Magic Wings

“Do you know your lines?” Beth asked as we were getting the kids ready for bed on Thursday night. Noah and June attended drama camp at June’s school for four hours a day this week and it was the eve of the performance of their play, The Magic Wings. Noah was playing a crocus; June was a princess.

June’s answer was evasive, so Noah volunteered that he knew his lines and June could say hers when Lesley prompted her.

In the morning Noah suddenly regretted having worn his Hawaiian shirt with the flowers and skulls on it the day before since he was playing a flower and his costume consisted only of a construction paper flower crown, which meant his shirt would show. He wanted a flowery shirt. Never mind I’d suggested the day before that he save the shirt for performance day. He’d wanted to wear it to the dress rehearsal and now it was dirty. How about a green t-shirt, I said, pulling two from his drawer. It could look like a stem. He didn’t go for it. How about the colorful tie-dyed t-shirt? It looked kind of like a flower. Bingo. Noah paired it with green shorts and he was dressed. June’s costume was a long red robe that would cover all her clothes so getting her dressed was easier. She chose a t-shirt and a skirt and we were off.

Once I’d delivered the kids to camp and returned home, I tried to think strategically. Somehow three of the only four days this summer when both kids would be in camp at the same time had evaporated without much to show for it. Well, that’s not exactly true. I’d run a lot of errands (bank, post office, library, dropping off a present for a friend’s baby’s first birthday) and I’d been to Mayorga (http://mayorgacoffee.com/coffeetalk/) to read in blessed silence twice (once for a whole hour!) and I’d weeded and thinned the carrots in the garden and I’d mended a shirt of Noah’s and I’d even spent a total of about an hour on the exercise bike in short sessions, but my plans had been grander. I’d hoped to get some deep cleaning done around the house and I hadn’t done any housework at all.

I had two excuses. The week before had been draining. Both kids were home and for a lot of that time we’d been grounded, waiting for someone to come and repair our broken refrigerator. Every day from Monday to Wednesday the kids’ bickering marathons started earlier in the day until we hit a low point of eight a.m. (It got better on Thursday and Friday when we could get out of the house.) I tried to keep them occupied with play dates. June had a friend over and so did Noah and then we visited two more friends of June’s.

My second excuse was the heat. This past week we had three consecutive days of highs over 100 degrees, and we have no air conditioning aside from a window unit in our bedroom. When I wasn’t out running errands or weeding in the garden with water from the sprinkler coming down directly on me, or exercising in the basement, which is cooler than the rest of the house, all I wanted to do was curl up in front of the air conditioner and read.

It was a little cooler on Friday, mid-nineties, but I was still not that eager to leave the bedroom. So I went back to the much neglected mending pile and I cleaned out my closet. You can see the floor now and there’s a little more room now that I’ve rooted out a bunch of outgrown shoes of June’s and some things I never wear and bagged the clothes up to give away. So now there’s a visible benefit of having had the kids out of the house for a few half-days.

At 12:45 I headed over to the school. Camp let out at 1:30 and the performance was scheduled for 1:00. Kids in costumes were running around greeting their parents or sitting at a table drawing. June kept tripping over her long gown. Noah showed me a letter (Z or maybe it should be N he said) he was creating by drawing tiny squares in different colors for a mosaic effect.

I took a seat in Imagination Station, the room where the kids do dramatic play during the school year. The camp was attended mainly by current students and alumni so I knew a lot of the parents there, but not well, as most of their kids were a year or two years ahead of June. Noah was the oldest camper by a few years as far as I could tell, but he didn’t seem to mind playing with a mainly five and six-year-old crowd. In fact, he said the camp was a lot of fun.

After the kids and Lesley finished a brainstorming session about final kinks to work out in the performance, the show began. Here’s a rough summary of the plot. The story takes place in China. At the beginning a girl is driving her geese through a field of spring flowers. She wants to greet all the flowers but there are so many she can’t manage it. (The flowers greet her and say, “Spring is here.” This was Noah’s part.) The girl notices a goose flapping its wings and wishes for wings so she could fly and better see all the flowers. She wets her shoulders with water and flaps her arms in an attempt to grow wings. Then a series of female characters are inspired to do the same thing, each trying a different, and increasingly expensive, liquid. (June, the princess, uses perfume.) None of them are successful and once all the village’s women and girls are engaged in trying to grow wings, women’s work has come to a standstill. The village’s boys and men call upon a spirit for help. The spirit is able to grant wings to only person and chooses the goose girl.

All the kids did a great job. June did need to be prompted on the longest of her several lines and at least two occasions the two-year-old sister of one of players rushed the stage. He turned to her, gave her a little hug and said, “I have to do the play now,” as polite as could be. It was an adorable moment. The toddler ended up staying on stage flapping her arms with all the others for a long while.

Then it was over and we headed home. June wore her sparkly, purple construction paper crown as we walked. After a short nap and an episode of Super Why, I offered to take the kids to Starbucks. It was still hot, but I felt like celebrating their performance. Noah grabbed his scooter and June wanted to ride hers, too. In retrospect, this might be where I went wrong.

June’s had the scooter, a hand-me-down from Noah, since the fall, but she still has trouble getting it moving up even the slightest grade and it’s uphill (just barely but enough to make it hard for her) almost all the way to Starbucks. It took a lot of coaxing to keep her going and we got there much later than I intended. When I told the kids we’d be taking our treats home and not eating them there so Noah wouldn’t miss his television, he took it fine, but June burst into tears. Removed now from my own frustration, I can see her point of view. She had worked so hard to get here. She’d an exciting day and a short nap and it was hot out there. She wanted her raspberry pound cake and mango juice now, not later. I stopped, considered and made her a peace offering of the juice since I thought she could drink and walk at the same time and I’d already agreed to carry the scooter home. (It would have been downhill, but she was over it.) It seemed to work. She agreed to the plan and we left.

Our particular Starbucks is at the end of a shopping center. The other anchor store is a supermarket banked by a lower and upper sidewalk with a brick wall in between them. June loves to walk along this wall, but it’s interrupted frequently by poles so we have a policy that she can choose one stretch and I will lift her up and down one time. What happened next was unusual. She got spooked and wanted to be lifted down immediately. So I did, and then she wanted back up and almost without thinking, I said no, you’ve had your once up and once down. June did not see it my way at all. What she thought she was entitled to was one walk along the wall from one pole to the other and she had not had that. She sat down on the sidewalk and commenced to wail. Even Noah, who is often oblivious to her crying, doubled back on his scooter and asked, “What happened to her?” I think he might have been expecting me to say she’d fallen off the wall. She was crying that hard.

I asked her to get up. She kept crying. I tugged gently on one of her arms. She did not get up and she kept crying. I told her if I had to carry her through the parking lot there would be a consequence. She stayed put and kept crying.

“Okay, no computer for a week,” I said, and she managed to scream even louder than she had been as I lifted her up and struggled across the parking lot carrying my limp daughter under one arm and her scooter, her helmet, a bag of treats and my iced tea in the other arm. I set her down on the grass once we’d made it across the lot. I told her I could not carry her all the way home like that and I needed her to walk. I said there would be another consequence if she didn’t. I wasn’t at all sure what it would be because I had a nagging feeling I had already gone too far, but I didn’t have to think of one. She got up and walked home, crying, albeit softly, all the way.

I marveled at how such a nice day had gone downhill so quickly. Where were our magic wings when we needed them? Why couldn’t we see the flowers? By the time we got home, Noah’s show was half over so he elected not to watch it and to take a solo scooter ride instead. I led June back to the air-conditioned bedroom and told her I loved her even when she misbehaved. Then I asked her what part of what had happened she was crying about now. “Both parts,” she sniffed.

And what were they, I asked. Not getting to walk on the wall and losing her computer time, she said, which is what I would have guessed but I wanted to be sure. We talked it over some more and then she said she needed a snuggle and a story, so I read her a Curious George book. By the time it was over, she seemed to have recovered completely from the experience, but I was still stewing over it. Noah and I had a lot of episodes like this when he was four, although his were more intense. I wondered if I should have negotiated more at the wall or if she just needed to learn I have the final say. You’d think that by the second time around I would know the answers to these questions but I don’t.

That evening, as we were getting the kids ready for bed again, June got hold of the instructions for Beth’s arm exercises. (Beth hurt her right arm shoveling snow last winter then aggravated the injury while digging garden plots this spring and now she’s in physical therapy for it.) “I can read because I know what sounds the letters make,” June announced. I nodded absently.

She studied the instructions for a while and then said, “What does ‘duh-ooh’ mean?”

Beth and I peeked at the sheet to see the word where her finger lay. It was “do.” She didn’t quite recognize it but she’d sounded out a word. Beth and I looked at each other in amazement. June will be reading some day. Maybe in year, surely in two, but I felt as if we’d just seen the first step of that journey and it was thrilling. No less thrilling for being the second time around either.

I think the play was right in that sometimes it feels like some people get the magic wings and some people, the majority of them, don’t. It’s black and white–you’re rich, or talented, or lucky, or you’re not. But I think a deeper truth is that we all lack those wings sometimes (in shopping center parking lots, angry at our children and their tantrums) and sometimes in moments when we expect to and moments we don’t (watching them smile on stage in their paper crowns or seeing the inner workings of their growing minds) we have them and we soar.

  • M

    That’s lovely. And I don’t know what the hell I’m doing either (in the overheated parking lot tantrum department), but for what it’s worth, I think you did great.

  • sister sara

    I think the answer is there is no right answer.

    I keep imagining how situations like this work with a 7-year-old you didn’t raise.