Frankenstorm

Monday: Frankenstorm

After spending much of Sunday preparing for the power to be out on Monday, I was pleased to wake up and find it still functioning.  I wasn’t expecting it to last though so the first decision of the day was whether to eat breakfast quickly (and encourage everyone else to do the same) so I could run the dishwasher one last time, or whether to check Facebook.  I can wash dishes by hand, I reasoned, so Facebook it was.  I needn’t have hurried though.  The power was on the rest of the day and all day it seemed like a miracle. Every time I used the computer or opened the fridge and felt cold air or switched on the radio or the television so June could watch Angelina Ballerina I felt grateful.

It was a rainy, windy day—the rain started Sunday night—but in the morning it just seemed like a blustery autumn day, nothing catastrophic. I even wondered if the kids could have been in school.  Montgomery County had cancelled school for Monday and Tuesday on Sunday afternoon, before the first raindrop even fell. As parents received the news on their phones on the sidelines of June’s soccer game I heard the cries of dismay over and over. So the kids were home.  Beth was, too, because in a rare move, Metro had cancelled service and she was working from home.

I spent a lot of time on Facebook, mainly because I kept thinking it would be the last time I could check it for a long time, but we didn’t spend the whole day at our various computers.  Beth did some organizing and straightening in the basement in preparation for possible flooding. Noah and I worked on clutter in the dining room, and June cleaned the kids’ room and even swept it.

June also found some plastic pearls Noah used in a diorama back in fourth grade and she started stringing them onto thread to make necklaces for Beth, me, and herself. She also found a Styrofoam cooler and decided what it needed was to be beautified with magic marker drawings of a flower and a sun on the lid and pink polka dots all over its sides. As Beth noted, where we see utilitarian objects, June sees a blank canvas.

Noah practiced his drums and we read the last chapter of Artemis Fowl: the Atlantis Complex while June played with Megan, who’d come over for a play date. She came bearing chocolate chip cookies because not wanting to throw out her large tub of cookie dough, Megan’s mom had baked the whole thing and now had cookies to spare.  Apparently baking is a common response to an impending hurricane (or an extratropical cyclone to be precise). All day Sunday and Monday I was looking at pictures of home-baked goods (cookies, pies, etc) on Facebook and I, too, had a very strong urge to make brownies.

This was because when I’d picked June up from Maggie’s house on Friday afternoon, I’d asked Maggie’s dad if his wife, who just lost her father, would appreciate some brownies and he said yes, so it was on my to-do list to make some but we had a busy weekend and I really didn’t expect to have power on Monday so I didn’t even put the ingredients on the shopping list when Beth went shopping on Sunday. I was thinking the butter would just go bad before I had a working oven.  But as the day progressed and the power continued not to go out, I started to reconsider.

Late in the afternoon, after the winds had picked up considerably, I decided to walk up to the 7-11 for butter and sugar. Beth was concerned, but I’d been turning the idea over in my head for hours and I knew I wouldn’t be able to let go of it unless I just went and did it.  I called ahead of time to make sure the store was open and had butter and sugar stocked and the clerk said yes.

The walk was uneventful. It was raining hard and the wind buffeted my umbrella but it only turned inside out once and I was able to fix it.  There weren’t even any puddles worthy of my rain boots until I got to the 7-11 parking lot.  Once inside I realized I had not asked exactly the right questions on the phone.  They were open and they did have butter and sugar, but only one box of four half-sticks and I was making fancy mint brownies, which have a layer of crème de menthe flavored frosting and then a hard chocolate shell on top of that.  A pan takes a whopping three and three-quarters sticks of butter.  I bought the small box of butter anyway, figuring I could at least make the brownies. The two top layers don’t require baking, only melting and we have a gas stove so if I got the brownies baked, I could go out and get more butter and finish them another day.

Now it was a question of getting home and getting the brownies baked before the power went out.  The lights flickered as I beat the batter and again about fifteen minutes into the baking, but the power held.  And it held through dinner preparations and eating dinner and June’s bath and her bedtime preparations and Noah’s, too.  When I put him to bed at 9:20, he said, “I hope the power stays on.”

“Me, too,” I said. And then the lights flickered again.

Beth and I went to sleep listening to the pelting rain and the wind rattling the windows, and wondering what the night and the next day would hold.

Tuesday: After the Storm

But Frankenstorm ended up being rather anti-climactic, at least in Maryland. (Obviously that wasn’t true in New Jersey or New York.) A few branches fell off our trees and one of the pickets was ripped from our front gate, still tangled in the Halloween caution tape we’d neglected to remove. The power never went out at our house, or as far as I could tell, in most of Takoma Park and Silver Spring. One friend’s house did sustain some roof damage but everyone else I know escaped unscathed. Two of the local families we know who did lose power live near each other and the Co-op.  So it wasn’t a surprise that the Co-op was closed.  I was wondering if the CVS had butter when Beth volunteered to drive to the supermarket, as we also needed eggs. (I’d used nine the day before between the brownies and spinach omelets for dinner.)

Beth worked in the morning, or tried to amidst all the chaos, and then after lunch, we took a family walk to Capital City Cheesecake to get ourselves out of the house and moving after a day and a half cooped up inside.  Noah walked quickly, waited for us at each corner, and asked why we were so slow.  On the Carroll Avenue Bridge we stopped to look down at the roiling waters of Sligo Creek, and Beth noted that the leaves on the sidewalk were an interesting mix of fall colors and still green ones, which are more unusual to see on the ground.

Once at our destination and enjoying our slices of pumpkin and Oreo cheesecake, lattes, and hot chocolate (Noah shared his after June spilled hers), June observed casually that we were close the video store and she had been asking to see a movie.  Noah didn’t want to go and I needed to get back home to start the beans cooking for black bean and quinoa stew, so we split up.

Beth and June came back from the video store with Mulan, which I’d suggested to June many, many times, only to come home with a movie about some more delicate Disney princess.  So I ditched my plans to do a little work and watched it with the kids instead. Next I cooked dinner while Beth and the kids restored most of the Halloween decorations to the yard and porch, as well as some we’d never gotten up in the first place. For this chore June dressed in her Helper Girl Outfit, a superhero cape and a tiara turned upside down and pulled down over her eyes to serve as a mask. (She also wore this get-up to help Beth prep the yard before the storm.)

After dinner I finished the brownie toppings but by the time the chocolate had set it was too late to take it over to Maggie’s house, so I resolved to do it in the morning. What better day to deliver frosted brownies to someone’s house than the most sugar-intensive day of the year? Oh well, I did my best.

Wednesday: Halloween

Maggie lives about a block from June’s school so I walked June to school instead of putting her on the bus and we delivered the brownies.  I had my first normal work day in several days and when June got off the bus at 3:10 we put up more decorations.  Beth had left the big spider web and the tree and bush ghosts for me.  Noah got home around 4:30 and we prioritized his homework.  He’d do his English and math but he’d have to skip percussion practice.  There just wasn’t time to do everything and still be at Sasha’s by 6:30.  (Apparently his math teacher told them sixth grade was too old for trick-or-treating. I disagree.)  After a rush to light the pumpkins, get the police light flashing and the color-changing coffin fog machine going, Beth and the lion left around 6:25 and the metronome was out the door at 6:30.  (I was this close to calling Sasha’s house to say the metronome would be late, but I decided not to over-parent.)  And then I was alone to distribute candy.

By seven we’d had three groups. The first one consisted of a teenage girl in a letter jacket, a younger child with a cardboard jack-o-lantern on his head and a few kids Noah’s age with no costumes at all. I often wish I was assertive enough to enforce a no costume, no candy rule, but I’m not. To their credit, they did say thank you.  Then we got a couple teenage boys dressed as members of Kiss and girl who I think was wearing a sari but her coat covered most of it.  She and her mom lingered to admire the decorations, especially the fog machine and the skeleton emerging from the ground.  “So festive,” the mom said.

In between the second and third groups, Beth and June returned to the house.  “I’m not done,” June said breathlessly. “I just have to go to the bathroom.”

“Don’t get your tail in the toilet,” Beth advised.  Soon, they were gone again.

They were back for good at 7:20.  June lined up all her Kit Kats.  There were around ten of them, much to her satisfaction. I was going to put her straight to bed, but she begged for a bath so I gave her a quick one, and put her to bed. We got a few more trick-or-treaters, a teenage cat, and then two girls from June’s school bus stop dressed as a bee and a witch.

Noah had been given strict instruction to be home by 8:00, but by 8:10 he wasn’t home so Beth called his phone. No answer. At 8:20 I called Sasha’s house, after going out the broken gate and peering down the deserted sidewalk. They weren’t at Sasha’s house either, but a few minutes later they arrived. I was angrier with him than Beth was, which is ironic given that she’s usually more insistent about punctuality than I am.  I’m stricter about bedtime, though, and I’d been worried. I explained that to him once he’d been home and safe for twenty minutes and Beth came as “an ambassador from Noah,” wanting to know if he could have a piece of candy. (I’d snapped no when he first came home.) I told him how parents get scared when their kids don’t come home when they’re supposed to and how that fear turns to anger as soon as they see the kids. Then I let him have a piece of candy and he went to bed. It’s good I got to practice this speech on Noah because I have a feeling I will need to give it to both kids at least a few times during the teen years, which are just around the corner.

We had a few more trick-or-treaters. Megan, dressed as Maid Marian and disappointed to hear June was in bed, came to the door shortly after Noah came home, and then there was a group of teens, including Batman.  Around 9:25 I blew out the candles in the pumpkins, and turned off the police light and the glowing ghost head, skull and coffin, and called it a night.

We’d thought Frankenstorm might ruin Halloween, if it was still raining or if there were massive power outages. Every time we warned the kids of this possibility, Noah said I sounded like someone in a Christmas special, talking about how Christmas was cancelled. But in those specials Christmas always goes on and so did Halloween, complete with the sweetness of a long line of Kit Kats and a little taste of fear as well.

The Gathering Storm

The line for early voting at the Silver Spring Civic Center on Saturday was long, jaw-dropping long.  It snaked through the plaza in front of the building, around the corner, down a block, around another corner and past the Whole Foods and it was still rapidly growing in the direction of the parking lot once we found the end of it.

My mother, who was visiting for the weekend, predicted in dismayed tones that it would take two hours to vote if we got into the line.  Beth offered to drive Mom, June and me home and return. She was determined to vote because she was afraid Hurricane Sandy, due to arrive on Sunday or Monday, might cancel the rest of early voting and she didn’t want to stand in long lines on Election Day, a work day for her.

I hesitated, and suggested everyone but Beth go to Starbucks to buy some time to consider our plan.  We’d see how far Beth had progressed when we were finished and decide how to proceed from there. I wasn’t going to make Beth get out of line after a long wait, but the rest of us could go home on the bus, an option that was looking attractive as I considered the line. Mom was amenable to the Starbucks plan because she hadn’t had any coffee that morning. We’d been rushing to get out of the house by 8:45 for June’s gymnastics class and the coffee pot Beth and I never use had been temporarily mislaid.  So Mom, who suffers from insomnia and had not slept well the night before, was in need of caffeine and I’m never one to say no to a latte so we left Beth and went in search of coffee, chocolate milk and pastries.

We took our time and when we got back Beth was almost to the plaza so I decided to stand in line with her for a little while and see how things went.  Mom and June settled down to sit on a low wall. Mom started reading a Ladybug magazine to June. (I have been gradually handing these down to my cousin Holly’s four-year-old daughter since June reads Spider now, but we still have a few around and she does still like them.)

By the time we could see the blue no-electioneering-beyond-this-point line up ahead I knew I couldn’t turn back even if the line inside the building was also long. I went to confer with Mom about whether she wanted to stay or take the bus home.  In Starbucks, she’d just told me a long, detailed story about getting lost between a parking spot and a nearby restaurant and ending up the wrong borough on recent trip to New York with her sister, which made me hesitate just slightly about putting her on a bus with June, but the 17 goes right from the block were they were sitting to our doorstep and June knows the route so I would have let them go.

She asked what I thought they should do. She didn’t seem set on going home so I suggested they swing over to the farmers’ market that was in progress just steps away and buy some apples and we’d meet them back there.

Eventually, Beth and I breached the perimeter of the Civic Center.  The line did twist around in there, too, but it didn’t take too long to get in sight of the voting booths.  Because throughout most of the experience I’d been considering bailing and voting another day and I was preoccupied with the decision and the logistics of who would stay and who would go and how they’d go I had given very little thought to what I was actually doing.  It was the sight of those booths that jolted me into remembering. I was here to vote, on various offices and ballot questions, but most importantly for the re-election of President Obama and for Question 6, which would allow gays and lesbians to marry in Maryland.

After we voted, I found Beth in the lobby and, holding hands, we walked outside into the festive atmosphere of a warm October Saturday afternoon in downtown Silver Spring with the flea market and farmers market in full swing and crowds of our fellow Marylanders in line for their turn to exercise their franchise.  Mom was right. It did take two hours to vote. It was worth every minute.

After lunch at Panera–“Does this make us Panera voters?” I asked Beth — we went home to put the finishing touches on June’s lion costume (she sewed the tail herself!) in time for the Halloween parade that afternoon and to carve jack-o-lanterns. Mom participated in the pumpkin carving and used a pattern for the first time.  (Hers is the arch-backed cat.)  I decided to go with a quicker, traditional jack-o-lantern face so I could get a jump on dinner preparations.  The parade starts at five, which always presents us with a dinner timing challenge.  Do we want to eat at 4:30, or after June’s bedtime?  Some year we should make sandwiches to eat as we walk, but this year we were having pumpkin pancakes. Noah and I cook together on Saturday nights and he picks the recipes. He’s been on a pumpkin kick recently—pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread and now pumpkin pancakes, always with fresh pumpkin, never canned.  I decided the thing to do was make the pancakes ahead of time, feed June before the parade and have everyone else eat reheated pancakes after she was in bed.

We drove to the start of the parade route and everyone but Beth got out of the car, while she drove it to the end of the route and walked back.  Mom took June to the area where the five-to-seven year olds were assembling and I accompanied Noah to area for the eleven and twelve year olds, and silently sized up the competition.  It’s the smallest age group so I thought he might have a chance at reclaiming his costume contest glory of last year (“The Curse of the Mummy’s Hand” 11/1/2011).  There was a kid dressed in the trademark Steve Jobs black turtleneck and jeans with a poster board iPhone screen full of app icons hanging from his neck, another one in a big rubber horse mask wearing a fedora and a trench coat, but no other serious contenders for Most Original.  And Original is the prize you’re gunning for if you show up dressed as a metronome.  A few ninjas and knights came over to Noah and asked him what he was.  He got that question quite a few times (and he was nice enough to give a patient, age-appropriate explanation to a curious preschooler). There were a few people who guessed without prompting however, some took his picture, and a girl in his age group wearing silver face paint said “A metronome. Awesome.”

The parade made its way through its initial loop up and down one block, which is where the judging takes place. No official asked Noah or June for their names so we had a pretty good idea they were not in the running for a prize.  Noah didn’t seem too disappointed.  He’s easy-going that way. The parade then made its leisurely way through the streets of Takoma Park, to the local elementary school where the Halloween party is held.

We heard the Grandsons perform and waited to hear the contest results. I watched June’s face as the winners in her age group were called and I thought I saw a flash of disappointment when she didn’t win anything, but there were some pretty good costumes in her group, including a boy who had a shirt rigged up so he appeared to be carrying his own head.  The horse, a horse detective apparently, took the original prize in Noah’s age group.  I liked the iPhone and thought if Noah couldn’t win, he should have but those are the breaks. (Later when this boy won the contest to guess how many candy corns were in jar I was surprised to learn it was his best friend from preschool—still lanky and blond but so much older than the last time I’d seen him as to be unrecognizable.)

The group costumes are always fun. The two most memorable winners were the family that came as a power outage and another one that came as the debates.  The members of power outage family (which included a classmate of June’s) were dressed in black, one of them was a darkened light bulb, another was an open freezer full of melting food and one was a utility company worker. They won scariest, which was appropriate, considering Sandy is headed our way. The debates had people in Obama and Romney masks, a little girl dressed as Michelle Obama. Big Bird, and, of course, a binder full of women.  On the way out the door, we picked up cups of apple juices, cookies and small bags of candy on and another Halloween parade was over.

Mom left this morning, and we spent much of the day preparing for the storm. We did two loads of laundry, ran the dishwasher, roasted pumpkin seeds and froze jugs of water. Noah vacuumed and we all charged our electronic devices and Noah and printed the papers we needed to do homework and work once the power goes out. Beth and June secured loose items in the yard, re-arranged items in the basement in case of flooding, and with great sadness, took down our elaborate collection of Halloween decorations so they could live to grace our yard another year.  And then we all watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown while we still had a working television.

It’s looking like a big one. School is canceled for Monday and Tuesday and Metro is shutting down some time tonight, so Beth’s not going to work tomorrow. I have been joking that perhaps this hurricane is the gathering storm the right wing warned about in those silly, anti-gay marriage ads.  If it’s a sign Question 6 is going to pass, though, I’ll take the storm, however inconvenient.

As much as possible, we are ready for the storm, whatever it brings. And as June pointed out, seeking reassurance, I think, even if Question 6 does not pass it will be okay because we’ll still be a family.  And we will, no matter what scary things the weather or politics blow our way.

The Love That I Have

My new blogging program tells me this is my two-hundredth post.  It was also the blog’s fifth anniversary about a week ago.  When I started writing here, I had a kindergartener and an almost eleven-month-old baby.  Now I have a kindergartener and an almost eleven-year-old boy.  Five years ago I was also deep in mourning for the loss of my academic career, though I tried not to write too much about it. I wouldn’t say I’m over that loss by any means, although it’s better certainly, especially now that I have a fledgling freelance career. Five years ago my father was alive and Beth’s was, too.  That pain has receded a little as well. Daily life pulls us along, away from the past and away from pain.  Having kids makes you live in the now, and that’s often a good thing, especially on a day as sweet as Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is not my favorite holiday but I do like it.  On the first day of February, I posted on Facebook, “Steph has put a heart-shaped eraser on her desk and now considers her Valentine’s Day decorating complete. This holiday does not capture her imagination quite like Halloween, though she does like the candy.”  June’s preparations were somewhat more elaborate.  She drew hearts on strips of paper and taped them to the exterior walls of the house, one on either side of the front door.  She started making valentines some time in early January, storing them in a Clementine box she decorated with more strips of paper on which she drew rows of hearts and flowers.  Two weekends before the big day, Beth took her to a valentine-making activity at the public library where they had construction paper and doilies and foam letters which allowed her to make fancier valentines than the ones she made at home with the paper, crayons and scissors with which we supplied her. Despite getting an early start there was a production rush at the end, as she lost interest in the project for a few weeks in the middle.  Her cards to my mom, stepfather and sister went into the mail the day before Valentine’s Day, too late to arrive on time, and she was making the last few for her classmates over the weekend.

Noah decided not to make cards for his classmates (or anyone) this year.  Last year he did but many of the kids in of his class didn’t, so I suspect this year might have been the last year for a lot of kids. His class had a party and he did bring home valentines, from about half the class, mostly girls.  What he also brought home was a large tower of candy he won for guessing how many pieces it contains.  He guessed 958 and it had 1,027 small pieces of candy (a mix of Tootsie Rolls, Sweet Tart hearts, M&Ms, and Hershey’s kisses). June’s haul, consisting of a paper bag of candy from classmates and a box of conversation hearts from her after-school yoga teacher (devoured on the walk home), was considerably smaller, but it did contain a box of Darth Vader gummy heads, from a classmate named Luke, no less.

While the kids did homework, I put the finishing touches on the second draft of one of the grants I’m writing and sent it off.  The kids and I ate a dinner of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches I cut into heart shapes with cookie cutters while we waited for Beth to come home. June said her sandwich was so beautiful she didn’t want to eat it. The kids hadn’t eaten much of their candy, but they were wound up nonetheless because they knew there would be gifts when she got home. I’d called Beth at 5:45, partly to see how close to home she was (Union Station was the answer) and I was on the verge of calling her again when she walked in the door around 6:35.  I ushered her into the bedroom so she could sign the valentines I’d bought for the kids and she ate her dinner, and then the great exchange of chocolate began.  There were chocolate-covered dried strawberries (a gift from Noah to the family), a chocolate heart, filled with wrapped chocolates (a gift from June to the family).  The kids got more conversation hearts and plastic hearts filled with M&Ms and June got a little Snow White figurine with two outfits, made of rubber.  (You stretch them onto her. It’s very odd.) Beth got me sea salt soap and sea salt caramels (very yummy). I wrote in her card that I’d secured babysitting for Saturday afternoon and suggested we see The Artist.

Soon after we’d opened everything there was a knock on the door. I was expecting canvassers or proselytizing Adventists (we live near a big Adventist church so we get a lot of that) but instead it was Zoli (formerly known as the Bobcat) and her mom who had come to hand-deliver a valentine to June.  We tried to give them some of our chocolate, unsuccessfully. I suspect there might have been a lot at their house, too. It’s a day of bounty, and not just in terms of sugar. It’s been that way consistently for me for a long time, and for that I feel very lucky.

I got a lot more than candy yesterday.  I had the chance to do meaningful work in a quiet house, a walk home from June’s yoga class through woods filled with purple crocuses, the treat of listening to June proudly read the words I wrote in her valentine, almost unassisted (and she probably could have read them all if my handwriting were better).  I have a date with Beth to anticipate.  At bedtime I got a hug and an “I love you,” from Noah.  And here’s what June wrote in my valentine: “You are the Love that I have you are Love that I Love I Love you.” Does it get much better than that?

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.

Occupy Christmas

Day 1: Christmas Eve

My mom had a full house for Christmas—she and my stepfather, our family of four, my sister Sara, my aunt Peggy and Uncle Darryl, their twenty-something kids Emily and Blake, Emily’s five-year-old son Josiah and her friend Sir. We were nearly the last ones there, arriving in the early afternoon of Christmas Eve day. Everyone was there but Sir, who was taking an evening train, so things were hopping right from the beginning. Peggy and Darryl live in Idaho and Emily, Blake and Josiah recently moved from Boise to Brooklyn so I don’t see them often. Right after we walked in the door I tried to introduce June to everyone, and, despite having seen recent pictures of him, I misidentified my cousin Blake. In my defense, his hair is much shorter than in the pictures. Later I told Beth I was glad to have gotten the most embarrassing moment over right out of the gate. And then my uncle got me and Beth mixed up, so maybe we’re even.

Mom and Jim’s house was beautifully decorated for Christmas, as it always is. There were evergreen garlands and big ribbons on the porch railing and the stairway and mantel. Mom had poinsettias on either side of the fireplace and her Dickens village (http://www.department56.com/content.aspx?cid=VLDV&ms=PRD&msi=58999) was on display, as was her Santa collection. Because she and my stepfather are planning to move to Oregon some time in the next year and she wants to lighten her load, she let Sara and the kids pick a few Santas to take home when we left. (June, who knows a thing or two about grandmothers, talked Mom up from two to four. Noah initially declined the offer and then changed his mind and picked two.)

We spent the afternoon getting re-acquainted (or in some cases acquainted). The adults talked and wrapped presents. June and Josiah drew on a big tablet Mom gave them (a superhero for him, a nutcracker and elephant and assorted other things for her). Then they chased each other around the house pretending to be zombies, because nothing says Christmas like five year olds shouting, “I’ve already eaten your brain!” and “No, you haven’t!” June showed off for Emily and Blake by counting to one hundred in Spanish. (There was a repeat performance for a larger audience on Christmas day and then Sara counted to twenty in Italian.) Sara asked if Noah was too old for her to read to him and he said no and produced a 39 Clues book. At one point I rounded up the kids and we rolled out the gingerbread dough we’d brought and cut cookies. Josiah was quite skilled at it and turned out perfect cookie after perfect cookie. I didn’t cut too many cookies myself because the kids kept me busy with requests for greased cookie sheets and more dough and help transferring cookies to sheets. I credit Lesley with giving me the confidence to take on a messy project with my kids plus a boy I’d just met.

We had chili for dinner (Sir arrived while we were eating) and put a very tired June to bed. Then after more wrapping, stocking stuffing and note-from-Santa writing (Noah helped me with this chore) we went to bed, too, a bit past our bedtimes.

Day 2: Christmas Day

It’s hard to sleep in a house with thirteen people. There were people still up and conversing at 1:20 a.m. and people up for the day at 5:30 a.m. (that would be our crew). There were people sleeping on under-inflated air mattresses and sofa cushions on the floor. I actually slept in a bed so it would be churlish to complain about my night’s sleep, but it was an awfully early start to the day. Noah crept downstairs at 6:00 a.m. (when he was allowed out of bed) and came back up to report Blake was sleeping on the living room floor, at which point we realized we’d need to wait for him to wake up before the kids could open their stockings. Sara was sleeping in the sunroom, which was separated from our room only by a pair of French doors so we needed to keep the kids both quiet and in the dark. There was nowhere we could speak above a whisper or turn on a light. People were sleeping everywhere. Technology, in the form of Beth’s iPhone and Noah’s iPod, came to the rescue and the kids were amazingly quiet until we heard Josiah downstairs at 7:30 and present-opening commenced.

Mom and I had talked ahead of time about how to open presents. We usually open gifts one at a time, taking turns in a pre-set order, youngest to oldest. I’ve always liked the ceremonial aspect of this, and being able to see people’s responses to gifts. But with so many people and so many presents we knew it wouldn’t work this year. This pleased Beth because her family has a more free-for-all style and our way sometimes makes her antsy. We put Noah in charge of handing out presents and people opened them as they got them and mine all piled up at my feet as I tried not to miss anything, but of course I did and for days afterward I was still finding out what people got from each other. (This in my mind illustrates the superiority of the traditional method.) But even in the accelerated version, it still took until nine a.m. to finish. The kids got too many gifts to list, but Santa came through with the mermaid doll for June and Noah got the headphones he wanted. I got a refurbished iPod nano, some Starbucks gift cards and candy and a book (http://classiclit.about.com/od/poeedgarallan/fr/aa_poeshadow.htm) and other nice things. Beth and I got and a mixer and a cutting board and I got her a shoe rack because the shoes that are always in a jumbled heap in the hallway get on her nerves. At one point during the present opening, Mom looked out the window and noticed frost on the grass. “It’s a white Christmas,” she concluded, but Beth said frost didn’t count.

We had brunch around ten—scrambled eggs, English muffins, bacon, veggie sausage and grapefruit. Mom and Jim’s dining room gets a lot of late morning light in the winter, and during the meal, she leaned back in her chair and said, “I’m feeling happy now in the sun with all you here and my dining room walls.” (They are newly painted gold.) The rest of the day passed pleasantly. June got a lot of art kits for Christmas. She assembled the picture of the princess and the winged unicorn you construct out of glittery puffy stickers on a wooden frame. Sara helped her with the magnetic mosaic kit while I cracked hazelnuts for Christmas dinner stuffing. Then Beth, Emily, Noah and I played Forbidden Island (http://gamewright.com/gamewright/index.php?section=games&page=game&show=245), one of Noah’s gifts from Mom, a very fun and complicated co-operative game. Afterward June and I took a much-needed nap, and then I read You Have to Stop This (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10757817-you-have-to-stop-this) to Noah. (This was one of his gifts from me). He was starting to feel sick and about forty minutes into the book he went to the bathroom and threw up. He spent the rest of the day in bed, listening to an audio book, and falling asleep early. He missed Christmas dinner, but we saved him some cranberry sauce and a roll, since those are his favorite parts of the meal. We listened to some of Sir’s original music and had pie (two kinds- apple and mixed berry) before Sir had to catch a train back to New York. And then we were twelve.

Day 3

The next morning Noah had made a complete recovery. He ate a big breakfast and before he was finished, June was hard at work on more art kits. She painted the paint-by-numbers butterfly (eschewing the numbers and making her own design). Before some of the late risers we up, she’d finished this and started on a mask from the mask kit—a queen, with red glasses, blond hair, red hair ribbons and a gold crown with green jewels (she used up almost all the jewels on her first mask).

As Peggy, Darryl, Emily and I sat at the breakfast table in the next room, Darryl looked up from the newspaper and asked the table at large to guess the official word of the year. We all stared back at him silently. “If you think about it you’ll guess,” he predicted encouragingly.

Suddenly it came to me. “Occupy,” I answered, knowing I was right and I was. We’d been discussing the Occupy movement the night before so it was in the front of my mind, but I think spending Christmas in such a fully occupied house might have helped, too.

The house gradually emptied. The day after Christmas was quieter because people spun off on separate expeditions. Mom and Peggy took June and Josiah to the Please Touch Museum (http://www.pleasetouchmuseum.org/), where it was reported they had fun and got along very well. Beth and Noah went out to lunch, as did Sara with a friend from high school and her husband, leaving me to read one hundred pages of my new book in a single day (something which would not have been unusual, say eleven years ago, but is now). When Sara returned, she and I went for a walk down by the creek and through Mom’s neighborhood, talking about work, and life in general. I haven’t seen her in a year and a half so it was really nice to have a long chat with her. When we got back to the house, Noah, Blake and Beth were playing another game of Forbidden Island and then Beth, Emily and Blake played Q-bitz (http://www.mindware.com/p/Q-bitz/44002), another Christmas present. Noah elected to play with own side game with the pieces because he didn’t want the time pressure of needing to race against other players.

We all came back together for a stir-fry dinner. While Mom and her helpers were cooking, I gave June a bath and Josiah made a mask for June, “a girl mask,” he specified. As I set the table, I kept inventing errands for June (take this toy upstairs, find out what people want to drink) because I was trying to keep her out of the family room, where a war movie was playing on television. Finally I ran out of ideas and had to tell her to stay out of the room. She was not pleased, and neither was Josiah when Emily took similar action shortly afterward. Fortunately, dinner was ready soon after and then it was June’s bedtime.

Day 4

Two days after Christmas, Sara and Peggy’s branch of the family left for parts North and West. That morning was nearly as challenging as Christmas morning, though without the need to distract children awaiting presents. They woke nearly as early as they did on Christmas and other people slept later, so I was shushing them from 6:00 a.m. until 8:45 when Beth and I gave up on keeping them quiet and went out breakfast, leaving the kids in Emily’s capable hands. Shortly before we left, I put my hand on Noah’s back and said, “A little quieter, please.”

“Sorry,” he answered. “I’m not a quiet person.”

While June and Josiah made yet more masks, Beth and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and a nice talk at the Regency Café (http://www.regencycafe.com/). One of the advantages of a houseful of relatives is abundant babysitting.

When we returned the kids were playing June’s new Cat in the Hat game (http://www.icandothatgames.com/cat/), which segued into Hexbugs (http://www.hexbug.com/). When Peggy’s crew left, the house felt strangely quiet and empty, considering there were still seven of us in it. Mom sank into a chair, looking done in and said, “It was a good Christmas.” Sara gave June a parting gift of French braids and left for the airport. And then we were six.

We spent a quiet afternoon and evening. While June and I napped, Mom played Forbidden Island with Noah (I’m thinking he likes this game) and afterward we watched Frosty the Snowman and Frosty Returns on Mom and Jim’s big-screen television, which gave us the opportunity to compare the detail work on the animation (the older one is better, especially the snowflake effects). The irony of watching programs about snow while rain pelted the roof was not lost on me.

Day 5

Three days after Christmas the last of the occupiers left Mom and Jim’s house, leaving it calmer, quieter, and tidier no doubt, but perhaps a bit lonelier. Mom has always told me she’s dreamed about having a full house at Christmas (often in the context of wanting more grandchildren) so I’m glad she got her wish. I think it was a Christmas we’ll all remember.

p.s. If you were at my Mom’s house and you’re reading this, please feel free to Occupy the comments section. I would love to hear from you (and also those of you who weren’t there).

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.

The June Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Curse of the Mummy’s Hand

I. The Curse of the Mummy’s Hand: Thursday and Friday

On Thursday morning I reached into the toaster over to retrieve June’s toast. It was way in the back, behind Noah’s waffle. I don’t know why I did it with my bare hand but I did and I brushed the back of my hand against the heating element, giving myself a second-degree burn. As a result, I spent much of the next two days traveling to doctor’s offices, sitting around in doctor’s offices filling out paperwork and getting my hand cleaned and wrapped in gauze by one doctor and then checked by a burn specialist the next day. I sported a very seasonal mummy look until the dressing was deemed unnecessary by the burn specialist. I lost the better part of two working days to this misadventure, though I did manage to get to June’s school to see the Vocabulary Parade on Friday morning.

Now this was more fun. All the kids chose a word to represent. Some classes went with posters, others with costumes, and others with a combination. June’s class had posters with their words, illustrations of the words and sentences containing the word. June’s word was “ardilla,” the Spanish word for squirrel. She needed to walk across the stage holding her poster and say her word. She’d confided in me the night before that she had stage fright.

I was surprised. “But you’ve been to drama camp,” I said. “You’ve been in plays.”

“But it was only the parents watching,” she said. She was right, both the play she was in at her nursery school drama camp the summer she was four and the Sound of Music revue last summer had very small audiences consisting of a dozen or so parents. This audience would be hundreds of students in her school from Head Start to second grade, plus their teachers and a couple rows of parents in the back. So even though she had no lines or songs or dance routines to memorize, this seemed more daunting to her.

I watched her class file in and saw her glance at the parents’ area, with the set look she gets when she’s nervous about something. As soon as she caught sight of me her face relaxed and she gave me a huge smile and I knew it was worth the time on a busy day to be there.

The parade was predictably cute. The preschoolers either had their word announced by their teacher or said them together in groups of three to four kids who all had the same word. (They focused on vegetables and farm animals.) Starting with the kindergarteners the kids had to say their words individually, into a microphone. June’s class had the theme of school and fall-related words. Even with the microphone I could only make out the words about half the time and since the kids had not been coached to hold the posters facing the audience (or if they had the instructions didn’t stick), only about 10% of the posters were visible. Despite these obstacles, it was just about the most sincere vocabulary parade I’ve ever seen. It’s a wonder the Great Pumpkin did not show up on the spot.

When it was June’s turn she spoke her word clearly into the microphone and I could hear her from the back of the room. I never did get to see her poster, but I saw her look of relief as she crossed the stage and went back to sit with her class. I slipped out of the multi-purpose room once her grade was finished so I could go to my appointment at the Washington Hospital Center Burn Center.

By the time I got back, it was almost time for Noah to come home. Maggie’s dad had picked June up at school because I was afraid I wouldn’t make it home in time for her bus (and I didn’t). I was frustrated to have barely worked the past two days because I had a new project, a white paper on vitamin E and prostate cancer due Monday that I’d just started on Wednesday afternoon, the day before I burned my hand. All I’d done was spend a couple hours reading and marking up the background research. Not a word was written and we had big plans for the weekend. We normally spread out our Halloween preparations over two weekends but with June at Mom and Jim’s last weekend, we were planning to do all our baking and decorating and pumpkin carving and costume making in one weekend. Plus we were intending to march in the Halloween parade and Noah’s twin friends were having a party and he had a school dance and June had ballet and soccer, and well, you get the point. It wasn’t a great weekend to work.

It was also supposed to snow. Yes, snow in October. If you don’t live in or anywhere near Maryland and you’re wondering if that’s normal the answer is no–no, it’s not. Beth found out via a neighborhood listserv on Friday night that the parade (scheduled for Saturday afternoon) was cancelled. The Halloween costume contest would go on inside the school where the after-parade party usually takes place instead. So, I had to work and no parade. Also, no party for Noah’s friends on Saturday. Almost no one could come so they cancelled. June went to bed early on Friday night with a severe headache, making me worry she was sick. I wondered if the whole weekend was going to collapse. “It’s the curse of the mummy’s hand,” I half-joked to Beth.

But a little later she picked Noah up from his dance. He’d had fun and he even won an iTunes gift card in a raffle so maybe we weren’t cursed after all.

II. The Curse Lifted: Saturday and Sunday

On Saturday morning June woke up “all better” and wanted me to read her In A Dark, Dark Room, a book of scary stories we have out of the library. “And this time,” she announced, “I want to see the ghost.” There’s a page with an illustration of a ghost she’s been making me skip ever since we checked this book out of the library almost five weeks ago. But this morning she was ready for it.

Beth and Noah dropped June off at ballet and went to buy costume supplies. I had the house to myself for a few hours and I banged out an introduction, conclusion and the easier parts of the body of the white paper, leaving the most information-dense parts for later.

After lunch, June and I cut sugar cookies. We’d made the dough and frozen it earlier in the week so I thawed it and rolled it out and we set to work with the Halloween cookie cutters, making bats, cats, skull and crossbones, tombstones, witches’ hats and other scary shapes. Noah was doing homework, reading a biography of Langston Hughes for a school project, but we saved some dough for him so he could do the last few cookies. Then we made frosting but we set aside the rest of the cookie-making project for the next day so we could attend to more pressing matters.

June and I turned to decorating the porch. Usually we have our porch and yard decorated a week or two before Halloween but we’d just started. I’d been doing it piecemeal with the kids over the past couple days. We’d put up the tombstone in the yard and the skeleton emerging from the ground in front of it and set up the spider web with the enormous spider already. June and I attached the little gummy spiders, spider webs and the word “Yikes” to the front door window panes. We would have hung the ghosts from the tree next but it had been raining all morning and it had just turned over to sleet, which was not inviting weather for standing out in the yard on a step ladder, so I deferred. I think June might have been game.

Beth and Noah spent most of the afternoon working on his newspaper costume. They’d bought a sheer orange tablecloth to be the plastic sleeve and they used a spray adhesive to attach newspapers to the inside. You can see the newsprint through the plastic. Beth cut a hole out for his face, reinforced the inside of the costume with cardboard and wire so it would stand up and traced the words The Noah Post and recycling instructions onto the sleeve with a marker. It’s a thing of beauty, but it made me wish I could send my dad, who was a print journalist for decades, a photo of his grandson dressed as a newspaper. He would have gotten a kick out of it.

June’s and my next project was scooping out the jack-o-lanterns. There wouldn’t be time to carve them before the parade, but I wanted to have them all ready to go on Sunday. June was a big help. She kept saying, “This is a really messy job,” but she didn’t quit.

When the pumpkins were scooped, I made bean and spinach tacos and we ate a hurried dinner before painting June’s face green, getting her into her witch costume and heading out into the wet snow to drive to the rec center for the Halloween party. June changed her mind about what she wanted to be for Halloween many times between August when she declared she was going to be an alien, and her final decision a few weeks ago to be a witch. Witches are one of her biggest fears so we think she might have been trying to work through that by dressing up as one.

At the school, June made a beeline for the art table and started coloring a picture of a vampire while Noah and I guessed the weight of a pumpkin and sized up the costume competition. There was a boy about his age dressed as a slice of watermelon who I thought had a good chance at a prize in the eight to ten bracket. I should explain here that Noah has wanted to win this contest forever. He’s had some very creative costumes over the years, starting with the year he was three and dressed as a violin. The year he was six a picture of him in his storm cloud costume appeared in the Gazette, but he’s never won the contest. While they were working on the costume that afternoon, Noah had mentioned he’d want to save it “if anything important happens.” Beth and I glanced at each other. We both knew what he was thinking.

Earlier in the day June had said she was not going to be in the contest, but when it was time for the five to seven year olds to cross the stage, she hopped right up to have her second moment on stage in as many days. There were several other witches in her age group, along with a very elaborate mummy, a werewolf, a haunted house and the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus. That last one caused a lot of comment in the crowd.

Noah’s group was next. I was still escorting June back from the stage so I didn’t really get a good look at his group, but the watermelon boy was in it. After Noah was out of costume and the next group was up, a contest official came and asked his name. That was a good sign. After all the groups had finished there was a brief musical interlude while the judges conferred. Winners were announced, starting with the two and under group. Noah and I were talking when Beth poked Noah and said, “You won!” Neither of us had even heard it. He had to scramble back into his costume and go collect his prize, a cloth pumpkin full of trinkets, such as a little toy skateboard, a Frankenstein’s Monster rubber duck, a pencil, play dough, etc.

Noah could not believe he’d won. “I thought I was under a curse,” he said in the car on the way home. If he was, the curse had been lifted, no doubt about it. Beth and I were thrilled, too. He’s wanted this so long and has been such a good sport every year, we were glad it finally happened. It was definitely “something important.”

June couldn’t believe it either. “I thought it was just a party. I didn’t know it was a creative costume contest,” she said in an exasperated tone. “And anyway, everyone who participated got a glow stick whether they won or not.” She was sounding a little sulky now. Beth asked her to let Noah have his moment but she kept it up all the way home. She was green with envy, and it wasn’t just the face paint.

But she did not ruin Noah’s mood. He was ebullient and when I put him to bed instead of his normal “Good nighty noodles,” he said to me, “Good nighty newspaper.” Meanwhile, his sister has decided she needs to take an entirely new approach to Halloween costumes. Next year she is going to be something more unusual than a witch, so chances are Beth will have two elaborate costumes to make.

Sunday Noah plowed through two more chapters of his Langston Hughes biography and five vocabulary exercises and practiced percussion and typing. In between that I read two chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to him (we read seven over the course of the weekend), we all carved pumpkins (Noah did his own this year and he did a great job), June and I put the ghosts up in the dogwood tree, Beth and the kids colored the frosting and frosted the cookies, and Beth and June strung the ghost lights on the porch. June speculated that passersby would be afraid to approach our house because “We are really scarying it up.” Soccer was cancelled because the field was too muddy to play, which was a shame because it was a beautiful fall day, clear if cool, but on the other hand, who knows how we would have fit everything in if there had been a game.

After dinner we watched It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. At bedtime, June was so exhausted she said she didn’t want a story and she was asleep before the second song on her lullaby CD was over. It had been a very busy two days.

III. Zombie Zone: Monday

The kids had Halloween off school, not because it was Halloween but because they always get a day off in between marking periods and Friday was the last day of the first quarter. I sent June over to Merichel’s (aka the Toad’s) house so I could work some more on the vitamin E piece. I couldn’t resist using some of the time she was out of the house to read Harry Potter to Noah, though, because it’s so much easier when she’s gone. Also, Sara had told me I could take until Tuesday with the paper if need be, so I wasn’t feeling too much time pressure.

After I brought June home, I made grilled cheese for lunch and June decided she wanted to try to nap so she could stay out later trick-or-treating but she couldn’t fall asleep. While she was trying, though, I worked some more on the white paper and by returning to it little by little throughout the afternoon, I finished it.

Also that afternoon Noah worked some more on his middle school application essays, I made pumpkin soup and we put the finishing touches on our decorations. Beth came home from work early to help. Noah strung “Caution: Zombie Zone” tape across the doorway and between the porch columns and found an extension cord so he could play his spooky sounds CD on the porch. We lit the jack-o-lanterns, filled up the Frankenstein’s monster head with candy, set up the coffin with colored mist rising from it and put a strobe light under the raven. Beth made some adjustments to Noah’s costume so he could carry his candy and at 6:15 Noah set off for Sasha’s house. This year for the first time he was trick-or-treating without adult accompaniment. We reminded him to come home by 8:15 and to say thank you at every house. Beth got June into her witch costume and they were out the door by 6:25.

I stayed behind to hand out candy to the two-headed monster, ghost. Smurf, hippy girl, ladybug, bee, angel, and other trick-or-treaters who came to our door. Many people admired our decorations. Somewhere in the past couple years we’ve crossed over from people who put up a few seasonal touches in the yard to people who go all out for Halloween. The added element of sound this year made a big difference in the atmosphere, I think.

Beth and June came home around 7:20. June showed me her candy and trinkets (and Beth showed me the jar of curried green tomatoes she’d received as a grownup treat) and then she opened the gift my mom sent, a Halloween story with a built-in recording of her voice and my stepfather’s reading the story, and she ate her biggest piece of candy, a chocolate owl lollipop before we washed the green paint off her face and sent her to bed.

Noah and Sasha came up the walk at 8:00. If I was standing on the porch fifteen minutes before he was due looking down the sidewalk in the direction of Sasha’s house, it was only because I was looking for trick-or-treaters.

Sasha was dressed like the villain from Scream and Noah had an auxiliary bag of candy because he’d filled up his little pumpkin. He must have had at least three times the candy June got. She wasn’t going to be happy when she saw it, I thought. When I asked him how it was trick-or-treating with no adults he said, “Fun!” He said he was taken for a carrot, a pumpkin, an orange and a rocket ship and that he and Sasha had seen a boy they knew and temporarily joined up with him. He looked exhausted but happy. He also had gifts to open from Grandmom and Pop, including glowsticks, face paint, toy skulls and a brain. Instead of saying goodnight to me when I put him to bed, he howled.

Another Halloween was over. The curse of the mummy’s hand was lifted. And all was well in the Zombie Zone.

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.

Spring Break Trilogy: Part III, After the Beach

Day 8: Saturday

Saturday afternoon we went to the National Portrait Gallery café to meet up with another tourist family. (Washington D.C. is a popular spring break destination.) Mary and Karen used to work with Beth at HRC (http://www.hrc.org/) back in the 90s and now they live in Northampton and have two daughters, ages four and six.

June and I had been at the Portrait Gallery about two months earlier when her preschool class took a field trip there and I volunteered to chaperone. She was eager to show Beth and Noah her favorite painting, the portrait of John Brown (http://www.flickr.com/photos/leonandloisphotos/2967613827/) so we went to go see it while waiting for it to be time to meet Mary, Karen, Sadie and Lily. On the way I also caught glimpses of paintings of Ann Landers, Allen Ginsburg and other famous and not so famous folk.

We met our friends in an atrium adjacent to the café, which made a perfect large, enclosed place for the girls to run around, inspect the plantings, climb on the marble benches and pretend to be ballerinas while the grown ups talked. At one point Lily, the younger girl, brought her moms a botanical sign for a lily because she had noticed her name on it. Her alarmed mothers told her to return it. Overall, the girls seemed to have a great time. I was sorry there was no one Noah’s age, but he sat with us, and listened to our conversation and surfed in the Internet on Beth’s phone.

Back at home, after June’s nap, we boiled eggs for dyeing and hit the garden. About a week and a half ago, Beth and June started cucumbers, watermelon and various flowers in little pots. Saturday they planted basil, edamame, okra and more flowers in more pots and Beth started breaking ground and expanding last year’s main garden plot in preparation for planning lettuce, carrots and broccoli. We decided to dig up the patch of lemon balm that comes back on its own every year and move it into a big pot so it doesn’t overrun the garden. I weeded some of the grass and dandelions out of it in preparation for transplanting it.

June kept filling various containers with muddy water and pretending to be a philanthropist/dairy farmer, distributing milk to the poor. Beth and I were the poor. June had the most patrician-sounding accent when she spoke to us in character. We have no idea where she could have heard it. She next set to work picking the leaves off a weed that looks like rhubarb so she could make a milk and rhubarb pie for the poor. Apparently she thinks it’s the leaves and not the stalks you use in pie and that this is a treat the poor particularly appreciate.

After dinner, it was time to dye eggs. We chose a variety of decorating strategies. Beth and Noah tried drawing on the eggs with the white “magic crayon” that came with the kit, creating a batik effect. The kids and I did some two-tone eggs, dipping the halves of the eggs in different colors. June created an egg that had three bands of color. We also had stickers (bunnies, flowers and eggs). I was amused by the idea of attaching the simulacrum of the egg to the real thing so I did stickers on both my eggs. June was predictably drawn to the glitter glue. And then there were the hats. In an Easter egg kit we got years ago, there was a selection of stickers of facial features and little felt hats. We’ve been re-using the hats ever since but this year we ran out of eyes, nose and mouth stickers so I elected not to make any egg people.

It was only when we got out the egg decorating materials that June realized Easter was imminent. She had all kinds of questions. Would the Easter Bunny bring jellybeans? (Probably, he usually does.) Why does the Easter Bunny come at night when children are asleep? (He’s shy.) We always call the Easter Bunny “he”, but do we know he’s really a boy? (No, we don’t.) Maybe it’s “half-boy, half-girl.” (Maybe.) Had any of us ever seen the Easter Bunny? (Noah claimed he had, then said the Bunny was invisible and then declined to clear up the resulting confusion.)

This conversation spilled over past bed time, but the kids quieted down and went to sleep surprisingly quickly after Beth reminded them that the Easter Bunny would not come until they were asleep.

Day 9: Sunday

“Look what I got!” June exclaimed as soon as the search for the Easter baskets successfully culminated in the closet in the kids’ room. She was so entranced with the stuffed unicorn that she barely looked at the candy. She needed the doll hairbrush immediately so she could brush it. There was another volley of Bunny-related questions. How did he know? (Maternal shrugs.) Did he buy it at Candy Kitchen? (Probably.)

Noah was happy with the big bottle of bubble soap in his basket (the kind that works best in his bubble rocket). He also appreciated his chocolate bunny driving a classic car, though he lamented the fact that it was hollow. He ate the whole thing right away and didn’t want breakfast, even though I made French toast.

We are not churchgoers so the rest of the day unfolded like a normal busy Sunday in the middle of spring. June had a swim lesson; Noah finished his homework (after a protracted negotiation about which homework not due Tuesday needed to be completed); Beth went grocery shopping, worked in the garden and did some housecleaning and I finished the abstracts and cleaned. I made egg salad sandwiches for dinner and as a small Easter observance, I listened to Jesus Christ Superstar while I did the dinner dishes and mopped the kitchen floor.

Day 10: Monday

Being a teetotaler, I don’t have much experience being hung over, but I think that must be how I felt Monday morning. All the time with the kids over break had been really nice, don’t get me wrong, but it was as if I’d had too much of a good thing and now I was tired and irritable. (It didn’t help that June had been up during the night and it had taken me an hour to get back to sleep.) I snapped at the kids more than once. I had a simple, straightforward editing job I’d volunteered to do for June’s school and I just wasn’t getting it done. Even after awarding June an extra half hour of television on top of her normal hour (“because you’re doing such a good job on the potty”), between breaking up fights and fetching snacks, I only managed to get through about five pages of the fourteen-page document in ninety minutes.

Once I gave up and decided the work would get done when it got done, the day got much better. We took a walk (the kids rode their scooters) to Starbucks and we had an early picnic lunch of veggie hot dogs, broccoli and pineapple on beach blankets in the back yard. While we were outside, we noticed the first two zinnia sprouts poking out of their pots. (By this morning there were be nine zinnia and two cucumber sprouts.)

Lunch was early because June needed her Quiet Time early so we could get to the White-Tailed Deer’s birthday party at two o’clock. While she was in her room listening to a CD of folktales (it was too early for her to sleep) and Noah was practicing his percussion, I sailed through the rest of the document and even enjoyed the work of figuring out how to make the organization clearer. I had just needed forty-five minutes of uninterrupted time. When I finished, I even had time to lie down with my eyes closed for fifteen minutes.

I wondered if Lesley would be free to go over the document in person so I called her and she was. We made an appointment for right after the party, which was being held at a playground five minutes from school.

The party was huge, at least twenty-five kids and probably more than half that many adults. It was nice to socialize with June’s school friends and their parents whom we hadn’t seen in what felt like a long time. The theme of the party was butterflies and June got a butterfly painted on her face. There were butterfly (and other) decorations for the kids to stick onto their goody bags and cupcakes with butterfly wings made of pretzels and a butterfly piñata that eventually spewed candy, gum and trinkets. (June got two plastic butterfly necklaces and a butterfly fan.)

Much of the two hours however, the kids spent racing around the playground and splashing in the creek. The weather was lovely, sunny and in the eighties again. There were a few older siblings there and Noah spent a lot of time mucking about in the creek with the Deer’s older brother, who’s in second grade.

I twisted my ankle early in the party (I stepped in a hole), but the Deer’s dad lent me a Ziploc bag full of ice from the cooler and after I’d rested a while and iced it, it felt okay.

We headed over to school, and the kids played, peaceably for the most part, while Lesley and I went over the edits. I was glad to do it in person because we could talk through my reasons for changes and I think that was helpful for both of us.

During the walk home, my ankle started to hurt again, but not too badly. I made dinner and we put June to bed early because she hadn’t napped. She was reeling with exhaustion by 7:00 and crying over every little thing. She actually fell asleep during the poems section of the bedtime routine and by the time I got her into bed at 7:45, she was asleep in three minutes flat.

Once June was asleep, I read to Noah from The Titan’s Curse for forty-five minutes, probably for the last time until next weekend, put him to bed and break was over.

While June’s at school this afternoon, I plan to sit on the porch, elevate and ice my ankle, which is feeling a bit stiff and sore today, and read Bleak House, which I have not picked up in almost two weeks. I enjoyed having the kids off school for ten days, but today I will enjoy having them go back.