A New One Just Begun

And so this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

From “Happy Christmas/War is Over” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

The kids go back to school tomorrow.  We split their winter break in half so we had five days at Mom’s and five days at home. This was a very satisfactory arrangement. It felt like a substantial visit with the extended family and a nice block of time for nuclear family togetherness as well.  We didn’t do everything we considered—Beth decided against going into her office to straighten it up and do some filing, and we never got organized enough to go to see the U.S. Botanic Garden’s holiday exhibit, but we had a long outing and a short one, we had family friends over on New Year’s Eve Day, and Noah played with three school friends and June with two, and we (mostly Beth) did a lot of cleaning and straightening and hanging pictures and fixing things around the house, so I think our time was well spent.

Thursday: Sentimental Journey

There’s a Degas exhibit at the Phillips Collection that’s been there since October.  We tried organizing a three-ballerina expedition with Talia’s and Gabriella’s families in the fall but we could never find a date that worked so we decided to go and see it ourselves before it leaves town.  The Phillips is in Dupont Circle, the D.C. neighborhood of our childless (and Noah’s babyhood) days so it’s full of sentimental appeal.  We visited a few of our old stomping grounds, including Café Luna, where we ate lunch (pointing out to Noah the Thai restaurant next door where we ate dinner the night before he was born) and Kramerbooks a combination bookstore/restaurant where we had desert after the exhibit and bought books.  I got my next two book club books (Catch-22 and Les Miserables) and June picked out a couple of Dora books, including one in Spanish.  I find it satisfying to buy books in a store these days as bookstores are disappearing rapidly in our area (and probably yours too). I like to support them when I get the chance, in hopes they will not go completely extinct.

In between, we visited the museum.  June enjoyed the ballerina paintings (and looking at herself in the mirrored wall with a barre) but she went through the exhibit at her usual brisk pace, which meant we could not linger as long as the adults might have liked.  Noah liked the sculptures best and was also interested in the computer images of what lies under the visible layer of paint.  When we finished with Degas, we visited some other parts of the museum.  We went into the Rothko room, much to the alarm of the guards, who insisted that June’s hand be held at all times.  (The paintings in that room are not under glass.) June gave the guard an exasperated look when she heard this.  Clearly he did not know how well behaved she is and how many tiger paws she has (twenty-three, third place in her class- not that she’s keeping track).  For a while the kids played a game of Noah’s invention called “Guess the Medium,” in which he’d have June guess whether a piece of art was done in paint, chalk, water color, etc. I caught a glimpse of them spontaneously holding hands in front of a painting (though later Noah claimed he’d done no such thing).  It was a lovely, lovely day, just like old times, except completely different.

Friday and Saturday: New Year’s Eve

We didn’t do much on Friday. Noah went over to Sasha’s and the rest of us hung around the house and June played with new Christmas toys while Beth and I cleaned in anticipation of our New Year’s Eve Day guests.  Saturday morning we cleaned some more and made peanut butter cookies with Hershey’s kisses baked into them and I set out our spread of sparkling juice, fruit, crackers and fancy cheeses, cookies and candy.  Noah helped by making little labels for the cheeses, which he stuck into them with toothpicks. They looked like little flags.

Joyce, her husband Smitty and their nine-year-old daughter Gwen came for lunch.  Joyce and I once shared a tiny, windowless, computerless office–which we affectionately called The Shoebox–with five other adjuncts and teaching assistants at George Washington University, when she was a graduate student there and I was an adjunct, back before our kids were born. We reminisced about that and caught each other up on our current lives (she’s an English professor at Ball State University now) and we ate a lot of cheese while the kids made videos on the computer.  I always enjoy seeing Joyce, even though her visits are far between now that she lives in Indiana.

We listened to Christmas music all through the visit and into the evening.  After our guests left we watched our last Christmas movie Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, before declaring ourselves done with Christmas (okay, we will finish the sweets). We didn’t stay up to welcome in the New Year.  Beth and I were in bed before ten p.m., but we had a very pleasant New Year’s Eve nonetheless.

Sunday: New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day was another quiet day, full of grocery shopping and little home improvement projects. Noah and Beth took turns showing me how to use various functions of my new iPod so now I can listen to music, the radio and podcasts, if I remember their instructions.  I made black-eyed peas for good luck in the coming year and I finally made good on a resolution to get June some play dates already. She hasn’t had one in months and she’s been asking for ages to have someone come play.  She and her friend played instruments and danced and played Chutes and Ladders and had an earnest conversation about how no one should make fun of Rapunzel because of her long hair.

Monday: The Last Hurrah

Monday was the last day of the kids’ break.  We drove all the way out to Bethesda to have breakfast at Cosi because Noah was in the mood for square bagels.  There’s a Barnes and Noble nearby and Noah was also wanting a couple more 39 Clues books he didn’t get for Christmas, so he bought them himself.  June picked up a discounted Bambi book for herself as well, also using saved allowance.  I was feeling positively virtuous for having patronized two bookstores in five days, even if one was a big chain.

I snuck in a short editing job while June watched television and after lunch, Beth went out for coffee with Lesley and the kids had a play date extravaganza.  June had another friend over and Noah’s twin friends came over, too.  The big kids played with hexbugs and huddled together on our bed playing a game on Noah’s iPod.  The little kids played Chutes and Ladders and staged a medieval lesbian wedding between two of the Playmobile castle women, witnessed by reindeer and snowmen figurines. Later they ran around in the back yard, jumped on the mini-trampoline, played the Cat in the Hat game and made masks from June’s mask kit.  Everyone played so well together I was able to read a longish Margaret Atwood story from The New Yorker in relative peace.

The whole five days felt relaxed and fun and productive at the same time.  The house looks better than usual, as Beth did some deep cleaning and I feel ready to return to work tomorrow (that is if the snow flurries we had this afternoon don’t turn into something serious enough to cancel school).

Sara asked me over Christmas if I’m happy and I gave her a mixed report, but on consideration, I think I really am a lot happier than I was a year ago when I could see June’s preschool years drawing to a close but I had no idea what that would mean for me (see my 1/9/11 post).  Even though Noah will start middle school in 2012 and it’s bound to be an interesting year politically, I feel that the big changes for me have already happened with my transition from stay-at-home mom to part-time work-at-home mom.  The New Year’s just begun– we’re two days in and I’m ready to see what the rest of it holds.

Soon It Will Be Christmas Day

I’ve had an unusual amount of work in the past few weeks: I’ve written a booklet about ten herbs, a brochure for a calcium supplement and right now I’m in the middle of another brochure about a digestive aide. Plus, I edited a short academic paper. We also had a houseguest, a college friend who was in town to sing in a concert (the Bill of Rights set to music!) and we had a brief but fun visit with him. So it would have been easier to skip the Holiday Sing at June’s school on Friday morning, but I went anyway. Part of how I justify working part-time at home is that it makes me available for this sort of thing, so it seems I ought to go in the busy weeks as well as the not so busy ones. Plus I love this event. I went every year Noah attended this school.

The first year I went it was not really what I was expecting. No real information was sent home other than the date and time. I knew Noah had been practicing songs in music class for a few weeks so I expected all the kids to get up on stage or bleachers or something, though I wasn’t sure how so many kids would fit because the whole school is there in two shifts and some kids go twice, as I will explain. But in fact only the fourth and fifth graders perform in a visible way. Back in Noah’s day it used to be the choir, but sadly, the choir fell victim to an expanding school population with no money for an extra music teacher, and it is no more.

The program now starts with the advanced strings and wind sections of the school band. Then all the kids in the fourth and fifth grade are divided into three groups of a few classes each and they either play the recorder or sing for the rest of the first half of the program. Meanwhile the younger kids sit on the floor facing the stage while parents sit on folding chairs at the back of the room. In the second half of the program, the younger kids on the floor sing the songs they’ve practiced in music class along with the older kids up on stage. (In a way it’s nice because it’s more inclusive than the old way of doing it, but knowing how important being in the band is to Noah, I’m sad the more talented singers at June’s school don’t have that creative outlet any more.)

The room was festive. There was a fifteen-foot high inflatable Santa with a spinning present on one hand on one side of the stage and a Nutcracker on the other side. Paper snowflakes decorated the walls near the stage and more hung from the ceiling of the stage. I caught sight of June as her class filed in but she didn’t see me. Her blonde pigtails and red Nordic pattern sweater made her easy to find in the crowd. (It was the same sweater Noah wore to the Holiday Sing when he was in kindergarten. Don’t ask me why I remember. I just do and the idea of having June wear it appealed to me. It was surprisingly easy to convince her. I just suggested it and she said yes.)

There were Kwanzaa songs and Christmas songs and Hanukah songs. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was the crowd favorite, but I walked home with “Feliz Navidad” and “In the Window,” a very pretty Hanukah song in my head. Also this one, which the kids didn’t sing: “War is over/If you want it/War is over now” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Xmas_(War_Is_Over)) because as strange as it seems, the war in Iraq is over, our part in it anyway. This is more a solemn than a joyous thing to contemplate, but it’s a good thing nonetheless.

When the songs were over, the kids on the floor were allowed to get up and turn around and wave at their parents. June saw me and beamed and I smiled and waved back and then slipped out of the room to hurry back to home and work.

The next day was Saturday. I worked a little and June had her last ballet class (they danced to some songs from The Nutcracker) and she and Talia and Gabriella followed it up with a free tap/jazz class because the first ballet class of the year had been cancelled and the students were allowed to make up the missed class by attending another one. Afterward all three ballerinas went to lunch at Eggspectations (http://www.eggspectations.com/usa/index.html) with assorted parents and siblings to celebrate the end of class.

That night Beth and I went to a birthday party for Lesley. It was a surprise party, made surprising, I think, by the fact that she’d already had a party two weeks earlier. (We went to that one, too.) When a preschool teacher as beloved as Lesley turns fifty, people go all out. One party is not enough. The parties were thrown by different people, with different guest lists, so we got to see a lot of people, including several parents from Noah’s class we hadn’t seen years and Becky, the nursery school music teacher, whom we miss a lot. It was a fun evening.

Sunday I worked some more and in the afternoon we went to see The Nutcracker at Onley Theatre (http://www.olneytheatre.org/). Before the show I bought June a little nutcracker figure (given that she broke, not one, but two Nutcracker snow globes last year it seemed like a better bet than another snow globe). June tested how wide each nutcracker could open its mouth before settling on one in a white and gold outfit. She angled for a second souvenir (a book with a CD) and I considered it, but it was a bit pricy. The sales clerk warned her to be careful with the little wooden doll because it was really a decoration and not a toy.

The theater space was medium-sized and kind of rustic, with wooden beams decorated with evergreen garlands and big ribbons. We piled up all our coats on June’s seat so she’d been tall enough to see, and it worked, but only because there was a child in front on her and a child in front of that child. June perched on her elevated seat and watched the first act with close attention. She applauded a lot and every so often put her arms up in the air in the same poses as the ballerinas. Noah paid close attention and applauded a lot, too. It was a nice production, somewhat more elaborate than the one we saw last year, though not a really fancy one. (I do hope to splurge on a top-notch one some day. My kids have never seen a version where all the children coming running out from under the giant mother’s skirts in the second act. That was my favorite part when I was a kid.)

At intermission, Beth and June went to the bathroom while I went in search of snacks, since June said she was hungry. By the time we found each other she only had time to eat a few of the pretzels I bought before it was time to go back to the theater, so she was still hungry. She was also tired and kind of antsy by this point. The people in front of us had re-grouped so three out of the four seats in front of us had adults in them and June’s view was now blocked. Rather than ask Noah to take an obstructed view, I moved June onto my lap, which meant I needed to crane my neck to see around her. Sometimes she sat up straight, sometimes she slumped against me, sometimes she stood in front of my seat, a few times she slid to the floor and sat there. I think she actually paid better attention last year when she was four, but this might have been a longer production. She was watching when Clara appears back in her living room at the very end. “It was all a dream,” June announced loudly. She seemed happy to have figured this out on her own. (I’d read her the synopsis of the first act before it started, but the lights went down before I could finish reading the synopsis of the second act so she was on her own piecing together the action.)

As we walked back to overflow parking lot, the kids argued over the remaining pretzels and Beth said anyone who continued arguing would not get anything at Starbucks, and lo there was peace. The sword had already broken off June’s nutcracker, but we decided this was appropriate because the nutcracker gets broken in the ballet, too. Also, Beth promised to glue it back together once we got home.

We came home. Noah and I bagged three bags of leaves I’d raked earlier and Beth made Vietnamese spring rolls for dinner. We ate in front of the television, something we hardly ever do, so we could watch The Year Without a Santa Claus before it was time to put our sleepy daughter to bed.

The new week has started and I am knee-deep in things to do, but I am wondering if I can somehow manage to make gingerbread cookie dough to take to my mom’s house to bake there. It will be a hectic week, but soon it will be Christmas day and I want to arrive with something sweet for the many relatives who will be there.

If You Dare

Noah and I were eating oatmeal and reading the Saturday paper when Noah piped up that there was a haunted train and carousel at Wheaton Regional Park and he wanted to go. He’d just finished reading the review in Kids Post and he thought it sounded fun. I considered and realized that it was the best day between now and Halloween to do it because June was spending the weekend at my mother and stepfather’s house–they were finally going to Sesame Place (http://www.sesameplace.com/sesame2/) after their planned July trip to the park got scotched by three-digit heat. Anyway, the haunted train was recommended for kids eight and up and June’s easily spooked, so doing it while she was still out of town seemed like the best idea.

In the morning Beth picked up supplies for the kids’ costumes (June is going as a witch, and Noah will be a newspaper) and she went to get the tickets that afternoon. After a delicious dinner at Asian Bistro (http://asianbistrocafe.com), we drove out to the park. We arrived at 7:20, twenty minutes before our train (we had timed tickets). It was a dark night, and cold. I had on a fleece jacket and I pulled my hands inside the sleeves.

Hay mucha linea,” we heard a Spanish-speaking boy warn his family but the line was not too long. It was however, menaced by a man in a hockey mask wielding a chainsaw, sort of a Friday the 13th/Texas Chainsaw Massacre mashup. He walked up and down the line, jabbing the saw toward people, many of whom squealed or jumped away. I started to feel uneasy, remembering the man with the chainsaw who directed traffic at the much too mature haunted house where I took Noah when he was seven (see my 11/5/08 post). Was this a mistake? But the Post said eight and up, I thought, and the crowd seemed to consist mainly of kids eight to twelve and their parents, though here and there I saw much younger children, including a boy with his face painted like a skull who couldn’t have been older than four.

Someone called out, “Hey, Jason, can we get your picture?” and the man with the chainsaw broke out of character and said, “Sure. Why not?” and then proceeded to pose for pictures. This will be okay, I thought. Even the serial killers are friendly.

Many of the train passengers were in their Halloween costumes and the line was full of nervous tween energy. We wound past inflatable ghosts emerging from a pumpkin, a wooden figure of Dracula, and a graveyard with names on the tombs like “Dee Composing.” My favorite one said, “Felix the Cat,” and had nine dates of death underneath. We watched the train before ours pull into the station and the passengers disembarked. Some of them took off running with Chainsaw Man in hot pursuit, while others waited in their seats until everyone who wanted to run had gotten past. It seemed quite civil, with everyone having the choice of whether to be chased off the train platform or not.

Finally we got on the train, Noah and I were in one row with Beth ahead of us. Behind us sat two park employees who’d been working as actors along the tracks and wanted to see the show from the passengers’ perspective. They kept discussing what was coming next, but apparently the routine is varied enough so that they were wrong at least as often as they were right.

The train was strung with little red lights that would go off during suspenseful moments. I actually thought the scariest part was once when the lights went out and the train stopped for a full minute. I don’t even remember what, if anything, happened next. As is so often the case, the anticipation was better. There were a lot of props along the way, another graveyard, coffins, a dummy in a guillotine, but there were also live actors. The clown with the bloody scythe was the most memorable for me. The train went over a bridge that was draped with caution tape to make it look unstable and then near the end, through a tunnel with strobe lights. Chainsaw Man turned up here, and as Beth later pointed out, the lights made his actions look jerky and unpredictable.

The whole experience was just about right for Noah (and Beth, who’s really not a fan of this sort of thing). Being contained in the train, helped, I think, because nothing and no one ever crossed the boundary between inside and out.

And then the train pulled into the station. Noah had said earlier he wanted to wait and not be chased, but changed his mind at the very last minute. But there were people running down the platform in front of our seats and I couldn’t get out before Chainsaw Man had already run past. Noah ran up the path anyway. He was keyed up and proud of having ridden the train, just as he was last summer at the Haunted Mansion on the boardwalk (8/22/11).

Because we were late off the train, we didn’t make it into the first group to enter the Haunted Carousel. This was just as well because Beth, Noah and I ended up being the entire second group. The carousel is housed in a metal building with sides that normally roll up while it is in use, but they were left down. To enter we had to walk past a coffin with a corpse reaching out and some other decorations. It was dark and misty inside and instead of music, there was a recording of sound effects—a cackling laugh, a cat meowing, clanking chains, a church bell tolling. It was odd and spooky to ride a carousel alone in the dark, without the usual cheerful music. I thought actors might appear, but after a while it was clear it would just be Beth, and Noah and me riding our horses and zebra (Noah’s mount) around and around in eerie, but strangely peaceful circles. It was a nice end to the evening.

On Sunday Beth and Noah fetched June from my mom at a rest stop in Delaware. Noah had purchased what he believed to be the exact recording of Halloween sound effects from the carousel from iTunes that morning and they played it in the car, making it a haunted Ford Focus, I suppose. In between that five-hour drive and June’s soccer game, we squeezed in a trip to the pumpkin patch to buy four jack-o-lantern pumpkins, a soup pumpkin and a tiny decorative pumpkin for my computer desk. That evening, at Noah’s insistence, we ordered some last minute Halloween decorations for our ever-growing collection. We are now the proud owners of a tombstone with a winged death’s head and caution tape with the words, “Haunted: Keep Out,” “Caution: Zombie Zone,” and “Enter If You Dare.”

Because haunted or not, be there zombies or ghosts or vampires, we dare.

Simple Gifts

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right

“Simple Gifts” by Elder Joseph Brackett

It took me a couple weeks of emailing people to find a new date for June’s rain-delayed back-to-school party that worked for almost everyone we had invited, but eventually we settled on Saturday afternoon. It was not clear that the weather was going to co-operate, however. The party that had been postponed by Hurricane Irene was now being threatened by the torrential rain associated with Tropical Storm Lee. All week it rained (a small section of our basement flooded on Thursday and I spent much of the day mopping up water and laundering towels) but then early Friday afternoon the sun broke through the clouds. Sunlight can be so startling and invigorating when you see it for the first time in several days. I remember that from my college days in Northern Ohio. I took Noah out on the porch to read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince after school and as I read I enjoyed the sun that fell on my forearm and one bare foot.

There was a chance of showers on Saturday, but the morning was sunny and as it progressed, it seemed less and less compelling to try to clean the house to party standards, which was a good thing because there was almost no chance of me actually achieving that if we had to move the event from the playground to the house. I would have moved it to the messy house if I’d needed to, though. We weren’t canceling again.

As we walked to the playground, twice I thought I felt a drop of rain. I did not mention it to anyone. It seemed like bad luck. As we draped the tablecloth over the table and set out the cake, juice, plates, forks and cups, I noticed part of the sky clouding over. We were finished well before party time and sat, waiting, watching the sky and the paths to the playground for approaching guests, hoping the guests would come before the rain.

Everyone who RSVPed came, and it didn’t rain. That’s really all I need to say to let you know the party was a success. All through the preparations I had visions of the sky opening up and onto the cake and the lyrics to “MacArthur Park” ran relentlessly through my head. But they came. First Malachi and his mother, then Maggie (formerly known as the White-Tailed Deer) and her mother, and then Dominik (formerly known as the Field Cricket) and his mother and toddler sister—they all came. The kids played in the creek and on the playground equipment and ate cake and drank juice and played some more. Maggie’s mom led the kids in a couple rounds of “Mother May I?”

The grownups talked, about kindergarten of course, but also about our older kids. The mom with a third-grader wanted to ask me about the application procedure for the Highly Gifted Center, and both of us with fifth-graders talked to the middle school teacher about middle school options. It was hot and humid, but it was good to be out in the sun anyway and it was good to be seeing friends whose kids we’ve known since they were babies or two or three years old as we celebrate their entry into elementary school. Noah went home on his own shortly after the cake (he’d been moody all afternoon) but Beth and June stayed at the playground to play after the party was over and the guests had all gone home.

As June might say, we won the party.

Sunday was the Takoma Park Folk Festival, a long-standing annual affair held on the second Sunday of September inside and on the playing fields of a local middle school. It was also the tenth anniversary of September 11, so the theme of the festival was “Peace and Reconciliation.”

We arrived around 11:15 and decided to buy lunch and take it to the stage where our chosen twelve o’ clock band was playing. We knew it would take a long while to assess our culinary options, stand in line and purchase food. The two orders of falafel and veggies, one order of lo mein with eggroll, one plate of freshly cooked potato chips, one lemonade, two limeades and a mango smoothie was more than we could carry in one trip, too, so we had to ferry the food to the field in shifts. Finally we were settled on our blanket listening to the eleven o’ clock band finish up. Noah was listening more carefully than I was, but from what he reported it sounded like they might be 9/11 conspiracy theorists. I decided to relax and enjoy the beautiful weather and the delicious food, rather than try to make out the lyrics.

Soon I saw Lesley walking toward us. During the second half of the food run, Beth had dropped by the Purple School table to visit a friend who had a lunchtime shift, found Lesley there and directed her to our blanket. Lesley was full of hugs for everyone and questions about the first two weeks of school for both kids. Noah was chatty but June was a bit cool toward her (she was just the same way with Andrea when the Bugs class ended—I think she needs to detach in order to make transitions) but Lesley finally coaxed a little smile and a thumbs-up from June when she persisted with questions about school.

The noon hour band was Dirty River (http://www.dirtyriver.com/) a bluegrass band Noah had chosen. We were staying for three hours (Noah had a 3:30 play date with the twin brothers who seem to be his best friends at his new school) so the kids got to pick one hour’s entertainment each and Beth and I picked jointly picked the last one. Noah liked the band and asked if he could buy their CD. Beth and I pooled the money we had left after our frozen custard/Italian ice dessert and managed to scrape up the required funds. He took the money and went to buy the CD by himself, walking with the slight swagger he has whenever he’s feeling especially grown-up. But halfway through the set, he said he wished he hadn’t bought the CD because he didn’t like the band that much after all. He’d been the same way the day before, alternately complaining about being bored at June’s party and seeming happy and engaged, joining in their games and rough-housing with Malachi. He’s been like this more and more lately. Is it a tween thing?

Next up was the “Family Dance.” This was June’s pick and I must admit I was somewhat horrified at the idea of public dancing but kids push you out of your comfort zone all the time. This session was inside the school, in a gym. Beth and Noah settled into the bleachers to watch while June and I hit the dance floor. Once I realized this was going to be the kind of dancing with specific instructions and not free form, I was much more comfortable. It actually ended up being kind of fun. There were line dances and circle dances. June liked the “Highland Gates” dance in which some people stand in a circle and hold their hands up high so people inside can “run in and out the windows.” I glanced up more than once and saw Noah clapping to the tune of “The Rattlin’ Bog,” that old summer camp favorite (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnv9GB8xvrw&feature=related). June was worn out before the hour was up so we went to sit with Beth and Noah and watch for a while. That was how we got to see the spiral of people curl and uncurl to the tune of “Simple Gifts.” It was like watching a living knot come untied, a very cool effect, and achieved with so few commands from the leader it was like a visual demonstration of the beauty of simplicity.

Our last session was Magpie (http://www.magpiemusic.com/biography.htm). Back in college, Beth and I used to listen to a Magpie cassette of songs about work and labor activism. We both thought it would be fun to see them in person. The kids were somewhat less enthusiastic about being in a room full of earnest, graying Takoma Park residents listening to earnest, graying musicians. Noah kept leaning over to check my watch. June was antsy until she fell asleep on my lap. She’s been doing pretty well going without her nap the past couple weeks, but she does occasionally crash on weekend afternoons. I enjoyed the set, though I came out of it realizing I am more cynical about politics and human nature than I was when I was twenty.

When Magpie finished, I woke June as gently as I could and carried her out of the school and we all got in the car to drive Noah to the twins’ house. Beth and I had busy late afternoons and evenings planned. She had to finish grocery shopping and cook dinner and clean the kitchen and the bathroom. I had six chapters of a book on copywriting to read in preparation for an assignment this week. I was pleased with our weekend, though, and with the simple gifts of a sunny afternoon in the park with old friends embarking on a new adventure, a surprise visit from a beloved teacher, music and dance and family time.

I don’t know what the ultimate lesson of September 11 was, but if it had anything to do with appreciating the simple things you have and holding close to those you cherish, it was a good way to commemorate the day.

Two Weekends

I had a long week and Beth did, too. She had to work late on Thursday night and will be working this weekend, too. It seems like a good time to reflect on the past two weekends. They were very different from each other but each charming in its own way.

Two weekends ago, Beth and I dropped the kids off at my mother and stepfather’s house, had pizza with them, and then and headed for a hotel in nearby Chester County. The original plan was for Mom and Jim to take the kids to Sesame Place on Saturday but that weekend was during the heat wave so after Mom and I conferred, she decided to take them to the Please Touch Museum (http://www.pleasetouchmuseum.org/) instead.

Beth and I went out for ice cream at Friendly’s on our way to the hotel Friday night in order to establish a festive mood. Saturday we spent the morning at the Brandywine River Museum (http://www.brandywinemuseum.org/), a museum mostly dedicated the works of N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. I’ve been to this museum several times, mostly as a kid, but I’d never done the tour of N.C. Wyeth’s house and studio before (http://www.brandywinemuseum.org/ncstudio.html) probably because until 1994 there were Wyeths still living in the house, so that was fun. I especially liked seeing the studio. It’s a beautiful space with huge windows, a mural up on the wall and props all around. When you’re in there it feels as if N.C. has just stepped out, even though he died in 1945.

In the museum I was particularly charmed by “In a Dream I Meet General Washington” (http://brandywine.doetech.net/Detlobjps.cfm?ParentListID=81915&ObjectID=1409117&rec_num=5#42) in the N.C. Wyeth collection. Click on the thumbnail. It will enlarge. I also liked “Evening at Kuerners” in the Andrew Wyeth Gallery (http://www.swoyersart.com/andrew_wyeth/kuerners.htm). It was nice to stroll through a museum at my own pace, having time to look at the art and actually read the captions as well.

For lunch we headed to Kennet Square, mushroom capital of the world. We decided we’d have mushrooms at every lunch and dinner during our stay. We began fulfilling this pledge by ordering friend mushrooms and a Portobello salad, along with a Brie, pecan and blueberry plate. We browsed in a few shops, spending the most time in a used bookstore. I emerged with a book of Chester County ghost stories, for Noah (but I read it before I gave it to him) and a trio of Agatha Christie novels. After visiting an ice cream parlor, we headed back to the hotel, where we read without interruption for the rest of the afternoon. Before the weekend was out I had finished the ghost story book and started on one of the mysteries I was meaning to save for the beach. (Just for context, I should mention that I just last week finished a short story collection I started in May. It was a long one, but still, the point is I don’t get to read much in the summer.)

We dined at the Kennett Square Inn, a nineteenth-century inn that’s allegedly haunted (http://www.kennettinn.com/). I read about it in the book, but the ghost was also mentioned on the back of the menu. We didn’t see her (she’s a Colonial-era girl), but we did hear fellow diners wondering if they’d see her. Even without supernatural enhancement, we enjoyed our meal. (I had mushroom ravioli and crème brulee.)

The countryside around Chadd’s Ford is pretty (there’s a reason those Wyeths settled here) and there were a number of parks and gardens nearby but the heat was still withering, so we spent Sunday morning reading, first in the room, then at a Starbucks (the local coffeehouse I wanted to try was closed Sundays) and then we had an early lunch (mushroom quiche for me) and headed back to Mom’s to pick up the kids. June showed us the German porcelain doll Mom bought her on her recent trip to Europe. Noah looked up some German names for her online and June named her Ursula. Ursula has zipped right past Ella and Violet and is now June’s favorite doll.

We had a brief visit with my friend Pam before driving home. Pam and I went to high school together and now she lives in England and teaches at the University of Sussex. During the past year she has been living with her husband and two kids in her childhood home, and trying to sell it, as her parents have moved. We caught them a week before they were going to fly back to the U.K. We ate leftovers from the goodbye party they’d hosted the day before, chatted and watched the kids play in the sprinkler. And then we drove home.

The following weekend we set aside both afternoons to take each of the kids to a movie alone. On Saturday, Noah went over to Sasha’s while we took June to see Winnie the Pooh. She loved it. She loved going to the movies with both moms and no brother. “It’s my special day,” she kept announcing. And she loved being in a big theater with her own bag of popcorn (she ate the whole thing!) and she loved the film itself. She kept talking excitedly about what was going on and laughing at the jokes. Her favorite part was when Pooh’s stuffing was coming out, she said later. A week later she seems to remember the plot pretty well. Today she drew a series of pictures of Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Roo and the Backson in various scenes from the movie and taped them together into a book.

It’s so hard to find an innocent kids’ movie that’s not too scary or full of snarky jokes these days that I really appreciated it. And I think a lot of parents did, too. Beth said it’s doing very well at the box office. Among my own circle of friends, the Mallard Duck’s mom recently wrote a blog post about seeing Winnie the Pooh with her daughter that’s worth reading. She captured exactly what I felt about it (http://mimi37.blogspot.com/). Also, I realize this is a bit meta, because she links to me in this post, but bear with me and read it.

Sunday, we left June with a sitter and went to see Time Bandits at AFI (http://www.afi.com/) with Noah. Noah didn’t exclaim about it being his special day, but still it was nice to have the chance to focus on him without the competing chatter of his little sister. I saw Time Bandits thirty years ago when it came out in theaters at least twice. I remembered loving it but not a lot of detail about the plot. I was just a little nervous about it for Noah because of the fuzziness of my memory and because I was fourteen, and not ten, when I saw it. It was rated PG, but it was made in the days before PG-13, when that rating covered a wider range of material.

As it turned out, it was just at his level in terms of action. The violence was comparable to the Chronicles of Narnia films we’ve watched at home and I think the very mild sexual innuendo probably went over his head. He loved most of the humor. I think he missed a few jokes, but the line “So that’s what an invisible barrier looks like,” made him guffaw and he also liked the part where Evil blows up a one of his minions for asking an impertinent question and then concedes, “Good question,” and goes on to answer it. I don’t think Noah’s ready for Monty Python yet ( it’s both racier and gorier) but it made me look forward to when he is.

As different as the weekends were, I think what I liked about them was the same thing. We were split up in unusual combinations. Beth and I don’t make enough time for dates and alone time, or rather, we resolve to and then we do and I really enjoy it and then we slip out of the habit. That’s the pattern, so a weekend alone was a nice luxury. Thanks, Mom and Jim! We also don’t have a lot of two-parent-one-child time with either of the kids and I think that’s important, too. As easy as it is to get bogged down in the hassles of day to day life, every so often I find myself thinking of the light coming through N.C. Wyeth’s studio windows and I know Winnie the Pooh’s adventure with the Backson is still reverberating in June’s imagination. I think these two weekends did us all good.

Postcard Perfect

Somehow, against all odds, we picked the exact right day to go see the cherry blossoms this year. Peak bloom was predicted from Tuesday to Friday and the kids had Thursday off school—there’s always a day off in between marking periods—so our original plan was for me to bring the kids to Beth’s office in the late afternoon and to go from there. But Thursday ended up being a very complicated day. There was a fundraiser for June’s school at a local Mexican restaurant and the first meeting of my new book club was at 7:30. A late afternoon downtown outing did not seem feasible. As Beth put it, there were “too many moving parts” for any plan to work.

So I suggested we go in the morning instead but Beth said if she was going to go in late and leave early she might as well not go to work at all and she was too busy for that so we decided to do it Friday after school instead. On further consideration, we realized that by the time June had gotten home from school and napped, it would be pretty late and dragging her on a long walk when she wanted to be asleep was not the best idea either. It’s also worth noting that it was cold and damp and overcast all day Thursday and Friday and high winds were predicted for Friday.

So, Saturday morning it was. I was worried that Friday’s windstorm would blow all the blossoms away and that we’d miss the best few days of the ephemeral blooms, but there was really no other way.

By this time I was thinking nostalgically about how when we lived in the city we used to just walk to the Tidal Basin from our apartment and scheduling the trip around two people instead of four was so much easier. It didn’t help that Friday morning I had a dentist appointment in Dupont Circle with the dentist I’ve been seeing for almost twenty years and I’d spent the rest of the morning down there drinking coffee and reading some medical abstracts for a project I’m going to do for Sara and watching people come and go out of the Circle. I started to get very wistful about my younger and comparatively simpler days, not that they seemed simple at the time. Life never does.

The book club meeting the night before may have primed me for this dissatisfaction. It’s run by the Takoma Park Library and it’s called the Great Big Books Club–big in both senses of the word. I’ve never been before but they’ve read War and Peace, Middlemarch, Moby Dick and The Brothers Karamazov over the past two years. This time around it’s Bleak House (“a cakewalk,” someone at the meeting commented). Here’s the flyer that sucked me in: http://www.ftpml.org/PDF/BleakFlyer.pdf. Overall it’s a good thing I’m doing this. I’ve been interested in this book club for some time but it always seemed impossible. It meets in the evenings and I was always so tired and getting home after dark could be tricky, etc. And then June started sleeping through the night in January and after a couple months of that, I started noticing I feel better, not just physically but emotionally, too. I feel lighter somehow, more optimistic. So I was reading about the book club on the library web site and found out that another mom from June’s school was quoted in the article. I got in touch with her to ask some questions and before I knew it she was offering me a ride and all of a sudden it seemed as if I might actually be able to do this thing.

Aside from fatigue and logistics the other thing that held me back from joining a book club was my fear that I’d want to the be professor in the room and I’d try to take it over. But this book club has an actual professor who comes to lecture at the first meeting to help put the book in context for future meetings. He was very good, informative and affable and good at engaging the eclectic crowd. At one point I found myself admiring his shoes, lace-up oxfords, and thinking they make those for women, too, maybe I should get a pair some day when I realized I didn’t want his shoes, I wanted his job. And then I got a little depressed. But I managed to fight it back. I’m good at that. I do it all the time.

So, about those blossoms… this is a post about the cherry blossoms, right? That’s what the pictures seem to imply at any rate. We left the house at 8:40 on Saturday morning. Both children had complained of stomachaches earlier in the morning but ate breakfast and felt better. We picked up coffee and pastries for a snack to eat there and drove down to the Tidal Basin. Our first sight of the blossoms from the car window was promising. The trees were covered in big, puffy clumps of blossoms. It looked like a postcard of Washington, D.C. The high winds predicted for Friday had never come and the trees were just perfect.

We found parking without much trouble and didn’t even need to use the remote lot. The weather was odd. It was cloudy early and then cleared right before we left the house and then got cloudy again and it just kept doing that all morning until there was a brief downpour, but that was after we’d left. It was chilly but we’ve been to the blossoms on colder days. Late March and early April are most unpredictable so we’ve been to see the blossoms in everything from winter coats to shorts.

We walked all the way around the Tidal Basin for the first time in a few years, maybe since before June was born. Noah had a map and acted as our tour guide, identifying the different species of trees and regaling us with facts about them. He was a bit put out that we didn’t get the map right away so he didn’t have it for the whole walk (and we refused to go back to our starting point to accommodate his desire to do the whole route with the map). Still, considering that no-one got sick, it wasn’t raining, no one fell into the water (despite June’s best efforts) and we had two hours to meander around the Tidal Basin, all decked out in its April finery, I think it was just about as close to postcard perfect as real life gets.

The Icebox

Then he slunk to the icebox. He took the Whos’ feast!
He took the Who-pudding! He took the roast beast!
He cleaned out that icebox as quick as a flash.
Why, that Grinch even took their last can of Who-hash!

From How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss

“Look! It’s the Grinch,” I told June as we approached the huge white pavilion at the National Harbor yesterday afternoon. We were headed for the ICE exhibit (http://dc.about.com/od/christmasevents/a/ICEGaylordNational.htm). The theme this year was How the Grinch Stole Christmas so a figure of the Grinch hovered over the door. Our timed tickets were for 4:30 and it was a little before four so we had time to explore the heated part of the tent, where people were ice-skating and a group of singers on a bandstand sang “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” with theatrically forced cheer.

The ICE exhibit is a collection of colored ice sculptures crafted by artists from a region of China where there’s a big ice festival every year. The chilled part of the tent where they reside is kept at 9 degrees Fahrenheit. I was a little concerned about this part, about June specifically. She doesn’t always do well in the cold.

We’d just come from Wheeling, where we spent Christmas and where in the five days we were there the temperature never rose out of the twenties. June was game for sledding on Christmas morning (she had a new sled to test out after all) but the second time we went, on a windier day, she gave up after one run down the hill and she and I sat in the backseat of the car and read a book of fairy tales while Noah went up and down the hill on his sled and Beth stood in the snow and watched him. June also bailed on ice-skating, which she’d been anticipating for a long time, while she and Beth and I were in line at the Wheeling Park rink. I’m still not sure if it was because of the cold (she was shivering) or if it was because she’d just seen the chaotic reality of an ice rink with a lot of big people whipping around quite quickly on it. I think she might have imagined herself skating elegantly and alone like the girl in the (hauntingly lovely) Schoolhouse Rock “Figure 8” song she likes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jeq5a8bBh8c).

Anyway, I consulted her teacher Andrea because I know she and her partner and daughters went to ICE last year. Andrea advised wearing boots and hats and assured me that the parkas they issue you do help a lot and she thought June would be fine.

We wound through the line, past an exhibit of art by Dr. Suess and got to the parka-pickup area where we struggled into the big puffy blue parkas. Beth’s and mine went a little past our knees. The kids’ parkas almost brushed their feet. June was briefly upset because she couldn’t get her mittened hands out of the sleeves, but Beth helped her.

Then we were inside. It was 9 degrees, it was crowded and it was noisy, party because of the crowds but mostly because of the fans. We didn’t get too many pictures because we didn’t want to inconvenience other people who were trying to get by and we couldn’t hear each other well enough to consult on what to photograph but you can get a good idea of what it looked like from this photo gallery (http://dc.about.com/od/christmasphotos/ss/ICEPhotos.htm).

June did great. She did not complain about the cold (or if she did I didn’t hear her) even though she got a rash on one cheek from it that lasted until she went to bed. She was smiling or looking at things intently most of the times I looked down and her. And she even went down the ice slide meant to represent The Grinch and Max’s ride down Mount Crumpet. She and I went down the children’s slide, which was pretty tame, and Noah went down the bigger one. At the very end of the exhibit there was a nativity scene done in clear ice. Beth said she thought it was the prettiest part as the colored ice sometimes looks like plastic.

We exited the exhibit a little after five, stood in line to greet someone in a Grinch costume and then left for the eighteen-story Gaylord National Resort hotel atrium (http://www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-national/), where we spotted one or two of the bronze Seuss statues on display, admired the elaborate decorations (including a big Christmas tree made of lights and for some reason suspended high in the air). We got hot chocolate and waited in line under the tree to ride a little train around a track. During the wait, June, who had taken only a twenty-five minute nap that afternoon instead of her usual hour or so, started to lean heavily against me.

We decided to move quickly to our next stop, dinner at Freshii (http://www.freshii.com/menu.php). As we sat on the barstools and June ate her bowl of noodles, tofu, black beans and edamame and I ate my vegetable-noodle soup, I asked her if she had a good day. “It wasn’t just good,” she said enthusiastically, “It was awesome!”

She’s such a delight. I have to admit I am often wishing she was just a little older, a little more independent, and looking with longing to a time when she’s at school for more than three hours at a time, when she can read to herself or when she’s fully potty-trained and sleeping through the night nearly all the time. This despite the fact that she’s made big strides in the last two areas this fall. As we stand on the brink of a new year when all of those wishes of mine could come true, and at least some surely will, I have to remind myself that sometimes four and three-quarters is a very satisfying age and right now is a very good time. Like the Whos, I have to remember to clasp hands and sing, even when I don’t have exactly what I was expecting.

But the sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so!
But it WAS merry! VERY!

Three Plays in Three Days

Okay, technically it was a puppet show, a play and a ballet, but still, we were mighty theatrical this weekend and not in a hurling ourselves to the floor and weeping over small slights kind of way. Not that any of us ever does that. Why do you ask?

Act I: Veteran’s Plaza, Silver Spring. Friday 5:45 p.m.

Downtown Silver Spring is a pretty place right before Christmas. In addition to the neon lights of the Regal Majestic Theater and the stores and restaurants that light up the night all year long, there are Christmas lights and a big lighted wreath, and this year nature had seen fit to give us the first real snow of the season the day before, just an inch or two, but enough to make June’s school’s annual Solstice lantern parade scenic. Before the parade started, people milled about in the dark. The adults socialized and the kids played in the snow. The Red Fox was quietly engaged in making a snow pile on a bench and a bunch of kids noticed a glow under the snow near a tree and dug up a ground level light, thinking they were rescuing a firefly. A group of teenagers passing by stopped and asked if this was the Purple School lantern parade they remembered attending as preschoolers.

Soon we were marching around the courtyard, in between the lines of concrete benches, once, twice, three times. The kids’ lanterns glowed, mostly with electric lights but some with real flames. Current students and recent graduates held rectangular painted paper-and-chicken-wire lanterns on long wooden sticks. June had painted the sun on hers with orange paint. Noah had an older, round black and white paper mache model circa 2005 with a wire handle and an alumna one year older than him had her light in a glass jar.

As we marched, we sang “This Little Light of Mine,” mostly just the chorus over and over. June shook the jingle bells she’d brought along. (The very same kind of jingle bells the Painted Turtle had brought as they marveled earlier.) The Robin’s dad strummed his guitar as he strolled. We marched on wet bricks and patches of slushy snow until it was time to go inside the Civic Center for pizza, veggies and hummus, and home-baked treats. The Ghost Crab’s mom had arranged some of the cookies on either side of the table in the curving bark of a stripped log, lined with aluminum foil. It was a lovely effect. June’s and my contribution was on red plastic plates but we were proud of it anyway. Over the course of two days we’d baked and frosted six trays of sugar cookies in the shapes of stars, snowmen and Christmas trees. Beth put one star cookie in each of June’s classmate’s backpacks when she’d co-oped that afternoon and we brought the rest to the party.

The conference room where the party was held this year was smaller and more crowded than the library that hosted it last year and the year before but people spread out on the floor and managed to avoid stepping on each other as they ate picnic-style.

The central event of the Solstice party is the shadow-puppet show the Tracks class puts on each year. This year the show was an adaptation of a children’s book about a yellow leaf that is not ready to drop from its tree, even after all the other leaves have fallen. June played the part of the sun and stood at the edge of the screen holding her sun puppet as the Toad stood at the opposite edge with her moon puppet and children with apple, pumpkin and snowflake puppets trooped by to demonstrate the passage of autumn. Finally a scarlet leaf convinces the yellow leaf to drop and they fly off together. The play went off without a hitch, unless you count a few missed cues and an attempt by one of the children to snatch the moon puppet away from the Toad.

After the play, teacher gifts were presented. Lesley’s gift from the Tracks was a wreath the kids had decorated together, each contributing natural items they’d collected. June’s donation was a seagull feather she found on the beach the weekend before. By 6:45 the party was over and we were on our way home in time for the kids’ baths and Noah’s percussion practice and the rhythms of our evening routine on one of the longest nights of the year.

Act II: Round House Theatre, Bethesda. Saturday, 2:15 p.m.

I had a date with a handsome and charming young man on Saturday afternoon, coffee followed by the theater. Well, he had mango juice instead of coffee, but we both had a cranberry bliss bar in the Starbucks right outside Round House theatre (http://www.roundhousetheatre.org/). The store was humming with dressed up tweens and their parents, waiting to see A Wrinkle in Time. Noah and I went on a Madeline L’Engle kick this fall reading A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet and Many Waters. We both enjoyed the first two quite a bit, but I don’t recommend reading the last two to your nine year old. The third book was hard for Noah to follow. It’s a family saga with too many characters, too many of whom have the same names. He wanted to keep going to see if he liked the fourth book better, and he did, but I found myself editing as I read because of some mature subject matter. We’re done reading L’Engle for now—we’re currently in the middle of A Christmas Carol—but we were both excited to see this play.

It was a good adaptation. Though I though the playwright made the character of Calvin a little too jokey, the actor grew on me. And so many things were just right—Meg’s awkwardness, Charles Wallace’s quirkiness, although they had to use a seventh-grader to play him. It would have been hard to find a five year old up to the job. I asked Noah later if the characters were as he imagined them and he said the father was supposed to have long hair because he was too absent-minded to get it cut, but the actor who played him was bald. I kind of loved that Noah noticed that but didn’t mention that the actors who played the kids were white and both their parents were played by African-Americans.

He was also very interested in the technical aspects of the production, the house that rolled on and off the stage as needed, the projections on the back wall. When the play was over, he wanted to go look at the projector. We had balcony seats so it was pretty close to us.

Beth and June picked us up when the play was over and we went out for dumplings, garlic eggplant and noodles at City Lights of China (http://bethesdacitylightsofchina.com/) and then for desert crepes at an outdoor crepe stand (http://www.yelp.com/biz/ritas-crepes-bethesda). It was fun to stand in the frosty air among the bustling sidewalk traffic and watch as the servers made the crepes on griddles and then to take the warm triangles wrapped in paper and foil to eat as we walked back to the car.

Act III: American Dance Institute, Rockville. Sunday, 2:30 p.m.

In the freezing cold restroom, I gave June a quick summary of the plot of The Nutcracker. I was hoping if I distracted her by talking to her, she might relax enough to pee before the performance. She’s actually pretty good in public restrooms, but for some reason today she couldn’t go. This was making me nervous because I had failed to bring any spare clothes for her and she’s still imperfectly potty-trained. But she jumped off, insisting she really couldn’t go and we went to stand in line with Beth and Noah to enter the theater.

We were attending The Nutcracker at the American Dance Institute (http://www.americandance.org/), a dance education center, so it was a stripped down version, performed mostly by children and teenagers. I did miss the more elaborate staging of some other versions I’ve seen and the larger casts, but it was just right for June’s introduction to the ballet.

Although, strictly speaking she has seen it before. We took Noah to see The Nutcracker at the University of Maryland when he was four and a half and then the next year, when he was five and a half and June was a baby, we all went again at another location. June was about nine months old then and I thought she might enjoy the music and the colors and the movement. I was right, but what I didn’t predict was how loudly she would express her enjoyment. A woman in front of us gave us dirty looks every time she squealed, so it was a relief when she nursed to sleep some time in the middle. Falling asleep at The Nutcracker is something of a family tradition, as Noah had missed the whole second act when he dozed off in his seat the year before. (He’d only recently stopped napping and my kids do not give up their naps easily.) June did nap this afternoon, however, so she was fresh and ready to take in everything.

We settled into our seats and I read the synopsis from the program to June in order to keep familiarizing her with the story. She said she thought she remembered it and I reminded her that YaYa had a book about it at her house. (In fact, the kids are going to see The Nutcracker twice this year, as YaYa will be taking them next week when we are in Wheeling.)

We were seated early and June was impatient for the ballet to start but once it did, she was very attentive, smiling and clapping, and at one point (during the French marzipan dance in the second act) standing in front of her chair on her toes with her arms over her head rapidly shifting from foot to foot. It was beyond cute. Noah and Beth were seated in the row in front of us, so I didn’t see as many of his reactions but he seemed to enjoy himself, clapping quite loudly at the end.

When the show was over I asked June what part she liked best and she said the Christmas party scene. I bought her a little snow globe depicting Clara holding the nutcracker. She’d seen it at intermission and fallen in love with it at once and had asked several times if she could have it.

We stopped at a supermarket for a few items on our way home and as Beth opened June’s car door, the snow globe came tumbling out of the car and shattered on the icy parking lot. June started to cry, that horrible, hitching cry you probably know if you are a parent. I hesitated just a moment, wondering if this was the moment to let her cope with a small loss, or whether to try to swoop in and make it all right and I went with the latter. It was just too tragic. I promised to try to find her a replacement. By the time we were in the checkout line with our eggnog, pretzels, hot chocolate mix and peppermint sprinkles, she had recovered her good spirits and was singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Once we were home, I consulted the URL on the box and almost immediately found another snow globe that’s almost identical to the broken one and ordered it. The shipping will be more expensive that the little trinket, which gave me another moment of pause, but it’s Christmas-time and I didn’t want to be a Scrooge. And that thought got me to thinking, with happy anticipation, that some year we should really go see A Christmas Carol.

Halloween Snapshots

Our weekends have been packed this month. After Crow Teepee Weekend, there was Crow Vision Quest Shield Weekend, and this past weekend–Crow Governance and Social Structure Power Point Presentation Weekend. And of course, we’ve been engaged in Halloween preparations and Beth has been working at least several hours every weekend (and will continue to do so until her union’s phone banking drive is over in early November).

Two weekends ago, we trekked out to Potomac Vegetable Farms in Northern Virginia (http://www.potomacvegetablefarms.com/), our traditional source of pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns and soup. It was an all-day outing, also involving a trip to Michael’s craft store for shield and Halloween costume supplies, lunch at Noodles and Company, pastries from an Italian bakery and a trip to Lake Fairfax Park (http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/lakefairfax/) where the kids amused themselves running around, rolling down a big hill and playing on a tiny beach at the canoe-launching area. It was a mild, sunny day, perfect for spending the day outdoors. The trees were just starting to show some fall color, especially at the tops.

The next Friday, June and I got into the Halloween spirit by hanging the little ghosts in our dogwood tree, arranging the skeleton that seems to emerge from the lawn and hanging the giant cobweb and spider from the porch. Later in the day a package arrived with June’s costume–she’s going to be Tiana from The Princess and the Frog (ttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6DmEgtibOg). There was also a raven with light-up eyes for our Halloween candy table, and best of all, a combination coffin with skeleton/fog machine. You simply must see it for yourself:

Saturday we baked Halloween cookies. While we were at Michael’s the weekend before and Noah was taking a long, long, long time to select the materials for his shield and costume, we placated June by letting her pick out some hot pink tempera paint and a set of twenty Halloween cookie cutters in the shapes of ghosts, tombstones, coffins, cats, bats, pieces of candy corn, witch’s hats, etc. So now we had to make cookies. They came out very nicely. Beth did a really great job mixing the colors for the frosting to June’s exact specifications. Because the dough had to chill and then the cookies had to cool before frosting, this was another nearly all-day affair.

That evening we followed up the cookie extravaganza by carving our jack-o-lanterns after a dinner of homemade pumpkin soup. June wanted a trumpet on hers (yes, a trumpet—we don’t know why); Noah chose to carve a pattern of a pile of pumpkins onto his pumpkin (it’s kind of a meta-jack-o-lantern); I chose a ghost, and Beth did the headless horseman. We used a kit with templates to tape to the pumpkins and they all came out well except mine. While I was trying to punch the ghost’s mouth out, I broke the whole specter out of the mostly carved pumpkin. I patched it up with toothpicks as best I could and decided it was Jacob Marley. The toothpicks, which show, are his chains. Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I have no good explanation for the single eye. It’s a Cyclops-Jacob Marley mash-up, I guess.

The day was pretty much everything June had been not so patiently anticipating for the week between the weekend we acquired the pumpkins and cookie cutters and the weekend we put them to use. When I tucked her in Saturday night, I said, “You had an exciting day today.”

With a little intake of breath, she said, “I made cookies! I carved a pumpkin!” And then almost immediately, she fell asleep.

On Sunday Beth spent much of the day at her computer and so did Noah. He was working on his Power Point presentation. He wants to show it off to all of you, so here it is:

The Crow project is almost over. He’s writing the culminating five-paragraph essay at school. It’s supposed to be finished next week (unless they get another extension on it) and I think that will be it. He’s learned a lot, but I think he’s ready to move on to the next thing.

After dinner Beth and Noah got to work on his Halloween costume. Noah’s never been one for store-bought costumes; I think his last one was the tiger costume he wore when he was two. This year he’s going as a question mark. Beth and Noah cut a question mark out of poster board (a shade of dark blue Noah chose because he thought it looked the most mysterious of all the blues available at Michael’s, and believe me, he gave this question a lot of thought). Then they attached the dot to the main part of the mark with some fishing line. They haven’t decided how to attach it to him, but I’m sure they will figure something out over the next few days.

Through all the bustle of school projects and holiday preparations of the past couple weeks, I’ve been seeing our family life through a new lens. After years of consideration, my sister started the adoption process as a single mom. She hopes to adopt two sisters. Last month she attended a weekend-long parenting workshop for prospective adoptive parents and she’s starting the three-month home study phase now. She also joined Facebook recently, so we’re in closer touch about the daily minutiae of our lives than we had been. It’s been tremendous fun but I sometimes wonder what she makes of all the photos and the little complaints and celebrations of my kids she now sees on a daily basis. Does it make her more impatient for her own family or does it fill her with happy anticipation (or the occasional moment of trepidation)? I’m impatient, too, to see her snapshots of my nieces carving pumpkins, decorating Christmas trees, dyeing Easter eggs, or twining crepe paper into the spokes of their bikes for 4th of July parades. In fact, I can hardly wait.

All the Presidents’ Pictures

“We have to leave Muffin here,” Beth told June, who had grabbed her big stuffed monkey on the way out the door. “There’s a big list of things you can’t take to the White House and stuffed animals are on it.” I wondered if this was true. I knew from our preparations that you can’t take cameras or guns or diaper bags or knives or food or machetes (some of these restrictions being more inconvenient for us that others), but it was possible Beth just wanted to travel light and not schlep one of June’s bigger stuffed animals into downtown DC with us.

June looked paralyzed. She had that look she gets when she’s wavering between crying and shrugging something off. It could go either way. I thought quickly. “Muffin can ride in the car with us to the Metro station,” I said. “But then he has to stay in the car.”

June agreed. As we all piled into the car, Noah told June the reason for all the restricted items was for security. “They think you want to put a bomb in Muffin,” he said, casually.

“But Muffin is soft!” June protested.

As we approached Noah’s bus stop, he asked if Beth had to say how many people were in our party when she made the reservations for the White House tour. Clearly he was wondering if he might be able to convince us to let him ditch school and go with us. The reason for the trip was that June had asked Beth if we could go see Barack Obama’s house. Beth had asked Noah if he wanted to go and he said he didn’t care, so she’d scheduled it for a weekday morning. Just the night before, he’d changed his mind. He wanted to go. But we told him it was too late and he had to go to school. So we said we might go back someday and tour the West Wing with him (today’s tour was the East Wing—Beth thought June would like to see the fancier rooms and that’s where they are.) Noah did say he’d be content with a trip to Disney Pixar Studios (in California!) as a consolation prize.

Yes, Beth told him, she only had three reservations. So he finally gave up and we dropped him off and his bus stop.

We drove to a parking lot near the Metro and walked from there. Before we left the lot, June settled Muffin into her car seat and called out to him breezily, “Goodbye, I’ll be back some time!”

When we passed Mayorga (http://www.mayorgacoffee.com/) she inquired if we’d be passing it again on the way home. Yes, but we’ll be in a hurry to get to school, I told her, so we could not stop. June didn’t seem too disappointed. She was just too excited to be on an outing to the White House with both mothers (and no brother). On the Metro she kneeled on the seat so she could get a better view out the window.

Once we were outside again, she skipped along the sidewalk. It was 9:05 and our tour was not until 10:00, so we hit the Starbucks at 13th and Pennsylvania to kill some time. It turns out this Starbucks, three blocks from the White House, is frequented by people in much dressier clothes than the one in the shopping center a mile or so from our house. Everyone was talking very quickly, both while ordering and later to each other, as they discussed health care reform and housing starts over their morning libations. The store itself was fancier, too, with wood paneling and little tables made of faux marble.

We had our vanilla and cinnamon lattes and ice water and lemon pound cake and pumpkin bread and around 9:35 we started walking toward the East Gate. While we were waiting for our escort, we watched the squirrels, including a white one, collecting nuts on the grounds. We went through several checkpoints where we had to show i.d..and go through a metal detector and then we were in.

“Did have any?’ June wanted to know.

“What?” I asked.

“Things we’re not supposed to have,” she said.

“No,” I said. “We’re fine.”

We had National Park Service White House brochures, but we barely consulted them as we walked through the East Wing. Here’s where the trip would have been much different and much longer if Noah had been along. He would have wanted to play tour guide, reading from the brochure and showing us all the points of interest mentioned in it.

We started on the lower level. June liked seeing an orange tree in the garden right outside the window and she was very interested in all the Presidential portraits on the walls and all the photographs of famous people visiting the White House, including a real princess (Diana) dancing with John Travolta, as Ronald Reagan watched in the background. She was surprised to learn there have been other Presidents besides Barack Obama, so I guess the trip was educational. She pointed to picture after picture and asked Beth to show her the President and say what that one’s name was. Later Beth and I discussed whether she’d noticed that all the Presidents were men and what she’d think of that. If she did, she didn’t say anything about it. I think it was a lot to take in all at once.

One of the first rooms was the White House library. I read the sign that said the President uses it for meetings and press interviews and I had a little jolt, thinking these rooms are real workspaces, not just museum displays. This was a point the guards made over and over by telling us what was done in each room. In the East Room (June’s favorite room due to the enormous crystal chandeliers), one of them mentioned that kids who had won prizes at science fairs had an exhibit of their inventions there just yesterday and the President had been there to review them. (Later in the afternoon, I turned to page A2 of the Post and there was a picture of him, doing just that.)

We moved through the colored rooms—Green Room, Blue Room, Red Room–pretty quickly. It was nice to be able to do something at June’s pace. She was interested in everything, but she didn’t want to linger. By 10:30 we were outside again and headed over to Lafayette Park to look at the ducks in the little fountain. We stopped at a street vendor and bought June an early lunch of a banana, a bag of corn chips and a bottle of water. I meant for her to eat it between the train ride to Takoma and the bus ride to her school, but she wanted to eat the chips right away so I let her start, packing everything back up when we got to the train.

We took the Metro to Takoma, waving goodbye to Beth at Judiciary Square, and went to the bus bays where June ate more chips and banana while we waited for a bus. We caught a 12 at 11:35 that took us right to her school. Beth told Lesley June might be late but we were actually early. We arrived around 11:45 and sat on the porch steps. June had just enough time to finish her lunch and to chat with the mother of the Beaver (aka Blue Oak) who was setting out the traffic cones in the parking lot. I prompted June to say where we’d been.

“The White House?” the Beaver’s mom said. “Is that like the Purple House?”

“No, it’s where Barack Obama lives,” June explained. The Beaver’s mom wanted to know what her favorite part was. I thought she’d say the chandeliers, but she said the pictures on the walls of all the Presidents. All the pictures of our current President would have been unimaginable in 1971, when I was four and a half. I wonder what undreamed of portraits will be on the walls of the White House when June’s grown.