Noah’s science camp this week was a full day one, instead of the half-day camps he’s had so far this summer. He and Beth left the house every morning at 8:30, 8:15 if they decided to visit the playground near the Montgomery College Takoma Park campus (www.montgomerycollege.edu/tphome/) before camp started at 9:00. June and I boarded a 2:55 bus to pick him up at 3:30 each afternoon. This schedule gave June and I more time alone together than we’ve had in several weeks. Here are a few things we did while Noah was off making a race car powered by the air escaping from a balloon, a dump truck with a hydraulic system made of syringes and glow-in-the-dark slime.
Monday Morning: June Turns Sixteen Months and Is Taken For a Boy and a Six Month Old
June was enjoying the toddler-sized play structures at the Westmoreland playground, especially the staircase with a railing that allowed her to walk downstairs unassisted, when a voice called from the roof, “Hello!”
I looked up. It was a girl about Noah’s age. “Hi,” I answered, probably less surprised than she hoped. Noah likes to climb up there too.
The girl was lying on the roof with her face hanging over the edge, a few inches from my own. “How old is he?” she asked, gesturing to June, who was spinning the cylinder with noisemakers inside.
I glanced at June. When people hazard a guess at her gender they are more often wrong than right, since she mostly wears Noah’s hand-me-downs and a lot of the clothes we have bought for her came from the boys’ aisle of the consignment shop. We just like boys’ clothes better. Today, though, June was wearing a pair of white pants with red, orange and yellow flowers on them, hand-me-downs from Kathleen’s daughter Caitlin. They even have red bows at the ankles. True, she wore a plain red t-shirt and navy blue sneakers with them, but this is about as girly as June gets, unless it’s a dress-up occassion. “She’s a girl,” I said, “And she’s sixteen months.” Exactly sixteen months, to the day, I thought, but didn’t say.
“How old are you?” asked the girl.
I laughed, surprised at the question. We are so often called upon to report our children’s ages and so infrequently our own. “Forty. And how old are you?”
“Six. My mother is twenty-five. She works for State Farm. My grandmother is a babysitter. She watches her.” She motioned to a preschool-age girl standing near-by. “Where do you work?” A long exchange ensued in which I tried in different ways to explain that I stay home with my kids and she kept asking me what my real job was. Eventually, I told her I used to be a teacher, but on hearing I wasn’t currently looking for a teaching job, she was still unsatisfied. Finally, she hit on the answer herself. “So you’re a babysitter for your kids?”
“I guess so,” I said.
“Lucky mom,” she commented. She looked back at June. “What’s her name?”
“But June’s a month!”
“It is, but it’s also a name.”
“My name is Vanessa.”
“My name is December,” the younger girl piped up.
“She’s lying,” Vanessa said. “She always lies about her name. It’s Catherine.” Catherine/December looked abashed. Soon after Vanessa’s grandmother came to collect them and they left.
That afternoon as we waited for the bus, a man at the stop looked at June and said, “About six months?”
“Um, no, sixteen,” I said. Okay, she’s little. She was even wearing size 6-12 month clothes at the time. But she was also standing on top of a wall, taking sideways hops along it in one direction, then the other. Is she that hard to recognize as a toddler girl, I wondered, even in floral garb, even walking on a wall two feet off the ground?
Fortunately, June was not bothered in the least. She began trying to climb down the wall so she could walk on the sidewalk and perhaps even dart into traffic. I was mean and wouldn’t let her.
Tuesday Afternoon: June Multitasks
I often ride the exercise bike in our basement with June bobbing up and down on my thigh. This week I was aiming for twelve minutes a day. (And I did it!) It’s about as long as June can last without getting fussy and five times twelve minutes equals an hour. It’s not much as far as aerobic exercise goes, but it’s something, and something is better than nothing. I never know when or if she’ll nap alone so I like to spend that time (if I get it) having some one-on-one time with Noah or getting a jump on making dinner. (I have this crazy preference for cooking without anyone clinging to my legs and screaming.) Plus anything I accomplish with June awake feels like a bonus.
Tuesday afternoon we squeezed exercise time in right before we needed to get on the bus to get Noah. I held June in one arm, while using the other to flip through a book of Roz Chast cartoons (www.planetcartoonist.com/editorial/success_rozchast.shtml). The book was an experiment; I had reached a new level of multitasking.
I looked down at June. She was busy, too. In one arm she clutched her favorite bunny, in the other she held a Maisy book (www.maisyfunclub.com/), which she propped (upside down) against my chest to free an arm to page through it. “Book,” she muttered over and over, pronouncing it clearly, even with a pacifier in her mouth.
Wednesday Afternoon: June Watches a Horror Movie
I decided to take advantage of Noah’s longer absence this week to watch a movie. June’s usually pretty good about playing independently as long as I am sitting still in an accessible place, so she likes movies, too. Soon she will be too old for me to watch much besides kids’ TV with her in the room, so I picked Stephen King’s six-hour miniseries The Stand, or rather the first two installments, to watch this week. I’ve been wanting to see it since I re-read the novel earlier this year. Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” that good old horror movie-music standby, plays during the opening credits:
All our times have come
Here but now they’re gone
Seasons don’t fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain
We can be like they are
Come on, baby… Don’t fear the Reaper
Baby, take my hand… Don’t fear the Reaper
We’ll be able to fly… Don’t fear the Reaper
Apparently, June is one baby that does not fear the reaper in the least. She danced her little June dance, which consists of bending and unbending her knees while enthusiastically bobbing her head to the music. A few minutes into the film a crow pecks at the eyes of a child’s discarded Raggedy Andy doll. It’s meant to symbolize the coming plague that will wipe out 99% of the human race. The girl who drops the doll is only a little older than June and looks a lot like her. It’s a chilling moment, or it was until June pointed at the screen and said, “Duck!” in a delighted tone. In June’s world, any large bird is a duck and any duck sighting (ducks in book illustrations, rubber ducks in the tub, or best of all, real ones in the creek) is cause for celebration. The crow appears frequently in the film. As an added attraction, Molly Ringwald, on whom I had a little crush in high school, plays of my favorite characters. June and I settled in for a good time.
Thursday Evening: June Hails the Ice Cream Truck
I fear it might be a sign that we are patronizing the ice cream truck too often this summer that as we walked toward it, June pointed and said, “Mo,” June-speak for “More,” or more broadly, “I’d like some of that please.” She has also been known to run to the door when she hears its siren song and say “Truck!”
Friday Morning: June Observes Proper Etiquette…When She Wants To
Since we all get up more or less at the same time (whenever Noah rouses us) our narrow little bathroom can get pretty crowded in the mornings. And since June likes to be where the action is, early Friday morning found her methodically emptying a low bathroom drawer of its washcloths and then replacing them. “Thangoo. Thangoo. Thangoo,” I heard her say. We often thank June when she hands us something or puts something back where it belongs. If we are not quick enough, she thanks herself.
On the bus home from picking up Noah, June was very cranky, writhing in my arms and sobbing. She’s cutting a molar and has been napping poorly for a few days. She’d just quit crying and had collapsed against my shoulder when a woman with a girl about June’s age boarded the bus. I waved at the girl. She waved back. Noah waved. She waved back. By now the girl was staring at June and waving at her, no longer interested in Noah’s or my waves. She grew increasingly emphatic, her waves resembling karate chops. No response from June. Apparently, it was not time to wave.
After a late afternoon nap and a big dinner she was in better spirits. All four of us sat on the porch and sipped watermelon coolers Beth had made and listened to the patter of a badly needed rain. Or rather Beth, Noah and I sat. June toddled around the porch, sucking watermelon juice out of a cup with a straw, babbling happily and waving at passing cars.
Vanessa was right. I am a lucky mom.