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.

All The World’s a Stage

“This was a nice weekend. I’m glad I forgot my homework,” Noah said.

It was Sunday morning, around 10:40, and Noah was practicing his orchestra bells while we were packing up and preparing to check out of our hotel. This year in lieu of a birthday party, Noah asked for a family weekend in Rehoboth.  The main thing he wanted to do was to film a movie in Cape Henlopen State Park, which we’d visited in March and which struck him at the time as a good location, due to the empty and somewhat eerie WWII-related buildings (watchtowers, barracks, etc.)

We left on his birthday, a Friday, after school.  But it was a big day even before we left for the beach because it was GreekFest at his school. This all-day event is the culmination of a several months-long unit on ancient Greece (mostly myths, but some history, too) and involved long-term projects in all four of his Humanities classes.

We started off the big day with present opening at 6:30 a.m. Noah unwrapped a book, two sets of summer pajamas (a birthday tradition), two hunks of fancy cheese from his favorite gourmet online catalog, and an assortment of rhythm instruments he’d requested, including a set of chimes, claves, a cowbell, and a high quality tambourine. (He often has to play these in concerts but up to now could only practice them at school.) He seemed pleased with everything.

Beth got him off to school and then went shopping for birthday cake ingredients. While I did some chores and exercised, she made the cake and frosting. Then it was off to GreekFest.

On Stage: GreekFest

We went to see the animated films first. All the sixth-grade Humanities magnet students worked in groups to animate a Greek myth and the media teacher was playing a ninety-minute sequence of them continuously all day.  We had almost an hour in the room, but Noah’s film did not come up in the rotation. Fortunately, all the films were also playing on laptops set up around the perimeter of the room so we got to watch his group’s rendition of the Prometheus myth.  They made nice use of special effects including some very realistic raindrops running down the screen during a storm, and instant replay to show the vulture returning to the bound god over and over.  It was fun seeing his classmates’ work as well. The films were smart and funny.

There was a lunch break next. Beth offered to come along and lead the lunchroom in “Happy Birthday,” but for some reason, Noah declined.  (June might have said yes, I think.) Because it was only 10:40, Beth and I went out for coffee rather than lunch.

When we returned, it was time for skits. While we waited, we had time to peruse the newspapers the kids had written.  Noah’s period published “The Greekly Weekly News.” Noah wrote the classified ads. Arachne was selling tapestries, Midas was selling golden objects; Pygmalion was selling statues, there was a Daedalus wing system on offer, etc.

The way the skits worked was that each student chose a character to portray and then they were assigned to groups and had to write a skit in any television genre using all their characters. Noah’s group did a police drama that involved Medusa turning first a pet dog then all the other characters to stone. Toward the end, Noah (as Daedalus) tried to escape by flying away, but did not succeed. There was also a talk show, “Hot Talk With Apollo,” (a good way to incorporate disparate characters, I thought), a soap opera, which made good use of a siren and the Oracle of Delphi, and a game show hosted by Nike, goddess of victory. Like the films, the skits were smart and funny, and the kids were clearly having a good time.

We moved out to the hallway to look at posters about historical ancient Greek figures — Noah’s poster about Aristotle wasn’t on the wall because he’d turned it in late — while the kids set up the podiums for their monologues. Each student was still in character, but now they each had to give a speech, introducing themselves to listeners, who would activate them by pressing a button, or taking some other action. For instance, at Persephone’s podium, you had to take a real pomegranate seed from a paper plate at her feet to get her to start talking.  Noah, as Daedalus, held a square piece of plywood and a toy hammer.  You tapped the board with the hammer to get him to speak. Noah had a little trouble getting the gears on his podium to start turning but a classmate helped him and when the machinery started to work they did a fist bump.  (This was a bit startling, as I’d never seen Noah do that with anyone.)

Not to be repetitive, but the monologues were great. Everything was great. The kids really threw themselves into their roles, especially the boy who played Typhon with appropriate creepiness.  Beth said the whole event, but especially the skits and monologues, made her feel Noah was in the right place in this program.  I felt the same.

On Location: Cape Henlopen and Rehoboth

When we left Greekfest, we had a late lunch at a Thai restaurant, a sentimental choice because the last meal I ate before I went into labor with Noah was Thai. Then we returned home to finish packing for the beach. The kids were both home by 3:30 and a little after 4:00 we hit the road.  As tradition dictates, we stopped at the Taco Bell by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for dinner, and then we ate birthday cake at the outside table at Dairy Queen, with a little soft-serve on the side.

Chances are you’ve never tried to light birthday cake candles by the side of a busy highway on a windy night, but it was a difficulty we failed to anticipate.  We were all shielding the cake with our paper plates, hoping the candles would stay lit long enough for Noah to blow them out, and finally they did.  I think it might be a birthday cake he’ll never forget.

We’ve been using the same numeral candles for Noah’s whole childhood. Some of them are in better shape than others and that morning Beth had melted the edges of the halves of the broken numeral two candle to mend it. We discussed how we’ll have to go visit him at college and bring the candles when it’s time to use the same ones reversed on his twenty-first birthday.  He didn’t seem dismayed by this prospect.

We got to our hotel late and learned that the room was being renovated and was not quite finished.  So there was a sheet tacked up over sliding glass doors that lead out to the balcony instead of curtains and we were lacking some other amenities, such as a second sink.  But the room seemed livable enough and they gave us a $75 discount, so we weren’t about to complain. We also realized in the process of unpacking, that Noah had left his backpack with his sheet music and his homework at home. He said he thought he could practice without the music and fortunately, thanks to GreekFest, he only had homework in one subject (math) so it wasn’t a disaster.

Saturday morning after a diner breakfast, we drove out to a drugstore to get props for the movie and some new bandages for June’s splint (she sprained her wrist almost two weeks ago—more on this later) and then we headed out to Cape Henlopen State Park. Noah had hoped to script the movie before he filmed it, but he’d been so swamped with homework in the weeks leading up to GreekFest, he didn’t have time, and he had to wing it.  It went really well.  I think it might have been close to the experience he wanted from all those mystery birthday parties he hosted (“Up to Eleven,” 5/8/12).  He had a vision and with Beth’s, June’s and my help, he carried it out.  He directed, he and Beth filmed, and we all acted.  Some of our lines he recited to us ahead of time; but mostly he gave us some general outlines and we improvised.

The basic story of the movie is about two kids who are reluctantly visiting the state park because their parents are interested in the WWII watchtowers. (It opens with Beth reading a park brochure in a droning voice.) The kids stumble upon a locked shed with a rusted metal door, and when the padlock falls to the ground (we accomplished this effect by dropping our own padlock), they go inside.  The interior of the small concrete shed expands to the interior of a watchtower (this part of course shot in one of the actual watchtowers). Eerie voices explain that the shed contains the ghost of a watchtower that was never built.  The kids drop pinecones off the top into an arrow pattern to alert their parents, who find and rescue them. Suddenly interested in watchtowers, they are seen in the hotel room researching them on the Internet.  We filmed all the park scenes in the morning and then went out to lunch.

Beth, who was coming down with a bad cold, was wiped out so she napped at the hotel room while I took the kids Mother’s Day shopping. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with reading and percussion practice. We had pizza and gelato at Grotto’s and once June was in bed I had my first extended walk on the beach—I’d had a short jaunt the night before and another one before breakfast.

It was twilight when I left the hotel and as I wandered along the beach and boardwalk the sky darkened to cobalt. The weekend had been exceptionally windy so there were big piles of sea foam on the sand and frequently the wind tore off pieces and sent them spinning up the beach like tumbleweeds.  They are doing some kind of work on one of the jetties, probably something to do with the storm water pipe that empties into the ocean there, but I’m not really sure.  There’s a (presumably) temporary wall made of metal or plastic surrounding the jetty on three sides. At low tide it keeps the sand at the center above water but at high tide the waves crash hard into the side parallel to the beach and sends water jetting high up into the sky. It reminded me of those Japanese paintings of huge ocean waves.

The next morning after we checked out of the hotel, Beth took her Mother’s Day shopping shift while I hung out on the boardwalk. When she and kids returned we ate leftover pizza on with a chaser of vinegary fries. We purchased fudge, chocolate-peanut butter pretzels, and gummy sharks at Candy Kitchen.  Then the kids and I played briefly on the beach. They were so enthralled with the sea foam I wished I’d gotten them onto the beach before it was time to go home, but we’d had a lot to squeeze into a day and a half, and we’ll be back in two months.

So Noah is twelve now, but we are not quite finished celebrating. He has small get-togethers with friends planned (dinner out with the twins and a possible sleepover with Sasha, though we haven’t nailed down a date for that yet).  As I wrote in his birthday card, he’ll be a teenager before we know it. But I like teenagers; otherwise I wouldn’t have had so much fun teaching college freshman for all those years. And if those years are drama-filled, I hope it’s the kind on stage.

Morning, Noon, and Night

Beth travels sporadically for work.  She just got back from a five-day trip to Pittsburgh (Friday morning to Tuesday night) for her union’s annual convention.  It had been ten months since her last business trip, which is probably longer than usual, so I couldn’t complain, especially as it gets easier to parent solo as the kids get older.  Beth was concerned about the trip, however, for one reason.  Getting Noah on the school bus is her responsibility and it’s a much bigger one since he started middle school. He leaves the house a lot earlier than in elementary school.  She wakes him at 5:50 and if he’s ready by 6:35 they walk the mile or so to his school bus stop. Otherwise, they take a Ride-On bus to his stop.  Luckily, three different bus lines that go there stop right in front of our house. In the event that he’s not ready by 7:00, however, Beth has to drive him to school.  Because I don’t drive, we would lack that safety net.  Plus, to put it mildly, I am not a morning person.

Starting about three weeks before the trip, Beth started coaching Noah, pushing him harder to get ready quickly, trying to make being on time second nature.  It worked pretty well. She didn’t have to drive him even once, excepting the day he needed her to transport a bulky item to school.  (FYI: It’s a podium he constructed for a monologue he’s giving as Daedalus, for Greekfest.  It’s made of a milk crate covered with plywood, sprayed with metallic silver paint, covered with moving gears from an old robot kit and bearing the word Daedalus, in ancient Greek characters.)

The Weekend

The weekend Beth was gone was busy but pleasant.  Friday night we ordered pizza and made oatmeal cookies.  Over the next two days, we spent a lot of time outside; we all participated in a creek cleanup, and I worked a lot in the garden, weeding and digging up the beds where will plant flowers, melons, and vegetables. I also took June to an Earth Day celebration at the Co-op where she got a peacock feather painted on her face and to the playground where we waded in the creek (and where I dropped and drowned my phone). We got ice cream from the ice cream truck and when June asked if maple seeds were edible, I checked the Internet and found out they are, so she spent a lot of time gathering maple keys and prying them open to extract the seeds, which I roasted for her. (In case you’re curious, they don’t have much taste, but they make a good vehicle for salt and pepper.)

June’s main regret was that she had to skip gymnastics because it conflicted with the creek cleanup and given the choice between a transportation-challenging activity and one we could walk to (and which would award Noah two of the seventy-five Student Service Learning hours he needs to graduate from high school), I choose the easier option.

Sunday evening I followed Beth’s advice in the “Guide to Noah,” she’d left for me detailing what needed to be ready before he went to bed. Sample quote:

Make sure:

His backpack is packed.

He knows where his shoes, id, phone and SmartTrip are. Do not take his word for this. Make sure you see them too.

Noah went to bed reasonably close to his bedtime and I felt optimistic about the next day.  The first glitch was when I noticed a bag of gym clothes in the bathroom.  I went into his bedroom to ask about them and he said he’d brought those home on Friday and he needed to pack clean ones but he’d do it in the morning.  I said okay, as he was in bed already, and I put a sticky note that said “gym clothes” on the front door.

 Monday Morning:

“Everything was going great,” I told Beth on the phone later.  “We were meeting all the goals.”  (Beth’s instructions had also included a morning timeline.)

“And then?” she said.

Well, it was going great.  I woke him, and made sure he entered and left the bathroom at the appointed times.  He got dressed, packed gym clothes, and ate breakfast while I read first the newspaper and then a story to June, getting up occasionally to check on him. He wasn’t ready at 6:35, but he rarely is, so I was feeling confident just after 6:50 when we needed to go outside to catch the first of three Ride-On buses that arrive between 6:54 and 7:01.

And then for some crazy reason, I asked him, “Is your math homework in your backpack?” He checked. It was not. Noah got a C in math last quarter.  He got an A on almost every assignment he turned in, and I think he did them all, but he frequently forgot to hand in his papers.  This is actually an issue in all his classes, but math seems especially problematic.  We mounted a quick search for the math homework, found it, and were running down the porch steps, him holding his unzipped backpack and me holding his binder, at 6:57 as the second of the three buses whizzed by our house.  I said some words he’s never heard me say before, but I calmed down, reasoning there was still one bus left. It was fine.

And it would have been fine if that bus had ever come.  As it was I put him on one that came at 7:10, with instructions to call me when he got to the school bus stop, hoping against hope his school bus would be late, but at 7:19 he called to say the bus stop was deserted.  By 7:28, he’d come home on another bus.  I could have had him just stay on the bus he took back home because it goes almost to another stop where there’s a Metro bus that goes to his school but he’s never done this particular maneuver and it involved crossing a major artery, with seven lanes of traffic, so instead we all walked to the stop. June was not pleased with this turn of events because she’d been intending to play on the Club Penguin web site before her 8:20 bus.  Noah and I walked briskly, but she fell behind again and again, complaining she was tired, she was cold, wait up!

So we got to the bus stop, waited fifteen minutes, and when Noah got on the bus, I walked June to her school, getting home around 9:00. I’d spent over three hours getting the kids to school. (There was a message from Noah on the answering machine, indicating he’d arrived at school at 8:27. School starts at eight.)

Tuesday Morning:

I was determined to do better the next day.  Monday evening I told Noah, “Tomorrow we’re going to catch that bus!”

“With a net!” he joked.

Well, he did catch the very first of the cluster of three buses.  I sent him outside around 6:45, promising to join him as soon as I’d pulled on a pair of jeans and run a brush through my hair. June protested she wanted breakfast, but I told her I’d be back inside soon.  I was outside by 6:50, on my way out grabbing a box Noah had left behind. (It contained the button cut from a circle of poster board and mounted on three springs with modeling clay. He’d made this for his Daedalus monologue.  The idea is people will come up to him standing on the podium during Greekfest and push the button to get him to start talking. He also has a toga to wear and a pair of poster board wings with craft feathers glued all over them is still in the works.)

I’d had about ten minutes to bask in the triumph of having gotten Noah on the bus when I noticed his lunch box on the kitchen counter and my heart sank. I’d have to take it to school; there was no other option. He has band practice after school thee days a week and doesn’t get home until 4:30. Furthermore, he prides himself on never having eaten school lunch in his six and three quarters years of public school education, and I knew he’d skip lunch rather than break his streak.  I briefly considered walking June to school again so I could get an earlier start than if we waited for her bus, but she was adamant that she didn’t want to skip her computer time again, so we stayed put.  One of the parents at her bus stop offered to drive me part of the way to Noah’s school (until the point where our paths diverged) so I only had to take one bus instead of two, and I delivered his lunch to the main office at 8:45.

That evening, against my advice that she stay an extra night (which she thought was a joke but wasn’t), Beth left Pittsburgh after a full day of work and drove back to Maryland, arriving home well after our bedtime, for the express purpose of waking up early, getting Noah on the bus, and then going grocery shopping on her day off. We’re all glad to have her back and of course we missed her morning, noon, and night, but maybe just a little more in the mornings.


At dinner a couple weeks ago, on the last night of the second quarter, I observed that on that very day, Noah had reached the mid-point of his public education. Six and a half years down, six and half years to go.  He seemed amused and pleased by this observation.

Then the other day, while I was engaged in the mundane task of sweeping the hall floor, I had a similar realization. Noah is eleven years and nine months old.  In eleven years and nine months, June will be gone, two months into her first year of college.  That means around a month ago we passed the midpoint of our parenting-kids-at-home years.  There’s still a lot we haven’t experienced—like parenting teens, but we’ll get there soon and we’ve had our babies and toddlers and kids with us for longer already than they will be staying.  This made me feel alarmed and then melancholy. How could this adventure be half over already?

But the middle is a good place to be.  Both kids brought home great report cards last week.  Even though he continues to have trouble remembering to turn in his homework Noah still earned all As and Bs, and June’s marks were good, too.  Her report card came with a notation that she’s reading at a second grade level, which was about what I would have guessed.  Both kids are happy and engaged in school and in their extracurricular activities.

June’s first basketball game was Saturday. Her coach moved the team to a different league this season, the county league instead of the town one, so they could play other all-girl teams. While spirited, full of heart and grit, and just plain adorable, the Purple Pandas finished their season 0 and 8 last winter, playing co-ed (mostly male) teams.  This year they are the Red Pandas (which as Beth points out is a real animal).  The season is structured differently with a month of twice-weekly practices before games start, and a short, four-game season in February.

I’d been to a few of the practices so I knew the Pandas were much improved over last year.  About two thirds of the players from last year’s team are back and the new girls have integrated into the team well.  Several of the Pandas played on the June’s soccer team last fall so they’ve developed a good esprit de corps. They understand how to look for passing and scoring opportunities and exploit them and they’re demonstrating better basic skills. They are no longer afraid to knock the ball away from another player and no longer shocked and hurt when an opposing player grabs it from them. A lot more of them can easily make a basket and June has even made a few, though never at a practice I attended so I have yet to see it.

Saturday morning June woke excited for the game.  She went out into the driveway to practice dribbling right after breakfast.  She drank a glass of water when I mentioned her coach recommended they hydrate throughout the day.  After lunch we drove out to the game, which was being held in the gym of an elementary school about a half an hour away.

Spirits were high among the Pandas. They were wiggly and full of energy as they lined up to practice shooting baskets and at one point before the game started they all broke out into the Mexican Hat Dance. Maggie, the coach’s daughter and a classmate of June’s since nursery school, had brought an American Girl Doll dressed in a cheerleader’s outfit to cheer for her. (Maggie’s mom was in charge of the doll during the game.)

There were enough players on both teams to split them in half and run two games simultaneously. June’s best friend Megan, a new Panda, was in June’s game and early on, she scored the first basket.  I imagine that was satisfying, especially as her out-of-town grandmother was there to watch.  I won’t give a play- by-play, but overall I was impressed at how well the Pandas performed. It was the first game I ever watched in which they looked better than the other team.  They passed to each other and set up shots more skillfully, and they won, or at least I think I did.  By my count the score was 6-4, though another parent thought it was 6-6, and there’s no official scorekeeping so there was no way to know for sure. At the end of the game, however, Megan came off the court screaming, “We won! We won!” so I guess she agreed with my scorekeeping.

There was no uncertainty on the other side of the gym. Over there the Pandas were dominating. Almost every time I glanced at the other game Sally had the ball and I saw it sail through the net a couple times.  I heard the score was 14-4 at halftime.

Immediately after the game June said it was fun and she seemed pleased to have won, but in the car on the way home, she was mulling things over and was dissatisfied with her own playing. She hadn’t touched the ball the whole game, she said. A few times a teammate tried to pass to her but she never caught the ball. Beth reminded her she’d done some good defensive work, getting in opposing players’ way and preventing them from catching the ball, and then she discussed ways a smaller player like June might use a move like a fake to get back into the action when bigger girls (which in June’s case is all of them) were in her way.

Later that afternoon, June had a play date with Malachi, a kindergarten classmate who played in the Takoma basketball league last winter.  His team bested the Pandas twice last winter, once by at least twenty points, I think.  This year he’s playing in a different league as well and he’d also had a game earlier in the day. When his mom dropped him off and all the adults were asking the kids if they had fun at their games, Malachi got right to the point.

“Did you win?” he said.

“Yeah,” June said. And then they picked up a rubber ball and started bouncing it back and forth to each other in the living room. Later I heard them swapping basketball tips.

Tuesday there was another big event, Noah’s Honors Band concert.  We had a hard time deciding whether to let him join this band because he’s often overwhelmed with homework and his practice for regular band. Plus, the weekday evening practices at a school a half hour away seemed as if they could be difficult logistically.  But Noah wanted to do it and it only lasted six weeks, so we said yes. As we expected, Tuesdays were completely impossible. I think the only time Noah didn’t go to bed well after his bedtime with uncompleted homework was on a day there was practice, but no school.  Nonetheless, he seemed to enjoy it and there was the bonus of time spent carpooling with Sasha, so it was worth it.

The boys needed to be at the concert forty-five minutes early so Sasha’s mom took them and then we swung by his house and got his dad so only one of four adults had to wait that long. In the car, Sasha’s dad said Sasha was worried they weren’t ready. Noah had expressed similar sentiments after the second to last practice. They only had five practices, spread out over one month, unlike regular band, which meets three times a week after school for months before there’s a concert.  If things were a little rough around the edges, it would be no wonder.

We arrived while the orchestra was on stage rehearsing.  I scanned it for kids I knew and I saw a girl who attended the Purple School in Noah’s class playing first cello, and a girl from his second elementary school playing violin. I recognized her because she has the quirk of always wears something with a zebra pattern. It was a hair band that day. When you count Sasha, who attended Noah’s first elementary school and plays clarinet and a girl from his middle school on saxophone that’s someone from every school he’s ever attended, and there were probably more I couldn’t see.

The director of instrumental music for the county gave some opening remarks in which we were urged to lobby for more music staffing in the elementary schools and soon the orchestra was playing.  Up to last night I’d never heard an all-string version of “We Will Rock You,” but now I have.  I am not a musician and possibly not the best judge, but in my experience of elementary and middle school concerts, I notice differences in skill levels most in the strings sections and I have to say, the orchestra sounded good.

The band was great, too. I caught my best glimpse of Noah as they filed onto the stage.  Percussion is always in the back so I often can’t see Noah at all during his concerts.  This time toward the end, I realized if I craned my neck a certain way and peered underneath a music stand two flutists were sharing I could see his hair, his forehead and his drumsticks in motion.  So that was kind of gratifying, but I did miss seeing him in action for most of the concert.  He was playing a lot of different instruments—cowbell, spoons, sticks, suspended cymbals, triangle, wind chimes, and xylophone. It would have been nice to know what sounds he was making at any given time.  (I even had him tell me ahead of time what he was doing in each song and then promptly forgot.).  But that complaint aside, it was a really impressive concert.  The kids worked hard and it showed.

Percussionists are always the last to leave the building after a concert because they have a lot of work carrying all the drums and other instruments off the stage and into the band room.  While we waited, we chatted with Sasha and his parents about band camp at the University of Maryland. Sasha went last year, loved it and is planning to go again.

In the car on the way home Noah said the concert was fun, but he was glad Honors Band was over. I will be happy to have more manageable Tuesday evenings (and for him not to be staying up late trying to finish his late assignments the rest of the week as he did tonight), but I’m also happy he did it.  I love to watch my kids play, whether it’s basketball, drums or anything else they try.  I’m grateful to have another eleven and half years at the sidelines and in the audience.

Take the Cannoli

Columbus Day is a unique day in the school calendar because Beth has it off, but the kids don’t. Because a lot of families are in this position, our county’s public schools have Open Houses on this day. Depending on the school, you can come for part or even all of your child’s school day and watch it in action.  I’ve always enjoyed this, as well as the opportunity to steal a little too-rare time alone with Beth.

After considering various ways of configuring the day, we decided to attend two of Noah’s classes—Media because it’s his favorite, and science because it’s immediately before Media—then go out to lunch and visit June’s afternoon class, which is the English half of her day. That way Beth could understand what people were saying.  Plus, I’m already signed up to volunteer in June’s Spanish class later this fall, so I’ll get a chance to be a fly on the wall there some other time.

We also scheduled June’s lemonade and hot cider stand for Monday afternoon, thinking that many working parents who wouldn’t be able to bring their kids on other days could do it this day. Like June’s last out–of-season lemonade stand (“Spring Break Trilogy: Part 1,” 4/18/11), this one was a reward.  Ever since we finally took June’s pacifier away last spring, she has not slept as well as she used to (which was never very well, as long-time readers know).  I was hoping to reduce post-bedtime out-of-bed wandering, middle-of-the-night wakeups and early morning intrusions into our room to roughly the level where they were six months ago.  I promised she could have a lemonade stand if she could stay in bed all night and stay out of our room and quiet (this part is key) until 6:30 on weekdays and 7:00 on weekends for at least 80% of the days in any given month.

Well, September was the month it finally happened.  The depressing thing is the main reason she met the benchmark is that I lowered the bar for what counts as noise in the morning. Once middle school started and Noah was getting up at 5:45 on schooldays, turning on lights and opening and closing doors, it hardly seemed to matter whether or not June was singing songs from Annie in her room at 6:15. I did draw the line at screaming arguments about bathroom access right outside my bedroom door, even if they did considerately close my door before commencing to scream. (They think perhaps it’s soundproof?)  So, I didn’t feel as celebratory as I might have otherwise when I counted the stickers on the calendar and found there were twenty-four, but a promise is a promise.  I asked her if she’d rather have a cider stand, since it is cider season, but in June’s mind a lemonade stand is a legitimate business enterprise and a cider stand is just some bizarre idea her mother had.  So we compromised. It would be a lemonade and hot cider stand.

To advertise the dual beverage stand, I sent a message to the listserv for June’s preschool class, which is still relatively active, and to the listserv for her old basketball team, I posted it as an event on Facebook and I sent out email to pretty much anyone I could think of who’d invited June to a birthday party or play date in the past year or so who wouldn’t be covered in the other categories.  I started my advertising blitz the Wednesday before Columbus Day and by Saturday I was getting nervous because I’d had a few people contact me to say they couldn’t come (because of parents who didn’t have the day off, a child’s yoga class, a family trip out of town, etc.). A couple other people said they might come, but not a single person had said he or she would definitely be there.  I wondered if this was going to be a huge flop.  I told myself we’d worried about the same thing last time, when she had a lemonade and hot tea stand on a cold, rainy April afternoon and it turned out fine.

Monday morning at the school bus stop, I spread the word about the stand to any parents I hadn’t already buttonholed the week before.  When June got on the bus I told her I’d see her in her afternoon class, and Beth and I headed over to Noah’s school to observe his second and third period classes.

They were doing a lab about motion and force in his science class.  The experiment consisted of rolling marbles down a chute and into a paper cup and measuring how far the paper cup moved.  Half the class was using mass as a variable so they had different-sized marbles. The other half was using acceleration as a variable so they arranged the chute at different angles.  The teacher said they would discuss the results of the experiment on Tuesday and dismissed the class.

We’d intended to walk with Noah, but he sped ahead of us.  I’m not sure why.  Did he not want to be seen in the halls with his mothers? Was it a game? (He kept looking over his shoulder at us and grinning.) Was he trying to impress upon us how little time he has to get from class to class, or was he genuinely hurrying so as not to be late for class? Who knows?

Next we went to an inter-period session called PBIS (Positive Behavior Incentive System) he has on Mondays between Science and Media. All the other days of the week it consists of reading for twenty-three minutes (which I am all for) but apparently on Mondays they focus on some positive behavior or attitude they want to encourage.  Today it was disability awareness, which again, I support, but it was really poorly done.  The kids were disengaged and the teacher didn’t do much to engage them but just plowed ahead with a presentation that mainly consisted of naming historical figures and celebrities with various disabilities.  For the most part the kids didn’t even recognize the names and the teacher let a comment about having a disability meaning you were “mental or retarded” slide.  Wadded up papers and rubber bands flew through the air.  Noah sat near the front and attended to the screen, though, so it’s possible he may have gleaned some interesting tidbit he’ll remember from the presentation.  He’s good at picking up information under less than ideal circumstances.

It was a relief to go to Media.  They are doing some interesting work in this class. Right now he’s working on digital children’s book, based on a story YaYa told him this summer. (He has to tell the same story in various formats. He’d already done an oral presentation on it.)  I’d hoped to see them working on a hands-on project like this, but they were starting a unit on newspapers and they watched a video on what reporters, editors, graphics people and printers do.  It was a bit out of date (1999) so the teacher kept stopping the video to explain how technology has changed at newspapers since the video was made. As the daughter of newspaper editor, I did find it interesting.  At the end of class, we said goodbye to Noah and left.

Beth and I had lunch out at Roscoe’s (I got beet and goat cheese crostini and a salad with argula, apples, gorgonzola and candied walnuts) followed by coffee and pastries at Takoma Bistro before it was time to go to June’s afternoon class.

June did not run away from us.  She waved and smiled and came over for kisses and hugs.  Perhaps this is the difference between first grade and sixth.  We directed her back to her work.  Over the course of about an hour, she worked with the teacher and her reading group, writing a summary of a story they’d read and then she went back to her table and did a huge pile of language arts worksheets.  Once she’d finished, she selected a book to read.  We told her goodbye and went home.

Overall, I felt the instruction we witnessed (with the exception of Taking Care of Business) was competent but not inspired.  I get the sense this was probably representative of June’s day, but possibly not so much of Noah’s. Having so many different teachers it’s hard to get a representative look in such a small slice of time. I also know his Media class is frequently more innovative than what we saw.  As I mentioned it’s his favorite class, and the only one in which he currently has an A.  The transition to middle school’s been bumpy for Noah.  He keeps forgetting to turn in his homework, work he completes diligently every night, and it’s hurting his grade in most of his classes, not to mention driving Beth and me insane.

Once home, I resisted the temptation to do any preparation for the stand before June got off the bus because I knew she’d be full of nervous energy and it would be better to let her work it off making lemonade and setting up the table on the porch with a tablecloth, paper cups, mugs for cider, a little papier mâché dish for her profits and her butterfly bank to make change.  I filled a big pot with cider and set it to simmer on the stove with two cinnamon sticks. The very last thing to do was to tape her sign to the gate and by 3:28, two minutes ahead of our advertised start time, we were ready for business. It was overcast and about fifty degrees.  June shivered in her seat and dashed inside for a cardigan.

Beth had gone to pick up some cannoli for dessert (we had a coupon for a half-dozen free mini-cannoli from Vaccaro’s) and she’d picked up Noah along the way.  Shortly after the stand officially opened they came home and were June’s first customers.  Around 3:40, June’s classmate Will and his mother and younger brother arrived.  The boys had two cups of lemonade each and his mom and I discussed having Will come over for a play date.  June’s recently taken a shine to him.

There was a bit of a lull, and then June’s best friend Megan and her parents and younger sister were coming down the sidewalk, followed by Lesley, and June’s old preschool classmate Merichel and her father, younger brother and a school friend of Merichel’s.  We haven’t seen Merichel’s family in ages, so that was nice. Because Megan’s younger sister and Merichel’s younger brother are in the Tracks and Leaves classes at the Purple School, Lesley found herself surrounded not only by former students but also by current ones.  Megan’s sister, who’s new to the school, was shocked to see Lesley.  “Teacher!” she exclaimed, as if surprised Lesley even existed outside the classroom.  We were quite busy for a while there pouring cider and lemonade, cleaning up spilled lemonade and making change. Both Jeff (Merichel’s dad) and I were trying to get our daughters engaged in the mathematical aspect of the transactions. A lot of people had seconds so I needed to heat more cider and make another pitcher of lemonade.

By 4:20, all the customers had left. June and I stayed in our positions until 4:30, but that was the end of it.  The change June brought to the table got mixed with the money people paid so we couldn’t tell exactly how much she made, but it was at least $7.  (I think we must have charged more than last time.)  Anyway, June was well satisfied with the whole experience.

For dinner I made a brandy-laced vegetarian chicken soup, ladled over garlic bread and with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top because I read on the Internet it was a favorite of Christopher Columbus and if it’s on the Internet it must be true, right? Anyway, the kids both ate it, much to my surprise.  And for dessert we had the cannoli, because Christoper Columbus had to have liked cannoli. That goes without saying.

It wasn’t a perfect day.  I’ve seen better teaching at other Open Houses, and it was really dreary day for a lemonade stand.  Also, I was feeling sad, for private reasons.  But we did get a glimpse into the children’s school lives, another against-the-odds lemonade stand success, a tasty meal out and another at home.  Some days you just have to take the cannoli.

My Wayward Son

Carry on, my wayward son
There’ll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don’t you cry no more

From “Carry On, My Wayward Son” by Kerry Livgreen

The first week of middle school is behind us.  I had hoped they would ease the sixth-graders into homework gradually but by the second day of school Noah had a lot of work to do and by the third day, he had six assignments in five different classes.  The reason he had two assignments in one of his English classes (he’s taking two) was because he had to rewrite one of his summer homework essays.  It was the one in which he had to pick a song that reminded him of a character in Watership Down and explain the connections.

This assignment was actually really hard for Noah because he’s not familiar with a lot of popular music.  We rarely listen to music on the radio, just NPR, and when I do listen to music most often it’s when the kids are out of the house and I’m cleaning or working. Noah has a collection of CDs but it’s mostly children’s music, which he’s slowly outgrowing.

To tackle the assignment, first he identified some themes from the novel and searched the Internet for lists of songs on those themes but this strategy didn’t prove fruitful.  I suggested he consider some music he knew really well to see if any connections popped out at him.  He likes a local roots rock band, the Grandsons he once heard perform at the Takoma Park Folk Festival and he plays their CD a lot, and he also likes the soundtrack from Cars. He scrolled through the lists of songs on those CDs on iTunes, but again, no dice.

Finally I took pity on him and suggested the song that immediately sprang to my mind when I read the assignment.  “Listen to this,” I suggested, and I played Kansas’s “Carry On, My Wayward Son.”  I had Hazel in mind because like all the rabbits he has to carry on through quite a lot, but at the end of the novel through his leadership, cunning and diplomacy, there’s peace between the warring rabbit warrens.  As we listened to the song, though, we both noticed that the line “I hear the voices when I’m dreaming” could just as easily apply to Fiver, the prophet of the group.  Noah was sold.  He wrote the essay but he turned down my offer to read it. I had a feeling that meant it was short, but I let it slide.  It was his homework after all.

The essay was rather minimalist as it turned out, and on Wednesday he brought in home with instructions to expand it, which would have been fine, except that night he also had to read in The Giver and The Hobbit, do a pre-algebra worksheet and a geography worksheet and write a short script for a video for his media class. So, as I said, there was no easing in, no honeymoon period.

Friday at 3:30 I turned on the television so June could watch Maya and Miguel and Arthur, her normal after-school cartoons. Noah was due home in five or ten minutes and I was looking forward to seeing him and having a more relaxed afternoon and evening.  When he was in fourth grade and adjusting to the heavier workload at his new elementary school we instituted a no-homework-on-Fridays policy no matter how much he had to do over the weekend.  I usually didn’t even ask about his homework until Saturday morning.  I thought he might want to watch television with June but if he didn’t I thought it would be a good time to read from the Artemis Fowl series we started over the summer.  We were at the end of book 4, The Opal Deception and we had book 5, The Lost Colony already checked out of the library and waiting.

Five minutes after I switched on the television, Beth called from work.  Noah had texted her on his new phone, saying he thought he might be on the wrong bus, as he didn’t remember the route taking so long.  She called him and by googling the name of the elementary school where the bus stopped found out he was in Potomac, which is at the north end of the county (or upcounty as we say here in Maryland), with no convenient public transportation options for me.  So, after a flurry of phone calls between Noah and Beth and Beth and me, Beth had to leave work at 3:45, get the car, which was parked in Silver Spring and drive out to Potomac. Squeezing in a couple quick errands on the way home, they got home a little after six.

We ate dinner, frozen pizza June and I had enhanced with broccoli, olives and home-grown tomatoes and basil. We were all happy and relieved to be re-united until Noah went out to the car to get his binder.  He and June had been discussing the various incentive systems in their new grades.  In addition to tiger paws, June can collect “chance cards” to select a prize from the mystery box—this week she traded in seven cards for a pencil with butterflies on it—and coupons for privileges like sitting at the teacher’s desk or extra play time. Noah’s school distributes something called eagle wings that can be used to attend school sporting events or to go to the head of lines.  He got three for completing his summer reading log and June wanted to see them.

Soon after Noah came back with the bad news. His binder was not in the car. He’d had it out to do homework during his long wait for Beth and it looked likely he’d left it there. So Beth drove out to Potomac for the second time that day. We weren’t at all sure she’d find it and Noah was getting anxious about losing all his school papers, more anxious than he’d been when he was lost actually.  Maybe some leftover stress was spilling over into this new worry.  I read to him to keep his mind off it and twenty-five minutes after she left, Beth called with the news that she had the binder.  She’d saved the day not once but twice.  It was almost eight when she got home from her suburban odyssey.

We spent part of Labor Day weekend at my mother and stepfather’s house, along with my cousin Emily and her son Josiah.  We ordered Chinese for dinner on Saturday and Noah’s fortune said, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.”

“I got some experience yesterday,” he commented.

We all hoping, of course, that he’s gotten this particular experience out of the way early in the school year and that he won’t have to repeat it. But my wayward son being who he is, it’s at least good to know that modern communications technology will allow us to find him wherever he wanders.

Not the Same Thing at All

“I’m awesome,” Noah commented at 7:20 in the morning a week before school started.  He was in the kitchen, having successfully completed his first practice-getting-ready-for-school-in-forty-five minutes. Noah’s always been an early riser and he didn’t have to leave for school until 8:20 in elementary school, so he generally had hours to get ready.  He liked to start his day in a leisurely fashion, reading articles from Car and Driver behind a closed door in the bathroom, often while June pleaded for her turn.  But now that he needs to catch a 7:15 bus that’s at a stop a half-hour walk from our house, he needs to be out the door more than an hour and a half earlier than last year.

I could rant here about how they make kids get up earlier just as they are starting to sleep later (he still wakes before seven most mornings, but there were a few times this summer he surprised me by sleeping until eight or so.) Chances are you’ve heard this rant from a parent of a middle or high school student recently, though, so to save time, can you just replay the highlights in your head? Thanks!

As Noah had camp the week before school started, Beth had the idea that he should try to be ready in forty-five minutes every day, no matter when he woke.  That way we’d know if waking him up at six o’clock was going to work. The idea of waking him at any time is anathema to me, after eleven years and four months of trying to get first one and then the other kid to sleep longer. But there you have it.  For most of the week, the plan was for him to note what time he got up and get ready in forty-five minutes, rather than getting up any earlier than necessary.

He was ready or very close to it in forty-five minutes every day from Monday to Wednesday, and while he never woke before six, he wasn’t sleeping much later than that. The countdown always started between 6:05 and 6:35.

Thursday he had to try it in real time, in other words, at or before six a.m. because he had to attend his second middle school orientation in as many weeks and they ran school buses on the normal schedule for this one. Just to be safe Noah decided he wanted Beth wake him at 5:50, and she set her alarm for 5:45.  The commotion woke June, or maybe she was up already, but by 5:55, the kids were already arguing.  Even so, Noah was ready by 6:25 and he and Beth left the house at 6:35, a good ten minutes early. Beth waited with him until he boarded the bus and then she posted on Facebook, “The bus to middle school looks remarkably like the bus to elementary school, but it is not the same thing at all, is it?”

June and I went to Spanish Circle Time at the library, came home, ate lunch and waited for Noah’s return so we could take him to camp.  He got home around 12:20, after an abbreviated day in which he ran through his schedule and met all his teachers.  He had nothing to say to my questions about what class seemed like it would be the most fun, the hardest, etc. but that didn’t surprise me.  Open-ended questions like that tend to stump him.  Often you need to wait for him to process an experience and tell you about it later on his own. (I’m not much different myself, which is why you’ll learn a lot more about me reading here than if you were to surprise me by calling on the phone.)  We did learn he doesn’t have any classes with his friend Maura, who has been in at least one class with him every year since kindergarten, first at one elementary school and then at another.  (They also share a birthday.)  We were sorry to hear the streak is over.

Friday the kids both slept past seven, perhaps needing to recover from their early start the previous day. Because June’s school was holding its Open House in the early afternoon and Noah had a drama camp performance in the late afternoon, Beth decided to work at home in the morning and take the afternoon off.  June had a play date in the morning and when it was time to go to the Open House, we took Keller with us to school, where her mom met us and we split up to meet our kids’ teachers.

In the morning June has Señorita M, who was Noah’s first grade Spanish teacher, and who seemed happy to meet June.  In the afternoon she has Ms. R, who is new to us. In each classroom we studied the class lists posted outside the door and June encountered the names of many of her old friends. She encountered the friends, too, and there was much hugging and excited chatter.  June’s happy to have preschool and basketball friends Maggie and Zoë in class this year but sad that her “best best best friend” Megan is not in either of her classes.

Later in the afternoon we attended our fourth and final drama camp performance of the summer.  Noah did a clowning/mime routine about picking a stubborn flower.  Leaving the familiar theater for the last time until next year made it seem as if summer was really drawing to a close.

All signs did seem to be pointing that way: we’d already bought school supplies and the kids had new haircuts and new sneakers. (We needed to exchange Noah’s because the boys’ size sixes we ordered to replace his fives were, amazingly, too small.  We exchanged them for men’s size six and a half.  Men’s!)

By the weekend before school started, the kids’ summer homework was all but finished. They both completed their math packets some time in July, and in August Noah had written some short essays on his assigned summer reading, plus he had to write a poem, pick a song that reminded him of a character in Watership Down and design a CD cover with song titles for his own fictitious album. June had written a paragraph but she still needed to fill in her summer reading log with the twelve chapter books I’d read to her or she’d read on her own. June was still working on the log on Saturday and Noah didn’t finish illustrating his poem until Sunday but we still had time that last weekend for cell-phone shopping (Noah’s first), a potluck end-of-summer pool party at Sasha’s and a final play date with the twins (and Sasha, who dropped by to return our cheese boards, which we’d left at the party, and then stayed so he could help Noah and Richard and David build a wall of blocks and smash it with a remote control robot).

Sunday evening we went out for ice cream, a last-night-of-summer-break tradition.  As we ate Noah pointed out we had not gone to the movies this summer (I did take June and two of her friends to see Kit Kitteredge at the $1 movies one morning but he had not come with us). Beth and I had been intending to take Noah to a movie but we never did.  We could still do it, I pointed out.  “Yeah, he’s not dead,” Beth agreed. Noah grumbled about probably having so much homework he couldn’t do anything so it would be like being dead.

In the car on the way home, Beth said, “Goodbye, summer!”

‘You were fun, fun, fun!” June chimed in.

“You were boring, boring, boring.”  The pre-adolescent opined. June said he shouldn’t complain about summer and school. She announced a couple weeks ago without my asking her, “I’m ready for first grade!”  Noah’s been less spontaneously enthusiastic but I think that may come with the territory. When I’m not wondering how on earth I ended up with a son old enough to be in middle school (middle school, people!) or wondering who will keep track of him when he has no one main teacher, I’m excited about the humanities program.  I think it will provide him with the challenge and stimulation he needs.  And I think he’s going to meet some wonderfully smart and quirky kids, as he did in the gifted magnet center he attended the past two years.

It was a strange first-day-of-school morning because Beth and Noah were out the door before June was out of bed and I only scrambled out in time to watch from the window as Beth and Noah disappeared down the sidewalk. (I had given Noah a good luck hug in the bathroom ten minutes earlier.) Instead of the normal, noisy scramble of getting two kids ready at once, June and I were alone in the house from 6:45 until 8:20. It felt unnaturally quiet and calm.

The day zipped by and before I knew it the kids were home. They had the following conversation:

June: How was your first day of school?
Noah: Good. How was yours?
June: Good.

I didn’t get much more than that out of Noah, but June said the day seemed to go really quickly, “like six minutes” and they had two fire drills (one in each class) and both teachers read a story (one about a frog who dreamed he went to school in his underwear) and she played with blocks and when Ms. R went over the class rules she said the most important one was “Have fun.” Noah did mention that he couldn’t get his locker open so he had to bring everything home and that his gym teacher gave a Power Point presentation, which makes me think gym has changed a lot since I was in middle school.

In some ways the first day of school is always the same.  The picture at the gate, the mix of excitement and reluctance, a tinge of melancholy at the end of summer, the curiosity about what lies ahead, and the promise of a whole new year spread out before us.  But of course some years are different than others, especially when one of the kids is changing schools, taking a bigger leap.  June took one last year, now it’s Noah’s turn. Some years that first step onto the school bus seems like the same old thing, but some years it’s not the same thing at all.

It’s Elementary

This was the only year we’ll ever have two kids in elementary school at the same time and it’s been a good year for both kids.  June loved kindergarten from the beginning to the end.  She was serious about her work and she learned a lot, especially linguistically.  In August she didn’t know more than a few dozen words of Spanish and couldn’t read and now she speaks Spanish easily if not exactly grammatically, and she reads in English and Spanish. Noah’s teacher kept him engaged and busy, too, but the workload did not seem quite as overwhelming as it did when he entered the Highly Gifted Center in the fourth grade.  I’m sad for him to leave his school, which has been a perfect academic and social environment for him, but I’ve heard such wonderful things about the humanities magnet middle school he’ll attend next year that I can honestly say I’m excited for him to start sixth grade next year.

State Fair

In some ways it seems like the school year has been ending for weeks and weeks.  In late April the fifth grade had its annual State Fair event, which is the culmination of several months of research into states of each student’s choice.  Noah chose West Virginia and wrote an illustrated a booklet about the state and wrote and recorded a ten-minute audio tour of landmarks and tourist attractions.  He made a nearly life-size poster of a famous West Virginian (he chose Brad Paisley) and constructed a Monopoly board with all the properties being places in the state and the cards relating to West Virginia trivia. He and his partner from another class made a diorama of the Golden Delicious Apple Festival and painted t-shirts in WVU’s colors of gold and blue.

At the Fair, students displayed their work at tables in classrooms all over the school, grouped by geographic area. Noah and his partner served apples and cornbread (representative foods from the state) and ran games.  Noah supervised as visitors to the booth played a simplified version of the Monopoly game.  Sadly, Beth and I missed hearing the whole fifth grade sing “Fifty Nifty United States” and sampling a slice of the cake they made in the shape of the United States because we needed to go home and meet June’s bus.

Band Concert

Noah’s last band concert was about a month later.  I didn’t expect to be as moved by it as I was. In fact, early on I made a snarky comment to Beth about that being the most mournful version of “Ode to Joy” I’d ever heard and I was thinking somewhat cynically about how all the pieces got the same level of enthusiastic applause whether they were beautifully played or works-in-progress.  And then the nervous-looking fourth grade trombonist brought down the house with her solo and I was glad to be proven wrong.

Noah played the cymbals, triangle, snare drum and bass drum in different numbers and when the advanced band played “Rock Around the Clock” they sounded so good, so polished that I almost cried.  Noah wanted to go to the grocery store to get a cake to celebrate afterward and I agreed, despite the fact that it would keep him up past his bedtime, because you only have your last elementary school band concert once.

Philadelphia Trip

The last week of May, as a culmination of their American history unit, the fifth grade went to Philadelphia. They visited the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, The Betsy Ross House and Congress Hall before switching from history to science and visiting the Franklin Institute. I can’t tell you much more than that about it.  Noah did not provide a lot of detail, though I found out a lot about the rest stop dinner he ate.  He seemed quite pleased to be able to select and purchase his own meal—he got pasta, garlic knots, salad and Hi-C. He was put out they were not supposed to get dessert and even more put out that at least one of his classmates did anyway.

My stepfather was supposed to meet Noah’s class and help chaperone the trip but there was some mix-up in the meeting place and they never connected with each other.  Poor Jim even followed their itinerary for a couple hours trying to find them but he never did.

Poet’s Tea

On Thursday, Noah’s class held a “Poet’s Tea.”  Tea was served, along with cookies, fruit and other treats, but the big draw was the poetry. Each student recited a poem he or she had selected.  A few chose their own compositions.  Noah’s poem was Jack Prelutsky’s “THE DETESTED RADISHARK,” which comes from a book called Scranimals.  All the poems in it are about imaginary animal-vegetable hybrids. Noah has loved this book for years. The radishark is part radish, part shark. Rather than recite the poem, he sang it.  (He has a recording of the author singing the whole book, which is how he learned the tune.)  He sang without a copy of the text, which made me nervous because most kids had their poems in front of them, but he only stumbled for the lyrics once that I noticed (he says it was twice) and he really put his heart into it. Afterward I was swamped with parents telling me how marvelous he was, what a confident and animated performer.  I had to agree, demurely, of course.

After the individual performances came the group ones.  The class recited and acted out eight poems, sometime in unison and sometimes taking turns. They were dressed as honeybees and beetles for two of them; they acted out “Casey at the Bat” and its sequel poem “Casey’s Revenge” during which Casey hit a wiffle ball into the audience and one actor slew the Jabberwocky with an aluminum foil sword.  During “The Walrus and the Carpenter” Noah played one of the oysters that wouldn’t leave the ocean and after the others were eaten he held up a sign that said, “I told you so!” It was great fun.

On the playground afterwards parents exclaimed about how sad it was to leave this wonderful school, and we found out where each other’s children were going to middle school. Noah came over to show me how he and Richard had scooped out the middles of five double-stuff Oreos and inserted them in between two halves of one of the cookies to make an “Oreo times ten.” And then Noah ate it, because gifted or not, he’s still an eleven-year-old boy.

Kindergarten Class Party

Of course, June had end-of-school events as well but nothing quite so elaborate. Her class sang “Mi escuelita” and “De colores” at her school’s International Festival, which I missed because I couldn’t find out exactly when they were performing until it was too late.  Luckily, they sang “De colores” again at the class party, which was held on Friday.

First they introduced themselves individually and said what they liked best about school. “Me gusta dibujar” and “Me gusta leer” (“I like to draw” and “I like to read”) were popular answers.  A few children said they liked “mi maestra” (“my teacher”).  June said she liked “hacer mi trabajo” (“to do my work”). That is what she likes about school, I think, the sense that she’s doing work, something serious and purposeful.

After refreshments, they sang “De colores” and a song about the days of the week, and one that seemed to be about vowel sounds and “El barquito chiquitito” (a special favorite of mine—see “Y Aquel barquito navegó” 10/7/11, if you want to know why). They did a dance, too, that featured a lot of twirling.  It was all predictably cute.  Afterwards June said, “What a great celebration” in the tone she uses when she’s highly satisfied with something. When class let out, I let her stay on the playground to play with her friends, many of whom were wearing the paper crowns they’d made that day in art class.

Odds and Ends

In between all this, both kids’ schools had a field day. Noah’s school had a carnival and June’s would have but it was cancelled by thunderstorms.  Noah almost qualified for the fifth-grade spelling bee. Each class sent two contestants and he came in third in his homeroom competition. Noah had his last percussion lesson of the year and June had her last after-school science class.  And then, the year was over, all except the last little stub of a week, Monday and a half-day Tuesday.


Fifth-grade promotion was Monday evening. The ceremony was held in the local high school auditorium.  I’ve never been to a fifth-grade promotion, as my last elementary school didn’t have one, or at least if it did, I don’t remember it. Nonetheless, it was like any other graduation you’ve attended.  There were speeches and awards and a long line of graduates crossing the stage.  People were asked to hold their applause until the end and didn’t.

There were some nice, original touches however.  One student from each of the six classes was chosen to read an essay about a memorable moment at school.  All the essays were good, but even if I hadn’t known which class was which, it would have been obvious which two students were representing the gifted classes.  Their essays—one about the last band concert and one about listening to Ms. W (Noah’s teacher) read a chapter or two of a novel aloud every school day—were skillfully written and full of rich, evocative detail.  The entire fifth grade sang a song called “Child of Tomorrow” and the teachers recited a poem called “Ode to Fifth-Graders.” It was very sweet.

The students all received their certificates and a red or white carnation.  They were dismissed before the parents and sent to wait for us in the lobby.  When we found Noah he told us he’d already lost his certificate before we’d even had a chance to see it. He looked around for it but couldn’t find it until we stopped to take his picture with Ms. W and she had it.  It was a bit worse for the wear, crumpled and torn on one side.  His carnation stem was broken, too.  But nevertheless he was a sixth-grader.  As his certificate says, he “merits promotion.”

Goodbye, School

The last day of school was a half-day.  It was a cool, rainy day and I was sorely tempted to spend my morning curled up in the sky chair on the porch reading Pym, which I got for my birthday last month and have just started. But I worked on a revision of a marketing piece about an arthritis supplement instead. June came home around 12:40 with a perfect report card.  She’s “proficient” in all seventy categories the teacher had to consider.  On her last report card back in January she’d had a handful of “in progress” marks, all for things relating to speaking up in class.  The last time I volunteered in her class, back in May, the teacher told me how June seemed to have gotten over her shyness and was participating much more than she did earlier in the year, so I wasn’t surprised to see improvement there. The teacher also noted June’s reading well above the kindergarten benchmark in Spanish and has been doing enrichment materials in math.

But advanced or no, June was in the mood for nostalgia today. When I gave her a choice of several television shows, she went for Sesame Street, which she has barely watched since she was in preschool. Nostalgia sounded good to me, too, so I watched with her instead of trying to squeeze in some more work.

Noah came home toward the end of the show, bearing the comments portion of his own report card. (Grades will come in the mail.)  Ms. W’s comments were detailed and affectionate, and she concluded, “Overall, Noah is an industrious, good-natured, insightful, quick-witted student and person.”

Noah stayed just long enough to change into his bathing suit and head to Sasha’s house for his annual end-of-school pool party.  (Sasha seems to have cold, rainy weather for his pool parties more often than not, but according to his mom, the guests did not seem to care.)

While Noah was at the party, June listened to a CD and wrote in her diary about the last day of school. Then we took a walk, and she rode her bike in the driveway and we played concentration and she had an early bath so we could go out for celebratory ice cream after dinner.

This was our bookends year, with one child embarking on the adventure of elementary school and the other on the verge of the even bigger adventures of middle school.  I’m proud as I could be of both of them.

I will give June the last word on the school year. Here’s her diary entry (read with her permission):


Today was a big day it was the last day of school and it was a hafe day. First we read a book then we did some activis then we had lunch then we did some more activis then we went home. Good bye school.

Make Way for Goslings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crouching Kitty, Hidden Frog

June’s been busy the past few days. She had a four-day weekend so we filled the time with play dates, three in all, two of which featured tea parties, and she also had a birthday party to attend. But what I want to write about is her first experience with public speaking and her new Kung Fu class.

Kindergarten Roundtable: Thursday

There was no kindergarten at June’s school Thursday and Friday of last week so next year’s kindergarten students could tour their classrooms and meet their future teachers.  June and Maggie had a six-hour play date on Thursday that began at our house and ended at Maggie’s– the idea was that Maggie’s work-at-home dad and I could both squeeze a little work into the day. After they played here and before they played at Maggie’s, I took the girls to the Purple School where they and Gabriella gave a presentation to the current Tracks class about what to expect from kindergarten.  June was looking forward to the talk. She and Maggie compared notes on what they might say beforehand and they both seemed excited to go back to preschool and be the experts. When we got to school Lesley and Andrea and P.J., the teacher’s aide, all greeted her warmly.

It was only about two minutes before she was to go on that June got cold feet.  She held tightly to my hand as she waited to begin.  Lesley arranged the three kindergarteners on chairs in front of the Tracks, who sat on the bench built into the wall and on the floor.  June spoke so softly at first that her answers were inaudible.  One of the Tracks complained that he couldn’t hear her.  Lesley asked what we do when someone speaks softly.  Be quiet and listen closely someone answered.  I suspect there’s a very quiet child in the class, because the answer sounded rehearsed. After a couple questions, however, June began to relax and speak in her normal voice and soon all three girls were answering questions and volunteering information about how they got to school, where they ate lunch and went to the bathroom, what their favorite part of school was.  June said hers was listening to the teacher read stories and doing her work.  “That’s a new one,” Lesley commented. Apparently gym, art and recess are popular answers.

It was nice to be back in the cozy atmosphere of the Purple School and to see the teachers and some familiar parents– Maggie’s dad and Gabriella’s dad of course, but also some Tracks parents I know.  The Eastern Fence Lizard (whom June met at camp last summer) was happy to see June, insisting she come back in to say goodbye to him once she had left the building.

Kung Fu Kitty: Saturday

“Look at what I’m wearing,” June said to Beth, who was in the shower. I’d advised June to wear something that would allow her to move easily because in the morning she had her first Kung Fu lesson and in the afternoon one of the Purple Pandas was having a basketball-themed birthday party. As it was being held in a church gym, I suspected they would actually play basketball at the party.

Beth peeked out of the shower to see June in her pink Hello Kitty pants and t-shirt.  This was not much of a surprise. Ever since her birthday, she wears this outfit (with or without a long-sleeved tee underneath) pretty much whenever it’s clean.

“You’re a Kung Fu kitty,” Beth exclaimed and June laughed.

June is allowed two activities per season and spring will be a science class and Kung Fu. She’s taking science because I let her choose one of several after-school activities at her school and a lot of her friends have been in the science class so she wanted to try it.  The same group that teaches it has a summer camp at the community college she might try that out next summer if she likes it.  (Noah went to that camp for years and loved it.)  Kung Fu, though, was entirely her idea.  She said she wanted to take karate and this was the closet thing I could find that was offered at a convenient time and place.

The Kung Fu class meets in the dance studio of the community center. It’s a room with a full-wall mirror, which is handy for watching your moves.  We were early and then the class was locked out of the room for a while so we were all waiting for a bit before class started.  The group consisted of eight kids, three girls and five boys, ranging in age from four or five years old to maybe nine or ten. At least three of the kids were returning students.

Once we were inside the room the teacher started off right away, without much in the way of introduction; he wove his comments throughout the class instead.  He taught them how to bow and had them pledge not to use what they learned in class against siblings or classmates, and never to harm any living thing except in the defense of other living things. He explained how you have to be calm to do Kung Fu– it was not all crazy kicks like they might have seen on television. Also, this would be Jamaican-style Kung Fu, he told them, not Chinese.  The instructor learned from his uncle, a Jamaican Kung Fu master, he said. I had no idea there was such a thing as Jamaican-style Kung Fu— but you learn something new every day.

The three returning students, two of whom are about to take their gold belt test, demonstrated their skills. Then everyone practiced some poses and moves. The teacher was a stern sort of character; two students had to sit out part of class for being too wiggly in the case of one girl, or for putting his hands in his pockets then rolling his eyes when asked to remove them in the case of one of the older boys. (That boy was out for the rest of class.)  It might not have been a good class for Noah when he was six and wiggly, but June excels at paying close attention and following directions. The teacher noticed this and said she was “a wise little one.” She’s also strong and flexible, so soon the teacher was saying she was “a natural” and asking if she’d ever taken a martial art before.  I said no, but that she’s had yoga.  And ballet, though I didn’t think to mention that at the time. I think both those activities probably helped her get off to a good start.

They had to try an exercise next, squatting like a frog and then lifting their feet off the floor and balancing on their palms.  One of the experienced students managed twenty seconds in this pose. Some kids couldn’t do it at all.  (I doubt I could.) June’s bare feet cleared the floor for a few seconds.  Later she said that was her favorite part.  They did some somersaults and practiced bowing again and class was over.  June was quite satisfied with her first day of Kung Fu.

She has more to anticipate, however.  After-school science starts next week.  The theme is forensics.  She is very excited to learn how to solve crimes and as always, I’m excited for her as she tries something new. I love to see her finding her voice and finding her strength.