have told me it was cancelled and we waited at the bus stop in a cold rain to go to the music school and only to turn around and go straight back home. Wednesday I had a book club meeting and I couldn’t get the book read in time, which was frustrating.

Still even with these irritants, I know my week, my middle age, and my life is a lot less terrible than it would have been if I hadn’t found my girl.