A Prologue to Summer

Noah started his summer vacation on Tuesday afternoon with a time-out. Sasha had a pool party to celebrate the last day of school, so Noah took the bus home with him. School was a half-day so the kids spent most of the afternoon swimming and playing in the yard. Parents and siblings were invited to come have a dip at 3:30, but the day was overcast and cool so I decided to skip that part. June and I showed up at 4:00 to collect Noah. No-one was in the pool when we arrived, but there were several kids chasing each other around the yard with water balloons and soakers. Noah came running around the corner and sprayed me.

“Noah, don’t!” I said, but he didn’t have time to stop himself. Well, that’s what I told myself at the time. Later I had to wonder. Because after explaining to him I didn’t want to get wet, I went to get his backpack and dry clothes from Sasha’s mom, returned to the yard and took a water balloon to the shoulder.

“That’s it, Noah! You’re having a time-out when we get home,” I told him and I marched him out of Sasha’s yard.

This wasn’t exactly how I wanted to start his summer break. I feel so ambivalent about summer since becoming the mother of a school-age child. On the one hand, for most of my life up until the point when Noah stopped attending day care at the age of four, summer was my favorite season. When I was kid and later an academic, it meant school was out. Summer meant free time or a peaceful period to research and prepare my classes for the coming semester. Vacations happen in the summer. More specifically our week at the beach, which for me is like Christmas, my birthday and every other holiday of the year all rolled up into one, happens in the summer. But now summer, at least most of the summer, means less free time, more responsibility, more demands on me. But every year I harbor the hope that this year it will be different. I will have a better attitude. I will help Noah use his downtime in a constructive, creative and enriching way. Noah will not whine, “Mommy, what should I do?” the instant his computer and television time for the day is over. He and June will not fight constantly or need me to do different things at the same time all day long.

So… That might happen, I suppose. It’s kind of early to say. We’re only on day three right now. Here’s how we did on day one:

Because I know how to show an eight-year-old boy a good time, the first thing we did on his first full day off was to go to the post office. I’d been meaning to squeeze in a trip the previous morning on the way to Circle Time at the library, but I had other errands and it occurred to me that whenever we go to the post office, June asks if we can stop at the nearby playground but we’re almost always in a rush to go somewhere else so we rarely do. So I mentally blocked off most of the morning for post office and playground. It’s been rainy, though, so I took the precaution of telling June we’d go to the playground if it wasn’t raining. As we were leaving I went outside to check the weather and found it was drizzling. I mentioned this to June, as I started to help her into her raincoat and she ran out onto the porch yelling, “It’s not raining!” Then she burst into tears. Clearly, she really wanted to go to the playground. I told her we still might be able to go.

After the post office, we ducked into Everyday Gourmet. I got a latte and the kids got chocolate milk and juice and split a cranberry scone nearly the length of June’s head. Thus fortified, we ventured back into the rain. It was just misting, really, so we headed down the hill to the playground. I’d brought a towel to dry off the equipment and I thought we’d play briefly and then head home. Well, somehow we ended up staying almost an hour– until it started to rain in earnest. By then the towel was sodden, from having performed double duty on some of the slides and the motorcycle seats and the butterfly-on-a-spring. Even so, the seat of Noah’s sweatpants were soaked and June’s pants were all over mud. The kids had so much fun and played so well together, though, I couldn’t bring myself to make them leave. June loved riding in the motorcycle sidecar and urged Noah to make it rock faster and faster. Then he showed her the path through the underbrush where he has always liked to explore and hide and it was as if he’d shown her a secret treasure, which in a way, I suppose he did. I sat on a bench and watched them roll rocks down the hill, remembering nursing a tiny June on that very bench three summers ago and wondering where the time went.

When I finally said it was time to go, they were ready. We got home in time to watch Big Comfy Couch (which is not one of my favorite kids’ shows) and Between the Lions (which is). After lunch I was more than ready to nap with June. She and I were both sick and I hadn’t been sleeping well for several days because of it. I read a little to Noah (we started the first book in the Series of Unfortunate Events that day—I read part and he reads part) and then I went to lie down. He decided to play with a ball outside, which normally I’d be happy about—it’s an outdoor activity and he was getting some exercise dribbling and kicking it around. The only problem was he was doing it right outside our bedroom window. Soon June was awake. I left her and told Noah to move to the front yard and came back to help her go back to sleep, but it was too late. No more nap for June and no nap for me. I almost cried. But I pulled myself together instead. I quizzed Noah on his sevens times tables and made peanut butter and jelly cookies (June helped mix). I watched more television with the kids and worked a little. I made corn chowder for dinner. Noah was out of computer and television time by the time I was cooking so I suggested he help me make dinner. Much to my surprise he agreed. He assembled the ingredients on the counter and then read me the instructions. Along the way, I explained why I was doing what I was doing, why I don’t peel the potatoes, why I use more garlic and less onion than the recipe calls for, etc. It was fun to cook with him, even though he didn’t want to get very hands on. While I was cooking I noticed June lying on the kitchen floor, her eyes almost closed. The interrupted nap and her cold had taken their toll. I scooped her up and laid her down on my bed. I read her a story and told her to rest while I went back to cooking. Sure enough, when I peeked in on her a few minutes later she was asleep. The first day of Noah’s summer break had wiped her out.

The next two days were similar, with some variations. Yesterday June and I were both feeling a lot better. In the morning we took a long puddle-stomping walk for our morning outing. June got a more comprehensive nap and Noah completed the first page in his summer math workbook and helped me make zucchini tostadas. (This time in addition to reading the recipe to me, he grated cheese.) In the evening, he helped Beth weed the sunflowers.

This morning June’s summer playgroup met for the first time. All the returning Leaves except one attended. (Since the lantern launch, we found out that the Dragonfly and probably one more of her classmates won’t be returning.) We also got to meet one of the new Leaves. June didn’t actually play with any of her school chums but she seemed happy to see them and play near them. The Caterpillar’s moms brought his newly adopted one-month old brother and everyone clustered around the tiny, sleeping child. Noah splashed in the creek and tried to build a dam with the Praying Mantis’s older brother and some other big kids who gravitated toward the water. In the afternoon, Noah and I worked on the eights times table and for dinner we went to Roscoe’s, Takoma Park’s new eatery. I was delighted to discover it’s not illegal to make good pizza in the suburbs after all. In between all this, the kids fought– a lot– but they also played a lot of games of hide-and-seek and catch-the-bubble (he blow bubbles and she chases them). They are still working on how to spend the all day with each other.

Right now Noah is experimenting with the keyboard we ordered for him when he expressed an interest in learning to play the piano. (We agreed to pay for half and he’s paying for the rest with birthday money from my dad and savings.) It arrived today. I hope it will give him hours of fun and learning this summer.

I still can’t believe second grade is over, and not for lack of ceremony at school. During the second to last week of school I attended not one, but two end-of-the-year programs for him, one in Spanish and one in English. Noah danced, sang and recited a poem. When it came time to read the postcard he’d written from his imaginary trip to Egypt (the end product of a social studies research project) he announced, “I chose this one because it’s the only one I finished and didn’t lose.” He reported this fact in a characteristically cheerful tone. Some things about him will never change, I suppose, but his teachers were both fond of him and pleased with academic performance this year. His standardized test results came back and he did exceptionally well. We also got his math placement for next year. He will be the accelerated math class, doing fourth and fifth grade math. Since he did third and fourth grade math this year, this was no surprise.

In the midst of Noah’s end of school activities, we had to ferry him to the doctor a few times. At his month-late eight-year pediatrician visit I asked to have his iron levels checked because he was looking pale to me and he was low on iron once as an infant. The iron test came back fine, but they did some routine tests on his blood and his white blood cell count was low, about a third what it should have been. It took two doctor’s visits to get another sample of blood because his veins can be hard to find, but finally a repeat test came back normal. Apparently the white blood cell tests can be a bit fluky. I trust the second test more than the first, one, though, because he didn’t seem like a kid with a compromised immune system. We were all sick a lot this past winter, except for Noah. In fact, June was sick the day we went in for the first test, but not Noah. And the vaccination he got the day of the first test didn’t faze his system either. The boy has an iron constitution. And good luck, too. While he was waiting for the bus on the last day of school, he found a four-leaf clover after just a few minutes of searching. (My sister and I spent hours looking for those when we were kids and I don’t think we ever found one.)

Three and a half days of Noah’s summer vacation have already slipped away. Will he teach himself how to play the piano, memorize his times tables, read all thirteen Series of Unfortunate Events books, break his record for how many times he can dribble a rubber ball? Quite possibly. Will he go a whole day or even a few hours without bickering with his sister? Well, that might be hoping for too much. But he’s home and he’s healthy and that seems like plenty right now.