Rites of Spring

Spring has now unwrapped the flow’rs,
Day is fast reviving,
Life in all her growing pow’rs,
To’rds the light is striving.
Gone the iron touch of cold,
Winter time and frost time
Seedlings working through the mould,
Now wake up for lost time.

From “The Flower Carol,” Folk Song

April Fools Day
No one played any April Fools jokes on me this year but the representative from Washington Gas might have thought I was playing one on him when I called to report a gas leak in our basement that turned out to be…nothing.

Thursday morning I was putting a load of laundry in the dryer when it wouldn’t start. A half hour later I was back in the basement when I thought I smelled a faint odor of gas near the dryer. I called the emergency line and took June out to play in the yard while we waited for someone to come check out the situation. We had to wait about an hour and while I was sitting and watching June collect the tiny white wildflowers in the yard, I noticed the grass was starting to get long so I decided to give the lawn its first mowing of the year. I got the front and side yards done and pruned the butterfly bush, which suffered a lot snapped branches when it was buried under three feet of snow back in February.

Around noon I proposed a picnic lunch to June and right around then the service rep showed up. I took him down to the basement. As we approached the dryer I noticed the smell was completely gone. He turned on his meter, which detected nothing. He checked all around the basement and found nothing. Then he left and though he was very professional and told me to call again if I smelled gas again, I couldn’t help feeling a little foolish.

I should mention a peculiar thing about myself here. I sometimes smell things that aren’t there. It happened most often in my late twenties and it was usually pleasant smells like baking cookies. It still happens occasionally but not often and since the dryer was broken and I was under the impression it was a gas dryer (turns out it’s electric) it seemed logical and it never occurred to me it might be one of my olfactory hallucinations.

June was still excited about the picnic so I went through with it. I made a pitcher of lemonade (“the bestest lemonade in the world” June told me), laid a beach towel out on the lawn and we ate vegetarian salami, American cheese, saltines and sliced strawberries amid the damp clothes hanging on the drying rack and draped over the slide, the soccer net and our lawn furniture.

There were errands I’d planned for that morning that didn’t get done but I did get an hour and a half outside on a warm, sunny day, a half-mowed lawn and two loads of laundry with that incomparable dried-outside smell. Maybe I wasn’t so foolish after all.

Good Friday
“Is the beach talking to you?” Beth asked me. We had just gotten back into the car after a pit stop at for lunch at the Taco Bell near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

“Yes,” I answered.

“”What is it saying?” she wanted to know.

“Why on earth did you take that job?” I said. We were headed to Rehoboth for weekend getaway in the middle of Noah’s week and a half long spring break, but I would need to spend a few hours of it at the computer working on an article for Sara about an enzyme derived from fermented soybeans that has cardiovascular benefits. I’d hoped to have it mostly finished before we left, but due to the cats keeping me up half the night howling one night and only being able to find a sitter for one morning when I hoped for two, I’d only gotten about a third of the way through it and Sara needed my draft by Monday.

We arrived at our hotel around 4:00. There was a hold up getting into our room, but by 4:45 the kids and I were on the beach making sand castles. June preferred to decorate hers with shells while Noah elected to tunnel under his until they collapsed. He has loved doing this for years, ever since he learned it was an authentic medieval siege technique.

The last time we came to the beach in April it was so cold the kids wore their winter coats, but it was sunny and almost 70 degrees and we were all in bare feet. The warm sand felt good under my feet. Even the shocking little frisson of the frigid water felt good, too, as I fetched bucket after bucket full of water for the kids. I almost never feel so alive and present in my body as I do at the beach.

After a visit to Candy Kitchen (Noah got gummy teeth; June got a foot-shaped lollipop—what’s up with the body parts, kids?) and a pizza dinner, we bathed the kids and put them to bed. I slipped down to the hotel lounge for a half hour’s work on the article and then the sea called me and I answered.

A fog had fallen and the wind was whipping it around the beach in tatters. The air was cold and wet. Even in corduroys and a fleece jacket I was soon chilled and my hair hung damp around my face. I watched the waves crash over the remains of someone else’s sand castle and then, thrilled and joyful, I walked back to the hotel.

It was a Good Friday indeed.

Let’s Go Fly a Kite
We saw the Easter Bunny on Rehoboth Avenue after breakfast on Saturday, or rather a person in an Easter Bunny costume, as June was careful to correct me when I said, “Look! It’s the Easter Bunny.” Much to my surprise, she went right up to the Bunny and selected a Starburst from the basket of candy and even posed for a picture with the big rodent.

Beth took the kids to play miniature golf while I holed up in the room and worked. In the afternoon, after June’s nap, we took June’s new Barbie kite to the beach. Yes, you read that right. One of June’s friends gave it to her for her birthday. The picture on it could be worse—it’s just her head, but still… Barbie has breached the perimeter.

The morning had been cold and foggy so we’d put off the kite-flying expedition until afternoon, hoping the fog would burn off, but it didn’t. Still, Beth got the job done, getting the kite into the air. I never thought I’d see Beth flying a Barbie kite on the beach, but now I have. The amusement factor made it almost worth owning a Barbie kite. Almost.

The kids awoke Easter Sunday to find the Bunny had left two chocolate bunnies (milk chocolate for June and white chocolate for Noah) on the bedside table in the hotel room. It was a down payment on the candy they’d find in their baskets once we got home.

The day was warm and sunny. June and I played for hours on the beach and took a long walk down the boardwalk. She tested my hypothesis that no matter how many buckets of water I carried to her she could not make a puddle that would stay. She rode the car with the clown on the boardwalk that used to scare her. She made multiple attempts to talk me into another visit to Candy Kitchen, each as if the previous conversation had never taken place. She admired the “eagles,” as she calls them.

I could tell when church let out because all of a sudden the beach and boardwalk filled up with little girls in fancy dresses and boys in polo shirts and khakis or madras shorts. All the people in their finery gave the scene a festive feel. It was the kind of day when cold weather was such a recent memory and warmer weather seemed so imminent, that we saw people in everything from winter coats to bikinis. The sartorial diversity was a truly glorious thing.

We left Rehoboth after a boardwalk lunch and drove home. The first hour of the ride was pleasantly quiet. June was sleeping and Noah was reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. We met up with YaYa and Aunt Carole in Silver Spring. They’ve come for a brief visit to see the cherry blossoms. We ate on the patio at Eggspectations (http://www.eggspectations.com/usa/index.html). They kept getting our orders wrong, but we made do with what we got and when they comped us a free dessert and brought the wrong one, it was just too funny to be annoying. (I did make them bring the right one, though, because it was a slice of Smith Island cake—http://www.smithislandbakingco.com/– a Maryland tradition I’ve heard of but never sampled and which I’d spied in the dessert case when we arrived.)

We all came back to the house to dye Easter eggs and eat Easter candy. YaYa and Carole talked about how they loved the simplicity of dyeing eggs and discussed plans to make their own dye from onion skins one year. They left for their hotel before we applied the stickers with eyes, noses and mouths and taped little hats to the tops of our now not so simple colored eggs.

We got the kids bathed and in bed. Beth fell asleep in her clothes on the bed before I got June settled down. It had been an eventful weekend.

Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry Now
I love the cherry blossoms, enough to go every year despite the hassles, and there are hassles no matter how you go. Parking is hard to come by, the shuttles from the remote parking lots are not particularly convenient and going by Metro adds a lot of time to an already long trip. We decided on Metro this year but it was clear from our discussion of logistics that morning that there was no way we could get home by noon, which is the latest I like to get June home from a morning outing.

We left the house at 8:15 drove to Silver Spring and met YaYa and Carole at their hotel. From there we walked to Starbucks, picked up some snacks and boarded the Metro. It was already 10:15 when we arrived at the Tidal Basin. June was complaining she was tired before we even arrived. We’ve been stroller-free for about two months (the big storm that left sidewalks impassable for weeks was the impetus) and on some days it’s been harder than others. I had a feeling this was going to be one of those days. I told Beth I didn’t think we were going to make it all the way around the perimeter. We rested and ate for ten minutes or so by the water before we starting walking. We set a goal of reaching the FDR memorial, which was slightly less than half way around.

Noah had a map and pretended to be a tour guide as he read to us about the points of interest we passed along the way. June kept stopping to collect petals from the ground. When YaYa and Carole planned their trip, the peak blooming period was supposed to extend into this week, but warm weather caused the blossoms to open early and we’d missed the peak. More than half the blossoms were already off the trees, but it was still lovely. It’s always lovely. We admired the Jefferson Memorial across the water and posed by the stone lantern. As we approached the FDR memorial, it was eleven and June was really dragging. We didn’t go through the whole thing because it was so late, but the kids enjoyed seeing the waterfalls.

On the way back I picked June up and carried her every time we got significantly behind the others. I would carry her until we caught up and then I’d put her down again. We proceeded this way, with June whining, “I want my nap!” over and over again until Beth made threats against her Easter candy if she continued. She continued to whimper from time to time, but she didn’t say the word nap again after that. As we passed the Department of Agriculture, we saw a landscaping crew digging up some tulips that hadn’t even finished blooming yet. Who knows why? The way they are constantly changing the plantings down on the mall is irritatingly wasteful. Anyway, the gardener must have thought the same thing because he offered a bunch of tulips (with two bulbs still attached) to June. June ran to show them to Beth, arriving before I could with the explanation and Beth gasped, thinking (naturally) that June had yanked them out of the ground. We carried them home to put it water and I will try planting the two bulbs in the yard. We have crocuses, daffodils, hyacinth, irises and tiger lilies but no tulips, so it was a fortuitous gift.

Our first train was delayed for ten or fifteen minutes by a sick passenger on another train ahead of us on the track so it was a relief to finally get moving and to transfer to the second train, where we could sit down and rest our weary feet. I was positive June would fall asleep on the train and ruin her nap but some how she stayed awake not only on both trains but in the car, too, though it was a close thing. In fact, when Beth asked me if she was asleep and I said no, June insisted that she was and she didn’t seem to be playing a game.

We got home at 1:15 and June dawdled over lunch so it was nearly two by the time she fell asleep. She then slept for almost two hours. I was intending to lie down for just a little while and then get up and work but I fell asleep and slept for almost a half hour. Spring can be exhilarating, but it’s also exhausting.

A Is For Alphabet

On Wednesday morning I was toweling June off after a bath and she noticed my shirt in the bathroom mirror. “You have letters on your shirt,” she observed.

The shirt said, “Feel the Power: VOTE.” I got it back in the early 90s when I worked for Project Vote (http://projectvote.org/?gclid=COWA_PW90JkCFR4hnAodPEgwvQ). “VOTE” is the largest word on it.

“Do you see a V?” I asked June. She pointed to the V. “How about an E?” She pointed to the E. We went through all the letters in “VOTE” and she got them all right. In the past several weeks June has become intensely interested in letters. She doesn’t know all of them yet (maybe 75%), but she’s learning more all the time and she can recognize her own name. She is always asking us what letters begin various words and what sounds they make. The wooden alphabet puzzle she inherited from Noah has become a favorite toy. She’s taking the first wobbly steps of literacy and it’s exciting to watch.

So I read a lot of alphabet books to her these days. Luckily we have quite a few, though ABC: A Family Alphabet Book (http://www.proudparenting.com/node/309) is a favorite. Reading these books over and over (and reaching the twenty-six month anniversary of this blog) has inspired me to make an alphabet of our lives over the past twenty-six months. Most of the pictures have appeared in the blog already, but a few are new. A lot has changed since I started writing here, both for our family and for our country. June has turned one, two and three. She’s learned to walk and talk and started school. Noah has turned six and seven and he seems bound and determined to turn eight next month, despite my protests that he can’t possibly be that old. He overcame a difficult kindergarten year, learned to read and stopped believing in Santa Claus. He’s now thriving in second grade. Since I started writing a woman came tantalizingly close to winning the Democratic nomination for President and an African-American won the Presidency (and the world economy imploded, but let’s not dwell on that).

Here are some snapshots of our lives during these times:

A is for Alphabet

Here’s June playing with her alphabet puzzle on Saturday morning.

B is for Baby

She and I were at a coffee house and she was cruising around and around a low table, eating bits of Fig Newton I handed her every time she passed by. She paused every now and then to remove the sugar packets from their container and scatter them across the table and floor and then she replaced them. As she reached the corner of the table closest to me, she let go and stood, swiveled on her feet to face me and smiled, as if she was going to do something dramatic. I waited, holding my breath, thinking this was the moment. Then she chickened out, dropped to her knees and crawled to me. I don’t know when she will walk any more than when Noah will start having an easier time in school. It could be months from now or right around the corner. (April 25, 2007).

June took her first steps about a week later. Noah’s school troubles cleared up when he started first grade with more sympathetic teachers.

C is for Cherry Blossoms

We went to see the cherry blossoms on Friday and it was…challenging. June had been very cranky for almost a week. She’d been sick the weekend before and at first we thought that was the reason but by Friday she’d been better for several days so I’m not sure what was up with her. Anyway, she wailed in the car, she whimpered in the stroller and when she was walking she kept tugging on my arm, wanting me to go in another direction. At one point she darted under a chain and headed straight for the Tidal Basin before Beth dashed off to capture her. Anyway, the blossoms were gorgeous and afterwards we went out for really excellent pizza in the city that made me wish we still lived there. June threw fits in the restaurant, too.

D is for Duck

Once we were back on land, the guide let Noah pass out the souvenir quackers (duck-bill shaped noisemakers) and instructed everyone to quack “Happy Birthday” to him. It wasn’t quite recognizable as “Happy Birthday” but it was impressively noisy. (May 4, 2008)

E is for Election

The transition from Obama-land to McCain-land was not subtle. Either that or I missed it while I dozed briefly as June napped in her car seat and Noah watched downloaded episodes of his favorite shows on Beth’s phone. Before I closed my eyes there were Obama-Biden signs everywhere. When I opened them it was nothing but McCain-Palin as far as the eye could see, including those annoying ones that say “Country First.”

When I commented on the shift, Noah looked out the window long enough to spot one. “That’s the first McCain sign I’ve seen in my whole life,” he noted.(November 5, 2008)

F is for Friends

Jim is one of a handful of people in my life who bridge past and present. We lived down the hall from each other our first year of college and we were roommates the next year. We were living in a student-run co-operative dorm where co-ed rooms were possible with a little administrative subterfuge. The summer after sophomore year, when I fell in love with Beth, Jim and I were living together again and he was the one who urged me to kiss her while I was agonizing over the decision. Even if we had no more history than that together, I’d be forever in his debt. (February 26, 2009)

G is for Gabriel

Gabriel is usually known as the Caterpillar on this blog. He’s a sweet, affectionate, well-loved boy, who will be three in July. His moms are hoping to adopt a younger sibling for him. They are looking for an African-American or biracial baby. Here is their webiste: www.emmyandbethadopt.com. Please visit if you think you can help.

H is for Hug

As we were getting ready to leave the house to go vote later that morning, I found Noah and June in a spontaneous embrace. “Hug!” June announced.

“Take a picture, Mommy!” Noah suggested.

I went for the camera, thinking it likely June would have wriggled out of his arms before I got back. But when I returned, they were still at it.(February 14, 2008)

I is for Ice Cream

It wasn’t a perfect day, but fairy tales aren’t perfect either. They just have happy endings. Here’s ours: And then the queen and the prince and the princess had ice cream. The End. (July 18, 2008)


J is for Jump

At 5:30, I could hear Noah singing out in the yard as I poured orange jack-o-lantern lollipops into a bowl….I brought the bowl outside and set it down on the round table on the porch. Noah and June were playing in a pile of leaves under the dogwood while Beth watched. (October 31, 2007)


K is for King

This was the first headshot of Noah that appeared on the blog. It was taken in December 2006 at the Children’s Museum in Wheeling, West Virginia.

L is for Liberty

We caught the last ferry of the day, the 3:40, and sat on the top level, for the view and so I wouldn’t get seasick. After a scenic (and very windy) ride we arrived at the statue. She’s impressively large in person and really quite beautiful. We admired her and walked around the island. We paid a quarter for Noah to look through the telescope at the harbor, and then we got back in line for the 4:45 ferry. On the way back we opted for the heated lower level. We shared a warm soft pretzel, and Noah got a pair of Statue of Liberty sunglasses, much coveted by a little boy sitting near us. (December 27. 2007)

M is for Moms

Clearly he was paying attention at Kids’ Camp because he knew exactly what to put on such a sign. He instructed me to write, “I Heart My Moms!” and to fill in the heart with rainbow stripes. As a finishing touch, he decided the point of the exclamation point should be heart-shaped. (June 9, 2007)

N is for Nest
It turns out four adults to two children is about the right ratio for me to spend an almost perfect day at the beach. Noah and I arrived around nine, and had built just enough sand castles and played just long enough in the water to be looking at each other and wondering “what next?” when my mom arrived and he had a fresh playmate. He found a hole someone else had dug and spent a lot of time jumping into it. Later it was a nest and Mom was a bird laying eggs they made out of balls of wet sand. (August 25, 2007)

O is for Ocean

He’d been quite taken with the idea that he was “the only one in the whole world” who knew both my “versary” gift to her and hers to me. He kept the secrets faithfully, only letting slip that he thought Beth’s gift to me was better. “But they’re both good,” he added diplomatically. This piqued my curiosity since Beth had hinted she would make up for her absence on the actual day of our anniversary through the gift. Inside a store bought card with a picture of a falling star on it was a card she and Noah made on the computer. It had a photo of the house where I lived during the summer of 1987 on the front and the Rehoboth boardwalk on the inside. “We’re leaving Friday afternoon for Rehoboth Beach,” it said. (July 22, 2007)

P is for Princess
June wore a dress with a black velvet top and a puffy, gold satin skirt that a friend of Ya Ya’s bought for her. Ya Ya said she looked just like a doll. Beth’s brother Johnny and I both said, independently of each other, that she looked like the Infanta Margarita in this painting (http://www.artchive.com/meninas.htm). In either case, doll or princess, it was a new look for her. (November 23, 2007)

Q is for Queer

We went to our favorite Mexican restaurant that night to celebrate twenty years with spinach enchiladas and virgin mango daiquiris. (July 22, 2007)

R is for Redhead
The snow was dry and powdery, useless for snowballs or snowmen, and just barely serviceable for sledding. He went down the hill a few more times, then bored of it. We took turns dragging June around the yard. She was tranquil, but not as enamored with it as the last time. (February 7, 2007)

This is from my very first blog entry. June’s hair turned blonde the following summer.

S is for Santa

Noah seemed happy and satisfied with his visit to Santa. But as soon as we left the little house, he asked if it was possible that the person he’d seen was just someone in costume pretending to be Santa. We allowed that this might be the case. Beth pointed out that Santa couldn’t be everywhere at once so maybe he needed some helpers to visit with children and find out what they wanted. Probably, they would send an email to Santa with the requests. “But he just asked my name. Why didn’t he ask my address?” Noah was suddenly alarmed at the possibility that his information would be incompletely conveyed to Santa. (December 10, 2007)

T is for Train
Just around the time I reached the tricky part of the operation, spooning the batter onto the griddle and making sure none of the pancakes burned while I was distracted by something else, they both wanted my attention at once.

Noah had tired of his magazine and said, “What should I do?”

June wanted to know if I could “play train tracks?”

“Maybe Noah can play train tracks with you,” I suggested. I only gave this idea about a 25% chance of succeeding, but you have to try. Much to my surprise, Noah took June’s hand and they walked into the living room. He repaired a track I had built earlier in the day and they took turns running the trains over it, looking startlingly like two full-fledged kids playing together.(March 23, 2008)

U is for Underpants

This was the headshot of Noah when he was in first grade. If you remember the photo and thought he was wearing a bandana on his head, those are underpants. Beth took it on their mother-son camping trip in September 2007.

V is for Valentine
Noah dug around in his bag and pulled out a card. “Here,” he said, handing me the funniest valentine I’ve ever received. There’s a snowman lying on its side on the front with the words “Love you to death!” written in crayon. Inside it says, “OOPS! I guess I loved you to much!” Like mother, like son is all I have to say about that. Also this– it was the perfect Friday the 13th valentine. (February 13, 2009)

W is for Wizard

The last day of spirit week was “Put on Your Thinking Cap” day so after some careful consideration, he put on his wizard hat. (March 9, 2007)

X is for Xylophone

You were expecting something else? I took this picture on Thursday.

Y is for Yard

After Noah ate breakfast, brushed his teeth and got dressed, it was time to bounce. Along with the hopping ball, we bought Noah his own personal bouncy castle for vestibular stimulation, deep pressure on his joints, oh, and fun, too. He loves it. We’ll see if it helps organize and focus him the way the occupational therapist says it will, but in the meantime he’s using it several times a day. When possible, we try for a bouncing session before Beth takes him to camp. (July 10, 2007)

Z is for Zeitgeist

Next we moved inside to carve our jack o’ lanterns, or in Beth’s and my case, our Barack o’ lanterns (http://yeswecarve.com). (October 26, 2008)

I can’t claim this blog consistently captures the national zeitgeist, but if you have or once had elementary-school or preschool-age kids, or if you live in Takoma Park or its environs, or if you’re gay, lesbian or bisexual, I hope you sometimes find a little of yourself reflected in it. Thanks for reading.

Loveliest of Trees

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

By A.E. Housman


Like many of you, no doubt, I first encountered this poem in high school. I’ve always liked it, but guess I wasn’t as far-sighted as the twenty-year-old speaker because fifty springs seemed pretty long to me then. Now that I have used up more than forty of my allotment and my parents are in their mid-sixties, it doesn’t seem long at all. My mother recently told me that as she approaches her sixty-fifth birthday, death seems a lot closer, a lot more real. She’s already a few years older than her mother was when she died.

Of course, the poem is as much about life as about death, about enjoying life and savoring its fleeting beauty. There’s a word in Japanese for this, “hanami,” which refers to the act of viewing cherry blossoms and appreciating the “ephermeral nature of life,” (unless the staff writers at The Washington Post are putting us on.). For me, the cherry trees will always be a reminder of June’s birth, because they were just starting to bloom when she surprised us by entering the world six weeks early two springs ago.

Beth and I first started going to see the cherry trees in bloom along the Tidal Basin in 1992, the very first spring we lived in the Washington area. I still remember the magic of that first visit, the delicate beauty of the blossoms, their extravagant profusion, and the holiday atmosphere as people picnicked and strolled around the water. We’ve been back every year since, except one. Having a premature baby in the hospital undergoing phototherapy re-arranges your schedule and your priorities. Even that year, though, we did try, but we missed the hard-to-predict peak and couldn’t get back in time to see it. We have been to the blossoms as a couple, as parents and with extended family on the rare occasion that relatives were lucky enough to time their visits in sync with the fickle blooms.

We made our yearly pilgrimage this morning. The idea was to arrive early, before the crowds and we did make it out of the house by our 8:30 target, despite a meltdown on June’s part and foot-dragging from Noah who had no idea why we would want to go, since blossoms are “not special.” Nevertheless, when we arrived at 9:15, the crowds were already there. Cars were circling around; parking was scarce. This year for the first time, the Park Service is running a free shuttle to remote parking, but it didn’t start running until 10:00, so we parked in remote lot at Hains Point and walked to the Tidal Basin. It was cold, probably around 40 degrees, and there was a stiff wind blowing off the Washington channel. March is apparently not going out like a lamb this year. I sipped my take-out caramel macchiato to keep warm.

“I’m cold! I want to go home!” Noah complained. I wondered if it was really worth the hassle to drag the kids down here every year. It was a lot easier when we lived in the city and we could walk to the blossoms from our apartment. Parking wasn’t an issue and no one whined or complained during the outing. Some years we would go more than once. I remember going alone one year after Beth and I had already gone and camping out under a tree to read or maybe grade papers. I stayed for hours, working, listening to the radio on my Walkman, and taking in the beauty of an early spring day.

Then in less time than I thought it would take, we were there. We hit the peak perfectly this year. Almost every tree was in full bloom, their branches laden with puffs of white and the palest pink. They look like popcorn trees or cotton-candy trees or something out of Dr. Seuss, a more fragile cousin of the Truffula tree perhaps (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lorax).

We ate a breakfast picnic on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. After the bran muffin, lemon pound cake, coffee cake and orange juice were devoured, Beth bought Noah a cherry blossom festival magnet in the gift shop and soon he was running around happily, shaking hands with trees, hiding behind them and snapping pictures of them. He ended up taking more photographs than anyone else, including two of those featured here.

We didn’t stay long because it was cold and June got cranky. “Aww…Do we have to go?” Noah asked. I would have liked to walk the whole perimeter of the Tidal Basin, as we used to do, and will again someday, but it wasn’t in the cards for us this year.

To look at things in bloom, less than an hour was little room, but it had to be enough.

A Death in the Family: A Memorial

Beth’s uncle Gerry died early Monday morning, at home, surrounded by family. He was a well-traveled man, with a hungry mind, a crusty exterior and a dry wit. He had a Ph.D in math. He could fly planes and speak Polish. While bed-ridden with the cancer that killed him, he was teaching himself ancient Greek. Gerry is survived by his wife Carole (Andrea’s oldest sister), his sister Patricia, his children Meghan and Sean, his daughter-in-law Aine, and six grandchildren: Micheal, Tristan, Holly, Kawika, Rebecca, and Eanna.

Gerry was sixty-nine years old, so he didn’t quite have his three score and ten, but even if he had, it would still seem like too little room, much too little.

R.I.P. Gerry Ryder.


Postcards from Spring Break

Things have only gotten worse for Noah at school. There was the glue incident. (A scuffle over a bottle of glue left another boy with his face covered in glue and Noah holding the bottle. Interpretations of how the boys got into this tableau vary). There was the cutting in line incident. (Noah maintains the girl cut in front of him and he was merely reclaiming his spot, but only he was punished.) And so on. He’s so deep in dutch with Senora A that he has to sit out free-choice play frequently and he’s a regular at the school disciplinarian’s office.

More disturbing are the things he’s been saying about school. While he and I walked through the college campus on our way home from drama one afternoon shortly before spring break he saw a sign for a job fair and wanted to know what it was. I explained and he said he wished he could go to the fair and get a job and not have to go to school any more. I told him three quarters of a year of kindergarten was not enough schooling to become a meteorologist (his current career goal) and he conceded he’d have to keep going. Then one night when Beth was giving Noah a bath, his rubber duck told her, “Most of the things Noah does at school are wrong.” It breaks my heart he feels this way when he’s accomplished so much this year, learning to read among other things, and doing it all in a foreign language he’s quickly mastering.

So Beth and I have a meeting with Senora A and a school counselor later this week. Meanwhile, Noah’s ten-day spring break was a welcome respite for everyone. When he got off the bus two Fridays ago I greeted him, “Welcome to Spring Break.”

“It’s not Spring Break until Monday,” he said, ever the stickler for accuracy.

Here are some snapshots of what happened over the course of spring break, starting with the weekend before it officially began.

Day 1
At the cherry blossoms Noah’s mood was all over the place. One minute he was grumbling that he didn’t like cherry blossoms and the next he was running gleefully up and down the path. We picnicked near a plaque that informed us that this particular cherry tree was donated by the class of 1972 of a Catholic school from New Jersey. Noah studied the date and decided the plaque was a time machine that would take us back to “the year one thousand nine hundred and seventy two” if he jumped on it.

“How old were you then?” he asked. In April of that year, I was almost five and Beth was nearly five and a half, we told him. “How would you like to be young again?” he asked.

“Go for it,” I said and he jumped. As we spun back through the years toward five, I gave Beth a lingering kiss. We must have gotten stuck for a moment at twenty.

Day 2
In the morning Noah had a real honest-to-God tantrum, the first one he’s had in a year and a half. He and Beth were playing computer games together and when she said it was time to stop, he seemed fine and began to walk away from the computer. Then without warning he was crying and waving his arms and hurling his body around the study, seemingly completely out of control. Beth remembered what to do, dropping to her knees to get on his level, putting her arms around him and speaking soothingly. Once he calmed down she asked him if was upset about anything, maybe something at school? He said no.

Attracted by the noise, June kept crawling into the study and I kept retrieving her so Beth and Noah could talk. I wanted to leave the door open so I could eavesdrop but eventually I gave up and closed it. June stood outside the door balancing against it with her palms. When Beth and Noah emerged I asked her if she got anything out of him and she said no.

That afternoon we had lunch at the Taste of Takoma festival a few blocks from the house. Noah was still grumpy and wouldn’t eat. Then Beth made the wondrous discovery that the moon bounce was free this year. I went home to clean house while Beth and June watched Noah jump for a full hour. They came home; he ate a big lunch and was happy the rest of the day.

Day 3
At 2:50 pm, June and I arrived at the Round House Theater’s spring break day camp. We’d signed Noah up for the camp before his school troubles intensified but Beth and I were both hoping that three six-hour days of make-believe followed by a short family getaway to Ocean City would be just the mix of fantasy and family time Noah needed. Still, I was a little nervous picking him up because he’s been so negative about everything recently. Noah’s friend Maxine was also attending the camp and I chatted with her mother as we waited for the kids to be released. When we were invited in, we found ourselves in a long rectangular room scattered with art supplies and full of kids running around collecting lunchboxes and backpacks. Maxine came over with her arms full of art projects to show her mother. Noah had just a paper bag painted black, with small white paper cups glued to it for eyes. A cat, he told me. Every day at camp they went somewhere and today it was Music Land, he said. They’d made costumes and instruments and played in a band. It sounded too good to be true. Dress-up and music are among Noah’s passions. His group all dressed as animals. “I wish you could see my cheetah costume,” he told me wistfully, but somehow, he’d lost it. We looked around for it unsuccessfully. I asked if he had an instrument to bring home like some of the other children. No, he’d spent so much time on the missing costume he never got around to making the instrument. All this sounded pretty familiar. Noah misses free-choice play working on half-finished school projects about as often as he’s forced to sit it out for behavior. But he seemed pretty happy and not to mind, presumably since no one had made an issue of his not finishing.

After camp we went out for ice cream and to play on the Astroturf. (In downtown Silver Spring, there is a vacant lot the city covered in Astroturf to create a temporary green space where a skating rink is to be built. The turf attracts a real social cross-section– teenagers, singles, families of all income levels and races, anyone who wants to sit outside, which as it turns out is almost everyone. Due to overwhelming popular support for the turf, the skating rink may be scrapped and the turf made permanent. Here’s hoping.) I meant this to be a treat, but as it turns out, the turf is a two-adult activity, one to sit with June and one to tear around with Noah. He didn’t want to run around by himself, so we headed home. Mulling his day over, he decided that he didn’t like the cheetah costume he’d wanted me to see so badly because “it wasn’t very successful.” This is something Noah does frequently these days, revising his first report of events, always in a more pessimistic light. I wondered what his final assessment of drama camp would be.

Day 4
I needn’t have worried. When I picked him up the next day he said, “I’m sad tomorrow is my last day.” Maxine had even more numerous and complex art projects than the day before. Noah had a single tissue paper flower on a ribbon, but he was happy and excited to tell me they had gone to Sports Land and attended the Olympics. Campers invented and demonstrated their own games. Noah made the tickets and Maxine made the concessions. The paper flowers were medals, Maxine told me. No, Noah said, they’re flowers.

“Maybe medals that look like flowers?” I suggested. Maxine’s mother and the theater’s receptionist chimed in their agreement.

“Hers is a medal, but mine is a flower,” Noah asserted. Maxine agreed. Everyone was satisfied.

As we left I told Noah I had a surprise for him. April is Maryland Math Month and Noah had brought home a sheet of math games and activities, one of each day of the month. He wanted to do them all, but some required books we didn’t have. Beth told him we’d have to skip those, but I had made a trip to the library and to Borders and acquired all the books. Noah’s face was joyous when I told him. Today’s book was an I Spy book. For those of you unfamiliar with the I Spy series, every page is a photograph of a jumble of objects with a rhyming riddle directing you what to look for in the picture. The math sheet activity involved counting and sorting objects by attribute. We went to the café at Borders where I thought we could work at the tables. This turned out not to work since June was so antsy. “You have ants in your pants,” I told her.

Tiene hormigas en sus pantalones,” Noah chimed in and I laughed at the translation.

We ended up moving into the children’s book area where June could crawl on the floor and play with a beanie baby display while Noah and I pored over the book, looking first for the objects in the rhymes, then for red circular objects. The day before Maxine’s mother had offered to drive Noah home the remaining two days but something made me turn her down. I wanted to make this after-camp time special for Noah and it seemed easier to do that away from home. Now I knew we were in exactly the right place. If we’d taken the book home we would have been distracted by something– television, computer games, laundry, cooking, whatever. As it was we were both totally present and focused on our task and each other. I put my arms around him as he pored over the book and nuzzled the top of his tousled hair.

Day 5
By the final day of drama camp, June had what child psychologists call situational awareness. She knew what was coming when we walked through the doors of the room and she began scanning it eagerly. The room was a visual treat– full of colorful objects and kids running around, but she only had eyes for Noah.

Mystery Land was Noah’s final destination. Each group had a mystery to solve. His involved the disappearance of all the lights at the Round House Theater. It turns out a window-seller (who wanted to create demand for windows) was the culprit. Before we left, Noah went up to each counselor and said, “See you this summer!” We’d told him he was going to the spring break camp so he could decide if he’d like to attend the longer summer version. I guess he made up his mind. We made a quick trip to Whole Foods for a smoothie and while we sat at the counter we looked at the I Spy book some more, but Noah wanted to get home quickly to pack for our trip to the beach. On the bus home, I looked down and noticed that June and Noah were holding hands.

Day 6
It was mid-afternoon when we got to Ocean City. After inspecting our quarters, a deluxe suite with a balcony overlooking the ocean and a Jacuzzi tub (the kind of accommodations we could never afford in-season), Noah and I went down to the beach. We ran around in the surf in our boots until I saw Noah was getting pretty wet. We retreated up the beach and built a sand castle, which we decorated with shells and a beach grass flag. It was the castle of a weather wizard, Noah said. He took a short section of beach grass, which he identified as the wizard and another he said was the wizard’s nemesis, who wanted to steal his power to control the weather. The game proceeded without much need for input from me, other than my listening and asking the occasional question. I lay on my side alternately watching the rise and fall of the waves, and Noah’s play. When it was time go up for dinner, we headed back to the room, where a cold and sandy Noah took a Jacuzzi bath. He said he did not like Jacuzzis, but he couldn’t suppress a grin when the bubbles came on.

Day 7
At the information center at Assateague Island National Seashore (http://www.nps.gov/asis/), Noah was back and forth about everything. He couldn’t decide whether or not he wanted to touch the horseshoe crab, whether or not he wanted anything from the gift shop, whether or not he wanted to do the Junior Ranger activity sheet. Finally he settled firmly into a bad mood, lying down on the floor and saying he didn’t want to go hike the trails, he wanted to go back to the hotel. “Noah, get up right now,” Beth said firmly, and for a wonder he did. We hiked three short trails: forest, marsh and dunes. The whole time, Noah alternately grumbled and dashed ahead of us, seeming carefree and happy to be out of doors, asking me to read all the informational signs and pretending Hacker, the villain from PBS’s Cyberchase cartoon, had stolen the many missing signs and that he was on a mission to read all the remaining ones before they disappeared. We saw the famous ponies, but Noah didn’t seem all that interested. His reward for completing all three trails was the chance to ride his scooter down a paved trail near the beach.

That night we had pizza at a restaurant on the boardwalk in Ocean City. As we left, Noah announced, “I have great news. At 7:50 p.m. Noah Lovelady-Allen will be performing tricks on his scooter on the boardwalk.” And he did, zipping around, trying to make the little wooden scooter do a wheelie. After the performance, we took a walk down the boardwalk. It was cold, but the lights were bright and Noah zoomed ahead of us on the scooter, weaving around pedestrians, nearly crashing into many, hitting none.

Day 8
On the way home from the beach, we stopped at two lighthouses, one at Fenwick Island, Delaware (http://www.beach-net.com/lighthousefi.html) and one in Saint Michael’s, Maryland (http://www.cheslights.org/heritage/hoopers-str.htm). Noah has been in love with lighthouses since he was three and touring them and photographing him in front of them has become a hobby of ours. At the first lighthouse, which was closed to the public, Noah refused to be photographed. He’s been camera shy for the past year. (Disclosure: I bribed him with a deck of Old Maid cards for sale in the hotel lobby to get his consent for the Jacuzzi photo.) I decided not to push it. So at the second lighthouse, I was surprised when he agreed with only minimal coaxing to pose on the steps of the Chesapeake style lighthouse. Once inside, Noah delighted in exploring. He was particularly interested in finding the ropes of the pulley-operated fog bell on each level of the lighthouse. He and I went up the narrow, winding stairs to the top while Beth stayed on the lowest level with June. When we came down, he insisted Beth go up and see the top, so I stayed downstairs with June while they went up. We thought we were finished when Noah insisted I go up one more time to go out on the walkway. I had not noticed the tiny doorway at the top level when he and I were up there, but he’d found it and opened it while he was up there with Beth. I hesitated because the grounds were about to close and I wanted to use the restrooms before they did. “Beth could take a picture of us up there,” Noah bargained. That did it. Up we went.

Day 9
The night before Easter as I lay with Noah at bedtime he said, “I’m going to keep a lookout for that bunny!” Last year around Easter I got some very pointed questions about the Easter Bunny. Noah finally decided it was not a giant bunny at all but a man in a bunny costume. With this revision, he was able to swallow the story. I was sure it was his last Easter believing in the bunny and I doubted Santa Claus would make it until Christmas, but this year Noah actually seems to believe more easily than last. I wonder if he has a greater need of magic right now.

The bunny came, unseen, and brought chocolate bunnies for each child and jelly beans for Noah. In the afternoon I hid plastic eggs on the front porch and the lawn for Noah (he was unwilling to get our real eggs messy) and then he hid them for me. Once we came inside, we scattered them on the living room rug for June to hunt.

Day 10
Easter Monday was the last day of spring break. Beth was back at work after a four-day weekend. I had a busy day planned—a trip to the pediatrician to get June’s one-year shots (she couldn’t have them at her one-year appointment because she was one day shy of her birthday), a trip to the library, laundry, etc. But June had a truly horrific night and as I lay in bed that morning feeling as if I hadn’t slept at all, I began scaling back. We’d go to the doctor, but everything else was negotiable. Noah had come into our room and was playing with June, touching different parts of her body gently and telling her their names. June watched with grave attention. Beth called from the dining room that Noah’s cereal was ready and he said, “Bye, Juney. I gotta go eat my breakfast.” Then he hopped off the bed, dropped into a starting position and said, “Ready, Set, Go!” and dashed off.

We went to the pediatrician for June’s shots and out to lunch in the city. Then we came home, watched television and looked at the I Spy book. We did not go to the library; the laundry stayed unfolded. Instead of homemade broccoli, lemon and egg soup I boiled some rigatoni and made a salad. I wanted to take it easy because the next day spring break would be over and we’d be back to our routine.

Ready, Set, Go!