A Whole Handful of Years

Tuesday night, the night before June turned five, she and Beth were horsing around in our bed while they waited for me to come read a story. When I arrived, Beth was holding up all five fingers on one hand “because I’m going to be five,” June exclaimed.

“Yes, a whole handful of years,” Beth agreed.

Five seems momentous. Although kindergarten is still five months off, she’s the age she will be when she steps onto that bus and crosses the line from little kid to big kid. When that happens, for the first time in over ten years there will be no infants, toddlers or preschoolers in our household. I am more happy than sad about this. June is, too. She’s been telling us all the things five year olds can do, although she concedes that “even five year olds still need a mother,” so we’re not obsolete yet.

I. Wednesday: The Big Day

At 6:50 a.m. on the big day, June crawled into our bed. She’d been up late the night before, full of anticipation and unable to fall asleep, or even stay in bed. Finally, at 9:20, Beth told her if she didn’t stay in bed long enough to fall asleep she’d never turn five and she’d be four forever. That did it. The next time I checked on her, she was asleep.

“There’s a five year old in our bed!” Beth cried, but June is always slow to wake, even on her birthday, and she said she was not ready to open presents. Twenty minutes later, we all trooped out to the living room, where we spread out her presents. There were clothes and books but the biggest hits were the paint-it-yourself ceramic butterfly bank (allowances start at age five in our house) and the SmarTrip. I really did not expect June to be as thrilled about receiving her own bus and train fare card as Noah was at age five, but apparently being old enough to have to pay on public transportation is a big deal to my kids. A lot of the presents were bird or butterfly-related (Fancy Nancy’s Bonjour Butterfly, a hooded towel with an owl head on top and wings on the sides and a tail in back). That’s because the theme of her party was birds and butterflies, not that she knew it yet.

June requested a surprise party this year. A few people have remarked to me that organizing her own surprise party is quintessential June. At first I thought it was absolutely crazy, but then I realized it would give me a lot freedom to plan things to my own liking and it ended up being kind of fun, buying butterfly stickers and bird finger puppets for the gift bags in secret.

Despite the fact that she did not know when the party would be, or who would be invited or what the theme would be, she did set down some ground rules for us. It would be an at-home party, with five guests (she had to choose between this or renting a space, inviting the whole class and forgoing presents). The guests all had to be girls. And we simply had to buy the sun piñata she’d fallen in love with at the grocery store. I conceded, even though I’d found some nice bird ones online and butterfly piñatas are everywhere. This was the downside to the surprise element. She kept suggesting things that did not fit in with the theme. For instance a mere a week before the party she proposed it have princess theme (“and which princess could be the surprise”) but by that point we’d long ago settled on a theme, bought party favors and sent out invitations featuring her own artwork of, your guessed it, birds and butterflies. So there was no going back.

After lunch on her birthday June tried chewing gum for the first time. We’d been telling her she could try it when she was five for a long time, and then she just happened to get five pieces from the piñata at the Gray Squirrel’s birthday party last weekend. She liked it and did not swallow it, though she was unable to blow a bubble (even after sacrificing one piece of gum so I could demonstrate). I told her it might take a while to learn.

After that excitement was over we walked to school, bringing two dozen homemade mini-cupcakes, vanilla with pink icing, and I stayed for about half her school day so I could be there for all the festivities. At Circle Time she got to walk around an oblong rock-filled tray with five lit votive candles (a preschool tradition) and say what she did when she was one, two, three, four and what she will do when she’s five. When she was one, she learned to walk. When she was two, she learned to put things together (she may have been referring to train track pieces—there’s a photo she likes of her doing that on her second birthday). When she was three, she learned to ride a bike (not true incidentally). When she was four she started the Tracks class. When she was five, she was going to try not to hurt her feet when she stepped down hard. Lesley said, she’d never heard that one before and it turned out to be oddly prescient, but more on that later.

After school we opened Auntie Sara’s presents, which had arrived during the day. Among the many lovely gifts were Owl At Home (http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Owl-at-Home/Arnold-Lobel/e/9780064440349), a book June loves, which is also a childhood favorite of Sara’s, and a very cute pair of pajamas with green and blue penguins. I’m not even sure if Mom or I told Sara about the bird theme or if this was a coincidence.

Shortly before dinner, June got a splinter in her big toe. It was large and deep and looked pretty easy to get out, but as I tried to pull it out, it broke off, leaving a good chunk inside her toe. I put June to soak in a warm bath in hopes that it would loosen it and when Beth got home she tried unsuccessfully to get it out. She used a needle and June was scared but very brave, holding perfectly still as Beth worked. We took a break for dinner and then I heated up some water on the stove to soak her foot again. This time, Beth was able to get it out and there was rejoicing all around. We ate some of the leftover cupcakes and put the kids to bed.

Somewhere in the middle of all that drama, June decided she would try pooping on the regular toilet instead of her potty and lo and behold, she did it, of the first time ever. We’ve had a real breakthrough in the past couple weeks. She’s having many fewer accidents and it looks like that lemonade stand we promised six months ago that she could have when she was fully potty trained might be set up in our drive way sometime soon. Unless it isn’t. This has not exactly been a linear process.

That night she decided to sleep in underwear instead of a diaper, also for the first time (on purpose anyway—there have been nights we forgot to change her into a diaper) and she was on the verge of agreeing to try sleeping without her pacifier, but at the last minute she backed out. I didn’t press the issue. There had been a lot of milestones in one day.

When it was all over, the presents, the gum, the school celebration, the splinter removal and toilet adventure, June was well satisfied with her day. “I feel so much like a five year old, I don’t even remember being four,” she said.

II. Thursday

The day after her birthday, June arrived at school wearing the pink and orange sundress and fuchsia tights Sara got for her with a coral long-sleeved t-shirt she already owned underneath. Between her birthday, some recent thrift store finds and a hand-me-down shirt, June practically has a whole new wardrobe and “the spring line” as the Bobcat’s mother dubbed it, has not gone unnoticed at preschool. June was also chewing gum and to my surprise when I asked Lesley if she needed to spit it out, Lesley said no. So I left her at school wearing her birthday finery and chewing her birthday spoils.

My mother arrived that afternoon. She has an annual conference that often coincides with June’s birthday, so she was staying for several days. June opened more presents, a lot of clothes and Fancy Nancy, Explorer Extraordinaire! (in which Nancy and friends go exploring and find both birds and butterflies). Mom read to June and we had dinner and the last of the cupcakes and put the kids to bed.

III. Friday

Two days before the party, the weather reports for Sunday were growing increasingly dire. Highs around 40 degrees (and the party was in the morning so we were looking at party-time temperatures in the 30s) and rain or possibly that other stuff, you know, the frozen stuff. I can’t even bring myself to type the word. It’s spring, for heaven’s sake! And we’d planned a walk around the neighborhood to look for birds! And we had a piñata! I briefly considered rescheduling, but the next weekend was the Ghost Crab’s birthday party (four girls in June’s class have mid-March to early April birthdays) and everyone we invited could come on the original date, so after consulting with Beth, we decided to plow ahead (no pun intended). They have outdoor recess at her school in all weather, so her friends are used to playing outside in the cold and wet.

IV. Saturday

One day before the party, Beth took June shopping for balloons and ice cream. June was going to the Cottontail Rabbit’s party in the afternoon and successfully lobbied to wear the flowered, ruffled, beribboned party dress and sparkly pink shoes my mother bought for her all day long. Beth says the shoes were much commented upon by passersby.

After the Rabbit’s very entertaining Let’s-Put-On-A-Show Cinderella party (June played one of the stepsisters), we arrived home to find Beth baking a cake. June took a nap and then went out with Beth to buy a replacement balloon for the Tinkerbell balloon Noah accidentally popped while we were out. They came back with a Dora balloon. (The balloons are an eclectic mix but Beth did manage to get a butterfly balloon into the group.)

That evening Noah vacuumed the living and dining room while all three adults straightened up the house. After the kids were in bed, Beth frosted the butterfly cake and Mom and I assembled the gift bags.

I emailed the parents of the guests, suggesting they send their daughters in boots, coats and mittens.

V. Sunday: Party Time

Despite predictions of one to five inches of the white stuff, we had only a dusting that fell overnight and during the early morning hours and melted by party time. It was very cold, but sunny. I could live with that. However, a new complicating factor was that I was really sick. Beth and Noah have been sick recently and I’d had just the mildest cold the day before that started to really wear my down by evening. I’d been up a good bit of the night, unable to breathe or sleep. But if I hadn’t backed down in the face of a predicted spring blizzard, I wasn’t going to let a head cold stop me either.

That morning, June put on a butterfly sweatshirt. I’d suggested it, and was shocked when she said yes. She generally doesn’t pay much attention to my fashion advice. Noah wore his owl shirt and I put on a pewter necklace with a mother bird feeding her baby.

Through a process of elimination, June had figured out that the party was on Sunday a couple days earlier. (We’d told her it would be a weekend day and she didn’t think it would be on the same day as the Rabbit’s party.) However, she still did not know what time it would be, and Beth came up with a very clever way to surprise her. At 9:40, twenty minutes before the party, Beth and June left the house, allegedly to go grocery shopping. Mom, and Noah and I made the final preparations and waited for the guests. Around 10:10, they had all arrived and I called Beth on her cell. Beth told June she’d forgotten her shopping list and they had to come home.

The look on June’s face when they came in the door and all her friends yelled “Surprise!” was priceless. After weeks of taking her suggestions and negotiating how much of this surprise party was going to be secret, we’d actually surprised her. For a moment she couldn’t even speak, and then she let out an excited, high-pitched squeal. Soon all six girls were talking animatedly with each other.

I told them to come sit on the living room rug for a story. I didn’t have much of a voice, so Mom and Noah took turns reading Fancy Nancy, Explorer Extraordinaire, to set the mood for our bird-watching walk. There was a lot of jostling to see the pictures and occasional side conversations broke out, but overall they paid attention pretty well.

When the story was over, we got everyone back into shoes and coats and set off on our big adventure. Noah had prepared bird identification sheets with images he’d found online of a blue jay, cardinal, crow, duck, robin and sparrow. He also included a parrot on the back as a joke. “We’re not going to see a parrot unless we go to a pet store or the rain forest,” the White-Tailed Deer commented. I said if I took them to the rain forest we would not be home when their parents came to fetch them at noon, so we’d have to stick to the neighborhood. Of course the first birds we saw were starlings and mourning doves, birds neither Noah nor I had thought to include. But eventually the kids were able to check crows, robins and sparrows off their lists. We went down to the creek to look for ducks, which we occasionally see there. The Mallard Duck said she saw one, but no one else did so it’s possible that was wishful thinking or some kind of duck solidarity. Or maybe she has a very sharp eye. Just as we were heading back to the house, I heard a woodpecker. It was hard to get everyone quieted down enough to hear it, but eventually, they all did.

When we got back to the house, Beth left to pick up the pizza and Mom and Noah and I distributed paper, pencils, crayons (and a marker for the Duck, who specially requested one) so they could draw the birds they saw, or a bird from their imaginations. June chose to draw a cardinal. This activity did not last quite long enough to bridge the time to pizza, so Noah organized the girls into a band with instruments from the instrument bin and when Beth came home, she walked in our their impromptu concert.

We had pizza and cake and ice cream. Parents started arriving during the cake so we gave them slices, too, and Beth’s moist and tasty strawberry cake was much appreciated. When everyone had finished eating, it was piñata time. All the little kids had a turn but it was the White-Tailed Deer’s older brother who demolished that thing. Noah didn’t even get a turn, but he didn’t seem to mind; he had been plenty involved in the party.

By 12:15 everyone had said their thank yous and left. June opened her presents, the games and the books, and she played with the Zhu Zhu pets (http://www.zhuniverse.com/) for a little while but around 12:45 she went to her room and came back with her pacifier. She wanted to know if she could have her Quiet Time. It was early but I said yes, being more than ready for a little Quiet Time of my own. Mom said goodbye to everyone and started her drive home and June and I both took long naps. Being alive a whole handful of years can really tucker out a kid, and her Mama, too.