Leaving the Single Digits
The last weekend Noah was nine, Beth and June went on a camping trip with five other families from June’s preschool and he and I had the house to ourselves from Friday evening until early afternoon on Sunday. This was the longest I’ve ever been separated from June, and I did miss her, but the day and a half of one-on-one time with Noah was more than worth it. We read seven chapters of The Titan’s Curse, watched The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, worked in the yard together, played Yahtzee and had apple-cinnamon pancakes for dinner on Saturday. And I even had time to work for four hours in between all that. I got to sleep in until 7:30 on Saturday and 7:50 on Sunday. I wondered if it was a glimpse of what life would be like when my youngest child is in the upper elementary grades. If so, it was a cheering vision.
On Sunday morning, two college students came to mow the lawn. We often need someone to cut it short with a power mower this time of year so we can handle the rest of the quick growth season (May and June) with our push mover. Noah, who recently told me he’d like to learn to mow the lawn, watched from the kitchen window the whole time. It reminded me of the last day of his spring break. I’d taken the kids to Starbucks and they rode their scooters there. As Noah zipped circles around me and June on the shopping center sidewalk, a toddler boy stared at him with that same look. I could see the little boy’s longing to be big enough to dash around on a scooter and the medium-sized boy’s longing to be six feet tall and to move heavy things out of the way effortlessly.
Noah’s not a toddler any more, as close as those days seem, and he’s not a strapping young man who’s taller and stronger than his mothers. Not yet. He’s somewhere in between. He’s ten. The other day June commented, “When you’re ten, that’s a lot because you’re almost thirteen.” Now I wouldn’t go that far, but it does seem like a milestone, getting into the double digits. He’s had a good year, too. He’s doing well in a very challenging academic program and he’s much more in his element socially.
Entering the Double Digits: The Birthday
Tuesday was Noah’s birthday. He opened presents in the morning. He almost insisted on waiting until evening because he was born at 6:05 p.m. and he insisted he wouldn’t be ten until then. This would have fine on most days, but on this particular day Beth had to work late and wouldn’t be home until after the kids were in bed. He seriously considered waiting until the day after his birthday to open his presents, but when he woke up on Tuesday morning and I asked him if he wanted his presents, he decided he’d open them but he wouldn’t use anything until 6:05 p.m.
In his card we let him know that we’d renewed his Odyssey (http://www.odysseymagazine.com/) and Club Penguin (http://www.clubpenguin.com/) subscriptions and that his non-school night bedtime is now 9:15 (instead of 8:45). The card itself was a hit. It had an alien on the front and you could record parts of the message to personalize it. Noah can recite the message by heart. It starts “Greeting, Earthling Noah…” It goes on to say the aliens are visiting our street and town “to celebrate your tenth year of existence.” I had a hard time deciding whether to record “tenth” or “eleventh.” Are we celebrating the end of the tenth year of the beginning of the eleventh? I went with the more intuitive “tenth.” I’d set out to find a card with an alien or outer space theme because one of his presents was a story I wrote for him and it’s about a UFO. The past two Christmases Noah has written me a story as a present so I decided to return the favor.
He also got a pair of pirate summer pajamas, a tie-dyed t-shirt, a Wii ocean exploration game and a deck of cards with short mysteries to solve (and a little mirror to read the solutions, which are printed backwards). I got this because it seemed like fun and because he was having another detective party. YaYa sent a contribution toward his Lego robot fund. She called that afternoon when he got home from school and my mom called that evening to let him know that she’d renewed his subscription to Car and Driver and that the solar-powered car she got him was back-ordered and would arrive later this month.
He held true to his resolution about not using anything until evening. He liked the shirt but would not wear it. And he would not read the story until after dinner (buttered spinach linguine with broccoli and tofu at his request and mini cheesecakes as a surprise dessert). After he read it he smiled and said, “I could see me and June in it.” (The two main characters are based on Noah and June, four years in the future.) It so happened he had very little homework that night, so he played the Wii game after he read the story. He had some trouble figuring it out and got frustrated so I suggested he wait to play it until a time when Beth was home. He and June ended up watching Shaun the Sheep (http://www.shaunthesheep.com/) episodes until bedtime.
Entering the Double Digits: The Party
Noah’s party was the next Saturday and other than send out invitations we’d done almost nothing to prepare for it, plus Mother’s Day was coming up and we had a portfolio conference at June’s school so Friday was a busy day. It started with the conference at 8:30. We presented Lesley with a little cucumber vine for teacher appreciation week, and got to see a collection of June’s artwork and journal entries. She picked out the piece she wanted to display at the art show and then Beth, Noah and I all wrote her a little note about what we liked best in her work, and Lesley got all teary over pictures of June when she was two. I don’t know how she gets through the end of the year and the departure of another class every spring. Some days I don’t know how I will.
We left June’s school and Beth drove Noah to his school with three dozen doughnuts he was taking as a treat for his class party and June and I got on a bus headed for downtown Takoma Park where we bought Mother’s Day presents for Beth. June selected Gerber daisies at the florist and I picked up over a pound and a half of M&Ms (milk and dark chocolate), which Noah had asked me to buy. (Beth has an M&M dispenser on her desk at work. This should keep it filled for a while.)
Beth’s co-oped at June’s school that afternoon and afterwards she took Noah to the party store to buy balloons and cups, plates and napkins while June slept and I cleaned house. He selected a flag design because he’d decided the detectives at the party would work for the government. This detail made the whole narrative of the party– searching for bad guy with a cake filled with explosives–kind of eerie, given that Osama bin Laden was killed less than a week ago, but I decided not to think too hard about it. After dinner, the kids helped me give the porch its annual swabbing with soapy water and that evening, Noah used the first night of his new weekend bedtime to work on clues for the party.
Saturday morning, he continued to work on the clues while Beth shopped for cake ingredients and baked the cake and I continued to clean house, scrub the dirt off the glass patio table and set up chairs in the yard. For his eighth and ninth birthdays, Noah put the theme of his party up to a vote, but this year he wanted to go with detectives again because there had been some mix-ups with the clues that year and he wanted a do-over. I did a walk-though of the clues once he had them printed and hidden to make sure each clue was in the proper place and led to the next one. Everything seemed to be in order. This year there was a new twist in the game. He was dividing his guests into two teams, which would compete to find the bad guy, played by Beth, first.
On the morning of the party, only five out of Noah’s eight guests had RSVPed, which was complicating his efforts to assign people to teams but we got two last-minute calls from parents of guests so we knew there would be either seven or eight guests. He’d invited five boys and three girls. Two of the guests attend Noah’s old school, four go to his new school and two have attended both schools with him. I was encouraged that he has so many more friends than last year, which had been a social low point for him, and also curious to see how everyone would get along since they didn’t all know each other.
When it was party time, June and I waited out on the porch to greet the guests, collect their presents and tell them where to go. Beth was not supposed to be seen until the culmination of the game, and Noah was in the detective headquarters (the garage), waiting to give the detectives their instructions as they arrived. By 4:20 everyone but Calvin, who had a lacrosse game and we knew would arrive late and the girl who never RSVPed was there, so I told Noah to start the game. Soon kids were running all over the yard chasing clues and talking to each other on walkie-talkies. Despite our best efforts, there were some snafus. A clue hidden under a patio chair cushion was missing (I think it must have fallen out when I was moving furniture). Some clues were discovered out of order or by the wrong group. Noah was a little disgruntled, but overall, everyone seemed to be having a pretty good time. Even after one group had won, one of the kids on the other team wanted to decode one of the clues Noah had printed in code, so everyone else waited on the porch for him to finish so they could move on to the pizza and cake and ice cream portion of the festivities.
This was one of the most interesting parts of the party for me. Noah and David were huddled over the code, Noah watching David’s progress, while everyone else chatted. The kids still at Noah’s old school caught up the kids who’d moved to his new school on all the school gossip. Who’s friends with who now and who’s no longer friends, mostly. Then the kids who’d moved to Noah’s school gave reports on it which ranged from “awesome” to ‘I hate it.” But they also talked about a girl they suspect of having an eating disorder and compared notes on which middle and even high schools they want to attend. They sound so much older now than they did last year. Two of the guests (Elias and Samira) attended nursery school with Noah and two (Sasha and Maura) he met in kindergarten. I don’t understand how those four and five year olds turned into these lanky kids who can look into the future with such ease.
When David finished with the code, we moved to the backyard to eat pizza and cake and ice cream. The cake was one of Beth’s annual masterpieces. Noah wanted it to look like steel plates with screws and a stick of dynamite inside. She accomplished this by baking a separate layer of red-dyed cake and inserting it into the middle of the vanilla cake, covering the cake with graham crackers and frosting it with gray frosting with little swirls of black for the screws.
I’d arranged chairs in a circle on the lawn because I thought it would be too crowded to get everyone around the table. As soon as everyone was seated and eating, Sami launched into a very creepy ghost story about a haunted doll that kills the pets and brother of the girl who buys her, and eventually the girl herself. Hearing this, I tried to coax June out of the circle, but she wanted to stay right where she was and listen to the big kids so I let her. Then Eli told his favorite party story, about a butcher who kills people and sells their meat. Maura started talking about a book of ghost stories she has and it turned out Calvin has the same book, which led to a discussion of serial killers, real and fictional. The kids started deciding what they’d be called if they were serial killers: The Slaughterhouse (Eli) and the Stab (Sami) were popular. Around this time, David said the conversation was “getting out of hand” and left the circle. Soon after his twin brother Richard followed him and they started kicking a soccer ball around the yard. Then the rest of the kids drifted away from eating and starting running around the yard, throwing balls at each other, brandishing sticks and needing to be reminded not to kill each other before their parents came to pick them up. It was a long fifteen minutes, but finally, six o’clock rolled around the party was over.
Noah opened his presents after his guests left. Some of the gifts were crime or mystery-relaed: a lie detector kit, some books from the 39 Clues series (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_39_Clues). My favorite card came from Maura. She drew a spaceship with an alien in it flying from one planet to another. One planet had a sign that said, “Leaving the single digits” and the other one said, “You are entering the double digits.”
After his presents were open, we played the game Auntie Sara got Noah, Imagineniff (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imaginiff), until it was almost time for June to go to bed. Noah used his second night of extended bedtime to have us all listen to The Series of Unfortunate Events. We’re still on Book 10 (and have been for a few months). Our progress has slowed since I decided we really shouldn’t listen to it in front of June anymore, partly because it’s not age appropriate, and partly because I don’t want to spoil it for her when she is old enough to read it. I’m hoping the new bedtime arrangement means we can get back into listening to it on a more regular basis.
Today was Mother’s Day, which seemed like an appropriate way to mark the end of Noah’s birthday week, since he was the one who made us mothers a decade ago. I got fancy cheese and crackers from Noah, lemon tea and dark chocolate with dried blueberries and bouquet of pink carnations from June. We spent the day grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, and planting things in the garden. We’ve left the single digits of our mothering adventure behind. Now it’s time to see what the double digits hold.