Wild, Wild Horses

Prelude: Thursday and Friday

The kids’ last day of school before Spring Break was a Thursday. As Noah had no pressing homework and we were leaving for the beach on Saturday, I pounced on him as soon as he got home and set him to work, vacuuming, practicing percussion, cleaning his room.  I asked June to help with the last project and when Beth got home around 6:30 the kids were arguing about whether June was being “lazy” and I was at the stove, ignoring the row and stirring risotto.  I left the rice long enough to put my arms around Beth’s neck and say, “Thank you for taking us to the beach so the whole break won’t be like this.”

We had spring break all mapped out: Friday June would spend part of the day at Beth’s office, from the first Saturday to the second Saturday we’d be at the beach, Easter Sunday we’d catch up on chores and errands and on the second Monday, the last day of break, the kids would attend a one-day session at Round House Theatre.  Theoretically, I was going to work on the first and last day and be on vacation in between, but Friday was a fragmented kind of day, so other than some accounting, I didn’t work.

On Friday Beth took June to the office with her for two and a half hours. June helped her recycle some papers and open envelopes and then she drew pictures and read. I read to Noah and puttered around the house until 10:15 when I left to go fetch June, and  after enjoying some time with the newspaper at Firehook Bakery near Beth’s office, I met them in the lobby at 11:30 and we went out to lunch together at Meatballs, where Beth and I ate meatball subs made with lentil balls and June contented herself with tater tots.

Noah had a productive morning at home, doing math and English homework, and practicing his drums again.  In the afternoon, we were visited by a reporter from The Wall Street Journal who’s writing a story about kids’ allowances and who interviewed Noah about how he uses Quicken to track his money.  While she was at our house, she got locked out of her laptop and Noah fixed it for her, by suggesting she shut it down and restart it (always a good first step but it didn’t occur to me—Beth has trained him well).

Maggie came by for a play date soon after the reporter left, and that evening we had frozen pizza and various leftovers for dinner, Beth and I filled out our absentee ballots and we started packing.

The Beach: 

Saturday 

Less than half hour into the drive to Rehoboth I realized I had not looked for, found or packed June’s pacifier, which she’d lost the night before.  Beth and I had a whispered conversation in which we agreed not to go back for it. This would be our opportunity to wean her from her nap and nighttime dependence on it.

During a pit stop, June mentioned she was tired. I suggested she have a little nap because we were at least a half hour from our designated lunch stop. She agreed happily and as she climbed into her car seat, she asked for her pacifier. Somehow I’d failed to anticipate this. I broke the bad news.  She looked stricken, but she didn’t cry. Noah unhelpfully began to intone in a dramatic announcer-type voice, “Will June survive a week without her pacifier?”

“No, she won’t,” June muttered.

Beth sternly told Noah this was going to be hard for June and we needed to be kind to her.

I suggested he stop sucking his thumb for a week in solidarity, tapping his arm to remind him his thumb was in his mouth at that very moment. Noah did not to agree to this, so I offered not to bite my nails for a week. (I did it, too!)

June fell asleep shortly after this conversation but I warned Beth not to consider it a good sign, as the car is a powerful soporific.

We arrived at the house, unpacked and June and I hit the boardwalk while Beth went to buy food for dinner and breakfast.  I was on foot and June was on her bike, ringing the bell every few minutes.  “When I ring the bell it means I’m having a good time,” she said. As she pedaled toward Candy Kitchen, June commented, “I’ve had lunch,” in an offhand way. It was late afternoon, close to dinnertime, but I told her she could get something for later. She selected gummy teeth and perused the stuffed animals. She wanted to buy a giraffe, with her own money—despite my broad hints about the Easter Bunny’s propensity to bring stuffed animals.  I didn’t have enough cash on me, so it was a moot point and she reluctantly agreed to wait until later in the week, to see if she saw something she liked better.

It was cold, in the high forties, overcast and windy, so windy that the wind was propelling the bike forward as much as June was, and when we turned around she couldn’t pedal at all and I had to push the bike home.

That night we settled June into bed without a pacifier but with a stuffed rabbit, a stuffed cat and a baby doll.  We tucked her under her Cinderella blanket and put on her favorite bedtime CD—Peter and the Wolf.  “I have to do this all week,” she said.  It didn’t seem like a good time to tell her if all went well, she was saying goodbye to the pacifier forever.  As I left the room, she was moaning.

She couldn’t sleep. For an hour, I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret to Noah while Beth received repeated visits from June. She wanted the CD turned off, and then turned on again. Beth suggested she try counting backwards and then June came back for more explicit instructions. Finally, around 9:20, we realized she hadn’t been out of bed for ten minutes or so and I peeked in on her. She was asleep. She slept until 3:20 when I woke to her sobs.  She was standing in the hall outside the bathroom. She said she was thirsty and couldn’t find a cup for water.  I didn’t think this was her whole reason for crying, but I got her a drink and sent her back to bed.  Despite being up late and in the middle of the night, June was up at 5:45 and came into our room repeatedly until 7:00 a.m., with newsflashes like this one that woke me for good at 6:10—“I’m bored. I don’t want to play with my toys.”

Sunday

Beth and I were pretty wiped out so I went and got take-out coffee to give us the mental focus for planning and list making.  We made lists of dinner menus, a grocery list and a list of possible day trips for the week.  We thought a low-key day would be best as three of us were sleep-deprived.  Plus Beth needed to grocery shop and she had some work to do, too.

Once our week was planned, I played two games of Hex with June and took the kids to the beach. Noah, irritated that I’d taken June to Candy Kitchen without him, got his turn. He chose raspberry gummy rings while June re-assessed her stuffed animal options. She left thinking she might want Ruby, of Max and Ruby. I thought a bunny might be appropriate for Easter.

It was still cool, but sunny and windless.  The sea was calm and sparkly. We found a big plowed ridge of sand, part of a beach replenishment project. It was about ten feet high and at least fifty yards long and it gave the kids’ play a focal point.  They slid down it and leapt off it, marking their record jumps with driftwood.  June leaned against the base while Noah buried her up to her chin and they pretended she was a mummy coming back to life and breaking free of her bandages (the blanket of sand). They built sand temples and sand volcanoes.  We were there almost two hours.

I thought with her poor night’s sleep, biking to the beach and back and an active morning of running and jumping, June might be exhausted enough to nap sans pacifier, but she just couldn’t.  About fifteen minutes into her attempt, she started to cry.  Noah came into her room to see what was wrong, but she told him, “There’s nothing you can do.”  So she didn’t sleep, and I didn’t either.  I even offered to let her sleep with me, but that didn’t work either.  Beth finished her work and took June to the playground while Noah and I read on the porch.

We had an early dinner and walked down to the boardwalk for dessert. Ice cream was the original idea but the wind had picked up again and it wasn’t feeling much like ice cream weather.  Beth got some anyway (she’s dedicated to ice cream); the rest of us opted for fudge. I would have gotten funnel cake if I could have gotten someone to agree to go halfsies with me.

The kids had time for a round of Rat-a-Tat-Cat before June’s bedtime. When I left her room less than five minutes after lights out, she was nearly asleep.

Monday

Monday was one of our scheduled side trips.  We spent the day at Assateague Island National Seashore and on the boardwalk at Ocean City.

As we drove into the park, Noah asserted that we’d been there before (true) and that we didn’t see any horses (false).  Beth and I had just been reminiscing about our last trip to Assateague during Noah’s kindergarten spring break and his challenging behavior during that outing (Postcards from Spring Break, 4/9/07). “It’s like the ghost of grumpy Noah came back,” I said.

But, other than occasionally insisting we’d never seen horses before and we wouldn’t see them today either, he was in a pretty good mood. Both kids ran down the sandy path of the Life of the Dunes trail, pretending to the superheroes, avoiding the villains (us) spying on them (taking pictures).  We all enjoyed the trail, but we didn’t see hide nor hair of the wild horses (only their abundant poop). I wondered if we should have pulled over when we saw people stopping by the side of the road, photographing distant horses.

We were near the beach so the kids played in the sand before we hit the Life of the Marsh trail.  On the drive there we hit pay dirt.  By the side of the road, just off the parking lot there were three horses, a brown stallion, a brown and white mare and an almost all white foal. The baby was snoozing on the grass. Not only did we see horses, but we saw a baby horse. This was a major parenting score.

We hoped to see water birds on the marsh trail, and there were ducks and quite a few snowy egrets flying, landing and standing elegantly in the water, but there were also horses.  Horses on distant spits of land, and then a shaggy brown horse right off the boardwalk trail.  We’d have to get closer than the recommended ten feet away to pass it. We edged by slowly. “I wish I could pet it,” June said wistfully.  She was sternly instructed not to do so. When we got to the parking lot, there were five or six more horses, all reddish brown, with manes ranging from tan to black.

“No-one’s going to say we didn’t see horses today,” I predicted back in the car on our way to the last trail, the Life of the Forest trail.  We had lunch at a boardwalk restaurant in Ocean City. Noah spied the carousel horses that decorated the place and said it was a day of horses and that’s when we saw the mounted police officer out the window.

After lunch, June rode her bike and Noah rode his scooter down the boardwalk. Noah wanted to go to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, so we did, with some trepidation about its appropriateness for a sensitive six year old. It was the kind of day when we just didn’t want to say no. I steered June away from videos of people who’d survived horrible accidents (shark attacks, etc.) and was relieved when she didn’t ask about the foot-binding exhibit or the Iron Maiden. What really caught her attention was the room of statues of the tallest person ever and the fattest, and the man with extreme body modification (green scale tattoos, filed teeth, surgically forked tongue).  She was talking about that lizard man for days.  The children got their fortunes told by a mechanical Gypsy and had their portrait sketched by a computer—Noah chose the style of Raphael and June went with Rembrandt.

After we’d had our fill of oddities and careful conversations about them, we sampled the boardwalk’s treats. Beth got a shake, I got a dipped cone, Noah got a chocolate-covered frozen banana and June got a cloud of blue cotton candy considerably bigger than her head. We sat on a bench to eat and soon the kids were playing in the sand. I joined them and we made our way down the broad beach to the water. We rolled up our pants and dipped our feet into the water.  At 3:50, I glanced at my watch and decided it was time to head back.

“This was a really fun day,” I told Beth as we walked up the boardwalk watching the kids riding ahead of us. It was about to get a lot less fun.

We were almost to the intersection where we’d leave the boardwalk and we couldn’t see the kids.  They had gotten out of our sight before briefly and we’d always caught sight of them, but not this time.  We stopped at the intersection and looked all around, but they were nowhere to be seen. Beth said a bad word or rather she spelled it, as if the kids were still there and still small enough for that to work.  We conferred hurriedly. Beth would stay in front of the restaurant where we ate lunch, in case they thought to go there.  I would go down the boardwalk after them. I jogged and walked and jogged and walked for twelve blocks.  Once I saw a little girl on a white bike and I yelled, “June!” but before the word was even out of my mouth, I saw it wasn’t her.  I heard the distinctive sound of scooter wheels coming from a side street and I looked but it wasn’t Noah. Finally I came to a barrier.  The boardwalk was undergoing repairs on the other side. They wouldn’t have crossed it. Part of my mind was relieved because the Ocean City boardwalk is not like Rehoboth’s little one-mile boardwalk. It goes on and on and on for dozens of blocks. I was glad to have the search area confined to a twelve block-stretch. But another part of my mind thought I should have seen them coming back unless…I didn’t listen and searched the area all around the barrier in case they were waiting somewhere nearby, on the beach or a restaurant patio. I yelled, “Noah!” over and over. No answer.

I turned back. I was no longer hurrying, but lingering now, looking all around me. When I got back to Beth, we’d have to call the police, I decided. And then about halfway back, I saw Noah, just Noah. This could be very good or very bad. “Where’s June?” I yelled, before saying anything else.

She was with Beth. The kids had been waiting by the car, where neither Beth nor I had seen them even though we both, independently of each other, peered down that street. They’d argued about whether to remain there, June remembering advice to stay put if you were lost, and Noah thinking we might be just around the corner. He did not leave her and finally he convinced her to come and they were re-united with Beth, who was in fact just around the corner and who sent Noah on his scooter to find me. I’d left my backpack with my cell phone behind with Beth and they had no way to call me.

In case you’re wondering if I’ve learned anything since the last time I lost Noah in a public place (Lost and Found, 7/17/10), I’ve learned this: even though I’d never deliberately leave Noah in charge of June in a crowded public place for upwards of a half hour, I now know they’ll stick together and discuss their options thoughtfully. I know that when it mattered, he had her back. That’s no small thing.

The kids seemed no worse for the wear, though Noah admitted the next day to having been “a little worried.”  Beth and I were wrung out. Back at the house, Beth made matzoh ball soup, we made the kids eat their carrots and drink their milk; I bathed June and read to Noah. Beth shepherded a pacifier-deprived June back to bed several times and finally they were fed and clean and safe in their beds and so was I, hunkered down with the only one in the world who loves them as much as I do.

Our spring break adventures continue in the next post…

  • Swistle

    There is just NOTHING like a missing child. The world suddenly seems ENORMOUS and IMPOSSIBLE TO SEARCH.