Still Speechless

Monday morning Beth took June to the pediatrician because eight days after returning from the camping trip she still could not speak above a whisper and now she had a barking cough as well. They diagnosed croup, which surprised us both because we thought kids her age couldn’t get it, but apparently they can and the pediatrician said they are seeing a spike in older kids with it recently. They gave her a steroid treatment for the inflammation in her throat and said if it was going to work, it would in several hours. It didn’t. We sent June to school for the afternoon with a new coil-spring notebook for writing down what she wanted to say.

She came home seeming tired and not particularly enthusiastic about going to her violin lesson, but I said I thought she should because her teacher drives from Baltimore and she’d already be on her way. She agreed and I said if she was still feeling worn out on Tuesday she could stay home from school to rest.

She powered through the violin lesson and I told her to forget about her homework. If she was well enough to go to school in the morning she could do it then and I’d write her a note if she didn’t finish it. She did stay home from school on Tuesday. She did her homework and practiced violin and recorder and drank the strawberry smoothie I got her while I was out doing errands. (She didn’t want to come with me.)

She practiced the recorder because the third-grade recorder concert was that evening and she wanted to go. I usually don’t let her participate in after school activities if she’s stayed home from school, but the concert was going to be quite short and it was a one time thing, so I agreed she could go to that but not to her Girl Scout meeting, which partly conflicted with the concert anyway. We did need to swing by it, though, to pick up a Mother’s Day gift she’d made for us the previous week.

The recorder concert featured all the third grade classes playing a song or two each. It sounded about like you’d expect a third-grade recorder concert to sound. There were some familiar songs, like “Hot Cross Buns,” but then something called “Hot Cross Fun,” which started like “Hot Cross Buns,” and then went in a different direction. Megan’s class played something called, “Recorder Rap,” and June’s class did “It’s Raining” and “Old McDonald.” June shared a music stand with her friend Marisa. Megan’s mom Kerry commented she looked “very comfortable on stage.” I assured her she was indeed.

After the concert was over, June started coughing harder than she had been. (I watched the video Kerry took of the concert later to count how many times she coughed in the footage. It was only twice while her group was on stage, once right before a song and once right after.) We wondered if playing had further irritated her throat, but she’d practiced that afternoon longer than she had played on stage with no ill effect. It was puzzling.

Beth saw June’s morning and afternoon teachers standing near each other so she went to let them know why she’d be out of school and that we thought she’d be back Wednesday. We were wrong about that.

Beth dropped Noah and me off at home so he could do a worksheet about the fall of Richmond and the siege of Petersburg (he’s studying the Civil War) and she and June went to her Girl Scout meeting to get the present. When they got home we all sat down to eat Noah’s leftover birthday cake. But June couldn’t eat. Her coughing had gotten much worse. We tried having her swallow a spoonful of honey, put her head in the freezer, and stand in the bathroom with a hot shower running but nothing helped. By this time she was starting to have trouble breathing, so Beth took her to the Emergency Room.

They got seen right away, which Beth said was good and bad because it made her afraid it really was an emergency. They gave June a nebulizer to use and a second steroid treatment and a dose of narcotic cough syrup to help her sleep. It was after eleven when they got home and June was exhausted. She slept in our bed with Beth that night so Beth would know if there was a problem, but there wasn’t any. June fell asleep easily and slept until morning.

Despite being up almost three hours past her bedtime, she was up at her usual time, and she was still coughing almost continuously. Every time we timed her over the next few days she was coughing every five to ten seconds. This leaves her enough time to breathe, but we thought it would be hard for her to concentrate in class and for others to concentrate around her, so she stayed home Wednesday and again on Thursday and today. She’s a little tired—and very bored—and her throat is understandably sore, but she is not otherwise ill.

I read to her every day and did Mad Libs with her (doing all the reading aloud parts myself) and she came on an errand with me to fetch milk at the Co-op and helped me cook dinner twice instead of her usual once a week and also helped me bring laundry in from the clothesline twice. This afternoon I took her to creek to go wading.

Mostly, though, she had to entertain herself, because I was trying to work. Beth bought her a book to read, and an invisible ink activity book, and swimming mermaid doll, who came with us to the creek. June practiced cartwheels and somersaults on the lawn, and unbraided and re-braided her Native American doll’s hair. She wrote and illustrated a little booklet called Poems of Nature. They are mostly rhyming couplets with a rather melancholy tone, e.g. “The raven hides his head in shame/crying to the world in pain” or “Sitting in the shade all day/Watching others go out and play.” I think she is getting tired of staying home from school.

We’re currently waiting for a referral to an ENT and are all anxiously awaiting hearing her talk in a normal voice and go a whole minute without coughing.

Speechless

June’s Girl Scout troop went on a camping trip the last weekend in April. Well, they’ve been going in shifts, but June went that weekend, and Beth went along as a chaperone. While they were gone Noah and I passed a quiet weekend. He made some progress catching up on a backlog of overdue homework and I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, worked in the garden, went swimming and to the library.

Beth and June returned around lunchtime on Sunday. When I asked June how the trip went she gave me a thumbs up but said nothing. When I jokingly asked if she’d lost the power of speech, she nodded. She’d woken that morning with laryngitis. As a result, I didn’t learn as much about the camping trip as I might have right away, but Beth did her best to fill me in, telling me about the archery and hollow tree so big twelve girls could stand inside and the Maker’s Fair where despite the presence of 3D printer and 3D pens, most of the girls just wanted to make things out of cardboard boxes. Beth also said they cooked most of their meals over fires, so I thought maybe June’s throat had gotten irritated by all the smoke.

June had a violin recital that afternoon. As she felt fine other than her inability to speak, we went. The recital had been divided into three performances because there are too many students to fit all at once in the school’s largest room. There were ten students playing at the 5:30 performance. Eight of them played piano, there was one guitarist, and June was the sole violinist. I was privately amused that the boy playing the guitar was named Dylan. June played seventh. They put the more advanced students at the end so she’s been pleased to see her name appearing later and later in the program with each new recital. It may have also helped that the students at this particular recital seemed to skew a bit young. The oldest performer was probably eleven or twelve and usually there’s a teenager or two.

June composed the piece the played herself. It’s called “Owl in Flight” and it has a haunting, slightly mournful sound, especially at the beginning. When she was first writing it she said she imagined it could be played at a funeral, and she considered my suggestion of “Memory” as a title (or maybe she was just being polite). She played well and got a lot of applause. Here’s a video.

After the students had finished, a guitar teacher played a couple songs, including Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Overs.” He played harmonica and sang as well. I thought the Simon and Garfunkel song was a bit of an odd choice to use as inspiration for a group of mostly elementary school-aged kids. It doesn’t contain anything wildly inappropriate, it’s just unlikely they’d be able to relate to melancholy song about the break up of a long-term relationship.

After the recital we had dinner at Busboys and Poets, which opened in February. It’s a bookstore with a restaurant wrapped around it, if you can visualize that. Anyway, the food is very good and we are very excited to have a real bookstore in Takoma again. The selection is small, but you can special order any book they have at Politics and Prose, and pick it up a day or two later, so it’s almost like having a big bookstore a mile from our house. Beth got vegan coq au vin, and I got a grilled Brie and vegetable panini and the kids got pizza.

It was an inconvenient school week for June not to be able to talk because she had two oral presentations. Her English class was having a publishing party to read the storybooks they’d written to each other and parents and in her Spanish class they were presenting their research projects on contagious diseases. June and Zoë have been collaborating on an informative poster, speech, and skit about pinworm. (The poster has a border of squiggly worms drawn in marker, which I thought was a nice touch. I’d include a picture, but it’s at Zoë’s house.) I wrote a note, asking her teacher if they could go last in hopes that June’s voice would return in time and the teacher agreed.

The publishing party was Wednesday. I was hoping June’s voice would be back by then but it wasn’t, so the teacher read her story for her. It wasn’t quite as festive as June’s second grade teacher’s publishing parties, but Ms. K was admittedly quite a hard act to follow. It was nice to hear June’s story, a tale of friendship drama, read aloud.

I’d like to say it was nice to hear her classmates’ work, too, but most of them read so quietly I was hard pressed to figure out what to write on my comment cards. I strained to hear and managed to find something complimentary to say for most of the kids in her group and when I couldn’t, I wrote about the illustrations. Their storybooks were printed and bound and they came out looking very nice. After the kids had finished reading, Ms. P served them cookies and carrots and the adults left. Only a few parents had come (it was pretty short notice) and June seemed pleased I’d was there.

As for the pinworm presentation, the class has not yet finished with these, so there’s a chance June may still get the opportunity to act the part of the girl who wears her gardening gloves and doesn’t get pinworm in front of her class. I hope so.

It’s been a week now since June lost her voice and now she has a barking cough to go with it so Beth’s going to take her to the doctor this week. I miss hearing her voice. At Noah’s birthday dinner tonight (more about that in a future post), I told her so, and Beth and even Noah chimed in they missed it, too. “I’ve been missing it since I lost it,” June whispered.

She took a little notebook to class with her all week so she could write to make herself understood and at home she’s mostly been whispering, so we still know what’s on her mind. And next Tuesday the whole third grade will be performing a recorder concert before a PTA meeting, so I know she will continue to make herself heard.

Quite an Experience

I. Thursday and Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II. Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny Titan

Two weeks ago June and I were walking home from her running club practice when she tripped and fell to the ground, breaking her fall awkwardly with her right hand. I was puzzled at first because when I asked what hurt she said it was her hand, but a glance at her palm revealed only the slightest scrape and she was crying really hard. She continued to cry the rest of the way home and for a long while afterward.

I chalked it up to the fact that she’d been emotionally fragile and prone to tears for at least a week. She often gets teased at school for being the smallest in her class and it had flared up recently. Initially I thought the crying jags were because she wasn’t sleeping well and then I thought it was because she missed Beth while she was out of town but the first night Beth was back, she finally told us what was wrong.

She and Noah had been squabbling over something—I don’t remember what—and she burst into tears, saying he’d said she was always wrong and he was always right.  I’d heard the whole exchange and I knew he hadn’t said any such thing, but I supposed it was how he’d made her feel.  “Is it hard being the youngest sometimes?” I asked her, pulling her into my lap.

This was close enough to the underlying problem that she started to cry even harder.  “Sometimes it’s hard being the littlest one in my class,” she said, and she told us people have been picking her up off her feet without her consent again (this is a recurring issue) and someone said she looked like a baby and must not be very smart.

Beth had come into the room by this point and June took a turn on her lap as she unburdened herself. It turns out that one of the ringleaders was a boy just barely taller than June so I told her he was probably trying to make himself feel bigger by picking on her.  Because the problem was mainly with kids in her morning class during the students’ less supervised times (in the lunch line, at recess), I said I could talk with Señorita M., the morning teacher.

So, as I said, when June fell and her response seemed disproportionate, I wasn’t that surprised. This kind of thing had been going on for a week. But the crying went on and on, so I called Beth at work and told her it was possible June had sprained her wrist, and Beth said she’d come home early and take June to an urgent care.

By the time she got home, though, June wasn’t crying any more and there was none of the swelling or bruising you might expect from a bad sprain (I’ve had a few myself) so we were wondering if it was really necessary to keep June up past her bed time to drive her a half hour away to go through the hassle and expense of a medical appointment, but June insisted it still really hurt so they went.

They returned close to Noah’s bedtime. June had her right hand in a splint and a set of X-rays to keep and the whole experience seemed to have been quite satisfactory from her point of view.  I will note here that June is fond of medical attention and is quite well acquainted with the school nurse.  They used to call me whenever she made a visit to the Health Center at her school. Now they never do.

Beth and I both thought she’d wear the splint to school the next day (a Friday), bask in the attention and it would be off by her Saturday morning gymnastics class.  We were wrong. June went to gymnastics, but she only participated in the stretches and the trampoline.  At school her gym teacher made her sit out, even though they were playing soccer. What better game for a kid with a hurt wrist—you aren’t even allowed to use your hands!

Every time she took a bath we’d remove the splint and Beth would palpitate her wrist gently and June would say it still hurt. It was always in exactly the same place, too, which made us believe it wasn’t just wishful thinking on her part.  A week went by and then almost two. During this time we needed to replace the wrapping, which had gotten grungy and kept coming undone because the Velcro was wearing out, so we bought a self-adhesive kind at a drugstore while we were at the beach. Her teachers and classmates took turns writing down her schoolwork for her and she dictated her homework to me.  She also started writing and drawing a little with her left hand, and got better at it with practice.

She was clearly enjoying aspects of this experience, especially the extra attention from Ms. R, her afternoon teacher, whom she adores. And sometimes she was loath to talk about anything but her wrist. One day a few days after the accident, she was listening to Beth and me having a boring, grown-up conversation about an email problem I was having (long delays in receiving messages, one sent on Thursday didn’t arrive until Saturday, etc).  June suddenly saw a way to turn the conversation in a more interesting direction and piped up, “Thursday? That was the day I sprained my wrist!”

The week after she sprained her wrist, I picked her up from her after-school art class and we visited Señorita M to talk about the problems she was having with her classmates.  Señorita M, who is a small person herself, listened sympathetically, thanked her for coming forward, and promised to have a class meeting about it, with no names mentioned.  June reports that things have gotten a lot better in her class since then, though some kids in her afternoon class are still teasing her. So we still need to talk to Ms. R, but as the main problem was in the morning class, June seems a lot happier.

By Wednesday almost two weeks had gone by and June’s wrist was no better. So we took her to an orthopedic specialist. When we took the splint off, I looked at her wrist, which looked bare and delicate.  I noticed the now exposed fingernails on her right hand were longer and cleaner than the ones on her left hand.

The technicians took new X-rays from multiple angles and then the doctor examined her wrist, agreed with us that it was odd it had not healed, but had no good explanation. He showed us the X-ray and said the bone that would be most likely to have suffered a break was often not even fully ossified in children her age and in her case was more cartilage than bone. He said there was no next step, other than an MRI, which he did not think was warranted at this point (thank goodness). He fitted her with a brace he thought might be more comfortable and convenient than the splint (no wrapping and unwrapping), told us to come back if it wasn’t better in another two weeks, and sent us on our way.

So we have no answers, but June likes the new brace and says it’s more comfortable than the splint.  Her fingers stick out more so she can use scissors and hold utensils, though she still can’t write. The brand name of the child-sized brace is Tiny Titan.  Beth and I couldn’t stop smiling about that. It seemed perfect for June, whom we have always called “small but mighty.”  She’s the only athlete in the family, as well as the only extrovert, and she has a good understanding of her needs and knows how to express them. While no parent likes to see his or her child suffer (the night she told us about the teasing I cried, too), I know she will persevere through whatever physical or emotional challenges life throws at her because she’s our tiny Titan.

The Great Rooted Bed

We bought a new mattress over President’s Day weekend and I was going to write a valentine to the old one. I was going to tell you how we bought it while I was pregnant with Noah after thirteen years of sleeping on a futon and how my water broke on it, not once but twice, and how I nursed my babies on it and co-slept with them on it.

I had a pretty good title for the post—from the penultimate book of The Odyssey. As Odysseus explains:

There was a branching olive-tree inside our court,
Grown to its full prime, the bole like a column, thickset
Around it I built my bedroom…

He turns the tree trunk into the headboard, making the bed impossible to move. The symbolism is fairly clear, given that Penelope waits for him faithfully for twenty years.

I don’t know if it’s a natural outgrowth of having co-slept with the children until they were each around three years old, but everyone spends a lot of time in our bed.  June comes in to snuggle with us most mornings as early as she’s allowed (six-thirty on weekdays, seven on weekends), I read to both kids on it almost daily, it’s where we gather for our nightly poetry reading, and when the kids are sick enough to spend the day in bed, they are just as likely to spend it in our bed as in their own.  Even though the kids have slept in their own beds for years now, it’s still a family bed. Like Odysseus’s bed, it’s our Great Rooted Bed, more of a family gathering place than anywhere in the house except the dining room table.

I was going to tell you about the last time Noah and I talked on that mattress. I was taking a nap on Monday afternoon (laying down on all those mattresses in the store had made me sleepy) when he interrupted the nap to come in and talk to me about a homework assignment he’d been wrestling with all weekend and after talking it through with me in the darkened room, he finally settled on his thesis statement.

And I was going to tell about the last time June came in for her early morning visit on that mattress yesterday morning, how she was bouncing around on the bed, playing with a balloon she got over the weekend until she settled down long enough for me to read her a story.

I was going to mention how after the kids left for school and before I started to work that same morning, I settled into bed to read Ulysses (my book club’s latest selection) and how in the afternoon the cats came to nap there, even though there was none of the usual sun they love there, as it was a cold, gray, sleety day.

Except those weren’t the last times we did any of those things on that mattress because it’s still here.  Yesterday afternoon, I showed the delivery people to our bedroom and the kids’ room, where they were bringing the new mattress and pillows for us, and new bunky boards for the kids’ beds.

One of them hauled the mattress off the bed and turned it on its side, inspecting it.

“Do you have a problem with bed bugs?” he asked.

I was so surprised I wasn’t even sure I’d heard him right.  “Bed bugs?” I repeated. “No!”

Then he showed me a tiny round black bug he’d removed from the mattress with his thumbnail and informed me that we did indeed have a problem with bed bugs.  He said if they left the mattress with us it would void the warranty and he recommended we delay delivery until after we get the whole house fumigated.  So I sent everything back.

And now we’re considering delaying the purchase of a new mattress, because we paid more than we really intended in the first place, and having an exterminator over is unlikely to be cheap.  We definitely need a new mattress.  The old one is over twelve years old, Beth has back problems, and when I took the cover off to prepare for its departure I noticed there are two depressions where Beth and I sleep.  But since we have to wait anyway, we might do a little comparison shopping or even put the replacement on hold for a while, if the cancellation fee for the mattress we ordered is not prohibitive. Then again we might also stick with our original purchase because when I talked to the customer service representative today and told her we might need to cancel the order because of the cost of fumigation, she suddenly started talking about a discount, which I honestly wasn’t expecting.

I am feeling a little less sentimental about the old mattress now that I know it’s harboring vermin, and now that getting rid of it and procuring a new one is likely to be more work than we anticipated. I suppose it could be a blessing in disguise that we decided to buy a mattress right now because none of us has any bites we’ve noticed. I’m hoping this means the infestation is in its early stages and should be easier to contain.  Having been through a well-established lice infestation fifteen months ago (“A Lousy Birthday” 11/23/11), I can say when it comes to bugs, you want to catch them early. And I have to say it makes me a little uneasy how much the bug the delivery guy showed me looked like a louse, because I think I’d rather have bed bugs than have lice again, but maybe that’s just because I’ve never had bed bugs before.

All day yesterday I kept going back and looking at the bare mattress and box spring, trying to judge whether the little black specks I saw there are dead bugs or just dirt. It was hard to tell. In the dozen or so times I checked I didn’t seen a live bug. But then as Beth and I were putting the mattress cover and the sheets and covers back on the bed I’m pretty sure I saw one on the underside of the mattress cover.

So I’m feeling unsettled, but we’ll take care of the problem and eventually we’ll have a new mattress. It will be new (and bug-free), but our Great Rooted Bed should remain otherwise the same, one of our favorite places to come together as a family.

Not a man on earth, not even at peak strength,
would find it easy to pry it up and shift it.

A Lousy Birthday

Beth’s birthday is always the week of Thanksgiving, usually before the holiday. She often says she likes this because it seems to usher in the holiday season. The timing has a potential downside, though, of swallowing or overshadowing her birthday. I was determined that wouldn’t happen this year. The kids and I did our birthday shopping early just in case my first plan didn’t work. We were in good shape, even with a few crazy days before Beth’s birthday, but then things got even crazier.

To pick up where we left off, wasn’t I just telling you a story about how I was asked to bring June home from school early on a day when I had nothing urgent to do I and didn’t do it? Oh, the irony. Tuesday of last week I’d started work on a project that was much more difficult than I anticipated. By Thursday I was wondering how I was going to make the deadline, which was the day before Thanksgiving and co-incidentally Beth’s birthday. So of course in the wee hours of Friday morning, without any previous sign of illness, June woke up vomiting. Obviously, she’d need to stay home from school.

I did squeeze in several hours of work in between snuggling with her in bed, reading book after book to her and playing game after game of Chutes and Ladders, but it set me back. I told Beth I’d need to work over the weekend. I had a very productive day on Saturday until I started to feel queasy at the computer in the late afternoon. I’ll spare you the details but I spent the rest of the day and most of the following morning in bed. Noah fell sick a few hours after I did and he actually seemed worse off. I could hear him moaning in his bunk off and on all night. He slept most of the next afternoon. By that time I was recovered and back to work, probably running on adrenaline since I’d slept so poorly the night before. I was really glad I’d taken the kids to get Beth’s gifts the previous weekend because there was no time this weekend when all three of us would have been up for an outing at the same time and I don’t know when we would have managed to shop for her.

But luckily we’d already taken care of this errand. Beth had asked for some reusable cloth produce bags so I decided to buy two at the Co-op and let the kids fill them up with treats for her. I have to say it was possibly the most satisfying buying-gifts-for-other-people experience I’ve had with the kids. They accepted guidance readily but had enough of their own ideas that it didn’t feel like me making all the decisions and paying for it to boot and then saying, perversely, that the presents were from the kids, yet at the same time we didn’t buy anything completely random and inappropriate either. They each picked three items. Four out of the six contained chocolate (chocolate-covered pretzels, a dark chocolate bar, a black and white cookie and a box of chocolate toaster pastries). This is about the right ratio of chocolate to non-chocolate gifts to buy for Beth, I think. We also picked up a wedge of Brie and some rosemary crackers. I had renewed Beth’s subscription of Brain, Child (http://www.brainchildmag.com/) weeks earlier so her birthday gifts were in the bag, so to speak. Potential crisis averted.

By Monday everyone was well enough for school and work and it seemed like we were back on track. Except Tuesday morning, Noah was feeling poorly again and he stayed home. I worked and read him a few chapters of The Emerald Atlas and then around noon, heeding a nagging inner voice, I made a phone call to June’s school. June had been complaining about her head itching since mid-October. Lice had occurred to me immediately and I knew Lesley does lice checks periodically at preschool so after school on the very first day June mentioned the itching, I took her over to the Purple School for a visit and an impromptu lice check. Lesley didn’t see anything. I checked it off my mental list of possibilities and then for weeks we wondered why June’s head was itching/ We stopped using her detangling spray and considered trying all new hair care products. Finally, I started to think we should get her checked again, just in case.

You know where this is going, right? I must have taken June to Lesley before the lice really got settled in her hair because the nurse pulled June out of class to check her and called me back at 12:45 with the news that she did indeed have lice and I needed to come get her immediately. So, I brought her home and that was the end of the school week for both kids.

Later that afternoon, we had 504 meeting for Noah with the disappointing outcome that he did not qualify for any accommodations under his ADHD-NOS diagnosis but that might under his dysgrahpia diagnosis, but that will require input from an occupational therapist and possibly yet another meeting (our third this fall) to determine. I think we might have been more upset by this if not for the lice.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was a blur of activity. There was bedding to wash in hot water and dry at the highest setting, brushes and combs to soak in rubbing alcohol, and hair to rub with smelly lice-killing shampoo and then comb out with the nit pick. We spent hours on the kids’ hair but sometime during Noah’s, which surprisingly turned out to be much worse than June’s, we started to think we might need the services of a professional. I found a few companies online, made some calls, conferred with Beth and made an appointment.

So the next morning the kids stayed home from school and Beth stayed home from work and at nine a.m., a professional nit-picker walked in our door. Beth said making sure we were all properly deloused was her birthday present to herself. We all had our hair combed and picked (and we all did have lice, in varying degrees). It took about three hours for her to do all four of us. She said Noah was in the worst shape and had probably had them longest. Since he never itched (no-one did except June) who knows how many months he was walking around with lice? I don’t like to think about it.

I did four more loads of hot water laundry, and made Beth’s birthday cake (with some help from June) and some brandied sweet potatoes to take to YaYa’s for Thanksgiving. Beth made vegetarian stuffing and gravy. All day we ate well. Beth shared her chocolate toaster pastries at breakfast and her Brie and crackers at lunch. In the afternoon she ran some errands and got herself a free birthday cupcake at Cake Love (to save for later). For diner we got Burmese takeout and then ate cake and ice cream. The can of pink frosting I was using for accents turned out to be almost empty and created more of a graffiti paint splatter effect than the roses June and I were originally going for, but I liked it.

It was that kind of birthday, not what we expected, but with its own sweetness. We did get an extra day all together before the holiday weekend, so I hope it was lousy only in the most literal sense of the word.

Tag, You’re It, Part 1: Climbing to the Top

I stood with my hands on the stroller handles at the bottom on the hill, sizing it up. I climb this hill every Wednesday morning on our way to Kindermusik. It’s long and steep, but I’m used to it. Unless I have a backpack full of hardback library books to return on the way home, or unless it’s a sweltering summer day and I have fifteen-month old in the front pack as I often did when Noah had music camp in the same building the summer before last, climbing it is routine.

But nothing is routine these days. I’ve been sick for about three weeks with a killer upper respiratory infection. I have a cough like no other I’ve ever had in my life. When a bad fit is upon me any of the following things might happen: I could gag, or wet myself, or feel shooting pains in my head or see stars, or any combination of these things.

I am also very short of breath. At the worst point, about a week ago, I could barely climb a flight of stairs without getting winded. During Thanksgiving weekend at my mom’s house, I was trying to carry June out of the bathroom after a bath and my mom said my breathing sounded like I was in labor. (She took my naked, towel-wrapped daughter from me and carried her upstairs.) I’m getting better. Yesterday I rode the exercise bike in the basement (albeit very slowly) for ten minutes and I raked leaves for another ten. Partly I was testing myself to see if going to music class this morning was even feasible. I thought it was.

There are speed bumps about one-third and two-thirds of the way up the hill. I told myself I’d stop at those spots and rest. I made it to the one-third mark, but the evil thing about this hill is it gets steeper as you go up it, so I ended up having to rest again well before the two-thirds mark. I lost track of how many times I stopped; I think it was at least a half dozen. I breathed hard; I coughed a lot. About three-quarters of the way up I stared at the last, steepest part of the hill in despair, wondering how hard June would cry if I gave up and we just went home. Pretty hard, I thought. We once tried to attend a make-up class that had been cancelled (unbeknownst to us) and when we got to the dark and empty little building in the park and then had to turn around to go home, June cried for fifteen minutes straight. So, remembering that, I pressed on.

And then I was at the top of the hill. I was so tired, I wasn’t even happy. I wondered grumpily why people climb mountains anyway. Why put yourself through something like this?

Soon we were inside. The familiar songs played. We danced and rang jingle bells. (I made sure to sanitize my and June’s hands before we touched the instruments.) I got to talk to grownups during class and afterward on the playground. It turns out a large proportion of the kids and adults present have the exact same cough. The teacher said her doctor says half of Takoma Park has it and that it lasts six weeks on average. We commiserated and swapped home remedies. It was nice. It was worth it.

Last month I was tagged twice by other bloggers, which means they invited me to write on a given prompt. Dana, of Luca Has Two Mommies (http://www.lucahas2mommies.blogspot.com), tagged me to post the fourth photo in the fourth photo folder on my computer and then tag four more bloggers. We have two computers with photos on them so I got to cherry-pick but I chose this one. It’s of Noah the summer he was five, inside the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina (http://www.nps.gov/caha/).

Noah has loved lighthouses since he was three. He had a coloring book called Lighthouses of the Mid-Atlantic States and he memorized the names, locations and heights of the lighthouses in it before he could color inside the lines. He sat through a long multi-part documentary series about lighthouses with us and was probably the only preschooler in Takoma Park who knew what a Fresnel lens and could tell you all about how they work.

Noah’s interest in lighthouses has waned somewhat in recent years, but as a result of his fixation, we’ve climbed lighthouses up and down the East Coast, from Massachusetts to Florida. Some were easy climbs; others were more difficult. Noah’s a sturdy kid and always climbed uncomplainingly to the top even when he was very small (unless the stairs weren’t solid—if he could see through them sometimes he got scared).

On this occasion I stayed below. June was five months old and I didn’t want to lug her to the top. When I have climbed to the top, though, which has been almost every other time, I’ve never questioned if it was worth it. The view from a lighthouse is always sensational. You can see the ocean and the land for miles around. You are up in the sky. It’s a good reminder that there’s often a very good reason for pushing on to the top.

I tag: Tami, of On A Quiet Street (http://onaquietstreet.blogspot.com/), Tyfanny of Come What May (http://btmommy.blogspot.com/), Swistle of her own eponymous blog (http://www.swistle.blogspot.com/) and Holly of The Post Party (http://pushontildawn.blogspot.com/). Holly’s my cousin and the mother of Annabelle, who’s just about the most photogenic four-month-old baby on the planet. Annabelle also has spina bifida, so Holly and her husband Matt know more than most people about climbing to the top even when the hill gets steep.

To recap: Your mission, if you choose to accept it:

1) Choose the fourth picture folder on your computer
2) Choose the fourth picture
3) Explain the picture
4) Tag four other people

I look forward to seeing your pictures and hearing your stories.

Pulling for Annabelle

My aunts Diane and Peggy and my uncle Darryl are visiting my mother and stepfather this week so on Sunday afternoon we met up in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, which made a convenient gathering place between Philadelphia and Washington. My mom’s family lives out West and I don’t see much of them. Peggy has met Noah several times, but never June, and Darryl and Diane were meeting both kids for the first time.

We’d planned to meet outside so the kids could run around if we had to wait, but the older generation arrived first, and the weather, which was supposed to be sunny and warm, turned out to be cold and drizzly, so when we arrived, we went straight inside to the food court.

I felt a bit awkward at first, especially when Darryl greeted Noah as “Jonah” and I couldn’t tell if it was a joke or not. Noah shot me a doubtful glance and I shrugged. June was rather alarmed to see so many new grownups at once and she clammed up, but it didn’t take Noah long to warm up. Soon he was chatting with everyone and impressing the aunts with his vocabulary, though it didn’t seem to me he was saying anything unusual. Is “I’m six, but soon I’ll be seven” an advanced sentence? Maybe it was the syntax.

After the hugs and handshakes and introductions, we headed for lunch. On the way to the tables, I informed my mom that for the first time since she was six months old, June is back on the growth charts, at twenty-two pounds and thirty-one inches. She’s at the very bottom of the chart, but good news is good news. Peggy and Darryl said she looked only a little smaller than their grandson Josiah, who will be two in May.

After we staked out a table in the crowded food court, we split up to get our food. Once everyone was back, June sat in Mom’s lap and ate French fries and Thai noodles and vegetables from Beth’s lunch and mine. Noah entertained the group by singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in German, a trick he learned at his spring break drama camp last month. Usually when my mother and her sisters are together there’s a lot of joking and laughing, but aside from Noah’s antics the mood was more subdued than usual.

The reason was Annabelle. Diane’s daughter Holly is four and a half months pregnant with her first child and she and her husband Matt recently learned that the baby, a girl they’ve named Annabelle, had spina bifida (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spina_bifida). Diane’s taking it hard. In fact, my mother was worried that seeing my kids might be hard for her. I’m sure it was, but she seemed to enjoy talking with Noah and quizzing him on his reading as we walked from the food court to the Maryland Science Center (http://www.mdsci.org/). He could read the banner on the front of the museum. He knew what “gem” means.

There were plenty of distractions in the Science Center. It’s a very interactive, hands-on museum. Noah enjoyed turning knobs to make balls roll in a track, playing a harp equipped with motion sensors instead of strings and making huge bubbles with a device that looked like a guillotine. Pop helped with this last one by blowing the bubbles into shape after Noah hoisted the blade. Noah and I put photographs in order to track an embryo’s development and again to show a woman aging. Mom and the kids stood in front of a sensor that measured their heights. Mom, Diane and Peggy, for reasons unknown, submitted to an electric shock. In the children’s room, June had a blast at the water table. It was here she let her guard down and let the aunts hear her talking, using two of her well-worn phrases, “Can you help me?” and “I want it back!” after another child took her cup.

On the way out of the museum, Noah and Darryl played with a tug-of-war machine that was rigged to give the weaker contestant an advantage. (It was something about the angle of the rope. It’s hard to read the explanatory signs while chasing a toddler around.) Mom and Peggy stayed behind to shop for Noah’s birthday present at the gift shop while the rest of us headed to Håagen-Dazs so Diane could treat us to ice cream. Outside the museum Noah tried to dance with Diane a little too vigorously (she has bad knees). Diane explained to him that he had “unlimited energy” while her was “limited.”

“I know what those words mean,” Noah said. By now he’d figured out she was interested in words and he was showing off. He then gave a pretty decent definition of both words.

If Noah was still in fine form, his sister was showing signs of exhaustion. She’d only had a half hour nap on the drive over to Baltimore and she looked about ready to nod off into her cup of dulce de leche ice cream, so we said our goodbyes and headed home.

The next morning we had an appointment at the pediatric cardiologist. At June’s two-year appointment last week the doctor noticed an irregularity in her heartbeat. It was subtle; the medical student she had assisting her with patients that day couldn’t hear it even when they had their stethoscopes on June’s chest simultaneously. It was almost surely nothing, Dr. A assured us, but just in case, she gave us a referral to Dr. H for a follow-up visit.

“Are we worried?” I asked Beth once Dr. A left the room.

“No,” she said, and we really weren’t. Beth had a heart murmur all through her childhood; so did my sister Sara. Still, we made the appointment. It was on a day Noah had off school so he came along. I dressed June in a long-sleeved t-shirt with a heart on it, as a joke or a good luck charm.

After a short wait, Dr. H came out into the waiting room. He explained he was going to do an EKG and a sonogram of June’s heart. This was when a little thread of panic started to uncurl in my chest. I don’t know exactly what equipment I’d expected him to use, surely not just another stethoscope; he is a specialist after all. But an EKG and a sonogram sounded more serious than I’d thought.

I don’t know if June picked up on my mood change or if she suddenly remembered the vaccination and blood draw at her last doctor’s appointment, but when it came time to leave the Legos and the bead maze in the waiting room to follow the doctor to the first examining room, she told Beth she was “scared.” Beth reassured her it would be fine.

I couldn’t see June’s face in the examining room because she was sitting on my lap, but Beth told me later she looked very uncertain the whole time she was hooked up to the EKG. Dr. H let Noah hold the tangle of cords while he studied the printout. He said it looked perfectly normal.

We moved on to the next examining room. Dr. H popped in a Magic School Bus video (Noah’s choice) to distract June while he smeared her chest with goop and rubbed the wand across it. And then for the first time since she was inside me, we watched her heart beat. It’s a wondrous, humbling thing to watch, no matter what the reason. Dr. H looked at it from various angles and cross sections. He said he saw the irregularity now; every now and then her heart pauses between beats. I couldn’t see it but Beth did. Dr. H decided to repeat the EKG to see if there was anything he’d missed on the first one. Again, it looked perfectly normal. She was fine, he told us at last. She has a slightly irregular heart rhythm, but there’s no cause for concern. Relief washed over me. We got coffee and pastries at the Starbucks in the lobby and our mid-morning snack felt like a celebratory feast.

That night Sara called me. In the course of our conversation, she asked if I knew about Annabelle. I said yes and she told me she’s been reading Matt’s blog (http://thedawgrun.blogspot.com/). I asked her to send me the url.

Today I read all the posts about Annabelle, starting just before the diagnosis. The tone of the post in which Matt mentions a “a slight elevation in some chemical or other that has to do with neural-tube disorders” reminded me of my nonchalance before June’s heart appointment. Like me, he was pretty sure there was nothing to worry about. Unlike me, he was wrong.

Sometimes it seems like parents live under continuous sniper fire. Mostly we dodge the bullets, so often that we become desensitized to them and fail to worry about every possible thing, but sometimes the bullet hits.

It’s not fair.

All we can do is brace for the shock, and if it comes, take what comfort we can from our team, those who are pulling for us. Holly and Matt have received tremendous support on and off the blog and they seem up to the tremendous challenge they are facing. I haven’t seen Holly since my sister’s wedding ten years ago and I’ve only met Matt once, so anything I say or do is just a small part of that support, but for what it’s worth, I’m pulling for Annabelle, too.

44 Centimeters, or Back to Normal

Miracle of miracles, the bus came and Noah got on it, with his backpack full of overdue valentines and his feet protected from the slush only by a pair of canvas sneakers. It was a gym day so he needed the sneakers and we decided if we sent him in boots carrying his sneakers it would be the last we’d see of either the boots or the sneakers. He’s like that. Already this year he has lost his lunch box more times than I can count and his winter coat as well. We got the coat back from the lost and found, but not before we’d bought him a new one. He drives his kindergarten teacher to distraction losing his crayons. One recent morning he lost his sock between getting it out of his sock drawer and getting it onto his foot. I have to accept some genetic blame for this. I am much the same way.

A couple hours after Noah left, June and I needed to get on our own bus, headed downtown to the pediatrician to get her head measured. At her nine-month appointment, the doctor noticed her soft spot had closed early and asked us to come by in mid-February to make sure her skull was growing properly. This had created a subtle but steady undercurrent of worry for me ever since. Beth researched early fontanel closure on the Internet and came back with worst-case scenarios of brain damage and brain surgery. Even though I knew chances were she’d be fine, believed it even, throughout January and February, every now and then I kissed the top of June’s head, feeling the softness of her baby-fine strawberry blonde hair and the warmth of her skull beneath my lips and I hoped no-one would have to cut it open.

We were ready early because instead of taking her usual hour-plus morning nap, June slept only twenty minutes, then drowsed for another ten while I held her and sang and tried to get her back to sleep. Once it was clear neither of us was getting any more sleep, I got up and folded some laundry. Then we went outside and I tried to shovel the sidewalk. It’s a point of honor with Beth (both of us really) to keep the walks clear in inclement weather, and while she got the walk in front of the house finished before everything froze solid, we didn’t get to the walk on the side of the house in time and it was covered in thick ice for a week. In the warmer weather we’d had for the past twenty-four hours, it had begun to thaw. I chipped away at it for ten minutes, clearing less than a quarter of it. By then my arms were sore and June (parked in the stroller next to me) was whining and it was almost time to catch the bus so I called it quits, resolving to finish the next day after it got softer. I was pleased to see even that short stretch of clear cement. It seemed like a step in the right direction, back toward normalcy.

At the pediatrician, the nurse called June’s name only twenty minutes after our appointment time. I am so used to marathon waits there I didn’t even hear her the first time and she had to call again. Once we were settled in the examination room, she asked why we were there and I said for a head measurement. The nurse called out to another nurse outside the room, asking if she should do it or wait for the doctor. The second nurse told the first one, rather sharply, that Dr. Ariza would do it. I wasn’t surprised. Dr. Ariza had been quite insistent at June’s nine-month appointment that the head measurement was to be done by a doctor. We waited another ten minutes for Dr. Ariza. I held June and read her an assortment of board books that were lying around. When the doctor came in, she asked how June was doing. I reported she’d learned to crawl since her last appointment and was standing unassisted. She nodded approvingly. I mentioned she’d had a cold for almost two months and I thought she might have an ear infection. She said she’d take a look in her ears after she measured her head. She looked around for a tape measure, couldn’t find one, left and came back. Then she wrapped it around June’s head. It looked like a crown or a garland, I told myself, not like the bearer of bad news. June’s blue eyes peeked out from underneath, alert and curious about the proceedings.

“Forty four centimeters,” Dr. Ariza said. She flipped back through June’s chart. “It was forty three last time.” She seemed pleased. Then she got out the growth chart to plot the number. “How old is she?” she asked.

“Eleven months in three days,” I answered.

Dr. Ariza made a little dot on the chart. “Twenty-fifth percentile for eleven months,” she announced. Even better news. At nine months, she’d been between the fifth and tenth percentile. I asked if wanted to get her weight and length to put it in context, but she said it wasn’t necessary, that the growth and the jump in percentiles was good enough. “She’s never going to have a big head,” Dr. Ariza predicted, and she cautioned that she still wants to monitor her head growth, but for now everything seems fine. She checked June’s lungs and ears and found both clear. Then she flashed a flashlight into her mouth and found two new teeth, her third and fourth, the top front ones, just poking through. I could just barely see a sliver of white on each gum in the beam of light. “That’s probably what’s been bothering her,” she said and recommended Tylenol for the pain. Meanwhile, she ran through the symptoms of intracranial pressure, just in case, and soon we were on our way home. June was in the front pack, where she’s been feeling heavy recently, but walking to the Metro, she felt lighter than she had on the trip out.

After a couple hours at home, we headed over to Noah’s school to pick him up from his after-school science class. I trudged through the slush on the path through woods, his boots swinging in one hand, June strapped to my chest, and observed the water level in the creek. It looked higher than usual but not too high. The snow was melting slowly, a good thing since it meant the basement was probably in no danger of flooding.

We waited in the lobby for the five, six and seven-year-old scientists to emerge. Noah always straggles out toward the back the pack and today was no different. I noticed he was only wearing one sneaker.

He flashed me a smile when he saw me. “We made glue!” he announced. I let him chatter on excitedly for a few minutes without mentioning his shoe. He showed me a construction paper spider with one leg and seven white dots where other legs had been. Apparently, the Hands-On Science program is not going to be a threat to Elmer’s any time soon.

Finally, I said. “Noah, you’re only wearing one shoe.”

He looked down and laughed. “I have one shoe and the spider has one leg. If it had eight legs, I’d have eight shoes!”

“Hmm.” I said. “Noah, where do you think your other shoe is?”

He considered the question and answered, “Probably in the science room.” I had him take me back there and sure enough, under one of the low tables was his size 13 blue Converse low top with the orange tongue. He climbed under the table to get it.

“Don’t put it on,” I said. “We’re going to put on your boots.” Back in the lobby I helped him into his boots and we headed home.

Later that evening, after we ate dinner and everyone had cuddled on the couch watching The Electric Company (Noah’s new favorite DVD choice) and after Noah was in bed, I nursed June to sleep on our bed. She slept snuggled up against Beth, who was reading The New Yorker. I lay there watching them, thinking about the exuberance of small children in school doing experiments, neatly shoveled walks and my daughter’s growing head. I wondered what dreams fit in forty-four centimeters.