A Little Bit Fancy

“Will I be the fanciest one there?” June wanted to know about the tea party at our friends Jim and Kevin’s house on Sunday afternoon. June had selected a pink and white and green dress with a daisy print and a lot of pink ribbon on the bodice. It’s a sundress so she was wearing a white shrug over it and pale green tights under it. I thought she would be, I said, provided there were no other four or five-year-old girls present.

Jim had said there would be two additional guests besides our family, but he had not specified beyond that. They turned out to be two lesbians, neighbors of theirs, and June did not have much competition in the fancy department. Everyone else was in pants, including me, although I had considered a skirt, mainly to placate June. Beth did change out of her crocs into closed shoes before she left the house and I was wearing a black cardigan over a tan turtleneck, an outfit June told me encouragingly was “a little bit fancy.”

June had also managed to convince Beth to buy a Valentine’s bouquet at the Co-op earlier in the day. This was not an impulse purchase. June had secured a promise for flowers for Valentine’s Day at least a week in advance and had reminded Beth of her pledge many times in the interim. They ended up with a half dozen pink roses. The roses sat in a vase on the dining room table; June was wearing a new dress and heading to a real, grown-up tea party; and there was Valentine’s Day the next day to anticipate. In June’s opinion this was shaping up to be quite a satisfactory day.

We had a very pleasant three hours at Jim and Kevin’s place. They set out croissants, ginger cookies, and an apple tart along with a wide variety of teas. Noah loves croissants and ate both his and June’s. She kept asking for more cookies and I kept fetching them for her without keeping a strict count of how many she had eaten. It was very relaxing to eat and drink and talk for what felt like protracted periods of time, even though to the four childless adults there it probably seemed like I was jumping up constantly to get food for June or to entertain her. (Noah was fairly self-sufficient. I brought homework for him, but mostly he sat and listened to the grownups talk.)

I had paper and crayons for June and set up a valentine workstation for her on the stairs. She sat on the landing with her paper one step up and extra materials two steps up. She made a Valentine for the Field Cricket featuring a police officer and a police car. (The Cricket has a strong interest in law enforcement.) Then she made one for Noah and one for Beth. Finally, she made one for Jim and Kevin. I took her down to their basement where Kevin grows orchids so she could draw one. Fortunately, there was one in bloom. We’d also brought along some Fancy Nancy books (http://www.fancynancyworld.com/) and I read a couple of those to her.

When both kids started to get antsy, we got them into their coats and sent them out into the yard to play Hide-and-Seek. Every now and then I caught a glimpse of June’s purple coat streaking by through the trellis on the screened porch. After awhile they came to the door to report that some neighbor kids had invited them into their yard to play. This was startling, as in my almost ten years of parenting this has never happened, except at the beach when families sit in close proximity and the adults can watch their kids playing together from their separate towels. I thought about how although we live in a neighborhood full of kids, no one ever comes over to play without it being vetted and scheduled ahead of time. Seeing us hesitate, Jim said he knew their mother a little bit.

Beth said yes, but don’t go into the house. Every now and then I got up and looked out the window. I could often see Noah’s orange and brown coat, always in motion. June was a bit too short to be seen over the low fences that separated the yards. I could also see the other mother coming to her own doorway to watch her kids and mine every now and then. Whatever they were playing seemed to involve a lot of running around.

It was close to six when we left and we had a half-hour drive home. This made dinner and baths a bit of a rush, but it was worth it. It was the fanciest afternoon I’ve had in a while.

We were expecting another big outing on Valentine’s morning. Noah’s class was going to present their Day-in-the-Life projects. As part of their second quarter research project, they had to write a story demonstrating what daily life is like for a contemporary child in another culture. Noah’s child was German. He had worked hard on it and we were looking forward to seeing him and his classmates present. The class Valentine’s Day party was scheduled for later in the day, after the parents left. Noah had been anticipating both events and exclaiming over how fun it would be to have them on the same day for weeks.

So of course he woke up at 4:40 a.m. sick to his stomach and was violently ill for the next nine hours. It’s often really hard to tell whether or not Noah is sick because he has trouble reading his body’s signals but there was no ambiguity here. He could not go to school. I think he was just as disappointed not to be able to make his oral presentation as he was to miss the party. He’s that kind of kid. I emailed his teacher and asked if it would be possible for him to read the story to the class at a later date and if so, if we could come. She answered no, that it wasn’t a graded part of the assignment so he would not be able to do it. Even though I understand, as a former teacher, how important staying on schedule can be, I was a bit annoyed with her. It would have only taken five minutes and it would have made him happy. So we’ll do it at home when he gets his story back, but it’s not the same.

To cheer him up and because we would not be rushing him out the door to catch the bus, we agreed to exchange Valentine cards and presents in the morning instead of in the evening as we’d planned. There were a great many cards and presents to exchange and it was kind of chaotic with everyone running to get their things out of hiding and sign cards, etc. In fact, we forgot a few presents that did not reach their recipients until Beth got home that night. Mostly it was candy, though I got tangerine marmalade and lemon-pear marmalade from Stonewall Kitchen (http://www.stonewallkitchen.com/) and Beth got a book (http://www.amazon.com/What-Lynda-Barry/dp/1897299354), or rather the promise of one, as it’s backordered. Noah’s valentine to me was three pieces of paper taped together that read: “Who ever said a Valentine card has to be small?” in small text and then “Why can’t it be BIG” in bigger text, and then “Wishing you a LARGELY happy, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and pnuemonooultramicroscopicsilicovolancanoconiosis-free Valentine’s Day! (With many more LARGE words!!!) love, Noah.” Once that was finished, Beth stepped out the door, wishing me good luck.

If there was a silver lining to Noah being home, I thought, it was that he could get a jump on the first assignment in his author study project, which was due on Friday. Over the course of February and March, he had to pick an author and read four of his or her books, plus a biography or autobiography, and then do a series of assignments on the author. Noah chose Gary Paulsen (http://www.randomhouse.com/features/garypaulsen/) and over the weekend he’d finished his fourth novel, leaving only weekday evenings to complete the first assignment. This had been making me nervous.

Noah was not really up for working at the moment, though, so he watched Curious George and The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That with June. He laughed as hard as she did at the funny parts. When her shows were over, he climbed into my bed with a copy of Car and Driver and June and I went out for a walk. This was partly to get them out of each other’s hair because he wasn’t too weak to argue with her and she was not sufficiently sympathetic to refrain from arguing with him. We set out, June wearing the burgundy jumper she had chosen as an appropriate Valentine’s dress, after much thought and negotiation about appropriate school wear. When we returned an hour later, Noah was still in bed, but now he was reading The Lightening Thief. It was ten-thirty.

I asked if he felt well enough to work and he thought he might, but he accomplished very little over the next two hours. June finished her last valentine, a cityscape for the Mallard Duck (who recently traveled to California, which as it turns out June thinks is a large city). June worked on her valentines over the course of several weeks and they were quite eclectic in style. Most were hand-drawn but one was printed out from a free web site and colored and a few more were cut out from Ladybug magazine. These were all bugs—a grasshopper saying “Bug Me” or a bee saying “Bee Mine.” You get the idea.
As June drew and ate lunch at got ready to leave for school, Noah sat at the dining room table, occasionally paging through the books he was trying to take notes on, but mostly staring out into space.

By the time I returned from dropping June off at school, he’d left his post and hadn’t taken any notes. He was still not feeling well and I wondered if he was just too sick to get anything done, but once we were alone in the house and able to talk through the steps of such a project—deciding which assignment to complete, skimming the novels he’d read, taking notes, selecting quotes for the poster he was going to make and sketching out how the poster would look, things started to move along, if slowly. I’d leave him to ride the exercise bike, or to attend to the laundry and then come back and check on him and give advice. His project is on literary devices (foreshadowing, flashbacks, imagery and figurative language) and we even had some fun conversations. What unemployed English professor would not want to have someone ask her, “Why do authors use flashbacks anyway?” So we talked about literary devices and he had some good insights. It was a conversation we might not have had time to let take its full course on a normal day, with his little sister vying for my attention.

By the end of the day he had most of his quotes identified and typed into a document and he had written explanations of how most of the literary devices furthered his understanding of the novels. If he doesn’t have much other homework this week he should be able to pull it all together by Friday.

Meanwhile, I went back to nursery school to fetch June, who had a handful of valentines from her friends and a homemade sugar cookie the Painted Turtle and his mother baked. She insisted on carrying the Cottontail Rabbit’s card home in her hand and after I read her the text printed on the card (“so glad we’re friends”) she insisted it said “so glad we’re best friends.” June’s got a bit of girl-crush on the Cottontail Rabbit right now.

After her nap, June helped me make orange scones, half with raisins (because she likes them) and half with dried cranberries (because Noah likes those). At around two-thirty Noah had started eating again, consuming a banana, an English muffin and a container of yogurt over the course of three hours, so I thought he could have a little dinner. All he wanted was the scones, so that’s what he had. Beth and I had spinach and goat cheese omelets and vegetarian sausage with ours, and June had sausage and broccoli with hers.

Before bed, Noah, who had been surrounded by Valentines sweets he could not eat all day, politely asked if he could try a little candy, so I said one piece and he had a hazelnut truffle and pronounced it good. I was glad there was a little sweetness in his day. There was some in mine, too, even though it was not the Valentine’s Day any of us expected. I got chocolate and yummy jam and the pleasure of discussing literature with an intelligent student. That’s at least a little bit fancy.