The Best Birthday Ever

June’s ten now. We are all in the double digits, at least until Beth turns one hundred in November 2066. We’ve been making this joke for a few weeks now and it still amuses us.

Friday: Pre-Party

Friday after school June and I set to work finalizing the schedule of activities for her birthday party the following day and decorating. Mostly this consisted of filling goody bags with noisemakers and sticking foam stickers in the shapes of instruments, microphones, and musical notes to the windows in the living and dining room. She’d already painted the staff with a missing note for the Pin The Note on the Staff Game, and our living room had been festooned since the previous weekend with helium balloons—one that said “Rock Star,” one with a picture of a guitar and one that plays “Good times! These are such good times! Leave your care behind! These are such good times!” when you tap it.  We decided to hold off blowing up the black non-helium balloons with white musical notes until the next day so the cats wouldn’t pop them. (Matthew had already popped the first one she’d blown up when she wanted to see what they looked like.) The theme of the party was, you guessed it, music.

Saturday to Sunday: The Party

It was a slumber party, her third one, and it started late Saturday afternoon. I felt a little more relaxed about it than I did the previous two years, like we’ve got this down now and we know how to do it.  On Saturday morning we gave her some early presents. We have a slumber party tradition that I buy her pajamas related to the party theme. I had the hardest time finding pajamas with either violins or musical notes on them, so I reached out to a few music teachers I know and her orchestra teacher knew of a web site that had just what I wanted. I gave June the pajamas along with a few music-themed shirts (two from us and one from Beth’s mom). She chose the yellow t-shirt with the heart, peace sign, and violin to wear to the party on Saturday and the one with Olivia the pig singing to wear on Sunday.

Megan came over a half hour early because June she needed some one-on-one time with her BFF before the big event. She “never” sees her alone any more, she said, only at basketball and Girl Scouts. I relayed this to Megan’s mom, who says she’s been getting a lot of “never” and “always” from Megan recently. She speculated it was a ten-year-old thing. Megan’s been ten for four months now, so her mom would know.

The rest of the guests arrived between five and five fifteen. They came bearing their band and orchestra instruments because they all play one and the party started with a jam session featuring two violins, a viola, a cello, two clarinets, and a saxophone. Everyone played at least one song alone and then they played some together. Because most kids start instrumental music in the fourth grade, the guests are all relative beginners on their instruments so we heard a lot of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” but Maggie performed “Happy Birthday” for June on the saxophone and Evie played one of their winter concert pieces on her viola.

After each girl played everyone else chanted her name. I was happy to see this brought a little smile to the face of her shyest guest, the one who periodically needed to retreat a little from the crowd before re-joining the fun. Being an introvert myself, I understand how it is in loud, chaotic environments.

And it turns out a music-themed party is loud, or this one was. June had six guests, two more than last year, so that could have been a factor, too, but over the course of the party there was a lot of playing and singing and in between there was non-stop chatter. Before the party June had brought up some instruments from the bin in the basement and throughout the festivities people picked up the guitar, the accordion, the toy piano, and the penny whistle and played them. Maggie kept asking if she could take the accordion home and June kept saying no.

After they’d finished their jam session, we had pizza. (I was impressed that no one had to be told to put her instrument in its case—they all just did it on their own.) Claire’s mom was still with us because she’d gotten a flat tire and was waiting for a tow truck, after trying unsuccessfully to change it herself. The jack wasn’t up to the job. She chatted with the adults and helped serve fruit punch until the truck came and she was able to leave.

Next June opened her presents. She got great gifts—a set of glow-in-the-dark stars, a book of fiddle music, a stuffed cat, an Amazon gift certificate, multiple kits—one for felting, one for making a nightlight out of crystals and one for making wind chimes—and two gift certificates for the local nail salon, which put together were more than enough for a mani-pedi. Zoë and Claire seemed as surprised as June was that they got her the same thing.

After presents we served the cake—shaped like a music note—and ice cream, and the girls changed into their pajamas to watch a movie, The Sound of Music, or part of it—that movie is really long. We projected the movie onto a sheet hung in the living room for a big screen experience. Most of the girls liked it, though it was a bit slow for Megan’s taste. They sang along with the songs they knew and June and Maggie reminisced about being in a summer camp production of songs from the musical when they were five, or mostly Maggie did because June doesn’t really remember it very well. There was a lot of lively commentary during the movie and a general consensus that Maria should not have kissed Captain Von Trapp. Sample feedback: “No, you’re making a terrible mistake. You’re like twenty and he’s like fifty nine.” I kind of agreed with them on that point, truth be told. Maria’s only a few years older than his oldest daughter. And speaking of Liesl, when the girls were all singing, “I am sixteen, going on seventeen,” it suddenly seemed they really would be some day, and not in the distant future either.

When it came to the Intermission, we paused the film for the night, and shortly afterward Norma’s mom came to pick her up since she wasn’t staying the night, and the rest of the guests got settled into their sleeping bags to tell ghost stories. I told them they should stop talking and go to sleep at ten, and I came out once shortly after ten to remind them, but I could hear the quiet murmur of voices for a while after that. Since it wasn’t enough to keep me awake, I decided to let them be. June says she thinks she was up until midnight.

Beth and I rolled out of bed around seven and started toasting bagels and slicing strawberries for breakfast. Everyone was awake, although Megan seemed to be trying to go back to sleep. She got up to eat, though.  Beth and I ate in the living room, listening to the girls’ breakfast conversation, which centered around Donald Trump (they don’t like him because he’s mean) and a girl at Maggie’s school who looks just like a vampire, pale skin, black hair and even long canines. All the boys like her because she cast a spell on them. Her brother looks like a vampire, too, but not their parents, so the kids may be adopted.

We watched the rest of the movie, with me offering running commentary on what was going on politically because there was some confusion about that and then Noah ran a karaoke session for them. They warmed up with “Let it Go,” and then sang a bunch of pop songs I didn’t know until they got to Katy Perry’s “Roar.” You can’t live with June without knowing this song. In fact, she’s got the chorus printed out and taped to the wall of her bedroom.

Next we moved them out to the porch to Pin the Note on the Staff and smash the piñata. These are birthday party games June loves and does every year. The guests asked me to judge who had pinned his or her note most exactly in the blank space intended for it and I pointed to one. “That’s mine!” Claire cried. Claire also knocked the piñata down (she was third in line, so only June, Maggie, and Claire got a turn.) It didn’t break, so I wondered momentarily if we should hang it back up, but the girls and Noah all descended on it and started emptying it through the hole used to fill it. Then Noah grabbed one side of the note and ripped it off and the thing was history.

We finished the last scheduled activity with twenty minutes to spare before parents were expected. It was a cold, gray day despite being the Spring Equinox, but given the choice between more karaoke inside and running around the back yard, they chose the back yard. That seems to be how all birthday parties end, at least in my experience.

Sunday: Post Party

June asked if she could get her mani-pedi that very day and Beth launched into an explanation of how Spring Break would be better because there would be more time and then interrupted herself to say, “But you want your friends to see it, don’t you?” and June said yes, and Beth said maybe and sure enough, that afternoon, Beth took June to get her finger and toenails painted dark purple that afternoon.

June spent a lot of the rest of the afternoon felting. Do you even know what this is? I’d never heard of it, but it involves shaping differently colored balls of wool by poking them with a needle. “It’s like magic,” June said. And it is. Over the course of a couple days, she made a hedgehog, a rabbit, a dog, a bird, a little person and a ball that’s dense enough to bounce.

June’s birthday was still three days off, but at dinner Beth mentioned she was almost into the double digits. “Until you turn one hundred,” June said.

“Will you visit me when I’m one hundred?” Beth asked.

June said she would if her busy schedule as a pop singer allowed. Beth pointed out she’d be sixty then and maybe not touring any more but I said Dolly Parton’s in her seventies and touring and Willie Nelson is in his eighties and touring so you never know. Maybe she should be a country star instead.

Tuesday: Class Party

Monday passed without anything particularly festive happening, though June did wear the last of her early birthday presents—a long-sleeved t-shirt with a violin made of butterflies.

June’s Science/Spanish class was supposed to have a party on Wednesday, the last day before Spring Break, and coincidentally, June’s birthday. The teacher had agreed she could bring some kind of trinkets to the party, since it was her birthday, and she settled on the leftover instrument and musical notes stickers. June was pleased to have hijacked the party into being partly hers because none of her teachers do birthday parties this year. But then Señora Y learned a number of kids would be out on Wednesday and she moved the party to Tuesday, and June ended up having to share it with a boy who had his birthday the previous Saturday and who was also going to bring party favors. She was slightly put out on both counts, but she brought the stickers anyway.

When she got home she reported Señora Y forgot the treats for the party and left her class with another teacher while she went off to get cookies. So the party was short and not only did June not get a chance to distribute her stickers in the confusion, but she also she forgot to go to her violin lesson.

Wednesday: Double Digits At Last

June requested cheese grits for breakfast on the morning of her birthday, because she likes them and I don’t often make them unless I’m also in the mood for them because they tend to get the pot messy. It was good strategic thinking on her part. I made them.

While June was at school I wrapped presents and made strawberry frosting for the cupcakes Beth had made with the leftover birthday cake batter before the party. We’d saved them for her actual birthday.

We planned for June to open presents in the narrow slice of time between dinner and when I needed to leave for book club. But when Beth got home at 6:40, I told her we had a problem. June was fast asleep. I’d found her in bed five minutes earlier when I’d called her for dinner, and I had no idea how long she’d been asleep. Usually when June falls asleep in the late afternoon or early evening it means she’s getting a migraine, so I was reluctant to wake her. It was the wrong weather for a migraine, though. She most often gets them when the temperature is dropping and it was a warm day.

June woke on her own at 6:45 and said she had a headache but not a really bad one yet. She wasn’t hungry for the birthday dinner she’d requested (nachos with pinto beans). I gave her some painkiller and asked if she wanted to try to go back to sleep or open presents. Open presents, she said, but she was pretty unenthusiastic unwrapping clothes I’d thought she would like. She did smile when she opened two books How to Fight A Dragon’s Fury (How to Train Your Dragon #12) and the second book in the Dork Diaries series. She’s been wanting to read both of these for a while and they’re never at the library. She also got some fabric for making doll clothes, an iTunes gift card, a membership at Animal Jam and a gift certificate to get her hair dyed again. This will be the third time since school started and it’s her last big gift-giving occasion until next Christmas so she’s going to save it for a while. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had it done right before sleep-away camp, if she can wait that long.

The big surprise was an aquarium with two new snails. June brought two snails (Moonlight and Sunlight) and a mosquito fish (Peppermint) home from school in a soda-bottle habitat some time last fall, after a science project (and a long successful, campaign to wear down Beth’s and my resistance). Peppermint died in December and Sunlight some time after that, and June was concerned Moonlight was lonely so she lobbied hard for a new snail and bigger digs for the snails. There’s a color-changing light in the aquarium and a sculpture of a turtle they can climb if they get tired of climbing the walls and the plants. She named the new snails Lollipop and Emerald. She’s very happy with them.

June was well enough to take a birthday phone call from my mom right after opening presents and when I got home from book club, she was in bed but still awake. I guessed from that her nap had been pretty long. Beth said she’d perked up after I left and had eaten most of her dinner, though she opted to save the cupcakes for when everyone could eat them together. She also took phone calls from Beth’s mom and Megan. “It was the best birthday ever,” she’d told Beth, headache and all.

I came into her room to say goodnight and she asked me to climb up to the top bunk to lay down with her. She speculated that she was still awake because she didn’t want her birthday to be over. Then she said maybe it would be her birthday until eleven a.m. the next day because that would be ten years and twenty-four hours after she was born and Noah said she’d previously said it would be her birthday starting at midnight on Wednesday so she couldn’t have it both ways. Eventually, she fell asleep.

And tonight we ate the cupcakes.

Gay Marriages

When I was pregnant with June, shortly after we found out she was a girl, I bought this refrigerator magnet. I liked imagining the little girl as her, asking the same question. But of course gay marriages are a lot like straight marriages: some happy, some unhappy, some in between.

Beth and I had an anniversary on Monday. This one felt a little different, not because it was the twenty-fourth anniversary of our commitment ceremony or the third anniversary of our legal wedding, but because it was the first one since the Supreme Court ruling last summer that legalized gay marriage in the states that did not yet have it. I was happy to be celebrating knowing that everyone in the U.S. finally has the right to be doing the same.

But because it fell on a Monday, we did some of our celebrating the weekend before. We went out to a movie and had dinner at an Indian restaurant in Bethesda on Saturday night. But before that we attended the first Pandas game of the season. And what a game it was. Regular readers may remember that June’s basketball team went all last season without a single win. This year their coach started practices in November, rather than December, so I was curious to see if it would help the team I was starting to think of as the Bad News Panda Bears.

They were playing the Spiders. Late in the second quarter, the Pandas were down 8-2 and I thought it was all over. But they scored twice at the very beginning of the third quarter and then there was more scoring on both sides. For a while the Pandas were actually winning and then for a long time they were tied 12-12 and in the bleachers I could hear three separate conversations about whether they let games end in ties at the fourth-grade level or whether the game would go into overtime. One grandmother said, “I’d be happy with a tie.” I think all the Panda fans would have been. But we didn’t get to find out about the overtime policy of the Montgomery County basketball league because in the last 30 seconds the Spiders scored and the Pandas lost the game 14-12.

That was an agonizing moment, but five minutes later I was finding a lot of reasons for optimism. I lost track of everyone who scored baskets, but at least four girls did, meaning the team is not relying on one star player. Plus Megan did a great job guarding the opposing team’s best player, June took a shot at the basket which she never did until last season, and our newest player showed a lot of hustle in getting and keeping the ball and took a quite a few shots at the basket. Even some of the weaker players were looking better in their control of the ball. So I’m looking forward to more exciting games over the rest of January and February and maybe even some wins.

We brought June home and shortly afterward left for our date. We went to a late afternoon show of Carol. We saw it at the Landmark, which has the quirk of assigned seating. They show you what’s left on a screen when you buy your tickets and you choose. Beth and I got the last two seats in the theater, which were in the front row and not next to each other, which was kind of sad. But even so, we enjoyed the film.

Beth and I read The Price of Salt, the 1952 novel on which the movie is based, some time in the 90s but neither of us remembered the lesbian classic very well. Despite this, I’m pretty sure it reads differently to me now than it would have then. In my twenties I would have been rooting for the lesbian couple without reservation, but as the character embroiled in a nasty divorce and custody dispute continually risked her access to her child, I found myself thinking things like, “What are you doing? Think of your daughter! You barely know this woman.” But it was very well written and acted and beautifully shot. Overall, it left me deeply grateful to live in a time and a place where I don’t have to choose between romantic and maternal love.

We were thinking of going to Jaleo for dinner, but there was a forty-minute wait there and long waits at the next two restaurants we tried, but eventually we found an Indian restaurant that could seat us. We got a very tasty appetizer of potatoes, chickpeas, and chutney in tiny crispy shells, grilled paneer, a black lentil curry, and roti. We get Indian a lot, but it was nice to try a new restaurant and new dishes.

We wrapped up the evening sitting on a bench outside Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar, sipping thick Italian dark chocolate and looking at the strings of white lights wrapped around the trees all down the street. It was a nice winter evening–chilly enough for hot chocolate but not too frigid to sit outside. I found myself wondering why we don’t go out more often now that we don’t even need to get a sitter.

Two days later was our actual anniversary. I made kale, potato, and red bean soup for dinner because it’s a favorite of Beth’s and mine and I also made a cake I make every year, using the recipe from our commitment ceremony cake. It’s a spice cake, with a lemon glaze. This year I decided to dye the frosting blue but I used too much food coloring paste and instead of the light to medium blue I was envisioning, it was a deep, midnight blue. I finished it with red, cinnamon-flavored sprinkles. The frosting turned everyone’s tongue and teeth blue and Noah’s lips were dark blue, too. He looked like he was wearing some kind of Goth lipstick, which I suppose was appropriate, as it was the day after David Bowie died.

Beth and I exchanged presents between dinner and dessert. One of the advantages of having an anniversary just two and a half weeks after Christmas is that we can consult each other’s Christmas lists and buy something the other one didn’t get. This year there were a lot of items left on Beth’s list and I almost went with a book, but I changed my mind at the last minute and got her a waffle maker instead. She seemed really pleased with it so I was glad I did. She got me Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams, which I’d nearly impatiently bought for myself between Christmas and our anniversary, but we have an implicit understanding not to do that, so I didn’t.

The rest of the week unfurled like a fairly normal week. On Tuesday night Beth and I went to STEM night at June’s school and watched her present the poster on her experiment “Where Does Ice Melt Best?” (Spoiler: in hot water.) On Wednesday I went to basketball practice with June and I thought the Pandas seemed pretty pumped after their near non-defeat on Saturday.

“See you at the game,” I said to Megan’s dad as he dropped us off after practice.

“For the next exciting installment,” he said.

I do look forward to the next week and month and year and all the installments of our married life, whatever ups and downs it may bring us. And this weekend we’ve decided to go to the movies again.

Getting It Done

The Weekend Before

Friday afternoon around five June and I got on a bus to go to downtown Takoma and get a birthday present and card for Beth. I already had a present but not a card and June had a card but no present, so we each needed something. We left Noah at home to practice his drums with the plan that we’d call him from the Co-op to let him know what the selection of fancy chocolate bars was like, so he could pick a few. He’d given me $15, which was all the cash he had on hand, and told me to buy as many as I could with that.

We went to the Co-op first and after conferring with Noah on the phone I bought five bars—dark chocolate with orange peel, dark chocolate with raspberry, dark chocolate with caramel and sea salt, plain dark chocolate, and milk chocolate with coffee beans. June asked if she could have a muffin and I bought that, too, along with a orange-cranberry chocolate bar for myself because I’d been looking at chocolate bars so long I wanted one for myself.

The next stop was Capital City Cheesecake, for liquid sustenance for June and me. I needed a latté and she needed a juice box. She finished the muffin she’d started to eat on the walk there while I read her a chapter from A Horse and His Boy.

At Tabletop, we made pretty short work of the gift and card buying. June considered many items, but in the end she chose a glass votive candleholder shaped like a turkey because we don’t have any Thanksgiving decorations and it’s Beth’s favorite holiday. She also got a penguin-shaped hot/cold pack, which she thought Beth might use on aches and pains. I got a card with a drawing of bookshelves, since I’d gotten her a book, The Gay Revolution.

It was close to six by the time we finished and we always have pizza on Friday nights so I decided to pick some up from Pizza Movers, which is just down the block. I ordered two pizzas and an order of mozzarella sticks and while we waited for them to make it June and I sat in the window seat and read another chapter of A Horse and His Boy. It was in this chapter that the dwarf Thornbut is introduced. June was considerably entertained by this name and kept muttering, “Thornbut” under her breath and giggling. We like to keep it classy.

The next morning, Saturday morning around 9:30, I was sitting across the dining room table from Beth. Noah and I had just come inside from raking leaves out of the driveway to the curb for the leaf truck and then we’d gone over his homework goals for the weekend and he’d left, presumably to start his Algebra II take-home test. Beth was absorbed in her work laptop. I reminded her she’d said she wanted to talk about strategy for the weekend, basically who was doing what and when.

On her list was picking up her own birthday cake from Cold Stone when she went ice-skating with June on Sunday afternoon. She’d been undecided for a while whether she wanted a homemade cake or a store-bought one and she’d settled on buying an ice cream cake, so it made sense for her to get it when she was going to Silver Spring anyway, rather than having me schlep out there on the bus. But still, it seemed wrong somehow. I’ve always baked or bought her a cake.

“Sometimes it’s nice to feel taken care of on my birthday, but this weekend it’s just about getting it done,” she said. She was embroiled in an ongoing work crisis and she already knew she’d be working most of the weekend and worse yet, Thanksgiving weekend. She wanted to “allocate the family time budget” wisely.

So she bought her own cake, leaving me free to supervise Noah’s homework (my main task on any given weekend), read with both kids, read nine chapters of Daniel Deronda for book club, go swimming, make dinner on Saturday, and clean the bathroom. She worked, grocery shopped, took June skating, and made dinner on Sunday.

The B-Day

When Beth got home from work on Monday, there was a stack of wrapped presents at her place at the table. I’d wrapped them all, as Noah was busy writing a paper comparing philanthropy, self-reliance, and fate in Walden and Maggie, A Girl of the Streets. Meanwhile, June had a play date with Megan that afternoon and ended up in a rush to finish her own homework as well.

I’d actually forgotten Megan was coming over until she arrived, bearing a bag of outgrown shoes for June. Lest she feel put out by the fact that no one seemed to be expecting her, I told her it was “a pleasant surprise.”

Megan, who’s good-natured as a rule, said, “I’m a pleasant surprise!” and liking the sound of it, said it again.

The girls played, and at the very end of the play date, watched a bit of Cupcake Wars, which is June’s new obsession. This meant I needed to explain to both girls what absinthe is, because it was a required ingredient in one round. That was fun.

Megan’s mom came to pick her up and June did her homework and practiced her violin while I finished up dinner. Beth had requested tofu sticks (think homemade vegetarian fish sticks) and French fries. I was running late with dinner because the tofu needs to marinate in a salt-and-pepper brine for two hours and I’d forgotten to do that until about an hour later than I usually would. But dinner was almost ready when Beth got home. It was lucky in this instance that the kids and I usually eat before Beth gets home because she gets home on the late side most nights. The result was dinner wasn’t late for her at all.

After dinner, Beth opened her cards and presents appreciatively, admiring the glass turkey and said we needed some Thanksgiving decorations. She said she’d use the hot/cold pack on her foot, which has been bothering her all fall. She said the chocolate bars would keep her well supplied with squares of dark chocolate to eat every day after lunch. She flipped through the index of the book immediately, looking for people she knows. She worked at the Human Rights Campaign from 1992 to 1999, so she knows a lot of movers and shakers in the LGBT rights movement. Then she jokingly looked for herself, but she wasn’t there.

“You’re more of a behind the scenes person,” I said.

“I am a behind the scenes person,” she agreed.

We put the numeral four and nine candles in the chocolate-and-salted-caramel ice cream cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to her and Beth’s birthday celebration was over. Noah and I were up late that night as he worked on the Thoreau/Crane paper and I read his drafts and made suggestions. In the morning, Noah and Beth were up early doing the same thing.

Here’s to another year, Beth. You’re the person behind so much of what makes our family work. You get it done. Next year, though, I’ll take care of the cake.

Totally

June got home from a week at Girl Scout camp last night. Right before she left for camp, Beth had a business trip to Phoenix and was gone for four days so it’s been a long time since the four of us have been together for longer than half a day. I was very happy to have everyone under the same roof again. In fact, I made a peach-blackberry cobbler this afternoon to celebrate our first dinner all together in eleven days. And then the kids fought all through dinner prep and dinner itself, making me wonder if I ought to send them to sleep-away camp on alternate weeks for the rest of the summer.

Anyway, backing up a bit, the week Beth went out town the kids went to tinkering camp at their old preschool. June was a camper and Noah was volunteering. The theme this year was Bushcraft, so they worked on plant identification, went geocaching, and learned to tie knots, use a hatchet, and set fires. For each skill they learned, they earned a badge. June earned at least a half dozen, plus two “extensions” for going above and beyond. On the day she started a fire with kindling, cotton balls and one match, June told me with some resignation, “I suppose I won’t be allowed to do that at home.”

Beth left on a Wednesday. It was our summer anniversary, commemorating twenty-eight years since we started dating. (We also celebrate a winter anniversary—of our commitment ceremony and wedding, which were conveniently on the same day, if twenty-one years apart.) Noah had an orthodontist appointment that morning so June walked the mile or so to camp by herself—she was very excited, as it was the first time she’s made this particular walk alone—and Beth took Noah to his appointment and then dropped him off at camp.

It had occurred to me that we could have a brief date in the interval between when Beth returned to the house and when she had to leave for the airport, but I thought she’d be too busy packing or too stressed out, so I didn’t say anything. I was surprised and pleased when she suggested going out for lunch after we’d exchanged gifts. (I got her a t-shirt from Café A-Go-Go she’d admired in Rehoboth and a bar of Ecuadorean chocolate from the Folk Life Festival. She got me gift certificates for two local bookstores.) We went to eat at Busboys and Poets, where we used one of the gift certificates for the meal. It was a bit of a tight squeeze for her to leave for the airport, but it was nice to touch base with her before she left.

Did you hear about the dust-up between Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, and Black Lives Matters activists at Netroots in Phoenix? If our Facebook feeds are at all similar you did. Beth was in the room when it happened. You’ve probably read all about it already, but if you want her take on it, she said O’Malley came off looking bad and Sanders was worse.

Late Saturday night (or actually in the wee hours of Sunday morning) Beth returned from her travels. I might have given her a sleepy hug and kiss when she came to bed, but I can’t say for sure. The next day was a whirl of regular weekend chores and getting June off to camp. I’d gotten June mostly packed the day before—and I only got teary when I watched her addressing envelopes for letters to send home—but there was more packing to do and Beth had to iron name tags onto all her clothes and go to the farmers’ market because it’s the time of year you just can’t miss it. After lunch we left to drive June to Southern Maryland, after coaching Noah on how to get to the house of the family friend who was driving him to band camp orientation (along with her own son who was going to play the euphonium in the fifth and sixth grade band).

On the drive to camp June was full of nervous energy, but she grew quieter as we got closer. After we got off the highway and onto narrow roads with names like Girl Scout Camp Road and Juliette Low Lane and then pulled into the grassy parking lot, she said, “I bet I’m the only one in the car with a knot in their stomach.” Even though she likes to try new things, she often gets nervous right before hand.

I’d been nervous about sending her away all week. She’s never been away from home not in the care of relatives before (and Noah’s first time was a five-day school trip to New York last fall) so I don’t have a lot of practice handing her over to strangers and walking away. But we did just that—and quickly, too. Lingering was not encouraged. We signed her in, put her suitcase and sleeping bag in a pile of other girls’ things outside the cabin and soon she was digging through her bags for her bathing suit, towel, water bottle and sunblock because she needed to line up to go to the pool for her swim test. We hugged her goodbye and drove away.

As we did I wished we’d managed to make it to orientation last month so I could have toured the camp. I wanted to see the insides of the cabins, the dining hall, the pond where she’d be canoeing and kayaking and catching frogs. But Beth had been in Detroit that weekend and although I found another mom who was willing to drive us in the end I decided I didn’t have time that weekend. June did know three girls who’d be at camp that week and one of them, her friend-since-preschool Maggie, was in her bunk. So she wouldn’t be completely alone.

I was mulling this over when Beth, who often knows how to cheer me up, suggested we stop at Starbucks. Back in the car I noticed the huge stacks of cumulus clouds. It was just a classic summer sky and looking at in while alone in the car with Beth made me think of all the road trips of our younger days and made me wish briefly that we were going somewhere other than home.

But we did go home. That week Noah went to band camp, Beth went to work, and I worked at home alone, possibly for the last week in the summer both kids would be occupied at the same time. In addition to working, I finished a novel I’d been reading for more than a month (Finders Keepers, I’d stopped in the middle for couple weeks to read a book club book) and made some headway weeding the garden, at least enough to find the errant watermelon vines, cut their tendrils off the vegetation to which they’d attached themselves and get them back into their patch. I also discovered the family of rabbits that’s laying siege to the garden has almost completely wiped out the carrots. June and I have very different feelings about these rabbits.

In the evenings we watched movies. Noah chose Back to the Future and Back to the Future 2, which were fun, although I wished they were less sexist. It was 80s week at our house apparently, because one of the numbers Noah was working on for band camp was a medley of 80s hits. He made a playlist of the original versions of the songs and played it for us one evening after our movie was over. I have to say I find Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” deeply evocative of the mid-eighties. The other songs have either picked up other associations for me because I’ve heard them often in the past three decades (“Thriller”) or just weren’t that important to me start with (Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.”)

It was nice to have time to focus on Noah, but I did miss June. One morning before she left for work Beth found me watching the videos of her Frozen performance and yes, maybe crying a little. When I did laundry and put it on the line, I couldn’t help noticing the colors were drabber than usual. There were a lot of whites and grays and blues and greens but not much in the way of pink, purple, or pastel. It helped that the camp sent updates about what they were doing each day, along with photos, and we sent her letters and email. (She was too busy to write more than one letter and she never mailed that one so we read it when she got home.)

The week passed and soon it was Friday, the big day. Noah’s concert was in the afternoon and June was coming home. The concert conflicted with her camp pickup so we arranged for Maggie’s family to bring her home with them.

Band camp is for kids entering fifth to tenth grade and they divide them up into three age groups. It was Noah’s first year in the oldest group. There were about fifty-to-ninety kids per age group and they have a week to learn five or six songs, so it’s an intense experience. They also take electives. Noah took composing and movie music.

When we got to the auditorium and sat down I started to feel very sleepy. I hadn’t slept well the night before because our room was too warm and I’d been weeding out in the sun for almost two hours earlier in the day. Plus the seats were comfortable and the building was air-conditioned but not over air-conditioned. I did manage to stay awake, however. It helped that the kids were great, all three groups. I always find it a little amusing to hear band arrangements of “Simple Gifts,” (which the fifth and sixth grade band played) because nothing fifty kids play all together with at least ten kinds of instruments can be said to be simple, but there you go. The seventh and eighth grade band played the Pink Panther theme in a medley of Henry Mancini tunes, which was fun.

The ninth and tenth grade band came on last. Noah played a lot of different instruments, including wood blocks, bells, bass drum, and a big set of chimes that looked like it belonged in a steampunk film. (You can see another kid playing it at the back left of the photo.) I thought it looked like fun to play but Noah wasn’t happy with his performance on that instrument. He was more satisfied with the 80s flashback piece. He played cowbell in the “Thriller” section and tambourine in most of the rest. During “Thriller” the camp faculty shambled across the stage like zombies, which was a nice touch.

After the concert we stopped for a few slices of pizza but as we were eating we got the call that June was almost home, so we left with our drinks and crusts still in hand so we could be home when Maggie’s folks delivered her.

June was tanned and happy and full of many, many facts about camp. She sang us songs she learned and told us about how they intentionally capsized the canoes so they would know what to do if one did overturn and about the food in the dining hall and the dance and the campfire and one special new friend she made who lives not too far away. When Beth asked if she wanted to go next year she said “Totally” and when I was putting her to bed she said wistfully, “It went so fast…”

It does go fast, I thought, as I settled this girl who is now old enough to go away from us and come back, into her own bed and told her goodnight.

Something to Celebrate

Sunday: Mother’s Day

On Sunday morning June told me, “The next two days are going to be all about you.” She was referring to the fact that my birthday fell the day after Mother’s Day this year. It wasn’t all about me of course. For one thing I was sharing the celebration on Sunday with Beth, but more than that I knew how I was likely to spend those days. It’s not that it can never be all about you when you’re a parent, but sometimes it can’t and this was one of those times.

June did her best to fete us, though. She made us breakfast in bed (waffles with apple slices and yogurt), delivered just after seven and about a half hour later the kids brought us presents—chocolate for Beth, a bouquet of folded cloth flowers June made at Girl Scouts and my very favorite tea (hazelnut) for me. June also made us a card, cut into the shape of a flower. And we stayed in bed reading the paper until almost nine, which was luxurious.

Beth spent the rest of Sunday morning grocery shopping and attending a street fair with June where they had their picture taken with mustaches, as one does. I spent it sitting next to the computer where Noah was working on the organizer for his overdue essay on the Indian Removal Act, reading first the Washington Post magazine and then Brain, Child and looking up every paragraph or so to say something like, “That looks good. Write another sentence.” His ability to attend to his schoolwork is at low ebb these days and it goes considerably faster if someone watches him do it. This has been consuming a lot of my time recently.

He actually finished the organizer, which he’s been working on since March. We were both really happy about that. It was so detailed I thought the essay would practically write itself, but unfortunately, there just wasn’t any more time to work on it that day. After he had lunch and practiced his orchestra bells, he spent the rest of the afternoon re-writing a scene from As You Like It into different poetic genres.

I thought we had received all our Mother’s Day presents but when Beth and June came home, they’d picked up a bouquet of purple flowers, a cookie that said “Mommy” in frosting and balloon in the shape of an inverted pyramid that said “Happy Mother’s Day.” June also thought they should buy popsicles “for Mother’s Day,” but Beth thought fudgsicles were a better idea since she actually likes those.

After I put away the groceries, I went swimming and to the library, then I came home and read a bit to June. We started new book called Witch Catcher, which is the sort of children’s book that begins with the protagonist moving into a spooky old house left to her family by an eccentric distant relative. I read a lot of those books as a kid and it’s a source of continuing disappointment that no eccentric distant relative has ever left me a spooky old house. (I’d prefer one on a cliff overlooking the sea. That’s the best kind.)

For dinner we had takeout Ethiopian, which Beth had picked up earlier in the day. June had the idea that the kids should re-heat it and dish it out themselves and then they would have made dinner for us in addition to breakfast.

Monday: Birthday, ENT Appointment, Band Festival

“Happy birthday,” June said, bearing a tray with a bowl of Cheerios and a glass of orange juice. It was my second breakfast in bed in a row. She’d broken the first glass and Beth was busy cleaning up the juice and the glass and warning people not to walk in the kitchen in bare feet. She was in rush to get Noah out the door and we weren’t doing presents until the evening so we barely spoke.

June was still coughing, and we had an appointment with an ENT in the afternoon, so I worked a little in the morning and then napped after lunch because June had been up late into the night before with a new symptom, tongue pain. (That one only lasted two days.) Around two June and I set out for the doctor’s office, where we were to meet Beth. We arrived in the city early enough to stop at Starbucks and I used the gift card my Mom had sent for by birthday to buy a S’mores frappuchino, which is about the most decadent thing they have on the menu these days, but it was my birthday. June got a more sensible orange-mango smoothie and popcorn.

I knew the doctor’s appointment was not going to give us the magic answer to June’s troubles as soon as the nurse starting asking us questions about her symptoms and looking surprised at every answer. Then the doctor came in and asked a lot of the same questions and she looked surprised, too. She examined June’s throat by putting a tiny camera on flexible tube up her nose. Based on the appearance of her vocal cords and the way they move when she coughed or tried to speak, she told us it’s not croup or laryngitis, which were her pediatrician’s diagnoses. Her throat is irritated (from the non-stop coughing) but not infected and her vocal cords are not inflamed. Also based on the fact that none of the home remedies or medicines she’s had have stopped the coughing, she told us there was “no organic cause.” She reworded this about a half dozen different ways, each time starting, “To be perfectly honest” in case we were having trouble believing her, I guess, but I wasn’t.

I thought back to June’s sprained wrist in first grade and her sprained knee in second grade (5/9/13 & 9/30/13) and how the pain she perceived took much longer to abate than any medical professional thought it should. It seemed it might be another case of miscommunication between her mind and body. And, of course, if there’s no physical cause, there’s no physical cure. So we left the office, all of us downcast and without a treatment plan.

But, it was still my birthday, so we went through with our plan to go out to dinner. Beth suggested we eat in the city but it was early (around five) and I was pretty full from the frappuchino, so we went back to Takoma so we could eat a little later. June had suggested we hang out in the city and do Mad Libs until we were hungry. I thought how that actually could be fun, sort of an adventure, but Noah was on a band field trip, because they had advanced to state-level festival this year, and we needed to be home to pick him up after dinner.

On the Metro I noticed people giving June alarmed looks, no doubt wondering why we had this violently coughing child on public transportation. I am getting used to this look. We ate at Busboys and Poets again. It’s my fourth time there in the past few weeks, but I haven’t exhausted the menu. I had vegan “crab” cakes with sautéed vegetables and iced green tea.

At dinner I futilely quizzed June about whether anything happened at the Girl Scout camping trip or school that was upsetting her, thinking there might be some emotional upset at the root of this. “Not really” she whispered cheerfully to every inquiry. Then I reminded Beth, “You didn’t say ‘Happy birthday’ to me except on Facebook.”

“I didn’t?” she said, remembering about the spilled orange juice and the broken glass and then she said, “Happy birthday.”

Then, thinking about Facebook, I mentioned some of the nice messages people had left me, my uncle reminiscing about the first time he met me and my friend Joyce who lives in Indiana saying how much she misses me.

“Unlike me, who just said, ‘Happy birthday,’” she said.

I smiled at her, “Well, those people didn’t make me a birthday cake with strawberries in the middle,” I said because she’d made this cake the day before. I’d asked her to make a Neapolitan cake—chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry in any combination. She went with vanilla cake with leftover strawberry frosting from Noah’s cake and fresh strawberries between the layers and chocolate frosting on the top and sides. And they weren’t just any strawberries but the first local strawberries of the season. So I wasn’t really mad at her. It was just that kind of day.

Once we got back home, Beth went to pick up Noah from his band festival dinner. We learned the band was ranked “Superior” and according to the judges was “one of the best” middle school bands in Maryland.

They’d had a celebratory dinner after festival and it turned out the plain pizza ran out before his turn in line and there was nothing left but pepperoni so he hadn’t eaten any. Just the week before he’d gotten food poisoning on a Spanish class field trip to a tapas restaurant (probably from accidentally eating something with meat) so we’re glad he didn’t try just picking off the pepperoni. But this meant he needed dinner. And we were already pressed for time if we wanted to eat cake and get June to bed. Then I remembered something else, “I have to open presents.” I immediately regretted the ungrateful way that sounded but as I said, it was just that kind of a day.

So I melted some cheddar cheese on tortilla chips and gave them to Noah with carrot sticks and chocolate milk. He ate while I opened my presents. Beth got me a frame with space for three pictures and one already inserted. It’s of the kids in the bathtub at the ages of one and a half and six and a half. We have very similar bathtub pictures of me with my sister, her with her brother, and our kids at approximately the same ages. I’d been meaning to display them together since we took the picture (we in fact took it to go with the others) but we had never gotten around to it. Noah’s gift was a pre-ordered copy of Finders Keepers, Stephen King’s new book, which will be out soon. He actually printed the cover design and made a dust jacket, which he put on another hardback book, so he’d have something to wrap. June got me some hot cocoa packets, a cloth shopping bag, a flowerpot, and some Sweet William seeds. She also made a card cut into the shape of a birthday hat.

Next, we had the cake. It was as good as it looked. As I put Noah to bed that night I told him I was proud of the band’s good showing. “I am, too,” he said, which for him is like bragging.

Tuesday to Friday: Back to School

Meanwhile, I’d decided it was time for June to go back to school, as she’d missed more than a week and we had no clear next step medically speaking. I’d been corresponding with the assistant principal for a few days and she was initially skeptical but I eventually convinced her, which required more assertiveness than comes naturally to me. I wanted to get administrative buy-in before I sent my constantly coughing child to school. I didn’t want it to end with her teachers sending her to the nurse and the nurse sending her home. June’s pediatrician had already told us she was not contagious but now the ENT has as well, and I had a note to that effect, so on Tuesday off to school she went.

I decided to ease her in with a half-day. Megan had brought some make-up work to the house that morning, so in the morning June did several math worksheets and then practiced her violin, and around eleven we walked to her school. As we got close she said she felt sick and I told her it was probably nerves and that she’d be okay.

We arrived about a half hour before the class change, so first we visited the main office and checked in there and then I took her to the nurse to explain the situation and I showed the nurse the notes from the ENT. Finally, I took June to her morning class, which was about to dismiss, so we could turn in her work and get that day’s homework. Neither of us was expecting the transaction to be anything but businesslike, but when we opened the door of the trailer, the room erupted in cheers. Kids were yelling, “June! June!” and her teacher came over to give her a hug. We had noticed previously that when she’s very emotional, the coughing slows and she was so overcome, she didn’t cough for almost a minute. I was silently watching the classroom clock.

That night she went to Girl Scouts and she went to school for a full day Wednesday, also complaining of a stomachache right before she got on the bus. I told her it would be like the day before and her nerves would settle and I guess they did because she went to school Thursday and Friday without complaint.

June’s coughing has slowed somewhat. Now it’s down to around two to three times a minute instead of six to twelve, but she’s been plateaued there for a few days and she still can’t speak above a whisper. Beth’s been consulting with June’s pediatrician on the phone and it’s possible we might send her to a voice therapist if her voice does not return, but that’s not a firm plan. I think we’re kind of hoping she’ll just wake up speaking one morning, as the doctors don’t really seem to know what to do. Between Noah’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and mine, we’ve had a lot of family celebrations recently but hearing my daughter speak for the first time in three weeks would really be something to celebrate.

Old Enough

Noah turned fourteen on Sunday. I was thinking about that age, how uncomfortable with life I was then and how in other points in history adults fashioned different roles for kids (well, boys) at that awkward age. So I wrote in his birthday card, “You are old enough to be knight’s squire, except you don’t live in medieval England, old enough to be a blacksmith’s apprentice, except you don’t live in colonial times. So you will have to settle for going to high school.”

He didn’t ask for much in the way of presents and he didn’t get a big gift like the drum kit we bought him when he turned eleven or the light and filming equipment we got him last year. He’d asked if we could go away for the weekend, like we did when he turned twelve, and I would have really liked to, but he had gotten very behind in his schoolwork. He had been behind for weeks in fact, since before spring break, despite some progress playing catch-up the previous weekend. So it just didn’t seem feasible.

He does like to eat out, though, so we decided to take him out for dinner three nights in a row, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday we traditionally have pizza so he chose zPizza in Silver Spring and Fro-Zen-Yo. (He couldn’t decide where to have dessert, so he let June choose.)

Saturday it was Noodles & Company and Ben and Jerry’s. Noah’s signed up for online promotions from Noodles & Company and he had a birthday gift certificate. This was fortuitous because we have an on again, off again tradition of eating Thai food on the night before Noah’s birthday. This was because on the night before he was born, Beth and I had dinner on the balcony of a Thai restaurant near our apartment in the city to celebrate my last day of teaching for the semester. (I was expecting to have a few weeks to grade my students’ research papers and get ready for the baby, but the baby had other plans, so I graded some of the papers at the hospital.) At Noodles, Beth and I both ordered Pad Thai with tofu and Beth suggested we eat at the outside tables. These are bit too small for four people, though, so we split up–kids at one table, adults at another. I told Beth we were eating alone, just like fourteen years ago.

Sunday morning the birthday boy seemed grumpy and not that interested in opening his presents. He did, though. He got t-shirts from us and from my mom because few of the ones he wore last summer still fit. We got him one that says “#drums” and one that says “got noodles?” (though the second one didn’t come in the mail until later). My mom got him one with a picture of Shakespeare that says “Will Power” and a pen that’s marked “Mightier than the Sword” and an eraser that says, “Out Damned Spot.” Beth’s mom got him a gift certificate to Politics and Prose and a big bag of Cow Tails caramels (his favorite). We also got him the kind of cord he likes for his phone, one that has an on/off switch for his headphones on it, and June got him a book in a fantasy series he’s reading. That seemed to please him the most and he gave her a genuine sounding “thank you.”

He did some homework in the morning, working on the organizer for a long overdue essay on the Indian Removal Act, but he was complaining of a headache (which in retrospect probably accounted for his bad mood) and by ten-thirty he said he just wanted to go back to bed, so he did. He stayed there until one. I read to him for an hour or so. We finished Mostly Harmless, the fifth and final book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy we’ve been reading since Christmas or maybe it was Thanksgiving. (The fact that Douglas Adams went two books past three and still called it a trilogy tickles Noah). Then we started Crystal Keepers, the book June got for him. It’s a little young for him, but sometimes that’s just what you want. I understand that well.

By this time, his head felt better and he seemed more cheerful. He had lunch and practiced percussion and then worked a little more on the organizer until it was time to go out to dinner yet again. This time it was Vicino in Silver Spring, an old-fashioned Italian restaurant, the kind you probably went to when you were a kid. There was a familiar song from an opera I could almost but not quite place playing when we arrived and the white cloth tablecloths were covered with clear plastic. I was hoping there would be baked ziti and there was. Both Noah and I had that, Beth had Eggplant Parmesan, June had spaghetti with marinara, and we all split an order of fried mozzarella and spinach sautéed with garlic. (We were eating the leftovers for days.)

We headed home for cake and ice cream. At Noah’s request, Beth had made a strawberry cake with strawberry frosting and bought pralines and cream ice cream to go with it. It was delicious, as Beth’s cakes always are. As I was saying goodnight to Noah, I remembered another present I’d bought so long ago I’d forgotten about it. I told him to stay in bed and I’d go get it. It was a pair of blue and white striped summer pajamas from Hanna Andersson. He loves these pajamas so I keep buying them even though he’s in adult sizes now and I always thought I’d stop when he wasn’t in kid sizes anymore. He’s a modest, unassuming kid and he really doesn’t ask for much, so I like to do what I can to make him happy.

I’m glad we’re keeping him for the next four years instead of sending him off to a blacksmith or a knight. I have a feeling those years will go by quickly, so for now, fourteen’s old enough.

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.