Suburban Maryland Wants to Be Western New York, Part 1

It wants to have a family business in sheet metal or power tools, 
It wants to have a diner where the coffee tastes like diesel fuel, 
And it wants to find the glory of a town they say has hit the skids, 
And it wants to have a snow day that will turn its parents into kids, 
And it’s embarrassed, but it’s lusting after a SUNY student with mousy brown hair who is 
Taking out the compost, making coffee in long underwear.

From “Southern California Wants to Be Western New York,” by Dar Williams

The children persist in growing up. Late Friday morning we dropped North off at BWI airport to join thirty-six of their classmates in the Spanish immersion program who were embarking on an eleven-day trip to Bogotá. The trip takes place every other year—you go in seventh or eighth grade—and in the alternate years, the French immersion kids go on their own trip.

We’d hoped North would be off crutches by the time they left and the fracture is healed, but despite twice-weekly physical therapy, they still have pain when they put weight on that leg, so the crutches went to Colombia with them. That meant we needed to stay in the airport for an hour or so, until their suitcase was checked. Not that we were the only parents lingering. Apparently sending your twelve-to-fourteen year old off to a foreign country without you is a little unnerving. But the first couple days they were gone we received a steady stream of texts and pictures. It’s slowed down, but we’re still getting dispatches from them and we also got a nice email from their host mom, so we don’t have to wonder how they’re doing. They seem to be having a great time. More on North’s adventures in a later post.

After we tore ourselves away from our jetsetter and collected Noah from the bench where he was working on computer science homework on his laptop, the three remaining members of the family got lunch at Panera and then hit the open road. We were headed for an Admitted Students Day at RIT. (Next weekend we’ll be back to New York state again, for Ithaca’s version.)

We arrived at our hotel around 9:30,  after a long drizzly drive. As we drove north, I could see spring receding. The flowering trees disappeared and there was even a dusting of snow on the ground at the highest elevation, near the Pennsylvania/New York border. We had dinner at a brick oven pizza place about one hundred miles from Rochester. For much of the ride, Beth and listened to podcasts—Throughline, Invisibilia, Hidden Brain, and Desert Island Discs while Noah disappeared into his headphones to listen to his own podcasts and watch television on his laptop.

In the morning we had breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast room was crowded with teenage boys in track suits, some kind of high school sports team from Montreal, we gathered. They were well behaved—which isn’t always the case for large groups of teens in hotels—but it made for tight quarters. There were also a couple teen boys with middle-aged parents I thought might be going where we were.

When we arrived at RIT, we were greeted by the pep band, wearing orange and white hockey jerseys, standing on the steps of the building where the event started, and playing a cheerful tune. I noticed there were a lot more young men than women streaming into the building. (We later learned from a tour guide the student body is 70 percent male.) When we took our seats in the stadium where there was a mostly female a cappella group performing. I joked to Beth they were there to convince all these young men that there are women at RIT.

There were some speeches by administrators and then we were split up by schools. We followed a student carrying a School of Film and Animation sign to the brand-new MAGIC Spell Studios building, which opened this fall. We started in an auditorium where the interim director and other faculty gave an overview of the different majors within the school. It was during this presentation we realized that co-ops (paid, full-time, semester or summer-long internships required by most majors) are not required in the School of Film and Animation. For me, the co-op opportunities had been one of RIT’s draws.

When it was time to tour the building, we went with the Motion Picture Sciences guide. This is the program Noah applied to. It’s an engineering-based program that covers the technical aspects of film. We saw studios for color correction, sound mixing, a big green screen (but not the biggest one they have) and a couple grip cages full of equipment. Noah said later it was a really impressive facility and he’d know.

Lunch was provided, but the vegetarian option was a sad, sparsely filled roasted vegetable sandwich that was mostly lettuce and peppers. It was similar to lunch at UMBC, actually. I wondered if they use the same catering service. There was fresh fruit and brownies, though, and I had smoked almonds in my bag, so I supplemented my lunch with those.

Next we took a residence hall tour. The guide showed us a standard dorm room and lounge. The most interesting feature of the tour was the network of tunnels that connect the dorms to each other and to the academic buildings. It’s a nice feature on a campus with harsh winters, but they’re in use all year. There are student-painted murals on the walls, some dating back to the nineties, but there’s still blank space you can request to paint. There are laundry rooms and mailrooms in the tunnels under each dorm, and even a convenience store. It’s a whole hidden, underground part of campus.

In Noah’s information packet there was a coupon for the Ben and Jerry’s in the student union, so we were forced to go get ice cream. After that, we went to Disability Services and learned how Noah can pick up his ADHD medication and to Spectrum Services to talk to two very nice administrators about what kind of support and social and organizational coaching they offer. For those of you who weren’t reading this blog back in the day, we had Noah tested for Asperger’s when he was nine. He didn’t quite meet the criteria, but the psychologist who tested him said he had a lot of the same characteristics and challenges kids on the spectrum have. And you don’t need an official diagnosis to use Spectrum services, so it’s nice to know there’s a built-in support network if he cares to take advantage of it.

That appointment was our last stop of the day so we went to the bookstore to use another coupon to buy A Handmaid’s Tale (because Noah and I are thinking of making it our next mother-and-son book club book and I’ve lost my copy) then back to the hotel room so Noah could research a paper about Chaucer for a few hours. But before he started to work, we debriefed a little. He was concerned that the Motion Picture Science major might be too technical and not creative enough. He’s interested in technology and skilled with it, but he is interested in the bigger picture of storytelling, too, so to speak. We talked about how he’s eligible to take other classes in the School of Film and Animation that might be more on the creative side, even if they’re not requirements. He seemed pensive and unsure. I think this is going to be a hard decision for him, but maybe the visit to Ithaca next weekend will put the schools side to side in a helpful way.

When Noah’s laptop ran out of power we went into Rochester proper for a late dinner at a Asian noodle restaurant. As we walked down a residential block where we parked the car, I noticed snowdrops and crocuses in people’s yards, underlining the fact that we’d driven into an earlier, more tentative phase of spring than we’re having at home, where there are daffodils everywhere and the cherry blossoms are past peak, and there’s a sprinkling of early tulips. (Rochester still had big piles of melting snow in parking lots.)

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was late, so I had a shower, Noah had a bath, and we all went to bed. In the morning, we ate breakfast and hit the road again. Beth and I listened to more podcasts, mostly Hit Parade, a music history podcast about—you guessed it—songs that have been in the Hit Parade over the decades. In an episode about songs that peaked at #2, there was a snippet of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Shop Around,” and Beth and I sang along with the line “My mama told me, you better shop around.”

It’s true, both Noah’s mamas advised him to shop around, but the time for that is almost over. There’s just one more college to visit and sometime in the next few weeks, he’ll make his choice.

Making the Crossing

The Beach, Continued:


The next day was calmer. Despite the fact that she’d gone to bed speculating exactly where in her room at home she’d lost her pacifier, June slept through the night and made it until 7:00 without waking us (a first for the trip and in fact it only happened one other time). We visited the Crocs outlet in the morning and everyone got a new pair for summer. Beth took the kids for bike and scooter ride and this time she was on her own bike so she could keep pace with them. I stayed behind to do laundry and then I got myself a café con leche and drank it on the boardwalk, reading The Washington Post Magazine until I looked up and was alarmed to see Noah and June go zipping by, apparently without Beth, but she was actually close behind.  We all went home and I made lunch for the kids while Beth got a massage. June and I napped (her first non-pacifier-assisted, non-car-assisted nap). When Beth returned she took June on a scouting mission to see which restaurants were open for dinner during the off-season.

While they were gone, Noah and I started Something Wicked This Way Comes.  This is more of an adult book than we usually read but he’ll be reading grown-up books in his English class next fall so I thought it might be a good idea to ease him in with some Bradbury. We’re reading my father’s college copy, a paperback with age-softened pages that cost him 60 cents in 1963. It has his pencil underlining and marginal comments.  Reading it to Noah makes me feel like I’m giving him a little piece of Dad.

I went for a walk on the beach once we’d finished reading. I meant to go further but I found the ridge where the kids had played two days before and it was such a nice place to sit I stayed there.  It was still long, but not as tall now and closer to the water. The tides and children with shovels had carved coves and channels all over it.  I settled right above the biggest cove, a shallow crescent big enough to park two cars. It was alternately a flat expanse of wet sand and a whirling mass of water. It was mesmerizing to watch, so I stayed a half hour as the late afternoon light grew golden and the damp sand into which I’d sunk my bare feet grew cold.

I met up with everyone back at the house. We’d told June she could pick a restaurant for dinner because she was doing such a great job sleeping without a pacifier. And so it was that in a town known for its fine dining, we ended up at IHOP.

After dinner, we played four rounds of Splash. June won the second round and announced she was keeping the scorecard. Later I found her winning Rat-a-Tat-Cat scorecard in her bed. She’s not a sore loser, but she is an enthusiastic winner.


It was time for another day trip. We took the 9:15 ferry from Lewes, Delaware to Cape May, New Jersey. Noah hadn’t been on a ferryboat in years and it’s possible June never has so this was the better part of the adventure. We experienced it largely separately, however, because I am prone to motion sickness and wanted to stay out on the deck, breathing fresh air, watching the seabirds soar and admiring the beauty of the Delaware Bay on a mild, sunny day.  The kids wanted to sit inside, eat snacks from the café and cruise the gift shop instead.  June made her big purchase of the trip, a set of plastic mermaids with accessories; she chose it over a model lighthouse embedded with shells and a sparkly dolphin magnet.

Our first stop in Cape May was the lighthouse. When Noah was little (around three to six years old) he loved lighthouses so we were constantly visiting them. We haven’t climbed one in years; in fact this was June’s first lighthouse.  She took the challenge very seriously, charging up the stairs, not wanting to stop at the landings where her mothers wanted to rest and examine the historical photographs and illustrations of Cape May.  Once we got to the top, however, she was very nervous on the observation deck and wanted to go right back down.

We went to see the shipwreck on Sunset Beach next. Noah read the informational sign about the sunken concrete ship and gave us the highlights, but the big attraction was the jetty. It was a perfect jetty, made of big black rocks, just challenging enough for climbing, with only a few off-limits algae-covered rocks at the end, and a “secret hideout” where you could climb down between the rocks, and watch the waves through a window-like gap. There were barnacles on the rocks and June found a sand crab when she dug in the sand near the water’s edge.  June made friends with a girl her age and that girl’s mother found a jellyfish and everyone had a lovely time. Noah made a game of racing down the jetty, bounding from rock to rock with Beth timing him and then June wanted in on the action to see if she could beat his times (she couldn’t).

It was hard to tear them away for lunch, but we did and after lunch we went to an old-fashioned soda fountain for milkshakes.  We strolled through the streets of Cape May, admiring the Victorian architectural confections—all the turrets and fancy woodwork and intricately painted trim. We had to hurry back to the ferry terminal to catch the 2:30 ferry back to Delaware where reading and bath and dinner awaited us. That night June went to sleep sucking on an ice cube so she could have something in her mouth.


It should come as no surprise to anyone that my day started at 5:05 a.m., with June informing me that her ice had melted. Later in the day she mentioned in casual, matter-of-fact tone that she could choke on an ice cube, or on the melting water, but people couldn’t choke on pacifiers because they’re made for sucking. Then she resumed wondering where hers might be, under the toy box perhaps? Beth patted her arm, told her she was doing great, and said she thought she was all done with pacifiers.  June chose not to acknowledge this remark.

Cape May was our last big adventure. We went out to breakfast and then Beth and June biked to the playground. Noah wanted to go with them but he and Beth misunderstood each other so they left without him and was put out. He had his helmet on and was insisting he was going to find them even though I wasn’t sure where they’d gone and Beth wasn’t answering her phone. He was looking at maps of Rehoboth and various playground locations as I tried to dissuade him. Sometimes when we travel and he’s out of his routine, it brings out the Asperger-like qualities of his personality.  (Note: we had Noah tested for Aspergers a couple years back.  He doesn’t have it but he faces some of the same challenges as kids who do, albeit in a milder form.)

I finally convinced him to come to the beach with me instead. We packed a picnic lunch of an apple, carrot rounds, cheese and water and supplemented it with boardwalk fries.  Next we visited one of the ridges. This one was down to a few mounds of sand, a short cliff and a shallow cove. Noah and I made the cliff crumble by standing at the very edge, thus demonstrating the effect of human activity on erosion, he said. He leapt off the edge, soaking his pants around the knees (he was wearing rubber boots). He found something that looked like a rain gutter and a few feet away a narrow metal pipe with bolts at the end sticking out of the sand. He tried to dig the pipe out, but the sand rushed back into the hole with each wave.

Later that afternoon while Beth and the kids went in search of turtles in a nearby pond, I went back to the beach by myself. I walked north for forty-five minutes until I came to a jetty and found a rock flat and high enough to stand without fear of getting drenched, even as water swirled around me on three sides. It was cold and windy, but I stayed about twenty minutes, until I saw a wave of such size and power and perfect proportions that I knew it was time to leave—it wasn’t going to get better than that—and then I saw a rainbow in its retreating spray.


I wanted the kids to come to the beach with me the next morning because I’d seen pools of water perfect for wading around that time the morning before, but they didn’t want to come, so I went alone.  The pools didn’t appear that day, though, and it was cold and windy; the wind was plucking bits of sea foam off the water and sending them flying through the air.

Later that morning the kids and I met a realtor and toured houses we were considering renting for our beach week in July.  (Beth elected to stay home.) Looking at properties online, we’d narrowed it down to two.  Both were further from the beach than I’d like but one was close to downtown shops and restaurants. We were leaning toward that one, but when we saw them in person, both kids fell head over heels in love with the more remote house. Interestingly, they both said right away it reminded them of YaYa’s house, even though they meant different houses (current and former–houses that have very little in common in my mind). Anyway, the house is a charming, old-fashioned beach cottage, with a deck that made Noah say, “A stage!” and white, painted wrought iron patio furniture that made June say, “A place for tea parties!” and two attic bedrooms with sloping ceilings and a walk-through closet that connects them. The kids’ enthusiasm swayed me and we booked it.

I took June to the beach in the afternoon.  It was still cool and windy but it was sunny so we were warm enough for shell hunting and sand castle making. She enjoyed jumping off the sand cliff without her persnickety older brother yelling at her for climbing in the designated jumping area and jumping in the climbing area.

That night we made our final pilgrimage to Candy Kitchen and had pizza at Grotto’s and our last full day at the beach came to a close.


The next morning we packed up the house and went to the realty to turn in our keys and sign papers for the next house. Then we returned to town, Beth got coffee and ran some Easter-Bunny related errands, while I took the kids to the beach.  The kite shop on the boardwalk was having a customer appreciation day and there were giant fabric balloons on the beach, a caterpillar the size of a school bus and a puffer fish about half that big, tethered to the sand and inflated solely by the wind. A few kids were diving into the sand under the balloons as they bobbed around and soon Noah and June joined in.  There was some kind of narrative about the caterpillar exerting evil power over June and Noah trying to save her, but I wasn’t paying very close attention, preferring to watch the waves.  The Easter Bunny was strolling around the boardwalk, and I pointed him out to June but she wasn’t interested. Beth said earlier in the week June had been showing her toys she might like in her Easter basket “in case the Easter Bunny is listening.” This made Beth think June has the Bunny’s number, or at least suspects the truth.

Around 10:55 a woman with a microphone announced there would be races and an egg toss for kids starting at eleven and June wanted to participate but we were supposed to meet Beth at a gazebo about two blocks away right then so I told June we’d come back.  Beth still had some more errands to complete, so I took the kids back to the kite store but when we got there I didn’t see Noah.  June accepted a piece of candy from the Easter Bunny and we turned back to find her brother, who had just taken such a long time to get his shoes on he was lagging far behind us.  We returned and June decided she wanted one of the free bagels so I got one for her and when I came back, Noah was gone again. I was more exasperated than scared.  He and I had just been discussing the fact that he’d left his bike lock at the gazebo so I figured he’d gone back for it.  I dragged June away from the games for the third time, but when I got to the pavilion, I found Noah’s lock, but not Noah.  I was more concerned now and asked the man who was now at the microphone at the kite store to page him.  He did, with no result.  By the third time Noah was paged, this time with a more detailed physical description, I was crying.  Apparently, I can only lose my kids once in a week without losing my cool. A little while later, Beth and Noah came riding and scooting up to the kite store.

“Where were you?” I yelled at him.

“It was my fault,” Beth said, putting her arms around me as I started to cry harder.  She’d found him while I was in the bagel line and taken him for a bike and scooter ride out to the summer house, so she could see it.  This had been the plan all along so she thought I’d know where he’d gone, but it didn’t occur to me she’d take him when I wasn’t looking so I had no idea.  Beth guessed what had happened, though, as soon as a stranger approached them and asked, “Are you Noah?”

By this time, the games were over and June never got to play, so we strolled down the boardwalk, had lunch and drove back to Takoma, even managing to dye our Easter eggs after the unpacking and laundry and dinner and before bedtime.  That night June went to bed without asking for her pacifier. We never even looked for it.

Coda: Sunday and Monday

The kids hunted for their Easter baskets in the morning and found them full of chocolate and jellybeans.  June got stuffed red monkey that looks like one she once lost (and mourned for years) and Noah got a t-shirt from Grotto’s.  Beth went grocery shopping and I did mounds of laundry.  Beth and June started flower, vegetable and watermelon seeds in pots and then Beth raised the training wheels on June’s bike and we stood in the driveway watching her make her wobbly way around it.  It was a pleasant way to ease back into our home routine, without the pressures of work or school.

Going to bed, I had no idea what awaited us.  June wandered into our room around 10:15, sleepy and disoriented, saying she couldn’t sleep. I’d sent her back to her room two or three times by 10:40 when I heard her sobbing and Beth and I both went into her room.  Even when I got into bed with her and held her she couldn’t stop crying.  I asked her if she wanted me to sing the songs I used to sing to put her to sleep when she was younger and she said yes so I sang them for an hour until she finally drifted to sleep.  At one point while she was in the bathroom I pried up her mattress and found two pacifiers in between the bed and the wall.  I took them to Beth and we quietly discussed whether or not to give her one. We didn’t, but I came pretty close.

Beth took the kids to Round House in the morning. It was June’s first-ever experience with a full-day camp and she was excited, and a little nervous, to be joining Noah in the fun. When I picked them up, after a day of trying to write about memory and cognition through a brain-fog of fatigue, I learned the theme of the day had been the ocean.  The kids were divided into younger and older groups and they performed for each other at the end of the day.  June was a crab being interviewed on a talk show.  Noah was full of praise for her performance and one of the counselors told me she was “a good little actress.”  Noah was the Carpenter in a puppet show version of  “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” and another counselor said it was always good to see him.  Noah said he couldn’t wait for summer vacation so he could go back to Round House, and June said it was fun, but after lunch and the play period, she’d been tired and wanted to go home.  On the bus, I wondered why the kids had fallen silent and looked back to see June asleep, leaning against Noah.

We’ve made the crossing out of the territory of Spring Break. Beth went back to work on Monday and the kids returned to school yesterday.  I’m not making any predictions about how long it will take June to go to sleep easily and consistently without her pacifier but the last two nights have gone well so I’m crossing my fingers for tonight.

His Different Mind

This post is part of the National Parenting Gifted Children Week Blog Tour, hosted by SENG (—Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted. Here’s a list of all the participants:

I’ve had this book, Different Minds: Gifted Children with AD/HD, Asperger Syndome and Other Learning Defecits ( on the bookshelf by my bed for almost a year now, but I’ve never read it. We got it from an educational psychologist who evaluated Noah for Asperger syndrome last summer after a particularly difficult third-grade year. I keep meaning to read it but with a preschooler at home and a big to-read list, I never seemed to have enough time, especially since it no longer feels urgent. Noah is much happier now than he was a year ago and has been for most of that time.

I would read it differently now than I would have a year ago, too, because Noah was evaluated the psychologist said he did not have Asperger’s, even though she saw some “Asperger’s characteristics” in his behavior. This is how it goes with him.

Last August I wrote:

“Noah is a quirky kid, no doubt about it. Over the years we’ve considered or various teachers, his pediatrician, and therapists we’ve consulted have suggested the following diagnoses: OCD, Tourette’s, Sensory Processing Disorder, Asperger’s and ADHD. But with the exception of Sensory Processing Disorder, he’s always fit some of the criteria but not enough for a diagnosis. (And even SPD diagnosis he received at the age of six was a borderline one.)”

It’s a pattern. We think we might have figured out what makes him so different, aside from or in conjunction with his giftedness, then read a bit or consult a professional and discard the diagnosis, or in the case of SPD, learn he has a mild case that requires only minimal intervention. When he got the SPD diagnosis, we bought him a bouncy castle (like the ones you see at carnivals) and a hopping ball to provide him with the deep muscle stimulation that often calms him. The bouncy castle is gone, now, having been broken beyond repair by years of hard use and being out in all weather. We replaced it with a mini-trampoline we keep in the basement. (He also has a pogo stick he refuses to try because he’s afraid of falling off. His daredevil little sister is eager to inherit it when she’s big enough, though, so I’m confident it will get some use.)

Shortly after the SPD diagnosis, we were intending to get Noah set up with an occupational therapist, but during the summer between kindergarten and first grade, all his disturbing misbehavior disappeared, even as the clumsiness and difficulty reading his body’s signals persisted, albeit at a milder level. We suspect that his symptoms had been magnified by an unsympathetic teacher and that once he was out of her class, they receded to a more manageable level. So, we never took him to the therapist.

Flash forward three years. During the spring of his third-grade year Noah was drifting away from his best friend of several years; he was being teased and ostracized at school, and saying, “no-one likes me” with disturbing frequency. Around his ninth birthday I wrote:

“Noah is such a puzzle to many people. He seems simultaneously older and younger than his years. He reads at least two years above grade level, but he still sucks his thumb and he calls me Mommy, while many of his peers have switched over to calling their mothers Mom. He charms many adults with his cheerful demeanor and intelligent conversation, but in the past couple of years he’s had trouble making and keeping friends. He often plays alone at recess (or does yoga). And a lot of adults are just baffled by him. He’s so smart, that his absent-mindedness, his social awkwardness and even his physical clumsiness seem like things he should be able to overcome if he just put his mind to it. But Beth and I suspect there might be more to it than that, possibly even more than his sensory issues can explain. We’ve been considering having him tested for Asperger’s syndrome ( When I read the descriptions I go back and forth between thinking, that sounds like Noah all right and, wait, he’s not nearly that impaired. So it might be good to find out, so we can have more guidance on how to be better parents to him for the next nine years.”

At the same time, he was not being sufficiently challenged academically and he was bored with school. This was new, as his first and second grade teachers were very skilled at working with kids at different levels and keeping him engaged. That fall we applied to a gifted magnet school for fourth and fifth grade. He got in, off the waiting list, the last week of third grade.

The new school was a very good fit for Noah, both socially and academically. He’s still the same quirky kid he always was, but he’s never been teased or excluded from lunch tables or playground games. He invited eight kids to his tenth birthday. When he turned nine, he could barely think of three he wanted to invite and one was a boy who had been unkind to him on occasion. We never sent him to the social skills group in which we had considering enrolling him because things looked up for him almost as soon as he started fourth grade at the new school.

Over the course of the year our concern shifted from his social skills, which seemed adequate to his new environment, to his mental processing speed. One piece of information that came out of Noah’s evaluation last summer was that he’s a slow processor. Here’s how I put it back then:

“What he has and as far as I know there’s no official name for it, is a big gap between his intelligence and his executive function. Or to put it simply, he’s really, really smart and he’s also a really, really slow worker. He excelled on a verbal IQ test (in the 99.6th percentile) but on a writing speed test he scored in the 20th percentile. This wasn’t news to us. Noah’s teachers have been telling us he takes a long time to complete his work ever since kindergarten. Whether they interpret this as laziness or an intrinsic part of the way his mind works often determines what kind of relationship they have with him and how effectively they can teach him. We’re scheduling a meeting with Mrs. B, his fourth-grade teacher, to discuss the report and the psychologist’s recommendations in hopes that she can make some accommodations for him, though the lack of any official type of diagnosis at this point means we don’t have any legally binding action plan. I’m okay with that for now. I’d rather just talk to the teacher and say this is what we think he needs and see how it goes.”

After a year of accelerated work, which has been fun and enriching and challenging and also quite exhausting for Noah, we’re ready to see if we can find that official diagnosis that would entitle him to extra time, and possibly other accommodations when he needs them. His teachers were understanding for the most part this year, but Noah was often behind. He was forever bringing home class work that he had to do on top of his already sizable homework load. One of the standardized tests he took this year was untimed. When he was tested at the fourth grade level he completed it in the amount of time expected, but when he was tested at the level of math he was actually taking this year (sixth grade) he got a decent score, but it took him two and half times as long as the rest of the class to complete it. On the timed MSA (Maryland’s version of the high-stakes tests mandated by No Child Left Behind) he scored in the advanced range for reading and math, but not by much and we know based on his placement and his teachers’ impressions of him that he ought to be close to the very top.

His math teacher told us at an end of year meeting we requested, that his inability to finish his work was why he got a C in math in the fourth quarter. Math has always been one of Noah’s best subjects and we are considering applying to a math and science magnet for middle school, so we were concerned. If we decide that the accelerated path is just too much for him, or if we apply to middle school magnets and he doesn’t get in, he’ll be back in regular classes, and possibly, bored and alienated again. Although, maybe not. We live in an excellent school district and good teachers abound at all schools. As with so many things in life, a lot depends on the luck of the draw. But we want to give him the best chance at being fulfilled and happy at school we can.

So Noah will undergo another battery of tests in early August in hopes of getting a 504 plan in place for him for fifth grade. An ADHD diagnosis is one possible outcome, which I why when I finally read Different Minds (and I think I will when the kids start school) I imagine I will pay more attention to the ADHD sections and less to the Asperger section than I would have a year ago. I would not be surprised, though, to find out that he doesn’t have ADHD, or that he does but just barely. No diagnosis ever seems to fit him quite right.

Noah’s home this week for the first time after three weeks of day camps and a week at YaYa’s. At first he was a little unsure how to occupy himself because it’s been a long time since he’s had so much downtime at once, but he’s reading 39 Clues books and The Washington Post and listening to NPR and music and playing on the computer and watching television and practicing his drums. He and June helped me make a blueberry kuchen on Monday afternoon and he had a drum lesson this afternoon. The late afternoon lesson was scheduled at the very last minute so I had to abandon my somewhat involved dinner plans. We ended up eating out at Roscoe’s ( On the walk from the restaurant back to the car, the kids played with the kinetic musical bicycle sculpture on the sidewalk nearby. It the kind of wonderful loony thing one’s always seeing in Takoma Park.

Noah and I have had the past three mornings alone together as this is the only week this summer when June has camp and he doesn’t. It’s been pleasant, so pleasant that my plans for splitting the time between hanging out with him and working have pretty much gone out the window. (It helps that last week I turned down a brochure-writing job for unrelated reasons). We’ve been taking walks together, going to coffee shops– Starbucks on Monday, Mayorga ( yesterday, browsing at Radio Shack and Ace Hardware, which is something that I would never, ever do on my own, but it seems to make him happy. I read two or three chapters of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban aloud to him every day because he still likes me to read to him and I will keep doing it until he doesn’t want me to anymore. We talk about global warming and whether a planet orbiting two suns at once would have an orbit in the shape of a figure eight, and what his favorite vacuum cleaner attachments are. He doesn’t mind if I sing along to the radio in public. (And really, who could resist “Love Potion #9”?) He reaches out to hold my hand as we walk down the sidewalk.

I was watching him eat his banana bread at Mayorga yesterday morning and maybe the light was just right or something, but I was struck by one of those moments of mother-love: I was momentarily stunned by how beautiful his hazel eyes are, how the green and gold seem to be shining out from under the brown. I want to help the green and gold in him shine out always. I want a school environment for him that will keep doing that. I don’t know if I’d be happy with an ADHD diagnosis because it might give us a peg on which to hang the help he needs or if it will make me worry about the difficulties he faces, but Robert Frost notwithstanding, I want the gold to stay.

Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer

From “Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer”
By Charles Tobias and Hans Carste

“Are you going to the puppet show?” Maura’s mom asked us when she spotted Beth and me sitting in the Starbucks a few blocks from Noah’s school. She was eyeing the line and thinking maybe she didn’t have time to pick up a coffee after all.

“It filled up all of a sudden,” I said.

She joked that maybe everyone was going to the fourth-grade puppet show. While the entire clientele of Starbucks did not follow us to Noah’s school when we left, the puppet show was a big production. The kids have been working on it for months. They read folktales and had to rewrite them by changing the setting and the characters. Noah’s group reworked an African tale about convincing a man not to cut down a tree because of all the animals that would be affected into a story about convincing an oil company not to drill in a coral reef. Noah played the narrator and a sea turtle. The kids researched coral reef eco-systems, made the puppets and the set (which was a drawing projected on a screen behind them), wrote the script, practiced and performed it, along with the rest of the their classmates, who were doing a few more tales. On Tuesday they performed their skits for the third and fifth grades. On Wednesday, the second to last day of school, they did it for the parents.

It was definitely a feel-good event. The puppets were lovely; the kids were endearingly enthusiastic. I particularly liked the last skit, “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears” transformed into “Why Crabs Pinch People’s Toes.” The kids in that group did a great job making the characters come alive. I did leave wondering why so many of Noah’s classmates chose to have their animals speak in seemingly random accents. There were a couple of British animals and one who spoke in a Texas drawl, but I guess that was just part of the fun.

The end of the school year was full of fun, there was field day and the kids watched movies (Tangled and Gnomeo and Juliet) and had ice cream sundaes on Thursday, the last day. That day was a half-day, but Noah didn’t get home until 4:45 because he went straight from the bus stop to Sasha’s annual last-day-of-school pool party. I made blueberry pancakes for dinner at his request to celebrate the end of fourth grade.

Even though he didn’t get home early, Noah was at loose ends for a while trying to figure out what to do when he didn’t have hours of homework. “I don’t think my brain can take it,” he commented. He hadn’t actually had much homework for the past two weeks or so, but he still hasn’t quite adjusted yet to the idea of free time.

Today Beth offered to take Noah to work with her, which is something he usually enjoys but he decided to stay at home. I had a very busy day hosting June’s play date with the Mallard Duck, then taking our poor flea-bitten cat to the vet (a two and a half hour adventure I won’t go into here), then reading to Noah (we’re almost finished with the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), then taking the kids on a walk and in between all that doing enough laundry for our upcoming trip to West Virginia (more on that later). Noah took a scooter ride in the morning and came along on the walk, but he spent most of the day holed up in his top bunk finishing book 2 and starting book 3 of the 39 Clues series, pausing occasionally to play “Ode to Joy” on the recorder. He forgot to eat breakfast (well, I forgot to make him what he’d requested and he forgot I never gave it to him) and he didn’t eat lunch until almost two, he was that absorbed. I was a little jealous, but I’m glad he got to have a lazy first day of summer break, reading in bed. He deserves it after all his hard work this year.

About two weeks before school ended we had a meeting with Noah’s main teacher and his math teacher to discuss his difficulty finishing work in class and paying attention. We came out of the meeting having decided to get Noah tested for ADHD this summer, by the same psychologist who tested him for Asperger’s last summer. It’s something we’ve thought he might have for a long time, years actually, but since he always did well in school, we never took any action on it. But now that he’s in a program that’s actually designed for kids of his intelligence, his slow processing is starting to hold him back, especially in math. We think the accommodation of extra time, if it turns out he’s entitled to it, could be a big help to him and now’s the time to get a plan in place, before middle school. Everyone from his teachers to other parents seems to agree on that.

We also came out of the meeting feeling like he’s in the right place. His teachers seem to understand him and what makes him tick. When we mentioned his social troubles of last year, they said from what they observe, he fits right in with his quirky classmates. The main teacher told me he seemed especially close to one girl we’ve never met, and that they were always helping each other with their work. (Ironically, she was the one who didn’t come to this birthday party because she lost the invitation and forgot to tell her mother about it.) I’m glad he has another year left in elementary school and at this elementary school in particular. I think before the summer’s out we’ll invite his new friend over. I’d like to meet her. I have a feeling she’s probably a very interesting person.

Tomorrow, after June’s t-ball game, we are driving to Charleston, West Virginia to attend a ceremony at Beth’s father’s grave. We’ll spend some time with Beth’s mother, brother, sister-in-law, uncle and aunt, and on Sunday YaYa will take Noah back to Wheeling with her for a week of fun and grandmother-style spoiling. We’re calling it Camp YaYa. It will be the longest I’ve ever been separated from Noah, but he keeps saying he wishes he could stay longer, so I think that’s a good indication it’s a good way to usher in his summer vacation.

So roll out those lazy hazy crazy days of summer. Noah doesn’t like soda and I think we’ll pass on the beer, but I’m good with the pretzels and the song of good cheer.


Last Wednesday morning we left the kids with a new babysitter so we could meet with the educational psychologist who evaluated Noah earlier this month. The sitter asked the kids when they’d be starting school. Neither knew, so I told her September 7 for June and August 30 for Noah.

“That’s soon!” Noah exclaimed in surprise. We’d been telling him school started soon, of course, but I remember how when you’re a kid the summer seems endless. It just goes on and on until all of a sudden, and quite surprisingly, it’s over.

Later that morning, as I walked out of the appointment, I told Beth, “It’s what they always say about him.” Noah is a quirky kid, no doubt about it. Over the years we’ve considered or various teachers, his pediatrician, and therapists we’ve consulted have suggested the following diagnoses: OCD, Tourette’s, Sensory Processing Disorder, Asperger’s and ADHD. But with the exception of Sensory Processing Disorder, he’s always fit some of the criteria but not enough for a diagnosis. (And even SPD diagnosis he received at the age of six was a borderline one.) So, this is a long way of saying the psychologist doesn’t think he has Asperger’s, even if she does she recognize some Asperger’s characteristics in his behavior. She thinks ADHD is a possibility, but she wasn’t ready to make an official diagnosis of that either.

What he has and as far as I know there’s no official name for it, is a big gap between his intelligence and his executive function. Or to put it simply, he’s really, really smart and he’s also a really, really slow worker. He excelled on a verbal IQ test (in the 99.6th percentile) but on a writing speed test he scored in the 20th percentile. This wasn’t news to us. Noah’s teachers have been telling us he takes a long time to complete his work ever since kindergarten. Whether they interpret this as laziness or an intrinsic part of the way his mind works often determines what kind of relationship they have with him and how effectively they can teach him. We’re scheduling a meeting with Mrs. B, his fourth-grade teacher, to discuss the report and the psychologist’s recommendations in hopes that she can make some accommodations for him, though the lack of any official type of diagnosis at this point means we don’t have any legally binding action plan. I’m okay with that for now. I’d rather just talk to the teacher and say this is what we think he needs and see how it goes.

The week before school started was busy. As I mentioned earlier Noah had play dates with Sasha, Maxine and a pair of twins who will attend his new school and he also attended Sasha’s end-of-summer pool party. On Tuesday morning I let Noah walk to Sasha’s house alone for the first time. This is something we’d been mulling over for a long time, but since he will need to walk home from the bus stop by himself this year (June’s school schedule rules out my getting him), we thought we should start letting him practice walking places by himself. As I stood on the porch and watched him set out, I could tell by the set of his shoulders and the way he held his head how proud and grown-up he felt. And it felt right to watch him go.

The next play date was Wednesday. The dynamic of meeting two new kids at once was a little challenging. At first one twin seemed more interested in playing with Noah while the other hung back, and then the twins played together with Noah left out until their mom suggested we move the play date from the playground to an inside space where it might be easier for them to interact. An inside space, of course, meant our house, which was nearby but in no condition for guests, particularly guests I’d never met before. So I just said, “Well, I didn’t clean,” and she said not to worry so we went home and as it turned out they did play better when they had something more structured to do. (They played Monopoly.) Monopoly was the game of choice again on Friday when Maxine came over. She stayed from 9:30 to 1:30 and they actually finished the game, which was satisfying to Noah since the twins had to leave mid-game.

I had the chance to watch Noah at Sasha’s party since it was a parents-invited potluck. At the beginning when it was only Sasha, Sean and Maura playing in the pool he did pretty well. He splashed in the pool, played with the squirters and ate chips when the kids got out of the water and hit the buffet. But as the party got bigger he started to hang back. I encouraged him to join the other kids when the herd of nine-year-olds moved to the trampoline because he likes bouncing, but he stayed on the screened porch with the grownups. By the time the activity had switched to sword fighting with sticks, I didn’t even mention joining them anymore because I know he’s not comfortable with that kind of play. He’d gone back to the pool to anyway. He was alone but he seemed to be having fun. We haven’t been swimming much this summer and he ended up spending almost the whole three hours and fifteen minutes we were there in the water. I think it was okay, given how big crowds of kids overwhelm him. He spent a lot of time alone but he did socialize some, too.

Of course, in addition to the play dates and party, there were school events, too. The ice cream social was Wednesday night. The principal and the teachers played Two Truths and a Lie. Each one had a Power Point slide with two true facts and a lie about himself or herself and the parents and kids had to guess which one was the lie. We didn’t know which teacher he had yet at the time but I think Mrs. B was the one who has gone bungee cord jumping from a crane. Or maybe she was the one who once parachuted out of a plane. In any case, she did not try out for the Olympic Track and Field team. I know that for sure. After learning about the teachers there was a human treasure hunt in which you had to find people in the room who met certain characteristics. (For instance, I signed a lot of people’s sheets as their vegetarian.) Beth and I both find these kinds of icebreakers tedious, so we were happy when it was finally time to line up for ice cream. We did see a few families from Noah’s old school and get to talk a bit, which was nice.

We were back at school on Friday afternoon to meet Mrs. B and tour her classroom and see who Noah’s classmates are. Samira, who has been at the same school as Noah since nursery school days, is in his class, along with Maura who he has been friendly with on and off since kindergarten. There was also a boy who recognized Noah from Improv camp (though Noah couldn’t remember where they’d met until the boy told him) and one of the twins. So there should be plenty of familiar faces.

I studied a flow chart about the writing process and noticed there was a great quantity of books on the bookshelves and a beanbag chair nearby. “Can I come here and sit in the beanbag chair and read?” Beth asked me. A couple of the kids did just that, picking out a book from the shelf and settling in to read.

There was also a display on the wall about different kinds of ecosystems. I said it looked like they were going to study ecosystems and Noah, standing right in front of the wall, said, “Why?”

Then they all had to ask the teacher a question before they left the room. After giving it a tremendous amount of thought, Noah asked why the wall of cubbyholes was filled with two-liter bottles. For a science experiment was the answer. On our way out we bought a car magnet with a wolf on it, as this is his new school’s mascot.

On Saturday afternoon Noah practiced walking home from the bus stop. He and Beth walked there together and then she waited five minutes to follow. Sure enough, they both got home, five minutes apart. I asked him if he felt confident about walking home and he said yes. After a pause he added, “But it was a little scary walking alone.”

On Sunday I made him copy his summer reading log over again because it had gotten wet at some point during the summer and the bottom was all raggedy. More importantly his handwriting was nearly illegible. He made a new grid on the computer, printed it and filled it out by hand, somewhat more neatly. As he was doing this he realized he had not actually finished one of the books he wanted to put on the log, so he spent most of the evening doing that. After he finished he paced around the house, seeming nervous and keyed up, but he went to sleep pretty quickly after going to bed at his new bedtime of 8:45. (We moved his bedtime back when we made June’s earlier. He thinks going to bed fifteen minutes later and having a bedtime after his little sister’s for the first time in his life is “awesome.”)

He slept until 7:00, which qualifies as sleeping in for him. Beth made him his requested lunch of shredded cheddar cheese, saltines, mango slices and grape juice. I took his picture at the gate and (he wanted to pose as an old man) and at 8:10, he and Beth walked off to the bus stop. Fourth grade, I thought. That is old.

June and I went about our day. I took her to Great Kids Village ( to see Banjo Man (, who has a Monday morning gig there, and we had a picnic lunch nearby before getting back on the bus to come home. She fell asleep during Quiet Time for the second day in a row. (She would do it the next day as well.) We’d just finished reading several chapters of James and the Giant Peach when Noah walked in the door at 4:25.

“The first day was good,” he said, before I could even ask him and he gave me two thumbs up. He likes his teacher. She had students from her last class write letters to her current class to tell them what to expect. “You shouldn’t be dreading all the homework people say you are going get. True, there are long-term projects but they are usually fun. Mrs. B is an awesome teacher and you are lucky to have her,” begins the letter Noah received. They are doing a lot of get-to-know-you activities right now. For homework he had to write five interview-style questions for the teacher, which she will answer at a mock press confererence and he had to put several objects in a “memory bag” he’ll bring to class and explicate. (So far he has a magnet in the shape of West Virginia and a potholder he made at his old school in the bag.) They have a whiteboard that you write on and what you write is projected onto a screen. They painted on a real canvas in art class. He played with other kids at recess. He said it was less scary walking home by himself the second time. He seemed really, really happy talking about his day.

I don’t know what Noah’s first year as a Wolf will be like. Of course, there’s a lot I could worry about from his uneven social skills to his wandering mind to the logistics of getting him to school and back and the question of how he will respond to the increased workload. But I have a lot of hopes, too, hopes of fun and challenging assignments and kids to whom he can more easily relate. Wolves are pack animals after all. Most of all, I hope he finds his pack.

The Bad Beginning

If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.

From The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket

Day 1: Saturday

“Isn’t anyone going to get me some veggie sticks?” June asked in a petulant tone at 9:15 a.m. We were pulling out of the driveway but she sounded as if we’d been on the road for hours. Maybe she knew something we didn’t. The drive to the Outer Banks we were hoping to make in eight hours would end up taking eleven and a half. It was the longest it’s ever taken us to get there, longer than when the kids were nurslings, longer than the time pre-kids when I was traveling with Mom and Jim and we decided to detour to see the Great Dismal Swamp and got hopelessly lost. (We never did see the swamp.)

This time it was just traffic. Over and over again on road after road, we slowed to a crawl. And then to add to the misery shortly before noon, June threw up. We pulled into a Starbucks, got her cleaned up and changed into new clothes in the parking lot and got some lunch, including a fruit cup we would later refer to as the Fruit Cup of Doom. It was purchased for Noah but he didn’t want anything to do with it. He said it tasted funny. Now half the food Noah tries tastes funny to him so I didn’t think anything of it. I ate the kiwi, which seemed fine to me, and June chowed down on the grapes.

Traffic continued to be excruciatingly slow and every now and then June would start to moan and look pale, sweaty and anguished, but she didn’t throw up again during the rest of the ride. The last time she looked really close was just before we stopped at a Taco Bell in Kill Devil Hills at seven.

All through the long drive the kids were patient and well behaved. June did cry when I told her I’d forgotten to pack her Cinderella blanket, but by that point she had been sorely tested. Noah sang the theme from Cars: “Life is a highway./I wanna ride it all night long” and then commented cheerfully that we might be riding all night long. But we found ways to pass the time. We listened to twenty Frog and Toad stories we’d downloaded for the trip and a mixed CD of kids’ music Noah made a while back. But the best entertainment was the audio version of The Bad Beginning, the first book in the Series of Unfortunate Events books Noah and I read last summer and fall. Tim Curry is utterly brilliant as the narrator. You must all download this book and listen to it at once. It’s that good. As soon as it was over I wished we had all thirteen.

Another small bonus: On the whole drive I saw only three Confederate flags (two car decals and one actual flag). Twenty-five years ago, when my family first started coming to the Outer Banks, it would have been a lot more. A bigger bonus: Because we were so late, we were driving along the loveliest stretch of dunes during the sunset.

We pulled up to our rental house at 8:45, having met my mother and stepfather in the parking lot of the realty. Despite living two and a half hours to our north and having left an hour later and having been lost for forty-five minutes (misled by their new GPS), they beat us to Avon and had been driving around, trying to find the house.

As I was trying to hustle the kids into bed, June asked for a snack. I gave her a strawberry from the fruit cup. Remember the fruit cup? Well, at 11:30 and again at midnight, June woke up vomiting. We don’t know for sure if it was the strawberry but it was too long after we got out of the car for car-sickness and she seemed perfectly healthy the next day so that’s our best guess. We threw the rest of the fruit cup away.

Unfortunately, June’s favorite doll Violet was in exactly the wrong part of the bed when June got sick. I wiped her off as best I could and hung her up in the bathroom. In the morning she looked clean, though some of her elaborate up-do had come undone and she smelled horrible. (“So you forgot her best blanket and her best doll is ruined?” Noah clarified, causing June to cry all over.) We didn’t think Violet would survive the washing machine so we hung her up on the clothesline on the deck and the sea air proved remarkably restorative. Within twenty-four hours she was nearly as good as new.

Day 2: Sunday

In the morning we explored the house. It had an airy, open floor plan on the top floor with bedrooms below. There were several decks, screened and unscreened and ocean and sound views from almost every room in the house. There was an alcove with built-in bookcases stocked with books for kids and adults that Noah called “the detective nook” for reasons no one fully understood. Our bedroom was partially in a turret and had an interesting shape. And did I mention the ocean and sound views in almost every room? I love this house.

I’d brought some work with me, revisions on an article on Coenzyme Q10 due Monday evening. It was difficult to stay in the house working so early in the trip, so I had Beth put the computer facing a window with an ocean view and I split the work into two chunks, one for Sunday afternoon and one for Monday afternoon.

Sunday morning June and I went down to the beach. She was ambivalent about the waves, sometimes wanting me to carry her in deep, sometimes seeming scared, so I had to work to find her comfort zone. In practice this meant a lot of going back and forth, down to the water, up to the sand and back again. We built castles, collected shells and took a long walk up the beach, or maybe I should say I took a walk and she took a run. The beach was sparsely populated so I felt comfortable letting her get far ahead of me and she, always one to seize whatever freedom she’s given, took off. I watched her run across the empty expanse of sand, a little figure in a turquoise and white bathing surfer-style bathing suit, tearing down the beach. Every now and then she would pause and look for me over her shoulder, but not very often.

Sunday afternoon Beth took the kids on some errands and I worked, until I got sidelined by computer problems so then I helped Mom make dinner until Beth came back and was able to get me back on track. It was Father’s day so my Dad was on my mind. I proposed we go to Dairy Queen after dinner. Ever since he died I’ve found myself taking comfort in foods I associate with him, especially ice cream. I got a chocolate malted, a favorite of his, and gave a silent toast to him while I drank it.

Day 3: Monday

Monday was the Equinox. I took both kids to the beach in the morning and we welcomed summer by splashing in the waves, making dribble castles, digging holes and observing how they changed shape as they filled with water, finding and liberating sand crabs and otherwise enjoying ourselves. Noah kept saying that maybe there would be a freak wave or a tsunami and he sounded kind of hopeful about it. Every night he reads to us from his 100 Most Dangerous Things on the Planet book ( When he does so he assumes the persona of Dane Dangerfighter, a character of his own invention, who lectures and quizzes us on how to survive various dangers. Perhaps Noah wanted an opportunity to put Dane’s advice to use. Then he said I like the ocean so much I should be called TsuMommy.

I took my first beach swim of the year in the afternoon (cold water, decent waves) and collected some golden-colored shells for June, who had requested I bring back some treasure. Then I headed back up to the house and finished my article and we had a lovely first night of summer dinner (veggie dogs, corn on the cob and roasted new potatoes, with angel food cake and strawberries for dessert). After dinner, I washed the dishes while everyone else watched Cars. Noah was eager to share his favorite movie with Grandmom and Pop. It took them most of the week to finish it because we never had much time between dinner and bedtime.

Day 4: Tuesday

Having finished my work, I felt ready for an outing on Tuesday. There are a lot of possible day trips on the Outer Banks, but we wanted to stay close to the house so we could spend more time on the activity than in the car and still get back in time for June’s nap so we settled on the hiking trails in Buxton Woods ( Beth promised Noah it would be an adventure and it was.

Beth and I have been to Buxton Woods but not for a long time, possibly not since before Noah was born. Still the turnoff didn’t look like what either of us remembered. There was a trail map and then a long, sandy road leading through the woods to the various trailheads. In places the road had been covered with wood chips for better traction.

Beth said later there was a little voice in her head telling her to go back, that we were going to get stuck, but there was no good place to turn the car around so she drove on. And then we got stuck. We all got out of the car and looked at the wheels. The right front wheel was sunk in the deepest. We had no shovels or planks. Beth had just removed Noah’s long-handled shovel from the car that morning, but it probably would not have been up to the job. Beth got out her phone and found she had no signal, so we all headed down the road in the direction we’d come looking for a place where Beth could place a call.

“Why didn’t Dane Dangerfighter tell us what to do?” Beth asked Noah as we walked.

“Because it’s not one of the one hundred most dangerous things in the world!” he answered, somewhat exasperated. “Now if it was quicksand…”

The road was lined with ferns and pine trees. There were grasshoppers leaping along beside us and dragonflies zooming past and butterflies fluttering around us. June kept stopping to collect pine needles and to sift the dark, silty sand through her hands. Soon she was filthy. She probably thought this was the promised hike and we didn’t tell her otherwise.

We didn’t need to walk far until Beth got a signal, though it was a patchy one. It took several calls to find out her auto service would need to send someone from Nag’s Head (an hour away) and to decide to engage someone more local instead. The tow truck arrived within ten minutes of the last call. Noah got to see it in action, which for him was probably more fun than a nature hike anyway.

“You were right, Beth. That was an adventure,” Noah said as we drove home. Overall, though, it was a manageable adventure, not so long that June missed her nap, no so dangerous that we needed Dane. Beth’s service will even reimburse her for part of the towing charge.

Beth took the kids to play miniature golf that afternoon. Noah got two holes in one and on one of the two holes she bothered to finish, June beat both Noah and Beth. Meanwhile, Mom and Jim and I went to the beach. A tidal pool had formed and I saw something I’d never seen before. I’ve noticed bubbles rising from crab holes when the water covers them, but these holes were forming geysers, two to three inches tall. They were fascinating. We sat on the beach and watched a parasailor and admired the pelicans gliding over the water and thought sadly about their Gulf Coast cousins. I made a silent wish that the oil would not make it this far north, not to the Outer Banks, not to the Chesapeake Bay, and please, please, not to Rehoboth Beach, my very favorite beach of all.

After dinner and more Cars, we had root beer floats and put the kids to bed, and then I took a walk on the beach. It had been a clear day, but the sky was partially clouded over, though I could still make out the Big Dipper. There was a three-quarters moon and the sea was dark with glints of silver. Several bonfires burned and the air smelled of wood smoke. I looked for the little phosphorescent creatures I often see in the water in North Carolina, but there were none. Possibly it was too early in the season, the water too cool. There was the usual assortment of night beach-goers–people fishing, teens running around with glow sticks wrapped around their wrists and necks, kids with flashlights and nets chasing ghost crabs, and the occasional solitary walker such as myself. It was hard to leave and I got back to the house later than I intended.

Day 5: Wednesday

Wednesday morning I took Noah out to breakfast at the Froggy Dog ( while Beth took June to Uglie Mugs ( for some one-on-one mother and child time. When we split up, we usually do it the other way around so it was nice to have some alone time with Noah.

I thought about having a meaningful conversation with him about how he was feeling about the end of the school year and changing schools but I decided to go for something lighter. I asked him what his favorite part of the trip had been so far. Golfing and getting the holes in one he answered right away and then he recounted how his ball’s exact course as it bounced off an obstacle and rolled up a hill and back down again before going in the hole. Then he added that he kind of liked the long drive. What about it, I asked, surprised. Listening to The Bad Beginning, he said and then he laughed anew at some of the amusing parts.

Next he tested the theory that when you block out one sense the others are heightened. He listened to the music playing with his eyes shut, looked at the art on the wall with his hands over his ears and tasted his juice with his nose pinched shut. Then our food came and we were absorbed in pancakes (him) and fried eggs, biscuit and grits (me). It was a fun meal.

We walked home along the beach. Noah sat in a chair someone had dug out of the sand and splashed in the surf. He wanted to get the almost healed scrapes on his knees wet. He wiped out on his scooter on the first day of summer break and Beth had told him seawater has healing powers. Of course he got his shorts all wet, but I said it was okay. Then he ran ahead of me on the beach and I found myself walking behind another one of my kids, watching, wondering how far he’d go. It’s what we so often do as parents.

Back at the house, I chatted with my mom and then left her and Noah to a game of Sorry while I went back to the beach for a morning swim. Conditions were not ideal, though. I’d had a good swim on Monday afternoon but every time I’d tried to go in since then the waves had been breaking too close to the shore, making it more likely that instead of bobbing along in shallow water between waves that I would be thrown to the gritty sand. The older I get the more cautious I get about ocean swimming. Beth says this is a good thing. I’m not sure. In either case, I hadn’t been staying in the water very long and I didn’t this time either. Even so, I hurt the big toe on my right foot when I came down on it still tucked under my foot. It hurt a lot but probably not as much as it would have if it hadn’t been immersed in cold water so I stayed in until the throbbing subsided and then I hobbled back to my towel somewhat dispirited. My younger self would have stayed in, but I’m not the fearless swimmer at forty-three that I was at thirteen. Later that day the whole foot swelled up and over the course of the next few days a reddish-purple bruise formed along the base of my first four toes and along the big toe itself.

By the time I returned to the house, Beth and June had returned from their morning adventures. After breakfast they went to the realty-owned pool. I can’t say I approve of swimming pools at the beach, but they had fun.

That afternoon Beth took June back to the pool and I took Noah to the beach. I was sorry my usual beach buddy didn’t want to come, but I was glad of some more alone time with Noah. We were able to go deeper into the water than we could with June. Noah was already in the surf as I was arranging the towel. “Mommy!” he yelled to me. “This totally rocks!” As we played by the water’s edge, he speculated about wave physics and made names for different kinds of waves. Big ones were “kings.” Little ones with surprising force were “vipers.” When he wasn’t chattering he was running and shrieking. “This is a lot of fun, but it’s also scary,” he confided. Every now and then he checked his knees to see if there had been any visible healing. He thought there had been. (In fact, later in the trip he would try to avoid getting his knees wet because he said he wanted to observe the healing process at its natural pace.) After he’d stepped on my bad foot twice, I asked him to stay to my left and he was better about remembering to keep us arranged that way than I was. Once when he was up on shore, I waded out deeper to dive under a wave and suddenly heard him talking behind me. I was pleased he was confident enough to go out that far, but also alarmed because although he’s made great strides in swimming lessons this year, he’s still an inexperienced ocean swimmer and I need to know where he is when he’s in the water. Our beach visit was cut short by a bathroom emergency, but I was glad he’d come with me.

That evening Mom and Jim went to Manteo to see the purple martins that migrate there every summer ( We stayed at the house and watched a little of Sleeping Beauty. June was determined to make it through the whole movie this time. (She’s scared of Malicifent.) For the portion they watched, she managed it.

Day 6: Thursday

In the morning I looked at my foot, trying to decide if the swelling had gone down. I thought maybe it had. “Your foot looks worse,” Beth said immediately upon seeing it and when I put on my Tevas, I had to admit she was right. The pain was not too bad but it felt very stiff. Undeterred, I headed down to the beach. (Beth and the kids were headed to the pool for the third time in two days.)

I ended up having my longest and best swim of the trip, but it didn’t start out that way. I was standing in the surf for the longest time dithering about whether or not to try to get past the breakers. It looked like there were some good waves out there—big, slow and gentle—but I’d have to get through a short, rough stretch to get there and I was afraid of landing on my foot wrong again. After maybe a half hour of wading in and then backing some or all of the way back and changing my mind about whether I was even trying to get in and debating whether caution is a good thing or a bad one, I saw my opportunity, a long expanse of placid sea, like a sign from the heavens. I strode in and soon I was in the sweet spot, riding up the sides of big, glossy-smooth waves and sliding back down, just as the tips of the white crests were starting to form. There was plenty of time for considered landings and mostly I landed on just my good foot. I drifted north and eventually found myself in a place, which while still quite close to the shore, was past the breakers all together, so I wasn’t so much bobbing between waves as between little swells. At this point I turned my mind to the question of how to get out. Sometimes getting out of the ocean can be as hard as getting in and sometimes a big wave just sweeps you right back to the shore, which is what happened this time.

In the late afternoon I lured the kids to the beach with the promise of the tidal pool I’d seen the last two days around that time. I wasn’t sure exactly when it would form because I didn’t have tide chart, but I was hoping for something in between 4:30 and 5:00. However, when June and I joined Mom and Jim at the water’s edge at 4:30, I could see the dry, rippled sand where it had been, far up the shore. It didn’t seem likely that the tide would progress fast enough to get there before we had to leave for dinner. So Mom played with June and I swam and Noah came down about twenty minutes later and we all played together and watched dolphins (we all saw them except Noah) until the blowing sand started to bother June and we left around 5:40. There was a trickle of water reaching the trough-like depression in the sand with each of the bigger waves by now but I didn’t mention it to anyone.

As we trudged up through the dunes, June was annoyed by the hot sand on her bare feet and then at the way the sand sifted through the holes in her crocs when she put them on. “I’m telling you,” she said, “I’m never coming to the water again, only the pool.” A few minutes later she added, “Why do they have a beach with no boardwalk and no Candy Kitchen?” Rehoboth Beach is her gold standard for beaches. She finds the Outer Banks somewhat lacking, superior natural beauty and all. I understand, the Outer Banks are more stunning but Rehoboth is more homey, more ours.

We didn’t manage to get dinner on the table until seven so the kids resumed watching Sleeping Beauty until it was ready. June cracked and ran out of the room at least twice during the scary parts. She just can’t take that witch. The kids went to bed soon after dinner and Beth and I took her laptop to the screened porch to work on the last of the several questionnaires we need to fill out for our Aspergers parent interview next month.

Day 7: Friday

Friday morning I folded the load of laundry I’d done the day before and decided to pack most of it since we were leaving the next day. I asked June to pick out two outfits, one for today and one for tomorrow. She caught on right away. “We’re leaving tomorrow? We only have one more day to go to the pool?”

It was true. Beth, who had yet to set foot on the beach, made her fourth trip to the pool that morning. I went to the beach alone and a little sad that June didn’t want to come. Still, it meant I could swim. My foot felt much better (and fit into its sandal perfectly) so I decided to start with a walk on the beach. I headed south and got into the water along the way drifted back to my towel. There wasn’t much going on beyond the breakers so I floated on the surface of the water, trying to feel the Earth’s gravity wrapping the water and me tightly to itself.

I came back up to the house for lunch. Mom, Jim and the kids had just finished watching Cars and Jim was making a fire on the grill under the house for toasting marshmallows. Mom and Jim both claimed to have the most perfectly toasted marshmallow. Mine caught fire both times and the kids’ got coated in ashes, but everyone proclaimed the sticky treats delicious.

After June’s nap, I joined Mom and Jim at the beach while Beth and the kids went out for ice cream and ran some errands. They were supposed to join us to launch the rocket Beth and Noah had constructed from a kit the day before, but the sky was growing dark and we weren’t sure if they’d beat the rain. They did, showing up at 4:30 just as Mom and Jim were about to call it quits and go back to the house. The first and third launch attempts were duds but they got in one good flight in between before running out of fuel (baking soda and vinegar). Then Beth went down to the ocean to rinse off the sand and so she could say she’d been in the water. June and I lingered on the beach after everyone else went up. June found a gull’s feather and immediately made plans to glue it to a picture frame, thus combining two of her main interests, nature and arts and crafts. As we walked up the path through the dunes back to the house, it started to drizzle.

At the house, June colored, Beth and Noah played Battleship, and we ate pizza, packed and cleaned. Our beach week was all but over.

Day 8: Saturday

We woke and packed and cleaned some more. It had stormed during the night and at 7:00 a.m., we could still see streaks of lightning in the sky. By 9:00, the rain had let up and Noah and I went down to the beach to say our goodbyes. We let the waves rush over our bare feet (fourteen times was the number he thought right). This is an old ritual of ours, but he added a new part. We each picked up a shell and said, “Goodbye, ocean!” into it and threw it into the dark blue-green waves.

Then we came back to the house, finished packing and cleaning and drove home. Admittedly, our trip got off to a bad beginning and no beach trip that does not end in someone telling me I’ve won my very own beach house can be said to have a truly happy ending, but despite the tow-truck incident and my injured foot (which is still bothering me after two days at home), I’d have to say there were more than a few happy things in the middle.

Escaping the Boa Constrictor

Noah likes to give us homework assignments on the weekends. (Just this past Sunday I did twenty-five two digit by two digit multiplication problems for him—and I got them all right. Apparently I can still do elementary school math.) He relishes his role as teacher and often gives a lecture with examples on his chalkboard before we complete the assignment. A couple weeks back he gave us a language arts assignment that was more fun than the multiplication. “Summer!” the paper proclaimed in yellow-orange letters, “Write a summer story.” That was it, but he gave some oral instruction as well. It should be a true story and not a fictional one, he said. I thought about all the memorable summers in my life, good and bad. Would he like to read about 1987, the summer Beth and I fell in love? Probably too mushy for a nine year old, I decided. How about some of the trips Beth and I took in our twenties and early thirties? (We have traveled to all fifty states together, most of them before Noah was born.) Finally I settled on something more mundane, but possibly of more interest to him. This is what I wrote:

The spring I turned nine years old my family moved to a new house. We moved from the city to a small town. I remember that summer (between third and fourth grade) well. I’d never had a yard before and I loved playing in it. Every morning before breakfast I would run outside to see if anything had changed overnight. There might be mushrooms after a rain or new roses or interesting bugs on my mother’s rosebushes or something new growing in the vegetable garden. The yard had a patio enclosed with cedar trees. That summer my mom read me The Hobbit and we usually sat on the patio to read. I used to stare up at the tall hedges all around me rising into the sky and imagine I was traveling along with Bilbo and the dwarves.

This was also the summer I learned to ride a bike without training wheels. I’d always had trouble learning to do things like that and in the city I could only ride up and down my block anyway so I didn’t have much motivation to learn. My father took the training wheels off my bike that summer and taught me how to ride. It was hard but I finally got it and then I was allowed to ride far from our house. I had never had so much freedom before. I could even go to the ice cream store (with permission). These are some of the reasons 1976, the summer I was nine, was one of the best summers of my life.

I had ulterior motives for telling Noah this summer story. I want him to have as wonderful a summer as I did that year and even more importantly, I want him to believe he can. I put in as many details that might connect him to my nine-year-old self as I could. (He and I just finished reading The Hobbit on Tuesday; he still can’t ride a bike.)
Things have not been going well for Noah recently. I haven’t been this worried about him since kindergarten, what Beth and I now think of as Noah’s bad year.

He’s been saying that the kids at school don’t like him and that he has no friends. I don’t think it’s quite as dire as that, even though he and Sasha do seem to be drifting apart. That’s a natural part of childhood but Sasha has a new best friend and Noah doesn’t, so that’s sad. They are not completely on the outs, though. Noah had him over last weekend and yesterday Noah went to Sasha’s second annual end-of-school pool party. Meanwhile, another good friend has been giving him mixed signals, excluding him from his birthday party (and telling him so) and teasing him at times and but acting friendly, trading books and inviting him over to his house at other times. However, when I asked Noah what he did at recess, which I did from time to time, for the last few months of the school year he always said he played alone and he sat by himself at lunch every day, too.

As they get older the boys in his class are more and more interested in sports, which hold no interest for Noah, and the kind of imaginative, role-playing games he likes to play are getting less popular. He’s also being teased at school for sucking his thumb. As much as I hate to suggest he change for other people, I finally got desperate enough to ask him if he could try to stop sucking his thumb at school and make it an at home thing only. He said he doesn’t realize he’s doing it when he starts and then when he becomes aware he figures everyone has already seen and so he doesn’t stop.

It’s hard to look at this objectively because I was never a popular kid. I went through a few years of being part of a nerdy, frequently teased quartet of girls (fifth through eighth grade) and then after we moved again in the middle of eighth grade, I just didn’t make friends until the summer before eleventh grade (except for a brief but intense friendship at the end of ninth grade). I can say, for me anyway, that it was better to have a few friends, even if we were teased and shoved in the halls, than to have none at all. I don’t want Noah to be in a position to make this comparison ever, but especially not now. He’s only nine years old.

So between his challenging social situation and the lack of academic challenge at school this year, it’s something of a relief that yesterday was the last day of school. I’m going to be proactive about having him invite kids over this summer because one on one is the easiest way for him to relate to other kids. We’ve also decided to do at least the first step of Asperger’s testing. It’s a parent interview. After that, we’ll decide whether or not to have him tested.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Noah’s looking forward to our two beach trips this summer and to day camp (three weeks of drama and one week of art). At home, he’s his same cheerful self most of the time, except when he’s bickering with June. And there were quite a few highlights in the last two weeks of his third grade year. He was in the Variety Show for the first time. He didn’t choose to be in the show. Some teachers decide to have their whole class perform a song or dance and some kids prepare their own acts. Señor Salinas had both his morning and afternoon classes learn a song called “Que canten los niños” (“Let the Children Sing”) and Noah had fun learning and performing it. Beth took a video and he and I have been working on a set of English subtitles for it. I don’t know why Noah has never created his own act for the Variety Show, given how he loves the spotlight. Sometimes he lacks initiative, especially when it comes to putting something together on someone else’s schedule.

Anyway, the show was a lot of fun. Where else can you see kids playing piano and flute, kindergarteners dancing inappropriately sexy dances, a mime, children in fedoras and sunglasses singing the times tables, Irish step dancing, Indian dancing, a number from High School Musical, a Recycling Parade of mothers dressed in dresses made from tea bag wrappers, Dorito bags, umbrella fabric, etc. and a Michael Jackson tribute? Beth thought the moon-walking was a bit weak, but I thought some of the zombies in the Thriller section were quite convincing.

The carnival at Noah’s school often conflicts with the Lantern Launch but it was a week earlier this year so we got to go. It was a nice relaxed evening. We ate pizza, June played a carnival game (she won a toy by fishing the right rubber duck out of a kiddie pool with a net), Noah threw a ball and successfully dropped the Vice Principal into the dunking tank (much to my and Beth’s surprise) and both kids spent a long, satisfying time climbing and sliding and jumping on the huge inflatable play structures.

Field day was the next week. Noah said he liked the potato sack race the best, but he also enjoyed some of the other games. I asked him if they divide the students into competing teams on field day and he said no. I kind of figured that would be the answer, but I told him how when I was in third grade it was the Bicentennial and they divided us up into the British and the Americans on field day. The British won. He lacked the cultural context (of 1970s culture, not the Revolutionary War) to understand how funny this was.

I think my favorite end-of-year event was the poetry slam in Noah’s afternoon class. To clarify, it was not really a poetry slam. As at field day, there were no winners and no losers. It was really just a poetry recital. But if it had been a poetry slam, I think Noah would have been in the running, not so much for content as for delivery. I say that because even though we were in the front row, three-quarters of his classmates read so quietly I have no idea how good their poems were. They may have been brilliant, but they were inaudible. Noah was loud and clear, though, and very, very serious. If he ever needs to address the U.N, he’ll do a great job. He read two haiku, a diamante (, a limerick and a biographical poem. I liked the limerick best:

There once was a boy named Noah
And he got attacked by a boa
That horrible snake
Had made the ground shake
But still it went home with no Noah

Here his serious demeanor cracked a little and he grinned.

Beth and I attended all these events except field day and they reminded me of some of the things I like about his school, its community spirit being chief among them. And I kept thinking how bittersweet all the end-of-year hoopla would have been for me if Noah had gotten into the gifted center for fourth grade.

And then he got in. On Monday afternoon we got the call telling us he’d been admitted from the waitlist, and all of a sudden we went from thinking he’d have two more years at his current elementary school to thinking it might be two more days. Tuesday morning we took Noah out of school for an hour to tour the new school. And that night while we were eating dinner at Mark’s Kitchen (they were having a fundraiser for his current school), he announced he wanted to try to gifted school. So it’s official. Beth’s made the calls and emails and all that’s left is some paperwork.

There are drawbacks. Faced with the prospect of leaving his school, he realized he did have friends and he says he’ll miss them. (Several kids from his school will be switching with him but none are close friends.) We told him he could still have play dates with his old friends. And there will be logistical difficulties. The bus stop will be at his old school, a twenty-minute walk from our house, and the afternoon pickup time doesn’t mesh well with June’s school schedule. Also, he will have more homework and less time to finish it since he will be getting home later. And he’ll be leaving the Spanish immersion program, which has been a good experience. There is the possibility of an after-school Spanish club forming, the principal told us on our tour, but then he’d get home even later so I’m not sure I’d even want him to try it.

Despite all the challenges, we’re going to try to we make it work. It’s a wonderful opportunity for Noah that opens up all kinds of possibilities. His academic needs should be better met at his new school and while there’s no guarantee of this, I’m hopeful that some of his social difficulties could be ameliorated by changing schools at this point as well. It will be a chance to start fresh, with new kids, all of whom will be in a new school and looking to make new friends. Plus they will be as smart as he is, so possibly his quirks won’t seem quite as quirky. I’m hoping that’s how it works out anyway.

I’m feeling more optimistic about him than I have in a while. Take that, boa constrictor.


The First Half: Being Nine, or The Best Part of All

When Noah got off the school bus on the last Friday in April, I asked him, “How was your last day of school as an eight year old?” He looked surprised. Because his party was over a week away, his actual birthday kind of snuck up on him. He hadn’t realized it was only three days away. (This despite June’s complaints that everyone was “always” talking about Noah’s birthday and it was “very ‘nnoying”).

The next few nights he had trouble getting to sleep at night. He’d call me back into his room to ask birthday-related questions, and one night he was up past ten. (His bedtime is eight-thirty.) He’s also been experiencing pain in his ankles at night, growing pains, I assume and that coupled with his excitement made it hard for him to fall asleep.

Over the weekend, he came up with the idea of opening his presents early so it wouldn’t have to be fit into the bustle of a school day. I tried to put the kibosh on this plan. His class party was the day after his birthday and his home party was the following weekend. If he opened his presents before his birthday there would be nothing special about the day, I argued. “But I’ll be nine,” he protested. “Isn’t that the best part of all?”

In the end, he agreed to wait, but when he woke up on Monday morning, there was a new complication. He felt sick, he said. Noah’s sensory issues can make it difficult for him to distinguish between different kinds of bodily sensations. It’s easy for him to mix up feeling sick, needing to go to the bathroom and being hungry. I asked him to go back to bed and try to really listen to what his body was telling him but he was having trouble getting a handle on it. He thought he was too sick to go to school– no, he wasn’t– yes, he was–well, maybe not.

We tabled the issue and by 6:55 we were all assembled in the living room for “the opening ceremony” as he dubbed the present opening. There were many car-related presents. June got him a little yellow metal VW Bug with a friction motor, my mom got him a subscription to Car and Driver, my sister got him a copy of the movie Cars (I asked her to do it so we can return the Netflix copy he’s been watching over and over since March). He also got books and t-shirts and pajamas, a Bananagram word game (, an Extreme Bubble Making Kit, and a new scooter to replace his old one (the brake fell off and we’ve been unable to get it repaired). It was a pretty good haul. He decided to wear the green t-shirt with a classic car on it to school, if he was going, which was still up in the air. He wanted to know if he could go for a ride on the new scooter and I said, “If you’re well enough to ride the scooter, you’re well enough to go to school.” It was one of those moments when I heard Mom-speak just coming out of my mouth without any warning. I wonder if that ever happened to our moms when we were kids.

As June and I left the house to walk to nursery school around 8:00, I heard Noah and Beth seeming to come to the conclusion that he would go to school, but I wasn’t completely sure whether I’d find him there or not when I got back. I came home to an empty house with a note on the front door. “Noah went to school,” it said.

At 11:05 the phone rang and I got off the exercise bike to answer it. It was someone from Noah’s school. He was throwing up, she said, and I needed to come get him. It was about five minutes before I needed to leave for June’s school, and to complicate matters, I had agreed to walk the Yellow Tulip home that day, to spare her very pregnant babysitter the walk. I told the woman I’d be there at 11:45. This turned out to be an optimistic estimate.

I left for June’s school right away, hoping to get there early enough to arrange for someone else to take the Yellow Tulip home. I was too flustered to realize I should call her parents or the school before I left to facilitate this, and once I got there it took a while to straighten everything out. The Blue Maple’s mom graciously agreed to take the Yellow Tulip and we left June’s school around 11:35. By myself I could have made it to Noah’s school in ten minutes, but I had June with me, and she was tired and distraught. When I explained the situation to her she realized almost immediately that this meant that we’d get home late and she’d miss Dragon Tales. She began to cry and kept it up pretty much non-stop for the next hour. Initially, I felt sorry for her. She’s tired that time of day and her after-school routine is very important to her. It’s why I never accept invitations to go to the playground after school, even for a half hour. Eventually, I stopped trying to comfort her, as nothing I said—appeals to compassion for her sick brother, promises of different television later in the day– seemed to have any effect. I just held her hand as we walked along the trail by the creek. We arrived at Noah’s school at 11:55. I went to the office to sign Noah out and then to the Health Office where the nurse said he didn’t have a fever and we left. June was still sobbing.

The birthday boy, however, didn’t seem too upset. They had an interesting book about horses to read at the Health Office, he reported.

“I guess we shouldn’t have sent you to school,” I said.

“But if I hadn’t gone to school, I wouldn’t know how to find the area of a triangle,” he said. Then he told me how to find the area of a right triangle (they haven’t covered other kinds yet) with great enthusiasm. He’d asked Señor S how to find the area of a circle, but he said they weren’t covering that this year. This happens to Noah more often than I’d like, that teachers don’t satisfy his curiosity and tell him he has to wait. He’s been waiting to study negative numbers since kindergarten. I wished then that he’d gotten into the gifted school, but he’s waitlisted. He could get in over the summer or during his fourth grade year or the summer before fifth grade, or never, so we could be in limbo for a while. But to avoid fretting, we’re assuming he won’t be going and we’re trying to figure out how to advocate for him more effectively at school so his fourth and fifth grade years are more satisfying academically than this year has been.

We got home around 12:25. Noah changed into clean clothes and June insisted she needed a change of clothes, too, because she’d gotten paint on her shirt at school. (I don’t remember her ever caring about this before.) So they both got changed and June had lunch (she stopped crying as soon as I put the food in front of her) and she napped. We’d planned to go out to dinner and get cupcakes at Cake Love afterward, but Noah was still complaining of stomach pain on and off all afternoon, so we didn’t go. By 6:00, though, he was feeling well enough to try out his new scooter and he ate a small bowl of plain udon noodles with tofu and broccoli for dinner. Around 6:40 he glanced at the clock and said, “Hey, I’ve been nine for over a half hour.”

“I’m glad you were born,” I told him. “You’re my best boy.”

And he is.

The next day he woke up feeling well and chipper, so we sent him to school. June and I delivered two trays of mini-cupcakes to his afternoon class. I had to wake her up from her nap to get there at the appointed time, and it was more like a forced march than a walk to his school. For the second day in a row, I walked into the main office, with my weeping daughter trailing me. She cheered up though, once we were in his classroom and cupcakes were imminent. On the way home we stopped to wade in the creek. More presents had arrived in the mail that day, and he opened them. One of them was a book of science experiments he’s eager to try. And that night he had his belated birthday dinner at Asian Bistro ( and his cupcake. The festive ceramic panda cups in which the children’s drinks arrived were a high point of the evening. While we waited for the food to arrive, Noah decoded the secret message in the birthday card my mom sent and Beth looked up the formula for determining the area of a circle on her phone. At Cake Love (, Noah selected a banana split cupcake, an appropriately complicated confection. The cake was banana-flavored and the frosting had vanilla and strawberry layers. It wasn’t a bad day, as make-up birthdays go.


At dinner on Wednesday night, Noah said something was bothering him. I asked him what it was. He said he leaves papers he’s supposed to turn in on the desktop and Señor S has threatened to start throwing them out if he does it again. Noah wasn’t sure if he’d have to do the work over or if he’d get no credit, but either option was upsetting and he didn’t think he could always remember to turn in the work. So Beth and I decided to have a meeting with Señor S next week to discuss more positive ways of helping Noah stay organized. It’s no easy task. I supervise his homework most weekday afternoons so I know. But neither of us thought punishment was the way to go. In addition, Noah’s last report card hinted that some of the aggressive-seeming behavior he had in kindergarten might be re-surfacing. I asked Noah what he thought Señor S meant and he said he’s been bumping into people in line a lot, by accident, he insisted. So we want to talk about that, too. Oddly, Noah’s at-school behavior often seems to deteriorate in the spring. I don’t know if he get worn out and the end of the school year or if it’s something else. He even has a set of facial tics that surface each spring and then disappear in the summer. Beth calls it his “seasonal Tourette’s.”

Noah is such a puzzle to many people. He seems simultaneously older and younger than his years. He reads at least two years above grade level, but he still sucks his thumb and he calls me Mommy, while many of his peers have switched over to calling their mothers Mom. He charms many adults with his cheerful demeanor and intelligent conversation, but in the past couple of years he’s had trouble making and keeping friends. He often plays alone at recess (or does yoga). And a lot of adults are just baffled by him. He’s so smart, that his absent-mindedness, his social awkwardness and even his physical clumsiness seem like things he should be able to overcome if he just put his mind to it. But Beth and I suspect there might be more to it than that, possibly even more than his sensory issues can explain. We’ve been considering having him tested for Asperger’s syndrome ( When I read the descriptions I go back and forth between thinking, that sounds like Noah all right and, wait, he’s not nearly that impaired. So it might be good to find out, so we can have more guidance on how to be better parents to him for the next nine years.

The Second Half: The Party

Friday night, the night before Noah’s party, both kids were wound up and having trouble getting to sleep again. Around 9:30, after June had finally dropped off, Noah came out of their room and told Beth he was worried about something and couldn’t sleep. It turned out he’d told Sasha that his Solve-the-Mystery party would culminate in a chase scene and Sasha started to brag about his karate skills so Noah was worried Sasha thought there would be real fighting at the party and that someone might get hurt. Beth assured him we’d set out clear guidelines before the party started and he went back to bed. Soon he was up again, but Beth talked him until he was calm and we didn’t hear from him again.

After an already busy day of soccer practice for June and swimming practice for Noah, June and I took our positions on the front porch at 2:55 Saturday afternoon. Noah’s guests were due to arrive at 3:00. I was to explain the party rules to them and escort them one by one to the garage where they would receive their instructions and their initial clues from Noah, who was already in character as the detective agency representative who would hire the three agents to find the stolen diamond and apprehend the thief.

As he did last year, Noah put his party theme up to a vote. The choices were Castles, Human Body, Mystery or a secret theme guest would find out at the party. Human Body was a leftover theme from last year and no one voted for it, but after the first round of voting, it was a three-way tie for the other options. As Noah was trying to figure out how to break the tie, he told us that the secret theme was mold. This was a surprise. I wondered what kind of decorations, activities and cake he would want for a mold party, but it wasn’t to be because one of his guests changed his vote and soon we were planning a mystery party. Not that much actual planning was involved. This year Noah didn’t want any decorations or goody bags for the guests and he designed the invitations and devised all the clues for the game himself. I took care of calling his friends’ parents in advance of sending out the invitations to determine a date and time all three of his guests could attend (he had such a small guest list I didn’t want anyone to miss the party) and Beth made the cake—a fancy cake, Noah said; it was a vanilla layer cake with coconut frosting and crossed forks and knives in black piping. (The cake was supposed to be disguised as something you might find on a table.) It was half a relief and half a letdown to have so little to do.

One thing I could have done was to double-check his preparations because there were a number of snafus during the mystery-solving portion of the party. The guests, working as a team, were looking for clues in envelopes hidden throughout the yard and the house. Each clue was written in symbols that had to be decoded using a key Noah provided and which would tell the players where to look for the next clue. In theory it was all very well thought out, but two of the clue envelopes were empty and one had the wrong directions in it, which caused some chaos. (June also contributed some of her own clues she made by cutting up Noah’s rough drafts—but these were marked as “June’s Clues” and they boys knew to disregard them.) It took almost an hour for the detectives to find the construction paper diamond hidden in the laundry basket and they only did after I advised them that the treasure hunt was “good, clean fun,” which sent them running to the laundry room, and advised them that “small people often have great wisdom” shortly after June started rummaging through the laundry basket on her own. Elias was the only one listening to that gem, so he found the diamond.

Once the diamond was located the boys had to chase the thief (Beth) through the back yard until they tackled her– relatively gently–and brought her to justice. Noah declared that her punishment would be to pay a fine of buying pizza for the detectives. She made the call and while they waited for the pizza to come, the boys played outside. The first thing that occurred to them was a sword fight–it might have been Elias’s idea; he voted for castles–so they grabbed the foam building tubes from June’s fort-building kit. Unfortunately, the tubes have metal tips where they snap together and almost immediately Sasha got hit in the mouth and ended up with a swollen lip. I confiscated the swords and they argued for a while over whether to play tag, hide and seek, cops and robbers or vampires and vampire slayers. I’m not sure why it mattered what they called it because all the games they played basically consisted of leaping off the porch walls and chasing each other through the yard and driveway. They were nice enough to include June in the game of tag. Whenever she was it I let her tag me and then I’d take off after one of the boys.

Then it was inside for pizza, cake and a brief game of online Monopoly. Sasha stayed over for a post-party play date and they continued the game and then watched about half of Cars. After Sasha left, around six, Beth asked Noah how he’d like his party. “Thumbs up?” she asked.

“Yeah, you didn’t get killed,” he observed.

“Success!” Beth said. I think it was, mixed up clues and all.

Today is Mother’s Day. We celebrated with cards and gifts and breakfast at IHOP. Then Noah and I watched a PG-rated movie (Shorts while Beth and June went grocery shopping. He was very excited about seeing a movie with me and without June and may have lorded it over her a bit too much. “We should do this every week,” he said. After June’s nap, we took an afternoon stroll in the National Arboretum ( and had dinner at Plato’s Diner ( It was a very nice day.

In the bathroom this morning I was telling Beth how June told me recently she couldn’t decide whether to be a construction worker or a Mommy and I told her she could be both, either at the same time, or she could be a construction worker before and after she was a Mommy. “There’s no after,” Beth corrected. “Once you’re a Mommy, you’re always a Mommy.” I suppose she’s right. Noah made me a mother nine years ago, and although he’s halfway to being a man, I am not nearly half done being his Mom. That’s forever.