All The World’s a Stage

“This was a nice weekend. I’m glad I forgot my homework,” Noah said.

It was Sunday morning, around 10:40, and Noah was practicing his orchestra bells while we were packing up and preparing to check out of our hotel. This year in lieu of a birthday party, Noah asked for a family weekend in Rehoboth.  The main thing he wanted to do was to film a movie in Cape Henlopen State Park, which we’d visited in March and which struck him at the time as a good location, due to the empty and somewhat eerie WWII-related buildings (watchtowers, barracks, etc.)

We left on his birthday, a Friday, after school.  But it was a big day even before we left for the beach because it was GreekFest at his school. This all-day event is the culmination of a several months-long unit on ancient Greece (mostly myths, but some history, too) and involved long-term projects in all four of his Humanities classes.

We started off the big day with present opening at 6:30 a.m. Noah unwrapped a book, two sets of summer pajamas (a birthday tradition), two hunks of fancy cheese from his favorite gourmet online catalog, and an assortment of rhythm instruments he’d requested, including a set of chimes, claves, a cowbell, and a high quality tambourine. (He often has to play these in concerts but up to now could only practice them at school.) He seemed pleased with everything.

Beth got him off to school and then went shopping for birthday cake ingredients. While I did some chores and exercised, she made the cake and frosting. Then it was off to GreekFest.

On Stage: GreekFest

We went to see the animated films first. All the sixth-grade Humanities magnet students worked in groups to animate a Greek myth and the media teacher was playing a ninety-minute sequence of them continuously all day.  We had almost an hour in the room, but Noah’s film did not come up in the rotation. Fortunately, all the films were also playing on laptops set up around the perimeter of the room so we got to watch his group’s rendition of the Prometheus myth.  They made nice use of special effects including some very realistic raindrops running down the screen during a storm, and instant replay to show the vulture returning to the bound god over and over.  It was fun seeing his classmates’ work as well. The films were smart and funny.

There was a lunch break next. Beth offered to come along and lead the lunchroom in “Happy Birthday,” but for some reason, Noah declined.  (June might have said yes, I think.) Because it was only 10:40, Beth and I went out for coffee rather than lunch.

When we returned, it was time for skits. While we waited, we had time to peruse the newspapers the kids had written.  Noah’s period published “The Greekly Weekly News.” Noah wrote the classified ads. Arachne was selling tapestries, Midas was selling golden objects; Pygmalion was selling statues, there was a Daedalus wing system on offer, etc.

The way the skits worked was that each student chose a character to portray and then they were assigned to groups and had to write a skit in any television genre using all their characters. Noah’s group did a police drama that involved Medusa turning first a pet dog then all the other characters to stone. Toward the end, Noah (as Daedalus) tried to escape by flying away, but did not succeed. There was also a talk show, “Hot Talk With Apollo,” (a good way to incorporate disparate characters, I thought), a soap opera, which made good use of a siren and the Oracle of Delphi, and a game show hosted by Nike, goddess of victory. Like the films, the skits were smart and funny, and the kids were clearly having a good time.

We moved out to the hallway to look at posters about historical ancient Greek figures — Noah’s poster about Aristotle wasn’t on the wall because he’d turned it in late — while the kids set up the podiums for their monologues. Each student was still in character, but now they each had to give a speech, introducing themselves to listeners, who would activate them by pressing a button, or taking some other action. For instance, at Persephone’s podium, you had to take a real pomegranate seed from a paper plate at her feet to get her to start talking.  Noah, as Daedalus, held a square piece of plywood and a toy hammer.  You tapped the board with the hammer to get him to speak. Noah had a little trouble getting the gears on his podium to start turning but a classmate helped him and when the machinery started to work they did a fist bump.  (This was a bit startling, as I’d never seen Noah do that with anyone.)

Not to be repetitive, but the monologues were great. Everything was great. The kids really threw themselves into their roles, especially the boy who played Typhon with appropriate creepiness.  Beth said the whole event, but especially the skits and monologues, made her feel Noah was in the right place in this program.  I felt the same.

On Location: Cape Henlopen and Rehoboth

When we left Greekfest, we had a late lunch at a Thai restaurant, a sentimental choice because the last meal I ate before I went into labor with Noah was Thai. Then we returned home to finish packing for the beach. The kids were both home by 3:30 and a little after 4:00 we hit the road.  As tradition dictates, we stopped at the Taco Bell by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for dinner, and then we ate birthday cake at the outside table at Dairy Queen, with a little soft-serve on the side.

Chances are you’ve never tried to light birthday cake candles by the side of a busy highway on a windy night, but it was a difficulty we failed to anticipate.  We were all shielding the cake with our paper plates, hoping the candles would stay lit long enough for Noah to blow them out, and finally they did.  I think it might be a birthday cake he’ll never forget.

We’ve been using the same numeral candles for Noah’s whole childhood. Some of them are in better shape than others and that morning Beth had melted the edges of the halves of the broken numeral two candle to mend it. We discussed how we’ll have to go visit him at college and bring the candles when it’s time to use the same ones reversed on his twenty-first birthday.  He didn’t seem dismayed by this prospect.

We got to our hotel late and learned that the room was being renovated and was not quite finished.  So there was a sheet tacked up over sliding glass doors that lead out to the balcony instead of curtains and we were lacking some other amenities, such as a second sink.  But the room seemed livable enough and they gave us a $75 discount, so we weren’t about to complain. We also realized in the process of unpacking, that Noah had left his backpack with his sheet music and his homework at home. He said he thought he could practice without the music and fortunately, thanks to GreekFest, he only had homework in one subject (math) so it wasn’t a disaster.

Saturday morning after a diner breakfast, we drove out to a drugstore to get props for the movie and some new bandages for June’s splint (she sprained her wrist almost two weeks ago—more on this later) and then we headed out to Cape Henlopen State Park. Noah had hoped to script the movie before he filmed it, but he’d been so swamped with homework in the weeks leading up to GreekFest, he didn’t have time, and he had to wing it.  It went really well.  I think it might have been close to the experience he wanted from all those mystery birthday parties he hosted (“Up to Eleven,” 5/8/12).  He had a vision and with Beth’s, June’s and my help, he carried it out.  He directed, he and Beth filmed, and we all acted.  Some of our lines he recited to us ahead of time; but mostly he gave us some general outlines and we improvised.

The basic story of the movie is about two kids who are reluctantly visiting the state park because their parents are interested in the WWII watchtowers. (It opens with Beth reading a park brochure in a droning voice.) The kids stumble upon a locked shed with a rusted metal door, and when the padlock falls to the ground (we accomplished this effect by dropping our own padlock), they go inside.  The interior of the small concrete shed expands to the interior of a watchtower (this part of course shot in one of the actual watchtowers). Eerie voices explain that the shed contains the ghost of a watchtower that was never built.  The kids drop pinecones off the top into an arrow pattern to alert their parents, who find and rescue them. Suddenly interested in watchtowers, they are seen in the hotel room researching them on the Internet.  We filmed all the park scenes in the morning and then went out to lunch.

Beth, who was coming down with a bad cold, was wiped out so she napped at the hotel room while I took the kids Mother’s Day shopping. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with reading and percussion practice. We had pizza and gelato at Grotto’s and once June was in bed I had my first extended walk on the beach—I’d had a short jaunt the night before and another one before breakfast.

It was twilight when I left the hotel and as I wandered along the beach and boardwalk the sky darkened to cobalt. The weekend had been exceptionally windy so there were big piles of sea foam on the sand and frequently the wind tore off pieces and sent them spinning up the beach like tumbleweeds.  They are doing some kind of work on one of the jetties, probably something to do with the storm water pipe that empties into the ocean there, but I’m not really sure.  There’s a (presumably) temporary wall made of metal or plastic surrounding the jetty on three sides. At low tide it keeps the sand at the center above water but at high tide the waves crash hard into the side parallel to the beach and sends water jetting high up into the sky. It reminded me of those Japanese paintings of huge ocean waves.

The next morning after we checked out of the hotel, Beth took her Mother’s Day shopping shift while I hung out on the boardwalk. When she and kids returned we ate leftover pizza on with a chaser of vinegary fries. We purchased fudge, chocolate-peanut butter pretzels, and gummy sharks at Candy Kitchen.  Then the kids and I played briefly on the beach. They were so enthralled with the sea foam I wished I’d gotten them onto the beach before it was time to go home, but we’d had a lot to squeeze into a day and a half, and we’ll be back in two months.

So Noah is twelve now, but we are not quite finished celebrating. He has small get-togethers with friends planned (dinner out with the twins and a possible sleepover with Sasha, though we haven’t nailed down a date for that yet).  As I wrote in his birthday card, he’ll be a teenager before we know it. But I like teenagers; otherwise I wouldn’t have had so much fun teaching college freshman for all those years. And if those years are drama-filled, I hope it’s the kind on stage.

Sky of Blue and Sea of Green

Day 1, Saturday: “Happy” and “Birthday”

Apparently turning seven is so exciting that it’s impossible to stay quiet until seven a.m., or to stay in bed until six a.m., or even five a.m., and that you have no alternative but to wake your brother, turn on lights and stand right outside your mothers’ bedroom door, conversing in loud whispers with said brother right before five a.m., causing the mother who’s grumpier in the morning (that would be me) to utter the words “inconsiderate” and “unkind,” before “happy” or “birthday” and to threaten consequences if it happens again, but to pull her punches for today because it is your birthday after all.

I sent the kids back to bed, but at six a.m. June was out of bed like a shot and logged onto Club Penguin to see if she’d received a membership for her birthday. There are things only members can do (like adopt more than two puffles, or virtual pets) and now thanks to Grandmom and Pop, she could. She’d adopted four new puffles before I was even out of bed. (I think she has sixteen now.) She didn’t even want to open her non-virtual presents until she’d exhausted her media time for the day, though she did pause to speak to YaYa on the phone and open her gift, a meditation pillow she’d admired for quite some time. I don’t think she intends to meditate on it. She just thinks it’s pretty.

Eventually, June opened her other presents—some clothes, an orange and fuchsia bath towel she wanted, a build-your-own doll bed and dresser kit, and a set of Club Penguin-related gifts from Noah (a stuffed puffle, a puffle zipper pull for her backpack, coins redeemable on the site and a collection of coloring pages he printed for her). June set to work assembling and painting the doll dresser at once while Beth and I packed for the beach, the first leg of our spring break adventure. It was almost 12:30 by the time everyone was packed and Noah had practiced percussion and we could go.

We arrived just before 4:00 at our apartment, a quarter of a big house a half block from the beach. You could see the ocean from the sidewalk in front of the house. Other than boardwalk hotels, it’s the closest we’ve ever stayed to the beach. When Beth saw how excited I was, she laughed and hugged me. “It makes you so happy,” she said.

“It flips a switch in my brain,” I explained.

“To happy,” she said.

We unpacked and then Beth and June hit the grocery store for dinner and breakfast provisions and a birthday cake. Noah stayed at the house and watched golf on television while I went to the beach. The late afternoon light was golden and the sea was a dark blue-gray in the distance and shining silver closer to shore. I’m reading Ulysses for book club and listening to the chapters on audiobook after I read them for reinforcement.  I happened to be up to the “Nausicaa” chapter, which takes place on a beach at twilight, so I thought it would be fun to walk along the beach and listen to it.  I walked along the beach and boardwalk listening. I found a horseshoe crab on its back, legs waving in the air, set it right, and watched it disappear into the sea.

Back at the house, I took a brief but much needed nap and then Noah and I made June’s requested birthday dinner—veggie hot dogs with melted cheese and cherry tomatoes, and mac-and-cheese on the side. We finished the meal with carrot cake topped with candles shaped like individual letters that spelled “happy” and “birthday.”

June had a bath and watched part of The Wild with Noah. (I pretended to forget she was out of media time) and then she went to bed in the top bunk because she wanted it and Noah wanted the bottom, which was a double bed. I was pleased and surprised that this arrangement worked out so peaceably. And then June’s birthday was over. For her anyway, I slipped down to the beach for a chilly nighttime walk under the moon and stars before collapsing into bed at 9:30 and falling asleep almost immediately.

Days 2-3, Sunday and Monday: Stormy Weather

Some spring break beach trips the kids wade in the water bare-legged and eat ice cream on the boardwalk and read or play games on the porch or balcony, and some spring break beach trips we take short, bundled up jaunts to the beach and the porch is a place to keep sandy boots.  Sunday was cold and cloudy and Monday was the type of day for which the phrase “wintry mix” was invented so it was looking more like the second kind of trip.

Everyone took a short walk on the boardwalk Sunday afternoon, which culminated in a visit to Candy Kitchen. June knew she wanted gummy butterflies before we even got there so she had plenty of time to cruise the stuffed animals while her brother hemmed and hawed and finally chose candy necklaces. June fell in love with a baby penguin and wanted it so badly that she wanted to trade her candy for it, but I told her to get the candy because you never know what the Easter Bunny might put in her basket.

Beth, Noah and June did not set foot on the beach during the first three days of our trip. I went several times by myself, for periods ranging from five minutes (in driving sleet with my umbrella repeatedly turning inside out) to an hour in merely chilly conditions.

What we mostly did these two days was hang out in the house. On Monday, we temporarily suspended media limits and there was much playing on Club Penguin and June watched The Wild a second time, and we all watched two episodes of The Carol Burnett Show on dvd.  But we also played Forbidden Island, and read a lot.  Noah and were steadily making our way through the last book in the His Dark Materials trilogy The Amber Spyglass, I started an Agatha Christie mystery, and June worked on a sticker book, dressing up people in international costumes.

In the mid-afternoon June developed a debilitating headache and slept much of the rest of the afternoon. She woke up a couple times, still in pain, and then went back to sleep until the last section of the nap did the trick and she woke recovered around 6:30, and had some of the matzoth ball soup Beth had made and we’d all eaten while June was asleep.

That evening, feeling a bit cooped up after two days in the house, I started researching possible day trips to take once the weather improved.

Days 4-6, Tuesday to Thursday: All Along the Watchtower

The next three days were predicted to be mostly sunny with highs around 50 degrees. We decided to wait a day to let the trails dry out and set Wednesday as the day for a trip to Cape Henlopen State Park. Tuesday morning I spent hours roaming the beach and boardwalk. I walked along the shoreline and clambered on jetties. There’s one in particular I like because the concrete that holds the rocks together has been worn into organic curves and whorls by the tides, making tiny coves and harbors that fill with every wave. The sky was brilliant blue, scattered with puffy white clouds I could see reflected in the silvery wet sand whenever a wave retreated.

Seeking a dry, sunny place to sit I found a pavilion with benches only a little damp and I read three chapters of my mystery, getting up to follow the sun as it moved along the bench. Later I sat in the sand until the cold and damp seeped up through the seat of my jeans, but mostly I walked.

I went home for lunch—the house was empty because Beth had taken the kids to the outlets for school supplies, underwear, socks and sneakers.  I headed to Browse-About  to get a gift certificate for my sister’s birthday. I’d been window-shopping for her without luck for a few days and decided a gift certificate would be a practical gift because she’s coming to Rehoboth in July. I got myself a copy of Emma Donohue’s Room, because I’d been meaning to read it and it was marked down almost 50%. On my way back to the house I called Sara to tell her about the gift certificate (it was her actual birthday that day) and to hear about her long weekend with her new boyfriend. We are not always timely with gifts in my family. In fact, Beth recently told me I was very good about it, “considering your background.” She made it sound as if I’d been raised by wolves, or heroin addicts.

After I talked to Sara, I went back to the house and collected the kids to bring them to the beach. (But first I had to admire June’s new sparkly, bejeweled, flashing sneakers.)  I watched the kids build sand castles for an hour and fifteen minutes. I was glad to see them finally outside and it was more aerobic than you might think because there were many, many intruders who needed chasing away from their castles. June’s castle had an elaborate security system involving but not limited to a ring of seven watchtowers. They wanted me to award them prizes so June won for “best use of shells, pebbles, watchtowers and artificial roses” (she found them on the beach) and Noah won for “best use of a magic rock and best back story.”  I was the only one in boots so I was the designated fetcher and carrier of water. After tempting fate one too many times, my boots filled with icy water and my jeans were soaked and soon caked with sand. Still, we all came home happy.

Noah and I read, we had dinner and Grotto’s and once June was in bed, we capped off the day with another episode of Carol Burnett. (June’s not so interested in these, but Noah really likes them.)

Wednesday morning we visited Cape Henlopen State Park, where we looked at fish and horseshoe crabs in tanks in the Nature Center. June said the crab felt like “a hard washcloth that was wet.” I flipped over another upside down crab, reaching with some difficulty to the very back of the tank to do it while the kids cheered my rescue.  (Apparently saving animals was going to be a theme of the week because there was a bird trapped in the screen porch of the unit next to ours and I had to make a few phone calls to find the right realty so someone could come over and free it.)

We took an interpretive trail through pine forest and along a section of the bay, and back into the woods. Reading the brochure for the trail, I learned a new word: wrack.  It means the line of detritus (shells, seaweed, trash) waves leave on the beach.  It seems useful.  (“You’d never believe the wrack in the living room after that play date.”)

Next we climbed up a concrete World War II observation tower. If you’ve ever gone up a lighthouse, it’s just like that. The towers were used to monitor the coastline for German subs (“German substitute teachers?” Noah joked more than once).  The view from up there was wonderful.  We could see the bay, two lighthouses, and more observation towers. The kids started throwing little chunks of concrete they found inside the tower off the top until I got worried they’d hit someone.  The park was deserted and I couldn’t see anyone, but you never know.

We went to examine the abandoned bunkers and the big guns (not original to the site but genuine). A concrete shed with a rusty door chained shut we’d seen along the trail, the tower that June thought looked haunted, and the eerie, empty barracks all convinced Noah that he wants to come back and shoot a mystery movie in the park. (I’d like to do return as well and explore some more trails.) Finally we climbed up to the battery, which is on top of the largest dune between Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras. It’s eighty feet high and offers a stunning view of the bay.

We were near Lewes, and hungry for lunch so we found an Italian deli with a restaurant attached and had a satisfying meal, complete with Italian pastry, and left laden with olives (which June wanted) and fusilli (which Noah wanted). We made a quick stop at the Crocs outlet, meaning only to get new crocs for me, but somehow we also came out there with a pair of heavily discounted aqua and purple sandals for June.

In the afternoon, I took June to the beach where she made more castles and dug a hole. “Do you think it’s big enough?” she asked.  I asked what she was going to do with it so I could answer.  “Make it pretty,” she said. Of course.  I said it was big enough for that, and she lined the sides with shells and pebbles. Then she climbed on a jetty, choreographed a dance, and made a line of handprints in the sand and pretended they were footprints of a mysterious animal. The outing ended when she unwisely put her hands in a bucket of cold seawater, exclaimed, “My hands are so cold they hurt!” and then she had to go home and take a warm bath.

I’d been rather low in spirits that morning, but spending much of the day outside had done me a lot of good. As I boiled ravioli and made salads for dinner. I sang along with the Beatles, “Every one of us has all we need/Sky of blue and sea of green.”

Thursday was a nice quiet coda to the beach portion of our vacation, or it was for me.  After a breakfast of crepes and bagels at Gallery Espresso, Beth went on some Easter-related errands and I took the kids back to the house. When she returned she took the kids on a series of outings: miniature golf (both kids), playground (June), and tennis courts (both kids).  Our paths crossed when they came home for lunch and I was home doing laundry, so Noah and I finished The Amber Spyglass while Beth and June were at the playground.

Earlier in the day I’d gone out to buy a replacement for the wooden-handled shovel Noah had broken earlier in the week (it belonged to the house) and I had lunch out. I didn’t make it to the beach that day until mid-afternoon, but once there I spent a very satisfying few hours. I read the last five chapters of my mystery on a bench on the boardwalk and I guessed the solution, which I hardly ever do—it involved an evil twin. I wandered far north up the beach, watching an enormous pod of dolphins (there might have been fifty of them) swimming south, and finding four gorgeous conch-type shells stuck to a jetty. I drank a pint of hot take-out lemon mint tea to stay warm, but I still came home chilled, wind-burned, and only a little melancholy that it was our last day at the beach. It’s easier to leave, when there’s more adventure to come, and we were not going home but to New York City, for an overnight visit.

Stayed tuned for more spring break adventures…

Advent

Friday

“Have we ever left for vacation this late?” June wondered.  It was 6:15 Friday evening and we were pulled up at a gas station, waiting for our turn to fill up the tank for our drive to Rehoboth Beach.

I told her that once, before she and Noah were born, Beth had to work so late we didn’t leave for the beach until 10 p.m. and we got there at 1:00 a.m.  Beth doesn’t work that late anymore, but she did have a 4:00 meeting that meant she couldn’t cut out mid-afternoon, as I’d hoped. As a result, our annual Christmas shopping weekend trip was getting off to a later start than I’d anticipated.

We were lucky to be going at all. I’d only made the reservations on Monday, after weeks of wavering about whether to take the trip. Due to other obligations, the weekend after Thanksgiving weekend was the only one that worked. It would mean traveling two weekends in a row and getting behind in household chores, plus we’ve been making an effort to be more frugal lately.

I like the Christmas shopping trip for a few reasons—first off, it’s an excuse to go to the beach.  But away from the distractions of home, it is much easier to focus on shopping and we often get quite a lot of it done.  Also, Santa’s house on the boardwalk is the very best place to visit him. It’s scenic, free, and there’s never much of a line.  Despite all the advantages of the trip, an oceanfront hotel room in Rehoboth is not cheap, even in the off-season. But in the end, I couldn’t bear the idea of not going, so we went.

Normally, it throws me into a panic to have the kids up well past their bedtimes. It has to do with them both being terrible sleepers well into the preschool years, and only fair sleepers now. When they’re up late it dredges up that feeling that none of us is ever going to get any sleep again. Given all that, I felt surprisingly calm to be leaving the Taco Bell near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge where we dined, only about a third of the way to our destination, at 7:50, five minutes past June’s bedtime. Maybe it was the call of the beach or maybe it was personal growth. You be the judge.

June fell asleep around 8:20 and remained asleep until we arrived at the hotel at 9:35. By 10:00, we were checked in and the kids were in bed. They were poking each other and bickering when I stepped out onto the balcony to watch the ocean for fifteen minutes and when I came back in they were quiet and awake, but drowsy-looking. I got ready for bed and crawled into bed, too.

Saturday

I’d hoped we might all sleep in, as we’d all been up past our respective bedtimes, but I woke at 5:45 and couldn’t get back to sleep and the kids were awake and whispering loudly to each other by 6:10.  We didn’t even bother making them stay quiet until 7:00, even though that is the weekend rule.  We were all out of bed by 6:45, and June and I were out the door at 7:10, on a scouting mission to see if Gallery Espresso was open yet.  It wasn’t and there was no sign indicating when it might open, so June and I wandered Rehoboth Avenue and the boardwalk, gathering intelligence on open restaurants and then we played on the beach, while we waited for Beth and Noah to be ready to leave the hotel.

The early morning light turned the sand an apricot color, while each little hollow lay in blue-gray shadow.  The sea and wet sand near the shoreline were silvery and the last pink of the sunrise was just fading from the sky.  It was hard to imagine anything more lovely.

Gallery Espresso finally opened at eight and we had pumpkin crepes (Noah and me) and bagels (June and Beth) for breakfast.  Beth started to teach June to play chess, and then we split up to shop. June and I shopped downtown Rehoboth while Beth and Noah hit the outlets.  In addition to Christmas shopping, they needed to get underwear for him because I’d left his suitcase on my bed at home and even though he’d decided it would be fun to wear the same clothes for three days in a row, I decided clean underwear was the bare minimum effort we needed to make not to be negligent parents. (We leave suitcases behind all the time. It’s our specialty.  We left Noah’s at home on a trip to the Outer Banks the summer he was eight, and Beth and June left theirs behind just this summer on a camping trip. It no longer fazes us much.)

June and I had a very productive morning. We got her gifts for my sister Sara, Beth and Noah, and she found a Groovy Girl doll bed and she decided to ask Santa for it. This was a more easily obtainable item than “climbing equipment,” which was her most recent idea for a Santa-request. We didn’t have a jungle gym in our budget and it wasn’t even clear that was what she meant because when I said, “like playground equipment?” she said no. We were pondering a promise of an outing to a gym with a climbing wall, but the doll bed was sounding good. June liked the idea because apparently she’d wanted it on a previous trip to a toy store and Beth wouldn’t buy it—prime Santa material. All I had to do was wait to make sure she actually did ask Santa for it and didn’t change her mind in the next few hours.

Satisfied with our morning’s shopping, we headed to the beach to play. Beth and Noah soon joined us and the kids spent almost an hour making sand castles. It was heartwarming to see Noah happily engaged in this activity. He’ll be twelve in the spring and I don’t know how many more times I’ll see the sight of him sprawled on the sand, shaping one of his creations.

The kids thought we should have a sand castle contest. I said I’d be the judge, and there would be at least two categories.  June won “best use of shells” for her shell-topped and ringed castles. Noah won for “cleanest lines” (he smashed a few castles until he got a perfect, uncrumbled impression of the pail) and “best use of shadow.”  He’d filled in the long shadow of his castle with a heap of sand to give the shadow a slightly raised texture.

For lunch we tried a boardwalk restaurant where we’d never eaten, mainly because there’s often nothing vegetarian on the menu, but Beth checked and they had a few options.  It’s on the second floor, over an arcade, so we knew it must have a nice view.  The view was in fact lovely, and the food was mostly okay, despite slow, surly service and oddly thin and grainy milkshakes. On the whole, I thought it was a win, though Beth may disagree.  I do tend to put a lot of emphasis on an ocean view.

After lunch, Noah and I read in the hotel lounge while Beth and June did more shopping.  And then it was time for Santa.

I never thought June would believe in Santa longer than Noah did. He’s more trusting by nature, and she’s more prone to skepticism. When they were babies Noah smiled at everyone he saw, while June watched the world suspiciously from the safety of my arms. But Noah’s also scientific-minded and logical, where June loves magic and romance. She’s the age Noah was when his belief in Santa crumbled under the weight of the logical impossibilities (“Where Santa is Real,” 12/10/07) but so far June’s faith shows no sign of wavering. She has questions, of course.  Does Santa fly home to the North Pole every night after visiting with children on the boardwalk or does he stay in a hotel?  Perhaps our hotel? Is it possible that it’s not really Santa in the house, but a helper?  However, the core of her belief seems unshaken.

She was nervous about the visit, which surprised me because she wasn’t last year and it seemed like a regression. “I don’t know him very well,” she explained. Even though I told her she didn’t have to sit on his lap, she did without any hesitation, and she told him she wanted the doll bed. Noah sat on Santa’s lap, too, for fun or for June’s sake, and he said he wanted a $400 gift certificate for Apple.  Santa seemed taken aback and we rushed to assure him that a smaller sum would suffice.

After Santa, I left the kids with Beth and made a beeline for the doll bed, because Beth said the last time she’d been to that store, there was only one left. They have free gift wrapping there and the wrapper was a chatty elderly woman who wanted to know all about the recipients of the doll bed and something else I was getting for Noah. When I said the kids were with their other mom, she wanted to tell me all about her older brother who came out in the 1950s and “had to move to San Francisco.” She still seemed sad about his departure and she said she was glad there was more social acceptance now.  So I was obliged to tell her we live in Maryland and we’re getting married next month.  I think I made her day she was so happy for us.

I had time for a solo walk on the beach before I was supposed to meet Beth and the kids for dinner at Grotto at 5:00. At 4:10, the light was very similar to how it had been at 7:30. The sand was golden-pink again; the water silvery. As the afternoon progressed, the sky grew pinker, until it was half-covered with puffy, vividly colored clouds.

At Grotto, the kids went over to the Christmas tree display at the back of the restaurant. Local charities decorate trees and set donation boxes underneath. Beth gave the kids some money to donate. June donated to the prettiest trees. Noah tried to take the mission of the charity into account, but it was hard because a lot them were foundations with uninformative names. He did say it helped if “they made an effort” with the tree. On the way out of the restaurant, June got a balloon she named Balloony and wore tied around her wrist on and off for the rest of the weekend.

At the hotel, I bathed June and then took her down to the lounge to read Toys Go Out and assorted Christmas books while Noah practiced percussion in our room until June’s bedtime.

Sunday

The next morning we had breakfast at Gallery Espresso again and again we had to wait for them to open so Noah read Toys Go Out to June in the lounge, which we shared with a woman and a baby.  I was able to do my own thing while they read and I wondered if the woman was looking forward to having self-entertaining children or thinking with horror “They still get up at the crack of dawn at that age?”

After breakfast, Beth and Noah went back to the room so he could do some homework and I tried to take June to the beach, but it was foggy and chilly and she quit on me after ten minutes.  I hated to leave as the waves were big and beautiful to watch, but it seemed important to keep the kids separated so Noah could work, so instead of leaving her with Beth, I took her back to the lounge, where she drew and I wrote.

When it was time to check out of the hotel, we loaded up the car, left it in the hotel parking garage and walked to a jeweler’s to shop for wedding rings.  We weren’t sure if we were going to buy or just look–the big day is just around the corner, and we thought if we saw something we liked it would be nice to give our business to a gay-friendly establishment, of which there are plenty in Rehoboth.  In fact, in this store, in the corner where you sit to look at rings and get your fingers sized there was a framed poster of three kissing couples in wedding attire—one straight, one gay male and one lesbian–with the slogan “Traditions Evolve.”

It didn’t take long to choose. We knew what we were after, simple, matching gold bands.  We had to decide about carats, width, color and finish and soon Beth was singing a credit card receipt for more than the entire budget for our original commitment ceremony.  (We did that ceremony on the cheap, as we were young and broke. It was a potluck in our apartment.)  The clerks, one male and one female, were friendly and congratulatory.  When we were finished, the man brought out some homemade peanut butter fudge to celebrate.  News of our nuptials spread joy wherever we go apparently.

We had lunch and ran down to the beach to say goodbye to the ocean.  On the walk toward the beach June kept saying she couldn’t wait for Christmas.  This year she’s just as excited about the gifts she picked for other people as the gifts she’ll receive. Three weeks seems like an impossibly long wait to her but to me it seems a pleasant span of time to plan and look forward to the holiday.

At the beach Noah and I and waded into the waves while June watched a few steps behind us. I was wearing rubber boots, but Noah was barefoot. He screamed from the cold but he was laughing at the same time, and he stayed in for twelve waves, just as he said he would.  We’re big on doing what we said we would, all four of us.

It was the first day of Advent the day we left the beach, the day we bought the rings.  We are not Christians, but it seemed fitting to do this at the beginning of a season of joyful anticipation. We’re not having a wedding per se because we’ve done that already. It will just be Beth and me and the kids and the officiant at our house one Friday morning in mid-January, on the twenty-first anniversary of our commitment ceremony. We’ll dress up and there will be flowers and the rings of course.  I’m thinking of that as the day as being like renewing our vows.  We’ll all speak a bit about what being part of our family means to us, and of course, we’ll legally formalize our relationship.  Like Christmas, it’s a joyful thing on the horizon.

Always Ourselves We Find in the Sea

maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea

by e.e. cummings

Day 1: Saturday

“If I lived here I’d go to the beach every day,” June declared as she and I walked from the rental house to the beach late Saturday afternoon.  Beth was picking up a few groceries and Noah had volunteered to be the welcoming committee and wait at the house for my Mom and sister to arrive.

“Me, too,” I said.

“We’re the real beach lovers,” June concluded.

We only stayed a half hour.  The water was pleasantly cool on another miserably hot day. June could not stop laughing as she jumped in the waves, but she kept a grip on my hand.

Back at the house, we greeted Mom and Sara and I helped Noah cook the dinner he’d planned—tortellini. I intended to let June stay up a bit because she’d napped in the car but she was wiped out and asked to go to bed while we were still eating dinner. Soon afterwards, though, she was back downstairs.  She was lonely in the attic bedroom she and Noah had begged to share.  I agreed to read Watership Down to Noah in the next room and that was enough for her to fall asleep.

Day 2: Sunday

Not to stay asleep, though. At three a.m. she was in our room. After sending her back a few times over the next hour, Beth relented and went up to spend the rest of the night in June’s twin bed with her. I wondered if we’d gotten into a bad habit of co-sleeping during the power outage. But waking us was not enough.  We learned later she’d woken Noah and asked him to play (he declined) and at 6:25, she was back in my room, even though she already had Beth in her bed.

In the morning we all collaborated on a shopping list and then the adults went their separate ways.  Sara needed to work (as she did every day of the vacation), Beth made a second grocery run and Mom played with the kids while I went to the beach.

It was still hot—the sand was scorching—but it was less humid and the water was blessedly cool. I swam and sat on my towel and swam some more and came back to the house just in time to help unpack groceries and make lunch for the kids and myself.  After lunch, the kids performed a short play they’d written that morning about a woman who needed a ghost removed from her house. The performance took place on the deck, fulfilling a vision Noah had when we selected the house in April.  (Earlier in the day they’d had a tea party on the wrought iron lawn furniture, fulfilling a vision of June’s.)

Mom and Sara and the kids and I hit the beach again in the late afternoon while Beth made a delicious dinner of gazpacho and potatoes with cilantro pesto.  Between the four adults and Noah and eating out twice everyone only had to cook once, which would have felt downright luxurious even if everyone hadn’t made such lovely dinners.

Day 3: Monday

June slept better the next night and Beth was so happy she promised her a trip to Candy Kitchen (noting this wouldn’t happen every time she slept through the night) and after breakfast I played three hands of Sleeping Queens with her and read her a chapter of Ramona The Brave while snuggling on the couch on the screened porch, observing pointedly that rested parents are happier, more fun parents.

Later that morning, Sara and I took the kids downtown on the promised outing to Candy Kitchen, where June chose cherry and bubblegum-flavored rock candy and Noah, after Sara helped him divide all the candy in the store into ever narrowing categories he could eliminate, selected fruit runts.  He noticed some new gummy flavors, including chicken feet, and said, “Who’d want to eat that?” (This from the boy who used to devour gummy brains.) I got chocolate licorice for myself and fudge for the house. Then we moved on to our next stops, Café a Go-Go for café con leche and the bike rental place on the boardwalk where Sara and I rented bikes.  (Our beach house, though charming, was in a more remote location than usual.) I hadn’t been on a bike for seventeen years and for a few wobbly moments I thought you can forget how to ride one, but then I got my bearings. Our errands completed, Sara headed back to the house while the kids and I played on the beach until lunchtime.

It was overcast and much cooler, after an early morning thunderstorm.  We saw dolphins in the ocean almost as soon as we got there.  The kids were in their suits but I was in dry clothes so I couldn’t go in the water with June. This ended up being just the nudge we both needed.  I’d been noticing the day before kids her age and younger playing in the water by themselves, but June had never felt confident enough to do this. Given the alternative of playing at the water’s edge or wading in alone (Noah was further out), she waded in up to her waist. I watched from the sand but I was too far away to do anything when a wave did knock her over. She got right back up again and kept playing, though she did tell me later, “Sometimes it’s scary.”

That afternoon, Mom took the kids to Funland. When they got home, June told me, “Grandmom lets me do things you don’t.” But it turned out she just let her ride the Freefall, which I didn’t let her do last year but I would have allowed this year.  She also bought them some popcorn. All in all, I think June thought she got away with more than she really did.

I rode my bike down to the beach, surprised to remember how much fun it is to ride a bike, and had a quick dip before coming back to the house and making dinner.  Most of us played a hand of Sleeping Queens before June went to bed and Noah and I settled in for our nightly Watership Down reading.

Day 4: Tuesday

Beth, Sara and the kids and I took a morning constitutional down the boardwalk—three of us on bikes, one on a scooter and Sara jogging—which ended up with a stop for coffee, bagels and a breakfast crepe.

Mom took me out for lunch and then we took a stroll down the boardwalk. I got a frozen custard and she got a sunhat. While we were out, Beth took June to the playground to try riding her bike without the training wheels. Beth said it was a good first try though she thought June was discouraged because it was harder than she thought it would be. Beth put the training wheels back on so June could use the bike for transportation.

I took the kids to the beach in the mid-afternoon. The outing did not have a promising beginning. The kids were squabbling as I collected towels and sand toys and water and sun block but matters improved at the beach. The kids ran down to the water as I was still spreading out the towels and June went right in without me. I realized then she’d crossed the Rubicon.  The three of us were in the water together, eventually joined by Sara, for an hour and forty-five minutes, splashing, diving and watching pelicans soar above us. June realized there are a lot more things you can do in the water when you’re not holding someone’s hand. She started diving into the water, parallel to the shore, (a “dolphin dive” she called it) and by watching and copying Noah, learned to body surf. Then she started singing a song of her own composition called “I Can Ride the Waves.”  (Those are also the complete lyrics.)  She was knocked down a few times and lost her fear of it.  “I didn’t scream or cry,” she noted later. Noah was delighted to have June come deeper into the water with him, and I was delighted to be able to swim a few yards past them, still watching but semi-independent of them.  By the time the lifeguard blew the five o’clock whistle not only my fingers and toes but my lips were wrinkly with salt water.

June dug in the sand and lost her shovel to a wave and then Noah buried her in the sand while they waited for the lifeguard to go off duty and then they headed straight back into the water.  I stayed on my towel with Mom and Sara because I’d had a long enough swim.  I cannot remember the last time that happened.  A half hour later when it was time to go, the kids were lying on their backs on the wet sand, with the waves rushing over their feet. They’d even found the lost shovel bobbing in the waves and retrieved it, which seemed like another small miracle in an already wondrous day.

Day 5: Wednesday

Wednesday morning Beth took the kids to Jungle Jim’s Water Park. Due to a miscommunication, June went down the biggest slide there without Beth or Noah. It was scarier for Beth than for June because June never emerged at the bottom of the slide where Beth was awaiting her, but eventually Noah found her and they were all reunited. June was thrilled with the whole experience.

Meanwhile, I spent the morning with my mom.  We went to Browseabout where she picked out two novels and I bought them for her upcoming birthday. I also bought myself a t-shirt with a seagull on it at the T-shirt Factory and we stopped at Café a Go-Go for a mocha (me) and a smoothie (her).

When the kids got home, I gave June a bath and read to Noah and joined Mom and Sara at the beach.  (The kids stayed home to work on another play—this one based on an Amelia Bedelia book.)  Sara and I had a nice swim in waves bigger than we’d had all week. Mom and Sara left the beach early because they were taking the kids out to dinner so Beth and I could have an early anniversary dinner date.

We went to Planet X, a favorite restaurant of our pre-kids days.  I got a virgin peach margarita, and a polenta appetizer with wild mushrooms, peas and cherries.  It sounds strange, but it was really good.  For dinner I had fettuccine.  Beth had an eggplant appetizer and barbequed tofu.  We spoke without interruption or having to arbitrate arguments and did not have to search the menu for items the children might possibly eat.  (Mom and Sara had a harder time at the Japanese restaurant where they took the kids, I heard later.)  We picked up dessert at Gallery Espresso and took it to the boardwalk.  It was a lovely evening, in the mid-seventies and clear with just enough clouds to stain the sky pink as the sun set.  I even coaxed Beth onto the sand for a few minutes, before we biked back to the house.

Mom and Sara were just putting June to bed so she got her usual bedtime snuggle with me.  She was back downstairs a few minutes later because although she wants to ride her bike without training wheels and she’s not afraid of the Freefall or ocean waves or water slides, she was afraid to sleep alone in the attic bedroom. She was imagining an invisible man who could turn nice people evil. We all have our limits, I suppose, and being turned evil is beyond June’s.

Day 6: Thursday

Thursday was a day of family togetherness. Beth and the kids and I went out for a breakfast of crepes and bagels (crossing paths with Sara on her way to a drop-in zumba class) and then we went to the beach. The surf was still rough so June wasn’t able to demonstrate her body surfing for Beth, but she did play fearlessly in the water. Several times she addressed the waves, saying, “I’m not afraid of you.”  Then she told me, “I faced my fear.” Indeed you did, June Bug.

I was half-sorry about the big waves and half not because the ocean was just about perfect for me to swim. The waves were big and breaking in just the right place for me to stand with my feet on the sand and push off into the rising curve of an oncoming wave so it swept me up and over and dropped me on the other side. This is my very favorite thing to do in the ocean.  There was a strong northward tug in the water so I had to keep getting out as I approached the red flag at the end of the lifeguard’s territory and walk back to the other side.  She only had to blow her whistle at me once.  After several circuits I was tired and collapsed to read in one of the beach chairs Beth had rented.  When I went back to the bike rack to fetch the sand toys and an extra towel from my bike basket a stranger complimented me on my “impressive” swimming. I am seldom admired for my athletic prowess so it was startling, and I will admit, satisfying.

After lunch at home, Beth and I took the kids on a return trip to Funland. I got to see June ride the Freefall and the fast racecars as well as some of the tamer kiddie rides she’s enjoyed for years.  Her stuffed monkey Muffin rode, too.  Several ride attendants helped buckle him in without blinking an eye, though I did catch one smiling. (This was Muffin’s second trip to Funland—he came last year, too.)

Toward the end of our excursion, June was begging to ride the Teacups. I’d been on them, much to my regret, when Noah was little so I know how fast they spin. I made her watch first to see if she really wanted to go. She said yes so I went with her because I didn’t want to send her alone. The attendant explained that you control the speed by moving together (making the cup more unbalanced and faster) or apart.  I doubted it would make much difference as June is small for her age and I am big for mine. Nevertheless, she kept moving closer to me and further apart, grinning all the while. I was more than a little queasy when we got off.  “That was fun!” she declared. We only had one ticket left so she picked the mermaid boats, a sedate, sentimental favorite.

After the kids were in bed that night, Sara and I biked down to the beach. When I told Beth where we were going she said, “How teenage of you.” While I do still enjoy the beach at night, she’s right it’s something we did more as teens.  Maybe that’s why I asked Sara. I felt just slightly transgressive leaving the house at 9:30, biking down quiet streets in the cool night air.  As we pedaled, a fox crossed the road right in front of Sara.

The beach was dark and deserted because we were staying far from the boardwalk. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever been on the beach in Rehoboth and not seen another soul—not at one a.m. on summer nights in my twenties, not on sleety February afternoons.  There was a balmy breeze off the ocean and lights at sea.  The water was warm and foamy around our ankles and I was with someone I’ve known nearly all my life.  I was glad we came.

Day 7: Friday

In the morning after a quick beach trip, we’d planned a bike ride to the creek with the turtles Beth and the kids discovered in April. But just as Beth, Sara, June and I were getting ready to set out we found that June’s bike lock was broken and wouldn’t open.  We decided to leave it for the moment and drive instead. Once we’d had our fill of watching turtles and geese, June went to play in the playground while the adults took turns patronizing her imaginary Chinese restaurant where they were served tofu with vanilla frappuchino sauce. Eventually she found a child to play this game and we sat on a bench and watched all the kids on the playground and discussed Sara’s frustration with the delays of the adoptive process and her options (including fostering kids).

At home I made lunch for the kids while Beth went to buy a bolt cutter to free June’s bike. Sara asked to go along, which seemed strange until I found out she wanted Beth to help her choose some books (Zone One and The Map of Time) for my belated birthday present.

After lunch, Sara and I took the kids to the beach.  We had another nice swim while the kids played in shallower water or up on the sand. I read for a while and Beth came to join us briefly and get her feet wet.  She left first, followed by Noah and when Sara, June and I got to the bike rack, we discovered Noah had left June’s bike (previously locked to his) locked to the rack with his lock, to which none of us knew the combination. The repetition of this morning’s dilemma would have been funny, if it had not been so frustrating. We made some guesses, none correct, called home, and got no answer.  Sara biked home, leaving me with her phone so she could call back with combination. Finally we all got home and showered and headed over for a farewell dinner at Grotto’s Pizza before Mom and Sara drove back to Mom’s house (Sara had a morning flight back to Oregon the next day.)

Day 8: Saturday

After we packed and checked out of the house, Beth took the kids to Browseabout because Noah wanted to go book shopping and I returned the rental bikes by riding them one at a time back to the boardwalk.  I gave Noah some money and let him go to the T-Shirt Factory to pick out this year’s shirt.  (He enjoys being able to run errands like this independently.) The kids and I had a quick, final trip to the beach. Toward the end, June got knocked down by a wave and water went up her nose for the first time and she did not like it one bit.  She cried hard for a long time. I picked her up and held her and then wrapped her up in a towel.  Once she’d stopped crying I wondered if I should encourage her to go back into the water so that experience was not her last memory of ocean swimming until next summer.  While I was contemplating this, Noah got knocked down and partially ripped the scab off a week-old scrape on his knee.  Fresh blood was running all the way down his shin. I sent him back into the water to rinse it off and decided it was a good time to head for the crepe stand where we were meeting Beth for lunch.

Soon we were fed and on the road.  It was a good week.  The time off helps us all reconnect to each other, find long-lost parts of ourselves while wheeling down dark roads at night, and uncover courage we didn’t know we had in the amusement park, the ocean and the water park.

It’s always ourselves we find in the sea.

p.s. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Making the Crossing

The Beach, Continued:

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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.

Thursday

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.

Friday

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.

Saturday

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.

Wild, Wild Horses

Prelude: Thursday and Friday

The kids’ last day of school before Spring Break was a Thursday. As Noah had no pressing homework and we were leaving for the beach on Saturday, I pounced on him as soon as he got home and set him to work, vacuuming, practicing percussion, cleaning his room.  I asked June to help with the last project and when Beth got home around 6:30 the kids were arguing about whether June was being “lazy” and I was at the stove, ignoring the row and stirring risotto.  I left the rice long enough to put my arms around Beth’s neck and say, “Thank you for taking us to the beach so the whole break won’t be like this.”

We had spring break all mapped out: Friday June would spend part of the day at Beth’s office, from the first Saturday to the second Saturday we’d be at the beach, Easter Sunday we’d catch up on chores and errands and on the second Monday, the last day of break, the kids would attend a one-day session at Round House Theatre.  Theoretically, I was going to work on the first and last day and be on vacation in between, but Friday was a fragmented kind of day, so other than some accounting, I didn’t work.

On Friday Beth took June to the office with her for two and a half hours. June helped her recycle some papers and open envelopes and then she drew pictures and read. I read to Noah and puttered around the house until 10:15 when I left to go fetch June, and  after enjoying some time with the newspaper at Firehook Bakery near Beth’s office, I met them in the lobby at 11:30 and we went out to lunch together at Meatballs, where Beth and I ate meatball subs made with lentil balls and June contented herself with tater tots.

Noah had a productive morning at home, doing math and English homework, and practicing his drums again.  In the afternoon, we were visited by a reporter from The Wall Street Journal who’s writing a story about kids’ allowances and who interviewed Noah about how he uses Quicken to track his money.  While she was at our house, she got locked out of her laptop and Noah fixed it for her, by suggesting she shut it down and restart it (always a good first step but it didn’t occur to me—Beth has trained him well).

Maggie came by for a play date soon after the reporter left, and that evening we had frozen pizza and various leftovers for dinner, Beth and I filled out our absentee ballots and we started packing.

The Beach: 

Saturday 

Less than half hour into the drive to Rehoboth I realized I had not looked for, found or packed June’s pacifier, which she’d lost the night before.  Beth and I had a whispered conversation in which we agreed not to go back for it. This would be our opportunity to wean her from her nap and nighttime dependence on it.

During a pit stop, June mentioned she was tired. I suggested she have a little nap because we were at least a half hour from our designated lunch stop. She agreed happily and as she climbed into her car seat, she asked for her pacifier. Somehow I’d failed to anticipate this. I broke the bad news.  She looked stricken, but she didn’t cry. Noah unhelpfully began to intone in a dramatic announcer-type voice, “Will June survive a week without her pacifier?”

“No, she won’t,” June muttered.

Beth sternly told Noah this was going to be hard for June and we needed to be kind to her.

I suggested he stop sucking his thumb for a week in solidarity, tapping his arm to remind him his thumb was in his mouth at that very moment. Noah did not to agree to this, so I offered not to bite my nails for a week. (I did it, too!)

June fell asleep shortly after this conversation but I warned Beth not to consider it a good sign, as the car is a powerful soporific.

We arrived at the house, unpacked and June and I hit the boardwalk while Beth went to buy food for dinner and breakfast.  I was on foot and June was on her bike, ringing the bell every few minutes.  “When I ring the bell it means I’m having a good time,” she said. As she pedaled toward Candy Kitchen, June commented, “I’ve had lunch,” in an offhand way. It was late afternoon, close to dinnertime, but I told her she could get something for later. She selected gummy teeth and perused the stuffed animals. She wanted to buy a giraffe, with her own money—despite my broad hints about the Easter Bunny’s propensity to bring stuffed animals.  I didn’t have enough cash on me, so it was a moot point and she reluctantly agreed to wait until later in the week, to see if she saw something she liked better.

It was cold, in the high forties, overcast and windy, so windy that the wind was propelling the bike forward as much as June was, and when we turned around she couldn’t pedal at all and I had to push the bike home.

That night we settled June into bed without a pacifier but with a stuffed rabbit, a stuffed cat and a baby doll.  We tucked her under her Cinderella blanket and put on her favorite bedtime CD—Peter and the Wolf.  “I have to do this all week,” she said.  It didn’t seem like a good time to tell her if all went well, she was saying goodbye to the pacifier forever.  As I left the room, she was moaning.

She couldn’t sleep. For an hour, I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret to Noah while Beth received repeated visits from June. She wanted the CD turned off, and then turned on again. Beth suggested she try counting backwards and then June came back for more explicit instructions. Finally, around 9:20, we realized she hadn’t been out of bed for ten minutes or so and I peeked in on her. She was asleep. She slept until 3:20 when I woke to her sobs.  She was standing in the hall outside the bathroom. She said she was thirsty and couldn’t find a cup for water.  I didn’t think this was her whole reason for crying, but I got her a drink and sent her back to bed.  Despite being up late and in the middle of the night, June was up at 5:45 and came into our room repeatedly until 7:00 a.m., with newsflashes like this one that woke me for good at 6:10—“I’m bored. I don’t want to play with my toys.”

Sunday

Beth and I were pretty wiped out so I went and got take-out coffee to give us the mental focus for planning and list making.  We made lists of dinner menus, a grocery list and a list of possible day trips for the week.  We thought a low-key day would be best as three of us were sleep-deprived.  Plus Beth needed to grocery shop and she had some work to do, too.

Once our week was planned, I played two games of Hex with June and took the kids to the beach. Noah, irritated that I’d taken June to Candy Kitchen without him, got his turn. He chose raspberry gummy rings while June re-assessed her stuffed animal options. She left thinking she might want Ruby, of Max and Ruby. I thought a bunny might be appropriate for Easter.

It was still cool, but sunny and windless.  The sea was calm and sparkly. We found a big plowed ridge of sand, part of a beach replenishment project. It was about ten feet high and at least fifty yards long and it gave the kids’ play a focal point.  They slid down it and leapt off it, marking their record jumps with driftwood.  June leaned against the base while Noah buried her up to her chin and they pretended she was a mummy coming back to life and breaking free of her bandages (the blanket of sand). They built sand temples and sand volcanoes.  We were there almost two hours.

I thought with her poor night’s sleep, biking to the beach and back and an active morning of running and jumping, June might be exhausted enough to nap sans pacifier, but she just couldn’t.  About fifteen minutes into her attempt, she started to cry.  Noah came into her room to see what was wrong, but she told him, “There’s nothing you can do.”  So she didn’t sleep, and I didn’t either.  I even offered to let her sleep with me, but that didn’t work either.  Beth finished her work and took June to the playground while Noah and I read on the porch.

We had an early dinner and walked down to the boardwalk for dessert. Ice cream was the original idea but the wind had picked up again and it wasn’t feeling much like ice cream weather.  Beth got some anyway (she’s dedicated to ice cream); the rest of us opted for fudge. I would have gotten funnel cake if I could have gotten someone to agree to go halfsies with me.

The kids had time for a round of Rat-a-Tat-Cat before June’s bedtime. When I left her room less than five minutes after lights out, she was nearly asleep.

Monday

Monday was one of our scheduled side trips.  We spent the day at Assateague Island National Seashore and on the boardwalk at Ocean City.

As we drove into the park, Noah asserted that we’d been there before (true) and that we didn’t see any horses (false).  Beth and I had just been reminiscing about our last trip to Assateague during Noah’s kindergarten spring break and his challenging behavior during that outing (Postcards from Spring Break, 4/9/07). “It’s like the ghost of grumpy Noah came back,” I said.

But, other than occasionally insisting we’d never seen horses before and we wouldn’t see them today either, he was in a pretty good mood. Both kids ran down the sandy path of the Life of the Dunes trail, pretending to the superheroes, avoiding the villains (us) spying on them (taking pictures).  We all enjoyed the trail, but we didn’t see hide nor hair of the wild horses (only their abundant poop). I wondered if we should have pulled over when we saw people stopping by the side of the road, photographing distant horses.

We were near the beach so the kids played in the sand before we hit the Life of the Marsh trail.  On the drive there we hit pay dirt.  By the side of the road, just off the parking lot there were three horses, a brown stallion, a brown and white mare and an almost all white foal. The baby was snoozing on the grass. Not only did we see horses, but we saw a baby horse. This was a major parenting score.

We hoped to see water birds on the marsh trail, and there were ducks and quite a few snowy egrets flying, landing and standing elegantly in the water, but there were also horses.  Horses on distant spits of land, and then a shaggy brown horse right off the boardwalk trail.  We’d have to get closer than the recommended ten feet away to pass it. We edged by slowly. “I wish I could pet it,” June said wistfully.  She was sternly instructed not to do so. When we got to the parking lot, there were five or six more horses, all reddish brown, with manes ranging from tan to black.

“No-one’s going to say we didn’t see horses today,” I predicted back in the car on our way to the last trail, the Life of the Forest trail.  We had lunch at a boardwalk restaurant in Ocean City. Noah spied the carousel horses that decorated the place and said it was a day of horses and that’s when we saw the mounted police officer out the window.

After lunch, June rode her bike and Noah rode his scooter down the boardwalk. Noah wanted to go to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, so we did, with some trepidation about its appropriateness for a sensitive six year old. It was the kind of day when we just didn’t want to say no. I steered June away from videos of people who’d survived horrible accidents (shark attacks, etc.) and was relieved when she didn’t ask about the foot-binding exhibit or the Iron Maiden. What really caught her attention was the room of statues of the tallest person ever and the fattest, and the man with extreme body modification (green scale tattoos, filed teeth, surgically forked tongue).  She was talking about that lizard man for days.  The children got their fortunes told by a mechanical Gypsy and had their portrait sketched by a computer—Noah chose the style of Raphael and June went with Rembrandt.

After we’d had our fill of oddities and careful conversations about them, we sampled the boardwalk’s treats. Beth got a shake, I got a dipped cone, Noah got a chocolate-covered frozen banana and June got a cloud of blue cotton candy considerably bigger than her head. We sat on a bench to eat and soon the kids were playing in the sand. I joined them and we made our way down the broad beach to the water. We rolled up our pants and dipped our feet into the water.  At 3:50, I glanced at my watch and decided it was time to head back.

“This was a really fun day,” I told Beth as we walked up the boardwalk watching the kids riding ahead of us. It was about to get a lot less fun.

We were almost to the intersection where we’d leave the boardwalk and we couldn’t see the kids.  They had gotten out of our sight before briefly and we’d always caught sight of them, but not this time.  We stopped at the intersection and looked all around, but they were nowhere to be seen. Beth said a bad word or rather she spelled it, as if the kids were still there and still small enough for that to work.  We conferred hurriedly. Beth would stay in front of the restaurant where we ate lunch, in case they thought to go there.  I would go down the boardwalk after them. I jogged and walked and jogged and walked for twelve blocks.  Once I saw a little girl on a white bike and I yelled, “June!” but before the word was even out of my mouth, I saw it wasn’t her.  I heard the distinctive sound of scooter wheels coming from a side street and I looked but it wasn’t Noah. Finally I came to a barrier.  The boardwalk was undergoing repairs on the other side. They wouldn’t have crossed it. Part of my mind was relieved because the Ocean City boardwalk is not like Rehoboth’s little one-mile boardwalk. It goes on and on and on for dozens of blocks. I was glad to have the search area confined to a twelve block-stretch. But another part of my mind thought I should have seen them coming back unless…I didn’t listen and searched the area all around the barrier in case they were waiting somewhere nearby, on the beach or a restaurant patio. I yelled, “Noah!” over and over. No answer.

I turned back. I was no longer hurrying, but lingering now, looking all around me. When I got back to Beth, we’d have to call the police, I decided. And then about halfway back, I saw Noah, just Noah. This could be very good or very bad. “Where’s June?” I yelled, before saying anything else.

She was with Beth. The kids had been waiting by the car, where neither Beth nor I had seen them even though we both, independently of each other, peered down that street. They’d argued about whether to remain there, June remembering advice to stay put if you were lost, and Noah thinking we might be just around the corner. He did not leave her and finally he convinced her to come and they were re-united with Beth, who was in fact just around the corner and who sent Noah on his scooter to find me. I’d left my backpack with my cell phone behind with Beth and they had no way to call me.

In case you’re wondering if I’ve learned anything since the last time I lost Noah in a public place (Lost and Found, 7/17/10), I’ve learned this: even though I’d never deliberately leave Noah in charge of June in a crowded public place for upwards of a half hour, I now know they’ll stick together and discuss their options thoughtfully. I know that when it mattered, he had her back. That’s no small thing.

The kids seemed no worse for the wear, though Noah admitted the next day to having been “a little worried.”  Beth and I were wrung out. Back at the house, Beth made matzoh ball soup, we made the kids eat their carrots and drink their milk; I bathed June and read to Noah. Beth shepherded a pacifier-deprived June back to bed several times and finally they were fed and clean and safe in their beds and so was I, hunkered down with the only one in the world who loves them as much as I do.

Our spring break adventures continue in the next post…

The June Club

On Saturday morning we were having breakfast at the Galleria Espresso in Rehoboth Beach. There’s a place in the restaurant where two mirrored walls come together. The kids love this corner because if you sit there you can see multiple images of yourself. They call these assemblies of images, “The Noah Club” and “The June Club.” Noah had his turn first and June was impatient for hers, so she ended up with a much longer turn while the rest of us ate our pancakes and crepes. At one point all the members of the June Club were exclaiming over how funny it was that they all looked exactly alike. June’s self-amusing like that.

We were in Rehoboth for our annual Christmas shopping weekend, a family tradition that has multiple benefits: we get away from the distractions of home and chores and focus on our shopping while supporting actual brick and mortar stores and a local economy (if not our own), June gets to visit the one true Santa in his house on the boardwalk, and I get a little much needed off-season beach time to tide me over until spring break.

So I walked on the beach at night and the kids and I built whole villages of sand castles during the cold, windy days. June decorated hers with carefully chosen pebbles and shells and Noah smashed his with the bottom of his bucket as soon as they were built. When they tired of this, they buried treasure (more shells and pebbles) and marked the spot with an X. June cried when Noah buried what she claims were prettier shells than she’ll ever be able to find again and they couldn’t find them, but then she got over it and they were burying treasure again. On Saturday June and I were on the beach at 7:35 with the last pink of the sunrise and both kids and I were there at 4:25 with the first pink of the sunset. We got a good bit of shopping done, too.

The weekend was pleasant, but unremarkable to the point that I don’t have much more to say about it. I think this has a lot to do with June being in the Santa sweet spot. She’s old enough not to be afraid to sit in his lap any more (having conquered that fear last year) and too young to be skeptical and full of angst about it like Noah was in first grade (see 12/10/07). So there wasn’t much Santa-related drama. After breakfast on Saturday June found a mermaid doll at Browse About Books (http://www.browseaboutbooks.com/), fell in love with it and insisted Beth take a picture on her phone in case Santa needed photographic evidence, but he didn’t. That afternoon, she clambered happily into his lap and told him she wanted the “McKenna Mermaid doll” (http://www.amazon.com/Groovy-Girl-122080-MacKenna-Mermaid/dp/B001R59PX0) and he seemed to know what she meant. It was all very satisfactory.

Life is pretty satisfactory for June these days. She loves kindergarten, loves riding the bus, loves the rhythms and routines of school. She looks forward to her turns as line leader and door closer, and keeps careful count of her tiger paws. She’s learning to read and working very hard at it. Because Spanish is more phonetic than English she can sound words out better in Spanish, but she’s more likely to know what they mean in English. I’ve watched her switching back and forth from English to Spanish books and back again as she struggles to find something she can read by herself. She is this close, able to read quite of a lot of words, but not quite fluent enough to sit down and really read a book. The contrast with Noah at this age is striking. He learned to read in kindergarten, too, a little later in the year, but seemingly without effort. One day he couldn’t read and the next day he could. June’s more of a step-by-step learner. That’s why Noah was a sight words reader and she’s a phonics-based reader. Either way, it’s a joy to watch, even if we do have to read a lot of words as she points to them, over and over and asks what they say. Do you know how many words there are out there in the world? There never seem to be quite as many as when you have a child who’s on the verge of reading.

I volunteered in June’s class on Tuesday. When I came in the door her face lit up and for a while she had trouble concentrating on her work because she kept glancing up at me, at the table where I sat date-stamping homework papers and putting them in the kids’ folders and cubbies and folding and stapling coloring sheets into little booklets. Of course that’s why I go, to see her excitement at having me there, and also for the chance to spy on a bit of her school day as I relieve the teacher of some of her clerical duties. Señora T read two books, and gave a short lesson on ordinal numbers (the kids had to line up, five to a line and then the remaining children had to say who was primero, segundo, tercero—first, second, third, etc.) First they did it in order, and then she started mixing it up. There was also a short grammar lesson on the topic of “¿Que es una oración?” (“What is a sentence?”) and a free play period. June was at the stencil table, filling in a sprinkling of stars at the top of her page for a night scene. Other kids drew (one of June’s friends presented her with a drawing of a Christmas tree) or painted, or did puzzles, or played with blocks or toy cars or pretend food in the supermarket area. There was an injury when food went flying and I had to escort a girl to the nurse’s office with a scratch on her nose.

When school let out June asked if we could play on the playground before walking home and she showed me how she can go all the way across the monkey bars now. She’s been working on this all year, devoting many of her recess periods to mastering this particular piece of playground equipment. At the beginning of the year she tried the bigger set (the one she fell off) but she has since switched over to the smaller set, which is more her size, and she can indeed go all the way across. I watched her do it again and again.

It reminded me of something that happened over Thanksgiving weekend. We were at a playground in Wheeling, with Beth’s mom, three of her aunts and two of her cousins. This playground is well known to both kids, but they had a new piece of equipment June had never encountered before. It consisted of four chains, strung on a wooden frame. There were plastic handles on the sides, but June wanted to walk all the way across without falling and without holding on. Over and over she tried, and over and over she fell.

“I am going to keep on doing this until I don’t fall,” she told me, and I thought, oh no, how are we going to leave this playground because I didn’t think she could really do it. Well, you know how this story ends, right? She kept on doing it until she didn’t fall, and then she did it a few more times for good measure.

Five pushing six is a magical age, full of challenges to master, words to read and monkey bar and chain bridges to cross. It’s a good time to be a member of the June Club.

Rain or Shine

Sunday
“I’m sorry,” Beth said. We were embracing on the screened porch of our rental house early Sunday morning. “You have no idea how much.”

She had driven us to the beach the day before and she was heading straight back home. The Verizon strike that had started a week prior and caused her to work long hours and late nights ever since meant she had to skip our vacation. YaYa had elected not to come this year and my sister cancelled when she found out right before the trip that her cat had inoperable cancer so it was just me and Mom and the kids.

Now it would be unseemly to complain too much about a week at the beach with a grandmother to help, but it was still a sharp disappointment to find out within a few days of each other and right beforehand, that neither my partner nor my sister was coming. And to make matters worse, rain was predicted all week, after a very dry summer.

But the beach is the beach, rain or shine, and I was glad to be there. The kids and I had already made the best of a week without seeing much of Beth. We’d gone for a long creek walk, been to the pool, made chocolate-marshmallow candies from a kit, hosted two play dates and been to two drum lessons. We’d make the best of this week, too.

Beth drove away at 8:45, after taking June to play on the beach for a little while Noah and I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on the screened porch. I watched the car go with a pang and kept on reading.

Later Mom and I worked out a set of menus and a grocery list. Both kids wanted to go shopping with her so I hit the beach. It was cloudy but not uniformly so. There were thick bands of dark clouds in the West but in the East there was just about every kind of sky you could imagine: patches of blue, puffy white clouds and big rapidly moving dark gray ones, scuttling in front of the lighter ones. I thought my swim could be cut short by a thunderstorm so I got in the water right away. I swam for an hour, until my fingers were wrinkly and I was all over gooseflesh.

I got home shortly before Mom and the kids, helped unpack the groceries and made lunch. Then June and I, who had been up for an hour and a half in the middle of the night because she could not sleep in an unfamiliar place, collapsed and slept for two hours. Every now and then I half-woke to hear Noah laughing as he and Grandmom played Roundabouts, but it was a pretty solid nap.

Afterward, I was energized enough to take the kids to Funland. Noah tried some new rides this year—the Freefall (which is one of those tower-like rides with seats that just take you up and drop you) and the Paratrooper (which looks like a Ferris Wheel except it tilts in addition to spinning). June stuck to her old standbys, but insisted on going on the mini-Ferris wheel alone, not with Noah and definitely not with me. She wanted to ride the Freefall, and she is tall enough, but I wasn’t quite ready to put her on it, and I also didn’t want to take away from Noah’s pride at riding it for the first time by having his little sister do it the very same year, so I told her next year. She’s the daredevil, if you hadn’t figured it out already, and he’s the cautious one.

It had started to rain hard while we were in Funland and it didn’t look like it was going to stop any time soon so we walked home in it. Even with umbrellas and June in a rain jacket we got soaked so when we got home Mom and the kids changed into pajamas and called it a pajama party. Noah even found the song “Pajama Time” on his iPod and played it while we cooked dinner.

After dinner it had cleared and the kids wanted to go to Candy Kitchen so I took them to the boardwalk in their pajamas (Noah pulled on a pair of shorts over his pajama bottoms). Before we were halfway there it started to rain again but the sun was still shining so we saw possibly the most amazing rainbow I have ever seen. It was huge, 180 degrees, right over the ocean. Everyone was taking pictures and I tried to take one with my phone but I couldn’t get the whole thing in the frame. Beth called while we were looking at it. It was hard to talk much because of the noise of the rain and the crowds, but she sounded sad.

We got fudge and a wide variety of gummy products (worms, frogs and teeth). On the way home it started to rain harder and we got soaked again. June needed a second pair of pajamas. We played Hex and checkers until bedtime and our first full day at the beach was over.

Monday
I’d wondered if my long nap would keep me up but I went right to sleep Sunday night and slept eight and a half hours, waking before June who slept until 7:25. The kids were sleeping upstairs in the attic bedroom and I was in a downstairs bedroom and I slept magnificently. The room was dark and quiet. I was not able to hear all their little sleep movements as I do when they are just next door to me at home. The kids and I played a hand of Go Fish after breakfast and were on the beach by 9:10.

We proceeded to spend the longest chunk of time I think I’ve ever had on the beach with both kids—over three hours. I was the one who had to make them come home for lunch. They were in the water before I could even get sun block on them and I had to call them back to the towel. They jumped in the waves, made dribble castles and regular castles and dug a very deep moat around one of them. We watched a large pod of dolphins (the first of many we’d see that week). Noah buried his legs in the sand down to the knees and seemed to enjoy sitting and watching the ocean thus weighted down. June played in the water until she was shivering and her lips were blue. And even then she resisted coming up onto the sand for warming-up breaks. I snuck in a five-minute swim while they were building things in the sand, but I came out in a hurry when I saw them approach the water. The waves were better than the day before so I was sorry not to have a real swim, but it was a fun morning nonetheless. I think I could have even read or written a little if I had brought a book or writing supplies because they played independently for long stretches of time. It’s been a long time—a decade—since I’ve been able to read on the beach without getting someone to watch the kids. It was tantalizing to think it might be almost within my grasp again.

That afternoon, post-nap (June’s—I read to Noah while she slept as I did most days that week) we returned to Funland. Noah got bored quickly because his new favorite rides are not under the roof and kept getting shut down by the intermittent rain. He did get to ride the Freefall once more but he got drenched because it started to rain during the ride. June wanted to ride the helicopters, which are also outside and she waited in the line twice, only to have them shut down when she would have been in the next group. So we mostly stuck to the kiddie rides under the pavilion. Once again, we walked home in the rain and the kids ate dinner in their pajamas. We considered going to the boardwalk that evening but we decided to stay inside and dry. We talked to Beth on the phone, Noah played games on his iPod and read a 39 Clues book (http://www.the39clues.com/). Meanwhile June showed off her new mouse skills for Mom, playing phonics games on the Between the Lions web site. June went to bed at 8:45 and Noah at 9:15, but they were up talking until 9:45.

Tuesday
June slept in until 6:55 and when she woke me I saw my first glimpses of sun since we’d arrived. After two consecutive nights’ good sleep I was ambitious enough to make veggie bacon, eggs, toast and cantaloupe for my breakfast and June’s (Noah opted for cereal).

After the breakfast dishes were done and I’d started a load of laundry, I took the kids for a scooter ride on the boardwalk. Scooters are permitted on the boardwalk before 10 a.m. in the summer, or so I thought. Once we were on the boardwalk, I noticed the sign that said bikes are permitted before 10 a.m. but scooters are prohibited from May 15 to September 15. Why the distinction, I have no idea, but we turned off the boardwalk at Rehoboth Avenue (not before passing a police officer, but she didn’t seem to care about our lawless ways). We fortified ourselves with raspberry latte, chocolate milk, juice and a bagel with cream cheese (for June who was already in need of a second breakfast) before returning home via a non-boardwalk route, as much as that pained me.

At home June wanted to stay behind and act out medical dramas with Grandmom while Noah and I went to the beach. On the way I told him, “I’m glad you decided to come.”

“Why?” he asked.

“I always enjoy your company,’ I said.

“You do?”

“I do.”

“I thought so,” he said cheerfully.

We waded into the water together but the waves were breaking too close to shore so it was too rough at the depth where he’d normally play, plus the water was full of swirling sand and tiny pebbles so that the waves were really kind of unpleasant. I tried to coax him deeper into the water where the waves would be gentler and less gritty, but he wouldn’t come. So he went back to the shore to pile wet sand on his legs again while I swam. The waves were unsatisfying, so I floated on my back, feeling the coolness of the water around me and the warmth of the sun on my face. With my ears underwater the shouts of nearby swimmers were softer and the soothing sounds of the waves were more audible.

After fifteen minutes or so, I joined Noah on the sand and helped him bury the parts of his legs he couldn’t reach. Every so often the water rushed over him and washed away our work. Rebuilding it was a pleasant, mindless sort of task. A few times I asked him if he was comfortable—did he have too much sand in his suit, was the sand too heavy on his legs where it had eroded away under his calf and left it unsupported? He answered he was fine. We did this until it was time for lunch.

After lunch we read Harry Potter on the porch while June napped and we watched as for the second day in a row Mom set out for the beach around three, only to come right back because it had started to rain. When June woke, we returned to Funland for the third time in three days, where we met up with the Ground Beetle and her family (which we’d planned—I knew they were staying in nearby Lewes) and with the Field Mouse and his family (which was a happy accident). The Beetle and the Mouse have younger brothers so at one point there were five Purple School students or alumni riding in a row on the motorcycles. June and the Beetle were so happy to see each other they did not stop talking the entire time they were together. When they rode the carousel, they named their horses. The Beetle presented June with a small seashell with June’s name written on it in marker. The Beetle has been moving steadily up the wait list for the Spanish immersion program at June’s elementary school. Her parents are hoping she will get in sometime this school year. We do, too.

Noah had originally decided against another trip to Funland but he changed his mind so Mom brought him. He was rewarded with clear skies and working rides. He rode the Freefall twice and the Paratroopers once.

After Funland we went out to dinner. We intended to go out for Mexican but there was a 35-45 minute wait so we went looking for other options and ended up at a café where we ate crepes (me and Noah), grilled cheese (June) and fajitas (Mom). I tried to call the Mexican place to cancel our table, but the #7 on my phone was malfunctioning and there was a 7 in the number so I couldn’t call. We had some downtime waiting for our food so we called Beth. Noah had the brilliant idea of having her call the restaurant to cancel our seating. Dinner was followed by frozen custard for the womenfolk and a chocolate-dipped frozen banana for Noah. We at them on the beach while admiring the sunset. June and I waded too deep into the water (at her continual urging to go “a little deeper”). On the way home, June, in a sleeveless dress, sopping wet to the waist and having just eaten a frozen custard, was freezing. (It had been not just rainy but cool all week.) We hurried the kids home and off to bed and our beach week was half over.

Wednesday
Wednesday was another sunny morning and I had good news in my email. Beth, who had been planning to drive out on Friday evening, now thought she might be able to come Thursday night instead. This was exciting news.

Mom took the kids to Jungle Jim’s water park (http://www.funatjunglejims.com/) and I had a few hours of long-awaited alone time. Thanks, Mom! I puttered around the house a bit, finishing the breakfast dishes and then set off on some errands. We needed sun block and while I was along a commercial stretch I ended buying a caramel latte and a secret stash of chocolate crabs for myself and a t-shirt for June. I was drawn to it right away when I saw it in the store window. It’s pink with a skull-and-crossbones wearing a heart-shaped eye patch and a bow on top of the skull. It says “Pirate Girl.”

Next it was time for the beach. I decided to stay near the food establishments on the boardwalk so I could have lunch. It was more crowded than our regular stretch of beach, but I found a place for my towel. I swam and read a few chapters of the Agatha Christie novel I started at Chadd’s Ford (and hadn’t picked up since then). I watched dolphins and swam again. Around 12:45, I went up to the boardwalk and stood in an extremely slow-moving line for fried clams for ten minutes before giving up and getting fries elsewhere. Then I headed back to the house, where Mom and the kids had just returned. Mom said the kids liked the river ride best and did it six or seven times. June went with Mom first and then alone. This was not exactly on purpose as they got separated. June found this a very satisfactory outcome, but Mom was more than a little scared by the experience.

June’s nap started later than usual so I had to wake her around 3:40. Mom was at the beach for the first time and we were supposed to meet her there but neither of the kids felt like going so I decided to get a jump on dinner. I made a pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes, garlic, Portobello mushrooms, basil (from our garden), and black olives. Then I told June she had to go to the beach (we left Noah to practice his drums and read) and we left.

Once we were there, June made a beeline for the water and was soon jumping up and down in the water yelling, “I love the beach! I love the beach!” After fifteen minutes the lifeguard blew the five o’ clock whistle, meaning everyone had to get out of the water while they go off duty. On our way out of the water, June and I spied an enormous sand sculpture of a lobster we’d somehow missed on our way into the water. She went right to work building her own miniature replica while I went back into the water. The waves were not big (there were no big waves all week, alas) but they were rolling in a pleasant rhythm out beyond the breakers so I stayed there. As I bobbed in the water, I could see Mom in her chair and June huddled over her sand creation and the big lobster and a big sand castle that ascended in a spiral pattern and the iconic orange Dolles sign far down the boardwalk. I had to wrench myself away to go home for dinner.

I wanted to finish dinner in time for another boardwalk jaunt because Noah had decided early in the week that this was the year he was going to try to Haunted Mansion and we hadn’t yet been to Funland in the evening when it’s open. As it happened, we didn’t get there until 7:15, which was later than I’d hoped (though we had a nice walk, seeing both a rabbit and more dolphins). By 7:20 I’d purchased tickets and Noah and I were in line. My original plan was to take a test ride by myself because Noah had a really bad experience in a haunted house when he was seven (see my 11/05/08 post) but when I saw the line, I knew we’d have to take the plunge together. Based on the ages of the kids in line (many younger than Noah and a few not much older than June) I thought it would be fine. And it was. Noah was keyed up throughout the entire forty-minute wait, but in a happy way. He kept noting our progress through the line and pointing our details on the exterior (a vulture I’d missed, a severed arm over the sign that says to keep your arms in the car) and when were seated, he said, “We’re really going in the Haunted Mansion!”

It was quite tame. There were a great many skeletons popping out at you—the one that came out of the picture frame actually startled me—Frankenstein’s monster, and some big spiders, but no gore. I kept my hand resting lightly on his thigh, but he never took it. Afterward he said it was “nice,” which I thought was a funny description of a haunted house, but it was nice, scary enough to make him feel brave, but not traumatized, which is after all what we want from scary things.

We tried to call Beth from the boardwalk so he could tell her all about it but now my phone was inserting random 7s into any number I tried to dial, so I had to write her an email about it when we got home.

Thursday
Thursday morning I took the kids for a walk on the boardwalk and down Rehoboth Avenue to get Noah his annual t-shirt from the T-shirt Factory. I knew it would take him a long time to select a shirt and a design to have applied to it, given the sheer number of choices, so to keep June occupied (and because we’d left her backpack full of toys at home) I let her pick one toy. I thought she’d go for the set of four plastic mermaids with different colored hair (pink, purple, red and blue) and a tiny brush and comb, but she picked a fuchsia and white striped stuffed rodent of an undetermined species. (June thought it was a squirrel.) She named it Fruity. Finally Noah selected a design of two bare footprints and the words, “Rehoboth Beach, Delaware” and had them applied to a white t-shirt. We celebrated a successful shopping trip with a café con leche, two chocolate milks, a muffin and a bagel at Café a GoGo, where the coffee is heavenly but where I normally won’t even take the kids because we have gotten too many dark looks from the stern Mexican owner when they’ve been too boisterous. But they had been well behaved all week so I chanced it. They sat down immediately, gave me their orders and wouldn’t even come to the counter to look at the pastries because they were a bit intimidated by previous experience.

We went home, got changed and headed to the beach. After playing in the water, we built a pool for June that filled with water whenever a big wave rolled up on the shore. I decorated the back wall with dribble castles. It was quite an elaborate production.

After nap and Harry Potter, I made a tostada filling out of zucchini, yellow squash and tomatoes for dinner and we all joined Mom at the beach. It was the first time all four of us had been down there at the same time. The kids and I played in the water until June decided she wanted to look for crabs, shells and pebbles with Grandmom. They found no crabs and not a whole lot of shells but a lot of pretty pebbles, which June collected in a pail to decorate her sandbox at home. Noah was befriended by a younger boy who attached himself to him. I couldn’t tell if Noah wanted the attention or not. He seemed a bit puzzled as to why the boy was talking to him at first but then he relaxed and they played in the waves together. With both kids occupied I was free to take a brief swim. Coming out of the water, I noticed another sand sculpture, this one a swordfish.

We went home, had dinner and then went out for ice cream. On the way we stopped at a shop on the boardwalk that sold the same mermaid set June saw in the t-shirt shop. She’d had buyers’ remorse about the stuffed animal because she “really, really” wanted the mermaids now. I suggested she use her own money. June’s been getting an allowance since she turned five in March but she had yet to spend any of it. I don’t think she realized she could. And I still don’t think she gets it because even after I purchased the mermaids, saying she could pay me back at home, she kept asking why I got them when I said she could only have one toy.

On the way home we walked on the beach. We admired elaborate sand castles and the kids jumped into a big pit someone had dug and climbed on the lifeguards’ chair. Noah leapt off it and after some consideration, June did too. It was a big jump for her and she was pleased with herself.

We got home to an email from Beth saying she was on her way, so I stayed up late (for me), talking to Mom and waiting for Beth. She arrived just before eleven and we had a lot of catching up to do so we’d only just fallen asleep around midnight when there was a thump from the other side of the big attic bedroom. We thought it was June because she’d been sleeping horizontally across the bed with her legs hanging over the side, but it was Noah. I found him sitting on the floor, so disoriented he didn’t know what to do so I helped him back into bed. In the morning he had no memory of this.

Friday
At one a.m. I gave up trying to sleep in the upstairs double bed with Beth (we’re used to sleeping in a queen) and went downstairs to my bedroom. I heard movement upstairs at 6:30 and by 7:00, the kids were piled in bed with Beth and I was sitting on the edge of the bed as Beth combed mermaid hair and we planned out our last full day at the beach. She’d work in the morning, and in the afternoon, we’d make a final trip to Funland (where the kids would use up the last of the 88 tickets we bought over the course of the week and Noah would ride the Freefall with Beth watching) and we’d have pizza at Grotto’s. Beth couldn’t stop smiling at us. It was good to have her back. She’s the one that I want with me, rain or shine.

Spring Break Trilogy: Part II, The Beach

Day 4: Tuesday

Tuesday morning we packed and then drove the full car to the kids’ dentist. June was very brave and co-operative, though she had so much trouble with the bite wings that the dentist, having found no signs of cavities, decided to skip her x-rays. June got a bag of toys, a Dora sticker that said, “No cavities! ¡Ni una caries!” and had her nailed painted by one of the hygienists. She chose five different shades of pink and purple. Over the past several days I keep catching unexpected, startling glances of her painted nails. They make her look older, still like a little girl, but like the next step up in the category of little girl, if that makes sense.

Noah had two cavities in baby teeth that are about to come out, so no treatment was necessary. From his x-rays, the dentist predicted he’d be losing the last of his baby teeth soon and all at once. She gave us the cards of three orthodontists. I can’t believe it’s time to start thinking about orthodontia, but apparently it is. He got some trinkets, too, and declined the manicure.

Then we were off to the beach. We listened to Series of Unfortunate Events #10 (The Slippery Slope) while June was asleep and some Magic Tree House books while she was awake. We arrived in Rehoboth around dinnertime and went out for Mexican. The food was good but we may never be able to go back to this restaurant because in a distracted moment when both kids and the waiter were all asking me something at once, I called the waiter “sweetie.” Somehow I managed not to die of embarrassment on the spot.

We went back to our hotels, bathed the kids and put them to bed and I slipped down to the beach. It was cool enough that I needed a jacket but not so cold that I felt I needed to keep moving so as not to freeze, so I sat on the beach and watched the ocean hurl itself onto the shore.

Day 5: Wednesday

Wednesday was gorgeous, like an early summer’s day plopped down into the middle of April. It got up into the mid-80s according to the digital clock/thermometer on Rehoboth Avenue.

We ate breakfast on the boardwalk. Afterwards Noah took a scooter ride all the way down to the South end of the boardwalk while June and I played on the beach. She drew a unicorn in the sand with the edge of a shell and dug a hole, looking for dinosaur bones. Not finding any, she decided to bury a cache of seashells, as treasure for someone else to find. When she’d filled in the hole, she marked it with an X.

We found a big pool of water that had formed in a depression in the sand and soon she was wading and splashing in it. She was bare legged, but soon her skirt and underwear were uncomfortably wet and she wanted to leave the beach. I suggested she get changed into her bathing suit. She was surprised but pleased by this idea. Her bathing suit? Outside? In spring? It was lucky the hotel had a pool because otherwise we would not have even brought bathing suits.

Noah joined us on the beach just as we were getting ready to go back to the room to change so he got changed, too, and we spent the rest of the morning on the beach making castles, wading and running around like maniacs (well, that last one was just the kids). The warmth and the sunlight were intoxicating, as they always are the first day spring shows you a foretaste of summer.

After lunch, June napped in the hotel room while I worked on a project I’m doing for Sara, rewriting and simplifying medical abstracts. This set was about a compound found in tea that has relaxing properties. It took June a long while to fall asleep (she’s used to being alone when she naps) and she was chatty, but about ten minutes before I was about to give up my work plan for lost, I realized she’d been quiet for a couple minutes and sure enough, she was asleep. When she woke, Beth took both kids to the pool while I continued to work. Then Beth took June to pick up some Chinese takeout while I read the last two chapters of The Sea of Monsters to Noah. They were gone a while, so he had time to practice percussion as well. (He has a practice pad so it’s not as loud as you might think.) Beth and I ate in the room and the kids ate on the balcony and then we took a stroll on the boardwalk.

It was still warm, in the low 80s. We ended up sitting on a bench, most of us bare legged, eating frozen custard and watching the sky grow pinker and pinker. June kept pointing to different parts of the sky, indicating which was the “most beautifulest.” Finally she said, “I don’t think anything in the world could be more beautiful than this.” I had to agree.

I went to the beach after the kids were bathed and in bed. It was hopping down there, full of kids with parents less strict about bedtime than we are. I remembered being nine years old, in bed on summer nights, listening to the shouts of the visiting children of our tenant, a divorced father. They were playing in my yard when I had to be in bed. It was almost unbearable. My nine-year-old self chided me for putting the kids to bed on time, but I ignored her.

I found a place near the water, away from the crowds, where the sand was comfortably inclined and sat down with my back leaning against it. The sand was cool but not cold, the waves roared, I could see the Big Dipper, or maybe it was the Little Dipper. I’m not good with constellations. I felt profoundly at home.

Day 6: Thursday

Temperatures were more seasonable Thursday but it was still sunny and beautiful. After breakfast we flew kites on the beach, and then Beth had a massage while June and I took a walk to the North end of the boardwalk and Noah stayed in the room and practiced percussion again. When June and I came back, we ate Mexican and Chinese leftovers and played our second game of checkers of the day. We’d had a surprisingly close match at breakfast but now she was tired and even with advice from Noah, she was not playing as well. When I had eight of her pieces and she only had four of mine, she declared, “This game is boring.”

After Beth got home and had her lunch, she and Noah left so June could nap and I could work. This time June fell asleep almost at once, but I ran into technical difficulties with the PC and had to call Beth to come back and help me so I lost more than half of June’s (fortunately long) nap. I scaled my goal in half and finished while Beth and the kids swam in the pool again.

I read the first chapter of The Titan’s Curse to Noah while June had her bath and after Noah’s bath, we left for dinner. Then we came home, read some more, and put the kids to bed. I resisted the urge to hit the beach and did two more abstracts before bed.

Day 7: Friday

By Friday morning it was downright cold, 46 degrees and overcast at 8:05 when June and I went out in search of breakfast. Noah had been in bed absorbed in Car and Driver when June was ready to go so we’d decided to split up. We went to a coffee shop and played three rounds of Hex (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hex_(board_game) while she ate her bagel and I ate my oatmeal. It was the first time she’d ever played but she won one round. We were supposed to meet Beth and Noah on the boardwalk at nine, but when I called Beth she said Noah was still reading and still in his pajamas. June was not warmly dressed so we went back to the room. Noah had finished reading and had decided he wanted pancakes. Beth just wanted a muffin and some coffee so we agreed to switch kids and I took Noah out to breakfast at a diner.

Since I didn’t need to eat, I read to him while he ate. We’d agreed to try to read together every day during Noah’s break and we’re now making much more rapid progress than we had been through the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series that (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Jackson_%26_the_Olympians)
Noah received for Christmas. It’s been satisfying and fun. At first Noah was concerned I was reading too loudly and that it might bother the other patrons. So he joined me on my side of the table and snuggled up next to me while I read more softly and he ate his chocolate-chip pancakes. He’d been self-conscious enough to worry about being read to in public but not too self-conscious to put his head on my shoulder. He’s a very young almost ten in some ways, but I can’t say I mind.

Because we ate breakfast in shifts, it was ten-thirty by the time we’d finished, so we hit Candy Kitchen for some treats to take home before going back to the hotel to pack in time for the eleven o’clock checkout. (Well, Beth and I packed while the kids played on the luggage cart.)

The whole time we were in Rehoboth, June had been seeing toys she wanted, a set of four mermaid dolls with different colored hair you could comb and brush, a stuffed pony, and a purple unicorn beanie baby with a sparkly pink horn and hooves and disturbingly large eyes. The last two were at Candy Kitchen and while we were in there she renewed her appeals. After I’d said no, and after she’d given up saying, “But pleeeaaase,” I spied her kneeling on the floor, silently petting the little unicorn. That did me in. I decided to go back later and get it for her Easter basket.

Earlier in the trip we’d noticed a newly opened bakery that allows kids to decorate their own cupcakes and we’d promised to go back. As the beach trip was practically over we were running out of time for this activity so we went over there and watched as the kids arranged sprinkles and M&Ms and lollipops on a frosted cupcake. Then we had them boxed up for later and left. Now that we had enough sugar to last until the Second Coming, we were just about ready to leave the beach.

Beth took the kids while I snuck back to Candy Kitchen, bought the unicorn, pulled on my boots so I could wade in the ocean I and had my last ten minutes on the beach until August. It was lunchtime by then but no one was all that hungry, so we just got smoothies and hit the road. All the way home, I tried not to think about how very long a time four months was seeming. But luckily, the beach is always here, patiently waiting for us to return.

Fear Not

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

Luke 2:10

On Saturday afternoon, around 3:45, Beth and I were walking along the boardwalk; Noah and June raced ahead. Every now and then he would tug on her arm or grab her coat to slow her down, telling her she couldn’t go inside Santa’s house until the adults caught up with them.

“Let go of her hood,” I yelled as Beth yelled almost identical words. It’s not like she’d actually go inside without any of us, we joked to each other. June’s always been shy around Santa. In years past it has taken all the courage she can muster to walk into the little house with Noah at her side and stand in Santa’s general proximity while Noah relays her requests. We weren’t expecting anything different this year.

But before we got to the house, a woman dressed as an elf peered around the corner and asked if it was okay for the kids to come in. We indicated it was and hurried up a little.

When we got to the doorway, June was already sitting on Santa’s lap and he was asking her what she wanted for Christmas. She had her answer all ready: “A princess book and a princess doll.” Santa told her to go to bed early on Christmas Eve so he would have time to deliver her gifts. We barely had time to snap a picture before it was Noah’s turn. As the kids came out, admiring their flashing necklaces–hers was in the shape of a stocking and his was a Christmas tree- Beth and kept looking at each other and exclaiming over June’s unexpected bravery.

I’ve been somewhat afraid of Christmas this year, or rather I’ve been afraid of the emotions it might stir up, as my father died in mid-January last year and my last visit to him started on the day after Christmas. But so far, it hasn’t been too bad. I mean, I’m thinking about him a lot, and I even had a dream recently about going to visit him but being unable to find him because I was supposed to meet him at his new office, which was on a street with completely random street numbers. But Christmas music and decorations and sweets seem the same as ever, more comforting than sad. When I am hit with sadness it comes unexpectedly. A few weeks ago the kids and I went to a marionette show at a nearby community college with the Toad and her mother. One of the puppeteers looked a bit like my father. It wasn’t even a very close resemblance, but it was still hard to watch him up there on stage. I think grief is like that–you don’t get to decide or even predict when it will come to you. So I’ve realized it does me no good to go in fear of eggnog lattes or Christmas carols.

And the Christmas story itself is, at least in part, about overcoming fear. How would the shepherds have felt, seeing the angels swoop down on their field at night? How would Mary have received the news about her impending unwed motherhood? I imagine they all would have been sore afraid indeed, at least at first.

After we left Santa, we did some Christmas shopping (this being the ostensible reason for our annual December weekend in Rehoboth—but if you know me at all you know the real reason). Beth and I split up and bought many of June’s Christmas gifts right under her nose, including a princess book (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paper_Bag_Princess) and a princess doll. I will not say what, if anything, we bought for Noah because he reads my blog now. Sorry, Noah Bear.

Then we headed to Grotto’s to order a pizza to take back to our hotel room. June had slept poorly the night before and then skipped her nap that afternoon and she was clearly exhausted so our evening plan was pizza and a movie in the room. I was expecting her to conk out on the bed pretty early in the feature presentation so we bathed both kids and got them into their pajamas before starting the movie.

We were watching Christmas Is Here Again (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUpxgaH4F4g&feature=related), which is one of the stranger Christmas films I’ve ever seen. We found it at a video store two Christmases ago and it’s become one of the movies in our regular Christmas rotation. It’s a rather dark tale about an orphan girl who sets out to find Santa’s stolen sack, which has been missing for over thirty years and without which Christmas can no longer celebrated. The girl is accompanied by an elf, a baby reindeer, a polar bear and a fox, one of whom is a double agent, but I won’t give away that part. They have to journey down into the mines of the devilish villain where child slaves toil to extract coal and precious stones. And it goes on like that. The villain, Crad, is very creepy, a shrouded fellow with crooked teeth and red eyes. He scares the pants off June every time. In fact, sometimes Noah only has to sing “I stole Santa’s sack/The sack he carried on his back./I stole Santa’s sack/And I’ll never give it back!” to send June running out of the room.

Nevertheless, she insists on watching this movie, and we let her. I struggle a lot with what’s too scary for the kids to watch, especially June because she’s both younger and more sensitive to on-screen scariness than Noah was at her age. (Interestingly, some of the books that spooked him when he was a preschooler do nothing for her.) But if it’s rated G, I will usually let her watch it, as long as we’re not at a movie theater where the screens are bigger and her habit of running of the room at the scary parts would be more inconvenient for everyone involved.

And she did run out of the room at least twice, even though she declared several times before we started watching that “This is not a scary movie for me.” I accompanied her to the bathroom and we waited for her to be ready to come back. After a while she decided she could just hide under the covers whenever Crad came on screen, and that’s what she did. Much to my surprise, she did not fall asleep during the hour and fifteen minute film, though when I put her to bed soon after, she fell asleep quickly and slept an impressive ten fours and forty minutes (from 8:05 to 6:45). She may not have made it through the entire movie without hiding, but some year she will. She’d already overcome one long-standing fear and that’s plenty for one day.

Once June was asleep, I took Noah down to the hotel lobby where we could read and then I brought him back up and put him to bed at 8:45. Beth had gone to bed herself and seemed to be asleep. I sat on the bathroom floor with the light on and read for twenty minutes until Noah was asleep and then I got into my warm socks, rubber boots, coat and woolen scarf. It was raining out but it’s not every evening I have the chance to walk on the beach and I’m not afraid of a little rain.