Lovely as a Tree

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree

From “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer

When we pulled into the driveway on the Friday evening we returned from Ohio, I noticed the dogwood was not in the front yard. This was no surprise as we’d hired someone to cut down the tree, which had died sometime during the winter. We only realized when it failed to bud in the spring.

In retrospect, I think the tree had been sick a while.  It put out its leaves later than the neighbors’ dogwoods in the spring and it lost its leaves earlier, often starting to shed them as early as late summer, but I thought it was just its quirk.

Around a year ago, I posted on Facebook:

“Steph was working behind closed doors (thanks to the babysitter) on an unseasonably cool mid-August morning when she glanced up and saw a small shower of yellow leaves falling from the dogwood in the yard. It felt like a foretaste of fall.”

We have a big yard with about a dozen trees, not counting the weed trees that spring up in the overgrown, unmown area at the very back of the yard.  We have a native species of cherry we planted ourselves and several Japanese cherries the city planted on our sidewalk berm, many silver maples, and one I don’t know the name of, but it has enormous leaves, big white blossoms, and long seedpods.

Still, seeing the empty space where the dogwood ought to be for the first time, I felt a pang. The dogwood was special.  It was in the front yard, visible to anyone who approached the house. It had white blossoms in the spring; and in early fall, it grew red berries that attracted birds and signaled its leaves would soon turn red as well.  We hung birdfeeders from its branches and every October we festooned it with ghosts. We raked its leaves and threw them in the air (and occasionally paused our raking to play air guitar). In the winter sometimes its boughs were outlined in white and at Christmastime our candy cane lights lit its trunk. In March and May it often sported a piñata in the shape of a pirate chest, a princess, or a spider.

June loved to climb it. When she was small, I’d lift her into the first fork and she was content to stay there, but as she grew older she climbed higher and just a few weeks before the tree came down, she started to go higher still, as high as her mothers, nervous about the brittle, dead branches would let her go.

We’re planning to plant a new dogwood in the fall, but we’ll miss this one.

Monday is Mommy Day

Until she was three and a half, June didn’t care much about her clothes and I dressed her mostly in Noah’s hand-me-downs, with the occasional girly outfit her grandmothers would buy her. And then quite suddenly, she cared.  She wanted nothing but dresses and skirts and nothing but pink (“Pink is the New Black,” October 22, 2009).

I adjusted to the new reality somewhat grudgingly, but I bought her some pink clothes and started letting her pick her own clothes every morning with the following exceptions: Christmas, Thanksgiving, the first day of every school year, school picture day, and Mondays. I declared that henceforth, Monday would be Mommy Day, which meant I chose her outfit. That way she could express herself most of the week and I could keep Noah’s hand-me-downs in circulation, though they certainly did not get as much wear as the baby and smaller toddler sizes did. One of the good things about the system was that sometimes after wearing something she would not have chosen herself she’d decide she liked it after all and she would subsequently choose it on her own. (Once this backfired when a boy at school told her the cartoon wolf t-shirt she’d taken a shine to was for boys and she never wore it again.)

Some time near the inception of Mommy Day, June asked me how long it would continue.  “Until you’re seven,” I answered without even pausing to think about it.  I’m still not sure why that came out of my mouth. It might have been because it was twice her current age and seemed impossibly far away.  More likely it was because my mother’s own version of Mommy Day (which was Mondays and Wednesdays) lasted until the end of first grade, when I was seven.  June often commented how funny it was that I had to wear dresses on Mommy Day and she had to wear pants.  Also, how Grandmom was very strict to make me do it twice a week.

I don’t always choose pants on Mommy Day, though. Often I will select a skirt that’s worked its way to the bottom of her drawer, just to remind her about it. Or I will attempt to use it to initiate a discussion about matching.  (“See, I chose the brown leggings to go with this dress because the dress has a lot of brown in it. But the leggings are a solid color so they don’t clash with the flowered dress.”) She will listen politely and then dress herself in three different stripe patterns (shirt, leggings, and socks) the next day.

In the past year or so, June has actually worn pants or leggings more often than dresses or skirts (and there was several months last spring and summer when she eschewed dresses all together). And about a month after she turned six, her favorite color changed from pink to orange. Her wardrobe still has more pink than any other color because she grows slowly and she had quite a lot of pink clothes and orange clothes are much harder to find. Her style is still feminine.  Her favorite shirt is light blue, a color she’s been wearing a lot recently—I think it might be an emergent new favorite color– but it has ruffles and lace and embroidered flowers and a little ribbon bow. No one is ever going to tell her it’s for boys.

June will turn seven in less than two weeks, so today was the second to last Mommy Day. Over the past three and a half years she has never forgotten the end point and for the past couple months she has been counting down the weeks eagerly, especially when I’ve chosen something she doesn’t like, which isn’t every week.  Often I will get a “Not bad for Mommy Day,” comment from her. A week ago, though, she complained bitterly about the green corduroys I picked saying, “I don’t like how they look and I don’t like how they feel and I don’t like how they sound.”  In general she prefers her pants without much structure—leggings and knit pants, no jeans or chinos or corduroys. If it zips or buttons or snaps, chances are she won’t like it so mostly I steer clear of those kind of pants.  But knowing the end was so close I just had to see those green cords one more time.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been examining the contents of June’s clothes drawers and realizing there is a lot I can put away because she’s never going to wear it after her birthday.  Similarly, the next time I bring hand-me-downs up from the basement, I will more selective. (For some reason Noah’s old pajamas are almost always acceptable to her.  Maybe because no one but us sees her in them.)

For this penultimate Mommy Day, I decided to build an outfit around the red number six t-shirt she got for her birthday last year, as she won’t be able to wear it much longer. (Well, I suppose she could but it’s more fun to wear the number shirts when they accurately reflect your age—that’s what both of my kids have always thought.)  I found a blue and red striped long-sleeved polo to put under it and a pair of stretch jeans she likes better than the regular kind. Her verdict: “Really not bad for Mommy Day.”

I’m sorry to see Mommy Day go, but I know it’s time.  I’d keep my promise even if June had forgotten it. I do remember what it’s like having a different style than the one my mother would have preferred and how I appreciated her letting me make my own decisions about how to present myself to the world, even to the point of telling my sixth-grade teachers if they wanted me to wear a denim skirt instead of jeans to the square dance they would have to convince me themselves because she certainly couldn’t do it.  I was the only girl to wear jeans to the performance.

The ironic thing is I don’t mind skirts now, and often wear them, usually for special occasions, but sometimes, most often in the summer, for no particular reason, other than it feels like a good day to wear a skirt. That’s what June can decide now every day of the week—whether it’s a good day for a ruffles and lace, for something orange, pink, or aqua, or just maybe, every now and then, something her brother used to wear.

Xander in the House

We have two cats, Matthew and Xander. They’re brothers, from the same litter. We got them the summer Noah was two, from the county humane society.  The shelter said they were four months old but I didn’t believe it. They were much too big to be that young, I thought. But then they grew and grew and grew and soon I realized it was no error.

They are now ten years old, big, black, golden-eyed cats.  They look similar to people who don’t know them well.  To me they look different: Matthew has short, smooth, glossy fur and he’s black all over, while Xander’s fur is medium-long and fluffy, with a white patch on his chest and another on his belly.  After their rambunctious kittenhood, personality differences began to emerge as well.  Matthew is shy of strangers, prone to anxiety, and a homebody. He’s happiest curled up with Beth or me or the kids while we read in bed. He ventures outside occasionally but he wants back in the moment the door closes and he never leaves our yard.  Xander is bold and friendly, twining around the leg or jumping into the lap of almost anyone who comes into the house.  The video of our wedding includes a moment when Dan stops officiating the ceremony and bends down to pet Xander, who’s rubbing up against him.

Xander’s also a wanderer, with notched ears to show for it.  From the beginning it was almost impossible to keep him inside and after a couple years we gave up trying. We had both cats micro-chipped and hoped for the best.  Xander even went out after the big blizzard three years ago when we had a few feet of snow in the yard. He walked under the eaves, exploring where he could, though he kept his ears back much of the time to express his disapproval of the unaccustomed state of his realm. Beth made a Facebook album of him entitled “Xander Goes Out and Stubbornly Refuses to Admit His Mistake.”

Xander spent the night outside on Monday.  This is not unusual, though in the winter I do try to see if he wants back inside before we go to bed.  By Tuesday night he hadn’t returned and that was strange, especially given the cold, wet weather. (It hailed that morning.)  By Wednesday Beth and I were both quite worried. He’d never been gone two nights in a row.  Beth reported him missing to the micro-chipping company and they contacted local shelters with his description, screened leads and passed them on to us, and generated posters we printed and put up around the neighborhood and distributed at June’s school bus stop. As June and I tacked posters to telephone poles, we put almost all of them underneath posters for another neighborhood cat, Neko, who had been lost for weeks.  I’d noticed these posters everywhere before Xander got lost and I impressed with her people’s dedication to recovering her.

Beth and Noah responded to the problem with electronic communications.  Beth posted to the neighborhood listserv and made a Facebook page for Xander where people could leave messages and Noah made a Google Plus page. I thought it was fitting Xander was now on more forms of social media than I am, given his highly social nature. Noah also made a poster with one of those QR codes you can scan with a smart phone to get to one of Xander’s web sites. We started getting phone calls about sightings, but they were either of a different cat (one with a docked tail), or of a cat seen startlingly far from home, or on our block but days ago.

Meanwhile, Beth and I were imagining all kinds of unhappy endings to this story.  Had he really crossed our busy street as one of the sightings indicated?  Had he crossed any other busy streets? Had he encountered a fox as one of our neighbors unthinkingly suggested?  She meant well, I think. She was after all calling to say she’d seen him in her yard two days earlier.  Was he lost?  Had he had a heart attack? Years ago the vet noticed an irregular heart rhythm and told us that sometimes cats with that heartbeat up and die of heart failure with no warning in middle age.  Beth, who’s good at worst-case scenarios, was even imagining he’d fallen into the clutches of a gang of cat-torturing kids.

I told June happier stories.  Maybe he got lost and another family was taking care of him until they figured out where he lived.  June thought this was likely, and that he might have even planned it that way, in order to expand his social circle. She was not particularly worried and confident he would return.  Noah made no predictions, but he did tell me quietly that he missed Xander.  Matthew was unsettled and howled so much at night that Thursday night we let him sleep with us, and that seemed to calm him.

Meanwhile, June determined to take matters into her own hands and make her own hand-lettered posters but she only had time to make one before school Thursday so after long discussion, she decided to give it to the bus driver because she goes all over the neighborhood.

Friday morning June made another poster and Noah and Beth helped her scan it and make enough copies to give out to all the kids who ride her bus, as they were the most likely to live in the neighborhood. (June’s in magnet Spanish immersion program so some of her classmates live in other parts of Takoma Park or in Silver Spring.)  Beth was trying to get Noah to stop helping with this project and focus on getting ready for school.  He was so late she had to drive him to school. While they were walking down the driveway, Beth thought she heard a meow.  She hesitated because she’d been thinking she heard meows all week, especially while in the kitchen, which faces the driveway.  “I hear meowing,” Noah said.  So they started looking in the windows of the house next door until Noah saw Xander’s face in a basement window. Noah came dashing into the house to share the news and soon all four of us were crowded around the window, looking at and talking to Xander, who was howling back at us.

I need to stop here and tell you about the house next door. It’s been vacant since we moved here, in the spring of 2002. It’s not abandoned precisely because the owners do occasional, slapdash maintenance on it, but it’s in bad shape. In fact, it’s been condemned for a year or two. In the time we’ve lived next to it there have been squatters in the house and its garage. Once I saw a raccoon climb out a third story window onto the branch of a tree.

There’s a broken basement window at the back of the house that seemed to be the only entrance into the boarded up house.  As I was peering into the basement I noticed another cat, an orange cat with a pink heart-shaped tag on her collar. It was Neko! We had found not one, but both missing cats.

The problem now was freeing them.  From the broken window they must have used to enter the basement to the floor was a long drop. The window was unfastened and swung inward but there was a metal frame dividing it in two.  It wasn’t clear if we could get a ladder through it or if an adult would fit.  We didn’t know how to reach the owners of the house; we don’t even know their names. Beth called the police non-emergency number and they referred her to animal control. She was informed they only come rescue feral cats and as neither cat was feral, they couldn’t help. Next she called Neko’s people, one of whom came over at once to see if it really was Neko. It was.

By this point Beth had left to drive Noah to school.  I showed Neko’s person, Kevin, how the window swings inward and he said, “You know, since the window is already broken, it would only be entering.” I agreed, but said we should wait for Beth to get back.  He went home to change clothes and fetch his fiancée.  Beth got back before he did and we started looking for other points of entry into the house.  I noticed the windows around the corner were much closer to the floor.  We couldn’t open the first one we tried, but the second one was open and covered with wire mesh that looked like it would come off pretty easily. I went inside to get her a hammer and she set to work.

She had it almost off by the time both Neko’s people arrived, Kevin now wearing a sweatshirt that said, “Deny Everything.”  Xander came out with minimal coaxing.  I carried him back into our house and June cried, “Xander in the house!” I hear it was a little harder getting Neko out because she was more spooked but eventually Kevin was able to reach in far enough to pull her out and wrestle her into her carrier with his fiancée’s help.

I had just enough time to pack June’s lunch and get her to the bus stop, where I shared the joyous news with everyone.  When I came back I saw Xander made a quick tour of the house then collapse under the dining room table and fall deeply asleep. Oddly, he didn’t seem ravenous. He’d eaten some food I lowered through the window in a small plastic tub on a string before we got him out of the basement but he didn’t finish it and he didn’t eat again immediately upon getting home. I am still wondering what he ate and drank in the three and half days he was gone.  And how long he was in that house.

We are all happy to have him home, though Matthew was initially angry, as he often is when Xander’s been out of the house for a while. I’m not sure if it’s the strange smells Xander brings back or if he’s mad at him for worrying him. Anyway, there was a lot of hissing yesterday but they have made up enough to sleep on the same bed.

I went for a walk this morning and took down all our Lost Cat signs as well as quite a few of Neko’s.  And this afternoon Beth went to the hardware store to buy wire to cover the broken window because while we probably can’t keep Xander in our house forever, we do want to keep him out of the house next door.

The Great Rooted Bed

We bought a new mattress over President’s Day weekend and I was going to write a valentine to the old one. I was going to tell you how we bought it while I was pregnant with Noah after thirteen years of sleeping on a futon and how my water broke on it, not once but twice, and how I nursed my babies on it and co-slept with them on it.

I had a pretty good title for the post—from the penultimate book of The Odyssey. As Odysseus explains:

There was a branching olive-tree inside our court,
Grown to its full prime, the bole like a column, thickset
Around it I built my bedroom…

He turns the tree trunk into the headboard, making the bed impossible to move. The symbolism is fairly clear, given that Penelope waits for him faithfully for twenty years.

I don’t know if it’s a natural outgrowth of having co-slept with the children until they were each around three years old, but everyone spends a lot of time in our bed.  June comes in to snuggle with us most mornings as early as she’s allowed (six-thirty on weekdays, seven on weekends), I read to both kids on it almost daily, it’s where we gather for our nightly poetry reading, and when the kids are sick enough to spend the day in bed, they are just as likely to spend it in our bed as in their own.  Even though the kids have slept in their own beds for years now, it’s still a family bed. Like Odysseus’s bed, it’s our Great Rooted Bed, more of a family gathering place than anywhere in the house except the dining room table.

I was going to tell you about the last time Noah and I talked on that mattress. I was taking a nap on Monday afternoon (laying down on all those mattresses in the store had made me sleepy) when he interrupted the nap to come in and talk to me about a homework assignment he’d been wrestling with all weekend and after talking it through with me in the darkened room, he finally settled on his thesis statement.

And I was going to tell about the last time June came in for her early morning visit on that mattress yesterday morning, how she was bouncing around on the bed, playing with a balloon she got over the weekend until she settled down long enough for me to read her a story.

I was going to mention how after the kids left for school and before I started to work that same morning, I settled into bed to read Ulysses (my book club’s latest selection) and how in the afternoon the cats came to nap there, even though there was none of the usual sun they love there, as it was a cold, gray, sleety day.

Except those weren’t the last times we did any of those things on that mattress because it’s still here.  Yesterday afternoon, I showed the delivery people to our bedroom and the kids’ room, where they were bringing the new mattress and pillows for us, and new bunky boards for the kids’ beds.

One of them hauled the mattress off the bed and turned it on its side, inspecting it.

“Do you have a problem with bed bugs?” he asked.

I was so surprised I wasn’t even sure I’d heard him right.  “Bed bugs?” I repeated. “No!”

Then he showed me a tiny round black bug he’d removed from the mattress with his thumbnail and informed me that we did indeed have a problem with bed bugs.  He said if they left the mattress with us it would void the warranty and he recommended we delay delivery until after we get the whole house fumigated.  So I sent everything back.

And now we’re considering delaying the purchase of a new mattress, because we paid more than we really intended in the first place, and having an exterminator over is unlikely to be cheap.  We definitely need a new mattress.  The old one is over twelve years old, Beth has back problems, and when I took the cover off to prepare for its departure I noticed there are two depressions where Beth and I sleep.  But since we have to wait anyway, we might do a little comparison shopping or even put the replacement on hold for a while, if the cancellation fee for the mattress we ordered is not prohibitive. Then again we might also stick with our original purchase because when I talked to the customer service representative today and told her we might need to cancel the order because of the cost of fumigation, she suddenly started talking about a discount, which I honestly wasn’t expecting.

I am feeling a little less sentimental about the old mattress now that I know it’s harboring vermin, and now that getting rid of it and procuring a new one is likely to be more work than we anticipated. I suppose it could be a blessing in disguise that we decided to buy a mattress right now because none of us has any bites we’ve noticed. I’m hoping this means the infestation is in its early stages and should be easier to contain.  Having been through a well-established lice infestation fifteen months ago (“A Lousy Birthday” 11/23/11), I can say when it comes to bugs, you want to catch them early. And I have to say it makes me a little uneasy how much the bug the delivery guy showed me looked like a louse, because I think I’d rather have bed bugs than have lice again, but maybe that’s just because I’ve never had bed bugs before.

All day yesterday I kept going back and looking at the bare mattress and box spring, trying to judge whether the little black specks I saw there are dead bugs or just dirt. It was hard to tell. In the dozen or so times I checked I didn’t seen a live bug. But then as Beth and I were putting the mattress cover and the sheets and covers back on the bed I’m pretty sure I saw one on the underside of the mattress cover.

So I’m feeling unsettled, but we’ll take care of the problem and eventually we’ll have a new mattress. It will be new (and bug-free), but our Great Rooted Bed should remain otherwise the same, one of our favorite places to come together as a family.

Not a man on earth, not even at peak strength,
would find it easy to pry it up and shift it.

Lucky Sevens

Saint Patrick’s Day is coming up and like many Americans, I’m part Irish, so maybe I should be expecting some luck. I did find the pot of gold at Capital City Cheesecake Tuesday morning when I dropped in for a cup of coffee and a macaroon while running an errand.  It’s a promotion they’re running.  Find the cardboard cutout of a pot of gold (which moves around the store from day to day) and you get 15-25% off your order, depending on how many people have found it that day. It felt pretty lucky, even though it was, objectively speaking, a rather small windfall. The satisfaction came mainly from the fact that the last time I was in there I couldn’t find the darn thing. A lot of things affect our perception of luck.

I was tagged by Tyfanny of Come What May ( and Teaberry of 04-05-08 ( to do a version of the Seven Random Things meme. Thanks, Tyfanny! Thanks, Teaberry! I’ve done it before, but not for several years so I thought I’d give it another shot. The ironic part is it comes with this Versatile Blogger badge and I’m about to demonstrate my utter lack of versatility by refusing to do it as instructed.  It’s the random part that does not come naturally to me.  I always want my blog posts to hang together, so the last time I did this one, I told what was happening in my life five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty and thirty-five years prior to writing.  This time I decided to play with sevens, or specifically dates with sevens in them, and the idea of luck.  It gives me a couple of the same years as the previous Seven Random Things post, but I will try to say something a little different. (The older post is “Seven Snapshots from My Past,” on 11/16/07 in case you want to read fourteen not-so-random things about me.)

Here goes:

1967: This is an easy one because it’s the year I was born, so that’s clearly the luckiest thing that happened to me that year. I was born in Los Angeles in May of that year to a couple in their mid-twenties, a journalist and a nurse. I was their first child. I don’t remember life in California, as I was two and half when we moved to the East Coast, but we lived near the ocean and I spent a lot of time as a baby and a toddler on the beach.  I think this could be why I feel so profoundly at home there.

1977: I was ten and living in Newtown, Pennsylvania with my parents and six-year-old sister. Some time in the beginning of fifth grade I was lucky enough to become close to the girl who would be my best friend for the next several years, including more than a year after we moved away in eighth grade.  It took me a long time after the move to make new friends, so that friendship was sustaining, a lifeline really.  I used to take the train to visit her for the weekend about once a month. She would come visit me sometimes, too, but not as often.  As an adult and a parent, I’m impressed now with her parents’ generosity in having me as a guest in their house so frequently and for so long.  In retrospect, I don’t think I was grateful enough.

1987: Another easy one.  Late one July evening after a very long and circuitous conversation, I told Beth I’d never had a friendship as intense as ours that didn’t turn romantic. We discussed what might happen if I kissed her.  She said she “wouldn’t mind.” Fortunately, I took this for a coy understatement and an invitation to proceed to the kiss. Later she told me she was being noncommittal, not because she didn’t want the kiss but because she was even more scared than I was. I kissed her. She kissed back. The rest is history.

7/15/91: Exactly four years later, in the bedroom of a B&B in Rehoboth Beach, I asked Beth to by my life partner.  She said yes.  Our commitment ceremony was about six months later.

1997: Finding something lucky about this year is actually kind of a stretch.  Here’s what I wrote about it in a previous blog post:

What I do remember is how miserable I was to be turning thirty.  I was mired in the dissertation-writing process, a year into it and all I’d done was write and rewrite the prospectus four times.  My committee finally and grudgingly allowed me to start on the introduction after the fourth draft, but my confidence was pretty low by that point.  Meanwhile, I’d decided I definitely wanted children a few years earlier but Beth was unsure and between her ambivalence and my academic paralysis, it seemed like it was never going to happen.   I started haunting websites for moms and lurking on pregnancy message boards.  To make matters worse, it was clear by that point that Beth and I were going to fall short of our goal of visiting all fifty states by our tenth anniversary that July.  I felt like my life was going nowhere. (“On Turning Forty,” 5/11/07)

It’s hard for me to even say if getting the prospectus approved that year was lucky or not. I mostly regard my Ph.D as an expensive mistake these days, but I suppose if the committee hadn’t accepted it then I would have spent even longer banging my head against that particular wall, so I guess it will do.

2007: Now here I have to skip right over the birth of my kids because their birthdays have no sevens in them.  That’s the random part, folks.  So, by this time, I had finished the Ph.D, we’d traveled to all fifty states and our family was complete.  Noah was six and June was one.  This was the year I started writing this blog, a project I’d considered for years and one that’s been deeply satisfying to me.  I feel lucky to have an outlet for my urge to write, and lucky that Beth maintains the site for me.

3/7/12: So, what was the luckiest thing that happened to me yesterday?  It was a pretty normal day. I walked June to school because it’s Spirit Week and yesterday’s activity was “Eat Breakfast with Your Teacher” so she needed to be there early.  I did laundry, straightened up the house a little, read Les Miserables for book club, exercised, edited a document about growing hydroponic cucumbers and summarized scientific abstracts about treating goiter with iodine. We went out for pizza because there was a fundraiser for Noah’s school at a Silver Spring pizzeria.  I think the normalcy of the day might actually be the lucky part—having my family, my work and a bit of leisure. That’s luckier than 15% off a cup of coffee any day.

Okay now for the tagging part. There’s no way I can tag fifteen people. I don’t read that many blogs. Seven’s a stretch, as you will see.  I just picked the last seven bloggers who commented on my blog, excluding the blogger who tagged Tyfanny because we don’t want this to get too circular, do we?

  1. My sister Sara, who is not strictly speaking a blogger, because she has no blog…yet. But she sometimes says she might start one.  You can consider yourself tagged in advance, Sara.  And wouldn’t seven random things about yourself be a nice way to introduce yourself to your readers? Or alternately, you could leave me a comment with seven random I may not know about you.
  2. Lesley, from Child Art Retrospective, another inappropriate choice because her blog is professional and not personal.  But I am having fun imagining her list of seven random things she’s learned about art from preschoolers.  Maybe leave it in a comment here?
  3. Allison, at Bibliomania (  At last, an actual blogger who writes about her personal life (and her life of the mind). She’s funny and engaging and her posts often come back to zombies. I count this as a plus.
  4. My good friend Megan at Perpetual Expat (, whom I may have already tagged with this very meme before.  You did resolve to post more often this year, Megan. Here’s your chance.
  5. Jane at Sugar and Puppy Dog Tales (, who just asked for writing prompts.  At your service, Jane.
  6. Swistle, at Swistle. ( A long shot, as I don’t think she does this kind of thing, but you should all go read her blog anyway.  It’s one of my favorites.
  7. Laura, from The Diniwilks ( whose last post is another meme, so either she likes this kind of thing, or she’s meme-ed out. We’ll see.

Go forth and post.  You might even follow the instructions. It’s worth a try.

  1. Add the Versatile Award graphic on your blog post.
  2. Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  3. Share seven random things about yourself.
  4. Nominate fifteen fellow bloggers.
  5. Inform bloggers of their nomination.

Take Me Back to the Water’s Edge

Take me back to the water’s edge
Lay me down on that riverbed
Take me down to the water’s edge
Hold me under for the longest human breath

From “The Water’s Edge” by k.d. lang and Joe Pisapia

I. Eight Lanterns

“Aren’t you even a little bit sad?” I asked June as we walked to school on Wednesday, her very last day of preschool.

“Nope,” she said. And, truly, she did not look even the least bit sad. It was water play day and she was excited by the novelty of going to school in her bathing suit and curious to see what everyone else’s bathing suit would look like. She was in the moment, not at all bagged down by grown-up nostalgia.

The parking lot was covered with the kids’ art portfolios and their paper lanterns for the Lantern Launch. The lanterns are beautiful this year, painted with landscapes and saturated with color.

We walked inside, past the Cottontail Rabbit, who was presenting Lesley with a big potted plant with yellow flowers. In the main classroom the Field Mouse’s mom asked me, “Are you co-oping?”

“No, just lingering,” I answered.

“Don’t look at her,” Lesley advised. “She’s crying.”

I was not crying, but I might have if I’d stayed much longer so after telling June goodbye and talking a little to the Ghost Crab and the Field Cricket about their water day plans (which involved spraying the whole school with water, according to the Cricket), I left.

I had June’s lantern and her portfolio of artwork with me. Once I got home I laid them on the dining room table, but I avoided looking at anything too carefully. I wasn’t ready. I exercised and tried to work, but it was hard to concentrate. I’d hoped to complete a set of abstracts to send off to Sara since I did not anticipate having much time to work on Thursday or Friday and the early part of the weekend would be busy, what with the Lantern Launch on Friday evening and June’s first t-ball practice on Saturday morning. But I only got about half of the remaining work on the set done.

I headed out the door a few minutes early. I wanted to get some pictures of the kids sitting on the steps before anyone was dismissed. So I got there, talked to a few people—‘This is so sad” the Cricket’s mom said—snapped some pictures of the kids, picked up yet more art projects, spare clothes, June’s journal, handwriting workbook, a DVD of her class singing “Carnival of the Tracks” and other miscellaneous things to take home. And then we left. A block away from school June announced, “I need to go potty.”

This actually happens fairly frequently and it usually drives me crazy but that day I didn’t mind turning around and walking back into the school. The Painted Turtle’s mom was presenting Lesley with an umbrella the Turtle had decorated with ribbons hanging from the spokes inside. Each ribbon had a name of a classmate or teacher and small picture representing something about that person. (June’s picture was of food, because she always eats so much at snack.) The Turtle’s mom offered us a ride home and I wasn’t about to say no, as the temperature was 96 degrees and rising.

Before Quiet Time, June wanted to hear a story from her journal about a cat jumping over a fence. I read it to her and she wanted to know if she could take the journal into her room to look at the pictures during Quiet Time. I said sure. I don’t think she looked at it long, though, because when I peeked in on her ten minutes later, she was asleep.

Noah came home around 4:20, crying because he’d gotten a lower than expected grade on his probability game (it was a C). I was taken aback because he usually doesn’t seem to care much about grades and he’s gotten Cs before in this program (though mostly at the beginning of the year, before he had his bearings). I tried to talk him through it but he was unresponsive. Finally I said, “Everything seems worse when it’s hot” and I took him back to my bedroom and turned on the air conditioner. I carried a sleeping June in, too, and started to read from her journal to wake her. Noah listened, too.

It took a while for June to wake up, but by the time I got to the last entry, dictated on Monday, she was wide awake. Here’s how it goes:

“I’m thinking it to be a tornado. The tornado is blowing up all the houses in the whole universe. And the houses—it was even blowing up the aliens in outer space houses. That’s a really strong tornado. And the tornado has earrings. That’s a funny tornado. This is an earring and this is an earring. And a frog didn’t get blown away into the pond and drown. I’m done.”

Both kids laughed and laughed and June said, “Read it again,” So I did and together in the cool air I didn’t cry and Noah didn’t cry and June didn’t cry.

But we’re done. June has two weeks of summer camp at preschool (one next week and one in July) but she’s never going back to the Purple School as a student again. We arrived at the school as a three-person family, needing just a year of preschool for Noah, who we pulled out of the university-affiliated daycare he’d attended for three years when I lost my teaching job. June was on the way, though. I’d been pregnant with her for a month on Noah’s first day of school. When she was born (six weeks early) in March, Lesley made us a baby quilt June slept under for years. Between both kids attending school and after school programs and summer camps there, the school has been a part of our lives for June’s whole life.

So Wednesday night, we had marinated eggplant sandwiches (for the grown-ups) and grape juice (for everyone) to celebrate our time at the Purple School. And Friday afternoon I lined up all the kids’ lanterns– winter solstice lanterns and end-of-year lanterns– on the lawn so I could see what four years at the Purple School looked like. They look beautiful: colorful and diverse and sparkly and a little fragile (June’s first winter solstice lantern got singed when she didn’t hold it upright) and increasingly complex, just like our kids. And by our kids, of course, I mean not just Noah and June but the dozens of classmates they had when they were two and three and four and five.

II. To The Water’s Edge

Between the end of school on Wednesday afternoon and the Lantern Launch on Friday evening, June had a play date with the Ghost Crab and another one with the Ground Beetle and attended the Bobcat’s birthday party so she hadn’t exactly had the chance to get lonesome for her classmates. So for her, at least initially, the Lantern Launch was just another event in the busy social round of this week.

For me, it was more meaningful. I kept thinking of our first Launch, when Noah was five and June was two months old and it poured rain and we huddled under our separate tarps to eat and the preschoolers got restless and emerged to run around in the rain and got soaked. Noah was the Painted Turtle that year. June declined the opportunity to inherit his track, but she did choose one (the Great Blue Heron) from the same team. They were both Water’s Edge kids. In recognition of that I wore the vest I wore to his Lantern Launch (my wedding vest actually) over a long green dress. The vest is blue and green and has various animals on it, one of them a sea turtle. I also wore a pewter necklace with a mother and baby stork. They look a lot like herons. When she saw me dressed June said, “You look beautiful,” and insisted on choosing her own necklace from my necklace basket. She selected an amber bear because she thought it looked like a flower.

For the whole car ride down to Constitution Gardens (, June alternated between asking “Are we there yet?” and complaining about the fact that I’d packed crackers for our picnic dinner when I always pack crackers and she’s getting tired of crackers.

Finally we arrived and spread out the blanket. Before I had the food unpacked, June asked, “Can I have some crackers?”

Becky came over and sat with us, and the Mallard Duck’s family was nearby so we had good company while we ate and waited for the festivities to start. June did not eat much because she kept running off to play with her friends. I didn’t try to stop her. There are a lot of summer birthdays in her class so no doubt she will see most of them again in large groups but the opportunities for them to be all together as a class are numbered.

There were speeches and a lot of presents. Families with four years’ attendance or two years’ service on the board received birdhouses (we got one last year because it was Beth’s second year on the board and there was a one bird house per family limit so we didn’t get one this year). The teachers got gifts from each class, and each class got presents from the teachers. Each student in June’s class received a booklet of their greeting and goodbye poems, which changed every month, a DVD of pictures of the children, and a little oak tree. June loves to plant things (and is always begging to plant the seeds she finds outside or in her food which is why we have three cantaloupe vines in the garden right now). So she was thrilled with the tree. “It’s my very own oak tree!” she exclaimed and she carried it around most of the rest of the evening. June’s class also performed their song “Carnival of the Tracks.”

Then it was time to launch the lanterns. We walked over the bridge to the little island. There were herons (black-crowned herons I think) and a duck with five ducklings and a bunch of geese with one gosling in the water. The water itself was a vivid green; the hundred plus degree weather had done wonders for the algae.

The launch is simplicity itself. We lit the candle inside June’s lantern and set it on the water. Along with all her classmates and the kids in the other classes, she pushed it away from the shore and pulled it back with the string and watched the slight current bob it around until she got tired, pulled it out and handed it to me. I held the wet wooden bottom of the lantern, looking at the glowing candle inside and the colorful paper walls outside. I could not bring myself to blow it out, to be done. Finally Beth leaned over and said, “Is that still lit?” and she blew it out.

We stayed a little while longer, so we could talk to people and June could climb trees. She climbed one tree, in fact, while holding her oak sapling in her hand because she wanted to show the little tree what it would look like when it got bigger. We did not linger, however, because it was close to the kids’ bedtime already and we had a half hour drive home. Shortly after we put the kids to bed, June came padding out of her room. “Some day I want to go back to my school and say goodbye to my teachers,” she said. And this time she did look sad. It’s finally real for her, I thought.

“You’re going back Monday, for camp,” I told her and she went back to bed. But right then, I wanted to be back at the water’s edge, holding my breath, making time stand still.

Anniversaries, Part 2

When my father died it was like a whole library
Had burned down. World without end remember me.

From “World Without End” by Laurie Anderson

This is a picture of my father and me at a block party in Brooklyn during the summer of 1971 or 1972. I was four or five. He was twenty-eight or twenty-nine. I think he looks a little like Cat Stevens and that I look a lot like a certain almost-five year old I know. I have a foggy memory of this party. I remember running around in the street with my friend, a neighbor boy whose father took the picture (and sent it to me last summer) and I remember thinking it was very funny that we were all in the middle of the street because under normal circumstances that’s exactly where your parents are always telling you not to be when you are a small child. It felt delightfully transgressive. I also remember drinking a can of grape soda and just being able to handle the full can by myself and feeling very grown up holding it. Undoubtedly if my father was alive and I could ask him what he remembered about this party, he would have an entirely different set of associations. I wish I knew what they were.

Our memories of the dead are how they live on, but those memories are so frustratingly partial and particular to our own point of view. I asked Noah what he remembered about Dad the other day and he said, “Going out to dinner.” It wasn’t a surprising response. Dad loved good food and he loved going out to eat. I asked Noah whether he remembered going out to eat in New York, when we were visiting Dad or in Maryland, when he was visiting us. He said in New York, which made sense because that was the last time Noah saw Dad, in New York when Noah was six and a half. The last time Dad came to see us was in May 2006, when Noah was five and Dad and my stepmother Ann had come to meet the new granddaughter.

The second picture is from that visit. It was taken in Downtown Silver Spring. I don’t remember precisely what we were doing there. It’s possible we went to get a picture of the silver turtle. There were turtle statues all over suburban Maryland that spring and summer as a public art project. (The terrapin is the mascot of the University of Maryland.) Noah loved them and we took his photograph with around twenty of them. So maybe we went to get the picture, but more likely we were going out to eat and we happened upon it.

I like these pictures together not only because Noah and I are close to the same age in them, but because they were taken in my father’s twenties and sixties, the bookends of his adult life. So much happened in between: most of my life and my sister’s, much of his first and second marriages, the births of his two grandchildren, his whole tenure at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Time and its associated magazines and the website Campaign Desk. That list of relationships and jobs is one way to fill in the middle. Another is to consider how even though he’s gone, in the year since his death there has been a lot in our everyday life that would be familiar to him:

He loved old houses.

And ice cream.

And vacationing at the beach.

And walking in the woods.

He was funny.

And well read.

For a while I was dreading today, the first anniversary of his death, and as it got closer I found I was impatient for it to come, so I could get past it. But a few days ago I decided I could try to make the day a testament to him. Beth joked we should go to the track because that was one of my father’s passions and I actually did some research and found that Laurel Park ( is open this time of year, but on thinking it over I decided an experience that would be new for the kids and possibly over-stimulating wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted a quiet, reflexive day. I thought it should include reading, writing, some alone time for me, coffee,chocolate and a meal out. So that’s what we did.

In the morning I read to both kids (nothing unusual there) and I took a solitary walk by Long Branch creek. We’ve had an unusually cold week and the creek is covered in places with a layer of ice that looks a half-inch thick. The path was snowy and there were brown leaves on the ground. It was suitable locale for elegiac thoughts. It also reminded me of the landscape around the vacation cottage Dad and Ann had on French Creek in Chester County, Pennsylvania when I was in my teens and twenties. From there I went to Starbucks and read the Washington Post magazine while I sipped my latte. (The barista wanted to know where my “little one” was. I am so seldom out and about without her.) We had lunch at Plato’s Diner ( and I got a big slice of chocolate cake for dessert. After lunch, I finished writing this.

I am going to give my sister Sara the last word in this post, or close to it. This is an excerpt from eulogy she gave at his memorial service in April. It was in the section about how he showed his love for us:

You could tell he loved us by his use of pet names. He called me princess. He called my sister angel. I don’t think he ever knew how special that made us feel.

You could tell by the ridiculous little jig he used to perform for Steph and me every other weekend after not having seen us for two weeks. As we descended from the train into the lobby of 30th Street Station, he’d do a funny little dance where he’d shuffle his feet and occasionally kick out his leg, maintaining a completely serious look on his face. When we’d cry “Dad!” in mock embarrassment, he’d look puzzled, and say “What? It’s my happy-to-see-you dance.”

You could tell by the masterful rainbow he painted on the wall of the bedroom that I shared with Steph. As any child knows, you don’t paint a rainbow on a wall for someone unless you love them very, very much.

We loved him, too. And we remember him, each in our own partial and particular way, but no less for that.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he is.

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


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

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

The Second Half: The Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Streets of Baltimore

Well my heart was filled with laughter
When I saw those city lights
She said the prettiest place on earth
Was Baltimore at night

From “The Streets of Baltimore” by Tompall Glaser and Harlan Howard

I had to hold on tight to June’s hand in the parking garage and Beth had to call to Noah to stop and look for passing cars before crossing over to the elevators. We were on our way to visit the Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore ( and they were both giddy with excitement. Noah’s been asking to go to a museum for a long time and when he got a free child’s admission by submitting a code from Tropicana orange juice lids online, we decided instead of going to the Smithsonian as we usually do, we’d venture out to Baltimore.

We’ve been to Port Discovery only once before and that was the day Beth adopted June. The court proceedings were in Baltimore and afterwards we went to the museum and after that we went to the Inner Harbor and celebrated June’s three-month birthday and her adoption with cake. I couldn’t help thinking about that day as we walked through the doors of the museum and later as we passed the infants and toddlers room where June and I had spent most of that museum visit, nursing and playing on the floor mats and watching the giant tubes filled with moving bubbles while Beth took Noah through the exhibits. It was a joyous day.

We might be on the brink of another legal milestone for our family and then again we might not. On Wednesday gay marriage became legal in the District of Columbia. Shortly before this, the Attorney General of Maryland Doug Gansler issued an opinion that Maryland could honor gay marriages performed in other states and then Governor Martin O’Malley signaled his agreement with the opinion. So theoretically, we could hop on a Metro train, get married in the city and have it recognized at home. But of course, gay marriage is never that simple. A member of the state legislature has threatened to have Gansler impeached and the issue will surely end up either in the legislature, in the courts or both. It could be a while before it’s settled and Beth and I have decided we don’t want to do it unless it’s going to stick. We’ve already had a commitment ceremony in front of our friends and family. What we want now is legal recognition and we don’t want to confuse the kids by getting married over and over as the legal sand shifts underneath us. When we do it, we want it to be for good. I keep telling myself it might not happen and if it does, it could be a long time from now and then I go around the house singing, “We’re going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married.”

The museum was fun. We split up because Noah was interested in the exhibits for older kids, such as the Egyptian exhibit and Miss Perception’s Mystery House where you get to solve mysteries. June played with pretend food in the farmer’s market, dressed up in a knight’s tunic (which she said was a princess dress), played an African drum, made her own monster out of cloth pieces that attached to each other with Velcro and played in the Curious George exhibit. She was almost as happy to see the statue of George as if the monkey had been there himself. When we had to leave, she insisted on hugging him and kissing him on the lips. The only exhibit that both kids could enjoy was the three-story metal and rope climbing structure and even then, he went in the big kids’ entrance that allows you to go all the way up and she went in the little kids’ entrance that doesn’t.

When the museum closed at five, we walked to Little Italy for dinner. Noah was crying most of the way because he had not finished the second mystery they started. He claimed there wasn’t time. Beth said he quit because he was too scared to climb through a dark drainpipe to retrieve a clue. June skipped along the sidewalk and offered occasional report: “He’s stopped crying. Now he’s whining.” I lifted her up so she could see a canal as we crossed over it and she spotted a tower in the distance. “A castle,” she exclaimed.

Noah had calmed down by the time we entered the restaurant and he loved the poster in the foyer with illustrations of dozens of kinds of pasta so much he went back to look at it after we were seated. Beth said it was the kind of Italian restaurant they have in Wheeling where they serve you soft white bread and salads made with iceberg lettuce. I knew what she meant. It was like an Italian restaurant in South Philadelphia. Sometimes that’s exactly what you want.

Beth had eggplant parmesan, I had gnocchi, June had rigatoni with tomato sauce and Noah had spaghetti with a butter sauce. He didn’t care for the sauce, but he was happy enough with bread and butter and the side order of broccoli the kids were splitting and every one else dug into their entrees. “Always trust a fat waiter,” the waiter said when Beth and I took his advice and got the chocolate mousse cake for dessert. Our trust was not misplaced.

When we left the restaurant at 6:15, it was still light. I was surprised. It always creeps up on me when the days start to get longer. Since it’s part of our family code not to visit Baltimore without stopping at Vaccaro’s (, we ducked into the bakery for Italian cookies and cannoli to take home. We emerged at 6:25 and it was noticeably darker. We live right on the border of D.C. and I’m often in the city, but rarely after dark, and to be walking through a different city in the dark blue twilight felt like an adventure. June must have felt the same way because she looked up at me and said, “I love this night.”

And walking through the streets of Baltimore, thinking of the day almost four years ago when June became Beth’s and Beth became June’s in the eyes of the law, and thinking of the day when Beth and I can say the same, I loved it, too.

In Memoriam

My father died at 4:15 on Friday afternoon. He passed peacefully in his sleep at his vacation home in Key West. His wife and two close friends were in the room with him. My sister and I did not make it down to Florida in time to see him before he died. I wish we had, but I am relieved that he died without pain, in a place he loved, and surrounded by people who loved him.

I am not going to write an obituary. The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked as an editor from 1972 to 1996, published a fine one ( It’s mostly about his professional achievements, which were many and far-reaching. But of course, when I think of him, I don’t think of him primarily as a brilliant editor—I think of him as my father.

One of the difficult things about his death is that it happened so fast. He was only diagnosed with cancer last summer and after a seven-week regimen of radiation and chemotherapy that ended in early October, it seemed he was in the clear. He died about four weeks after finding out the cancer was back in mid-December.

When I went to see him in New York right after Christmas we talked about the fact that we had not been close. We exchanged apologies and I told him I wanted him to know the kids better. The last time he saw them was over two years ago and he only met June twice—once at two months and once at twenty-one months. (I wrote about that last visit in my 12//27/07 entry.) He said he wanted that too and he invited us to come visit him in Key West, but then his condition deteriorated with such astonishing rapidity that he never did see them. When I was planning my trip to Florida, I kept changing the dates in my mind, pushing them forward from late February to late January to this week and
I considered various groups of us going—all of us, just Noah and me, just Beth and me, and just me. In the end we settled on just me. He wasn’t going to get to know the kids better and they wouldn’t get to know him. It was too late. He was too sick. It just wasn’t going to happen. Even my last-minute plans to have Noah interview Dad about his life or at least to write him a letter never came to fruition. This is the part that really tears me up.

“He got out of the god-damned ice cream line again. That’s what he did,” I told Beth on Friday evening after the kids were finally in bed. My father loved ice cream and I have many fond memories of him taking my sister and me out for ice cream. On one occasion, however—I don’t have any idea how old we were—he got impatient in a long, slow-moving line for soft-serve and we got out of the line and went home. I made a solemn vow to myself at the time that if I ever had kids I would never, ever get out of an ice cream line. I just wouldn’t do it. And I never do. I even use the phrase as shorthand when I’ve made a promise to the kids and something arises to make that promise inconvenient and I fulfill it anyway. To do otherwise would be to get out of the ice cream line. But this time, he didn’t decide to walk away. He was pushed out of that line.

I do find myself angry at times. Why did he smoke for forty-seven years, I wonder? Why didn’t he quit when my sister was seven and left collages of photographs of healthy and diseased lung tissue lying around the house and made him a offer that she’d stop sucking her thumb if he would quit smoking? (I feel compelled to note that she held up her end of the bargain.) And then I find myself irrationally angry at anyone over the age of sixty-six, anyone who has had cancer and beaten it, anyone who smoked and never got cancer. While I was feeling this way on Friday night, I made Noah promise me he would never take up smoking. I didn’t do it in a dramatic way. I just said to him as I was tucking him into bed, “Don’t ever smoke. Just don’t ever do it.” He gave me a solemn, wide-eyed nod.

But these angry feelings are short-lived flashes. Mostly I feel sad. And I have the most unoriginal thoughts sometimes. I eat something, or read a newspaper story and I think he’s never going to eat anything again. He’s never going to read the newspaper again. But why should I have original thoughts about death? Isn’t death the great universal?

So I find myself wondering what it’s okay to do. I was planning to bake a cake on Saturday morning—the spice cake from the recipe we used for our wedding cake. I make it on or around our anniversary every year. But should I? And Beth and I had a date scheduled for Saturday afternoon, our first date in almost a year. Was it wrong to go out and see a movie the day after my father died?

I thought about it and I made the cake. It could even be a sort of tribute to him because of all of our parents, he was the one who was most on board with Beth’s and my relationship in the beginning. His support around the time of the commitment ceremony marked a high point in our relationship. And we went to the movie, too. A few hours away from the kids and alone with Beth seemed like just what I needed. We saw The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and then grabbed a quick dinner at an eco-friendly combination salad bar/frozen yogurt place in Bethesda ( It might seem like seeing a movie about a father-daughter relationship on the day after one’s father has died might be a spectacularly bad idea, but it wasn’t. Parnassus and Valentina did not remind me much of my father or myself. My father never, for instance, made a deal with the devil regarding my soul.

And he left me with some good memories. One of the best ones I already shared on this blog last summer. It was in one of those long beach entries you may just skim through because who but me could possibly want to read so much about the beach? Here it is: “I remember being small, older than June but not by much, riding on my father’s shoulders in the ocean, so deep in that the water sometimes went over his head. He was holding on tight, though, and it never occurred to me to be afraid.”

So now he’s gone, and the condolences are pouring in, and whatever remained undone between us will remain that way forever. I am very glad I got to see him in New York, though, and that we got to make our peace. He told my sister you really find out who loves you when you have cancer and on questioning him further, she found he meant me, among others. It’s something. It has to be enough.