There’s Always a Wave

Saturday to Wednesday: We Relax (and Kind of Lose Track of What Happened When)

Noah and I were walking along the beach near the waterline on Tuesday, the third day of our spring break trip to Rehoboth. It was a chilly, overcast, drizzly day and I was wearing rubber boots but his feet grow too quickly for us to keep him in rain boots so said feet, only inches from the forty-odd degree water, were encased only in sweat socks and crocs.  (Any idea where this is heading?)

Actually it’s not just his feet—all of him is growing quickly, as adolescent boys will. He’s been taller than me since Thanksgiving and he will be taller than Beth soon. Earlier that day I’d taken him to Café A Go-Go for a strawberry-banana Jumex and a slice of coconut cake and the proprietor, who has watched Noah grow up from a preschooler, said, “I saw him last summer and he wasn’t like that.” She wanted to know how old he was and on hearing he’s almost thirteen, she said, “I don’t know how that happens,” shaking her head slightly as if she disapproved of children turning into teenagers. I said it might be because I kept feeding him.

On the beach, Noah started walking backwards and the wind blew his shaggy hair back from his face. “Tell me if there’s a wave,” he requested.

“There’s always a wave,” I said. And soon there was one and I didn’t warn him quickly enough and his feet were underwater.

“Nothing to fear now,” he said, and strode into the water up to his knees, not even bothering to roll up his pants.  June had been wading in the water earlier but in bare feet and with her pants hiked up, on Sunday and Monday, the two warmest days we had, in her bathing suit.

The week started out sunny and warm and then changed over to rainy and then sunny again, but now chilly and quite windy.  On Tuesday night there was freezing rain and we woke the next morning to frost and ice on the grass and rooftops. My Facebook posts started to take the form of weather reports:

Monday: Steph knows you might not immediately believe her if she says it was a beautiful day at the beach today because she’s never been to the beach when it wasn’t a beautiful day, but honestly it was the kind of day you might think was a beautiful day–low seventies, big waves glinting the sunlight–and Steph does prefer that to mid-thirties and sleeting (as it was last spring break).

Tuesday: Steph had fewer companions on the beach this rainy day, but they included both of her children, a half dozen surfers, and a few dolphins.

Wednesday: Steph, over the course of the past 23 years, has been on the Rehoboth boardwalk at all times of the day and night, in all seasons, and all kinds of weather and has very rarely been alone there, but this morning at 8:20, she and June had its sunny, sparkly, ice-slicked boards to themselves. (By 9, it was full of puddles and people.)

The first several days of our stay, we had no ambitious agenda. Noah was tired and burned out from a challenging school year. Although his workload did decrease after IDRP and National History Day, his energy never rebounded and his processing speed issues have seemed worse recently even with less homework to do. With luck, a restful break will help him recuperate. Relaxing at the house and taking short trips to the beach seemed to be what he needed and the rest of us were happy enough to do the same, as long as there were enough outings to keep June busy. (She also kept herself busy. After a trip to play mini-golf, she created her own course on the front porch and then organized an awards ceremony, based on our performance.)

Noah did have some long-term projects for school he could have worked on over break but he didn’t want to, and we decided he needed a break more than anything, so other some minimal homework he completed during the first few days (never working more than two hours a day) and studying the capital cities of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean most days for fifteen minutes or less, he had the week off.  And Beth, who often takes working vacations, also worked very little, just one morning plus a couple of calls.

It turns out what Noah does when he’s not working is spend a lot of time in his room, which we dubbed the “boy cave,” with the shades drawn, reading, playing games or watching videos or listening to podcasts on various electronic devices. Beth read a lot, too, took a couple solo bike rides, and got a massage. She also took one or both of the kids to the arcade and to play mini-golf twice. (June won a set of jacks at the arcade and so I played jacks for the first time since my younger sister was around June’s age and we used to play together, back in the late seventies.)

When he wasn’t holed up in his room, Noah played Crazy Eights, Roundabouts, and Battleship with June (the last one electronically on separate devices in different rooms, because why play a game with your sister face to face when you could do it in adjacent rooms?) He and June filmed a sequel to June Bird Discovery, a faux nature documentary they made two years ago. June plays the bird; Noah is the narrator.

Noah and I finished The Martian Chronicles and started And Then There Were None. I also read part of How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse to June and on the rare occasion both kids felt like being read to at the same time, we read from High Wire, book 5 in the Edgar and Ellen series. We all watched the first Harry Potter movie over the course of two or three evenings and after June was in bed, we watched an episode from our DVD of The Carol Burnett Show, which Noah enjoys more than June does.

I got to spend a lot of one-on-one time with each kid, taking them to Candy Kitchen, the beach or one rainy day on shopping trips for Mother’s Day gifts for my mother and Beth, and for June’s birthday present for Noah.

We ate out a lot, at least one meal each day and sometimes more. I think we were indulging Noah, who likes to eat out, or maybe we were just trying to make sure he left the house occasionally.

Of course, I went to the beach at least a couple times a day, with and without the kids. June and I bought new sand toys on our first morning at the boardwalk 5 & 10 and made sand castles, collected seashells, and waded in the frigid water. I buried her in the sand multiple times at her request. Also on the first day, I took Noah to Browse-About and we each bought new books, which we took to the beach and read side by side. I took beach walks with both kids and by myself. Once I saw a strange bird—duck-shaped but perhaps a bit bigger, black with a bright orange beak. It was floating on the waves and diving under them and bobbing back into sight. My friend Heidi says it might have been a double-crested cormorant. June and I also saw a few dolphins, one quite close, and at least half out of the water.

Other than eating out and going to the beach, I spent a lot of time buying books at Browse-About. I got The Crying of Lot 49, which we’re reading at book club next month, The Book Thief and Divergent, because I’ve been wanting to read them. I bought The Kill Order (from the Maze Runner series) for Noah as an early birthday present, and if you are one of the people whom I mentioned shopping for, it’s possible you might be receiving a book.  But not all of you will. See how I keep the suspense alive?  All in all, I bought ten books in four trips. It’s so nice being in a town with a brick-and-mortar bookstore, as there hasn’t been one in Takoma for about fifteen years and the Borders in Silver Spring closed a few years ago as well—I couldn’t restrain myself.

Thursday: We Enjoy Nature

Late in the week we went on a couple family outings. In preparation, I took the kids to the T-shirt Factory on Thursday morning where they picked out hoodies and decals to apply to them because it was still cold and neither of them had a warm enough jacket and we were going on a hike that day. June choose a fluorescent green hoodie and a decal with wild horses on the beach. Noah got a lizard and the words “Rehoboth Beach” on gray in an adult medium. Adult medium, people! It’s a good thing we didn’t tell María at Café a Go-Go. We’d come to the t-shirt shop straight from breakfast at a diner, where Noah built pyramids out of butter packages and creamer containers, just as he did when he was a little boy. I was amused by this juxtaposition and a little glad he’s not all the way grown up yet.

Thus outfitted, we hiked the Burton Island Trail in Delaware Seashore State Park. The trail winds through a sandy path in a pine forest and over boardwalks in a salt marsh. Beth and I saw egrets and a great blue heron in the water, a treeful of orioles and an osprey circling overhead. There were horseshoe crab shells everywhere and the gravel causeway near the trailhead was littered with newly broken clamshells, remnants of some seabirds’ all-you-can-eat buffet.

The kids walked far ahead of us, occasionally waiting for us to catch up, but then dashing off before we quite closed the gap. As a result, they missed all the wildlife, unless you count the still-hinged clamshell Beth picked up to show June, but they seemed to enjoy the trail and the independence of taking a hike basically alone.

Friday: We Enjoy Culture

Friday, our last full day, we opted for civilization over nature, in the form of Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum on the Ocean City boardwalk. We last visited this attraction two years ago the terrifying day we lost the children for a half hour on the boardwalk (“Wild, Wild Horses” April 9, 2012). This time, though, we did not lose them. We spent about an hour taking in the sights and saying things like, “But why would you want to paint two Presidents’ portraits on the wings of a stuffed bat?” and admiring a reproduction of a painting of a woman with a water jar made by lining up pieces of burnt toast and scraping off the dark parts for shading. June was irritated at me for yanking her away from the gruesome shark attack video.

This year we sprung for combination tickets to enter the mirror maze as well. Beth and I insisted we all stay together and we were out more quickly than I thought we’d be. Part of the illusion of all the mirrors, of course, is that the dimly lit vaulted passageways appear much longer than they really are. Noah worked out a system based on the angle of his reflections and soon we were out, but not before a confused moment in which June said, “Wait, which one is the real Noah?”

That afternoon Beth and June went to see a nature documentary about bears, while Noah and I read, and then I napped and walked on the beach. We had dinner at Grotto. June didn’t want much of her pizza and one bite into her gelato she began to cry, saying she felt sick. I was afraid it might be a migraine, but she said no it was her stomach. We took her home, where a warm bath seemed to soothe her. Beth diagnosed over-eating. Between the boardwalk in Ocean City and the movie theater, there had been a lot of treats that afternoon.

I took another long walk on the boardwalk and beach after June was in bed, feeling more melancholy about than usual about leaving the beach. That night, when I said goodnight to Noah he noted the rental house was for sale and suggested we buy it and never go home.

Saturday: We Depart, Reluctantly

The next morning, while we were packing up the house I asked Beth what time she wanted to leave Rehoboth and she said, “Never.”  We did leave, but not right away. It was a lovely day, sunny and warm for the first time since Monday, and so we lingered, even longer than we usually do on the last day.

I took the kids on a final Candy Kitchen run while Beth returned the keys to the realty and then Beth and Noah made a final visit to Café a Go-Go while June and I visited the arcade and then the beach. We all met up at the kite store on the boardwalk where their annual customer appreciation day was underway. There were dozens of kites of all colors and sizes flying on the beach, pegged into the sand, and some huge inflatables—a caterpillar and a puffer fish. There was free food—fruit and bagels—and the Easter Bunny was there, handing out candy. June colored a paper kite with a picture of a dolphin leaping from the waves into a sunny sky.  A store employee cut and taped the kite where necessary and attached the spool and then Beth got it up into the air for her. We just missed the Easter egg hunt, but we were there for the games.

June participated in a spoon race, an egg toss, and a sack race.  She is such a team player that within minutes of being assigned to a team and without knowing any of the other kids she was cheering, “Team One! Team One!” and assuring the boy who went before her in the spoon race, “You can do it!”  Her team won both the spoon race and the sack race. In the egg toss, a partner event, she was eliminated toward the middle of the pack. I thought she was surprisingly good at catching a raw egg thrown from a distance, but some of those kids were even better.

After the games, we went to the cheese monger to buy fancy cheese to supplement the chips, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, and candy we had in the car and we had a late lunch. Our final stop was the Crocs outlet where Noah got a pair of new crocs he needed and June got a pair she didn’t.

A little after three, we were on the road, heading back to our land-locked lives. Still, I know, there’s always another wave.

Beachmas

Every year we go to the beach for a weekend in early to mid-December, to Christmas shop and for me to get an off-season beach fix. When I wrote my speech about our family traditions for our wedding last January, this one was prominently mentioned. It’s right up there with going a little crazy with Halloween decorations and always going to see the cherry blossoms even if they bloom at an inconvenient time.  It’s part of our family culture, so much so that both of my children have believed (and one still may) that the Santa in the little house on the boardwalk is the real Santa and any others they might see in the weeks leading up to Christmas are fakes.

So a week ago, on Thursday morning I was in the kitchen with June singing a Christmas song—I don’t remember which one—except I kept substituting “Beachmas” for “Christmas.” This was because we were leaving for the beach the next day. I’d been cheerful all week contemplating this trip, but I also had some trepidation.

Last year we considered not going on this trip, to save money, but in the end we went because I couldn’t bear the idea of not going.  This year I was more worried about time, Noah’s time that is. It was the second to last weekend before IDRP is due and I didn’t know if going away was a good idea.  But I knew if we cancelled a long-standing tradition on account of his workload we’d all be sad, including, maybe especially him—Noah thrives on tradition—so I didn’t even tell Beth I wasn’t sure if we should go, and we went.

Friday

We got a late start Friday afternoon, largely because Noah had not had time to pack beforehand and it was past four-thirty before he was ready to go. We ended up in rush hour traffic on a rainy afternoon, and our progress was excruciatingly slow.  I told Beth I wasn’t going to worry about getting the kids to bed on time, and she said that was good, because there was no chance of it.

We had an audiobook (one of the ones we couldn’t listen to over Thanksgiving because there’s a CD stuck in the drive) downloaded onto a device, but we decided rather than listen to it we’d all be quiet so Noah could read and take notes on the Holocaust memoir he had to re-read because he (along with half the class) failed the test on it. This was less fun than listening to a book together or singing along with Christmas music would have been, especially for June who can’t read in the car without getting sick and was bored and restless.  We decided it was best for Noah, though, and because of his workload and his learning challenges (his ADHD-NOS and his slow processing speed being most relevant here) often what’s best for Noah determines what we all do.

We arrived at the hotel around 9:15, June having slept around a half hour in the car. After we unpacked and June was tucked into bed, I slipped out for a walk on the beach. It was misting and 43 degrees according to the big thermometer on Rehoboth Avenue, with a fierce wind blowing.  I wore my raincoat, rather than the warmer fleece jacket I’d brought, largely to keep myself from yielding to the temptation to stay on the beach too long.  When I came back to the room fifteen minutes later my boots were sandy, my cheeks were tingling with the cold and I felt lighter, more alive, the way I always do after my first trip to the beach in any given visit. Noah still wasn’t in bed and June was awake, too.  It was probably ten-thirty before we all fell asleep.

Sunday

We didn’t sleep well. The room was over-heated and Beth and I both woke several times during the night and then the kids were up and whispering to each other by five-thirty. I stayed in bed until seven, hoping for more sleep, but I didn’t get any.

The kids and I got dressed and went down to play on the beach while we waited for Galleria Espresso, our favorite breakfast spot, to open at eight.  It was colder than the night before, 38 degrees, but it felt a little warmer because it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t as windy.  June dug in the sand a bit and the kids made a perfunctory sand castle—June filled the bucket with sand and Noah turned it over carefully and then immediately stomped on it because that’s what he does with all his sand castles.

We met Beth at the restaurant and were met with the unwelcome sight of it dark and bare inside.  There was a sign saying it was re-locating to Route 1, which meant it would no longer be accessible by foot, and we’d be unlikely to go there much anymore.  We were all disappointed (no pumpkin crepes for breakfast!) and with the nearby Café-A-Go-Go closed for the season, it was unclear where we should eat. We are creatures of habit, all of us (except maybe June).  As it was we were already staying it a different hotel than we usually do because our preferred hotel was partially under renovation and full of runners for a marathon being held that day. We were quite discombobulated. Beth had the idea to eat in the restaurant of the fanciest hotel on the boardwalk, The Boardwalk Plaza, and knowing it has an ocean view, I readily assented.

After breakfast I was ready to get started on my Christmas shopping mission with June while Noah stayed in the room working on homework.  But June wanted to swim in the hotel pool. She was actually the only one of us happy to be in a new hotel, because of the pool, so I said okay.  We had it to ourselves, possibly because it was raining in there. No, really. They seemed to be having a problem with condensation all over the hotel.  There was water pooling on the windowsill of our room and water dripped from the glass ceiling of the pool area.  I covered our clothes with our jackets so they wouldn’t get too wet while we swam.

By the time June and I had finished and had showers it was almost time for lunch, but we made a quick stop at the tea and spice shop.  June was a shopping dynamo, focused and decisive as she picked gifts for immediate and extended family.  We had lunch at a boardwalk restaurant, which I chose again mainly for the view because we’ve had bad service and mediocre food there in the past. I knew Beth and Noah were unlikely to set foot in there again so it seemed like my best chance to eat a salad and sweet potato fries while I watched the gray waves crash against the shore. June ordered fried pickles for an appetizer, and they were about what you’d expect fried pickles to be like. As we were leaving I thought I’d lost my phone and they were really nice about pulling the booth apart into its component parts to look for it and then I discovered it was in my shirt pocket all along.

Our next stop was going to be the bookstore, but we needed to go back to the hotel first because I had a gift certificate I’d forgotten to bring with me. I came into the room and greeted Beth and Noah cheerfully, but it was soon apparent something was wrong.  Noah had started his homework with Spanish and algebra because those are two of his easier classes and he wanted to get them out of the way, but he got unexpectedly snagged on both assignments.  He was frustrated and tearful and he didn’t want to stop working and go out for lunch because he just wanted to break through the impasse.

I was pretty sure his difficulties stemmed in part from the fact that he hadn’t slept well and it was two o’clock and he hadn’t had lunch.  I felt a stab of guilt for coming to Rehoboth at all, when he might have been able to work better at home.  Meanwhile June said she was going to pretend Noah was laughing and not crying because she didn’t like to hear him cry.

In the end Beth coaxed him to the cheesemonger’s for a lunch of fancy cheese and crackers, while June and I continued our shopping until it was time to see Santa. Noah has not believed in Santa since he was six, but up until this year he has gone for June’s sake (and for many years when she was too shy to speak to Santa he conveyed her wishes for her).  This year, though, he declined.  We didn’t push it. He’s twelve and that is a bit old for sitting on Santa’s lap.

The three of us watched as June went into the little house and whispered to Santa and just so all her bases were covered, she left a note in his mailbox. She’d composed and sealed the note several days earlier.  Uncharacteristically, Beth decided to pry open the envelope and read it, largely because being Santa, she wanted to know what June was expecting of Santa. The note was cryptic saying June knew Santa already knew what she wanted but even if he didn’t provide it she would still believe in him.

After Santa we switched kids and Beth and June went shopping while I stayed in the room with Noah. I thought maybe if I read the Holocaust memoir to him it would go more quickly but he was stopping me so often and taking such detailed notes I soon realized the notes were what was making the reading take so long and I wasn’t helping much.  This was frustrating because I had proposed this as a way he could finish something and feel better about the day and we ended up giving up on it and on working any more that day.

We had dinner at Grotto Pizza, his favorite, and as always Beth gave the kids money to donate to whatever charity they thought had the best Christmas tree in the restaurant. Noah seemed in better spirits.  Earlier in the day Beth had seen a sign outside a locked public restroom that said, “Restroom closed. Use Rehoboth Ave,” and we were all joking when I needed to go use the restroom that as the restaurant was on Rehoboth Avenue, perhaps I should just go outside and pee on the street. We’d been making this joke all day in various forms, but it had not gotten old. That’s how it is with family sometimes.

We went back to the hotel room and watched Frosty the Snowman, which we’d brought with us, and after June was in bed, Noah drummed quietly on the side of our bed with his drumsticks for an hour or so until it was time for him to go to bed.  This helps him decompress sometimes and I thought it was just what he needed.

Meanwhile, I went to the beach again. It was clearer, a beautiful night, and I could see Orion and the Big Dipper. But it was still cold and I didn’t stay long.

Sunday

The next day an ice storm was due to arrive so we left in the late morning, rather than after lunch as we usually would. I took June to the beach while Noah worked a bit.  We found a post in the sand someone had decorated, wrapping it with red tinsel and affixing tiny ornaments and a big bow to it. I was quite taken with it, a little bit of Christmas there on the beach.

Eventually June got too cold to stay on the beach. I can’t complain about her hardiness because although I’d packed snow pants and boots, I’d forgotten to bring any of her winter jackets and she wore a windbreaker all weekend, sometimes over a sweater, sometimes not. We went to the lobby of a nearby hotel as ours didn’t have one and we read until Beth called and said Noah was ready to eat. We had a nice breakfast at Green Man, and Beth and Noah did some shopping while I took June back to the room and packed to go.

The kids and I went down to the beach for one last time before we left, to say goodbye to the ocean. There was a lot of foam on the sand, as there often is when it’s windy, and the kids had fun stomping on it.  Then we let the waves run over our feet, thirteen times Noah decided, because it was 2013 but actually waiting for 2,013 waves would take too long. June and I were wearing rain boots and our feet stayed dry, but we discovered Noah’s snow boots were not as waterproof. Also, he tripped over his own feet and fell into a retreating wave and got his pants all wet and sandy.  But he was laughing, which was good to hear. Like June, I’d rather hear him laugh than cry.

The ice storm came, as predicted, and it was a tricky drive home for Beth. Noah started editing his paper that evening, having not worked on it all weekend.

Monday and Tuesday

In an extraordinary stroke of luck for Noah the next two days were snow days. He did go out and enjoy the snow, but he spent most of those two days at the computer re-writing his IDRP.  He still has a lot of work to do on it this weekend, but by next Thursday it will be done, for better or for worse.

I’m glad we went to the beach, despite the cold and all the time Noah had to spend working.  He go to go to Grotto’s and shop a little and play on the beach twice so it wasn’t a total loss for him. It wasn’t my ideal Beachmas, but we were all there together, doing what we always do as a family. That’s what holds us together and helps us laugh in the bad times and makes the good times even better.

One Wave at a Time: Twenty-One Trips to the Beach

1. Saturday, 8:53 p.m.

It was almost dark when I reached the trail from the parking lot to the beach, but the sand was still warm under my feet. It had been hot and humid and muggy for the past two weeks at home and it was hot and humid and muggy at the beach, too, but there’s an ocean there, and the water swirling around my ankles was cool.

2. Sunday, 11:46 a.m.

Sara and I didn’t really mean to arrive at the beach quite so close to high noon, but my family and my mom and sister had all been socializing and menu planning and now June and I were too eager to wait until late afternoon, so the three of us headed out late Sunday morning.

June was toting her new body board for most of the fifteen-minute walk. Beth bought it for her at home after much pleading and June was so excited to have it she slept with it the first night after she got it. She also drew a picture of smiling people riding the waves the first morning we were at the beach.

Once we got our towels arranged, the first thing June wanted to do was stand at the water’s edge and let the motion of the waves bury our feet in the sand. This was a good way to get acclimated to the cold water as it splashed our legs and torsos.  Something about prevailing southwesterly winds was churning up water from the deep and making ocean temperatures colder than usual from the Outer Banks to New Jersey, Beth had informed us.

Soon June decided it was time to use the board.  We were starting very close to shore and the first two waves were perfect, gently pushing her to the sand. But then a big one cane up behind the third one she tried to ride and merged with it, crashing over us, knocking June off the board and me off my feet. (I lost my sunglasses, though I didn’t notice at the time.)

Sara said she saw it all unfolding inevitably, the wave too big, June and I too far apart, no way for either Sara or me to get to June in time. It was a very long five seconds or so before I could drag June to her feet. Her hair was swept over her face, full of sand and shell fragments, and she was sobbing. All three of us went up to the towels and sat until she’d calmed somewhat. I offered to take the board and demonstrate its use while she watched from the safety of the sand. She agreed, but not long after I got into the water, I saw a big jellyfish and made a hurried exit. Then Sara mentioned she did feel a stinging sensation, the way you do sometimes when you swim near jellyfish.

I talked carefully to June about how it was fine if she didn’t want to try to ride the board again today but that sometimes if you don’t try again right away after something scary happens, the scary gets bigger in your head. She said nothing, so I left it at that.

June did want to go back in the water without the board, so eventually we did, but then she got sand in the crotch of her suit and she started to feel stingy, too.  Between the hot sun and the treacherous water, Sara decided it was time to go home, but June wanted to make sand castles so she did. I thought she’d forgotten all about the board when she quietly announced she was going to ride one more wave–just one–and then we were going home for lunch.

We picked a small one and she glided to shore. She scraped her knee a little but she didn’t seem to care, she was just happy and relieved to have done it and not to have to do it again, at least not right then.  As we packed up our things, she held the board aloft.  A sudden breeze buffeted it for a moment.  “June versus the wind!” she cried. “June wins! June is stronger than the wind!”

3. Sunday, 6:04 p.m.

Beth and I biked to the cheese shop to buy some Spanish cheese for dinner the next night. Sara was at home making lentil-sweet potato stew while Mom watched the kids.

“Do you want to go to the boardwalk?” Beth asked as we left the store.

“You know me so well,” I answered.  She remarked that over the course of twenty-six years you notice a few things.

So we found a bench in the shade and sat and watched the ocean for ten minutes until it was time to bike home for dinner.

4. Monday, 10:10 a.m.

Rain threatened, so I managed to get the kids down to the beach earlier than the day before. When I asked June if she wanted to come, she said, “Yes! And I want to bring my body board!” I’d been on the verge of telling her we’d bike (or scoot in Noah’s case), but the board presented a logistical challenge. Beth offered to drive us to the parking lot, so we took her up on it. It wasn’t as hot as the day before. Every now and then it clouded over and looked like it would rain, but it never did. The water felt a little warmer, too, but still plenty cool.

We splashed in the water for a long time. Noah came up with new names for different kind of waves and wave actions. The backward tug of a wave is a “ghost wave.”  When two waves merge, one “eats” the other. Eventually, June declared she wanted to ride a wave, again, just one. The first wave she wanted went by before she could get on the board, but she caught the next one, and then she was done. This seemed to be her system for conquering this fear, one wave at a time.

Once she’d dispensed with this, she befriended a girl whose family was sitting nearby. I’d been watching this girl because she was about June’s age and she had a body board, too. I wanted to see what she’d do with it.  Not ride it was the answer.  Instead she put it on the sand and stood on it, pretending to surf, while the very edges of waves rushed over it. They did this together for a while. They also lay on the boards facing the waves, deep in conversation, while the occasional wave splashed their faces. June ran to fetch her goggles for this activity.  Later they dug in the sand– stopping when the girl’s toddler sister kept destroying their creations—and played with a boomerang.

The girl’s name was Augusta, which her mom thought was funny, two girls with month names.  I’d recently heard an almost identical comment from the mother of a girl named April who was attending tinkering camp with June the previous week.  The mothers always find it more amusing than the girls do.

Noah and I were on the towels. He was burying his legs in the sand when June came by to ask if she could go in the water with Augusta and her mom. I said I’d come with her. June can swim, but she’s not a confident ocean swimmer. On reflection, I realized we had the cart before the horse with the body board.  She won’t really be able to ride it until she isn’t afraid to go in over her head and catch the waves while they’re forming rather than in the more chaotic areas of crashing waves near the shore. As it turned out, Monday was the last day she even tried to ride it, but I was proud of her for getting back on the board after wiping out, even if it was only twice. Maybe next year her memory of it will be of those last two successful rides and it will be easier to try again.

Soon it was clear that Augusta and her mom were going out well past June’s comfort zone. I asked if she wanted to try swimming in the deep water, thinking peer pressure might help her seize the moment, but she said, no.  I think she’d used up all her courage on the board. Noah joined us where we were and we splashed together and watched a lone pelican fly over our heads until the kids were hungry for lunch.

5. Monday, 6:37 p.m.

After an afternoon at Funland with Mom for the kids, and Beth’s delicious dinner of gazpacho, bread, Spanish cheeses, and salt-crusted potatoes, we drove to the north end of the boardwalk and walked down to the middle, stopping for various desserts along the way.  As we read the water ice flavors, “watermelon, cherry…” June stopped me at tie-dye. She wanted it without seeing it or even asking what it tasted like. It was blue, green, and white, and it stained not only her tongue and lips, but even her teeth blue.

Noah and I got frozen custard and everyone else got ice cream. The benches were full so we initially sat on the low concrete wall that separates the boardwalk from the little strip of dune grass. It was a beautiful evening, warm but not hot, less humid, golden-hued.

Our rental house was north of the boardwalk, near a less populated stretch of beach so there were fewer junk-food seeking gulls whenever we went to the beach, but here their cries filled the air as they circled lazily over the crowds.

6. Tuesday, 9:17 a.m.

The kids felt like watching television so my first beach trip of the day was solo. I swam and read and swam again and watched two ospreys fly over my head with fish in their talons. I also saw a big, purplish-red jellyfish. I began to wonder if the cold water brought them. I saw them washed up on the shore every day that week.

My towel was right behind the lifeguard chair so I heard when another guard jogged by and advised them, “Watch the waterline. There’s a seal!”

I looked up and saw a crowd gathering around a jetty just to the south. Everyone stopped what they were doing, even the lifeguards (at least those with a partner to stay behind) abandoned their posts. And sure enough there was a black head rising from the water. The seal was swimming near the end of the jetty. When it turned and swam toward shore I could see its face, even the whiskers, and a good bit of its torso.

On shore everyone was exclaiming. How did it get here? Escaped from an aquarium? Seriously lost? A boy Noah’s age guessed it “took a wrong turn.”  Later I googled seal habitat and found that on the East coast they’re native from the Arctic Circle down to New York, and that they are “occasionally” seen off North Carolina. Had the cold water brought it south, along with the jellyfish? The seal seemed intent on getting (back?) to New York. It left the jetty and swam steadily north, occasionally stopping to pop its head out of the water and look toward shore or behind its shoulder.

People were taking pictures and movies. I went back to my towel and got my phone, hoping to snap a picture. Along with a couple other people, I followed it north for around forty minutes. I never got a picture, though, because it popped up too briefly and at unpredictable intervals.  At one point, we passed a big pod of dolphins, but I hardly paid them any mind.

Eventually I turned back because I had gotten pretty far from my towel. It was a long walk back. I read and swam again and then went home.

7. Tuesday, 4:37 p.m.

After Beth took June to Funland again (where June won two stuffed animals at this game she loves where you move a cup to catch a ball falling out of a vertical maze), everyone but Beth made it down to the beach at the same time that afternoon. The weather was nice, not too hot, with a breeze coming off the water. Mostly the kids splashed and Sara napped while I chatted with Mom, who prefers to stay on shore. Mom had made dinner, a black bean-quinoa salad ahead of time, and the afternoon was so lovely we decided to eat in shifts so that Mom and Sara could stay at the beach longer.

8. Tuesday, 9:05 p.m.

Beth and Noah hatched a plan to go on a dessert run after June was in bed. This was later than anticipated because June had a lengthy and mysterious meltdown at bedtime, triggered buy a minor conflict with Noah. (This has been happening a lot recently.)

Once she was finally asleep, Beth, Noah, Sara, and I got cake and cheesecake from Gallery Espresso and brought it home to Mom, who stayed with June. (She was also the one who got June to calm down enough to sleep. Thanks, Mom!)

On the way back to the car, we walked a block along the boardwalk. We’re rarely there after dark any more and it was hopping. There was also a delightfully cool breeze from the ocean. Heat is one of the reasons Beth rarely comes down to the beach, so I told her once the kids stop habitually waking at dawn we can come down to the boardwalk at night more often. Sara asked Noah if he liked being old enough to be out late—I know, it was barely past nine, but that’s late for us. He didn’t answer, just laughed.

9. Wednesday, 9:39 a.m.

Beth took the kids to Jungle Jim’s water park in the morning so I had another solo beach jaunt. I told Sara after the seal the day before I was half-expecting to see a unicorn, but I didn’t, just a few dolphins. The sky was overcast; the sea calm. I swam and read and swam again.

10.  Wednesday, 12:55 p.m.

Mom and I had lunch at O’Bie’s, a boardwalk restaurant with a nice view and a nice breeze, both from the ocean and big overhead fans.  It’s becoming our traditional lunch spot. The food’s not bad, but not exceptional either. Sometimes it’s all about location.

11. Wednesday, 2:58 p.m.

Sara parked near the north end of the boardwalk and walked down it to the bike shop. We were embarking on a long series of errands that included: a bike rental place to get more comfortable bikes than the one supplied by the house; the bookstore, to buy Sara’s belated birthday present and Beth’s anniversary present; the wellness center, to buy a gift certificate for a massage as an early birthday present for my mom, who’s turning seventy this week; a bakery, for birthday cupcakes for my mom; a coffee shop to slake our thirst with iced drinks after biking all over town; the sunglass store, to replace the ones I lost in the ocean;  a gift shop, for a card for Mom; and finally, Candy Kitchen, because I thought the house needed salted caramels. Sara and I split up between the coffee shop and the sunglass store, so she could move the car.

12. Wednesday 5:30 p.m.

Rehoboth’s a small town, but between all these stops and doubling back to feed the meter, it was two and a half hours later by the time I was walking my bike along the boardwalk again for quick view of the ocean before heading home.

13. Thursday, 9:03 a.m.

Beth and the kids and I had breakfast at Gallery Espresso—crepes, yogurt, a bagel, and a chocolate chip muffin fresh from the oven with the chips still melted. I offered to walk the kids back home because Beth had her daily conference call at 9:00 a.m. It had been overcast the past few mornings with no rain, but as we walked along the boardwalk I thought the banked clouds looked darker, more serious. June, who’d been oddly moody for the past week or so, was put out because I wouldn’t buy her potato chips at breakfast. I tried to interest her in several people who seemed to be standing on surfboards and rowing along the nearly flat sea with oars, but she said she’d seen that before.  Soon she fell to bickering with Noah and forgot to be mad at me. Then she perked up and asked if we could take the secret path home.

Beth had discovered a grassy alley between the back yards of the house on our block and yards of the next block over. It goes almost all the way to the beach. It’s not a short cut, but it’s shaded and interesting to see the more private sides of all the houses on the way to the beach—the decks and pools and gardens and sheds. I’d transversed it alone and with Mom when we’d gone to lunch, but not with the kids. I said yes and by the time we left the boardwalk, June was happy.  (It did start to rain while we were on the path and we got soaked, but the kids seemed to regard it as an adventure and not an inconvenience.)

14. Thursday, 2:09 p.m.

The rain that started in the morning continued steadily until mid-afternoon.  We spent the morning inside, working (it was a working vacation for both Sara and Beth), reading and watching 101 Dalmatians (The house was well stocked with kids’ movies. June had already watched Anastasia.) In the afternoon Mom went for her massage and Beth took the kids to see Monsters University in 3D. I stayed inside as long as I could stand it and then took a walk in the rain.

Before I reached the boardwalk, however, the rain stopped, and I wondered if I’d packed for the wrong outing, but I settled into the first wooden pavilion on the boardwalk and read two chapters of my book, waiting to see if the rain was really over. Mom called me to say she and Sara were going to the beach, so I headed home to change and meet them there.

15. Thursday, 3:54 p.m.

The rain had cooled the air considerably so I didn’t want to go in the water right away, for fear I’d be chilled if got out and wanted to stay at the beach. I sat on my towel, talked with Mom, and watched the dolphins. She said she wanted to see one jump out of the water, but all we saw was fins skimming the surface.

I asked Sara if she wanted a swim and she said, “No. Are you crazy?”

“No, she’s Steph,” Mom replied.

When I got out of the water, Mom and Sara had left. I spotted about six dolphins, close to shore and one jumped almost all the way out of the water. I saw everything but the nose.

16. Thursday, 7:33 p.m.

Beth and I had just finished an almost-anniversary dinner at Planet X, while Mom and Sara took the kids out for Italian. We were taking a stroll along the boardwalk in the pleasantly cool air, and watching the dolphins, unaware that Noah, who’d complained of a headache before we left, had taken a turn for the worse at the restaurant and had been sick at the table. Mom and Sara took him home at put him to bed. When we got home shortly after eight both kids were asleep.

17. Friday, 2:33 p.m.

We woke to rain and it rained ceaselessly until mid-afternoon. Noah and I read for a long time and the kids watched Bambi and seemed content to stay inside. I was feeling stir-crazy enough to agree when Sara suggested we bike to Candy Kitchen in the rain, though after stepping out into the downpour, we decided to walk instead, so we could use umbrellas. It was coming down so hard I was wet up to the waist (though mostly dry from there up) when we stepped onto the boardwalk.

I wanted to see if the benches in the first pavilion were dry, but they weren’t. Then I noticed a dead mouse on the ground inside.

“It’s not dead,” Sara said. I asked if was just the wind moving its limbs but she said no, and the waterlogged little thing began to struggle, its torso half rising off the ground. Sara scooped it into her hand. I asked what she was going to do with it. “Nurse it back to health?” she suggested. I reminded her she had a plane to catch the next day and two cats at home.  I also warned about bites and rabies.  She continued to hold the mouse and carried it all the way to Candy Kitchen and inside, hidden in her hand. We made our purchases and parted ways.  (She went home with the mouse and made it a little nest of shredded paper inside a basket and tried to feed it on milk and shredded apple.  It didn’t eat much, if at all, but it did seem to perk up and explore a bit before it laid down and died a few hours later.  It’s buried in the yard of the beach house now. Sara was sad, but satisfied to have given it a more comfortable death.)

While she headed home, I walked out to the beach. Here the wind was blowing the rain in all directions and my top half was soon as wet as my bottom half. There were a few other people on the beach, some huddled under beach umbrellas, but as soon as I got north of the boardwalk, I was alone. The sky was medium gray—it looked almost like dusk—and the sea was dark gray and choppy. It looked inviting and I was already almost as wet as I’d be if I’d swum in my clothes, but the roughness of the water and the isolation of the beach gave me pause, so I didn’t swim, just waded up to my calves and breathed in the intoxicating smell of sea and rain.

18. Friday, 5:01 p.m.

Of course the rain started to let up shortly after I got home and changed into dry clothes. By 4:30 Funland was posting on Facebook that the outdoor rides would be open by 5:00, so Noah and I headed over there. (June was feeling under the weather.)  He rode the Freefall and then we rode the Paratrooper together. This ride looks like a Ferris wheel and when we were in our twenties, Beth and I rode it, not realizing it tilts and goes fast, and at the very end of the ride, backwards. Beth didn’t care for it, and I never went on it again either, even after Noah started to ride it a couple years ago.  This time I enjoyed the ride, especially the ocean view, and hearing Noah laugh as the soles of his bare feet brushed the top of a small tree, but I once it started going backwards, I was ready for the ride to be over.  My queasiness did settle the question of whether I should try the Sea Dragon, which is one of those swinging Viking ship rides I used to love when I was a teen. The answer is no, you are not sixteen any more, lady. Good to know, for when Noah moves up to that ride.

19. Saturday, 10:19 a.m.

I wheeled my bike onto the boardwalk and walked toward the bike rental store. Beth and the kids were driving to the realty to return the house keys. We’d said our goodbyes to Mom and Sara, who were finishing up their packing and were about to drive to Philadelphia to catch a plane back to Oregon.

20. Saturday, 11:01 a.m.

Once the bike was returned I met up with Beth and the kids and we headed to Café a-Go-Go for iced coffee drinks, pastry, and juice. Then we split up, as Beth had some anniversary shopping to do. I took the kids to the boardwalk Candy Kitchen, where we stocked up on candy and June bought a stuffed harbor seal with her own money. (I thought she’d go for one of the mermaids or a seahorse, but she surprised me.) I couldn’t help but think about being with the mouse the last time I was in Candy Kitchen and I think it’s possible I will think of it whenever I go into that Candy Kitchen for a long time.

21. Saturday, 11:57 a.m.

After trip to the T-shirt Factory where the kids picked out blank t-shirts and designs to have pressed onto them–Noah chose the words Rehoboth Beach, DE with an Aloha flower on white and June selected a mother wolf with a cub on yellow–we picked up some fries and hit the boardwalk. Beth happened on us while I was buying the fries.  We spent about an hour on the beach.  It being a Saturday and right in front of the boardwalk, it was much more crowded on the sand and in water than any other time I’d been to the beach all week.  Beth got her feet wet, then rested on a towel while the kids and I played in the water.  I had a swim and the waves were better than they’d been all week.  There were two that were big enough to sweep me up into their swell and drop me a couple feet through the air down the water below.  This is my absolute favorite thing to do with a wave.

We had crepes on the boardwalk (strawberry-nutella for Noah and tomato-cheese for everyone else). June wanted to go to Funland one last time. I was hesitant because we didn’t have a lot of time left on the meter and I thought if she didn’t win the medium stuffed animal she had her heart set on, she’d be disappointed and we’d leave the beach on a low note.  But we talked about what would happen if she didn’t win it and she said it would be fine, she’d just try again next year, so we said she could go on one ride and have five dollars to try her luck at the ball and cup game.  Well, she walked out of there with a mini beach ball and a medium panda to add to the small panda and owl she’d one earlier in the week. (Noah, taking fewer turns, won a mini beach ball and a small panda.) Next year June wants to win a large.  And to go in the Haunted Mansion.  And maybe next year I’ll convince her (and Noah) to venture out into the deep water with me.  Whatever June sets her mind to, I think she’ll do, one wave at time.

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…

Advent

Friday

“Have we ever left for vacation this late?” June wondered.  It was 6:15 Friday evening and we were pulled up at a gas station, waiting for our turn to fill up the tank for our drive to Rehoboth Beach.

I told her that once, before she and Noah were born, Beth had to work so late we didn’t leave for the beach until 10 p.m. and we got there at 1:00 a.m.  Beth doesn’t work that late anymore, but she did have a 4:00 meeting that meant she couldn’t cut out mid-afternoon, as I’d hoped. As a result, our annual Christmas shopping weekend trip was getting off to a later start than I’d anticipated.

We were lucky to be going at all. I’d only made the reservations on Monday, after weeks of wavering about whether to take the trip. Due to other obligations, the weekend after Thanksgiving weekend was the only one that worked. It would mean traveling two weekends in a row and getting behind in household chores, plus we’ve been making an effort to be more frugal lately.

I like the Christmas shopping trip for a few reasons—first off, it’s an excuse to go to the beach.  But away from the distractions of home, it is much easier to focus on shopping and we often get quite a lot of it done.  Also, Santa’s house on the boardwalk is the very best place to visit him. It’s scenic, free, and there’s never much of a line.  Despite all the advantages of the trip, an oceanfront hotel room in Rehoboth is not cheap, even in the off-season. But in the end, I couldn’t bear the idea of not going, so we went.

Normally, it throws me into a panic to have the kids up well past their bedtimes. It has to do with them both being terrible sleepers well into the preschool years, and only fair sleepers now. When they’re up late it dredges up that feeling that none of us is ever going to get any sleep again. Given all that, I felt surprisingly calm to be leaving the Taco Bell near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge where we dined, only about a third of the way to our destination, at 7:50, five minutes past June’s bedtime. Maybe it was the call of the beach or maybe it was personal growth. You be the judge.

June fell asleep around 8:20 and remained asleep until we arrived at the hotel at 9:35. By 10:00, we were checked in and the kids were in bed. They were poking each other and bickering when I stepped out onto the balcony to watch the ocean for fifteen minutes and when I came back in they were quiet and awake, but drowsy-looking. I got ready for bed and crawled into bed, too.

Saturday

I’d hoped we might all sleep in, as we’d all been up past our respective bedtimes, but I woke at 5:45 and couldn’t get back to sleep and the kids were awake and whispering loudly to each other by 6:10.  We didn’t even bother making them stay quiet until 7:00, even though that is the weekend rule.  We were all out of bed by 6:45, and June and I were out the door at 7:10, on a scouting mission to see if Gallery Espresso was open yet.  It wasn’t and there was no sign indicating when it might open, so June and I wandered Rehoboth Avenue and the boardwalk, gathering intelligence on open restaurants and then we played on the beach, while we waited for Beth and Noah to be ready to leave the hotel.

The early morning light turned the sand an apricot color, while each little hollow lay in blue-gray shadow.  The sea and wet sand near the shoreline were silvery and the last pink of the sunrise was just fading from the sky.  It was hard to imagine anything more lovely.

Gallery Espresso finally opened at eight and we had pumpkin crepes (Noah and me) and bagels (June and Beth) for breakfast.  Beth started to teach June to play chess, and then we split up to shop. June and I shopped downtown Rehoboth while Beth and Noah hit the outlets.  In addition to Christmas shopping, they needed to get underwear for him because I’d left his suitcase on my bed at home and even though he’d decided it would be fun to wear the same clothes for three days in a row, I decided clean underwear was the bare minimum effort we needed to make not to be negligent parents. (We leave suitcases behind all the time. It’s our specialty.  We left Noah’s at home on a trip to the Outer Banks the summer he was eight, and Beth and June left theirs behind just this summer on a camping trip. It no longer fazes us much.)

June and I had a very productive morning. We got her gifts for my sister Sara, Beth and Noah, and she found a Groovy Girl doll bed and she decided to ask Santa for it. This was a more easily obtainable item than “climbing equipment,” which was her most recent idea for a Santa-request. We didn’t have a jungle gym in our budget and it wasn’t even clear that was what she meant because when I said, “like playground equipment?” she said no. We were pondering a promise of an outing to a gym with a climbing wall, but the doll bed was sounding good. June liked the idea because apparently she’d wanted it on a previous trip to a toy store and Beth wouldn’t buy it—prime Santa material. All I had to do was wait to make sure she actually did ask Santa for it and didn’t change her mind in the next few hours.

Satisfied with our morning’s shopping, we headed to the beach to play. Beth and Noah soon joined us and the kids spent almost an hour making sand castles. It was heartwarming to see Noah happily engaged in this activity. He’ll be twelve in the spring and I don’t know how many more times I’ll see the sight of him sprawled on the sand, shaping one of his creations.

The kids thought we should have a sand castle contest. I said I’d be the judge, and there would be at least two categories.  June won “best use of shells” for her shell-topped and ringed castles. Noah won for “cleanest lines” (he smashed a few castles until he got a perfect, uncrumbled impression of the pail) and “best use of shadow.”  He’d filled in the long shadow of his castle with a heap of sand to give the shadow a slightly raised texture.

For lunch we tried a boardwalk restaurant where we’d never eaten, mainly because there’s often nothing vegetarian on the menu, but Beth checked and they had a few options.  It’s on the second floor, over an arcade, so we knew it must have a nice view.  The view was in fact lovely, and the food was mostly okay, despite slow, surly service and oddly thin and grainy milkshakes. On the whole, I thought it was a win, though Beth may disagree.  I do tend to put a lot of emphasis on an ocean view.

After lunch, Noah and I read in the hotel lounge while Beth and June did more shopping.  And then it was time for Santa.

I never thought June would believe in Santa longer than Noah did. He’s more trusting by nature, and she’s more prone to skepticism. When they were babies Noah smiled at everyone he saw, while June watched the world suspiciously from the safety of my arms. But Noah’s also scientific-minded and logical, where June loves magic and romance. She’s the age Noah was when his belief in Santa crumbled under the weight of the logical impossibilities (“Where Santa is Real,” 12/10/07) but so far June’s faith shows no sign of wavering. She has questions, of course.  Does Santa fly home to the North Pole every night after visiting with children on the boardwalk or does he stay in a hotel?  Perhaps our hotel? Is it possible that it’s not really Santa in the house, but a helper?  However, the core of her belief seems unshaken.

She was nervous about the visit, which surprised me because she wasn’t last year and it seemed like a regression. “I don’t know him very well,” she explained. Even though I told her she didn’t have to sit on his lap, she did without any hesitation, and she told him she wanted the doll bed. Noah sat on Santa’s lap, too, for fun or for June’s sake, and he said he wanted a $400 gift certificate for Apple.  Santa seemed taken aback and we rushed to assure him that a smaller sum would suffice.

After Santa, I left the kids with Beth and made a beeline for the doll bed, because Beth said the last time she’d been to that store, there was only one left. They have free gift wrapping there and the wrapper was a chatty elderly woman who wanted to know all about the recipients of the doll bed and something else I was getting for Noah. When I said the kids were with their other mom, she wanted to tell me all about her older brother who came out in the 1950s and “had to move to San Francisco.” She still seemed sad about his departure and she said she was glad there was more social acceptance now.  So I was obliged to tell her we live in Maryland and we’re getting married next month.  I think I made her day she was so happy for us.

I had time for a solo walk on the beach before I was supposed to meet Beth and the kids for dinner at Grotto at 5:00. At 4:10, the light was very similar to how it had been at 7:30. The sand was golden-pink again; the water silvery. As the afternoon progressed, the sky grew pinker, until it was half-covered with puffy, vividly colored clouds.

At Grotto, the kids went over to the Christmas tree display at the back of the restaurant. Local charities decorate trees and set donation boxes underneath. Beth gave the kids some money to donate. June donated to the prettiest trees. Noah tried to take the mission of the charity into account, but it was hard because a lot them were foundations with uninformative names. He did say it helped if “they made an effort” with the tree. On the way out of the restaurant, June got a balloon she named Balloony and wore tied around her wrist on and off for the rest of the weekend.

At the hotel, I bathed June and then took her down to the lounge to read Toys Go Out and assorted Christmas books while Noah practiced percussion in our room until June’s bedtime.

Sunday

The next morning we had breakfast at Gallery Espresso again and again we had to wait for them to open so Noah read Toys Go Out to June in the lounge, which we shared with a woman and a baby.  I was able to do my own thing while they read and I wondered if the woman was looking forward to having self-entertaining children or thinking with horror “They still get up at the crack of dawn at that age?”

After breakfast, Beth and Noah went back to the room so he could do some homework and I tried to take June to the beach, but it was foggy and chilly and she quit on me after ten minutes.  I hated to leave as the waves were big and beautiful to watch, but it seemed important to keep the kids separated so Noah could work, so instead of leaving her with Beth, I took her back to the lounge, where she drew and I wrote.

When it was time to check out of the hotel, we loaded up the car, left it in the hotel parking garage and walked to a jeweler’s to shop for wedding rings.  We weren’t sure if we were going to buy or just look–the big day is just around the corner, and we thought if we saw something we liked it would be nice to give our business to a gay-friendly establishment, of which there are plenty in Rehoboth.  In fact, in this store, in the corner where you sit to look at rings and get your fingers sized there was a framed poster of three kissing couples in wedding attire—one straight, one gay male and one lesbian–with the slogan “Traditions Evolve.”

It didn’t take long to choose. We knew what we were after, simple, matching gold bands.  We had to decide about carats, width, color and finish and soon Beth was singing a credit card receipt for more than the entire budget for our original commitment ceremony.  (We did that ceremony on the cheap, as we were young and broke. It was a potluck in our apartment.)  The clerks, one male and one female, were friendly and congratulatory.  When we were finished, the man brought out some homemade peanut butter fudge to celebrate.  News of our nuptials spread joy wherever we go apparently.

We had lunch and ran down to the beach to say goodbye to the ocean.  On the walk toward the beach June kept saying she couldn’t wait for Christmas.  This year she’s just as excited about the gifts she picked for other people as the gifts she’ll receive. Three weeks seems like an impossibly long wait to her but to me it seems a pleasant span of time to plan and look forward to the holiday.

At the beach Noah and I and waded into the waves while June watched a few steps behind us. I was wearing rubber boots, but Noah was barefoot. He screamed from the cold but he was laughing at the same time, and he stayed in for twelve waves, just as he said he would.  We’re big on doing what we said we would, all four of us.

It was the first day of Advent the day we left the beach, the day we bought the rings.  We are not Christians, but it seemed fitting to do this at the beginning of a season of joyful anticipation. We’re not having a wedding per se because we’ve done that already. It will just be Beth and me and the kids and the officiant at our house one Friday morning in mid-January, on the twenty-first anniversary of our commitment ceremony. We’ll dress up and there will be flowers and the rings of course.  I’m thinking of that as the day as being like renewing our vows.  We’ll all speak a bit about what being part of our family means to us, and of course, we’ll legally formalize our relationship.  Like Christmas, it’s a joyful thing on the horizon.

Always Ourselves We Find in the Sea

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

by e.e. cummings

Day 1: Saturday

“If I lived here I’d go to the beach every day,” June declared as she and I walked from the rental house to the beach late Saturday afternoon.  Beth was picking up a few groceries and Noah had volunteered to be the welcoming committee and wait at the house for my Mom and sister to arrive.

“Me, too,” I said.

“We’re the real beach lovers,” June concluded.

We only stayed a half hour.  The water was pleasantly cool on another miserably hot day. June could not stop laughing as she jumped in the waves, but she kept a grip on my hand.

Back at the house, we greeted Mom and Sara and I helped Noah cook the dinner he’d planned—tortellini. I intended to let June stay up a bit because she’d napped in the car but she was wiped out and asked to go to bed while we were still eating dinner. Soon afterwards, though, she was back downstairs.  She was lonely in the attic bedroom she and Noah had begged to share.  I agreed to read Watership Down to Noah in the next room and that was enough for her to fall asleep.

Day 2: Sunday

Not to stay asleep, though. At three a.m. she was in our room. After sending her back a few times over the next hour, Beth relented and went up to spend the rest of the night in June’s twin bed with her. I wondered if we’d gotten into a bad habit of co-sleeping during the power outage. But waking us was not enough.  We learned later she’d woken Noah and asked him to play (he declined) and at 6:25, she was back in my room, even though she already had Beth in her bed.

In the morning we all collaborated on a shopping list and then the adults went their separate ways.  Sara needed to work (as she did every day of the vacation), Beth made a second grocery run and Mom played with the kids while I went to the beach.

It was still hot—the sand was scorching—but it was less humid and the water was blessedly cool. I swam and sat on my towel and swam some more and came back to the house just in time to help unpack groceries and make lunch for the kids and myself.  After lunch, the kids performed a short play they’d written that morning about a woman who needed a ghost removed from her house. The performance took place on the deck, fulfilling a vision Noah had when we selected the house in April.  (Earlier in the day they’d had a tea party on the wrought iron lawn furniture, fulfilling a vision of June’s.)

Mom and Sara and the kids and I hit the beach again in the late afternoon while Beth made a delicious dinner of gazpacho and potatoes with cilantro pesto.  Between the four adults and Noah and eating out twice everyone only had to cook once, which would have felt downright luxurious even if everyone hadn’t made such lovely dinners.

Day 3: Monday

June slept better the next night and Beth was so happy she promised her a trip to Candy Kitchen (noting this wouldn’t happen every time she slept through the night) and after breakfast I played three hands of Sleeping Queens with her and read her a chapter of Ramona The Brave while snuggling on the couch on the screened porch, observing pointedly that rested parents are happier, more fun parents.

Later that morning, Sara and I took the kids downtown on the promised outing to Candy Kitchen, where June chose cherry and bubblegum-flavored rock candy and Noah, after Sara helped him divide all the candy in the store into ever narrowing categories he could eliminate, selected fruit runts.  He noticed some new gummy flavors, including chicken feet, and said, “Who’d want to eat that?” (This from the boy who used to devour gummy brains.) I got chocolate licorice for myself and fudge for the house. Then we moved on to our next stops, Café a Go-Go for café con leche and the bike rental place on the boardwalk where Sara and I rented bikes.  (Our beach house, though charming, was in a more remote location than usual.) I hadn’t been on a bike for seventeen years and for a few wobbly moments I thought you can forget how to ride one, but then I got my bearings. Our errands completed, Sara headed back to the house while the kids and I played on the beach until lunchtime.

It was overcast and much cooler, after an early morning thunderstorm.  We saw dolphins in the ocean almost as soon as we got there.  The kids were in their suits but I was in dry clothes so I couldn’t go in the water with June. This ended up being just the nudge we both needed.  I’d been noticing the day before kids her age and younger playing in the water by themselves, but June had never felt confident enough to do this. Given the alternative of playing at the water’s edge or wading in alone (Noah was further out), she waded in up to her waist. I watched from the sand but I was too far away to do anything when a wave did knock her over. She got right back up again and kept playing, though she did tell me later, “Sometimes it’s scary.”

That afternoon, Mom took the kids to Funland. When they got home, June told me, “Grandmom lets me do things you don’t.” But it turned out she just let her ride the Freefall, which I didn’t let her do last year but I would have allowed this year.  She also bought them some popcorn. All in all, I think June thought she got away with more than she really did.

I rode my bike down to the beach, surprised to remember how much fun it is to ride a bike, and had a quick dip before coming back to the house and making dinner.  Most of us played a hand of Sleeping Queens before June went to bed and Noah and I settled in for our nightly Watership Down reading.

Day 4: Tuesday

Beth, Sara and the kids and I took a morning constitutional down the boardwalk—three of us on bikes, one on a scooter and Sara jogging—which ended up with a stop for coffee, bagels and a breakfast crepe.

Mom took me out for lunch and then we took a stroll down the boardwalk. I got a frozen custard and she got a sunhat. While we were out, Beth took June to the playground to try riding her bike without the training wheels. Beth said it was a good first try though she thought June was discouraged because it was harder than she thought it would be. Beth put the training wheels back on so June could use the bike for transportation.

I took the kids to the beach in the mid-afternoon. The outing did not have a promising beginning. The kids were squabbling as I collected towels and sand toys and water and sun block but matters improved at the beach. The kids ran down to the water as I was still spreading out the towels and June went right in without me. I realized then she’d crossed the Rubicon.  The three of us were in the water together, eventually joined by Sara, for an hour and forty-five minutes, splashing, diving and watching pelicans soar above us. June realized there are a lot more things you can do in the water when you’re not holding someone’s hand. She started diving into the water, parallel to the shore, (a “dolphin dive” she called it) and by watching and copying Noah, learned to body surf. Then she started singing a song of her own composition called “I Can Ride the Waves.”  (Those are also the complete lyrics.)  She was knocked down a few times and lost her fear of it.  “I didn’t scream or cry,” she noted later. Noah was delighted to have June come deeper into the water with him, and I was delighted to be able to swim a few yards past them, still watching but semi-independent of them.  By the time the lifeguard blew the five o’clock whistle not only my fingers and toes but my lips were wrinkly with salt water.

June dug in the sand and lost her shovel to a wave and then Noah buried her in the sand while they waited for the lifeguard to go off duty and then they headed straight back into the water.  I stayed on my towel with Mom and Sara because I’d had a long enough swim.  I cannot remember the last time that happened.  A half hour later when it was time to go, the kids were lying on their backs on the wet sand, with the waves rushing over their feet. They’d even found the lost shovel bobbing in the waves and retrieved it, which seemed like another small miracle in an already wondrous day.

Day 5: Wednesday

Wednesday morning Beth took the kids to Jungle Jim’s Water Park. Due to a miscommunication, June went down the biggest slide there without Beth or Noah. It was scarier for Beth than for June because June never emerged at the bottom of the slide where Beth was awaiting her, but eventually Noah found her and they were all reunited. June was thrilled with the whole experience.

Meanwhile, I spent the morning with my mom.  We went to Browseabout where she picked out two novels and I bought them for her upcoming birthday. I also bought myself a t-shirt with a seagull on it at the T-shirt Factory and we stopped at Café a Go-Go for a mocha (me) and a smoothie (her).

When the kids got home, I gave June a bath and read to Noah and joined Mom and Sara at the beach.  (The kids stayed home to work on another play—this one based on an Amelia Bedelia book.)  Sara and I had a nice swim in waves bigger than we’d had all week. Mom and Sara left the beach early because they were taking the kids out to dinner so Beth and I could have an early anniversary dinner date.

We went to Planet X, a favorite restaurant of our pre-kids days.  I got a virgin peach margarita, and a polenta appetizer with wild mushrooms, peas and cherries.  It sounds strange, but it was really good.  For dinner I had fettuccine.  Beth had an eggplant appetizer and barbequed tofu.  We spoke without interruption or having to arbitrate arguments and did not have to search the menu for items the children might possibly eat.  (Mom and Sara had a harder time at the Japanese restaurant where they took the kids, I heard later.)  We picked up dessert at Gallery Espresso and took it to the boardwalk.  It was a lovely evening, in the mid-seventies and clear with just enough clouds to stain the sky pink as the sun set.  I even coaxed Beth onto the sand for a few minutes, before we biked back to the house.

Mom and Sara were just putting June to bed so she got her usual bedtime snuggle with me.  She was back downstairs a few minutes later because although she wants to ride her bike without training wheels and she’s not afraid of the Freefall or ocean waves or water slides, she was afraid to sleep alone in the attic bedroom. She was imagining an invisible man who could turn nice people evil. We all have our limits, I suppose, and being turned evil is beyond June’s.

Day 6: Thursday

Thursday was a day of family togetherness. Beth and the kids and I went out for a breakfast of crepes and bagels (crossing paths with Sara on her way to a drop-in zumba class) and then we went to the beach. The surf was still rough so June wasn’t able to demonstrate her body surfing for Beth, but she did play fearlessly in the water. Several times she addressed the waves, saying, “I’m not afraid of you.”  Then she told me, “I faced my fear.” Indeed you did, June Bug.

I was half-sorry about the big waves and half not because the ocean was just about perfect for me to swim. The waves were big and breaking in just the right place for me to stand with my feet on the sand and push off into the rising curve of an oncoming wave so it swept me up and over and dropped me on the other side. This is my very favorite thing to do in the ocean.  There was a strong northward tug in the water so I had to keep getting out as I approached the red flag at the end of the lifeguard’s territory and walk back to the other side.  She only had to blow her whistle at me once.  After several circuits I was tired and collapsed to read in one of the beach chairs Beth had rented.  When I went back to the bike rack to fetch the sand toys and an extra towel from my bike basket a stranger complimented me on my “impressive” swimming. I am seldom admired for my athletic prowess so it was startling, and I will admit, satisfying.

After lunch at home, Beth and I took the kids on a return trip to Funland. I got to see June ride the Freefall and the fast racecars as well as some of the tamer kiddie rides she’s enjoyed for years.  Her stuffed monkey Muffin rode, too.  Several ride attendants helped buckle him in without blinking an eye, though I did catch one smiling. (This was Muffin’s second trip to Funland—he came last year, too.)

Toward the end of our excursion, June was begging to ride the Teacups. I’d been on them, much to my regret, when Noah was little so I know how fast they spin. I made her watch first to see if she really wanted to go. She said yes so I went with her because I didn’t want to send her alone. The attendant explained that you control the speed by moving together (making the cup more unbalanced and faster) or apart.  I doubted it would make much difference as June is small for her age and I am big for mine. Nevertheless, she kept moving closer to me and further apart, grinning all the while. I was more than a little queasy when we got off.  “That was fun!” she declared. We only had one ticket left so she picked the mermaid boats, a sedate, sentimental favorite.

After the kids were in bed that night, Sara and I biked down to the beach. When I told Beth where we were going she said, “How teenage of you.” While I do still enjoy the beach at night, she’s right it’s something we did more as teens.  Maybe that’s why I asked Sara. I felt just slightly transgressive leaving the house at 9:30, biking down quiet streets in the cool night air.  As we pedaled, a fox crossed the road right in front of Sara.

The beach was dark and deserted because we were staying far from the boardwalk. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever been on the beach in Rehoboth and not seen another soul—not at one a.m. on summer nights in my twenties, not on sleety February afternoons.  There was a balmy breeze off the ocean and lights at sea.  The water was warm and foamy around our ankles and I was with someone I’ve known nearly all my life.  I was glad we came.

Day 7: Friday

In the morning after a quick beach trip, we’d planned a bike ride to the creek with the turtles Beth and the kids discovered in April. But just as Beth, Sara, June and I were getting ready to set out we found that June’s bike lock was broken and wouldn’t open.  We decided to leave it for the moment and drive instead. Once we’d had our fill of watching turtles and geese, June went to play in the playground while the adults took turns patronizing her imaginary Chinese restaurant where they were served tofu with vanilla frappuchino sauce. Eventually she found a child to play this game and we sat on a bench and watched all the kids on the playground and discussed Sara’s frustration with the delays of the adoptive process and her options (including fostering kids).

At home I made lunch for the kids while Beth went to buy a bolt cutter to free June’s bike. Sara asked to go along, which seemed strange until I found out she wanted Beth to help her choose some books (Zone One and The Map of Time) for my belated birthday present.

After lunch, Sara and I took the kids to the beach.  We had another nice swim while the kids played in shallower water or up on the sand. I read for a while and Beth came to join us briefly and get her feet wet.  She left first, followed by Noah and when Sara, June and I got to the bike rack, we discovered Noah had left June’s bike (previously locked to his) locked to the rack with his lock, to which none of us knew the combination. The repetition of this morning’s dilemma would have been funny, if it had not been so frustrating. We made some guesses, none correct, called home, and got no answer.  Sara biked home, leaving me with her phone so she could call back with combination. Finally we all got home and showered and headed over for a farewell dinner at Grotto’s Pizza before Mom and Sara drove back to Mom’s house (Sara had a morning flight back to Oregon the next day.)

Day 8: Saturday

After we packed and checked out of the house, Beth took the kids to Browseabout because Noah wanted to go book shopping and I returned the rental bikes by riding them one at a time back to the boardwalk.  I gave Noah some money and let him go to the T-Shirt Factory to pick out this year’s shirt.  (He enjoys being able to run errands like this independently.) The kids and I had a quick, final trip to the beach. Toward the end, June got knocked down by a wave and water went up her nose for the first time and she did not like it one bit.  She cried hard for a long time. I picked her up and held her and then wrapped her up in a towel.  Once she’d stopped crying I wondered if I should encourage her to go back into the water so that experience was not her last memory of ocean swimming until next summer.  While I was contemplating this, Noah got knocked down and partially ripped the scab off a week-old scrape on his knee.  Fresh blood was running all the way down his shin. I sent him back into the water to rinse it off and decided it was a good time to head for the crepe stand where we were meeting Beth for lunch.

Soon we were fed and on the road.  It was a good week.  The time off helps us all reconnect to each other, find long-lost parts of ourselves while wheeling down dark roads at night, and uncover courage we didn’t know we had in the amusement park, the ocean and the water park.

It’s always ourselves we find in the sea.

p.s. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Making the Crossing

The Beach, Continued:

Tuesday

The next day was calmer. Despite the fact that she’d gone to bed speculating exactly where in her room at home she’d lost her pacifier, June slept through the night and made it until 7:00 without waking us (a first for the trip and in fact it only happened one other time). We visited the Crocs outlet in the morning and everyone got a new pair for summer. Beth took the kids for bike and scooter ride and this time she was on her own bike so she could keep pace with them. I stayed behind to do laundry and then I got myself a café con leche and drank it on the boardwalk, reading The Washington Post Magazine until I looked up and was alarmed to see Noah and June go zipping by, apparently without Beth, but she was actually close behind.  We all went home and I made lunch for the kids while Beth got a massage. June and I napped (her first non-pacifier-assisted, non-car-assisted nap). When Beth returned she took June on a scouting mission to see which restaurants were open for dinner during the off-season.

While they were gone, Noah and I started Something Wicked This Way Comes.  This is more of an adult book than we usually read but he’ll be reading grown-up books in his English class next fall so I thought it might be a good idea to ease him in with some Bradbury. We’re reading my father’s college copy, a paperback with age-softened pages that cost him 60 cents in 1963. It has his pencil underlining and marginal comments.  Reading it to Noah makes me feel like I’m giving him a little piece of Dad.

I went for a walk on the beach once we’d finished reading. I meant to go further but I found the ridge where the kids had played two days before and it was such a nice place to sit I stayed there.  It was still long, but not as tall now and closer to the water. The tides and children with shovels had carved coves and channels all over it.  I settled right above the biggest cove, a shallow crescent big enough to park two cars. It was alternately a flat expanse of wet sand and a whirling mass of water. It was mesmerizing to watch, so I stayed a half hour as the late afternoon light grew golden and the damp sand into which I’d sunk my bare feet grew cold.

I met up with everyone back at the house. We’d told June she could pick a restaurant for dinner because she was doing such a great job sleeping without a pacifier. And so it was that in a town known for its fine dining, we ended up at IHOP.

After dinner, we played four rounds of Splash. June won the second round and announced she was keeping the scorecard. Later I found her winning Rat-a-Tat-Cat scorecard in her bed. She’s not a sore loser, but she is an enthusiastic winner.

Wednesday

It was time for another day trip. We took the 9:15 ferry from Lewes, Delaware to Cape May, New Jersey. Noah hadn’t been on a ferryboat in years and it’s possible June never has so this was the better part of the adventure. We experienced it largely separately, however, because I am prone to motion sickness and wanted to stay out on the deck, breathing fresh air, watching the seabirds soar and admiring the beauty of the Delaware Bay on a mild, sunny day.  The kids wanted to sit inside, eat snacks from the café and cruise the gift shop instead.  June made her big purchase of the trip, a set of plastic mermaids with accessories; she chose it over a model lighthouse embedded with shells and a sparkly dolphin magnet.

Our first stop in Cape May was the lighthouse. When Noah was little (around three to six years old) he loved lighthouses so we were constantly visiting them. We haven’t climbed one in years; in fact this was June’s first lighthouse.  She took the challenge very seriously, charging up the stairs, not wanting to stop at the landings where her mothers wanted to rest and examine the historical photographs and illustrations of Cape May.  Once we got to the top, however, she was very nervous on the observation deck and wanted to go right back down.

We went to see the shipwreck on Sunset Beach next. Noah read the informational sign about the sunken concrete ship and gave us the highlights, but the big attraction was the jetty. It was a perfect jetty, made of big black rocks, just challenging enough for climbing, with only a few off-limits algae-covered rocks at the end, and a “secret hideout” where you could climb down between the rocks, and watch the waves through a window-like gap. There were barnacles on the rocks and June found a sand crab when she dug in the sand near the water’s edge.  June made friends with a girl her age and that girl’s mother found a jellyfish and everyone had a lovely time. Noah made a game of racing down the jetty, bounding from rock to rock with Beth timing him and then June wanted in on the action to see if she could beat his times (she couldn’t).

It was hard to tear them away for lunch, but we did and after lunch we went to an old-fashioned soda fountain for milkshakes.  We strolled through the streets of Cape May, admiring the Victorian architectural confections—all the turrets and fancy woodwork and intricately painted trim. We had to hurry back to the ferry terminal to catch the 2:30 ferry back to Delaware where reading and bath and dinner awaited us. That night June went to sleep sucking on an ice cube so she could have something in her mouth.

Thursday

It should come as no surprise to anyone that my day started at 5:05 a.m., with June informing me that her ice had melted. Later in the day she mentioned in casual, matter-of-fact tone that she could choke on an ice cube, or on the melting water, but people couldn’t choke on pacifiers because they’re made for sucking. Then she resumed wondering where hers might be, under the toy box perhaps? Beth patted her arm, told her she was doing great, and said she thought she was all done with pacifiers.  June chose not to acknowledge this remark.

Cape May was our last big adventure. We went out to breakfast and then Beth and June biked to the playground. Noah wanted to go with them but he and Beth misunderstood each other so they left without him and was put out. He had his helmet on and was insisting he was going to find them even though I wasn’t sure where they’d gone and Beth wasn’t answering her phone. He was looking at maps of Rehoboth and various playground locations as I tried to dissuade him. Sometimes when we travel and he’s out of his routine, it brings out the Asperger-like qualities of his personality.  (Note: we had Noah tested for Aspergers a couple years back.  He doesn’t have it but he faces some of the same challenges as kids who do, albeit in a milder form.)

I finally convinced him to come to the beach with me instead. We packed a picnic lunch of an apple, carrot rounds, cheese and water and supplemented it with boardwalk fries.  Next we visited one of the ridges. This one was down to a few mounds of sand, a short cliff and a shallow cove. Noah and I made the cliff crumble by standing at the very edge, thus demonstrating the effect of human activity on erosion, he said. He leapt off the edge, soaking his pants around the knees (he was wearing rubber boots). He found something that looked like a rain gutter and a few feet away a narrow metal pipe with bolts at the end sticking out of the sand. He tried to dig the pipe out, but the sand rushed back into the hole with each wave.

Later that afternoon while Beth and the kids went in search of turtles in a nearby pond, I went back to the beach by myself. I walked north for forty-five minutes until I came to a jetty and found a rock flat and high enough to stand without fear of getting drenched, even as water swirled around me on three sides. It was cold and windy, but I stayed about twenty minutes, until I saw a wave of such size and power and perfect proportions that I knew it was time to leave—it wasn’t going to get better than that—and then I saw a rainbow in its retreating spray.

Friday

I wanted the kids to come to the beach with me the next morning because I’d seen pools of water perfect for wading around that time the morning before, but they didn’t want to come, so I went alone.  The pools didn’t appear that day, though, and it was cold and windy; the wind was plucking bits of sea foam off the water and sending them flying through the air.

Later that morning the kids and I met a realtor and toured houses we were considering renting for our beach week in July.  (Beth elected to stay home.) Looking at properties online, we’d narrowed it down to two.  Both were further from the beach than I’d like but one was close to downtown shops and restaurants. We were leaning toward that one, but when we saw them in person, both kids fell head over heels in love with the more remote house. Interestingly, they both said right away it reminded them of YaYa’s house, even though they meant different houses (current and former–houses that have very little in common in my mind). Anyway, the house is a charming, old-fashioned beach cottage, with a deck that made Noah say, “A stage!” and white, painted wrought iron patio furniture that made June say, “A place for tea parties!” and two attic bedrooms with sloping ceilings and a walk-through closet that connects them. The kids’ enthusiasm swayed me and we booked it.

I took June to the beach in the afternoon.  It was still cool and windy but it was sunny so we were warm enough for shell hunting and sand castle making. She enjoyed jumping off the sand cliff without her persnickety older brother yelling at her for climbing in the designated jumping area and jumping in the climbing area.

That night we made our final pilgrimage to Candy Kitchen and had pizza at Grotto’s and our last full day at the beach came to a close.

Saturday

The next morning we packed up the house and went to the realty to turn in our keys and sign papers for the next house. Then we returned to town, Beth got coffee and ran some Easter-Bunny related errands, while I took the kids to the beach.  The kite shop on the boardwalk was having a customer appreciation day and there were giant fabric balloons on the beach, a caterpillar the size of a school bus and a puffer fish about half that big, tethered to the sand and inflated solely by the wind. A few kids were diving into the sand under the balloons as they bobbed around and soon Noah and June joined in.  There was some kind of narrative about the caterpillar exerting evil power over June and Noah trying to save her, but I wasn’t paying very close attention, preferring to watch the waves.  The Easter Bunny was strolling around the boardwalk, and I pointed him out to June but she wasn’t interested. Beth said earlier in the week June had been showing her toys she might like in her Easter basket “in case the Easter Bunny is listening.” This made Beth think June has the Bunny’s number, or at least suspects the truth.

Around 10:55 a woman with a microphone announced there would be races and an egg toss for kids starting at eleven and June wanted to participate but we were supposed to meet Beth at a gazebo about two blocks away right then so I told June we’d come back.  Beth still had some more errands to complete, so I took the kids back to the kite store but when we got there I didn’t see Noah.  June accepted a piece of candy from the Easter Bunny and we turned back to find her brother, who had just taken such a long time to get his shoes on he was lagging far behind us.  We returned and June decided she wanted one of the free bagels so I got one for her and when I came back, Noah was gone again. I was more exasperated than scared.  He and I had just been discussing the fact that he’d left his bike lock at the gazebo so I figured he’d gone back for it.  I dragged June away from the games for the third time, but when I got to the pavilion, I found Noah’s lock, but not Noah.  I was more concerned now and asked the man who was now at the microphone at the kite store to page him.  He did, with no result.  By the third time Noah was paged, this time with a more detailed physical description, I was crying.  Apparently, I can only lose my kids once in a week without losing my cool. A little while later, Beth and Noah came riding and scooting up to the kite store.

“Where were you?” I yelled at him.

“It was my fault,” Beth said, putting her arms around me as I started to cry harder.  She’d found him while I was in the bagel line and taken him for a bike and scooter ride out to the summer house, so she could see it.  This had been the plan all along so she thought I’d know where he’d gone, but it didn’t occur to me she’d take him when I wasn’t looking so I had no idea.  Beth guessed what had happened, though, as soon as a stranger approached them and asked, “Are you Noah?”

By this time, the games were over and June never got to play, so we strolled down the boardwalk, had lunch and drove back to Takoma, even managing to dye our Easter eggs after the unpacking and laundry and dinner and before bedtime.  That night June went to bed without asking for her pacifier. We never even looked for it.

Coda: Sunday and Monday

The kids hunted for their Easter baskets in the morning and found them full of chocolate and jellybeans.  June got stuffed red monkey that looks like one she once lost (and mourned for years) and Noah got a t-shirt from Grotto’s.  Beth went grocery shopping and I did mounds of laundry.  Beth and June started flower, vegetable and watermelon seeds in pots and then Beth raised the training wheels on June’s bike and we stood in the driveway watching her make her wobbly way around it.  It was a pleasant way to ease back into our home routine, without the pressures of work or school.

Going to bed, I had no idea what awaited us.  June wandered into our room around 10:15, sleepy and disoriented, saying she couldn’t sleep. I’d sent her back to her room two or three times by 10:40 when I heard her sobbing and Beth and I both went into her room.  Even when I got into bed with her and held her she couldn’t stop crying.  I asked her if she wanted me to sing the songs I used to sing to put her to sleep when she was younger and she said yes so I sang them for an hour until she finally drifted to sleep.  At one point while she was in the bathroom I pried up her mattress and found two pacifiers in between the bed and the wall.  I took them to Beth and we quietly discussed whether or not to give her one. We didn’t, but I came pretty close.

Beth took the kids to Round House in the morning. It was June’s first-ever experience with a full-day camp and she was excited, and a little nervous, to be joining Noah in the fun. When I picked them up, after a day of trying to write about memory and cognition through a brain-fog of fatigue, I learned the theme of the day had been the ocean.  The kids were divided into younger and older groups and they performed for each other at the end of the day.  June was a crab being interviewed on a talk show.  Noah was full of praise for her performance and one of the counselors told me she was “a good little actress.”  Noah was the Carpenter in a puppet show version of  “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” and another counselor said it was always good to see him.  Noah said he couldn’t wait for summer vacation so he could go back to Round House, and June said it was fun, but after lunch and the play period, she’d been tired and wanted to go home.  On the bus, I wondered why the kids had fallen silent and looked back to see June asleep, leaning against Noah.

We’ve made the crossing out of the territory of Spring Break. Beth went back to work on Monday and the kids returned to school yesterday.  I’m not making any predictions about how long it will take June to go to sleep easily and consistently without her pacifier but the last two nights have gone well so I’m crossing my fingers for tonight.

Wild, Wild Horses

Prelude: Thursday and Friday

The kids’ last day of school before Spring Break was a Thursday. As Noah had no pressing homework and we were leaving for the beach on Saturday, I pounced on him as soon as he got home and set him to work, vacuuming, practicing percussion, cleaning his room.  I asked June to help with the last project and when Beth got home around 6:30 the kids were arguing about whether June was being “lazy” and I was at the stove, ignoring the row and stirring risotto.  I left the rice long enough to put my arms around Beth’s neck and say, “Thank you for taking us to the beach so the whole break won’t be like this.”

We had spring break all mapped out: Friday June would spend part of the day at Beth’s office, from the first Saturday to the second Saturday we’d be at the beach, Easter Sunday we’d catch up on chores and errands and on the second Monday, the last day of break, the kids would attend a one-day session at Round House Theatre.  Theoretically, I was going to work on the first and last day and be on vacation in between, but Friday was a fragmented kind of day, so other than some accounting, I didn’t work.

On Friday Beth took June to the office with her for two and a half hours. June helped her recycle some papers and open envelopes and then she drew pictures and read. I read to Noah and puttered around the house until 10:15 when I left to go fetch June, and  after enjoying some time with the newspaper at Firehook Bakery near Beth’s office, I met them in the lobby at 11:30 and we went out to lunch together at Meatballs, where Beth and I ate meatball subs made with lentil balls and June contented herself with tater tots.

Noah had a productive morning at home, doing math and English homework, and practicing his drums again.  In the afternoon, we were visited by a reporter from The Wall Street Journal who’s writing a story about kids’ allowances and who interviewed Noah about how he uses Quicken to track his money.  While she was at our house, she got locked out of her laptop and Noah fixed it for her, by suggesting she shut it down and restart it (always a good first step but it didn’t occur to me—Beth has trained him well).

Maggie came by for a play date soon after the reporter left, and that evening we had frozen pizza and various leftovers for dinner, Beth and I filled out our absentee ballots and we started packing.

The Beach: 

Saturday 

Less than half hour into the drive to Rehoboth I realized I had not looked for, found or packed June’s pacifier, which she’d lost the night before.  Beth and I had a whispered conversation in which we agreed not to go back for it. This would be our opportunity to wean her from her nap and nighttime dependence on it.

During a pit stop, June mentioned she was tired. I suggested she have a little nap because we were at least a half hour from our designated lunch stop. She agreed happily and as she climbed into her car seat, she asked for her pacifier. Somehow I’d failed to anticipate this. I broke the bad news.  She looked stricken, but she didn’t cry. Noah unhelpfully began to intone in a dramatic announcer-type voice, “Will June survive a week without her pacifier?”

“No, she won’t,” June muttered.

Beth sternly told Noah this was going to be hard for June and we needed to be kind to her.

I suggested he stop sucking his thumb for a week in solidarity, tapping his arm to remind him his thumb was in his mouth at that very moment. Noah did not to agree to this, so I offered not to bite my nails for a week. (I did it, too!)

June fell asleep shortly after this conversation but I warned Beth not to consider it a good sign, as the car is a powerful soporific.

We arrived at the house, unpacked and June and I hit the boardwalk while Beth went to buy food for dinner and breakfast.  I was on foot and June was on her bike, ringing the bell every few minutes.  “When I ring the bell it means I’m having a good time,” she said. As she pedaled toward Candy Kitchen, June commented, “I’ve had lunch,” in an offhand way. It was late afternoon, close to dinnertime, but I told her she could get something for later. She selected gummy teeth and perused the stuffed animals. She wanted to buy a giraffe, with her own money—despite my broad hints about the Easter Bunny’s propensity to bring stuffed animals.  I didn’t have enough cash on me, so it was a moot point and she reluctantly agreed to wait until later in the week, to see if she saw something she liked better.

It was cold, in the high forties, overcast and windy, so windy that the wind was propelling the bike forward as much as June was, and when we turned around she couldn’t pedal at all and I had to push the bike home.

That night we settled June into bed without a pacifier but with a stuffed rabbit, a stuffed cat and a baby doll.  We tucked her under her Cinderella blanket and put on her favorite bedtime CD—Peter and the Wolf.  “I have to do this all week,” she said.  It didn’t seem like a good time to tell her if all went well, she was saying goodbye to the pacifier forever.  As I left the room, she was moaning.

She couldn’t sleep. For an hour, I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret to Noah while Beth received repeated visits from June. She wanted the CD turned off, and then turned on again. Beth suggested she try counting backwards and then June came back for more explicit instructions. Finally, around 9:20, we realized she hadn’t been out of bed for ten minutes or so and I peeked in on her. She was asleep. She slept until 3:20 when I woke to her sobs.  She was standing in the hall outside the bathroom. She said she was thirsty and couldn’t find a cup for water.  I didn’t think this was her whole reason for crying, but I got her a drink and sent her back to bed.  Despite being up late and in the middle of the night, June was up at 5:45 and came into our room repeatedly until 7:00 a.m., with newsflashes like this one that woke me for good at 6:10—“I’m bored. I don’t want to play with my toys.”

Sunday

Beth and I were pretty wiped out so I went and got take-out coffee to give us the mental focus for planning and list making.  We made lists of dinner menus, a grocery list and a list of possible day trips for the week.  We thought a low-key day would be best as three of us were sleep-deprived.  Plus Beth needed to grocery shop and she had some work to do, too.

Once our week was planned, I played two games of Hex with June and took the kids to the beach. Noah, irritated that I’d taken June to Candy Kitchen without him, got his turn. He chose raspberry gummy rings while June re-assessed her stuffed animal options. She left thinking she might want Ruby, of Max and Ruby. I thought a bunny might be appropriate for Easter.

It was still cool, but sunny and windless.  The sea was calm and sparkly. We found a big plowed ridge of sand, part of a beach replenishment project. It was about ten feet high and at least fifty yards long and it gave the kids’ play a focal point.  They slid down it and leapt off it, marking their record jumps with driftwood.  June leaned against the base while Noah buried her up to her chin and they pretended she was a mummy coming back to life and breaking free of her bandages (the blanket of sand). They built sand temples and sand volcanoes.  We were there almost two hours.

I thought with her poor night’s sleep, biking to the beach and back and an active morning of running and jumping, June might be exhausted enough to nap sans pacifier, but she just couldn’t.  About fifteen minutes into her attempt, she started to cry.  Noah came into her room to see what was wrong, but she told him, “There’s nothing you can do.”  So she didn’t sleep, and I didn’t either.  I even offered to let her sleep with me, but that didn’t work either.  Beth finished her work and took June to the playground while Noah and I read on the porch.

We had an early dinner and walked down to the boardwalk for dessert. Ice cream was the original idea but the wind had picked up again and it wasn’t feeling much like ice cream weather.  Beth got some anyway (she’s dedicated to ice cream); the rest of us opted for fudge. I would have gotten funnel cake if I could have gotten someone to agree to go halfsies with me.

The kids had time for a round of Rat-a-Tat-Cat before June’s bedtime. When I left her room less than five minutes after lights out, she was nearly asleep.

Monday

Monday was one of our scheduled side trips.  We spent the day at Assateague Island National Seashore and on the boardwalk at Ocean City.

As we drove into the park, Noah asserted that we’d been there before (true) and that we didn’t see any horses (false).  Beth and I had just been reminiscing about our last trip to Assateague during Noah’s kindergarten spring break and his challenging behavior during that outing (Postcards from Spring Break, 4/9/07). “It’s like the ghost of grumpy Noah came back,” I said.

But, other than occasionally insisting we’d never seen horses before and we wouldn’t see them today either, he was in a pretty good mood. Both kids ran down the sandy path of the Life of the Dunes trail, pretending to the superheroes, avoiding the villains (us) spying on them (taking pictures).  We all enjoyed the trail, but we didn’t see hide nor hair of the wild horses (only their abundant poop). I wondered if we should have pulled over when we saw people stopping by the side of the road, photographing distant horses.

We were near the beach so the kids played in the sand before we hit the Life of the Marsh trail.  On the drive there we hit pay dirt.  By the side of the road, just off the parking lot there were three horses, a brown stallion, a brown and white mare and an almost all white foal. The baby was snoozing on the grass. Not only did we see horses, but we saw a baby horse. This was a major parenting score.

We hoped to see water birds on the marsh trail, and there were ducks and quite a few snowy egrets flying, landing and standing elegantly in the water, but there were also horses.  Horses on distant spits of land, and then a shaggy brown horse right off the boardwalk trail.  We’d have to get closer than the recommended ten feet away to pass it. We edged by slowly. “I wish I could pet it,” June said wistfully.  She was sternly instructed not to do so. When we got to the parking lot, there were five or six more horses, all reddish brown, with manes ranging from tan to black.

“No-one’s going to say we didn’t see horses today,” I predicted back in the car on our way to the last trail, the Life of the Forest trail.  We had lunch at a boardwalk restaurant in Ocean City. Noah spied the carousel horses that decorated the place and said it was a day of horses and that’s when we saw the mounted police officer out the window.

After lunch, June rode her bike and Noah rode his scooter down the boardwalk. Noah wanted to go to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, so we did, with some trepidation about its appropriateness for a sensitive six year old. It was the kind of day when we just didn’t want to say no. I steered June away from videos of people who’d survived horrible accidents (shark attacks, etc.) and was relieved when she didn’t ask about the foot-binding exhibit or the Iron Maiden. What really caught her attention was the room of statues of the tallest person ever and the fattest, and the man with extreme body modification (green scale tattoos, filed teeth, surgically forked tongue).  She was talking about that lizard man for days.  The children got their fortunes told by a mechanical Gypsy and had their portrait sketched by a computer—Noah chose the style of Raphael and June went with Rembrandt.

After we’d had our fill of oddities and careful conversations about them, we sampled the boardwalk’s treats. Beth got a shake, I got a dipped cone, Noah got a chocolate-covered frozen banana and June got a cloud of blue cotton candy considerably bigger than her head. We sat on a bench to eat and soon the kids were playing in the sand. I joined them and we made our way down the broad beach to the water. We rolled up our pants and dipped our feet into the water.  At 3:50, I glanced at my watch and decided it was time to head back.

“This was a really fun day,” I told Beth as we walked up the boardwalk watching the kids riding ahead of us. It was about to get a lot less fun.

We were almost to the intersection where we’d leave the boardwalk and we couldn’t see the kids.  They had gotten out of our sight before briefly and we’d always caught sight of them, but not this time.  We stopped at the intersection and looked all around, but they were nowhere to be seen. Beth said a bad word or rather she spelled it, as if the kids were still there and still small enough for that to work.  We conferred hurriedly. Beth would stay in front of the restaurant where we ate lunch, in case they thought to go there.  I would go down the boardwalk after them. I jogged and walked and jogged and walked for twelve blocks.  Once I saw a little girl on a white bike and I yelled, “June!” but before the word was even out of my mouth, I saw it wasn’t her.  I heard the distinctive sound of scooter wheels coming from a side street and I looked but it wasn’t Noah. Finally I came to a barrier.  The boardwalk was undergoing repairs on the other side. They wouldn’t have crossed it. Part of my mind was relieved because the Ocean City boardwalk is not like Rehoboth’s little one-mile boardwalk. It goes on and on and on for dozens of blocks. I was glad to have the search area confined to a twelve block-stretch. But another part of my mind thought I should have seen them coming back unless…I didn’t listen and searched the area all around the barrier in case they were waiting somewhere nearby, on the beach or a restaurant patio. I yelled, “Noah!” over and over. No answer.

I turned back. I was no longer hurrying, but lingering now, looking all around me. When I got back to Beth, we’d have to call the police, I decided. And then about halfway back, I saw Noah, just Noah. This could be very good or very bad. “Where’s June?” I yelled, before saying anything else.

She was with Beth. The kids had been waiting by the car, where neither Beth nor I had seen them even though we both, independently of each other, peered down that street. They’d argued about whether to remain there, June remembering advice to stay put if you were lost, and Noah thinking we might be just around the corner. He did not leave her and finally he convinced her to come and they were re-united with Beth, who was in fact just around the corner and who sent Noah on his scooter to find me. I’d left my backpack with my cell phone behind with Beth and they had no way to call me.

In case you’re wondering if I’ve learned anything since the last time I lost Noah in a public place (Lost and Found, 7/17/10), I’ve learned this: even though I’d never deliberately leave Noah in charge of June in a crowded public place for upwards of a half hour, I now know they’ll stick together and discuss their options thoughtfully. I know that when it mattered, he had her back. That’s no small thing.

The kids seemed no worse for the wear, though Noah admitted the next day to having been “a little worried.”  Beth and I were wrung out. Back at the house, Beth made matzoh ball soup, we made the kids eat their carrots and drink their milk; I bathed June and read to Noah. Beth shepherded a pacifier-deprived June back to bed several times and finally they were fed and clean and safe in their beds and so was I, hunkered down with the only one in the world who loves them as much as I do.

Our spring break adventures continue in the next post…

The June Club

On Saturday morning we were having breakfast at the Galleria Espresso in Rehoboth Beach. There’s a place in the restaurant where two mirrored walls come together. The kids love this corner because if you sit there you can see multiple images of yourself. They call these assemblies of images, “The Noah Club” and “The June Club.” Noah had his turn first and June was impatient for hers, so she ended up with a much longer turn while the rest of us ate our pancakes and crepes. At one point all the members of the June Club were exclaiming over how funny it was that they all looked exactly alike. June’s self-amusing like that.

We were in Rehoboth for our annual Christmas shopping weekend, a family tradition that has multiple benefits: we get away from the distractions of home and chores and focus on our shopping while supporting actual brick and mortar stores and a local economy (if not our own), June gets to visit the one true Santa in his house on the boardwalk, and I get a little much needed off-season beach time to tide me over until spring break.

So I walked on the beach at night and the kids and I built whole villages of sand castles during the cold, windy days. June decorated hers with carefully chosen pebbles and shells and Noah smashed his with the bottom of his bucket as soon as they were built. When they tired of this, they buried treasure (more shells and pebbles) and marked the spot with an X. June cried when Noah buried what she claims were prettier shells than she’ll ever be able to find again and they couldn’t find them, but then she got over it and they were burying treasure again. On Saturday June and I were on the beach at 7:35 with the last pink of the sunrise and both kids and I were there at 4:25 with the first pink of the sunset. We got a good bit of shopping done, too.

The weekend was pleasant, but unremarkable to the point that I don’t have much more to say about it. I think this has a lot to do with June being in the Santa sweet spot. She’s old enough not to be afraid to sit in his lap any more (having conquered that fear last year) and too young to be skeptical and full of angst about it like Noah was in first grade (see 12/10/07). So there wasn’t much Santa-related drama. After breakfast on Saturday June found a mermaid doll at Browse About Books (http://www.browseaboutbooks.com/), fell in love with it and insisted Beth take a picture on her phone in case Santa needed photographic evidence, but he didn’t. That afternoon, she clambered happily into his lap and told him she wanted the “McKenna Mermaid doll” (http://www.amazon.com/Groovy-Girl-122080-MacKenna-Mermaid/dp/B001R59PX0) and he seemed to know what she meant. It was all very satisfactory.

Life is pretty satisfactory for June these days. She loves kindergarten, loves riding the bus, loves the rhythms and routines of school. She looks forward to her turns as line leader and door closer, and keeps careful count of her tiger paws. She’s learning to read and working very hard at it. Because Spanish is more phonetic than English she can sound words out better in Spanish, but she’s more likely to know what they mean in English. I’ve watched her switching back and forth from English to Spanish books and back again as she struggles to find something she can read by herself. She is this close, able to read quite of a lot of words, but not quite fluent enough to sit down and really read a book. The contrast with Noah at this age is striking. He learned to read in kindergarten, too, a little later in the year, but seemingly without effort. One day he couldn’t read and the next day he could. June’s more of a step-by-step learner. That’s why Noah was a sight words reader and she’s a phonics-based reader. Either way, it’s a joy to watch, even if we do have to read a lot of words as she points to them, over and over and asks what they say. Do you know how many words there are out there in the world? There never seem to be quite as many as when you have a child who’s on the verge of reading.

I volunteered in June’s class on Tuesday. When I came in the door her face lit up and for a while she had trouble concentrating on her work because she kept glancing up at me, at the table where I sat date-stamping homework papers and putting them in the kids’ folders and cubbies and folding and stapling coloring sheets into little booklets. Of course that’s why I go, to see her excitement at having me there, and also for the chance to spy on a bit of her school day as I relieve the teacher of some of her clerical duties. Señora T read two books, and gave a short lesson on ordinal numbers (the kids had to line up, five to a line and then the remaining children had to say who was primero, segundo, tercero—first, second, third, etc.) First they did it in order, and then she started mixing it up. There was also a short grammar lesson on the topic of “¿Que es una oración?” (“What is a sentence?”) and a free play period. June was at the stencil table, filling in a sprinkling of stars at the top of her page for a night scene. Other kids drew (one of June’s friends presented her with a drawing of a Christmas tree) or painted, or did puzzles, or played with blocks or toy cars or pretend food in the supermarket area. There was an injury when food went flying and I had to escort a girl to the nurse’s office with a scratch on her nose.

When school let out June asked if we could play on the playground before walking home and she showed me how she can go all the way across the monkey bars now. She’s been working on this all year, devoting many of her recess periods to mastering this particular piece of playground equipment. At the beginning of the year she tried the bigger set (the one she fell off) but she has since switched over to the smaller set, which is more her size, and she can indeed go all the way across. I watched her do it again and again.

It reminded me of something that happened over Thanksgiving weekend. We were at a playground in Wheeling, with Beth’s mom, three of her aunts and two of her cousins. This playground is well known to both kids, but they had a new piece of equipment June had never encountered before. It consisted of four chains, strung on a wooden frame. There were plastic handles on the sides, but June wanted to walk all the way across without falling and without holding on. Over and over she tried, and over and over she fell.

“I am going to keep on doing this until I don’t fall,” she told me, and I thought, oh no, how are we going to leave this playground because I didn’t think she could really do it. Well, you know how this story ends, right? She kept on doing it until she didn’t fall, and then she did it a few more times for good measure.

Five pushing six is a magical age, full of challenges to master, words to read and monkey bar and chain bridges to cross. It’s a good time to be a member of the June Club.