Little Girl in a Red Granite Chair

Beth and Noah went on their annual early fall mother-son camping trip this weekend. They camped in Shawnee State Park in south central Pennsylvania, toured Lincoln Caverns, and had other adventures.  While one of her mothers and her brother were enjoying the natural world, June took in some culture.

I’d been wanting to go the Degas/Cassatt exhibit at the National Gallery for a while and Beth had originally suggested we try to go on Rosh Hashanah, which the kids had off school, but it ended up falling between two other days when Beth was leaving work early (Wednesday to take Noah to an orthodontist appointment and Friday to pick him up from school and leave on their camping trip), so she had to beg off, with regrets.

I thought I’d take the kids anyway, or maybe just June, as Noah had an English paper he wanted to write so he wouldn’t have to do it on the camping trip, but I ended up deciding not to go partly because Noah objected to being left behind and partly I thought there was a better chance he’d actually finish the paper if I stayed home and kept him on track.  (I found out later in the day what he’d really been interested in was the going out to lunch part of the plan and not the exhibit, which might have changed things if I’d known it at the time.)  He did write almost a page, which was not as much as he hoped, but it was something.

So I decided to try again on Saturday. Sometimes I try to do a lot of fun, consolation prize-type things with June when Beth and Noah are on this trip to because she doesn’t like being left behind and she gets sad.  She’d been complaining bitterly the night before that while she has invited Noah to come along on her annual late spring camping trip with Beth at least twice he never invites her to go on his trip. (It’s true, but he was up front the first time she invited him that he was not going to reciprocate because he likes the alone time with Beth, so she can’t complain she didn’t know how it would go down.)

The outing was not exactly a treat. June had no objection to going to an art museum but she wasn’t excited about it either. However, it would be one-on-one time, more so than if we stayed home and I cleaned house (which was the alternate plan), plus we’d been to Chuck E. Cheese for a school fundraiser the night before and I let her stay almost two hours, eating pizza, playing arcade games, and running around with her best friend and then I took her out for frozen yogurt, so I didn’t feel too bad about choosing an activity I wanted to do.

Getting out of the house was more difficult that anticipated.  June was slow to get dressed because she was upset (to the point of tears) about losing her progress in a long, multi-level game on the Electric Company website because she’d forgotten her username and couldn’t save the game. I hadn’t made her quit in order to leave, she had just gotten tired of it and quit around the same time I wanted to leave.  So we missed the 9:28 bus and then the 9:58 bus just didn’t come and when the 10:28 bus was late I was coming very close to throwing in the towel on the whole outing but at 10:34 a bus came and we boarded it. I’d even risked running back into the house shortly before the bus arrived to get the camera battery I’d left in the charger and was rewarded with a working camera. I also read a chapter and a half of The Grim Grotto (Series of Unfortunate Events #11) aloud to June while waiting for the bus so the time was not entirely wasted.

I’d chosen a Metro stop that required a line transfer for two reasons, because it was closest to the museum and also because there’s a Starbucks right next to it.  It was so close to lunchtime it seemed like fortification was in order if I wanted to go straight to the exhibit rather than the café.  There were no more transportation issues and by 11:35 we were leaving Starbucks and walking to the museum, vanilla milk and a latte in hand and vanilla scones and a toasted bagel in our bellies.

As we approached the West Building I noticed a poster for an Andrew Wyeth exhibit I hadn’t realized was there. I wondered if we could see both before June lost interest in art. The National Gallery of Art is very large and even with a map, I still needed to ask for directions twice before we found the Degas/Cassatt exhibit. Once we were inside, though, we were immediately rewarded with the sight of the exhibit’s most famous painting, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair.

It was the second to last weekend of the exhibit and it was pretty crowded. I was glad we hadn’t waited for the last weekend. Other than babies in strollers and strapped to their parents’ chests, June was the only child there. She was interested to see two big wooden boxes of Cassatt’s pastel crayons at the entrance. As we wandered through the three-room exhibit, I tried to find the balance between being pedagogical enough and not overwhelming June with explanations. I commented on how the girl in the armchair doesn’t seem to be posing, but is just sprawled out on the chair the way a child would naturally sit. We talked about how the artists were friends and she wanted to know how they met if she was an American and he was French. Then she asked if they ever collaborated on a painting. We noticed many of Degas’ painting were portraits of Cassatt and June took delight in counting how many of them there were. She might have lost count when we discovered one whole room consisted of sketches and paintings of Cassatt on a trip to the Louvre.  Meanwhile, a couple near us was having a discussion that went something like this:

“They weren’t lovers, though.”

“No, there was no sex involved.”

And then they just kept reiterating this fact in different ways. It made me wish Beth were there so I could whisper to her, “Did you know Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt had no carnal knowledge of each other?” but instead I stifled the urge to laugh because I didn’t think June was listening to them and didn’t really want to have to explain.

The Wyeth exhibit was right next to the Degas/Cassatt exhibit and I couldn’t resist going in, although this one was less kid-friendly, being nothing but paintings of windows.  How fascinating, I thought, and how boring, June seemed to be thinking.

“He sure did like windows,” she said.

“Why do you think an artist might like about windows?” I said.

“I dunno. The light?” she said.

I agreed. The windows do change the light in the painting and they also let you see two scenes at once, the inside one and the outside one, I explained.

I stopped short in front of Evening at Kuerners, because I’ve seen this painting before, three years ago at the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania with Beth. I even mentioned it as one of my favorite Wyeths in this blog post. It was on the wall in between two other paintings of a single lighted window of a house or barn seen from outside at night. Then we saw a painting of N.C. Wyeth’s studio from the outside on a snowy day. Beth and toured that studio on the same weekend getaway, albeit on a sweltering July day.

When we’d finished with Wyeth I asked June what she’d like to do next and she choose to see some of the sculpture in the permanent collection.  There were a lot of Rodin sculptures and also some Degas dancers. I pointed them out to June. It was a lot less crowded away from the travelling exhibits. Often we were alone with the guards, one of whom told June she looked like a Vermeer painting. I wondered which one he had in mind.

After a late lunch in the café, the one with the big waterfall right outside the window, I bought some magnets with Andrew Wyeth paintings on them–Evening at Kuerners (because if it’s going to follow me around I might as well take it home) and also the one of the studio. We paused in another gift shop long enough to read a children’s book about the painting of Little Girl in a Blue Armchair and we learned the answer to two of June’s questions.  Cassatt met Degas when she moved to Paris and he actually painted part of the background of that very painting.

Going up the stairs to exit the museum, I overheard a frustrated college-age man explaining to his out-of-town relatives that the café really wasn’t that expensive for D.C. and they should have just eaten there. Beth later pointed out someone should have told them when you get into a world-class museum for free, it’s a bit churlish to complain about the overpriced food. I agree, though I’d had a pang of regret when June’s eyes were bigger than her stomach and I had to throw out her nearly untouched $5.50 slice of pizza because you aren’t allowed to remove any food from the café. (We did smuggle out a brownie in June’s bag, don’t tell anyone.)

Next we headed for the sculpture garden. It was around two in the afternoon when we left the museum and it was noticeably warmer than when we’d entered. I was worried June would be hot because in the spring and the fall she has a tendency to dress for the weather that’s just around the corner instead of the weather we’re actually having, so on this sunny day with temperatures in the low eighties, she was wearing a ribbed turtleneck, a corduroy skirt, and tights. But she didn’t complain as we wandered through the sculptures. It had been so long since we’ve been there that she didn’t remember it and she enjoyed the more whimsical pieces. After a half hour or so we were both ready to leave.

We headed home. I rested a bit and then cleaned the kitchen, made dinner, menu-planned for the next week and made a grocery list. There was time for a few rounds of Mad Libs before June went to bed, and after a shower, I fell into bed with a book, our artistic day over.

Icons of Spring

Have I mentioned we had ten snow days this year, six over the limit of built-in school days and the school district is only making up two? I have?  Oh, yes, of course. What I haven’t mentioned is that despite the fact that there are five contingency days clearly scheduled on a calendar sent home at the beginning of every year, that when the school district decided to make up the measly two days, only one of those two make-up days was on one of the contingency days?  The other one came out of spring break.

Now it could have been worse, we could have been faced with the horrifying prospect of school in session while we had a beach house rented, but it was just the tag end of spring break, Easter Monday, which fell two days after our return.  But the fact remained that Beth had made an orthodontist appointment and a dentist appointment for Noah on Monday and June had more exciting plans, in the form of two tickets for the White House Easter Egg Roll Beth received from a colleague.

We decided to stick with our plans and kept Noah out of school. June went to school in the morning, but I picked her up around noon to take her into the city.  So despite my letters to the superintendent of schools and to state officials about how the school year should be extended, I ended up in the seemingly hypocritical position of only sending one kid to school for a half day on the first make-up day.

But perhaps you wanted to hear something about the Easter Egg Roll itself?

Crowded would be one description. While we were standing in one of many lines I heard someone say there were thirty thousand people there. I checked later and it’s true, although they weren’t all at once—thirty thousand tickets were issued in five time slots. We were in the fourth slot, 2:30-4:30.  After a picnic lunch outside the Takoma Metro stop where Beth dropped us off en route to Noah’s dentist appointment and a train ride into the city, we arrived at the Ellipse and got into line around 1:40. I did consult my map when we got off the Metro, but if I’d misplaced it I could have just as easily followed the hoards of dressed up children heading in the direction of the White House.

It took an hour and ten minutes to go through security, get our wristbands, and wait in line to enter the South Lawn.  As we inched along, I read How to Cheat A Dragon’s Curse to June until we got closer to the front of the line where music was playing and it was no longer possible to read without raising my voice. As we approached the White House June wanted to know exactly when we’d crossed into White House property. We were walking along the sidewalk, next to a wrought iron fence and I told her the squirrel on the other side was on the White House lawn. She seemed thrilled to be that close.

Once we got inside we had to choose from all kinds of activities, but we headed straight for the Egg Roll itself because that’s the classic event and our time was limited. The line there was pretty short and soon June was pushing an egg across the grass with a long wooden spoon right in front of the South Portico of the White House.  Next we headed for the snack area where we shared an apple, some baby carrots in a kefir dipping sauce, and bottled strawberry-kiwi smoothies. We peeked at the White House vegetable garden and noticed that their kale is doing better than ours.

June had a hard time deciding between the story-telling stage where Miss America would be reading stories or the obstacle course. We stood in line for ten minutes outside the roped off storytelling area before realizing that at the rate it the line was moving (not at all) we’d be admitted after Miss America was finished and Debbie Reynolds had begun and as June had no idea who Debbie Reynolds was, we left the line and headed for the obstacle course.

Next we headed to a booth where she did a science experiment, making hypotheses about which objects from a jumble on the table would sink and which would float in a tub of water and then testing her hypotheses and filling out a checklist of her results.  By the time she finished, it was time to hit the restrooms and get in line again to exit.  We were issued a box of Peeps and a commemorative wooden Easter egg as we left.

It had been fun and exciting but also kind of exhausting between the sun and the crowds so when June asked if she could get a soft pretzel from a street vendor the idea of sitting down on the grass and eating seemed attractive so I bought it for her and an eggroll for myself before we got back on the Metro and headed home.

I’m glad we went, though, because although we’ve been to the White House several times—once for a Christmas tour pre-kids, once on a regular tour when June was in preschool (“All The Presidents’ Pictures,” October 19, 2010), and once for a garden tour a year later-—we’ve never been to the Easter Egg Roll and it’s an iconic Washington springtime event, just like the cherry blossoms.

We did go to see the blossoms this year, the Friday before we left for the beach.  They are often a logistical challenge, mainly because of the short peak bloom period, which is difficult to predict more than a few days ahead of time, and parking issues.  We ended up going in the evening after June’s violin recital and pizza dinner because Saturday was busy with June’s kung fu lesson and packing for the beach. It was a hurried trip and not ideal in some ways, but beautiful as always. And the kids did seem to enjoy the novelty of going at night. As we left Noah surprised me by saying, “This was fun. We should do this more often.” I pointed out we go every year. “No, in the dark, in the rain,” he said.

I probably wouldn’t want to go the Easter Egg Roll every year, even if such a thing were possible and it isn’t; most people who go win their tickets in an online lottery, which is a better system than we first moved to the Washington area and I’d read in the newspaper about people camping out overnight in line for tickets. I might also need to give up the tradition of always going to the cherry blossoms, because it is hard to manage some years, especially for Beth, who has to drive and park if we don’t end up taking the Metro. Still, I do feel fortunate to live here, among the symbols of democracy and the fragile pink and white blossoms that herald the arrival of spring each year.

Quite an Experience, Postscript

Well, much to our surprise, June made it into the commercial, which is playing on NBC and MSNBC this week.  But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.  She’s a natural. And it hasn’t gone to her head at all. Just the other day she was describing her plans for Noah to make a movie with her in it–they’ve done a few of these over the past couple years.  Afterward we will spread out the red fleece throw we keep on the living room couch on the floor so she can use it as a red carpet.  As she walks down the carpet, wearing sunglasses and a boa, we are to throw flower petals at her. So, life is going on pretty much as usual here.

Quite an Experience

I. Thursday and Friday

Thursday June came off the school bus sobbing.  She’d twisted her knee the weekend before when she wiped out on her bike going down a hill too fast.  We’d been icing it regularly and keeping it wrapped in an Ace bandage and it seemed to be gradually getting better.  But while she was waiting in the bus line at school two squabbling girls crashed into her and knocked her down, re-injuring the knee.  She cried for over an hour after she got home. I cancelled her violin lesson and was seriously considering getting her on a bus and taking her to the emergency room of the hospital two blocks from our house when she finally stopped.

By the next morning she still couldn’t walk very well (she was hopping everywhere) so we decided to take her to the health center attached to her school for a preliminary medical opinion to help us decide what to do next.  We had a feeling staying at school wasn’t in the cards. In some ways the timing was lucky (and in other ways unlucky) because Beth and I were both already planning to take the day off.  The kids had a half-day and Beth and Noah were leaving in the afternoon for their annual early fall camping trip (“Notes on Camp” 9/30/07).  Beth was planning to pack in the morning, but I was hoping there’d be time for a mini-date–coffee or a Netflix movie or maybe both.

At school I delivered a form and check for an after-school cooking class June wants to take. (It’s full, but I got her on the waiting list.) Then we delivered a bag of the kids’ old t-shirts and sweatpants to the health center.  They requested them for kids who get sick at school and need a change of clothes. Then the nurse had a look at June’s leg, asked us some questions, and recommended we have a doctor examine her today.

She offered June a ride to the school doors in a wheelchair, which June accepted with half-suppressed pleasure. Over the course of our errands, the assistant principal, the principal, and two mothers of June’s friends inquired about what had happened to her. June, who does enjoy this kind of attention, later commented, “That was quite an experience.”

At home, Beth set to work making a lot of phone calls, communicating with June’s pediatrician and trying to get an appointment at an urgent care.  The funny thing was we already had a pediatrician appointment that day (for the kids’ overdue annual exams), but it wasn’t until mid-afternoon and if we waited until the pediatrician appointment for a referral to somewhere with an orthopedic specialist, it could have delayed Beth and Noah’s camping trip.  At the second urgent care Beth tried, they told her they didn’t take appointments but the wait was only about a half hour, so we headed over there.

During the intake questions, we were asked if June drinks or smokes.  Apparently they have to ask everyone, but one does wonder if they could make an exception for the under-eight set.

The doctor–who later inspired Beth to remark “They let awfully young people be doctors these days”–felt June’s leg all over and said there were no broken bones or torn ligaments and it was just a deep bruise that should feel better in a couple days, a week at most. Basically, her advice was to keep doing what we’d been doing—painkiller, ice, and compression.

We came home for lunch and to wait for Noah to get home so we could leave for the kids’ pediatrician visits. The nurse practitioner there looked at June’s leg again, and went over the headache journal I’ve been keeping to track June’s debilitating headaches. When I said the most obvious pattern was that they almost always occur in the late afternoon, she said it could be dehydration, but when I mentioned they seem more common right after the temperature drops, that she feels the pain only in the front of her head, and they make her vomit, she said migraines without aura were more likely.  So we got a referral to a neurologist.  Meanwhile, she gave us a handout about migraine triggers and alcohol was one. We pointed out for the second time that day that our second grader is not a lush.

June’s been having these headaches since she was four, at first just a few a year but now about once a month, and I’d been dreading the day someone told us they were migraines, but I found once I’d heard it, it was actually a relief. It means we can get some advice about treatment and coping strategies. There’s a next step.  Finally, we got a cream for her persistent chin rash, and then it was Noah’s turn. His exam was uneventful. Both kids got flu shots and we were out of the office in less than an hour.

June was walking a little better by this point, well enough to stop at Starbucks for refreshments before driving home, where Beth and Noah finished packing and Noah practiced his drums.  On their way out of town, Beth dropped June and I off at Chuck E. Cheese’s, so we could attend a fundraiser for her school.  Earlier in the day I thought attending this event was out of the question as June could barely stand, but now she was a lot better.  Except for the relatively brief time we were eating, she was on her feet for the hour and fifteen minutes were there.

Here I must concede that the whole experience of attending a school fundraiser at Chuck E. Cheese’s was considerably less horrific than I thought it would be. Yes, it was loud, and there were a lot of kids there, including several from June’s class, but the space is big enough that it didn’t feel claustrophobically crowded. Most of the arcade games were available when June wanted to play them either right away or after a short wait.  The system was pretty easy to understand. You buy game tokens with your meal, use the tokens to play games, tickets spit out of the games after you finish, and then you redeem them for prizes.

With the twenty-five tokens I bought her, June netted forty-seven tickets. That plus the fifteen bonus tickets we got for attending the fundraiser translated into a set of glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth, a top, and two rolls of sweet tarts.  June was well satisfied with her prizes. I bought her a bag of blue cotton candy for the road, and we headed out into the night. I’d been planning on catching a bus home, but she’d been fine standing for a pretty long time, so I thought the fifteen minutes it would take us to walk home should be manageable. It seemed like a better idea than waiting a half hour for a bus.

June was elated and chatty on the walk home.  “It was an exciting day,” she said, “but this was the best part.”  She said it was “creepy” walking home in the dark, but creepy in good way. She said she loved the sound of the crickets and “the sweet heart of the night.”  She’d given me a handful of her cotton candy and as it melted in my mouth, I had that walking home from the carnival feeling I associate with the boardwalk, and I had to agree.

II. Saturday

You might think it would be hard to top a day in which you got to ride in a wheelchair through the halls of your school and go to Chuck E. Cheese’s for the first time, but Saturday gave Friday a run for its money. A friend of Beth’s at the National Education Association had asked her if June would like to be filmed for a commercial. They were looking for kids in grades one to four. June definitely wanted to but I wanted to play it by ear because I’d have to take her into the city on public transportation and there would be several blocks of walking. She seemed to be on the mend, however, so on Friday, we confirmed we’d be there.

Before June got hurt, I’d been planning a full weekend for her. She likes to keep busy and even more so when Beth and Noah are out of town and she’s feeling a bit left out of the festivities. There was a creek clean-up Saturday morning and she wanted to participate in it, much to my surprise because when I took both kids last spring she’d been whiny and difficult about it. Over the past couple weeks she kept seeing the signs and saying she wanted to do it and I’d been non-committal.  But I didn’t want her clambering around on the rocks of the creek in her current condition, so no creek clean-up this fall.

There was also Takoma Play Day, an event Beth has taken her to in the past. I’ve never gone so I wasn’t sure what to expect but I know June spent all her time at the last one playing tennis and Beth says the focus is on active play, so I decided to skip that, too.

Megan called on Friday evening, inviting June over for a Saturday morning play date so that took care a few hours.  When I picked June up, she was complaining of a slight headache so I said she could rest at home but she wanted to go the playground, so I took her, but we only ended up staying five or ten minutes because I wanted to be careful of her leg and didn’t want her to play on the creek boulders or climb up the outside of the tunnel slide and where’s the fun in that?

When we got home, we iced her leg and I read to her from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Next, she watched some television.  (She seemed not to notice the irony that we’d just finished the Mike Teavee episode one bit.) When I came into the living room at 2:35, five minutes after her show ended I found the television turned off and June asleep on the couch.

This was a problem because I wanted to leave for the commercial shoot in twenty minutes, but Beth and I have learned that it’s not a good idea to wake June when she falls asleep in the afternoon. It’s often how her body responds to an incipient headache and if that’s the case, the longer she sleeps the less pain and vomiting she has to endure.  However, she’d also had an exciting couple days and she could just be exhausted. I called Beth to confer and she advised I let her sleep.  So I did, even though I knew if June missed the filming and she hadn’t even have a headache, she’d be hopping mad.

Around 3:40, June stirred on the couch and sat up a little. “Did I fall asleep?” she asked. I said yes and asked if she’d had a headache when she went to sleep.  Just “a teeny one,” she said. How did she feel now, I enquired. Fine.

I’d hoped to be on the 2:55 bus and the next one wasn’t until 3:55 but if we had dinner in the city after the shoot instead of before (my original plan) and if we had good luck with the bus and train, I thought we might make it on time.  And we did. We arrived at the studio at 4:53, seven minutes before our appointment.

The first thing the wardrobe person wanted was to see June’s extra clothes. There were very specific instructions about what to wear and what not to wear and you needed to bring multiple outfits. Solid colors with no logos and no black, white, or red, no skirts and no shorts was the gist of it.  It turns out June doesn’t have a lot of clothes in solid colors and I wasn’t sure if they just meant no stripes, plaid, etc or no graphics at all. She also thought a dress would be okay because it didn’t say no dresses, though I was doubtful.

Anyway, June was wearing a pink dress with a fish on it and solid teal leggings. The wardrobe person asked for the extra clothes and selected orange leggings and an orange Henley with pink ribbon trim. June changed and I filled out a consent form while the hair and make-up person took out her pigtails, combed her hair, sprayed it with hairspray (June later complained it smelled funny) and powdered her face.

We waited in the green room a while, watching cartoons and eating fruit salad and tortilla chips. When they called June, we went to the studio and watched the girl before her. This scene was of a mother in a rocking chair, reading to a child in her lap.  The photographer rode a little cart that went back and forth on an arc of track. The image of the mother and child was on computer screens all over that people were watching.

When they were finished, it was June’s turn. Her scene was different. She was sitting and reading a book by herself.  The director told her to turn the pages, look interested, and look up every now and then, as if imagining to herself something about what she was reading.

Well, three years of summer drama camp or June’s naturally dramatic personality paid off here.  At first I thought she was over-doing it, but people kept saying “Good job!” and “Nice head tilt!” and things like that. Given that they filmed kids for ten hours for what I imagine will be a thirty-second or one minute commercial, it’s unlikely any of June’s footage will make the final cut, but still it was a very satisfactory experience for her.

We had dinner at the Shake Shack afterward—Portobello burgers and fries for both of us, a peanut butter shake for me, and coffee frozen custard for her.  Walking through the bustling neighborhood of Dupont Circle toward the Metro, and admiring the big puffy, salmon-colored clouds in the sky as the sun went down, June sighed and said, “I love cities.”

“Do you think you’ll live in one when you grow up?” I asked.

“I’m planning to move to China,” she informed me.

Who knows? Maybe she will. Sunday she spent a quiet day at home resting her leg and reading, but she wants to go far, that’s for sure, and a little thing like a sprained knee is not about to stop her.

Spy vs. Spy

We went to the International Spy Museum on Saturday, with the kids and Noah’s friend Sasha.  We all memorized details of undercover identities we chose. June enjoyed crawling around in the simulated air ducts and spying on the people below through small windows (she did it three times) and admired many of the gadgets on display, particularly a pistol disguised as a lipstick.  She said she hoped no spy ever blew her lips off while using it. At one point she asked me if spies are “good guys or bad guys” and then we had a discussion about moral relativism right there in the museum.

The boys participated in a large group crime-solving activity having something to do with a nuclear detonator and toured the exhibit about villains from James Bond movies.  Sasha bought a Spy vs. Spy book at the gift shop and June got some disappearing ink (it actually works!).  We saw the Georgetown mailbox Aldrich Ames used to mark with chalk to communicate with his co-conspirators. I remember that detail from the case so it was kind of creepy to see that particular artifact.

Afterward we had dinner at Chinese-Japanese restaurant and got Fro-Zen-Yo. It was a highly satisfactory outing, even if June did get bored in the museum long before the boys did. (I took her to the Portrait Gallery across the street for a change of pace.  Her preschool class took a field trip there years ago and whenever we set foot in this museum she always says, “Oh this is where Gabe set off the alarm.”)

That evening I told Beth I didn’t think I could be a spy, that I didn’t think I had it in me.   Beth reminded me that the best spies are the ones no one would suspect, those who are above reproach. I suppose that was a compliment.

Earlier that week I was talking to my sister on the phone and we discussed how while I am a more private person than she is, Beth is even more private than me. There’s a reason I’m the one in the relationship with the blog, but also a reason there’s a lot that goes on in my life that never makes it into this space.

A few weeks ago I was tagged by Tyfanny from Come What May with an eleven-question meme.  Nothing in it compromises national security and the questions might let you get to know me a little better, so here goes.

1. What food does your family eat often, either because it’s a go-to, easy food, or because it’s a favorite?

We have pizza for dinner every Friday, alternating takeout and frozen. This was a tradition my mom instituted during my early teens when she was a single mom who was both working and getting her Master’s degree, except then it was always takeout. I’m surprised we didn’t subsist entirely on takeout given how busy she must have been.  The tradition has lived on—she and my stepfather still have pizza every Friday.

2. When your bed is made, how many pillows are on it? And then, how many do you actually sleep with? If there is a difference, please explain why.

Four at all times. (Except when the kids have knocked them to the floor, which is pretty often.)  Two of them are feather pillows and pretty flat.

3. How far away do you currently live from where you grew up?

I grew up mostly in and around Philadelphia and now live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.  Since my mom and stepfather moved to Oregon in January, I now have no family left in the Philadelphia area, which makes me feel unmoored if I think about it too long.

4. Should I get an iPhone 5, or hold out for the 5s? (I currently have a 3gs)

I can’t help you here. I don’t have a smart phone myself and most of the time I can’t even remember how to retrieve the messages from my cheap and simple cell phone, which is how techno-savvy I am.  Guess who posts this blog? Hint: it’s not me.

5. What television show (that is currently on the air) do you really, really love?

I am not currently watching any television shows, but I was recently wondering if I stayed up later or was better with technology if I’d be watching Under the Dome, because I’d be interested to see how they stretched the book into a television series.

6. Are you excited for the start of football season? Why or why not?

I don’t follow football, or any other sport, though I used to enjoy watching baseball when I was a kid. When the Phillies were in the World Series in 1980, my dad took me to several of the games, including the winning one.

7. What was the last book you read, and did you enjoy it?

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson.  I picked it up at the library a couple weeks ago and realized within the first few pages I have already read it, but it was so good I kept reading it anyway.

8. What was the last movie you saw (doesn’t have to be at the theater, maybe you caught it on Netflix), and what did you think of it?

African Cats, a documentary about lions and cheetahs.  I took the kids to see it few weeks ago at a theater that plays second-run movies in the summer for $1.  We all enjoyed it, though I thought the narration (by Samuel Jackson) was a bit cheesy.  The lives of wild animals are dramatic enough without overdoing it.

9. Tell me about your favorite pet, from any time in your life.

When I was a kid we had a Siamese cat named Alexei my parents got when I was a toddler.  He was sweet and affectionate and good-natured, nothing like the stereotype of the high-strung Siamese.  He lived to the age of twenty and died the week I graduated from college.  (Amazingly, he wasn’t the longest-lived of my mom’s cats. She had another cat live to the age of twenty-two.)

10. What kind of music can you listen to, no matter what mood you’re in?

I have sometimes joked my iPod is like one of those Pandora stations based on a single artist where you hear that artist’s songs interspersed with others Pandora judges similar. In my case, it’s the Joni Mitchell station.

11. Do you already have a wish list started for Christmas? What would you like to see under the tree this year?

Hmm. Margaret Atwood has a new book out, the third in the trilogy that started with Oryx and Crake, but I don’t know if I can wait for Christmas to read it. Maybe iTunes gift certificates. I work at home and listen to music a lot while working and I’d like to have more digital music.

Now I’m supposed to come up with eleven more questions and tag eleven people to answer them.  This is where this always falls apart for me, coming up with large numbers of people to tag, but I should be able to generate a list of questions. Here goes:

1. Do you think you have the skills to be a spy? Why or why not?

2. Would you enjoy it? Why or why not?

3. Where and when would you want to be stationed? Pick any historical period.

4. What would you choose as your undercover name?

5. How would you answer June’s question?

6. How do you feel about the NSA surveillance program?

7. Do you like to people watch in public?

8. Have you ever accidentally overheard something about yourself?

9. Do you have anything in your email archives you wouldn’t want your spouse or kids to read? (You can say yes or no without specifying.)

10. If someone had been spying on you all day yesterday, what would he or she have learned?

11. Do you ever spy on your kids? (Anything from eavesdropping to reading their email.)

I am not going to tag eleven people. In fact I’m not going to tag anyone directly, because I wouldn’t want to blow your cover, but if you have a son who pitched for Canada in the Little League World Series last month or if your daughter interrupted your game of Bejeweled the other day to ask you the meaning of life, or if you recently mustered the courage to reveal a traumatic part of your past on your blog, you know who you are.  Your instructions are under the fallen log in Sligo Creek Park. Or if it’s more convenient you can read them on Tyffany’s blog in the August 9 post.

p.s. Anyone reading should feel free to answer any of the questions in the comments section. You don’t have to tackle them all.

Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Tree

“I’m ready to go!” June announced at 4:30 on Friday afternoon. Her episode of Arthur was over and I’d just finished reading a few chapters of The Eleventh Plague to Noah. I’d said if it wasn’t raining too hard after her television, we’d go pick mulberries.  I realized even as I said it that “too hard” was a bit subjective and squishy. It was raining, more than a drizzle but less than a downpour so I decided to carry on with the plan.  The kids and I found shoes and umbrellas and June grabbed a newspaper sleeve for her harvest and we left.

June had noticed a few days earlier that the mulberries that grow on trees all over Takoma were ripe and wanted to go pick some but I convinced her to wait until Friday so Noah wouldn’t have to do homework and could come with us. We could have gone in any number of directions to find ripe mulberries, but of course we went to the tree that grows near Starbucks.  There’s a supermarket in the same shopping plaza and we needed milk so it was a multi-purpose outing.

There are actually two mulberry trees on the way to Starbucks. We stopped at the first one, which grows on the lawn of an apartment building.  The branches were too high for June to reach, so Noah lifted her, but the grass was wet and slippery and they were a little unstable. I clambered up the small rise to help and ended up falling and sliding down it, muddying my pants.  I suggested we try the other tree.

This one had lower branches and we all picked berries until there was a respectable pile at the bottom of the plastic bag. June was eating them too and soon her chin and shirt were stained with the purplish-black juice.  I ate a few, too, just to be in the spirit, although they don’t have much taste. If you’ve never tried them, imagine eating blackberries with a really bad head cold. Every now and then you do get one’s that’s sweet but mostly they’re pretty bland.

Once June could be persuaded to leave the tree, we headed into the supermarket.  This particular market is always an adventure and it did not disappoint. Just as we got to the checkout line with our half-gallon of organic 1% milk, all the registers shut down at the same time.  Some kind of computer problem, I think.  I didn’t entirely follow the bilingual discussion between customers and cashiers. Just as I was about to give up on the milk and leave I noticed there was a working register at the customer service desk. We switched lines. It turned out they couldn’t handle a debit card there and I had exactly one dollar in cash but by that time the other registers were working so they let me cut to the front of another line. No one in that line seemed out of sorts about our intrusion. In fact, only one person in several lines had been vocally impatient for the registers to come to life. Maybe it’s a common occurrence there.

“Success! ¡Éxito!” I exclaimed as we headed for the doors, milk swinging in a bag at my side.

And then June said, “Does anyone know where the mulberries are?”

I looked at her. She was carrying her umbrella, but no thin plastic bag with its cache of mulberries.  We checked to see if we’d left it at the low brick wall outside the market where we’d paused to fold up our umbrellas.  Nope.  We went back into the store and re-re-traced our steps, back to the dairy case, to both the lines where we’d waited, to the displays of snacks the kids had examined while I was in line.  Nada.  I told June I thought someone had probably already found the bag and thrown it in the trash.  I said we’d stop at the tree again on the way home.

As we walked to Starbucks the kids looked at all the new businesses along the strip.  For a long while during the recession and its aftermath one business after another there was shuttered so I’m glad to see it filling back up, even if it’s with big chains. (The businesses that closed were mostly chains, too.) There’s a Chuck E. Cheese that opened last month and which June has wanted to visit every since she mentioned to her classmates she’s never been to one and they were all amazed and aghast. There’s also a Fro-Zen-Yo under construction and once it opens we might just take June to Chuck E. Cheese if there’s frozen yogurt in it for us afterward. There’s also a Little Caesar’s that opened last fall or winter.  It’s take-out only and we used to drive by there after basketball practice frequently and bring home pizza.

Noah suggested we get pizzas there and bring them home as it was pizza night but between us we had three umbrellas, a half-gallon of milk, and we would soon have Starbucks leftovers and a new bag of mulberries so I said no. I would have been awkward anyway carrying pizza boxes a mile or so home even if we’d been empty-handed. (This did not stop Noah, however from suggesting it again when we passed by again on our way home.)

After fortifying ourselves with coffee, milk, juice and pastries, we returned to the tree.  June had only picked a few berries when she noted that the paper bag from Starbucks was getting soggy.  This wasn’t surprising as the berries were quite wet.  I decided not to risk letting it get so wet it fell apart and limited her to a handful of berries.  Besides, it was getting late, and even though we were just having frozen pizza for dinner, I did need to get the oven pre-heated, so with only fifteen berries in the bag, we left.

On the way home we sang, “Pop Goes the Weasel” and discussed why the song goes “All around the mulberry bush” when mulberries grow on trees.  I speculated that maybe they also grow on bushes, but I looked it up when we got home and they don’t.  (Wikipedia notes the original wording of the song was “bramble bush.”) Later I realized there’s also a mulberry bush in that nursery rhyme, “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush,” too. I have no idea what’s up with traditional songs and this fictional bush.

I washed the berries for June when we got home and she ate her meager stash in one sitting.  She seemed pleased with the expedition.  She wanted to pick berries and that’s what we did, never mind the rain or the mud, the hassle at the supermarket, or the loss of the first harvest.  So often she’s like that, set on a goal and then satisfied at its completion.  As someone with a tendency to brood over the past, I have to admire that. She does worry about things sometimes of course, we all do. But more often she lets the monkey keep chasing the weasel and she goes home happy, with her fifteen berries in a sodden paper bag.

Ripeness is All

If you blog, this has probably happened to you: you are anticipating an event and shaping it into a blog post before it even happens and then it goes differently than you thought it would, in a big or even in a small way, and then you’re not sure how to present it.

Anyway, we had out-of-town relatives visit this weekend and went to see the cherry blossoms and June has her first loose tooth.  Both events were long anticipated.  The original prediction for peak bloom was the last week of March and we thought we might miss it while we were out of town, but then we had a long cold spell and it was pushed back not once but twice, all the way to last weekend, which coincided with a visit from my mother, aunt, cousin and cousin’s son.  It seemed like the stars were aligning for my mom, who has never seen the cherry blossoms in full bloom despite several tries. We did come awfully close last year, though (“Cherry Blossom Baby,” 3/25/12).

Meanwhile, June has been watching her friends lose their teeth for years (the first kid she knew to lose one was a preschool classmate) with jealousy and impatience and the occasional spurious claim that she had a loose tooth of her own. But then on Wednesday evening she was eating a banana and when she bit into it she said her tooth hurt.  A little later she said it was loose and I asked her to wiggle it and sure enough it wasn’t just loose but nearly ready to come out, from what I could tell.  She showed it to her friends at school the next day and Megan, who has experience with loose teeth, predicted it would be out by Sunday at the latest.

Friday I spent the day with my Mom, while the kids were at school, Beth was at work, and my aunt Peggy was at her conference.  (Peggy being at the conference was the inspiration for my mom flying out from Oregon and Peggy’s daughter Emily and grandson Josiah coming down from Brooklyn to visit us this particular weekend.  We’d just missed Emily and Josiah during our New York weekend, so it was nice they were coming to D.C.)

I had a dentist appointment in the city in the morning to reattach a crown that popped off while I was eating saltwater taffy earlier in the week so after that Mom and I met at the Phillips Collection and spent several hours there. I’d almost forgotten it was possible to spend so much time in a museum, rather than rushing in and out so the kids won’t get antsy. I’d picked it mainly out of convenience because it’s close to my dentist. But that didn’t matter, almost any museum would have done.

At this one there was an exhibit on three abstract expressionists, one of Italian photographs, and another one consisting of rubber sculptures that were “meditations on the brevity of life.”  (This sounds weird, but I recommend it. You really have to see it to get it.)  We listened to a gallery talk on Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” and went into a new, permanent installation, a closet-sized room whose walls have been coated with beeswax.  It smells wonderful and it’s quite soothing to step into it.  We also saw part of a Jacob Lawrence series of Northern migration of African Americans, and a good bit of the permanent collection, including Van Gogh, Cézanne, O’Keefe, and many other familiar artists. In between we had lunch at the museum café and browsed in the gift shop.

Mom came back to Takoma with me and once the kids and Beth were home we went out for pizza and then gelato at Dolci Gelati, which has a new location in Takoma.  We made arrangements to meet the next morning for brunch with the whole gang (Emily and Josiah got in that evening.)

At brunch we learned Josiah also has his first loose tooth and I told Emily we might have just the thing for it—some saltwater taffy we’d bought for them at the beach. After all, it took a tooth out of my mouth, albeit a fake one. I’d forgotten to bring it to the restaurant, (the taffy, not my crown) but I promised to bring it to our next rendezvous. Surely one of these kids is going to lose a tooth this weekend, I thought.

After brunch and some playground time (during which Noah seemed to have as much fun pretending the big climbing/slide structure was a ship going to France and then Indiana as the younger kids did) we split up so the out-of-town folks could go to Air and Space while we stayed home for homework, grocery shopping, and a birthday party. We met up again in the city for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant, very close to where we used to live in DC. This mural really took me back when we exited the station. Seeing all those painted people was like re-encountering long-lost friends.

Mom and Beth had a difficult time convincing me to agree to this outing because I am a stick in the mud and I didn’t think the kids would eat anything and I knew even an early dinner would keep us out later than I’d like.  I was wrong on the first count.  Noah actually liked the food and said he wants to go back some day. June mostly ate tomatoes we picked out of one dish and the spongy bread, but it was okay because she was still full from birthday cake at her friend’s party.  After dinner, Josiah tore into the taffy, but his tooth did not exit his mouth.

Sunday was the main event: cherry blossoms.  I mentioned this on Facebook Saturday evening and a friend of mine said she’d been there that day and the blossoms were not in bloom yet, although she said they looked “ready to burst.”  Sometimes a day can make a big difference, so I hoped for the best.

We all met at the Smithsonian metro stop and walked toward the Tidal Basin.  I warned my mom ahead of time about what my friend said, and it was probably a good thing I did because they just weren’t there yet.  A few trees here and there were in bloom (we found one for the group photo), but mostly they were just as Kathryn had said, “ready to burst,” but not bursting.

Still, it was a lovely spring day, a bit chilly in the morning, but sunny and warmer as the day progressed.  We walked all around the Tidal Basin, stopping to admire the MLK Memorial and to look at the statues and waterfalls and climb the rocks at the FDR Memorial.  We picnicked on fried rice and eggrolls from the Asian food stand and everyone seemed to have a good time, even without the blossoms.

Emily and Josiah needed to leave for the airport after our Tidal Basin hike, and everyone else was pretty tired, so in lieu of another city activity, Mom and Peggy came back to Takoma with us, where we had gelato again and then went home where Mom and I played Birds of Summer with June, and Mom read her a Club Penguin pick-your-path book and we all listened to Noah practice percussion, and Beth cooked a delicious enchilada casserole for dinner and then drove Mom and Peggy back to their hotel. (This was not the first time she helpfully shuttled my relatives around during the weekend.)

Anyway, the moral of this blog post was going to be about the exuberance of spring and kids growing up and waiting for things and being rewarded, but the blossoms didn’t cooperate and neither June nor Josiah lost a tooth, so I guess it must be about something else.  Of course the blossoms will bloom, whether we make it down there at the right time this year or not, and those wiggly teeth are going to come out sooner or later. So maybe it’s about patience and enjoying what you have while you wait for other things, and doing that with equanimity rather than just managing keep a grip.  That’s often a good strategy for life anyway.

Ring out the Old, Ring in the New

“Do you think you were good for so long at Ya-Ya’s that you were just full of bad behavior that just had to get out?” I asked June as we walked to the library on a chilly afternoon, three days after Christmas. It was our first day back from West Virginia—a pleasant five-day stay that involved sledding and ice skating and baking gingerbread cookies and watching Christmas specials and driving through the light display at Oglebay Park and eating Christmas dinner at the lodge of the park and opening loads of presents and visiting with relatives.  The kids were very well behaved at Beth’s mom’s house and at Aunt Carole’s house, where we stayed with Uncle Johnny and Aunt Abby.  There are no other children in the family so they often had to amuse themselves quietly while the grownups talked about boring grownup things.  They were also well behaved on the drive home Thursday, thanks to a headphone splitter that allowed them to listen to the same audiobooks together.

Friday Beth went into the office for a few hours and all hell broke loose soon after she left. Believe it or not, the kids had a fight that ranged over a half hour about toilet paper.  Yes, toilet paper. More specifically, about how many rolls from the recently delivered case that was sitting in the living room each of them would carry to the basement for storage and how they would alternate their trips.  It was a surprisingly explosive argument. There was pushing and crying on both sides. I don’t put the kids in time out very often anymore, but I didn’t think this was going to be settled without some enforced separation first, so I sent June to her room for six and a half minutes, and Noah to mine for eleven and half minutes.  When the time had elapsed I told them they were free to try to work it out again but if they couldn’t do it peaceably I would decide who was carrying the toilet paper downstairs.

They were calmer after the break, and slowly, painfully they worked out a mutually acceptable arrangement.  A couple of times tempers started to flare, but they’d check themselves. At one point June suggested they just let me decide but Noah was afraid I’d say I was going to carry it all downstairs by myself (for the record, this is not what I would have said) and they persevered.

Later that morning June had a play date that was—how shall I say?—more high-spirited than usual.  I was reading the last chapter of The Golden Compass to Noah when June and her friend snuck into the room and started to pelt him with plastic Noah’s ark animals. Because he stooped to their level and started throwing them back I told him he’d just have to read the last two pages of the book on his own.  This upset him considerably more than I thought it would and for the second time that morning he was in tears. He was tired, we all were after five nights sleeping in the same room, and he was sick, too, with a head cold, and I guess he just didn’t have much emotional resilience.  When June’s friend left he asked me to cook lunch with him and I was on the verge of saying no, I just wanted to fix something quick, but then I thought better of it. He likes to cook with me and it is vacation still.  We made egg noodles with sautéed spinach, garlic, thyme, Parmesan, and almonds.

I needed to go to the library and thought it might be good to get the kids separated, so I took June and left Noah, with instructions to practice percussion while we were gone.  I also decided to walk, rather than take the bus in case pent-up energy after a long car ride the day before was part of the problem.

We returned around 2:15 to find Beth home from work. June watched Angelina Ballerina before the four of us set out for Rockville to get a marriage license.  The kids were loud in the car, not arguing exactly but chanting a nonsense poem and coming right up to the edge of argument over and over.

We found the building we needed and the office inside it, a drab bureaucratic suite I don’t think anyone ever would have characterized as a cheery place. There were signs noting that marriage licenses are non-refundable and it is forbidden to throw rice in the marriage room.  (Noah was not familiar with this tradition and was somewhat baffled by the sign until I explained.) Nonetheless, it felt cheery, sitting there along with several straight couples and two other lesbian couples. I wasn’t surprised that two out of three lesbian couples had kids (besides us there was a thirty-something couple with a baby) because many of us have waited long enough for marriage to have established families already.  Oddly, though, most of the straight couples had kids, too, ranging from preschoolers to teens. The oldest girl there was developmentally delayed and just over the moon to see her parents (or a parent and a stepparent?) getting ready to tie the knot.  A small wedding party exited the marriage room while we were there and a guest for another wedding arrived only to discover he was in the wrong place or there at the wrong time, because there was no wedding scheduled for the parties he named. (I wondered if someone got jilted and all the guests but one were notified.)

While we were there I realized that because gay weddings can be performed starting on New Years’ Day and there’s a 48-hour waiting period for everyone and were there the last business day of the year (December 28), it was also the very last day gay couples would have any longer to wait after getting a license than straight people.  Somehow that brought the equality part of marriage equality home.

Once it was our turn, we were called into a cubicle where we showed identification, signed papers and received more forms for the celebrant to submit once we’re married.  We were issued a pamphlet on family planning (though we’ve really got that covered).  Glancing at the kids, the official acknowledged we probably didn’t need it and complemented the kids on their good behavior. (They are well-behaved much of the time.) And then it was finished and we went to the Container Store to buy June a big basket for her dress-up clothes and then out for pizza at Matchbox. On the way home we saw the full moon rise, huge and white, and low in the sky. It was lovely.

The next day we had another excursion, to Baltimore to meet up with my mom, who’s moving out of her house in the Philadelphia area in less than two weeks.  She and my stepfather will take a trip to Peru and then they’re heading West, to stay with her sister in Idaho and finally, in late February Mom and Jim will move into their new house in Oregon.  Mom is in a frenzy trying to sell her furniture and get her packing done.  We’d planned to have lunch in Baltimore and then go to the American Visionary Art Museum but between traffic, heavy snow and getting lost, we didn’t meet up at the restaurant until almost two hours after we’d planned. While we were waiting for Mom to arrive we wandered around the Inner Harbor in the snow, played the big metallophones we found there (think xylophones made of hollow metal tubes), and then we went into Barnes and Noble where we sipped coffee and milk, and watched the snow fall into the canals and browsed.

Because of the late start to our visit, Mom decided to skip the museum.  Still, we had a very nice lunch, and we discussed her upcoming plans and the latest twist and turns in my sister’s adoption quest. Mom gave me a bag full of old stories and poems I’d written as a kid, plus report cards and photographs and other mementos she came across while packing.  After we parted, we made a quick visit to the museum where we admired fairy houses made of natural materials on rotating platforms, kinetic sculptures, a big glass case of Pez dispensers, a dinosaur sculpture made of antique toys and obsolete technology, and a giant elephant with a mustache wearing a sombrero.  I was sad, so whimsy seemed a good antidote. The sun was setting over the harbor as we drove home, turning the windows of the old brick Domino Sugar plant to a fiery gold.

It’s natural to think about beginnings and endings this time of year.  It’s phases of relationships that are starting and ending of course, rather than the relationships themselves. I’d be surprised if Beth’s and my married life is much different than our long courtship has been, and Mom promises to come East to see us two or three times a year. Still, these are real changes. And as always with kids, there’s something new on the horizon.  Noah was invited to join the sixth grade Honors Band this winter (musicians were chosen from ten middle schools) and practice starts Thursday. The next day basketball season starts for June. It’s time to ring out the old and ring in the new.

Make Way for Goslings

Noah had a sketch of a bicycle he drew in art class selected for a countywide art show for elementary and middle school students. The show was at a mall about a half hour from Takoma Park, and quite near one of our favorite vegetarian Chinese restaurants, so clearly we were obligated to go to the show and then eat at the Vegetable Garden.  Late Saturday afternoon, we set out for the White Flint Mall.

The outing started off with some errands—I needed to deposit a check and the car needed gas.  While I got out of the car at the bank I dropped the camera we’d brought to take pictures at the exhibit on my seat and joked that Beth and the kids could take pictures of each other while they were waiting for me.  Beth laughed, but June thought it sounded like a good idea, so while they were parked and later as we drove around she snapped over sixty pictures—a few of me and Beth, but more of Noah who was conveniently sitting right next to her, some close-ups of herself, plus houses, other buildings, trees, the sky, her shoes, her car seat, pretty much anything that caught her eye.  Noah also took a picture of her when she handed him to camera to delete a photo she didn’t like. (Included here. Isn’t it a great shot of her?)

At the mall, we went to Noah’s school’s display first.  Each school had a very small area to use, and as Beth noted it was the same amount of space for K-5 schools like June’s as for 3-5 schools like Noah’s.  Noah was not particularly enthused about his drawing, saying he’d done others this year he liked better, but we admired it as well as those of his classmates, and then we moved on to other schools.  We went to June’s school’s display next, to see if any of Noah’s old classmates or June’s current ones had work in the show.  It was at this point that I realized we’d only told June that Noah had a drawing in an art show and we hadn’t mentioned it wasn’t only for his school.  It slowly began to dawn on her that he had been selected for an honor for which she was also eligible and she had not been.  This must have been almost inconceivable to her, because art is her thing and she’s good at it and Noah doesn’t even like art much.  (I’ve noticed, however, that even though he doesn’t draw for fun the way June does his drawing has improved a lot in the past couple years. He’s much more careful with it than he used to be.)

At first June resisted the realization, saying maybe there would be something of hers in the display.  We’d received an official notice about Noah’s drawing (as we had the last and only other time he was in the show, in the first grade for his print of the letter N) so we knew there wasn’t going to be any of June’s art there.

When we got to her school’s display, matters got even more galling. Several kindergarten students were represented. I read their names off the tags. “They’re not in my class,” she said somewhat dismissively.  The kindergarten projects were called “Art Elements” and consisted of paper boxes.  When you lifted the lids you saw wooden blocks in different geometric shapes arranged inside. June had actually mentioned this project to me previously, but I hadn’t really been able to visualize the boxes until I saw them.  June asserted that she never finished hers.  This could well be true.  She has art on Thursdays and they did have a Thursday off the week before last so her class might be behind the ones who have art on other days.  Her implication was clear, however.  This was the reason her Arts Elements box was not in the show. No one challenged June; it was clear she needed to save face somehow.

We visited a few more displays of schools where the kids’ friends go, and saw some interesting work. Beth especially liked the skeleton marionettes one school had made for the Day of the Dead.

We passed by a Gap and asked Noah if wanted to go shopping for shorts—he needs some new ones—but he wasn’t in the mood.  Just as well, I thought, because June didn’t need anything and if we went to see his art and bought him clothes it might just be too much for her to bear.

It was time to leave the mall for the restaurant, but now that June’s psychological crisis was resolved, Noah’s began.   We couldn’t leave the mall, he said, we hadn’t gotten a snack.  Beth and I were puzzled.  Why would he want a snack– we were heading straight for dinner.  We always get a snack when we go to a mall, Noah insisted.  Usually a soft pretzel, but sometimes something else.  We couldn’t leave without it.  “We wouldn’t want to mall police to come after us,” he wheedled, mostly joking but not entirely.  By now we understood well enough.  Noah had turned a pattern into a rule and he really felt as if we were breaking an unstated but important agreement.  He hung behind for a few moments as Beth, June and I headed out into the parking lot, then he gave up and joined us.

He was out of sorts but luck was with us.  Beth spotted two geese with two goslings strolling across the lot.  It was an unexpected and welcome distraction from the unjust lack of soft pretzels.  We got a little closer to observe the fluffy bright yellow and brown goslings.  A mall security vehicle was following the birds, presumably to ensure their safety.  We wondered where they’d come from, how they’d entered the lot (up the ramp perhaps?) and how they’d get back out.  Alone the adults could fly, but with their babies, they were stuck on foot.  It was like being really near somewhere you wanted to go but couldn’t get to with a stroller, I said.  Those days are recent enough for me to empathize with the geese.  At least the baby geese seemed co-operative, Beth observed. They were sticking with their parents and not complaining.

And neither were our goslings.  Despite their trials neither of them had made much of a fuss and by the time we got back into the car, they were both happy and we drove off toward soup, dumplings, fried black mushrooms and other delights of the evening.

Cherry Blossom Baby

On Thursday morning I put June on the school bus with the instructions, “Have a good last day of school as a five year old,” and she flashed me a brilliant smile.

June is six now.  She was born right before the cherries bloomed on the Tidal Basin. She was six weeks early, and developed a bad case of jaundice so she had to stay at the hospital three days after I was released.  I hated being separated from her, even for those three days. We were constantly shuttling back and forth between the hospital and home, with bottles of pumped milk in tow.

The hospital was just around the corner from the Tidal Basin so one day either on the way to the hospital or on the way home, we made a drive-by visit. Beth dropped me and Noah and YaYa off to walk around a bit while she circled in the car (parking is often impossible when the cherries are in bloom).  We were just a little too early, but we found a couple of blooming trees for a quick photo-op and then we hopped back in the car.

The trees bloomed in earnest soon after and I wanted to go back, but once we got June home, she had to be wrapped in a phototherapy blanket round the clock, allowed out only to nurse, and we just couldn’t make it. Even though we didn’t take her that first year, I still associate the cherry blossoms with the surprising, chaotic days after her birth. We call her our cherry blossom baby, just as Noah is our iris baby.

At 6:35 a.m. on Friday the phone rang.  I wondered if it was a wrong number or an early-rising relative wishing June a happy birthday.  Instead it was Baskin-Robbins, seeking advice of the frosting color of the ice-cream cake we’d ordered for June’s party. The whole cake-buying experience was bizarre.  June had fallen in love with this cake because it had real half-sized ice cream cones on top but Beth had customer service challenges placing and picking up the order and in the end we got a cake that said “Happy June Birthday” instead of “Happy Birthday, June.”  So, just a word of warning if you’re local and you don’t like receiving business calls before dawn or scrambled messages in icing–consider another vendor.

After Beth confirmed that pink frosting was fine, we all went to the living room where June’s wrapped presents were arrayed around her new two-wheeler.  “A bike,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I like the bike.” Then she tore into the other presents.  We got her a cat-themed math game, Rat-a-Tat Cat, partly because her party theme was cats and partly because it looked fun.  Noah got her a bell for her bike and a pair of headphones (she uses headphones to watch television or play on the computer while he’s doing homework and he thought she’d like her own pair). Everything else was clothes.  My aunt Peggy sent Hello Kitty pants, we got her a Hello Kitty t-shirt, a numeral six t-shirt and other summer clothes and pajamas. There were clothes from YaYa, too, including a pair of ladybug rain boots.  It was only after all the presents were opened that June really focused on the bike and decided she wanted to ride it right then.  I told her she needed to eat breakfast and get dressed and ready for school first.  In the end, she had about five minutes practice in the driveway before I put her, clad in her number six t-shirt and new leggings, on the school bus.  “Have a good day, six year old,” I told her. Again, she grinned at me.

When she got off the bus, she was holding a cardboard crown.  Her teacher does not allow birthday treats to be sent in from home, but birthday celebrants get a crown and everyone sings “Feliz cumpleaños” to them.  I’m used to more elaborate school celebrations, both at preschool and in elementary school, but June seemed satisfied.  She wanted to practice riding her bike again–she’d do it three times before the day was out and she got a little better every time.  (By Saturday morning she could pedal up a slight incline and her turns were impeccable.) She said she thought we could take the training wheels off. I counseled her to wait.

My mom arrived for a weekend visit around 4:15, and there were more presents to open.  A pair of summer pajamas with cats on them had arrived during the day (“The cat’s pajamas” I told Beth—how could I resist that joke?), as had a rubber bracelet from Auntie Sara.  It has holes in it and it has letters you can fit into the holes to spell words.  It came bearing the words Junie Dell. (Dell is June’s middle name, and mine, too. I used to call her Junie Dell when she was a baby.  It was one of those baby nicknames that didn’t stick except with Sara, but I like that Sara has a special nickname for her.)  The next day, June changed the words to “I love you.”  Mom brought all kinds of presents—a giant wooden Pinocchio marionette, a tiny vase with a purple ceramic cat attached to it, a paint-your-own tea set kit, and of course, clothes.  June selected the belt from one outfit and decided to wear it with the other outfit (a hot pink t-shirt and leggings to go under a blue sundress with pink flowers) at her party the next day.

I gave June an early bath because we were going out for pizza at Roscoe’s and I wasn’t sure what time we’d be home. It was a warm evening so we sat on the patio, eating wild mushroom crostini, marinated olives (I let June go over her olive quota for the day), salad and pizza.  They were out of gelato because their freezer was broken, so we headed over to Capital City Cheesecake for cheesecake and cannoli.  When we got home, it was June’s bedtime and her big day was over.

But the next day was probably just as exciting because it was her birthday party.  We spent the morning and early afternoon running birthday errands, cleaning the house, assembling gift bags and getting the porch ready for the pin-the-tail-on-the-cat game and the piñata. I’d originally envisioned these as front and back yard games, but rain was predicted, and sure enough it started drizzling around 11:30. Beth and June went out to pick up the “Happy June Birthday” cake and to buy yellow roses and six balloons in varying designs. One has a cat wearing a birthday hat and sunglasses.  Another is the exact Dora balloon June got for her birthday last year. When you tap it, Dora sings “Happy Birthday” in English and Spanish. The sound of the song was still etched deeply into my brain, and Beth’s, too, so she set some strict ground rules about under what circumstances one might tap the balloon to hear the pint-sized bilingual songstress go at it.

The party was at 3:00 and her friends arrived between 2:50 and 3:15.  Maggie, who is June’s only friend who attended both her preschool and her elementary school, made introductions, while the girls selected instruments from the bin and there was an impromptu concert (most of June’s parties seem to start this way).  Once everyone had arrived, we gathered the guests onto the carpet to listen as Mom read them a story The Leprechaun Under the Bed. June remembered Mom reading at her party last year and wanted her to do it again. I’d suggested The Cat in the Hat, but she knew as soon as we checked this book out of the library and read it the first time that it was the one she wanted read at her party. (Spoiler: the leprechaun turns into a cat at the end of the story.)

Next we moved out to the porch for pin-the-tail-on-the-cat.  Last spring June attended a classmate’s birthday party that had classic games as the theme–pin-the-tail-on-the donkey, sack races, etc, and it occurred to me that though you don’t see kids play them much any more, these games are classics for a reason. It was a really fun party.  So I tucked that idea away in the back of my mind, and when June came up with the cat theme for her party I was all ready with pin-the-tail-on-the-cat. June was all over it, especially since she could make the cat and the tails herself.  One by one, I blindfolded the guests and gently spun them around six times each and let them go, sometimes with a subtle correction if they left my hands going in the wrong direction.  The kids laughed hysterically as the tails went onto the cat’s face or the air above its body.  A couple of them got the tail on or pretty close to the cat’s rump—I think Talia’s was the best placed.

Back inside, it was time for games.  We had two and let the girls divide into groups and choose which one they wanted to play.  The first one was The Cat in the Hat, I Can Do That.  In this game, you lay cards together to form instructions for a task to perform with props from the story and you get points if you complete it. June got this game for Christmas and was more interested in playing her new game and most of her guests followed her lead, but I supervised a game between Talia and Megan and then started another round with Talia, when Megan had lost interest and Talia wanted to keep playing.  Beth says she wished she’d thought to get a picture of me trying to wriggle my way under a low foam arch, while balancing the fishbowl in one hand.

Mom and Noah had played Rat-a-Tat Cat with June earlier the in day so they could get the hang of the rules, and Emelia already knew them because she had the same game at home, so the card game went smoothly. Beth said they all seemed to get the hang of it pretty quickly and enjoyed it.  When the games were over, we set everyone up with paper and crayons and asked them to draw cats, as a souvenir.  Some of them drew the Cat in the Hat, others drew Hello Kitty and others went with non-branded felines.  Keller divided her paper into three sections and did one of each.

We had cake next.  The kids thought “Happy June Birthday” was hilarious, an improvement on “Happy Birthday June” really, and as Beth divvied up the little cones they were agreeable about not all getting their first choices in ice cream (each cone was a different flavor).  As we ate cake, Mom sat on the couch with Morgan’s mom and baby brother and got acquainted with her, finding out she went to Oberlin—Beth’s and my alma mater. She even lived in Noah Hall, the dorm where Beth and I met, and after which we named Noah.

I gathered up the goody bags so the guests could stash their piñata booty in them and we headed back out to the porch to smash it.  All the kids had at least two turns.  When a hole opened but no candy fell out, Megan tried to tilt the piñata (or maybe enlarge the hole) by poking her stick in the hole.  It was Noah who finally sent the candy cascading to the floor with some mighty whacks.  Morgan’s mom commented that older brothers have their uses.

June wanted to know if we could have some music while we waited for parents to come collect the guests.  When Beth put on Blue Moo, June asked Talia quite formally, “Talia, will you dance with me?” and Talia did. They danced joyfully around the living room as June’s birthday party wound down to a close. It was cute to watch, especially since I am so very fond of Talia, whom I’ve known since she was not quite two.

After the guests left, June opened her presents–a book, three stuffed animals (including a cat of course), a mermaid magnet set, and a Lego café kit.  June wanted to assemble the café right away, but we went out for Indian first, and then she set to work on it. It was hard to tear her away to go to bed. She finished it the next afternoon, following all thirty-three diagrams–less than twenty-four hours after receiving it, and impressing Mom with her small motor skills and her tenacity.

The final adventure of June’s birthday weekend was an expedition to the cherry blossoms and the new MLK memorial.  The peak bloom period is short and notoriously difficult to predict.  Mom has never caught it, though she often visits us around June’s birthday.  For awhile the predicted four-day peak period spanned the weekend and we thought luck was with us, but then a few eighty-plus-degree days accelerated the blooming and the peak period moved back, ending Friday.  I thought if we went Friday it would be too hard to get back by bedtime, and going on Saturday before the party would make for a stressfully jam-packed day, so we waited until Sunday.

Now I will say that given the choice between a few days before the peak period and a few days after I would choose after every time. There are drifts of petals on the ground and blizzards of them in the air with every breeze; there are petals in muddy puddles and on the rippling water of the Tidal Basin, and there are damp petals stuck to every horizontal and vertical surface.  In its way, it’s almost as magic as the classic picture postcard puffy pink and white blooms.  It looks like confetti strewn on the street after a particularly wild party.  So in a way it was a fitting end to June’s birthday celebration, an after party of sorts. She got to christen her new boots in the puddles, eat hot edamame from a stand, admire the trees (solemnly telling us “all trees are beautiful”), run through the paths between the tulip beds at the Floral Library, take pictures with Beth’s phone, joke with her brother, give her grandmother countless hugs, hold hands with everyone and seize the joy and the beauty of the moment and of being six.