A Quiet Birthday

When on the day before Beth’s birthday I told the kids one of the best presents they could get her would be to be quiet in the morning and let her sleep in, they looked at me skeptically. One of them, I don’t remember which, said it sounded more like a present for me.  I assured them that while I am more of an enforcer when it comes to sleep-related rules, Beth likes to sleep, too.  And because she gets up at 5:45 every weekday morning to rouse Noah and make sure he gets ready for school, weekend morning sleep is precious.

Skeptical or not, they were very quiet, and Beth slept until 7:30. And yes, that counts as sleeping in at our house.  Once we were both awake, I went and got the kids and June played “Happy Birthday” for Beth on the violin twice, once a cappella and once with Noah and me singing.  (There would be several repeat performances throughout the day.) Then Beth opened her cards and presents.  June’s handmade card was in the shape of a cake and Noah’s card had images of bread and chocolate printed on the front and inside. This was a hint, but her gift was not from Bread and Chocolate, as she’d guessed and as I predicted she would. But I did guess wrong that she’d miss what Noah wrote on the back of the card after I told him to sign it inside and not on the back: his signature followed by “Do you notice this? Mommy said you wouldn’t.” Beth said she knows always to check all parts of Noah’s cards.

Because I renewed her New Yorker subscription and my mom had mailed an Amazon gift certificate, and the kids’ presents were in the same box, there was only one present to open. It was from the Zingerman’s catalog.  Noah had selected a loaf of chocolate sourdough and June picked Spanish drinking chocolate.  I asked if she’d like to have either for breakfast and she said she’d like to save the drinking chocolate for a snowy day, but she’d have the bread. I heated it up and made eggs to go with it and Beth had breakfast in bed while the rest of us sat on the floor with our plates. (I wanted to minimize crumbs in the bed.)

We ate most of the small loaf. It was very good, crusty and chewy and filled with melted chocolate. Later that morning we all talked to Beth’s mom on the phone and I congratulated her on her forty-seventh anniversary of motherhood while she reminisced about Beth as a newborn.

Next Beth went for her customary Saturday morning bike ride and June and I went to the library and the bank and Noah stayed home to do homework.  After lunch, Beth went on her own errands. I finished an article about Echinacea and then June and I made Beth’s birthday cake, chocolate with coffee frosting.

When Beth came home from her errands, Beth and June and I had a little party, directed by June. (I surreptitiously called Beth and asked her to call back a few minutes before she got home so we could jump out a yell “Surprise!” because that seemed important to June and I really didn’t want to spend too long crouching by the radiator in the dining room.)

June had made paper snowflakes and taped them to the wall because Beth loves snow. While Beth was gone, June had figured out how to play “Happy Birthday” on the keyboard part of the toy piano/xylophone and she performed that.  Next, we danced a bit and then played Splash while Beth sat in a chair June had dragged upstairs from the basement and proclaimed a special birthday throne. Noah was working on his research paper and couldn’t join us, but he supplied us with the music, a Pandora 60s and 70s station. If it had been up to June, the party would have gone on longer, but what Beth really wanted was to do was to go to the bedroom and read.  This was puzzling to June, but she climbed into bed with her to read her own book, How to Train Your Dragon, which she’d checked out the library earlier that day.

Dinner was Burmese at Mandalay, which is one of Beth’s favorites.  Then we came home and ate cake and ice cream. June somehow managed to turn the discussion to her own birthday and to the question of whether or not she could have a slumber party.  I said four months before her birthday was too early to be discussing this and she said, “Four months is a short time.”

“You think five minutes is a long time,” Noah protested. A discussion of the relative nature of time ensued.

I provided the example that five minutes was a long time to be on fire, but four months would be a short time to have left to live.  Beth said these were not very cheerful examples for a birthday celebration and I pointed out I wasn’t the one who’d been discussing previous experiences of vomiting as we entered the restaurant. For the record, that was both kids. We are not always well behaved as a family, I suppose.

June went to bed soon after and the rest of Beth’s birthday was quiet, just the way she wanted. She read, I cleaned the bathroom and wrote this, and Noah continued to write his a paper. (The three of us were all up past our bedtimes because Noah was trying to get to the five-page mark of his draft and we haven’t reached the stage of parenting when you let your kid stay up later than you yet. I’m not sure I could get to sleep knowing he was still awake.)

The next day would be full of chores, errands, and possibly paid work, too. We all have a lot to do. Sara has a lot of work for me in the next few days. The rough draft of Noah’s paper is due Wednesday. And we’re driving to Wheeling for Thanksgiving with Beth’s mom and aunts and other relatives on Thursday morning so we needed to grocery shop and make sweet potatoes, mushroom gravy, and cranberry sauce to take with us. It was nice, though, to carve out a little time on Saturday for the first of our late November celebrations. We have much to celebrate, and the fact that Beth was born is a good place to start.

No to Yes

The Trouble with Forty-Six

Forty-six is not exactly a milestone birthday, but in the weeks leading up to my birthday it occurred to me more than once that while my new age can still reasonably described as “mid-forties,” it indicates the scale is tipping. It’s closer to fifty than to forty.  When I mentioned this to Beth, she said, “That’s the trouble with forty-six.” (She turned forty-six in November.)  Certain meditations on age from sources as diverse at James Joyce and Bruce Springsteen kept jumping out at me:

I am exhausted, abandoned, no more young. I stand, so to speak, with an unposted letter bearing the extra regulation fee before the too late box of the general post-office of human life.

So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore.

I feel that way some of the time, not all of the time. And of course, one of the nice things about having kids is that your age gets tied to theirs. If you’re curious to see what comes next in their lives, as I am, you have to accept getting older yourself as part of the bargain.  Not that the childless get to opt out of aging, it just happens to take some of the sting out of it for me.

I did have a nice birthday weekend.  The festivities started the day before, when June came into my bedroom at 6:30 a.m. bearing the toaster oven tray laden with a carrot, an apple, a cheese stick, a pita, butter, jam, peanut butter and a glass of water. “Happy day before your birthday!” she said.  Noah had a band field trip to Hershey Park that day and Beth had to get him out the door by 6:15. Left to her own devices for the fifteen minutes between when Beth and Noah left and when she was allowed to wake me, she hatched this plan and executed it by herself.  It was a very sweet surprise, even though I’d been in the mood for scrambled eggs (which I made for both of us once I got out of bed).

That evening, with Noah still gone, we had a girls’ night. We made pizza from a kit and topped it with Kalamata olives and broccoli (June’s choices) and watched Cinderella (also her choice.) She seemed to enjoy being the center of maternal attention for a couple hours.

My birthday was the next day. I opened presents in the morning after breakfast.  This year I had the idea of asking for books by author friends of mine and I got two mysteries (http://www.amazon.com/Shallow-Roots-Anomie-K-Hatcher/dp/1450790569; http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dangerous-and-unseemly-kb-owen/1114666776) and a volume of poetry. I did this partly because the books sounded good, and partly of a desire to support my friends’ work, but also for indirect inspiration. I’m not planning to write a book of my own, but I do sometimes feel I need to be doing something besides raising kids and holding down a part-time writing job, something creative.  I just don’t know what it is.

After hearing me complain repeatedly about how it’s been something like a year and a half since Stephen King’s last book was published Beth also pre-ordered his newest book, which won’t be out until next month. I didn’t even know it existed so it was a big surprise. She also signed us up for a composting service, because after years of dabbling with it, we’ve never quite gotten the hang of maintaining a compost pile.  We will put our organic waste out for pickup and get composted dirt in return. It sounds like a good deal to me. Noah got me some fancy cheese and marmalades (pink grapefruit and lemon) and June got me some sea salt caramels. It was quite a haul and only the first day of presents because Mother’s Day was the very next day.

The rest of the day wasn’t exactly relaxing because we’d been away the weekend previous and so there was a lot to do in the house and garden, but I decided I’d spend the day on outdoor chores, as it was a lovely spring day. I prepared the pumpkin patch and transplanted the largest pumpkin seedling, which was getting too big for its pot, into the ground. I mowed the lawn and swept and hosed the dirt and pollen off the front porch. All the while I was listening to Ulysses on my iPod because I need to finish it by Wednesday for book club.  (I am reading and listening to it. I finished the audio version on Sunday but I still have most of the Molly’s final forty-five page unpunctuated soliloquy to go in the print version.)

It was nice to be outside and moving most of the day and I felt cheerful and productive. We had dinner at Austin Grill and then came home for homemade chocolate cake topped with fresh strawberry frosting (my favorite frosting) and Hershey’s kisses Noah had brought home from Hershey Park. It was a sweet end to the day.

Just Mother’s Day

My birthday is always around Mother’s Day so I often feel sorry for Beth, for having to coordinate two gifts from each kid for me, but she came though, as always.  June wanted to buy flowers for me so we held off exchanging gifts until after Beth and June went grocery shopping.  At the farmers’ market, June selected a big bouquet of bachelor buttons and she also came home with a card that said, “the journey of a lifetime is in a single step from “no” to “yes.” She picked it because it had a seashell on the front. The funny thing about this was that Beth had originally nixed the idea of buying a card because June made cards for us at school, one in English for Beth and one in Spanish for me. But June has a way of turning no into yes, and Beth thought it was so fitting she bought the card.  Noah got a selection of teas for me, and for Beth the kids got a mortar and pestle (June) and green and black rice (Noah).

We opened our gifts at the glass table in the back yard where we’d laid out a picnic lunch (June’s idea, of course).  Beth made lemonade and we had the cheese from my birthday and Noah’s, crackers, watermelon, and the first local strawberries of the year.  June also requested and received a grilled cheese sandwich and goldfish crackers.  We finished the meal with leftover birthday cake.  It was pleasant lingering at the table after the meal. I leaned back in my chair and looked up at the green leaves on the branches of our biggest maple and at the blue sky.  But eventually we got up and I did the dishes, Noah went back to his homework and Beth went back to a project for work.

Later that afternoon, I went to swim laps. Beth asked if I was sure the pool was open and I said I thought so because it was “just Mother’s Day,” meaning not the kind of holiday that causes the pool to close.

“Just Mother’s Day!” she said in mock horror.

Even though it was full of chores, weekend felt celebratory enough. When I came home from the pool, Noah had more or less finished his homework and Beth was making tempeh reubens and June was in her doctor’s coat with the toy syringe preparing to perform surgery on Beth, whom I learned had dangerous germs in her bones. In other words, it was normal Sunday afternoon, but normal in a good way, in the way that turns the no of self-doubt into yes.

Right after the line I quoted from Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” the speaker urges, “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night/You ain’t a beauty but hey, you’re all right.” (Beth has always maintained this is one of the best romantic lines in a rock and roll song.)

And you know how Ulysses ends, right?

Yes I said yes I will Yes.

All The World’s a Stage

“This was a nice weekend. I’m glad I forgot my homework,” Noah said.

It was Sunday morning, around 10:40, and Noah was practicing his orchestra bells while we were packing up and preparing to check out of our hotel. This year in lieu of a birthday party, Noah asked for a family weekend in Rehoboth.  The main thing he wanted to do was to film a movie in Cape Henlopen State Park, which we’d visited in March and which struck him at the time as a good location, due to the empty and somewhat eerie WWII-related buildings (watchtowers, barracks, etc.)

We left on his birthday, a Friday, after school.  But it was a big day even before we left for the beach because it was GreekFest at his school. This all-day event is the culmination of a several months-long unit on ancient Greece (mostly myths, but some history, too) and involved long-term projects in all four of his Humanities classes.

We started off the big day with present opening at 6:30 a.m. Noah unwrapped a book, two sets of summer pajamas (a birthday tradition), two hunks of fancy cheese from his favorite gourmet online catalog, and an assortment of rhythm instruments he’d requested, including a set of chimes, claves, a cowbell, and a high quality tambourine. (He often has to play these in concerts but up to now could only practice them at school.) He seemed pleased with everything.

Beth got him off to school and then went shopping for birthday cake ingredients. While I did some chores and exercised, she made the cake and frosting. Then it was off to GreekFest.

On Stage: GreekFest

We went to see the animated films first. All the sixth-grade Humanities magnet students worked in groups to animate a Greek myth and the media teacher was playing a ninety-minute sequence of them continuously all day.  We had almost an hour in the room, but Noah’s film did not come up in the rotation. Fortunately, all the films were also playing on laptops set up around the perimeter of the room so we got to watch his group’s rendition of the Prometheus myth.  They made nice use of special effects including some very realistic raindrops running down the screen during a storm, and instant replay to show the vulture returning to the bound god over and over.  It was fun seeing his classmates’ work as well. The films were smart and funny.

There was a lunch break next. Beth offered to come along and lead the lunchroom in “Happy Birthday,” but for some reason, Noah declined.  (June might have said yes, I think.) Because it was only 10:40, Beth and I went out for coffee rather than lunch.

When we returned, it was time for skits. While we waited, we had time to peruse the newspapers the kids had written.  Noah’s period published “The Greekly Weekly News.” Noah wrote the classified ads. Arachne was selling tapestries, Midas was selling golden objects; Pygmalion was selling statues, there was a Daedalus wing system on offer, etc.

The way the skits worked was that each student chose a character to portray and then they were assigned to groups and had to write a skit in any television genre using all their characters. Noah’s group did a police drama that involved Medusa turning first a pet dog then all the other characters to stone. Toward the end, Noah (as Daedalus) tried to escape by flying away, but did not succeed. There was also a talk show, “Hot Talk With Apollo,” (a good way to incorporate disparate characters, I thought), a soap opera, which made good use of a siren and the Oracle of Delphi, and a game show hosted by Nike, goddess of victory. Like the films, the skits were smart and funny, and the kids were clearly having a good time.

We moved out to the hallway to look at posters about historical ancient Greek figures — Noah’s poster about Aristotle wasn’t on the wall because he’d turned it in late — while the kids set up the podiums for their monologues. Each student was still in character, but now they each had to give a speech, introducing themselves to listeners, who would activate them by pressing a button, or taking some other action. For instance, at Persephone’s podium, you had to take a real pomegranate seed from a paper plate at her feet to get her to start talking.  Noah, as Daedalus, held a square piece of plywood and a toy hammer.  You tapped the board with the hammer to get him to speak. Noah had a little trouble getting the gears on his podium to start turning but a classmate helped him and when the machinery started to work they did a fist bump.  (This was a bit startling, as I’d never seen Noah do that with anyone.)

Not to be repetitive, but the monologues were great. Everything was great. The kids really threw themselves into their roles, especially the boy who played Typhon with appropriate creepiness.  Beth said the whole event, but especially the skits and monologues, made her feel Noah was in the right place in this program.  I felt the same.

On Location: Cape Henlopen and Rehoboth

When we left Greekfest, we had a late lunch at a Thai restaurant, a sentimental choice because the last meal I ate before I went into labor with Noah was Thai. Then we returned home to finish packing for the beach. The kids were both home by 3:30 and a little after 4:00 we hit the road.  As tradition dictates, we stopped at the Taco Bell by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for dinner, and then we ate birthday cake at the outside table at Dairy Queen, with a little soft-serve on the side.

Chances are you’ve never tried to light birthday cake candles by the side of a busy highway on a windy night, but it was a difficulty we failed to anticipate.  We were all shielding the cake with our paper plates, hoping the candles would stay lit long enough for Noah to blow them out, and finally they did.  I think it might be a birthday cake he’ll never forget.

We’ve been using the same numeral candles for Noah’s whole childhood. Some of them are in better shape than others and that morning Beth had melted the edges of the halves of the broken numeral two candle to mend it. We discussed how we’ll have to go visit him at college and bring the candles when it’s time to use the same ones reversed on his twenty-first birthday.  He didn’t seem dismayed by this prospect.

We got to our hotel late and learned that the room was being renovated and was not quite finished.  So there was a sheet tacked up over sliding glass doors that lead out to the balcony instead of curtains and we were lacking some other amenities, such as a second sink.  But the room seemed livable enough and they gave us a $75 discount, so we weren’t about to complain. We also realized in the process of unpacking, that Noah had left his backpack with his sheet music and his homework at home. He said he thought he could practice without the music and fortunately, thanks to GreekFest, he only had homework in one subject (math) so it wasn’t a disaster.

Saturday morning after a diner breakfast, we drove out to a drugstore to get props for the movie and some new bandages for June’s splint (she sprained her wrist almost two weeks ago—more on this later) and then we headed out to Cape Henlopen State Park. Noah had hoped to script the movie before he filmed it, but he’d been so swamped with homework in the weeks leading up to GreekFest, he didn’t have time, and he had to wing it.  It went really well.  I think it might have been close to the experience he wanted from all those mystery birthday parties he hosted (“Up to Eleven,” 5/8/12).  He had a vision and with Beth’s, June’s and my help, he carried it out.  He directed, he and Beth filmed, and we all acted.  Some of our lines he recited to us ahead of time; but mostly he gave us some general outlines and we improvised.

The basic story of the movie is about two kids who are reluctantly visiting the state park because their parents are interested in the WWII watchtowers. (It opens with Beth reading a park brochure in a droning voice.) The kids stumble upon a locked shed with a rusted metal door, and when the padlock falls to the ground (we accomplished this effect by dropping our own padlock), they go inside.  The interior of the small concrete shed expands to the interior of a watchtower (this part of course shot in one of the actual watchtowers). Eerie voices explain that the shed contains the ghost of a watchtower that was never built.  The kids drop pinecones off the top into an arrow pattern to alert their parents, who find and rescue them. Suddenly interested in watchtowers, they are seen in the hotel room researching them on the Internet.  We filmed all the park scenes in the morning and then went out to lunch.

Beth, who was coming down with a bad cold, was wiped out so she napped at the hotel room while I took the kids Mother’s Day shopping. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with reading and percussion practice. We had pizza and gelato at Grotto’s and once June was in bed I had my first extended walk on the beach—I’d had a short jaunt the night before and another one before breakfast.

It was twilight when I left the hotel and as I wandered along the beach and boardwalk the sky darkened to cobalt. The weekend had been exceptionally windy so there were big piles of sea foam on the sand and frequently the wind tore off pieces and sent them spinning up the beach like tumbleweeds.  They are doing some kind of work on one of the jetties, probably something to do with the storm water pipe that empties into the ocean there, but I’m not really sure.  There’s a (presumably) temporary wall made of metal or plastic surrounding the jetty on three sides. At low tide it keeps the sand at the center above water but at high tide the waves crash hard into the side parallel to the beach and sends water jetting high up into the sky. It reminded me of those Japanese paintings of huge ocean waves.

The next morning after we checked out of the hotel, Beth took her Mother’s Day shopping shift while I hung out on the boardwalk. When she and kids returned we ate leftover pizza on with a chaser of vinegary fries. We purchased fudge, chocolate-peanut butter pretzels, and gummy sharks at Candy Kitchen.  Then the kids and I played briefly on the beach. They were so enthralled with the sea foam I wished I’d gotten them onto the beach before it was time to go home, but we’d had a lot to squeeze into a day and a half, and we’ll be back in two months.

So Noah is twelve now, but we are not quite finished celebrating. He has small get-togethers with friends planned (dinner out with the twins and a possible sleepover with Sasha, though we haven’t nailed down a date for that yet).  As I wrote in his birthday card, he’ll be a teenager before we know it. But I like teenagers; otherwise I wouldn’t have had so much fun teaching college freshman for all those years. And if those years are drama-filled, I hope it’s the kind on stage.

Sky of Blue and Sea of Green

Day 1, Saturday: “Happy” and “Birthday”

Apparently turning seven is so exciting that it’s impossible to stay quiet until seven a.m., or to stay in bed until six a.m., or even five a.m., and that you have no alternative but to wake your brother, turn on lights and stand right outside your mothers’ bedroom door, conversing in loud whispers with said brother right before five a.m., causing the mother who’s grumpier in the morning (that would be me) to utter the words “inconsiderate” and “unkind,” before “happy” or “birthday” and to threaten consequences if it happens again, but to pull her punches for today because it is your birthday after all.

I sent the kids back to bed, but at six a.m. June was out of bed like a shot and logged onto Club Penguin to see if she’d received a membership for her birthday. There are things only members can do (like adopt more than two puffles, or virtual pets) and now thanks to Grandmom and Pop, she could. She’d adopted four new puffles before I was even out of bed. (I think she has sixteen now.) She didn’t even want to open her non-virtual presents until she’d exhausted her media time for the day, though she did pause to speak to YaYa on the phone and open her gift, a meditation pillow she’d admired for quite some time. I don’t think she intends to meditate on it. She just thinks it’s pretty.

Eventually, June opened her other presents—some clothes, an orange and fuchsia bath towel she wanted, a build-your-own doll bed and dresser kit, and a set of Club Penguin-related gifts from Noah (a stuffed puffle, a puffle zipper pull for her backpack, coins redeemable on the site and a collection of coloring pages he printed for her). June set to work assembling and painting the doll dresser at once while Beth and I packed for the beach, the first leg of our spring break adventure. It was almost 12:30 by the time everyone was packed and Noah had practiced percussion and we could go.

We arrived just before 4:00 at our apartment, a quarter of a big house a half block from the beach. You could see the ocean from the sidewalk in front of the house. Other than boardwalk hotels, it’s the closest we’ve ever stayed to the beach. When Beth saw how excited I was, she laughed and hugged me. “It makes you so happy,” she said.

“It flips a switch in my brain,” I explained.

“To happy,” she said.

We unpacked and then Beth and June hit the grocery store for dinner and breakfast provisions and a birthday cake. Noah stayed at the house and watched golf on television while I went to the beach. The late afternoon light was golden and the sea was a dark blue-gray in the distance and shining silver closer to shore. I’m reading Ulysses for book club and listening to the chapters on audiobook after I read them for reinforcement.  I happened to be up to the “Nausicaa” chapter, which takes place on a beach at twilight, so I thought it would be fun to walk along the beach and listen to it.  I walked along the beach and boardwalk listening. I found a horseshoe crab on its back, legs waving in the air, set it right, and watched it disappear into the sea.

Back at the house, I took a brief but much needed nap and then Noah and I made June’s requested birthday dinner—veggie hot dogs with melted cheese and cherry tomatoes, and mac-and-cheese on the side. We finished the meal with carrot cake topped with candles shaped like individual letters that spelled “happy” and “birthday.”

June had a bath and watched part of The Wild with Noah. (I pretended to forget she was out of media time) and then she went to bed in the top bunk because she wanted it and Noah wanted the bottom, which was a double bed. I was pleased and surprised that this arrangement worked out so peaceably. And then June’s birthday was over. For her anyway, I slipped down to the beach for a chilly nighttime walk under the moon and stars before collapsing into bed at 9:30 and falling asleep almost immediately.

Days 2-3, Sunday and Monday: Stormy Weather

Some spring break beach trips the kids wade in the water bare-legged and eat ice cream on the boardwalk and read or play games on the porch or balcony, and some spring break beach trips we take short, bundled up jaunts to the beach and the porch is a place to keep sandy boots.  Sunday was cold and cloudy and Monday was the type of day for which the phrase “wintry mix” was invented so it was looking more like the second kind of trip.

Everyone took a short walk on the boardwalk Sunday afternoon, which culminated in a visit to Candy Kitchen. June knew she wanted gummy butterflies before we even got there so she had plenty of time to cruise the stuffed animals while her brother hemmed and hawed and finally chose candy necklaces. June fell in love with a baby penguin and wanted it so badly that she wanted to trade her candy for it, but I told her to get the candy because you never know what the Easter Bunny might put in her basket.

Beth, Noah and June did not set foot on the beach during the first three days of our trip. I went several times by myself, for periods ranging from five minutes (in driving sleet with my umbrella repeatedly turning inside out) to an hour in merely chilly conditions.

What we mostly did these two days was hang out in the house. On Monday, we temporarily suspended media limits and there was much playing on Club Penguin and June watched The Wild a second time, and we all watched two episodes of The Carol Burnett Show on dvd.  But we also played Forbidden Island, and read a lot.  Noah and were steadily making our way through the last book in the His Dark Materials trilogy The Amber Spyglass, I started an Agatha Christie mystery, and June worked on a sticker book, dressing up people in international costumes.

In the mid-afternoon June developed a debilitating headache and slept much of the rest of the afternoon. She woke up a couple times, still in pain, and then went back to sleep until the last section of the nap did the trick and she woke recovered around 6:30, and had some of the matzoth ball soup Beth had made and we’d all eaten while June was asleep.

That evening, feeling a bit cooped up after two days in the house, I started researching possible day trips to take once the weather improved.

Days 4-6, Tuesday to Thursday: All Along the Watchtower

The next three days were predicted to be mostly sunny with highs around 50 degrees. We decided to wait a day to let the trails dry out and set Wednesday as the day for a trip to Cape Henlopen State Park. Tuesday morning I spent hours roaming the beach and boardwalk. I walked along the shoreline and clambered on jetties. There’s one in particular I like because the concrete that holds the rocks together has been worn into organic curves and whorls by the tides, making tiny coves and harbors that fill with every wave. The sky was brilliant blue, scattered with puffy white clouds I could see reflected in the silvery wet sand whenever a wave retreated.

Seeking a dry, sunny place to sit I found a pavilion with benches only a little damp and I read three chapters of my mystery, getting up to follow the sun as it moved along the bench. Later I sat in the sand until the cold and damp seeped up through the seat of my jeans, but mostly I walked.

I went home for lunch—the house was empty because Beth had taken the kids to the outlets for school supplies, underwear, socks and sneakers.  I headed to Browse-About  to get a gift certificate for my sister’s birthday. I’d been window-shopping for her without luck for a few days and decided a gift certificate would be a practical gift because she’s coming to Rehoboth in July. I got myself a copy of Emma Donohue’s Room, because I’d been meaning to read it and it was marked down almost 50%. On my way back to the house I called Sara to tell her about the gift certificate (it was her actual birthday that day) and to hear about her long weekend with her new boyfriend. We are not always timely with gifts in my family. In fact, Beth recently told me I was very good about it, “considering your background.” She made it sound as if I’d been raised by wolves, or heroin addicts.

After I talked to Sara, I went back to the house and collected the kids to bring them to the beach. (But first I had to admire June’s new sparkly, bejeweled, flashing sneakers.)  I watched the kids build sand castles for an hour and fifteen minutes. I was glad to see them finally outside and it was more aerobic than you might think because there were many, many intruders who needed chasing away from their castles. June’s castle had an elaborate security system involving but not limited to a ring of seven watchtowers. They wanted me to award them prizes so June won for “best use of shells, pebbles, watchtowers and artificial roses” (she found them on the beach) and Noah won for “best use of a magic rock and best back story.”  I was the only one in boots so I was the designated fetcher and carrier of water. After tempting fate one too many times, my boots filled with icy water and my jeans were soaked and soon caked with sand. Still, we all came home happy.

Noah and I read, we had dinner and Grotto’s and once June was in bed, we capped off the day with another episode of Carol Burnett. (June’s not so interested in these, but Noah really likes them.)

Wednesday morning we visited Cape Henlopen State Park, where we looked at fish and horseshoe crabs in tanks in the Nature Center. June said the crab felt like “a hard washcloth that was wet.” I flipped over another upside down crab, reaching with some difficulty to the very back of the tank to do it while the kids cheered my rescue.  (Apparently saving animals was going to be a theme of the week because there was a bird trapped in the screen porch of the unit next to ours and I had to make a few phone calls to find the right realty so someone could come over and free it.)

We took an interpretive trail through pine forest and along a section of the bay, and back into the woods. Reading the brochure for the trail, I learned a new word: wrack.  It means the line of detritus (shells, seaweed, trash) waves leave on the beach.  It seems useful.  (“You’d never believe the wrack in the living room after that play date.”)

Next we climbed up a concrete World War II observation tower. If you’ve ever gone up a lighthouse, it’s just like that. The towers were used to monitor the coastline for German subs (“German substitute teachers?” Noah joked more than once).  The view from up there was wonderful.  We could see the bay, two lighthouses, and more observation towers. The kids started throwing little chunks of concrete they found inside the tower off the top until I got worried they’d hit someone.  The park was deserted and I couldn’t see anyone, but you never know.

We went to examine the abandoned bunkers and the big guns (not original to the site but genuine). A concrete shed with a rusty door chained shut we’d seen along the trail, the tower that June thought looked haunted, and the eerie, empty barracks all convinced Noah that he wants to come back and shoot a mystery movie in the park. (I’d like to do return as well and explore some more trails.) Finally we climbed up to the battery, which is on top of the largest dune between Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras. It’s eighty feet high and offers a stunning view of the bay.

We were near Lewes, and hungry for lunch so we found an Italian deli with a restaurant attached and had a satisfying meal, complete with Italian pastry, and left laden with olives (which June wanted) and fusilli (which Noah wanted). We made a quick stop at the Crocs outlet, meaning only to get new crocs for me, but somehow we also came out there with a pair of heavily discounted aqua and purple sandals for June.

In the afternoon, I took June to the beach where she made more castles and dug a hole. “Do you think it’s big enough?” she asked.  I asked what she was going to do with it so I could answer.  “Make it pretty,” she said. Of course.  I said it was big enough for that, and she lined the sides with shells and pebbles. Then she climbed on a jetty, choreographed a dance, and made a line of handprints in the sand and pretended they were footprints of a mysterious animal. The outing ended when she unwisely put her hands in a bucket of cold seawater, exclaimed, “My hands are so cold they hurt!” and then she had to go home and take a warm bath.

I’d been rather low in spirits that morning, but spending much of the day outside had done me a lot of good. As I boiled ravioli and made salads for dinner. I sang along with the Beatles, “Every one of us has all we need/Sky of blue and sea of green.”

Thursday was a nice quiet coda to the beach portion of our vacation, or it was for me.  After a breakfast of crepes and bagels at Gallery Espresso, Beth went on some Easter-related errands and I took the kids back to the house. When she returned she took the kids on a series of outings: miniature golf (both kids), playground (June), and tennis courts (both kids).  Our paths crossed when they came home for lunch and I was home doing laundry, so Noah and I finished The Amber Spyglass while Beth and June were at the playground.

Earlier in the day I’d gone out to buy a replacement for the wooden-handled shovel Noah had broken earlier in the week (it belonged to the house) and I had lunch out. I didn’t make it to the beach that day until mid-afternoon, but once there I spent a very satisfying few hours. I read the last five chapters of my mystery on a bench on the boardwalk and I guessed the solution, which I hardly ever do—it involved an evil twin. I wandered far north up the beach, watching an enormous pod of dolphins (there might have been fifty of them) swimming south, and finding four gorgeous conch-type shells stuck to a jetty. I drank a pint of hot take-out lemon mint tea to stay warm, but I still came home chilled, wind-burned, and only a little melancholy that it was our last day at the beach. It’s easier to leave, when there’s more adventure to come, and we were not going home but to New York City, for an overnight visit.

Stayed tuned for more spring break adventures…

Into the Woods

Late Friday afternoon I called Beth at work to find out what kind of toppings she wanted on the pizza I was about to order and we started talking about a problem she was having at work. After a while she said she was leaving it behind and coming home, where she would spend the weekend making a tree-shaped cake and turning the living room into a forest for June’s birthday party.

“It’ll be fun,” I said encouragingly and she agreed.

And it was fun, but also a lot of work, especially for Beth, who hurt her back on Saturday and wasn’t feeling well, but nevertheless soldiered on with decorations and baking.  There was more decorating for this party than any other we’ve done because June’s oft stated goal for the party was for the guests feel “like they’re walking into a forest” on arriving. It sounded like a high bar.

So of course, preparations had begun weeks earlier. At first June said she wanted a fairies party and I thought that would be a nice easy theme, but then she changed her mind to forest. I was initially doubtful, but a quick visit to a party company website made me realize we could mix and match supplies from various party themes to make an eclectic forest party.  June said she wanted it to be a spooky forest, so we found a spider piñata, bats to hang from the ceiling, owl plates and napkins, stuffed owls and owl tattoos for the goody bags, along with frog finger puppets and magic worms.  Do you remember these? They are brightly colored, furry worms with nylon strings attached that allow you to weave them through your fingers. I’m pretty sure they were around in our day, as both Beth and I found their slithery movement evocative when Noah demonstrated their use.

A couple weeks before the party, and after such extensive consultations between June and her friend Megan that I quipped that Megan was the equivalent of June’s maid of honor, the two girls spent part of a play date making paper animals—two foxes, a squirrel, a chipmunk, a moose and a bat—to decorate the living room.  Noah contributed an illustration of a bear, printed out on several pieces of computer paper.

There were two trips to a party supply store, one the weekend before the party for more goody bag favors and decorations, and one the day before the party for balloons.  Over the course of the weekend, we slowly transformed the living room into a forest.  There were strings of butterflies hanging from the ceiling and a line of bats dangling from the beam between the living and dining rooms. Some of our Halloween decorations (the giant spider on its web and the raven) emerged from their boxes in the basement for an unusual late winter holiday.  June took a dark blue blanket and arranged it into a river on the living room carpet, complete with a stuffed frog and turtle.  But the crowning glory was the two trees Beth and the kids made out of cardboard and three different shades of green crepe paper. Finally, June and I waited to see if the cold, cloudy weather on party day would turn to rain but a few hours before the party when it hadn’t, we chalked two hollow trees on the sidewalk leading up to the porch. June’s had an owl perched on a branch and its nest on another branch.

Saturday Beth baked the cake, a lemon cake at June’s request, and Sunday she carved it into a tree shape and frosted it.  It was, as always, a feat of artistry. I told her if not for the children she’d never had realized her gift for cake decorating.

The party was Sunday afternoon, coincidentally Saint Patrick’s Day.  We were having six days before June’s actual birthday because the real date is the first day of spring break and we learned our lesson about planning a party during break when she turned four and half her guests couldn’t come.  (We forgot the other lesson of that party, which was to check for soccer conflicts, so Megan missed the first game of the season in order to come—June’s not playing soccer this spring so it slipped our minds.)  In honor of the holiday, June selected leprechaun hats for all her guests, plus herself and Noah. She handed them out as soon as guests started arriving.

Once everyone had arrived, we split the guests into two groups by having them draw slips of paper from a witch’s hat that either said “Butterfly Joy” or “Flapping Owls.”  The butterflies went to the living room to play a co-operative board game called Birds of Summer and the owls went to the dining room to work on a craft kit called Forest Friends, an early birthday present from me.  (The board game we already had. In fact, I think it was a gift Noah got for his seventh birthday.)

The kids and I had played the game on Friday afternoon so Noah and I, who hadn’t played it in years, could reacquaint ourselves with the rules and so June, who’d never played before, could decide if she liked it well enough to play it at the party.  The object of the game is to build birds’ nests and defend them from predators. Everyone works together and you all win if more nests are saved than lost at the end of the game. Noah ran this game twice, explaining it to each group and patiently helping them with rules and strategy as they played. The first group seemed to enjoy it and did very well; the second group lost interest before they managed to finish but they played most of a game. There was only one nest left in question when the game dissolved.

Meanwhile, over in the dining room I helped the other girls get the forest animal craft started. You punch out the pieces (which make a deer, raccoon, fox, tree, bush, and mushroom) decorate them by number with different colored foam squares and jewel stickers and then fit the pieces together and arrange them into a tableaux.  This activity proved quite popular with both groups. (And one of the guests commented she had the unicorn version at home.) The only disappointment was that I had to keep telling the girls (one in particular) that they could not take the completed pieces home because they’d been working on them together and there was no fair way to assign them.  Also, the kit wasn’t quite finished when they stopped and I knew June would want to finish it and arrange it the whole scene herself.

The next activity was Pin the Legs on the Spider.  Pin the Tail on the Cat had been such a hit at June’s last party this was an obvious choice.  June painted the spider and legs herself a week or so before the party.  Apparently there’s almost nothing as funny as watching your blindfolded friends stumble toward the door or into the birthday girl’s mother while holding out a painted spider leg with tape attached.  Eventually each participant found (or was gently guided to) the target and in the end the spider had legs all over it, though only two coming out of the side of its body at a remotely realistic angle. One was Talia’s, and the other one was Noah’s but his blindfold slipped so he could see what he was doing. He claimed it wasn’t cheating because it fell on its own, but some of June’s guests disagreed (with more laughter than rancor, though).

Next they took turns whacking at a purple spider hanging from the dogwood tree. This was June’s first party at which the piñata was not broken by an adult or an older sibling.  Some time during the second or third round, once there were several promising cracks in it, Goldie took a good whack at it and it split open in a very satisfying way, spilling its booty of candy and little plastics bugs and glow-in-the-dark aliens all over the ground.  No adult help needed. “They’re getting big,” Beth noted, half-sadly.

Next it was inside for cake and ice cream.  We ran out of activities about twenty minutes before the designated end of the party. This was new, too. I’m more used to parents arriving while the kids are still eating cake, or hitting the piñata.  Maybe six and seven year olds take less wrangling to get from one activity to the next than little kids or maybe I just didn’t plan enough, but they seemed to enjoy running around like maniacs in the yard so it all ended well.

Megan was the last guest to leave and she really wanted June to open her presents while she was still there, so she did, finding a stuffed raccoon that makes a squeaking noise, a ribbon on a stick for twirling and a t-shirt with a cat on a bicycle.  When Megan had left June opened the rest of her presents and after a brief intermission in which she finished her poster about England due at school the next day, she spent the rest of the afternoon and evening twirling the ribbon stick, finishing the mosaic animals, coloring a cupcake-shaped purse, playing two rounds of Operation with her brother and mothers, playing with the My Little Pony figures, and testing out the homemade lavender-scented foot pillow.  At bedtime, she was begging to play a round of Crazy Faces (a Crazy Eights type game) but all good things must come to an end, even birthday party days.

Shortly before she got into bed, she reminded us, “Just because my party’s over it doesn’t mean my birthday is over.”  And it’s not. On the first day of spring break she will open her presents from us and from extended family, and then we’ll drive to the beach. I think we’ll get cupcakes from a bakery there to celebrate.  Some time in between, probably Friday, she will take a bag of frog finger puppets and owl tattoos to share with her classmates and they will sing “Happy Birthday” to her in two languages.

In the morning she worked with her new stamp kit to make notes for a couple of her friends and for me and for Beth. Mine says, “YOU ARE MY LOVE,” with two roses below it. Softened, I let her wear her red cloth dress coat to school, even though I have previously tried to reserve it for special occasions. Anyway, I have an inkling that every day between the party and her actual birthday is going to be a special occasion. After all, you only turn seven once.

Equally So

In Sickness and in Health

Eight days before we got married, Beth drove me to an urgent care so we could find out if I had bronchitis.  We’d all been sick with various illnesses since Christmas and we’d had to cancel our annual New Year’s Day get-together with my friend Joyce and her family a few days earlier. We knew Beth’s brother Johnny and his wife Abby had become sick after we’d parted and Johnny’s illness and mine were following a very similar trajectory—bad cough, body aches, fever, chills, night sweats, dizziness and fatigue with seeming recovery followed by a worsening of symptoms.  He’d called the previous evening to let us know he’d been diagnosed with bronchitis.  I had it, too. That was no surprise.

The next day, Friday, June, who was the only one of us not currently at least a little sick, woke with a fever, and said her whole body hurt.  So she stayed home from school and she missed the first basketball practice of the season and the team field trip to watch a high school girls’ basketball game, and then on Saturday she was still sick and missed a gymnastics class, and the second basketball practice of the season.

It was just after New Year’s so it was a short work and school week—Wednesday to Friday—but for us it was even shorter.  I worked less than an hour, and Beth worked from home Thursday and Friday so she could tend to June and me. And all this time, she was pretty sick herself.  (Noah, whose Christmas cold had dwindled to a persistent cough was the healthiest among us and the only one to follow his normal schedule all three days of the abbreviated week.) Independently of each other, both Beth and Noah commented that this was the sickness part of “in sickness and in health.”

One bright spot in the week was that practice started for Honors Band. We’re car-pooling with Sasha’s family and it’s a half-hour drive there and back so the boys will have a chance to connect every week, which is great because they haven’t been at the same school since third grade, but they are still good friends. On Thursday, Noah got home from band practice after his bedtime, with his homework uncompleted, and sure he couldn’t go to sleep because his head was “so full of music.” And there in a nutshell are our worries about Honors Band and the reason we let him do it.

Gradually everyone got better and went back to work and school.  Monday morning I took a walk on slightly wobbly legs. I got winded easily and it seemed as if someone had lengthened all the blocks in the neighborhood while I was sick but it was good to get out of the house because other than the trip to the urgent care, I’d been cooped up inside for a week.

We had a busy week ahead of us. Noah had another Honors Band practice on Tuesday evening and a regular band concert on Thursday. More often than not this week he went to bed without finishing his homework. Wednesday evening I broke a temporary crown on a piece of hazelnut brittle. (I know, I know, I shouldn’t have been eating it or at least not chewing it on that side of my mouth but I’ve had so much drama with that molar this fall and winter I’ve gotten used to my makeshift tooth and I forgot to be careful.) I panicked a bit wondering how I was going to fit a dental appointment into a busy day of work and wedding preparations, but they couldn’t take me until next Tuesday so that took care of that.

Thursday was a pleasant day. I worked a little, rewriting a catalog page for a bone health product, but mostly I did wedding-related chores, I picked up June’s bouquet from the florist, I made playlists of music to play during the ceremony (one without words for during and one with words for eating cake afterward), and I baked the cake. Before I left to get the flowers, another bouquet was delivered from the same florist and it was similar enough to what we ordered (orange and white roses instead of red and white roses) that I was confused about why the flowers were coming to the house until I noticed there was a card from two of Beth’s co-workers and that clarified things.

Cards and checks and presents had been arriving for a few days, but it wasn’t until I smelled the cake baking that it felt as if the wedding was really imminent. The recipe is the one we used for the cake at our commitment ceremony and I’ve been making it on our anniversary eve since then. It’s a spice cake with a lemon glaze.  Both kids commented on the smell when they came home from school. June said, “I remember what that cake tastes like now that I smell it.” And Noah suggested we all have a slice right then and there, but I told him he had to wait.  As often as we’ve eaten that cake, we’ve waited for this particular one a long time, twenty-one years.  There was only one day left to wait.

June and I frosted the cake and I made dinner and around 6:15 we left for Noah’s band concert.  It was a little different from elementary school band concerts—the orchestra and band are smaller and the choir performs with them.  Everyone sounds a little more polished and the concert itself was shorter.  So short I think we may even take June to the spring concert instead of leaving her at home with a sitter. I think she’d probably enjoy it.  On the way home we stopped at the grocery store because I’d decided the cake really did need colored sugar on top after all.

Happy Wedding Day

The wedding was at nine in the morning on Friday.  We got up around seven—June crawled into bed with us saying “Happy Wedding Day!”— so we had two hours to eat breakfast, get dressed and do a little last minute cleaning. We were married by a friend of Beth’s who used to be the Executive Director of Equality Maryland when Beth did volunteer website work there. The ceremony was very simple. Dan gave a speech and then we all spoke in turn about what being part of our family meant to us. After each person spoke, he or she lit a different colored candle. Beth was purple, I was blue, Noah was green, and June was yellow.  Beth gave some family history and I spoke about family traditions.  Noah read two dictionary definitions of the word family: “A group of individuals living under one roof” and “The basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children.” He pointed out we meet both definitions and declared, “We are a perfect example of a family, and equally so before today.”

Then June read her piece: “Being in the family is love, care, generousity and kindness. I always know I am in the family and have alot of love for it.”

Once we all held a lit candle we used them to light a rainbow-striped unity candle. Then we exchanged vows and rings and Dan pronounced us married.  He took pictures of us inside and outside and signed the necessary papers.  We sent him off with a commemorative lollipop with a personalized label with our names and the date and two winter-bare trees growing together.  Then we listened the second playlist, a short selection of songs we’d played at our commitment ceremony and we ate cake and drank juice with heart-shaped ice cubes made from a mold my sister got us for Christmas.

Beth took the kids to school (June first so Noah could make an attempt to finish his math homework—he got about halfway through it I think) and then she worked a little while I curled up with the Odyssey and then hit the exercise bike.  We went out to lunch at Takoma Bistro where Beth had a goat cheese tart and salad and I had a lentil quesadilla and then we spent the rest of the afternoon together.  Both kids were home by 3:30 and June watched television while I read The Fire Chronicle to Noah. Then we left Noah to practice percussion while Beth and I accompanied June to basketball practice. During the first part of practice there was a long time while the girls were shooting baskets and even though there were several moms there with whom I was trying to converse, especially Megan and Kerry, I tried to keep my eyes on June the whole time because last season in all her games and practices June made one basket and I missed it because I was looking away. I didn’t want that to happen again. This time she came close over and over—once the ball bounced off the rim—but it never went through the net.  It will sometime soon, I think.

We came home to find Noah had just started practicing two minutes earlier and he was truly unable to account for the past hour and a half. All he knew was he’d been looking for his music and he’d gone to the bathroom.  We readjusted our plans to go out for pizza because I didn’t want him doing his entire practice after June had gone to bed.  Instead Beth and June went to get pizza to bring home and I stayed with him.  We ate the pizza and Noah eventually finished his percussion.

And so ends our first day of wedded life.  Tomorrow June has gymnastics and another basketball practice. Noah will do homework and practice percussion again. We will go and get our portrait taken in our wedding clothes late in the afternoon, but otherwise it will be an ordinary Saturday for a suburban married couple with kids, because as Noah said, “We are a perfect example of a family, and equally so before today.”

Let’s Say Happy

We are big Halloween decorators and moderate Christmas decorators, but we have no Thanksgiving home décor. June took it upon herself to fill that gap this year. She cut out a paper turkey, colored it with crayons and hung it on our front gate, and taped paper tables and cornucopias to the front door and porch pillars. But her Thanksgiving masterpiece was the banner she painted for the porch. Between two turkeys, it reads, “Happy thanksgiving Happy thanksgiving let’s say Happy.”

“I can’t wait for Thanksgiving,” she kept saying in the days leading up to the holiday. We were going to my mom and stepfather’s house and while the nine people there would not be quite the crowd they had last Christmas (“Occupy Christmas” 12/29/11), it was going to be hopping with Mom and Jim, our family, my sister Sara, my cousin Emily and her son Josiah, who’s June’s age. June enjoys these family gatherings. And Beth’s birthday was the day after Thanksgiving so there was plenty to celebrate.

We arrived at Mom and Jim’s house around noon on Thanksgiving, after a three-hour drive. Emily and Josiah came shortly after we did and we took the three kids, who had all spent the morning cooped up either in a car or a train, for a walk down to the creek. They ran around and hung from exposed tree roots at the creek’s edge and clambered on the big rocks. Soon it turned into a game that had something to do with a battle between the Mongolian and New Hampshire armies (June’s been on a Mulan kick recently, which accounts for the first army). Then Noah decided he wanted to script and film the story and Josiah, who is sometimes camera-shy, didn’t want to be filmed, and drifted away to climb some rocks.  As we were leaving, Noah was making plans to return with multiple cameras to film a leaf floating down the creek from different angles. It was supposed to illustrate the king’s speech about not sinking into hardship like a stone but floating over it, like a stick or a leaf.

Back at the house, I showed the kids how to make turkey centerpieces for the kids’ table out of apples, toothpicks, raisins, and green olives. Josiah chose to put just a few raisins on each tail feather, for a spare, minimalist look that let the different colors of the toothpicks show, while Noah packed his raisins on densely and placed the toothpicks very close together to create a solid fan of raisins. June’s design was somewhere in the middle.

Shortly before dinner, June seemed to be flagging. We thought it might be the excitement of the day plus the Dramamine she’d taken for the car ride, but after taking only a few bites of Mom’s delicious stuffing, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and cranberry sauce, she said she didn’t feel well and wanted to go to bed. Between 5:30 and 7:30 we put her to bed three times because she would decide she felt better, get up, eat a little, feel worse and go back to bed. When it was time for desert she declared that because she’d been sick she was only going to have one dessert and not two.  (There was pumpkin pie and apple-cranberry crisp.)   She ended up eating her whole dinner and dessert and going to bed for the last time only a little before her normal bed time. She did feel warm so we gave her some Tylenol and hoped for the best.

She did seem to get a good night’s sleep, but when she woke shortly before 7:00, she was still ill, worse in fact, and she threw up almost right away. She was lethargic and feverish all morning, though she was finished throwing up by 8:00 a.m. I stayed in bed with her most of the morning, reading to her or reading my own magazine (Brain, Child) while she slept. Beth had been planning to go picket at Wal-Mart to show support for the strikers. She was unsure if she should go with June sick, but I told her to go ahead because it was important to her and there were plenty of adults in the house if I needed back up (and in fact I did call Emily to come sit with June after I cleaned up from the final vomiting incident).

Beth returned late in the morning, by which point June was somewhat improved. I’d finally gotten some more Tylenol into her (she’d been too sick to keep in down earlier in the morning) and she’d stopped sobbing from the pain of her headache.

Beth and Noah took a walk to CVS to get more Tylenol for June and then he accompanied Beth on a birthday lunch at the Regency Café.  (She and I had been thinking of going out together but we didn’t want to leave June without either mother so Noah pinch-hit for me.)  By 1:00 pm., June wanted to get up, get dressed and eat something.  I made her a piece of toast. She only ate half of it, but it seemed to perk her up considerably. She wanted to play with Josiah, who had been sad to be shooed away from her sick room earlier in the day, but he was on the verge of leaving with Mom, Sara and Emily to visit a museum of medical oddities.  I think June would have been game to go, too, if we’d let her, but it was just too soon to chance it, everyone agreed.

Instead, Beth, Noah and I took her back to the creek to finish filming their movie. It was a lovely day, sunny and warm. We shuffled through the yellow and brown leaves on the ground and admired the tiny, lacy red leaves still on the Japanese maples. Even Noah, who is often so in his own head he fails to notice his surroundings, had commented on these leaves the day before.

We had pizza for dinner and an ice cream cake from Cold Stone. I’d ordered it about a week before and then called to change the flavor when Beth saw the Holly Jolly Peppermint Cake advertised in the Sunday circulars the weekend before her birthday and said it looked good. When Mom and Sara were a half hour late coming back with the cake, I told myself they were probably just stuck in Black Friday traffic but I was secretly worried something had gone wrong with the cake. Things often seem to go wrong around Beth’s birthday, a gallbladder attack and a family lice infestation, being two of the more notable examples (“Giving Thanks: Food, Water, and Love” 11/23/07 & “A Lousy Birthday” 11/23/11.)

Nothing was wrong with the cake. It was delicious—red velvet cake layers alternating with dark chocolate peppermint ice cream topped with chocolate ganache and crushed candy canes and holly leaves made of chocolate. Beth seemed pleased with her gifts—a box of pastries from Zingerman’s, a box of Godiva chocolates, a DVD of episodes of the Carol Burnett Show (a childhood favorite of hers) and several books. And she really loved the cake.

June asked to go to bed early again. She felt slightly warm but by the next morning she’d made a complete recovery. One thing Beth wanted to do on her birthday that we didn’t get to do because of June’s illness, was to go to the Tyler Arboretum, which we’d visited two years earlier  (“Everything We Have” 11/29/10).  It’s full of tree houses and whimsical cabins on the ground and play spaces made of natural materials (like logs and tree stumps) and less natural big fiberglass frogs.  On Saturday morning we headed out there with Emily and Josiah. It was much colder than the day before but we still had fun wandering down the paths, finding the tree houses and climbing up into them. There was a cabin built to the exact dimensions of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond with a bookcase filled with children’s books.  Josiah’s favorite was a tree full of wind chimes that also had a circular bench around it and ropes you could pull to ring cowbells. Let’s just say that melodious tree got a lot noisier when our party arrived and started pulling on those ropes.

We didn’t see all the tree houses—not even in two visits have we seen them all—but it was cold and everyone was getting hungry for lunch, so we left a little before noon.

Emily and Josiah left for New York that afternoon and the visit started to wind down from there.  Sara and I went out for coffee, Noah started working on long-delayed homework, and we had a spaghetti dinner with leftover birthday cake and apple-cranberry crisp.  After June went to bed we watched a documentary about Machu Picchu, which Mom and Jim will visit this winter, fulfilling a long-time dream of my mother’s.

But before June went to bed, we played a round of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Cat.  (Mom and June made the cat and the tails earlier in the day.)  Then Mom had everyone go around and say what our favorite parts of the weekend had been.  A lot of people said the tree houses. Thanksgiving dinner and Beth’s birthday celebration were also mentioned.

When I was getting June ready for bed she wanted to hear the flip side. What was the worst part of the weekend? Her getting sick, of course, but I told her I was also sad about Mom and Jim moving to Oregon in January (they finally sold their house) and it being our last holiday in the house where they’ve lived the past twenty years. The kids and I may come for a couple days after Christmas, but we’re spending Christmas in Wheeling and even if we weren’t, Mom and Jim would be too busy packing to host another holiday. Mom is in fact very stressed about everything she has to do between now and mid-January when they close on the house, so Sara may be coming out after New Year’s to help them wrap up the loose ends.

On the drive home from the arboretum, I was struck by how perfectly the Philadelphia suburbs resemble themselves, all those gray stone walls and houses, those winding little creeks, that autumnal sky spitting little flurries of snow. I’d lived in four states by the time I was five and a half years old, and though we stuck to the Philadelphia area after that, we still moved around a lot, albeit in a smaller radius.  I used to say because of those frequent moves that I wasn’t really from anywhere.  But once I was an adult and I settled into another place, first in and then near the city where I’ve lived for over twenty years, I finally knew that even though I’ve lived in the Washington metropolitan area the longest, I am not from Washington, I have roots elsewhere.  It’s making me sad at the moment, because I won’t have much reason to visit Philadelphia any more, but Beth did point out to me that I am not exiled from it.  And having roots is good thing, a grounding thing.

So, let’s say happy.

Silver and Gold

A few days before the twenty-fifth anniversary of our first date I told Beth, “I made a horrible mistake with your presents.”

“Did you get someone else’s name engraved on them?” Beth asked.

“Not that bad,” I admitted.

It was at the bookstore in Rehoboth where I was looking for an anniversary card that I realized my mistake.  I’d picked gifts on a gold theme—a gold West Virginia University t-shirt, yellow or golden foods from a gourmet catalog (virgin olive oil, sun-dried garlic spread, artisan cheddar cheese, dulce de leche sauce, and tupelo honey).  Then I made a play list called “25 Songs for 25 Years.”  The last three songs had the word “gold” or “golden” in the titles.  I was about to pluck the card with the golden Buddha off the rack, thinking it was the perfect card to tie everything together, when I saw another card below it with the word “LOVE” in silver letters and I remembered… twenty-five isn’t the golden anniversary, that’s fifty.  Twenty-five is silver.  I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach but except for the play list, it was too late to change anything.  Everything was ordered and we were getting home from the beach the day before our anniversary.

The gifts weren’t bad in themselves. Beth is a loyal West Virginian and also a big fan of good olive oil, cheese and garlic.  If I’d made selections without regard to color, however, there would have been some chocolate among the sweets.  The tupelo honey was a sentimental pick because early in our relationship, I left a cassette tape of Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey on the dashboard of a hot car and it warped. Beth unscrewed it to extract the loop of tape and enclosed it in a new case.  The tape played as good as new and it was around then I started to think she might be a keeper.

So I put “Tupelo Honey” (along with “I Love You More than Cheese”– a song from one of the kids’ CDs) on the play list.  When we got home from the beach I edited the gold songs out of the play list. I’d hoped to replace them with at least one song with silver in the title, but I all I could find in our music library was Christmas music (“Silver Bells, “Silver and Gold,” etc.) plus a song that was too downbeat to include, so I abandoned the silver theme all together.  I felt bad about the whole mix-up as I’ve been giving anniversary gifts based on the traditional materials every since our fourth anniversary when I did years one to four all together and then proposed. If you know me, you know I do like ceremony and tradition.

Beth praised me for being flexible and not sending everything back, but I have not actually let go as much as she thinks I have. I’m thinking of shifting the whole time line four and a half years forward and having a silver do-over on the twenty-fifth anniversary of our commitment ceremony.  They are supposed to be wedding anniversary presents anyway. I kind of jumped the gun when I got started. Meanwhile, I wrote on the card she should consider these presents a down payment on her fiftieth anniversary presents.

Interestingly, though I’m usually the one giving traditional anniversary gifts, Beth had considered getting me something made of silver.  But as neither of us is much for jewelry or expensive decorative items, she abandoned the idea.  (I’d gone through a similar thought process with gold before buying the gifts I did.) Instead she got me a very cool photograph that has been transferred to paint and canvas.  It’s of the Rehoboth boardwalk covered in snow. There’s a single woman with an umbrella walking toward the beach.  She said it reminded her of me, heading to the beach in all conditions. Except for spots of dark blue and orange in the woman’s clothes, her umbrella and the iconic Dolles candy store sign, the image is all whites and silvery grays and blue-grays— the snow, the overcast sky, the roofs and trim on the buildings. The frame is gray, too.

We had no particular plans for the day, other than exchanging gifts and the usual post-vacation laundry, grocery shopping, etc. The timing of the anniversary, coming right after a trip, was less than ideal.  We’d considered going away for a weekend later in the summer or even the fall, but plans never got off the ground.  Then I remembered that blueberry season was close to over and we had not gone berry picking yet this summer. I ran the idea past Beth and we decided it could be a fun family outing.

So that afternoon after a lunch consisting largely of farmers’ market produce, including my first really perfect peach of the summer, we headed out for the blueberry and blackberry fields at Butler’s Orchard (http://www.butlersorchard.com/).  The web site warned of “sparse” blueberries, but we found all we needed and they were perfectly ripe—big, powdery blue and tasty. The blackberries were big, too, and dark, and sweet-tart and juicy.  It was nice to be outside, even on a hot day. We went to the flower field and cut fresh flowers for two bouquets (each of the children made one) and we stopped by the farm store for cookies, caramel corn, pasta and strawberry-lemonade slushies.

That evening, Beth made barbequed tofu and fried okra for dinner, which Noah proclaimed “iconic and exemplary.”  June thought we ought to have an anniversary party so we played Sleeping Queens on the porch while a light rain fell. It was a nice end to a very pleasant summer day.

Neither of the kids had camp the week that followed, so I kept them busy with chores.  June helped me clean some grimy fans so we could put them in the kitchen and study windows and she picked up toys. Noah vacuumed and weeded.  I worked in the garden pulling up the first tomato plant to succumb to early blight and pruning the rest, and transplanting broccoli seedlings from pots into the garden.  Both kids worked on their summer math packets (June finished hers and Noah has only a page left of his).  June had three play dates and Noah had a drum lesson.  I took June to story time at the Co-op and both kids to the library where June participated in Spanish Circle time and we checked out a huge pile of books.  I worked two afternoons while a babysitter watched the kids.

This morning we took a creek walk and in addition to the usual water bugs and little fish, we saw a small painted turtle, a young buck deer and a raccoon print in the mud.  The kids were in their bathing suits and there were pools big enough for them to swim so we paused often along the way.  I sat on rocks and logs watching them and soaking my feet in the water.

This afternoon I got some really strange news. Someone from a new reality television show found my blog and tracked down Beth, calling her at work to ask if we’d like to be featured.  I think the last thing either of us would want is someone following us around with cameras all the time, but it’s nice someone thought we were interesting enough to be on television.  Twenty-five years into this romance, we’ve had our ups and downs but we’ve made a life, not a perfect life but a good one.  I hope there’s another twenty-five years, and that when that anniversary rolls around, I get the presents right.

45, or Where We Are Now

Friday: The Birthday

The night before my birthday Beth said, “Tomorrow you’ll be as old as me.” I disagreed, saying I was always five and a half months younger.  “How old am I?” she said, and then answered herself, “Forty-five.  How old are you now? Forty-four.  How old will you be tomorrow? Forty-five. Same age.”

It reminded me of the month and a half between my sister’s birthday and mine when she used to insist we were only three years apart instead of four.  She’d even go so far as to introduce us to new people putting stress on our ages.  “I’m ten,” she’d say, “And she’s thirteen.” I would itch to correct her but stay silent for fear of sounding petty by adding “almost fourteen.”

Now I’m long past wanting credit for being almost any age.  But I don’t mind forty-five too much.  It’s where I am now and it’s not a bad place.

Last year thanks to a fortuitously timed play date I had six hours to myself on my birthday (“More Than Cheese” 5/12/11).  I can remember how luxurious that felt and I marvel it was only a year ago because now I have six hours and forty minutes to myself five days a week. It fills up faster than I would have imagined a year ago, even though I only work about half that time. I exercise more, clean more and read more than I did back then. (And I spend more time on Facebook.) When June asked me recently if I’m sad while she’s at school because I am all alone, I said, no because I know she’s coming home soon. And it’s true, I am not sad. It was very easy to get used to this schedule and even to take it for granted.  Summer will be kicking that complacency out of me soon enough, but I’m trying not to think about that.

To make my birthday stand out this year, I decided I would front-load my work this week and finish by Thursday. I opened presents before everyone left for school and work—bath salts from June and from Beth and Noah the exact three books I wanted: Are You My Mother?, Pym and The Wind in the Keyhole.

Beth and I had a lunch date so I left for her office around 10:50.  I arrived early so I had time to get a latte and read Les Misérables at Firehook bakery. I am this close (twenty-three pages!) to finishing this twelve hundred plus page behemoth I started back in February and just in time as the book club meeting by which I need to complete it is on Wednesday. Lunch was Thai.  We often go out for Thai around Noah’s birthday because it was the last meal I ate before I gave birth to him, but this year we were too busy and he’s decided he doesn’t like Thai food anymore so we didn’t go.  Just thinking about it had put me in the mood for Thai iced tea, though, so I decided I’d make that my birthday lunch.  Beth and I had a pleasant meal. We talked about the kids and politics.  President Obama certainly gave us a nice topic of conversation when he came out in support of gay marriage the other day.

On the way back to the Metro we discussed our frustrations involving Mother’s Day shopping with Noah. We were having the exact same experience.  He was rejecting all suggestions proffered by one mother for the other, but coming up with no ideas of his own. June’s more likely to have a wealth of ideas, many of them completely inappropriate, but that’s an easier situation to manage, we agreed.

Back at home I rode the exercise bike and read more Les Misérables before the kids got home.  At dinnertime we all met up at Roscoe’s and we had a plate of marinated olives and two kinds of pizza (funghi and margherita) on the patio. While we were eating we saw one of June’s basketball teammates and a former preschool classmate, either stroll by the restaurant or come in to eat with their folks. Then on the bus home, we chatted with a dad I know from June’s bus stop. That’s the kind of town Takoma Park is.  At home we had the chocolate cake with fresh strawberry frosting Beth had made at my request and my birthday celebration was over.  But Mother’s day was yet to come.

Saturday and Sunday: Mother’s Day Weekend

As of Saturday at 2:45 p.m, the children’s Mother’s Day shopping was only 25% complete. June, with Beth’s help, had selected a Mother’s Day present for me and that was it.  I got on a bus with both kids and headed for the little cluster of shops that makes up downtown Takoma.  We went into Now and Then first and got to work.  I kept suggesting soap to both kids because I knew we’d use it and they even had heart-shaped soap, which I thought June would like, but she was drawn to large, decorative objects, just what we don’t need in our small, cluttered house.  (Later Beth and I discovered she tried to get me to buy some of the exact same things for Beth that Beth had refused to buy for me.) I almost consented to the large, expensive metal flower on a pole for the garden, but only if the kids would agree to go in on it, and Noah had no interest. Finally, June honed in on some brightly colored ceramic dipping bowls in the shapes of different fruits and vegetables.  I agreed she could get two and suggested the eggplant, since Beth loves eggplant, but June wanted the strawberry and the pumpkin so we bought those, along with a mug that read “You Rock” (Noah’s choice for Beth—“because she does”) and a card.

Then June and I left Noah in the store with a twenty-dollar bill I was lending him to buy my gift and June and I went to wait for him at Takoma Bistro, where we got coffee, juice and a fruit tart. In less time than I thought it would take, Noah was back, quite pleased with himself for having shopped alone, and wanting to know if he could use the change to buy himself a pastry.  He got a chocolate diamond, and soon we were back at the bus stop. I was so happy to have the shopping successfully completed, that I didn’t even mind much when June dropped the bag and broke the strawberry bowl and we had to go back and get a new one.  We didn’t even miss our bus.

Mother’s Day did not turn out as expected, however.  The plan was for Beth to grocery shop in the morning while I cleaned house and then for us all to do something together outside, maybe take a walk along a trail or something.  But I woke up Sunday morning feeling dizzy and sick to my stomach and spent most of the day in bed. And that’s where we opened presents.  June’s gift to me was a cookbook of bean recipes and Noah got me the eggplant dipping bowl and soap I’d been urging the kids to buy for Beth.

In the afternoon Beth took the kids to Wheaton Regional Park while I stayed home and slept and read.  Over the course of the day I read three Washington Post magazines that had been accumulating on my bedside table and almost half of Are You My Mother?  So, the day was not completely unpleasant, though I was sorry to miss the outing, which had been my idea in the first place.  Beth and the kids had a picnic dinner of hotdogs, potato salad, broccoli slaw and corn on the cob in the backyard.  I ate some watermelon in bed as an experiment and then came out to join them and ate a little potato salad.

At one point in the early afternoon, noting how any strong smell was upsetting my stomach, I told Beth it felt a little like morning sickness.  “Well, it had better not be,” she said,  “Or we’d have a situation.”

Several situations, I corrected.  I suppose the absence of pregnancy scares in one’s mid-forties is one of the benefits of lesbianism.  As much as I treasure the memories of pregnancy and my kids’ infant and toddler years, it’s not an experience I want to repeat at this point in my life. I like where we are now, with both kids in school and increasingly independent.  June is reading well enough that I often find myself wondering what she’s up to and then I go find her with her nose in a book, often a chapter book. And starting next week, Noah is going to take on a new chore. He will be cooking dinner, or helping me cook on Saturdays. Seeing them grow into these older, capable kids is a treat that I get to experience every day and that can’t be lost by being sick on the second Sunday in May.

Up to Eleven

Nigel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty: I don’t know.

Nigel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

From This is Spinal Tap

Wednesday and Thursday: Up to Eleven

The last night Noah was ten years old, we were busy with birthday preparations.  June had wanted to get him a book for his birthday and an attempt to find a suitable one at a local toy store earlier in the week had failed, so we needed to make an online purchase. I’d been dithering and hadn’t bought anything but the immediacy of the deadline focused my mind. I picked three titles and slightly after June’s bedtime she crawled into my lap as I sat at the computer and I showed her pictures of the covers and gave her a brief summary of each one.  “I’m going to stay up?” she said at first, and then, “I can’t believe you’re telling me about scary, big-kid books.” She was delighted, as if I was letting her in on a big secret by telling her that Something Upstairs is “about a boy who makes friends with a ghost.” That was the book she picked, incidentally.  So I printed out an image of the cover for her to give him in the morning and we were set.

Beth and Noah were making a batch of homemade chocolate chip ice cream for his party on Saturday—our ice cream maker produces fairly small batches and Noah wanted three so they were getting an early start.  They’d already made frosting for his school party the night before. (Noah and a classmate who shares his birthday had hatched a plan for her to bring in cookies and him to bring in frosting and have a frost-your-own-cookie party at school.) Beth helped Noah with his math while the ice cream churned. After he went to bed, I finished wrapping presents and listened to him toss and turn for longer than usual. It’s hard to fall asleep when you’re teetering on the verge of eleven.

Meanwhile, Beth retreated to the basement where she set to work assembling his drum set, his big present.  The drums are second-hand and when Beth got them out of the boxes she discovered several components were missing—the cymbals, the bass drum foot pedal and the snare drum stand.  The previous drummer had cut a hole in the drumhead of the bass drum and adorned it with stickers including one of a scantily clad woman posing with a gas pump nozzle.  Still, it was a real drum kit. I thought he’d like it.

We had Noah open his presents that morning before school.  He got two games from Grandmom and Pop, two t-shirts (the numeral eleven shirt and one from my sister with the symbol for pi, made up of the numerals of pi), a pair of summer pajamas, and a half a dozen books (including June’s promise of a book to come).  He wanted to linger, reading the backs of books, inspecting the numbers of the pi shirt, but Beth was concerned about getting out the door on time and she kept saying, “Next present!” and handing them to June to give to him.  When the presents were all unwrapped Beth said she thought there was something else she’d left in the basement, and we all trooped down there.  She pulled the old bed sheets off the drums and for a moment all Noah could say was “Whoa! Whoa!”

June hopped up on the stool, or “throne” as it’s called, and started to play the drums with her hands like bongo drums while Beth explained how she was writing to the store to see what had become of the missing parts and told him we could get the drumhead replaced unless he liked the sound of the cut one (some drummers do cut them intentionally, which is no doubt what happened to this one). Beth told June to give Noah a turn on his own drums and he ran upstairs to get his sticks and then started to play the drums, looking quite serious as he did so.

As it turned out, Beth and Noah didn’t have time to walk to his bus stop so they were waiting to catch a Ride-On when I came back from June’s bus stop. “Do you have the frosting?” I asked and he dashed back into the house.

That afternoon Noah considered practicing on the new drums but decided the missing snare drum stand would not allow him to practice his snare part for the upcoming band concert well enough so he used his old set-up in the study instead.  He brought the throne upstairs to sit on, though.

He didn’t have much homework, so after he finished it and practiced percussion, he had time to experiment with dying baking soda red before dinner.  Why did he need red baking soda, you might ask?  Noah had another mystery party, his third consecutive one.  He keeps doing it over and over again because although his guests have fun and he seems to be having fun as well, when the parties are over he always stews about how it didn’t go precisely as he planned so he keeps trying to get it exactly right.

This year he decided on several key changes.  He would have a smaller guest list—just four boys— and he’d assign them characters instead of having it be more of a free-for-all scavenger hunt.  He had two detectives, a cartographer and a villain.  Sasha was the villain, and as such, Noah thought he ought to help devise the story and the clues, so last weekend he invited him over to work on it.  While Sasha was uncharacteristically hesitant and deferential (I think he was unsure what Noah wanted from him), I see his influence.  Noah has stuck to theft as the crime in his mysteries to date, but this one’s a murder mystery.  The red powder was for a trail of bloody flour to be left on the sidewalk. (The murder victims were all bakers.)

I made Noah a birthday dinner of egg noodles with broccoli, carrots, butter and Parmesan cheese.  Afterward we had fancy pastries from Takoma Bistro since there wouldn’t be cake until his party. Noah chose the chocolate Napoleon of the four pastries I’d selected while the kids were at school. Beth brought YaYa’s present home from work, where it had been shipped.  It’s a Perplexus ball, a 3-D marble maze enclosed in a clear plastic sphere.

After June was in bed, Beth and Noah worked on another batch of ice cream for the party, and experimented with audio effects for the party. In between Beth talked to someone from the music store about getting the missing pieces of the kit shipped to us and Noah did a math worksheet he thought he’d left at school and discovered fifteen minutes before bedtime. And then he climbed into bed, wearing his “Rock Legend” pajamas ten minutes after bedtime on his first night as an eleven year old.

“Did you have a good birthday?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said earnestly, but then he added that it didn’t have the same “jibe” as it used to, though.  “Probably because I’ve done it ten times before.”  So I said a fond goodnight to my jaded tween and left his bedroom.

Saturday and Sunday: That Extra Push off the Cliff

The party was not until five in the afternoon because we needed to accommodate a baseball game and weekend full of Boy Scout activities for all his guests to be able to attend.  This gave us plenty of time to clean the house and work on party preparations.  I cleaned the dining room, living room, and study and swept and mopped the front porch and mowed part of the lawn. Noah vacuumed and helped me move the porch furniture onto the lawn in preparation for cleaning the porch floor.  Beth cleaned the bathroom, took June to Kung Fu and the library, ran errands (many of them party-related) and made the cake.  It was simple, as Noah’s birthday cakes go, a rectangular cake with white frosting, decorative black stripes down the sides and thirteen red dots on top, meant to evoke drops of blood. (There were thirteen murder victims—a baker’s dozen, get it?)

Noah kept saying he didn’t feel very stressed about the party.  A little more stress earlier in the day might not have been a bad thing because at 4:55 he was completely unprepared.  He’d staggered the guests’ arrival times so he could have time to give them individual instructions, but when the twins arrived, he wasn’t ready for them and they had to play by themselves in the yard and wait for him. When Elias got there Noah had only just started to brief one twin and the other was still waiting.  Fortunately, Sasha didn’t need any instructions as he’d written most of the clues and knew what was going on.  He was sent to wait in the bathroom to be found.  It’s a good thing Beth cleaned it because the party unfolded largely outside and that was the only room where anyone spent any time. In fact, Sasha spent a good deal of the party waiting in the bathroom. I felt sorry for him, but he had co-written the clues that were giving everyone so much trouble, and Noah keeps a lot of books and magazines in there and there were even burning candles for atmosphere, so I hope it wasn’t too boring for him.  At any rate, he didn’t complain.  He’s a good friend.

Outside, thing were not unfolding as seamlessly as Noah had hoped.  At his two previous mystery parties, there had been problems locating the clues—they went missing, or were discovered out of order or by the wrong team one year when there were teams.  Noah managed to avoid that kind of logistical problem this year. He’d even done a dry run with Beth on Friday evening to help everything proceed smoothly.  This year the problem seemed to be that the guests couldn’t figure out the clues. And once they got discouraged, only David was really giving it his all.  Richard was more interested in playing the slingshot he’d been issued and spraying Noah with the garden hose. Noah was visibly frustrated and not as polite as he could have been. He gave them hints that helped move the search along, but he wasn’t gracious about it and a on a few occasions he berated his guests. I think being flustered and rushed at the beginning of the party made it hard for him to keep his composure. He’d also scraped his knee and shin badly when he fell down on the sidewalk right before the party and he was in too much of rush to let me clean it.

Finally, and with a good deal of help, the detectives found the murderer, and the party improved from there. Over pizza and cake and ice cream, Noah and Sasha squabbled, in a good-natured way, over whose fault the difficult clues were (Noah had added some false leads without Sasha knowing it).  The other guests pitched in with suggestions for next year, implying that they expect him to throw a mystery party again and that they intend to come to it, so clearly wasn’t a complete disaster.  When the boys were finished eating some of them started playing baseball with a plastic bat and an inflatable Tinkerbell ball, and some of them played a game on Beth’s iPad until their parents came for them.

After the party, Noah opened his presents—a Titanic-themed Wii game, a set of night goggles, a hatch-your-own alien kit, and Lego model of the Eiffel Tower.  We discussed whether it was time to start celebrating his birthdays in a different way—a movie or dinner with a close friend or two perhaps?  We almost took this direction this year, but in the end he’d wanted another shot at the mystery party.

This morning, still thinking about next year, he admitted he wanted to let go of the mystery idea, but he couldn’t seem to do it. I told him how mysteries are inherently chaotic, how many real crimes go unsolved and others are solved only through coincidence and dumb luck.  The only really controlled mystery is a mystery story because the author is in control, I said.  And then I suggested he write a mystery story over the summer if he wanted to have that experience.  June piped up that they should do it together and now, so before breakfast they wrote a page of their mystery story. I don’t know if needing to compromise with a co-author will present him with the same challenges he’s been facing with improvisational actors, but so far it seems to be going well.  I hope it helps him move through this, because there are good ways to go over the cliff, and not so good ones.