Wednesday to Friday: Perching

The Wednesday before her birthday, June had a friend over and they were talking about how their older brothers have more homework than they do. David’s brother attends the Highly Gifted Center, where Noah went for fourth and fifth grade.

“I might go there,” June said.

“I’m waiting, too,” David sighed.

It’s been a long wait to find out whether or not June (and most of her friends) got into the HGC, since we applied in November, but we found out the next day that she did not. A few of her friends did get in, including her very best friend Megan, and some more friends are wait-listed. June has taken this hard and we’re sad, too, because I’m familiar with the program and I think it would have been a good fit for June’s learning style.

We got the letter on a Thursday and Beth was working late that night. I decided to take June for a walk down to the creek after dinner because the crocuses have finally bloomed and it’s her favorite place when they’re in bloom. We swung by the 7-11 on the way and I bought her some Starbursts, which she loves. She ate them while we sat in the gathering dark on a tree stump surrounded by tiny purple flowers. She leaned against me and we were quiet together.

Mostly she hasn’t wanted to talk about it, but shortly before her party, she asked me tearfully if I could contact her guests’ parents and ask everyone not to talk about the HGC at the party. I didn’t think censoring her friends was a viable, long-term strategy but I thought just for the duration of the party she deserved a break, so I did. Among her four guests, two were admitted, one was wait-listed and the other I wasn’t even sure if she’d applied, but in either case we hadn’t heard anything about her status. The only child whose mother I didn’t contact was the wait-listed girl because she’s very reserved and I just didn’t think she was likely to talk about it.

Luckily, June’s parties always involve decoration so over the next couple days June and I cheered ourselves up making her Pin-the-Wing-on-the-Bat game and by hanging decorations on the porch (a big crepe-paper-and-cardboard parrot we bought this year and some bats from our Halloween collection) and inside the house, where we strung leftover butterflies from her forest party two years ago and more bats from a fishing line between the living and dining rooms. On Friday evening, Beth went to buy balloons, including a bee-shaped one that said, “Happy Bee Day.” The theme of the party, if you hadn’t guessed by now, was wings.

Saturday Morning and Afternoon: Flying Up

June’s Girl Scout troop held their bridging ceremony for Brownies who are flying up to Juniors at Hillwood Estates, Gardens, and Museum. The estate belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post, an heir to the Post cereal fortune and an art collector. It now serves as a museum of her collection, which specializes in Russian imperial art and nineteenth-century French decorative art. The reason they celebrate it there is because there’s a nice little bridge that goes over a fishpond in the Japanese gardens.

The last time I was at Hillwood, coincidentally, was the day I found out I was pregnant with June. Beth’s mom was visiting and we all took Noah to an event for gay families. He enjoyed using the put-put course on the grounds and jumping from rock to rock in the fish pond and I remember being filled with secret happiness. It seemed fitting to be back at the very same pond, so close to her birthday.

The ceremony consisted of the troop leader talking about the difference between Brownies and Juniors and everyone walking over the bridge and receiving a green ribbon and a wing-shaped patch for flying up from Brownies. There was also hand holding and singing and cake.

The wings patch was a fun coincidence because of June’s party theme. Suddenly I was seeing wings all over the estate. An angel statue in front of the mansion, cupid statues and geese in a frieze over a fountain, metal eagles on slate roofs and flag poles.

We had a lot of time to kill after the bridging because June and I were staying for a tour of the mansion and a craft inspired by the decorative items inside. (Beth went home to work on party preparation, including frosting the tiered cake and decorating it with candy butterflies.) There was a worksheet about flowers for the girls to do. They had to find five flowers in bloom on the grounds or in the greenhouse and speculate about why flowers are scented, etc., but June was finished by 11:20 and the tour didn’t start until 2:30. We went to the visitor’s center and read and ate the lunch we’d packed, but that didn’t take long because I had not brought enough reading material.

A couple other families we’ve known since June was in preschool were also hanging around the grounds and they had decided to explore the mansion on their own, in advance of the official tour, so we joined them for that and then the girls played on the grounds until it was time for the tour. We went through the mansion again, this time with a guide to explain it all to us. The craft activity was to decorate a box with jewel stickers and ribbon and other materials. Beth came back for us at four and we drove home.

Saturday Evening to Sunday: Soaring and Roosting

June invited Megan to come over early to help with the final preparations for the party. She arrived a little after five, resplendent in a phoenix costume and they filled goody bags with butterfly pencils, dragon tattoos, plane whistles, bat-shaped clappers, and fairy charms. Then they tested out the craft for the party, making an angel charm bracelet, which turned out to be trickier than I thought it would be, so I was glad they rehearsed it and there was time for Beth to give them a hand.

At six, the rest of the guests started arriving. Maggie was a bat and Zoë was Maleficent. Marisa came without a costume. Her mom explained she wanted to be Daedalus, but she ran out of time to make a costume. “We have Daedalus wings,” I said, which surprised Marisa’s mom for a second until she correctly surmised, “From Greek Fest?” The sixth-graders in the humanities magnet, which Marisa’ older sister also attends, do a big unit on Greek myths, that includes skits. Noah had been Daedalus two years ago and the wings were still in the basement. I brought them up but they were dusty and a little worse for the wear and Marisa politely declined them.

We fed the guests right away, setting the table with leftover thematically appropriate napkins from various birthday parties (ladybugs from her first birthday, butterflies from her fifth, and owls from her seventh).

Sometime while the girls were eating pizza or cake, they started talking about whether they got into the HGC and who else they knew did or didn’t. At first Maggie looked startled to be asked, and perhaps remembering her instructions, mumbled her answer but then nearly everyone was talking about it animatedly. I had told June that she should ask people not to talk about it if it came up at the party and eventually she did. There was silence for a moment until someone said she had “just one more question,” and to my surprise and relief, Marisa piped up and firmly said, “She said she didn’t want to talk about it.” And that was that.

Next June opened her presents. Some were wing-related, a fairy coloring book from Megan and a stuffed penguin from Maggie. She also got watercolor colored pencils, a Mandala sand painting kit, a magnet kit, and a big book of Mad Libs.

The girls then settled into their sleeping bags to watch Hercules, which we projected onto a sheet in the living room. June said it was related to the party theme because Hercules spends a lot of the movie riding around on a Pegasus.

The movie was over a little before nine and I told them they could talk quietly until ten. They changed into pajamas (June wore the new tropical bird pjs I gave her as an early birthday present) and then they played a game called “I Confess.” It involves someone making a confession and anyone who has also done what was confessed gets a point. I think the object of the game is to have a high score and not a low one, but it wasn’t entirely clear. I eavesdropped for a while but I have nothing salacious to report. I think they may be a little young for this game.

They weren’t too noisy after ten, though I did hear some talking. I think everyone was asleep by ten-thirty, and even better, they all slept until around 6:45. They watched an episode of Magic School Bus on air pressure and then we fed them bagels, cream cheese, and fruit salad for breakfast.

Someone suggested they all put their costumes back on and soon they were constructing a story line that involved an angel, a bat, a phoenix, and Maleficent and played at that until they got bored and we shepherded them to the dining room table where they assembled the angel charm bracelets. Megan was the best at it so she was helping everyone else and finished her own last. I slipped a couple extra kits into her goody bag, figuring she might like to teach her sister how to do it.

Next they went out to the porch for Pin-the-Wing-on-the-Bat and the piñata. June’s big on pinning games. Over the past few years her guests have pinned tails on a cat, legs on a spider, and rings on Saturn. She always paints the target herself and the game is always a hit, as is the piñata. Who wouldn’t want to whack a crepe-paper-and-cardboard butterfly until it disgorges candy?

By the time they finished these activities it was 9:05 a.m. and the party wasn’t over until 10. They decided to watch another Magic School Bus episode, this one on bats, and then they went to play outside until the parents arrived.

Beth took June to get a manicure in the afternoon and that evening we went out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant that happened to be having fundraiser that featured the jazz band from a local middle school (not Noah’s). As a result, we saw a couple families we know but haven’t seen for a while with sixth-to-eighth graders, most of whom I would not have recognized if they were not accompanied by their parents. It was a bit of a poignant reminder of how quickly kids grow and also suggested to me that our nine year old will be an adolescent some day in the not too distant future. And as if we needed any more tempus fugit reminders, one of these families was of Noah’s best buddy from preschool, a boy he does not even remember but at whose house he slept the night I went into labor with June. As with our return to Hillwood, it seemed fitting to spy this family precisely nine years later. The boy, who was always the tall lanky type, looks older than Noah now, at least sixteen if I didn’t know him and had to guess. There’s something manly about the bone structure of his face.

Monday: The Bee Day

June’s actual birthday was Monday. She went to school with some leftover temporary tattoos of knights to distribute to her afternoon class. (She’d given away the dragons from a knights-and-dragons set at her party.) Beth came home early to take her to California Tortilla for dinner at her request. I stayed home to keep an eye on Noah, who not only had a large project due the next day, but also came home with news of three separate overdue assignments of which he’d lost track and which he hoped to complete before the quarter ended on Thursday. I felt bad not going to June’s birthday dinner, but we’d been out celebrating the night before and then we’d left Noah at home alone to work so I decided to split the difference and stay.

After Beth and June got home, we ate leftover birthday cake and she opened her family presents. She got a lot of clothes and books, an iTunes gift certificate, and a promise of a shopping spree at a second hand clothes store, another promised shopping trip from YaYa and a pewter fairy perched on a crystal ball from my mom. The next day more gifts arrived, a coloring book with complicated interwoven animal and plant designs from my mom, and a birdhouse with suction cups you can attach to window and can lift a panel to see inside, from my sister.

June’s birthday week has come and gone, though the multicolored parrot still hangs on our porch and June confided in me yesterday that it’s still exciting to be nine. A friend of mine told me recently, “I am so confident in June’s ability to kick ass at life in the short and long terms.” I am, too. She’s smart, imaginative, and resilient. Her wings are strong. I can’t wait to see where they take her in the next nine years.

Team Players

Hawks and Jaguars

Thursday evening in the car on the way home from basketball practice, June and Megan were chattering about the GeoBowl, which would be held the next day. Both of them were competing in it: June’s team was the GeoHawks; Megan’s was the GeoJaguars. Megan’s younger sister, who was out of sorts, said she was glad they were on different teams. Why, they wanted to know. Because it was time they stopped being friends and started being enemies, she said.

“We’re not enemies because we’re on different teams!” Megan exclaimed, and then added stoutly, “I’ll be glad if June’s team wins.” June chimed in she’d be happy if Megan’s team won, too. They’ve been best friends since kindergarten and it would take more than a geography contest to come between them.

June had been studying for Geobowl since September. The way it works is that packets of information are distributed about a month into the school year to every student in the third, fourth and fifth grade. Then the kids fill in the blanks on the packets, which are corrected and returned to them. Then they take a qualifying quiz in November, and the top seven kids in each class comprise that class’s team. This year’s theme was Europe and Asia.

I volunteered to help grade the quizzes the week of Thanksgiving. A bunch of moms, plus a grandmother and an older sibling came over to the organizer’s house, ate popcorn and drank wine and soda while we graded. I did a big chunk of the fourth grade and then double-checked someone else’s work on a third grade class. No one graded her own child’s class, but people were discreetly informing other parents of their kids’ scores as we went along. As it turned out, there was a strong correlation between your mother volunteering to grade the GeoBowl quiz and a high score on the quiz. I suppose that’s not surprising.

Nevertheless, I didn’t actually expect June to do as well as she did, because her studying had been sporadic until the night and morning before the quiz, when she crammed for about an hour. Anyway, as a result of the grading party, I knew weeks before June did that she would be in the GeoBowl (and to some extent which of her friends would be), but I didn’t think I should tell her until it was official. Then one afternoon in December she came running off the bus, yelling that she was on a GeoBowl team.

There were two before school practices for all participants in January and June’s team had a couple weekend practices and also stayed in the classroom at recess or lunch a few times. They also put a lot of thought into their team name, slogan, and t-shirt design. June was an early proponent of the slogan, “Eat Our Feathers,” but in the end they went with “We Fly with Knowledge.” I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed about that. The logo was of a hawk flying with the Earth in its talons. Beth helped June find the clip art she needed and then she made the transfers and ironed them onto the shirts.

The morning of the Geobowl I quizzed June, picking about forty questions at random from the packet. She got all but three right, so I thought she was in pretty good shape. Beth and I arrived at the school cafeteria shortly before nine a.m. Almost all of June’s friends were on the stage, with one team or another and the audience was full of parents we knew. Most the teams had t-shirts, but in the case of the Mind Avatars, each member was in a different kind of costume. Some of the GeoRockers wore sunglasses and bandanas around their heads in addition to their t-shirts and one of the Wise Wizards had a wizard hat.

The competition started with two rounds of questions about capitals. None of the six teams missed a question. A couple rounds later the scores were still very close. Four teams, including the GeoHawks and the GeoJaugars, still had perfect scores and the other two teams were only a point behind each. The master of ceremonies, who was the father of one of June’s friends, looking very dashing in a tux, had been making jokes throughout the event, but at this point he got serious and said it was anyone’s game. It turned out this wasn’t true because at the end of the regular questions, the GeoJaguars and the Wise Wizards still had perfect scores. The GeoHawks lost to these two teams by one point because when asked to name nine of the ten largest counties in Asia by land mass, they included one incorrect answer: Iraq, which should have been Iran. At that point it went to tie-breakers and when after three more questions the GeoJaguars and the Wise Wizards still had perfect scores, it was declared a tie so the fourth grade could take the stage.

June didn’t seem disappointed to have lost and was happy for Megan, as promised. Beth had volunteered to serve as a judge for the fourth grade so she stayed and I left. We knew a lot of kids in this one (at least four fourth-graders from June’s bus stop were in it) and I would have stayed to watch, but I had not gotten ahead enough in work to do it. I heard it was a nail-biter, too.

Pandas and Blazers

About an hour and a half after June got home from school, we left for Megan’s house because there was even more excitement left in the day. June’s basketball team takes a field trip to a girls’ high school basketball game once a season, for inspiration. It’s always a fun outing and this year, because the game was in the late afternoon instead of the evening, we were going out for pizza afterward. We were picking up Megan and bringing her with us.

The game was at the high school Noah will attend next year. We’ve known he’ll go there for a while because it’s our home school and he selected it as his first choice. What we didn’t know was whether he would be in the general school population, in the math and science magnet or the Communication Arts Program, as he’d applied to both. We found out about a week ago he got into CAP, which was his first choice. He wanted to be in it because he’s enjoyed the Media classes he’s been taking in the Humanities magnet in middle school. (He didn’t get into the math and science magnet but since that was his second choice, he didn’t care.) I didn’t really understand how much he wanted to get into CAP until the day he did. He tends to play his cards close to his vest.

Beth took him to an information session on Thursday night while June and I were at basketball practice, but this was the first time I’d been to this high school since he got into CAP, so it felt different somehow, to be there, and suddenly a lot more real that Noah will be in high school next year.

The Pandas wore their team shirts to the game and were greeted on the loudspeaker. Right before the game started they joined the cheerleaders in two lines through which the high school players ran as they came onto the court.

I’ve been to a four Blazers’ games now so there weren’t too many surprises but it is still notable when one’s main experience of basketball is elementary school games, how much faster the high school game is, and how skilled the players are at passing to each other. They don’t seem to need to look for each other at all. They just throw and, magically, someone’s there to catch the ball. It’s not quite like this with third graders. It wasn’t the Blazers’ finest night, they lost 55-37, but the Pandas have lost all four of their games so far this season, too, so maybe it was heartening to see more skilled players lose big. The cheerleaders and the pom squad, which performed at halftime, were also the subject of much discussion.

I heard one Panda’s younger sister and another one’s younger brother have very similar conversations with their mothers about the Blazers’ mascot painted on the wall. It’s a devil, wearing a cape. The team used to be called the Devils, and while the name got changed a while back, the visual representation of the mascot did not. Both children stared at it and asked, “Is that a good guy or a bad guy?” The combination of the horns and the cape was confusing, I think. Finally the little girl decided, “It’s a devil superhero.”

After the game, we took over the dining room of Zpizza in Silver Spring, and consumed five pizzas and a few salads, despite the fact that the Pandas had been running back and forth from the gym to the concession stand all through the game. (June got Cheetos and root beer and knew better than to ask if she could go again.) The kids sat at one table and the adults at another, and we chatted about work and other things until the girls were getting antsy at their table and starting to wander around the restaurant and it seemed like a good idea to leave.

It was late, but June wanted to get ice cream, and it had been such a big day I decided to say yes. Megan and June sat at their own table and ate their ice cream, while Beth and I sat at a table across the room and watched them. Sometimes they are on different teams and sometimes they are on the same team but since they were in kindergarten, they’ve been a team of two. They both have other friends, of course, and you never know which childhood friendships will last and which will fade away, but when I think of them in high school, I imagine June’s sweet, loyal, big-hearted best friend still at her side.