Hot Town, Summer in the Suburbs

The first week back from vacation was difficult. We weren’t at the beach, for one thing, and it was very hot.  The temperature never broke 100 degrees, but it was close, in the high nineties every day from Monday to Friday and stiflingly humid. The heat index hovered between 100 and 110 degrees. At night it was still hot. It was never not hot, and except for the bedrooms our house is not air-conditioned, so editing technical brochures, ferrying June around on public transportation, or cooking dinner I was often out of sorts and at times I envied Beth and the kids their air-conditioned office and camps.

But I didn’t really envy Beth. She was stressed at work– she always is just back from vacation– but with all the Senate negotiations over confirmations of Secretary of Labor and to the National Labor Relations Board, it would have been a challenging week under any circumstances.

Meanwhile, June was at basketball camp at a middle school where the air conditioning was varyingly effective.  Some days I’d walk into the gym in the morning and feel a little relief from the heat, but it would only take a few minutes to realize it was still hot in there, just less hot than outside.  At least they kept June’s age group inside all day except when they took them outside to run through the sprinklers. (The older kids played on the outside courts some of the time.) It was a very active camp, as you might expect. They had drills and played two full games of basketball almost every day. In the end, I think it wore her out, even though she enjoyed it most of the week. On Friday she said she felt tired and didn’t want to go to camp. I kept her home a couple hours to determine if she was sick, but when I decided she wasn’t, I took her to camp late, over her cranky protests.

Her team did very well over the course of the week. Though we left in the middle of the last game so we could get to Noah’s performance on Friday and don’t know how it ended, they were 6 and 2 before that game in the running for the championship of their four-team division, the Big East (which for the first few days of camp June thought was the Biggies—she thought this was funny because the seven-to-nine year olds were the youngest division).

Even Noah, who was at Round House Theatre Camp, which he’s attended since kindergarten and which he loves, was less satisfied with the experience than usual.  He said it was fun, but he’s decided he’s just not that good at improv (this week’s theme). It makes some sense—thinking quick on his feet is not easy for him.

Beth’s and my twenty-sixth anniversary was Monday, but the timing wasn’t good for celebrating, and we’d had dinner together at the beach with Mom and Sara babysitting, and twenty-six is kind of anti-climactic anyway so we exchanged gifts at dinner, ate the cupcakes I picked up that afternoon, and left it at that.

These were the highlights of the week: the kids both started music lessons, Noah performed in an improv demonstration, and June had her second tennis lesson (her first was right before we left for the beach).  We meant to have Noah take drum lessons from the teacher he’s had the past two summers but the teacher wasn’t returning my email or calling me back. This was not particularly surprising, as he was always a bit flaky, which we put up with because he had a way with Noah.  Finally, I found out by contacting a music camp where the instructor used to teach that he’s left town.  Needing to find someone who could give Noah lessons for the rest of the summer, I decided to try the new music school that opened up in Takoma a few months ago.  And while I was at it, I signed June up for violin lessons, because she’s been wanting to do that.

Noah’s first lesson was Monday. I took him so I could meet the teacher, but I didn’t stay and I let him take the bus home himself. He self-dismissed from camp this week, too, which made my days considerably easier logistically. I was taking June to and from camp every day, and picked her up from a play date on Wednesday and took her to and from her violin lesson on Thursday.  I was on at least four buses a day and one day (it was Monday before Noah was authorized to self-dismiss) I was on seven. Noah also helped me out by cooking dinner while June and I were at her violin lesson on Thursday.

The violin lesson was much anticipated.  June’s allowed two activities at a time. This spring I made an exception and let her do three because the running club at her school was practically free (it cost five dollars) and only met for four weeks. But running club, art class, and gymnastics were all long over and until recently we hadn’t signed her up for any summer lessons or classes.  We sometimes don’t because she has day camps half the summer, and that seems like plenty to me, but she really wanted to start violin and tennis and she can be persuasive.

I came in to observe the lesson.  I won’t in the future because June says she would prefer I don’t—“It is a private lesson,” she emphasized to me.  But the teacher encouraged me to come in and I was curious to see what would happen, so I did.  The teacher showed her how to hold the violin and the bow, and she taught her the names of the strings.  Then she had June practice playing each individual string first with the bow, and then plucking them with her fingers.  Next she taught her a simple rhythm, part of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and had her play it.  June seemed to like the teacher and was happy to be playing her instrument at the first lesson.  (We’d told her how when Noah took Suzuki violin lessons as a preschooler he had to practice how to stand and how to hold a fake violin for three months before he was allowed to have a real one.) June’s been good about practicing and is looking forward to her second lesson next week.

Friday was Noah’s improv performance. Despite what he said, I thought he did fine.  He wasn’t the best performer there but he was far from the worst. There were a number of different improv games.  The one he played is called “Random Phrases.”  The players are given a location and two items they need to incorporate into a skit (in this case, a big city, teeth and a lava lamp).  On the floor are several folded pieces of paper. At any point in the action a character can pick up a piece of paper, read what it says and try to make the phrase make sense in context. Noah’s phrase was “my ears are full of cheese.” It was pretty entertaining.  I also liked the skits that start in one film or television genre and then switch to another at a cue from a counselor. So a scene about two children losing their mother in the park can go from horror to war movie to romantic comedy to kung fu, etc.  You get the idea.

After the performance we stopped at the fountain so June could play in it. Noah’s decided he’s too old for this, though in this weather I would have done it in his shoes.  (I considered going in myself, even though there seems to be an unwritten rule about adults not doing this.  Why do kids get all the fun?) Next we had pizza at Zpizza and ice cream at Cold Stone.

Saturday we had a very pleasant day.  It was just a smidge cooler (mid-nineties) and better yet we spent the morning on a series of air-conditioned errands.  Tennis was first.  I missed seeing June’s first lesson because it was the morning we left for the beach and there was packing and chores to do. June missed the second lesson while we were at the beach, so this was the third one, for the group anyway.  The lessons are held in a huge white tent, which contains ten tennis courts. Two had kids’ lessons in progress. Adults were playing games on the others.  Most parents wait in the lobby and that’s what Beth did, but June didn’t seem to mind me and Noah coming to sit on the bench in her court and watch. Maybe that was because it wasn’t a private lesson.

There were eight kids in the group, seven girls and one boy, aged seven to ten.  They lined up and the instructor corrected the way they positioned their feet and held their racquets, for both forehand and backhand. (Later June said backhand was hardest because she missed the initial instruction for that.)  Then he threw two or three tennis balls to each child and gave them pointers.  Once everyone had two turns doing this, he sped things up, having the children run to where they were supposed to hit the ball and throwing it to them faster. Every now and then he’d stop to talk them through problems if they arose. Then he switched back to a slower pace and gave each child up to three tries to hit the ball. This time whenever a child hit the ball his or her turn was over.

The kids’ skill levels were all over the map. June almost always hit the balls the instructor threw but only one went over the net. This put her pretty much in the middle, as some kids sent every ball sailing over the net, and others missed almost every ball. Toward the end of the lesson, June got a bit antsy and started playing air guitar with her racquet while she was in line waiting for her turn, but overall she seemed happy and engaged throughout the lesson.

After a trip to the music store for new drumsticks and a drum key, Office Depot, and Starbucks we headed home. The kids and I watched Oliver! because that’s the musical June’s drama camp is doing next week.  We went out for Mexican because I didn’t feel like cooking dinner. It was a nice way to end a hectic week.

Sunday we had some welcome rain (just some sprinkles really but anything was welcome) and Noah had a three-hour orientation for band camp at the University of Maryland. In addition to percussion, he’s taking electives in world drumming, movie soundtracks, and technology. He was pleased with his assignments, though he’d hoped to get into conducting. Next week we’ll have two performances to attend—selected scenes from Oliver! and a band concert.  I’m looking forward to it.  Also, it’s supposed to be cooler, in the eighties most days. I think it could be a good week.


Before the Blackout

My friend Megan and I had a conversation last week we have multiple times every summer, about how complicated and crazy-making summer is for at-home parents. The main difficulty is that every day is different; there’s no routine. Megan said she recently spent two hours putting together a calendar of day camps and babysitting and appointments just so she could have it all straight. I have a calendar like that, too, just for summer, and even so I still get confused sometimes.

Last week was particularly logistically challenging, or it seemed that way at the time, because June had her first day camp. It was the shortest camp she’s attending this year, at three hours a day, and also the most inconveniently located.  But I signed her up because it was an art camp and she loves art, and because Megan’s daughter Talia was attending, and as June says, “Talia is one of my good friends.” It was fun for her seeing Talia every day and they also had two after-camp play dates, one at Megan’s house and one at a nearby playground. Both girls seemed pretty happy with the arrangements.

Beth drove June to camp three mornings out of five, and Megan pitched in with some rides home and one ride to camp so I only had to take June once and fetch her twice.  I’m grateful to both Beth and Megan for making it possible for me to spend some time with Noah and get a little work done while June was gone in the mornings. If I’d had to take her and bring her home every day I would have spent so much time on buses and at bus stops there would have been no point in my even going home. But with every single day a different transportation plan, I craved consistency.

Adding to this, Beth has also been out of town on business a lot recently, with a four-day trip earlier in the month and a two-day trip last week. These trips are easier than they were when the kids were younger, but of course, we miss her when she’s gone.

So I was feeling unsettled even before the heat wave cum four-day power outage we just experienced.  And I wasn’t the only one. When school let out, June was positively mournful.  She wrote in her diary, “I do not want summer break to be a real ting.” And she drew up a set of instructions she called, “Infermashan you need to be a good student.”  (See photo.) The day we got her summer math packet she completed half of it. I secured five play dates for her in the first few weeks after school ended, but she still missed her friends, especially before she started to go to camp last week.

As for Noah, after a fun week at YaYa’s house, he was casting around trying to remember how to amuse himself when he’s not at school or doing homework all the time. He said he was bored frequently, but he had some interesting projects going: a web site about his travels around West Virginia with YaYa  (they took a lot of road trips), a CD he and June are making of themselves singing, a mystery story they’re writing together along with the script for a movie that’s going to star the Playmobil castle people. I reminded him he has a lot of toys and kits from his birthday and even Christmas he’s never opened so last week  he spent a good bit of one afternoon on the porch breaking open geodes with a hammer.  He spent last Friday at Beth’s office doing data entry for her. (His summer drum lessons started today. It will be good for him to have at least that much structure.)

We also went on couple short family road trips.  Beth and June spent a weekend camping in Western Maryland after they delivered Noah to YaYa. I stayed at home. It was the first time I’d been apart from Beth and the kids overnight since I went to visit my father when he was dying two and a half years ago and the only time I’ve been alone in my own house overnight since Noah was born. I read and gardened and cleaned the house and had dinner at a restaurant alone.  It was a strange feeling, good and bad at the same time.  The next weekend, Beth, and June and I met YaYa and Noah near Blackwater Falls and spent the night.  We stayed at a lodge, and enjoyed one of the hiking trails, and the swimming pool and the falls themselves.

The garden became more established shortly before the power outage, which ended up being a good thing when the power went out because we could eat out of it, at least a little—tomatoes, basil, cucumbers and broccoli are all edible.  We finally planted lettuce and carrots several weeks ago and they are coming up, though too small to pick. There’s also a cute little yellow pumpkin the size of an apricot. We’re having more trouble with flowers than we usually do.  The sunflowers and zinnias for the most part either didn’t germinate or were eaten by slugs or died after being transplanted to the garden right before the first heat wave of the summer a couple week ago.  Not a single sunflower and only two zinnias survived out of around forty seeds planted. We do have some black-eyed Susans and bachelor buttons in the flower bed.

We are either going to have a really good year for tomatoes or a really bad one.  We triumphed over the white flies and the plants are laden with more green and yellow and orange fruit than we usually have this time of year, but all four of them have early blight.  I’ve been pruning the diseased branches but it’s not clear if I can get all the fungus before the plants die from excessive foliage loss.  Oh, and the squirrels are eating the tomatoes, too. I picked what I thought were around ten almost ripe cherry tomatoes last week to save them from the thieving rodents. They were so soft I tried one, and it was perfect– sweet, tart and juicy, so now I think we may have planted an orange variety and not a red one.  We had them on pasta salad that night and when Beth tried her first one she gasped a little. They were that good.


It was Friday night that the power went out. Fierce storms were predicted, a kind of storm I’d never heard of, actually, a derecho. The name comes from the Spanish word that means straight, because it travels in a straight line. This seems ironic to me because what it did was take our routine, which already felt wobbly, and throw it into crazy loops, nothing straight about it.

The D.C. region is served by a power company with a truly wretched reliability record so I had reason to expect we’d lose power that night. I didn’t expect it to be out for four days. The really fun part was that the power outage coincided with a heat wave, our second one in two weeks.  Friday was a steamy and record-breaking 104 degrees.  Saturday was only a few degrees cooler and it’s continued in the mid to high nineties ever since. In fact, we are poised to break the record for most consecutive days with a high temperature of 95 or higher in Washington, DC tomorrow.

Sleeping was a challenge.  We put a futon on the floor for Noah so he wouldn’t have to sleep on his top bunk and we eschewed pajamas.  (June was so entranced by the idea she could sleep in just her underpants that she may never wear pajamas again.)  The first night was just awful, none of us got much sleep at all, but even though it was only a little cooler the next night, we either adjusted or were too tired to stay awake and we slept better.  June did wake up in the middle of the night every night, though, and we let her sleep in our bed with Beth (I went to sleep in hers) when she did.

Eating was a challenge, too.  We had to throw out most of what we had in the refrigerator and freezer. The first two nights we ate dinner out, but Monday I made pasta (we have a gas stove) and served it with garden produce. Then on Tuesday, Beth picked up peach gazpacho at Souper Girl on her way home from work, and the kids and I visited the Latino market near our house where we bought an avocado, some mangoes and frozen pupusas and a bag of ice, which I used to fashion a makeshift icebox out of our biggest cooler. Beth went to the 7-11 for milk Monday and Tuesday morning and we went to Starbucks every day, not only for the chance to drink an iced beverage, but to sit in the air conditioning for a while. We’d camp there, playing cards and reading.

We also enjoyed the air-conditioning at the community center on Saturday morning when we all went to watch June test for her white belt in Kung Fu.  I was concerned her fatigue might affect her performance, especially when she had trouble with the concentration exercise at the beginning of class.  The students sit on the floor with their eyes closed while the instructor drops two coins near them and they have to reach out and find them. Once she was warmed up, though, she was fine.  There was a boy from her class also testing for his white belt and he went first, and passed, and it was June’s turn. She demonstrated the first four forms and the teacher tied the sash around her waist and they bowed to one another.  She looked radiantly happy.  The instructor said he knew she’d do well because “this is business to you,” approving words from a rather stern teacher.

Then it was time to watch a teenage boy from the advanced class test for his green belt.  At this level the moves are much faster.  The boy was nervous but he was also quick, flexible and strong. I was sitting behind June but I could see her face in the mirror as she watched him with rapt attention. Her mouth hung open a few times in pure admiration. I think one of the things June likes about Kung Fu is the orderly progression of the belts and that you have to earn them. It isn’t like soccer where everyone gets a medal at the end of the season.  You don’t test for a belt until the instructor thinks you’re ready and not everyone passes.  June saw a boy test for his yellow belt and fail in the spring. (He passed the next week.)

I was unable to work Monday or Tuesday because the power was out at June’s old preschool where she was supposed to attend camp. They re-opened on Tuesday morning but we still didn’t have power and the notebook computer Beth generously lent me wasn’t getting a good Internet connection.  Even though I didn’t work it was nice to have some semblance of routine on Tuesday and June was delighted to go to camp with more than a third of her old class (even though I did misremember the opening time and drop her off a half hour late). I am a creature of habit. That’s why summer, even under normal circumstances is difficult for me and that’s why I turned down my mother’s kind invitation to come up to Pennsylvania and stay with them. We didn’t know when the power would come back and I wanted to everyone to get back to camp and work and normalcy as soon as we could.

The power outage wasn’t all bad, though, especially the first two days. We spent a little more time than usual together, seeking air-conditioned places and eating out. Partially deprived of television and the computer—we do have some battery operated electronic devices—the kids were forced to find other ways to amuse themselves. They designed and played a series of board games (we took June’s first one to Starbucks to play it and I was impressed that it does in fact work, even though it’s very simple).

After the Blackout

Then Tuesday night the power finally came back and we could do dishes and laundry and turn on the fans and the air-conditioning and drink ice water and life was better. Wednesday was the fourth of July.  In the morning we attended Takoma’s quirky little parade and in the afternoon Beth went grocery shopping and I worked for a couple hours before our backyard picnic of veggie dogs, baked beans, corn on the cob, watermelon and limeade.

That night Beth and Noah went to the fireworks.  Because I am the strictest mother on the planet when it comes to bedtime, it’s the first time Noah’s ever seen fireworks. But I had to let him stay up past his bedtime sometime and it seemed like the right year.  When he came home he said it was louder than he expected and that he didn’t realize the fireworks would “light everything up” the way they did.  Beth snapped a picture of his illuminated face, watching his first firework display. I think she was as happy to go as he was.  I suppose a little deviation from the routine isn’t the worst thing in the world.  Maybe that’s the lesson of the derecho.  Let it be said, though, it’s not a lesson I want to review any time soon.

Two Weekends

I had a long week and Beth did, too. She had to work late on Thursday night and will be working this weekend, too. It seems like a good time to reflect on the past two weekends. They were very different from each other but each charming in its own way.

Two weekends ago, Beth and I dropped the kids off at my mother and stepfather’s house, had pizza with them, and then and headed for a hotel in nearby Chester County. The original plan was for Mom and Jim to take the kids to Sesame Place on Saturday but that weekend was during the heat wave so after Mom and I conferred, she decided to take them to the Please Touch Museum ( instead.

Beth and I went out for ice cream at Friendly’s on our way to the hotel Friday night in order to establish a festive mood. Saturday we spent the morning at the Brandywine River Museum (, a museum mostly dedicated the works of N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. I’ve been to this museum several times, mostly as a kid, but I’d never done the tour of N.C. Wyeth’s house and studio before ( probably because until 1994 there were Wyeths still living in the house, so that was fun. I especially liked seeing the studio. It’s a beautiful space with huge windows, a mural up on the wall and props all around. When you’re in there it feels as if N.C. has just stepped out, even though he died in 1945.

In the museum I was particularly charmed by “In a Dream I Meet General Washington” ( in the N.C. Wyeth collection. Click on the thumbnail. It will enlarge. I also liked “Evening at Kuerners” in the Andrew Wyeth Gallery ( It was nice to stroll through a museum at my own pace, having time to look at the art and actually read the captions as well.

For lunch we headed to Kennet Square, mushroom capital of the world. We decided we’d have mushrooms at every lunch and dinner during our stay. We began fulfilling this pledge by ordering friend mushrooms and a Portobello salad, along with a Brie, pecan and blueberry plate. We browsed in a few shops, spending the most time in a used bookstore. I emerged with a book of Chester County ghost stories, for Noah (but I read it before I gave it to him) and a trio of Agatha Christie novels. After visiting an ice cream parlor, we headed back to the hotel, where we read without interruption for the rest of the afternoon. Before the weekend was out I had finished the ghost story book and started on one of the mysteries I was meaning to save for the beach. (Just for context, I should mention that I just last week finished a short story collection I started in May. It was a long one, but still, the point is I don’t get to read much in the summer.)

We dined at the Kennett Square Inn, a nineteenth-century inn that’s allegedly haunted ( I read about it in the book, but the ghost was also mentioned on the back of the menu. We didn’t see her (she’s a Colonial-era girl), but we did hear fellow diners wondering if they’d see her. Even without supernatural enhancement, we enjoyed our meal. (I had mushroom ravioli and crème brulee.)

The countryside around Chadd’s Ford is pretty (there’s a reason those Wyeths settled here) and there were a number of parks and gardens nearby but the heat was still withering, so we spent Sunday morning reading, first in the room, then at a Starbucks (the local coffeehouse I wanted to try was closed Sundays) and then we had an early lunch (mushroom quiche for me) and headed back to Mom’s to pick up the kids. June showed us the German porcelain doll Mom bought her on her recent trip to Europe. Noah looked up some German names for her online and June named her Ursula. Ursula has zipped right past Ella and Violet and is now June’s favorite doll.

We had a brief visit with my friend Pam before driving home. Pam and I went to high school together and now she lives in England and teaches at the University of Sussex. During the past year she has been living with her husband and two kids in her childhood home, and trying to sell it, as her parents have moved. We caught them a week before they were going to fly back to the U.K. We ate leftovers from the goodbye party they’d hosted the day before, chatted and watched the kids play in the sprinkler. And then we drove home.

The following weekend we set aside both afternoons to take each of the kids to a movie alone. On Saturday, Noah went over to Sasha’s while we took June to see Winnie the Pooh. She loved it. She loved going to the movies with both moms and no brother. “It’s my special day,” she kept announcing. And she loved being in a big theater with her own bag of popcorn (she ate the whole thing!) and she loved the film itself. She kept talking excitedly about what was going on and laughing at the jokes. Her favorite part was when Pooh’s stuffing was coming out, she said later. A week later she seems to remember the plot pretty well. Today she drew a series of pictures of Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Roo and the Backson in various scenes from the movie and taped them together into a book.

It’s so hard to find an innocent kids’ movie that’s not too scary or full of snarky jokes these days that I really appreciated it. And I think a lot of parents did, too. Beth said it’s doing very well at the box office. Among my own circle of friends, the Mallard Duck’s mom recently wrote a blog post about seeing Winnie the Pooh with her daughter that’s worth reading. She captured exactly what I felt about it ( Also, I realize this is a bit meta, because she links to me in this post, but bear with me and read it.

Sunday, we left June with a sitter and went to see Time Bandits at AFI ( with Noah. Noah didn’t exclaim about it being his special day, but still it was nice to have the chance to focus on him without the competing chatter of his little sister. I saw Time Bandits thirty years ago when it came out in theaters at least twice. I remembered loving it but not a lot of detail about the plot. I was just a little nervous about it for Noah because of the fuzziness of my memory and because I was fourteen, and not ten, when I saw it. It was rated PG, but it was made in the days before PG-13, when that rating covered a wider range of material.

As it turned out, it was just at his level in terms of action. The violence was comparable to the Chronicles of Narnia films we’ve watched at home and I think the very mild sexual innuendo probably went over his head. He loved most of the humor. I think he missed a few jokes, but the line “So that’s what an invisible barrier looks like,” made him guffaw and he also liked the part where Evil blows up a one of his minions for asking an impertinent question and then concedes, “Good question,” and goes on to answer it. I don’t think Noah’s ready for Monty Python yet ( it’s both racier and gorier) but it made me look forward to when he is.

As different as the weekends were, I think what I liked about them was the same thing. We were split up in unusual combinations. Beth and I don’t make enough time for dates and alone time, or rather, we resolve to and then we do and I really enjoy it and then we slip out of the habit. That’s the pattern, so a weekend alone was a nice luxury. Thanks, Mom and Jim! We also don’t have a lot of two-parent-one-child time with either of the kids and I think that’s important, too. As easy as it is to get bogged down in the hassles of day to day life, every so often I find myself thinking of the light coming through N.C. Wyeth’s studio windows and I know Winnie the Pooh’s adventure with the Backson is still reverberating in June’s imagination. I think these two weekends did us all good.

From Daylillies to Sunflowers

The pink daylilies in our front yard stared blooming last week and peaked a few days ago. It was a week or two earlier than usual. I think they were spurred on by a heat wave that included two or three days of temperatures over one hundred degrees. I was happy to see the lilies, so exuberant on their tall, fragile stems, because they always signal to me that we’re turning the corner and the end of summer, or summer break at least, is within sight. And I needed that reassurance because just around the time they bloomed we were heading into three weeks of no camp for either kid and I was teetering between dread and an optimistic I-can-do-this sort of attitude.

Both kids’ camps were front-loaded this summer. June’s all finished and Noah has just one week left at the end of August. We’re going to the beach the week before that, but before that I need to get through the next two weeks. The first no-camp week is over and done. It was an irregular kind of week. Here’s how it went:

I needed to hire babysitters for June on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings so I could write an article and finish up some other work. Thursday I had jury duty so Beth stayed home and watched the kids. Friday Beth took Noah with her to work. As a result, Monday was the only day I was alone with both kids all day. That day I was up for the challenge. The weather had cooled down some, so we took advantage of the break in the heat to take a walk in the morning and Noah and I mowed the lawn and did some housecleaning, too. It was a pleasant, productive day.

That morning I instituted a new no-fighting behavior chart for the kids. To help get them invested in it, I asked them to design the chart. It had ten spaces for mornings and afternoons, Monday to Friday. I told them if they refrained from fighting in six out of the ten time blocks, we could go out for ice cream after dinner on Friday, and if they got eight stickers there would be an additional, unspecified, reward. They nearly got into an argument while they were making the chart and then again over who would affix the first sticker. But time and time again, I watched them pull themselves back from the brink of arguments, sometimes on their own and sometimes because I had observed mildly, “This is starting to sound like an argument.” I awarded them stickers for four mornings when they spent barely any time together because June was with a sitter or on a play date or Noah was with Beth at work. As long as they did not argue during the little slivers of time they had together, it was good enough. The two biggest fights were on Monday and Tuesday afternoons and they were virtually identical. June got into Noah’s personal space. He asked her to move and she didn’t. He pushed her away and she came crying to me. The second time I exclaimed brightly about how illuminating the chart system was because now they knew what not to do. It was unclear if they were listening to me. But maybe they were: the final count was seven stickers.

Friday was probably the most challenging day, even though the kids were separated and I didn’t have to play referee. Because I’d had jury duty the day before and didn’t know when it would end, I had made no plans. I thought about seeing if Mr. Gabe ( was performing at Capital City Cheesecake, as he used to every other Friday morning but it seems that show was discontinued several months ago. I tried for a last-minute play date with five or six different kids, but I came away empty-handed, and by the time I’d waited long enough to be sure the last few people were not going to answer my calls, it was too late to try going to a swimming pool, which I’d considered earlier in the day. June wanted to go to Starbucks, but it was very hot again—104—and I just wasn’t up for the walk.

So June and I stayed in the bedrooms, where it’s air-conditioned, for as much of the day as we could. We read all sixteen stories in Richard Scarry’s Favorite Storybook Ever ( As I read, I reflected that while I like Richard Scarry quite a bit, I’ve read this particular tome many, many times over the past seven or eight years and if we were going to have a marathon reading session, I’d like something fresher. I glanced at the bookshelf and picked three books I’ve never read to June: a collection of Raggedy Ann stories that used to belong to YaYa when she was a little girl, Stuart Little and Little House in the Big Woods. She chose Little House. At first it seemed like she wasn’t paying attention and I thought we wouldn’t make it very far, but she kept asking for another chapter and we read more than half of it over the course of the day. In between she watched television, played some games on the PBS Kids website (, drew, and took a two hour, twenty minute nap. She never got out of her pajamas.

She did brave the yard a couple times in order to ride her bouncy pony and at various points she was wearing a sweater (!), a tiara, a beaded necklace and a purple satin cape because the game she was playing required it. While I was in the garden picking lettuce, I let her slip under the netting and eat cherry tomatoes right off the plant.

When Beth and Noah got home, we ate frozen pizza, mozzarella sticks and salad. Our tomatoes are all ripening at once so it was more like a tomato and cucumber salad on a thin bed of lettuce. Then Beth and June went to go buy ice cream and toppings from the 7-Eleven (June got to choose the ice cream source this week) while Noah and I squeezed in some Harry Potter. We’re up to Book 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Noah wanted to read two chapters and both kids needed baths so it was the kind of evening that feels like a race against bedtime.

Next week will be busy, too: Noah has his psychological evaluation on Monday and Friday and I will need to run him up to Silver Spring and back. Wednesday June has a music class and Noah has a drum lesson. Thursday they both have pediatrician visits. We’re going to spend a lot of time on public transportation so the week will be its own kind of challenging.

While June and I were in the garden Friday afternoon, I noticed that the tallest sunflower had bloomed. We grew sunflowers for the first time when Noah was a toddler and I had initially hoped to harvest the seeds. Now I think of them as decorative birdfeeders and they do draw yellow finches to the yard. I think these might be our tallest ones yet. Beth commented when I showed her the flower today that it’s satisfying to grow something so huge from a tiny seed. It feels like an accomplishment, like sending off an article and a set of abstracts on a no-camp week, like getting through the no-camp week with everyone getting along well enough for a sweet, cold treat at the end.

Dog Days – Postscript

Yesterday at 12:05 p.m., the temperature reached 102 degrees, breaking a record set in 1930. (
Somehow I don’t feel like breaking out the confetti and champagne glasses.

This afternoon, around 1:15, as I was putting June down for her nap, I noticed it was very dark in the room and I could see tree branches whipping around outside in the wind. At 2:00 p.m., just as I was getting ready to pick up Noah at drama camp, it started to rain. June, who had been awakened from her nap, snuggled sleepily against my chest as we waited at the bus stop. The rain felt cool on my bare toes and made a pleasant tapping sound on the top of the umbrella. By the time we arrived in Silver Spring, it had stopped. It was still windy so it was hard to tell how much cooler it really was. We were a bit early so we headed for the turf. For the first time ever, June and I were the only people there. I watched June wander around its eerily empty expanse.

Back home, I checked the thermometer. Inside it was 88 degrees; outside 84 degrees. Noah insisted on staying inside and playing computer games in the study, the hottest room in the house (its windows are painted shut). Meanwhile, I changed June into her bathing suit, made myself a glass of lemonade and we hit the back yard. She amused herself climbing on top of the sandbox as I filled the wading pool. After fifteen minutes or so, Noah appeared in the back door, wanting to know if I’d read Through the Looking Glass to him. I read the chapter in which the Queen turns into a sheep and started the Humpty Dumpty chapter, soaking my feet in the pool. The air was warm, but not too hot. Not too hot at all. I could get used to this.

Dog Days

Definition: These are the hottest and most unhealthy days of the year. Also known as Canicular Days, the name derives from the Dog Star, Sirius. The traditional timing of Dog Days is the 40 days beginning July 3 and ending August 11, coinciding with the heliacal (at sunrise) rising of Sirius.

From the Farmer’s Almanac (

Last week while walking to the grocery store to restock on orange juice and ice cream, Noah and I noticed the tar used to repair the spider’s web of cracks in the street was darker than usual as it softened in the sun. I stuck my finger into it to show him how it gave. He tried it, too, marveling that the street was actually melting before our eyes.

The dog days are here.

The ice in my iced tea vanishes before I can finish the glass. Unless June’s been bathed in the past two hours, her hair smells vinegary with sweat. Today’s high is 98 degrees. Has it been like this a week? Two weeks? Surely not, but it feels like it. It doesn’t get much below the high 70s at night any more so by 7:30 one recent morning as we were sitting at the breakfast table, I realized it was already too hot. For days and days now it’s never not been too hot. Beth escaped for several days on a business trip to Chicago, where she reports it’s just as hot, but not nearly as humid.

All Noah’s play dates this summer have ended with Noah and his guest spraying each other with the garden hose, but when Maxine came over last Friday, this activity went on and on until the whole parched yard, the prickly grass, the patio furniture, the silver maple’s trunk and the rough unpainted fence planks were all dripping.

Last night it was too hot to do anything but retreat to our bedroom, the only air-conditioned room in the house. Beth read Noah the Tweedledee and Tweedledum chapter of Through the Looking Glass and I read June about a dozen picture books, some of them multiple times. It was hard to focus on the words I was reading as the words Beth was reading intertwined with them in my head. It got especially bad as I read a Robert Louis Stevenson poem about rain while Alice, Tweedledee and Tweedledum discussed the possibility of rain in the Looking Glass world. It sounded something like this:

The rain is raining all around,

“At any rate I’d better be getting out of the wood, for really it’s coming on very dark. Do you think it’s going to rain?”

It falls on field and tree,

Tweedledee spread a large umbrella over himself and his brother and looked up into it. “No, I don’t think it is,” he said. “At least– not under here. Nohow.”

It rains on the umbrellas here,

“But may it rain outside?”

And on the ships at sea.

“It may– if it chooses,” said Tweedledee. “We’ve no objection. Contrariwise.”

Why doesn’t it rain here, I thought, a good hard rain that would clean out this awful, heavy, sticky air? I’ve no objection. Contrariwise.

We are just past the midpoint of summer meteorologically speaking. Still, I can the see the end of summer from here. It gets dark earlier in the evenings and stays dark later in the mornings. The pink day lilies, the last flowers in our front yard’s procession that starts with crocuses in February or March, are in bloom, and some of them are already wilted. Noah started his last camp (drama) yesterday. School starts in less than three weeks. And as if to drive in the point, we received a catalog of Halloween costumes in the mail today.

It’s been a good summer so far. June is talking up a storm, sometimes stringing together two word phrases such as “No apple!” “Mo dis” (More of this please) or “Go walk” (Let’s go for a walk!). And she recently started sleeping apart from us in a toddler bed for naps and for the first few hours of the night. Noah started swimming lessons at the Y a couple weeks ago and is doing well in them. His tantrums, which surprised us so much this spring, ended abruptly a week or two after school let out. We haven’t had a single complaint about his behavior at any of the camps he’s attended, only warm words from the counselors about how funny, smart, sweet and enthusiastic he is. It makes me hopeful about first grade.

Meanwhile we still have a few weeks before the school bus stops at our corner, a few more weeks to splash in the wading pool in the afternoons and eat popsicles on the porch in the evenings. A few more weeks to cajole Noah into finishing the mounds of summer homework he still has to complete. (And what’s up with that? I didn’t have summer homework until middle school.) We’ll spend the last week of his summer vacation at the beach. And according to the weather page in today’s paper, it’s ten degrees cooler there.