A Series of Fortunate Events

A blogging friend of mine has a saying, “Good for life, bad for blog,” meaning that turmoil can be more interesting to read about than simple happiness. This is certainly part of the appeal of the Series of Unfortunate Events books Noah and I are reading this summer. The children are orphaned in the first chapter of the first book and pursued throughout the series by the evil Count Olaf, who wants to steal their fortune. It gets considerably more complicated than that later in the series, but we’re just finishing up Book 4 now.

We spent this past week at Rehoboth Beach with my mom, Beth’s mom and her Aunt Carole and there really weren’t very many unfortunate events. No life-threatening emergencies back home like last year (see my 8/14/08 post), not even a string of cold, rainy days like the year before (see 8/25/07). No one even got a sunburn. I’ve got a nice tan and June has a cute new spray of freckles on her nose. We celebrated an anniversary and a birthday. Of course, there was some occasional misbehavior on the kids’ part (they’re not angels) and I didn’t get much reading done (long uninterrupted reading was one of the joys of a beach week for me pre-kids) and there was one night of really poor sleep, but overall it was pretty much unrelieved happiness. If this sounds too tedious to bear, feel free to look at the pictures and skip the rest. I’ll understand.

Saturday: Day 1

“Do you want to go down to the beach, June?” I asked.

“Beach! Beach! Beach!” June shouted, wriggling with happiness. It had been a long, trying day for her. We’d promised the beach, but we’d been packing all morning and driving all afternoon, with no beach to show for it so far.

The walk down to the beach from the rental house was longer than I remembered and June needed to stop and pick up gravel from every driveway we passed, so it took us over twenty minutes to get to the water. To return home by six, as I’d promised, we would have needed to turn around and go straight back. Of course, we didn’t. We built sand castles, which June gleefully stomped, pressed the green plastic duck mold into the wet sand to make “a duck and its friends” and stood by the water’s edge with the waves running over our feet. We were just barely getting them wet because June was unsure about the waves. I was thinking we should really get going when she said, “Let’s go in!” meaning let’s wade further in. We did, but I told her it was almost time to go and then there was crying, (And no, it wasn’t me.) She recovered quickly and as we walked up the long sandy path through the dunes and the scrub pines she said, “I want to come back tomorrow and the next day and the next day.” It was a quote from a library book we have out (Caillou at the Beach), but I think the sentiment was heartfelt.

Sunday: Day 2

The next morning June was begging to “go for a walk on the board.” I suspected she had an ulterior motive so I asked her if she wanted to go to Candy Kitchen. She did. We were staying a couple blocks north of the boardwalk and Candy Kitchen is right at its center so it would be an even longer walk than the day before. I decided to take the stroller. Noah was still in the new leaf pajamas YaYa made for him, alternately working on a page from his summer math packet and chatting with YaYa and Aunt Carole. He didn’t want to leave the house, so June and I set out alone again, as we would many times over the course of the week. It was a long walk but we were rewarded with a shell-shaped lollipop for June, watermelon taffy for me, and chocolate-peanut butter fudge for the house. Afterward we tried out the coin-operated elephant and clown car on the boardwalk but June found the jerky movement alarming and asked to get off before the rides were over. Next we played on the beach some more. I showed her how to make a dribble castle and she got the hang of it quickly. We left the beach around 10:45, came home, showered, played and ate lunch. June told Beth she wanted to fly a kite on the beach and Beth said they could do it later. June plopped down on the couch next to her, took a few licks from her lollipop, looked at her and said, “Is it later now?”

My mom arrived around 3:30, just as June and I were about to make our third trip to the beach. (Noah, YaYa and Carole were already at the boardwalk and Beth was resting after cooking a delicious dinner of gazpacho, corn and avocado salad and spinach dip.) Mom got into her suit and came with us, which meant I got to swim for the first time. As she and June were playing a wave washed almost all the way over June, an experience she later declared, “a wittle bit scary.” After that, she sat solemnly on Mom’s towel until she was recovered enough to go roll in the sand and get herself almost entirely covered.

After dinner, we headed out to the boardwalk for frozen custard. Noah, Carole and I ventured down to the beach. Noah was running around in the surf, fully clothed and still holding his cone. I let him. “This is so fun!” he kept yelling. I felt like the meanest mom ever when I pointed out it was almost bedtime and made him leave.

Monday: Day 3

There are a couple awkward times of day for people with small children vacationing with people without them, but the most challenging one is probably the long hours between when the first child wakes and the last adult does. We were always trying to shush the kids but it never did much good. At one point on Monday morning I asked Noah in an exasperated tone what was so hard about remembering to keep quiet.

“I’m not very good at remembering,” he answered quite earnestly.

We tried to keep the kids quiet. I got Noah to read and we all drew pictures of animal-vegetable combinations. (Noah got the idea from Jack Prelutsky’s Scranimalshttp://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780688178192/Scranimals/index.aspx). I was particularly proud of my Pelicarrot. The pouch was a fat orange carrot and the wings were carrot greens. Eventually, we decided to take the kids down to the beach to fly a kite. By the time we were ready to go, Mom and YaYa were already up but Carole had managed to sleep through the din, so we left her to slumber in peace.

As we approached the beach, Beth noticed a potential flaw in the plan. There was no wind. I said maybe it would be better down by the water, but it wasn’t. The kite wouldn’t fly. After a half hour of trying to get it into the air and watching the kids play and scanning the water for dolphins–we saw a few–Beth said, “I think I’ve had enough of this.” This is a sentence I can’t imagine uttering at the beach under any circumstances, let alone after a measly half hour, but Beth’s not a beach person. It’s a mixed marriage.

She wanted to get herself a coffee but I asked if she could wait long enough so I could have a quick dip. June started to wail as I was in the water. I wasn’t sure why. It didn’t bother her when I swam the day before. I pointed to June from the water and made a questioning gesture. Beth pointed back at me emphatically. I shrugged and decided to ignore the crying for a few minutes, but it did take a good bit of the enjoyment out of my swim. June didn’t recover her equilibrium, even after I came out of the water, so Beth took her back to the house. Beth never got her coffee that day, but Noah and I did have a lovely hour together. He told me about the chapter of The Miserable Mill he read that morning and we watched the ships on the water and the pelicans in the sky. We played in the surf, discussed gravity and the pull of the moon and how tides and waves are made. We talked about how he might come swimming with me in the ocean when he’s a stronger swimmer. He seemed happy with this plan as long as it was comfortably in the future. He asked me what it feels like to stand with a big wave forming behind you. I went further out, stood in front of a gathering wave and came back to describe as precisely as I could how the wave pulls you toward it, lifts you up and drops you down. On the walk home I quizzed him on his times tables and we made up silly songs including this one about a French Jewish cow, sung to the tune of “Frère Jacques”: “Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah. Dormez Moo! Dormez Moo!” We sang it over and over again at the top of our lungs. I’m so infrequently alone with Noah I sometimes forget how fun it can be.

After lunch and June’s nap, Mom took June to Candy Kitchen and I met them down on the beach. When I found them, June was seated in the stroller on the sand, eating Swedish fish from a clear plastic box with a tiny sliver scoop. I wondered if the elaborate packaging had influenced her choice. We went through the normal routine of castles and playing in the water. June complained, not for the first time, that “the water won’t let us in,” meaning the waves wouldn’t. At one point she found a hole some older kids had dug near the water’s edge and she sat in it, letting the waves run over her legs. She and Mom dug their own hole (for a bunny) further up on the beach while I swam and June got close enough to some gulls to note the red markings on their beaks and legs. Finally she impressed Mom by bending from the waist until her head touched the sand and holding the pose for a long while (not long enough for me to get a picture though). Shortly after five, she was ready to go home so we washed our feet at a footbath (always fun for a small child) and she got settled in the stroller with her Swedish fish-in-a-box and we were off.

Tuesday: Day 4

“I thought your anniversary was in the winter,” my mother said when I told her Beth and I were going on separate gift-buying errands. I explained the anniversary of our commitment ceremony is in January, but our dating anniversary is July 15. She said she couldn’t believe we bought gifts for two anniversaries.

I shrugged. “We like anniversaries,” I said.

She said it must be a female thing and implied that men could not be coaxed into buying that many gifts. I don’t know if they can or not, having never tried.

I was also hoping to find a birthday present for my mom on this outing. Her birthday was Saturday and we were planning to celebrate it on Friday since we’d be packing up and leaving on Saturday morning. I complained to Beth I had no idea what to buy, that I’d hoped she’d see something and comment on it, but so far she hadn’t been in a shopping or even window-shopping mood.

Meanwhile June was begging me to take her to the beach. I explained we needed to run some errands first. No, no, she wanted to go to the beach. As is often the case, however, her mood improved when I got her out of the house. She waited patiently while I picked up a card and a gift certificate for a massage for Beth. I sprung for the hot stone massage—buying gifts at the beach makes me generous. We crossed paths with Beth as she was coming out of Café a Go-Go, having gotten the café con leche she wanted the day before. June and I were headed into a coffee shop across the street, which does not serve coffee as heavenly but which is also not run by a stern Mexican woman who does not approve of unruly children. I kissed Beth before we went our separate ways. She tasted of the cinnamon they put in the café con leche at Café a Go-Go. I resolved to get over there myself sometime later in the week.

Our errands done, June and I strolled toward the beach. We passed two Candy Kitchens on they way. When I said we were not going in, June said, completely in earnest, “ Is there no candy in there?”

More splashing in the surf ensued. Of course, on this day when I was dressed for errands and not the beach (I’d changed June into her suit in the coffee shop) June wanted to go in deeper than she had been and jump in every wave. She said she wanted to float a boat in the water. I thought about what toys could serve as boats and asked if floating the duck mold in a hole we dug would do. She agreed. We dug a hole and waited for the sea to rush in. When it did I set the mold down and was pleased at how boat-like it looked, floating convex side down. But now June wanted it to look duck-like, with the body aligned to look like a swimming duck, not floating on its side like a deceased duck, or a boat if you were inclined to look at it that way. Of course it wouldn’t float upright. As I pondered this problem, June solved it, by waiting for wave and holding the duck in it.

On the way home we passed the kite shop at the end of the boardwalk and I realized my mother had mentioned something she liked and it had not registered. She’d been complaining about how heavy her beach chair was and saying she’d like an aluminum frame one. Once when we’d walked by the kite shop, she’d found one she liked in the chair display, but decided it was too expensive. Voila. Perfect gift.

I didn’t get it then because we’d left the beach later than I intended, then made an impulse stop for Thrasher’s fries (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A64536-2004May28.html). June was warm, tired and had a bellyful of fries. Predictably she started to nod off a few blocks from home and when I pushed the stroller up to the house, she was sound asleep.

In the afternoon, when Mom took the kids to Funland, I went back and got the chair. I left it in her room, with a note, as a surprise. She didn’t find it until she went to bed.

Wednesday: Day 5

On Wednesday, while Beth was having her massage, June (my best beach buddy) and I spent another morning at the beach. We made more dribble castles and the duck had more adventures and we took a walk. (“The ocean is following us. The ocean wants to come,” she’d observe whenever a wave lapped our feet.) On this walk, June finally picked a large white pebble for YaYa, who had requested one. As we sat on the wet sand, with the waves rushing over our legs and splashing up over our stomachs, a passerby stopped and complimented me for not overprotecting June and for “letting her get used to the water.” She said she’d seen kids with floaties on, with their feet barely in the water. I’ve seen the opposite, though—parents dragging terrified toddlers into the surf. This always makes me furious. Every kid’s comfort level is different and I think it’s our job to encourage our children while respecting their limits. As for myself, I remember being small, older than June but not by much, riding on my father’s shoulders in the ocean, so deep in that the water sometimes went over his head. He was holding on tight, though, and it never occurred to me to be afraid.

There was a comic moment shortly after we came home and finished our showers. The lawn service came on the one day I forgot to bring the towels inside the outdoor shower and left them on the back porch stairs. I sent a naked June out to retrieve them and when she heard the lawn mower start up, out of sight, but quite close around the corner of the house, she dashed away, terrified, taking the towels with her and leaving me, dripping and naked in the shower and wondering what to do. I stuck my head out the door and called to her. Very hesitantly, she came back and we hastily wrapped up and went inside.

After lunch, YaYa and Carole took Noah to the beach while, Beth, June and I napped. Mom told me Noah was really active in the water, jumping around and going in deep, up to his chin at times. I was surprised to hear it since he’s always been cautious in the water and he’s not as good a swimmer as I was at his age, despite years of on and off swimming lessons. He’s been asking to start his lessons up again, though, so maybe he’s ready to turn a corner. I would really like that.

Later in the afternoon, Beth, YaYa, Carole and the kids went for a bike ride/scooter ride/walk on the Junction and Breakwater Trail in Cape Henlopen State Park (http://www.railstotrails.org/resources/documents/magazine/07Spr_DES_JunctionBreakwaterTrail.pdf). Beth rented a bike trailer for June and they rode through woods and farmland and marshes. They even picked raspberries. June was so enthusiastic about the berries that Beth and Noah left her behind with YaYa and Carole in the berry patch while they rode ahead.

Meanwhile, Mom and I lounged on the beach, she in her new chair and me on my new beach mat (a birthday present from YaYa). We talked and read and watched an osprey fly over the sea with a fish in its talons and I went for a swim. The water was calm. With no big waves to play in, I decided to float. I closed my eyes and bobbed up and down and felt the wind above and the water below. I could hear the whispering sound of the sand shifting several feet underneath me.

We split up for dinner. The older generation took the younger generation out for crepes and ice cream while Beth and I had our anniversary dinner at Planet X (http://www.planetxcafe.com/), followed by coffee and dessert at Café a Go-Go. Beth got me a book of essays about all fifty states (http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780061470905/State_by_State/index.aspx) to remind me of our younger days when we traveled to all fifty states. We only finished four years ago, but most of these trips took place in our twenties. We talked about how strange it seems that fourteen of our twenty-two years together (nearly two-thirds) were pre-kids, and that June’s life has really been just a blip in that timeline, although of course, it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes it’s good to remember the couple we were before we were a family.

We came home, put the kids to bed (Mom bathed June for us) and then the grownups sat on the porch, talking about matters sad (Mom and Jim recently gave up their two new cats after five months of trying to get their old cat to accept them and the old cat is seriously ill with cancer) and matters happy (YaYa and Carole’s sister Susan welcomed a new granddaughter that very day).

Thursday: Day 6

The next morning there was an early morning ice cream tasting at Browse About Books (http://www.browseaboutbooks.com/), a promotion to get people into the store I suppose. It ended at 9:00 a.m. and I couldn’t get enthusiastic about ice cream so early in the day (it not being the Fourth of July after all) but almost every one else was and I had downtown errands so we left Carole at the house and the rest of our party set out around 8:30. I bought a card for my mom when she was in another part of the store and when she left and the kids, Beth and YaYa settled in for story time, I peeled off from the group and went to pick out a birthday cake for my mom at the bakery. I deliberated between a mermaid cake and a lighthouse cake and chose the lighthouse.

I returned to the bookstore and found the stroller but puzzlingly, no relatives. It’s a big store and I figured they were browsing about somewhere, but after searching all over and not hearing Noah’s voice (that was the odd part—where Noah is, you hear him), I decided they must have gone to another store and left the stroller behind. I gave up on finding them and went back to the house. I found Noah and YaYa there. He’d gotten bored and they’d left story time early. I started to wonder if Beth and June had been in the store all along. They were, as it turned out. After waiting fretfully around the house, hoping they weren’t waiting for me, I finally headed down to the beach around 11:10 and I met them less than a block from the house. Beth had not been expecting me back at all and was blissfully unaware of the mix-up. She handed June off to me and we made a quick pre-lunch beach run.

I had no toys with me so I kept answering questions like “Do you have the ducky mold?”—“No, because I didn’t know you were coming,” ad naseum. June was exasperated when I put sun block on her in the parking lot, since we usually do it at home. (“How can grownups put sun block on people at the beach?” she wanted to know.) She was insistent about dribble castles despite the obstacle of having no pail. I decided to forget about keeping her clothes dry and we dug a hole close enough to the water that the waves ran in and we used it as a reservoir for runny sand. The only problem was that each time a wave came and filled it, it washed away all the castles we’d made. We made a game of it, though, to avoid disappointment. I even used the destruction of the castles as a timer. (“When the waves knock over all the castles, it will be time to go home.”)

At home I fixed lunch for June and left the kids in Beth’s care while Mom and I went out to lunch at a restaurant with boardwalk seating. I had steamed clams, one of my once or twice yearly departures from vegetarianism. When we returned, around two, I was surprised to find June was up unusually early from her nap. Beth and YaYa took the kids on another afternoon adventure to a water park on Route 1 (http://www.funatjunglejims.com/) where they rode in boats and went on slides and ate ice cream and had a fine time. I stayed behind and went to the beach with my mom. I swam, we talked and I read on the beach for the first tine all week and then I swam again. We came home and had a dinner of leftovers (Carole’s signature brown rice bake, YaYa’s baked macaroni and cheese and the Thai curry I brought home from Planet X). June was too tired to eat her dinner and just lay on the couch clutching her stuffed panda or sat on my lap while I ate. When she threatened to nod off right then and there, we decided to put her to bed posthaste, but we weren’t quick enough to avoid some miserable I-am-so-tired-all-I-can-do-is-wail meltdowns along the way. The upside is that both kids were in bed by 8:10. If I’d known what was coming we would have gone to bed earlier. June woke around 10:30, shortly after Beth and I had retired for the night…

Friday: Day 7

And then we were all up for the next two and half hours. June was restless and all over the bed. I kept trying to inch away from her flailing arms and legs. I tried sleeping with my head at the foot of the bed, a trick that often works, and several times I switched places with her, going back and forth between the bed and the air mattress where she had started the night. She kept following me. (It is one of the ironies of my parenting life that I can’t sleep with anyone touching me and I have co-slept with two kids into the preschool years.) At one point with all the moving around I knocked a lamp and a full glass of water off my bedside table and another time my pillow got misplaced and I had to go to the couch to get a replacement. If not for the skylight and all the windows in the living room, I would have stayed there. Before I left in search of a new pillow, I was rooting around under Beth’s thinking it might have got under there and she cursed at me, a very uncommon occurrence. I was about to take the air mattress to the back porch when June fell asleep. Shockingly, she was up for the day at 6:30, and quite chipper. I was not so chipper but I was awake for the day, too. Beth managed to doze until 8:00 or so. We never did figure out what was wrong with June. She might have been hot. It was a warm night and because it had been cool at night all week, we hadn’t put the air conditioning on.

My mom decided to leave the beach a day early to join her ailing cat and her worried husband. She took the kids on a morning outing. They returned with a toy each (a robot crab for Noah and a stuffed animal for June identified by various members of our party as a raccoon, a possum or a bushbaby—http://www.bio.davidson.edu/people/vecase/behavior/Spring2006/Rogers/bushbaby%203.jpg). June says she picked the mystery animal “because I didn’t have enough stuffed animals.” I think she was serious, despite the fact that both the toy box and the doll crib at home are overflowing with stuffed animals. Throughout the day she could be seen hugging it and declaring her love to it.

Everyone gathered for lunch and birthday cake to see off my mom. Noah liked the card, which pictured cows in birthday hats asking, “Got cake?” (“And we do!” he said.) June was very impatient for Mom to open the card. I had everyone sign it and she’d added her own scribble, which she told us said, “Happy Birthday!” “I drewed in it,” she said, just so everyone would be clear. I expected June might melt down because of her bad night’s sleep, but it was Noah who had to be escorted, crying, from the table. (He wanted his robot crab to have its own slice of cake and we thought crumbs would gum up its works.) He recovered enough to return, eat cake and show Mom a photograph of her birthday present online. It’s a painting he made at art camp at the Purple School last week. We failed to bring it but fortunately Lesley put pictures of some of the kids’ artwork up on Facebook.

After we said our goodbyes to Mom, June and I settled in for a long nap and Beth somehow found the energy to take Noah to play miniature golf. She reports he was very well behaved and played a good game. She just barely beat him.

June and I had a quick trip down to the beach. When we arrived at the beach we saw lifeguards doing pushups in the sand. “They’re doing yoga on the beach!” June declared. We dug in the sand and played a game in which she piled wet sand on the duck, who lamented how dirty it was getting and cheered for the waves when they came to clean it off. This was amusing for longer than you might think.

We had dinner out, at Grotto Pizza, and bought some t-shirts and walked home via the boardwalk. “Why is it our last summer vacation ever?” June wanted to know on the way home. The last full day of this vacation, she meant, but she sounded as sad as if she spoke the literal truth. I knew how she felt.

Saturday: Day 8

I stumbled out to the dining area of the house on Saturday morning to the sad sight of Beth filling out a survey for the realty and Noah writing a postcard for Sasha. So, it was true, we really were leaving.

We packed, said goodbye to YaYa and Carole, packed some more and checked out. June and I played on the beach one last time while Beth and Noah hung out in a coffee shop. Then Beth watched the kids while I had my last swim. The waves were tremendous, the best of the whole week. After I swam, we ate leftover pizza on a bench on the boardwalk, took an illicit shower in the outdoor shower of a downtown motel and drove off, leaving our beach week behind.

And that was the really unfortunate event.