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.

Back to School

This is the first school year in a long time that neither kid is starting a new school.  A year ago Noah started middle school, two years ago June was starting kindergarten, and three years ago Noah was switching from his home elementary school to a magnet gifted program. So starting second and seventh grade is almost anti-climactic, but in a good way, a settling-back-into-familiar-routines kind of way.

We got the postcard with June’s classroom assignments on the Wednesday before school started.  She has Señora J in the morning and Ms. K in the afternoon.  Señora J has the reputation for being a little stern, but fair and challenging. I think she and June will get along fine. I’d never heard of Ms. K. and I wasn’t sure if she was new or not. It’s a big school outside the school-within-a-school of the Spanish immersion program and I haven’t heard of all the teachers.  As it turns out, she is new. This made me just slightly nervous because the year Noah had two new teachers (third grade) was his most academically unsatisfying year.  And I don’t think June was sufficiently challenged last year, especially by her English teacher, though June was quite fond of her.

As for Noah, seventh grade is reported to be the most rigorous year in the Humanities magnet.  They write a ten-page research paper, researched in part at a university library. It will be taxing at times, no doubt, but I’ve also heard it’s the year they really learn how to write and that kids who come out of the magnet program find themselves better prepared for advanced classes in high school than their peers.  So I think it will be worth it.

All summer I had a printout of my summer work schedule taped to the wall of the study.  It had the dates for each of the ten weeks of the kids’ summer break and how many hours I committed to work during each of them.  I checked the weeks off one by one as they passed.  For most of the summer I did this with a sense of satisfaction, as I looked forward to getting back to a more predictable routine and a quieter house.  But after we returned from our West Virginia/Ohio trip and there were only two weeks left on the makeshift calendar, I started to think, “Only two more weeks?” and I resolved to do more fun things with the kids before summer break was gone.

Summer Break, Week 9

The second to last week of summer break both kids were home.  They had to do summer homework (and they both all but finished it) and practice their instruments, and Noah mowed the backyard, but we also went wading in the creek, went to see a documentary about cheetahs and lions, went out to lunch and out for ice cream and frozen yogurt.  I took June to a drop-in music class and to the library for Spanish circle time.  June had a friend over and they organized a picnic and a tea party and played dress up while I worked.

On Friday we were planning a trip to the pool but then I found out the pool I had in mind, the only outdoor public pool in walking distance of our house, is closed on Fridays, so June and I went to the playground and she waded in the creek again and then we went to the 7-11 to get milk and we ended up with snacks as well.  As I watched her ride her bike home one-handed while eating Cheetos out a bag in the basket I came to the conclusion that it really is time to take off her training wheels.  When we got home, Noah had finished all the items on his to-do list so I made some iced tea and we played one board game of each kid’s choice. June chose Operation; Noah chose Quirkle. It was nice to have the time to play a long game all the way to the end and not feel rushed.

Over the weekend, I made a peach-blackberry cobbler, we went thrift store shopping for school clothes and Noah and June organized an art show. (The art was all June’s but Noah made the poster for it.) It was originally conceived as a money-making venture, but we told June she couldn’t charge money for admission or artwork. We also limited the guests to kids who live on our block, a group consisting of two families with three kids each. One family was out of town, but the other came, as did a retired colleague of Beth’s who saw the poster Beth put on Facebook.  June proclaimed the show a success before it even happened, because we bought her a summery party dress for it, even though we went into the store saying words like “practical” and “school clothes.” (Things like this have a way of happening around June.)  Anyway, June got to walk people through the artwork twice, get complimented on it, serve lemonade and cookies, and wear a new dress. She was satisfied, even without profits.

Summer Break, Week 10

The next week Noah had drama camp. I was glad because it forced him to complete his summer homework the week before and just have a nice relaxing final week of summer. June and I were left to our own devices. So I arranged for a couple play dates (including a double play date that started with me taking June and Megan to Spanish circle time, having a picnic lunch with them and then dropping them at Megan’s house for several hours).

After an animated discussion about the existence of fairies during her other play date–consensus: they are real–June told me last year there was a kid on the school bus who said the Tooth Fairy is just your parents.  And then she looked me right in the eye and said, “Is it you?”  So I had to tell her. (Actually, I made Beth do it.) It was not the answer she was expecting, and I was sorry about it because she’s only lost two teeth.  But for us, when it gets to the point of direct questions, it starts to feel less like pretending and more like lying, so it was time. There were no follow up questions about Santa and the Easter Bunny. If she doesn’t ask, we won’t tell.  She may be starting a new school year, but I’d like to let her enjoy as much magic and innocence as she wants for now.

That week June and I also made chocolate-covered frozen bananas and “back to school” cupcakes, with the initials of the kids’ schools on them, went to Co-op story time, which we hadn’t done all summer, and finally made it to the pool.

On the way home from the pool I walked along the creek and June walked in it (because it would be a waste of being in her bathing suit if she didn’t, she explained).  Usually we could see each other, but sometimes the undergrowth was so thick we couldn’t.  Then I could hear June splashing along beside me, singing an impromptu song about walking in the creek and muttering to herself, “Mommy knows where you are.” It was just the right amount of adventure.

On Thursday, Beth and I sat in on Noah’s drum lesson. It was the last one—he only takes private lessons in the summer—and he’d asked if we wanted to watch.  He’d been working on learning the drum part for “Route 66” for a couple weeks and he practiced it several times during the lesson, with the teacher offering occasional feedback, and then recording him.  Usually I only hear Noah play in band concerts or practicing at home, and then I only hear his part of the music (he’s sometimes listening to the rest on headphones).  So it was novel and fun to hear him playing along with a rock song, and doing quite a spirited solo at the end.  The teacher said he was “hanging with it” and had “chops.”

Friday June went to work with Beth in the morning and then they both came home mid-day for the Open House at June’s school and Noah’s drama camp performance. June was so excited to meet her teachers and see her friends at the Open House she kept bouncing up and down on her toes.  To our surprise, we discovered we know Ms. K, she’s the mother of one of Noah’s old classmates (and by a strange coincidence, so is Señora J, but we knew that already).  Ms. K has three kids who’ve attended June’s school (one’s in high school now, one’s in Noah’s grade and the youngest is in June’s grade). This eased my mind because it meant while new to the school as a teacher, she was not really new and knowing something about the school’s culture will probably help her land on her feet.

Between the Open House and Noah’s performance we ran some errands. We dropped off Beth’s Birkenstocks and mine to be re-soled and re-corked, and went to a bookstore to buy the fall book for my book club. We’re reading Remembrance of Things Past, or the first couple volumes of it. I decided to start reading it on the first day of school. It seems like a good day to start a serious book.

At Noah’s performance, he was in two improv sketches, one in which he was called on to be the “world’s worst cobbler” and the “world’s worst doctor” (I called out “cobbler” when the audience was asked to name a profession, probably because we’d just taken our shoes for repair) and another one called “Poison Arm Samurai” in which thirty ten-to-thirteen-year-old-kids stumbled around the stage in zombie-like slow motion slaying each other by brushing their arms up against each other. It was like a very strange dance.

After the performance we let June play in the fountain, but she didn’t stay long as it was cool and drizzling. “The summer is really winding down,” Beth commented as we watched her run and splash.

What really made it feel that way for me, though, was some time the next day when I sat down at the computer to check my email and noticed the calendar on the wall.  I grabbed a pencil and checked off the line that said, “August 19-23: 7.5 hours.” Then realizing there was no reason to keep it, I made a move to pull it off the wall and found myself reluctant to do so.

Then we were down to the last weekend. On Saturday, Noah went over to David’s house, and June went to Talia’s birthday pool party. Both kids got haircuts on Sunday.  It was the most hair June’s ever had cut off at once, probably three or four inches. She wanted it shorter for second grade, and even though I’ve always like her hair long, I said yes, because she’s seven and I need to let her make more of her own decisions. I actually expected her to come home with shorter hair than she did. It’s a couple inches past her shoulders still.

We were planning to go out for ice cream Sunday night–it’s a last-night-of-summer-break family tradition–but June put herself to bed at five with a headache, and Noah was scrambling to print and assemble all his summer homework assignments until seven-thirty or so, so there was no leisurely family outing.  But Beth and Noah did make a Baskin-Robbins run and the three of us ate it around the dining room table.  (They brought home enough so June could have some later.)

This next morning Beth and Noah were out the door by 6:40 and June was ready to go by 7:35, a good forty-five minutes before she needed to. At the bus stop we greeted families we haven’t seen in a while and met the one-month old brother of a third-grader I’ve known since he and June were toddlers waiting at their older brothers’ bus stops. Last year’s fifth-graders were gone and everyone is a year older. Funny how that happens.

The kids came home with no homework in June’s case and minimal homework in Noah’s case.  They shared their news at dinner.  There was a glitch in Noah’s schedule and he wasn’t signed up for band. (This was resolved on the second day of school.) There are new restrictions on when middle schoolers can visit their lockers (hardly ever) and new rules about where the kids at June’s school can play during recess, and breakfast is now served in the classroom instead of in the cafeteria at her school. Otherwise, not much is different.

We ate the leftover ice cream and the kids went to bed, another school year underway.

Launch Into Summer

School let out today, a Friday, and until Tuesday, sixth grade was still going full tilt. This is what Noah had on tap on Monday and Tuesday:  he took an English final, finished a website for his media class (a portfolio of his work), constructed a twenty-page hand-made booklet for social studies (a cultural autobiography), and answered eleven short essay questions about what he’d learned in his Literature and Humanities class.

The weekend before the last week of school was grueling. I spent much of it tensely hovering over Noah, who had a tremendous amount of work to do. My bad mood was compounded by discouragement about the number of garden plants we’ve lost to pests this year.  On Friday night something ate one of the two surviving watermelon vines and one of the biggest zinnias and knocked over a big pot of thriving cilantro.

Noah took a break to help me make lasagna for dinner on Saturday and then he came with us to a very fun and relaxing outdoor concert of three local bands, a benefit for the Takoma Foundation, but other than that he was pretty much working from after breakfast until bedtime on Saturday and Sunday.  (I took pity on him and did his vacuuming on Sunday.) Monday night was a slog as well.  But by Tuesday afternoon he just had a couple little assignments– one of which involved gathering parts to take to school for an in-class science project on solar energy — and by 4:30 he was finished for the day and for the year. There was no more homework after that.

Because he had his snap circuits kit out to raid it for parts, he and June ended up playing with it.  They were having so much fun and laughing so hard I started to think summer break might not be a bad idea after all.  I always dread it at least a little, because of the chaos of the weekly schedule changes of their day camps, and the endless bickering, and the difficulty of working when they’re both home.

But every year I think, maybe it will be different, they’ll be more mature, and summer will be easier.  And the thing is, it always is a little easier, just not easy enough.

June’s school year came to a more relaxed close. She finished her last long-term project, a poster about Nicaragua, during the second to last week of school. There was no homework the last week and she came home with her backpack and her arms full of papers and journals and artwork every day for days on end. She also brought home her summer reading and math packets, and pretended to be exasperated by all this summer homework, though Beth and I both think she’s secretly thrilled about it and can’t wait to get started. She’s like that.

On the last Monday of the school year her morning class had an ice cream party and on Wednesday, they all brought in board and card games to play. Thursday the afternoon class had a popcorn-popsicle-games and movie party. There were more parties on Friday.  The whole week was pretty much a non-stop fiesta as far as I can tell.

Noah had some fun, too.  Thursday was an all-day party for the sixth and seventh grade. (Eighth grade promotion was that morning and then the newly minted high schoolers were dismissed for the day.) They got to spend part of the morning outside and there was a students-versus-staff volleyball game and an optional dance (Noah chose to read in the library instead, which is exactly what I would have done.)

On Wednesday, with no homework, the kids ended up playing baseball on the Wii together, something no one around here has done for months, but before playing they got into a vicious argument over the sky chair on the porch. June tearfully claimed he pushed her out of it. Noah indignantly said he didn’t. After the Wii session they went right back to arguing, irritating me to the point that when June asked me what was for dinner, I said if they didn’t stop arguing, I’d have no time to make dinner at all.  Then I said, “I’m going outside to pick some lettuce. Don’t kill each other in my absence.” For a wonder, they didn’t.

So I imagine summer will be like that, a constant alternation between sibling harmony and disharmony, full of laughter and tears, and above all noisy.

Neither of my children is leaving a school this year for the first time in several years so the end of the school year felt a little anti-climactic. There was no bittersweet preschool lantern launch, no leaving one elementary school for another, no elementary school promotion ceremony.  Noah did attend the middle school award ceremony the last week in May because all the members of the band got certificates for their excellent showing at music festivals and competitions this spring. I would have liked to go, but I couldn’t get a sitter, so I stayed home with June and presented her with an award for being the best artist and athlete in the family.  (Noah protested the artist part when he heard about it later, but he didn’t care to contest the athlete title.)

On the last day of school, I went about my normal routine.  I read a little on the porch with a bottled mocha after June left for school, very little actually, just about ten pages of Joyland, because it was a half-day, but I didn’t want to skip my favorite morning ritual entirely.  I did the breakfast dishes and two loads of laundry and picked up toys and sticks in the back yard so Noah could mow it after school, and I exercised.  I finished up an article on a prebiotic supplement, blogged, ate lunch and around 12:40 June came hurtling off the bus and down the sidewalk arriving at the gate before I could.  Noah was only ten minutes or so behind her and summer break was underway.

What did we do? Noah belatedly emailed a gift certificate the classmate he was assigned for a year-end gift exchange and mowed the back yard while June watched television, then both kids packed for their upcoming adventures and June and I made cookies and ran errands while Noah was at Sasha’s annual end-of-the-school year pool party. While June and I were out we stopped at the mulberry tree again. This time June climbed up into its branches, saying over and over, “This is fun!” Finally she joked, “Have I mentioned this is fun?” We capped off the day with celebratory pizza and gelato.

Tomorrow Beth and the kids are driving out to Western Maryland where they will camp overnight.  On Sunday they’ll meet up with YaYa, who’s taking Noah to West Virginia for his annual week-long visit. Before Beth and June will return home on Sunday I’m going to try to give the garden and fence line of the yard a good weeding. I’ll also plant at least some of the cucumber seedlings I’ve been keeping in pots and bringing in at night to save them from the slugs because if I never do it they’ll never really take off and we won’t have cucumbers this summer.  June starts her first day camp (drama) on Monday. I’m hoping for a successful launch into summer for all of us, vines and humans alike.

Arts Alive!

You always know when the end of the school year is drawing close because suddenly there are all kinds of arts events on the calendar.  It started with the Purple School garden and art party last weekend, which we attended though it’s been two years since we had a child in that (or any) preschool.  A lot of June’s classmates have younger siblings still at the school so we knew there would be a lot of people we knew there, and delicious food, and art festooning the schoolyard fence.  We were not disappointed.

We ate and socialized and exclaimed over how big everyone kids were getting and picked off the oak pollen that kept falling onto our hair. I actually didn’t look at much of the art, which I felt bad about later, because Lesley is a skilled art teacher and the curriculum of the school is arts-based, so the children’s work is always impressive.  But there was no pressure to find my own child’s art as soon as we got there and there were so many old friends to talk to, I just didn’t get around to walking the whole perimeter of the yard. I did admire a painting by Talia’s younger brother Nate–it was swirl of red, yellow, and black paint evocatively titled “So Many Dragons”– and I went inside to see the self-portraits the 4/5s class does every year because those are always wonderful.  While we were there Lesley filled out the paperwork for Noah to volunteer at the school over the summer. (He’s going to help her organize and catalog her online archives.)

Tuesday evening was the art show at June’s school.  It seemed smaller than in previous years, or maybe it was the same number of pieces in fewer, bigger groupings, but I was glad the show was happening at all because last year it was canceled due to staff cuts in the art department. We found June’s painting of a monkey in the style of Henri Rosseau almost immediately and from there we took in the rest of the show at a pretty fast clip, despite the fact that her school has eight hundred students and everyone has at least one piece in the show. I did have time to admire the glazed ceramic cupcakes and castles and the layered three-dimensional paper cutouts of landscapes and seascapes. When Noah attended this elementary school he always wanted to do a thorough job appreciating every single piece at the art show, sometimes beyond the time I wanted to spend, but June was just the opposite. She led us quite briskly through the show and we were in and out of there in twenty minutes, even though we did pause to take pictures of our faces in cutouts of famous works of art.  I might have encouraged June to linger more and look for her friends’ work, but there was bedtime to consider and Noah was at home alone doing homework (or perhaps not doing it), so I let her hurry us along.

Thursday was Arts Alive at Noah’s school.  I didn’t quite understand the nature of the event until we got there, as it’s his first year in middle school. I was expecting a regular band/orchestra/choir concert with some art hanging in the hallways to view beforehand, but it more considerably more extensive than that.  Instead of one concert there were three with breaks in between. We only attended the band segment so we could have more time to take in everything else There was art in the halls and in the gym, but there were also videos to watch on laptops, and picture books the eighth-graders had made to read and then donate to third-graders at a nearby elementary school. There was also a museum of quite detailed model buildings from different historical periods made by seventh grade World Studies students.

We got to talk to the seventh and eighth grade Media teachers about what Humanities magnet students do in those grades. (In eighth grade they take a five-day field trip to New York City and conduct a video interview of someone of their own choosing.) Once you visited all five areas and got your program stamped at each station you could enter a raffle but we never heard them call any more numbers after we got our tickets, probably because we were in the concert from then until we left.

The concert itself was short and mostly consisted of songs the band has been playing at festivals and competitions all spring.  Middle school band is a lot more involved than elementary school band and entails a lot of field trips.  (Just two weeks ago they traveled to Pennsylvania where they played at a festival in the morning and went to Hershey Park in the afternoon.)   At the concert, the band teacher announced that the band had taken top marks at both the county and state-level competitions they attended this spring.  And then an administrator announced that the band teacher, who’s really wonderful and who had a nice rapport with Noah, will be switching schools next year.  I was sad to hear that. We’ll miss her.

Anyway, the band sounded great on all their competition pieces and not bad on the medley of Beatles songs, considering they’d only been practicing it a couple weeks. As usual, we couldn’t see Noah, but there was just a moment when Beth caught a glimpse of his face and snapped a picture. (In the car on the way home I quizzed him about what instruments he’d played in each piece— bells, claves, cymbals, snare drum, and wind chimes was the answer.) I do wish I could see him at concerts.  It would be so much more satisfying to know which sounds he was making at the time instead of trying to recreate the experience later.

Anyway, by eight-thirty we were leaving the school. Walking into the parking lot, we were surprised at how light it still was, even on a cloudy evening.  That’s another sign that summer’s coming, as if the exuberant blossoming of art and music wasn’t enough.

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.

Half-Time

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.