Ars Longa

Noah and June and I had a very pleasant afternoon on Friday. It was a warm, sunny day, but not too humid, perfect mid-May weather. It being Friday, we didn’t need to worry about homework and for some reason, the kids didn’t fight much. Noah rode his scooter up and down the block with June following him on her tricycle. Then he sat under the silver maple in the back yard reading This Book Is Not Good For You ( while June and I played in the sandbox. These days her sand castle building prioritizes decoration over building so she will quickly mound some sand together then spend a long time sticking twigs, blades of grass, clover flowers and thistles into it. We also keep a baggie of shells and sea glass in the sandbox for her to use on her castles. When Noah finished reading, he played with his Extreme Bubble Kit he got for his birthday. It took him a little while to get the hang of how to hold and move the rope on sticks to form the huge bubbles, but once he did he couldn’t stop laughing and yelling, “Did you see that one.” When he was finished, he said, “The kit was right, Mommy. This is extreme fun.”

At five we headed inside. I got on the phone to order pizza and the kids watched The Electric Company ( Both kids like this show, despite the fact that it’s designed for emergent readers, in other words kids younger than Noah and older than June. The plot of the main story holds Noah’s interest even if he doesn’t need the little phonics-based sketches that interrupt it. June likes the stories, too, and who knows, maybe she’s absorbing some of the pedagogical material. She has been intensely interested in letters recently. She had a burst of interest last spring, learned to identify most of the alphabet and then forgot about it for a year or so. Now she’s focused on learning to write the letters. Sometimes this is all she wants to do. She likes to make little books. She’ll get one of us to staple pages together and then she’ll draw the pictures and write the words. If she can’t get anyone to help her she will just draw random letters but she prefers to have an adult or Noah tell her how to spell what she wants to say, which is a laborious process because she also asks for instruction on how to shape most of the letters. Just this weekend, she got the hang of starting the letters from the top left corner, going across the page and down to the next line. Before this, she placed them randomly all over the page and was disappointed when the story could not be read back to her.

The Electric Company episode they watched was called “Pop Goes the Easel.” Several of the characters get trapped inside a magical painting and have to figure out how to escape. In the end, what they need is for someone in the real world to finish the series of paintings and paint a castle they can use as an exit. At first the painter thinks he can’t do it because he lacks artistic skill. Then he learns “there’s no right and wrong in art,” gains confidence and saves the day.

I thought it was a fitting gateway to our weekend, which was going to be heavy on the arts. Noah’s school’s annual art show was on Friday evening, June’s school’s art show was Saturday afternoon and on Sunday afternoon we were planning to attend a family sing-along at the rec center led by the music teacher from June’s school (who also used to be June’s Kindermusik teacher). In between all this, we’d squeeze in June’s last soccer practice of the spring season, a long playdate for Noah, Noah’s last swim lesson for the season, some gardening and the usual weekend chores.

I love the art show at Noah’s school. The lead art teacher is very talented and wonderful at helping children realize their artistic potential. It’s always fun to stroll through the halls looking at the paintings, collages, masks, kites and clay figurines, running into families we know. This year a four seasons mosaic made by all the students in the school was unveiled. One circle depicting winter and spring is on the left side of the main doors of the school and another circle depicting summer and fall is on the right side. Noah worked mainly on the spring portion.

I don’t know if more people than usual came to see the mosaics or if people came on the early side to beat the predicted thunderstorm, but it was packed in the halls when we arrived around 6:30. Noah wanted to pretend to be a tour guide as he led Beth around. I thought it would be better for June and me to move at our own pace so we split up. Every student in the school is represented by one or two pieces of work the art teachers select. The kids don’t know what will be chosen until they see it on the walls (usually in the days before as the show is being installed). All the art was lovely, from the kindergartners’ cherry blossom paintings to the fifth-graders’ clay gargoyles. Noah’s piece was a jazz collage. The students looked at art with jazz themes and listened to jazz and then they each picked an instrument. Noah chose a tuba and he represented the music coming out of it with pink and blue strips of construction paper.

The next morning we all headed off to June’s soccer practice. Usually Beth and June go by themselves, but since it was the last day, I wanted to come to see her improvement and to watch her get her medal. Noah brought his scooter so he could scoot around on the path that circles the huge field. There were baseball teams practicing on the field as well and we ran into Noah’s friend Sean (along with his mother and three younger siblings). They were there for Sean and his brother Timmy’s game. They were going to spend the rest of the day at their family’s farm and Sean wanted to know if Noah could come along. I hesitated just a little because it would mean he’d miss June’s art show and I didn’t know if they get him home in time for his bedtime. But it seemed important to say yes so he could have some extended time with a friend. He came home that night around seven o’clock full of stories about climbing on a tractor and in a haystack, gathering eggs and digging in the garden.

Meanwhile, we went to the art show at June’s school. This event is held outdoors, with the children’s art hung on the playground fence, one piece for each of the Bugs and Leaves and two pieces each for the Tracks. In this case, the kids pick their own artwork at a portfolio conference earlier in the spring during which parents get to see their children’s art and journal entries from throughout the year. June ran straight to her collage, which is entitled “Me and Noah going to School Without Mommy.” The kids had selected pre-cut elements to paste together into a snow scene. At the portfolio conference, Lesley told me how careful June had been to match different elements of the children’s clothing and to make sure each figure had a right and left hand mitten. Once we’d admired her work, June wasn’t much interested in looking at her classmates’ art so she went to play in the sand pit with some of her friends while Beth and I socialized with other parents, sampled the refreshments and walked around the perimeter of the playground, looking at the beautiful art hanging on the fence. Around 3:55, five minutes before the show was to end, June decided she did want to look at the art after all so we made a quick circuit. I pointed out every piece that was by one of her classmates. “Where is Yellow Gignko’s picture?” She kept asking. It was near the end, because all the pieces were arranged alphabetically by the children’s first names and the Yellow Gingko’s name starts with a T. Finally we found her self-portrait as an astronaut and June was satisfied.

In some ways it was a nostalgic event. We saw two alumni families from Noah’s class on their way out as we were going in. And even before I saw the Yellow Gingko’s and Red Dogwood’s moms carrying their infants I was reminiscing to June about being at the art show when Noah was in nursery school and how I spent most of the show sitting in a chair, nursing a “teeny tiny baby.”

“That was me!” June said excitedly.

We walked home and Beth and June worked in the garden while I cooked dinner. They weeded and got three tomato plants and four sunflowers into the ground. Beth says June composed and performed a rap called “I Love to Weed.”

The next day Beth had a busy morning grocery shopping with June and taking Noah to his swim lesson and then out on errands. They got home just in time to hurry over to the rec center’s newly renovated auditorium to see Becky’s concert. Along with another singer and with a lot of audience participation, she sang a DC/Baltimore area-specific version of “Little Liza Jane” (a favorite of mine), “Froggy Went a Courtin” (a song that’s four hundred years old, I learned), “The Green Grass Grew All Around” and lots of other folk and childhood favorites. Noah knows that last one from drama camp and loves it. All through the concert he was smiling and singing and doing the hand motions. June was more reserved but she seemed to be having a good time, too. By the end she had started following along with the hand motions.

“Is there anything better than being with kids and singing songs that have been around forever and ever?” Becky asked toward the end of the concert.

Maybe. I think seeing my kids develop as readers and artists and athletes is right up there, but I know we’d all be poorer without the arts in our day to day lives and I hope my children’s early artistic experiences will be with them for a long, long time to come.