Spring Break Trilogy: Part I, Before the Beach

Not since Noah was in kindergarten and in trouble all the time at school have I been so ready for his spring break. Noah’s not in trouble now, quite the contrary, he’s happy at school and recently brought home his best report card of the year (7 As and 2 Bs). But he’s been working so hard that he really needs some down time. He’s got homework, of course, but not much more than a normal weekend, which means he can spread it out over the course of the two weekends that bracket his vacation and keep the five days in the middle homework free. During that time, we’re going to Rehoboth for three days. Here’s how we spent the first three days of break, before the beach:

Day 1: Saturday
The first part of the plan for Saturday was to go to the Smithsonian (Air and Space) to meet a friend of mine from high school who is in town briefly. She was traveling from the Philadelphia area with her husband and son and needed to swing into the Virginia suburbs to pick up her nephew. But almost nothing on Saturday went exactly according to plan.

To make a long story (involving heavy rain, traffic and a broken cell phone) short, I will just say we cancelled around 11:20 when we discovered that Regina and her family, who’d hoped to be at the museum by noon, were only as far as Aberdeen. Since everyone was geared up to leave the house and we had a broken cell phone (mine) on our hands, Beth proposed we go to the AT&T store in Silver Spring, out to lunch at Noodles & Company (Noah’s favorite chair restaurant) and then to Starbucks. A good plan, with something in it for everyone, I thought, so we went, got the phone fixed and ate lunch.

Returning to the car after lunch Noah asked, “Why are those lights on?” He was referring to the taillights of our car.

“Oh no!” Beth said and explained to Noah that the battery of the car might dead.

“We’re having a bad day,” Noah observed. Beth agreed.

Before she even checked to see if the car would start Beth was saying it would be okay if it didn’t. I could take the kids home on a bus and she would call someone to fix the car and cancel the presentation on text messaging she was supposed to be making in the city very soon. Whenever Beth says it will be okay and calmly outlines alternate plans, it’s a good sign she’s panicking inwardly, so it was a relief when the car started up fine. Beth drove us home and left for her presentation.

When we’d left, June was already pretty wet from playing outside in the rain while Beth had been trying to fix my phone and Regina and I were exchanging calls and changing plans, so by the time we got home, she was chilled and wanted a warm bath. It was unorthodox timing, but it seemed like a good way to get her warmed up and it would clear some evening time in case we managed to connect with Regina during the evening, so I went ahead and ran her a bath. Once she was clean and dry, she had her Quiet Time. Toward the end of it I started getting things ready for her lemonade stand.

Yes, that lemonade stand, the one that was the reward for being fully potty trained. June needed to be accident free for seven consecutive days and the previous Tuesday had been the seventh day. When I asked her if she would like to do it immediately or wait for warmer weather, she said as soon as possible. So we picked the first weekend day, even though cold and rainy weather was predicted. We have a roomy front porch. I figured we could set it up there and I was not expecting much foot traffic anyway. I posted it as an event on Facebook, sent out an invitation on the listserv for her preschool class, emailed a couple friends, and for good measure put up a few signs at Ride-on and school bus stops near our house. Noah made a fancier sign that he put on one of the pillars of the porch. (He would have made all the signs, but I wanted them up by Thursday night so they’d be there during the morning and evening commutes on Friday and he had too much homework to finish his sign until Saturday morning.)

Once June was awake, she and Noah started helping with preparations. I cleared everything off the round table we keep on the porch and cleaned and dried some plastic patio chairs and brought them up onto the porch along with a metal folding chair from inside. June selected a sheet with a Noah’s ark pattern to drape over the table. We brought out some quarters to make change and a collection of paper cups in many designs left over from birthday parties past. We made a pitcher of lemonade. I put a teakettle on a low boil in the kitchen and selected a few varieties of tea to display on the table because it really was quite chilly and I thought some of the adults might prefer hot tea.

Then it was 4:20, forty minutes before our advertised opening time, and we were all ready. June was so eager to get started that she wanted to start sitting at the table, but this didn’t seem like a good plan, so after an aborted attempt at thawing some cookie dough to bake into cookies for the stand (the dough didn’t thaw fast enough), we settled on reading Catwings books (http://hem.passagen.se/peson42/lgw/books/b_catwings.html) until show time. We finished the third one and then brought the fourth one out onto the porch.

Beth got home from her meeting around 4:55 and found us sitting outside. She asked if she could buy a cup of lemonade but June said family would have to wait until all other customers were served. There were no other customers in evidence, but Beth agreed to wait. At almost exactly 5:00, there was a terrific crack of thunder and June bolted inside the house. It was raining hard and there was a severe thunderstorm warning and, just for fun, a tornado warning, too. Beth started to talk to June about this, to prepare her for the idea that she might not get the turnout she was anticipating.

June looked stricken. “Do you think no-one will come?” she asked. We said we didn’t know. Beth promised her she could have another lemonade stand some other day if no one did.

We resumed our posts outside. I picked up the book and started to read. And then around 5:10, I saw a familiar red Prius with an Obama bumper sticker pull into our driveway. Noah ran out into the rain to greet the Mallard Duck and her mother and toddler brother.

“You’re a good friend,” I called to the Duck’s mom from the porch.

“It was so hot and I was getting thirsty for lemonade,” she said.

And then Lesley arrived and the Ground Beetle and her father and brother and soon we had quite a little crowd drinking lemonade on the shelter of the porch and watching the rain. Some people even had seconds. I made a second pitcher around 5:20 and then a woman who grew up in the same small Bucks County town where I lived from age nine to thirteen and whose mother is still a good friend of my mother’s was walking down the sidewalk with her daughter. She’d seen the announcement on Facebook and as she happened to be in our neck of the woods that day, she decided to drop in on us. And then the Toad’s father came by solo, even though his kids were at their grandparents’ house for the weekend. Finally, at 5:55, Andrea came with one of her daughters. I made her a cup of green tea and she took some lemonade to go and after she left, it was past our closing time of six so we started clearing off the table.

June was thrilled to see each new customer arrive and she made change more or less correctly (we’d practiced) and was quite satisfied with the whole experience. She cleared three dollars in profit. I felt grateful to everyone who’d come to drink lemonade in a thunderstorm just to make June happy. Though no one mentioned it, most of the customers knew why she had the stand. I will miss the community of her school terribly when her final year there ends in less than two months.

It turns out Noah was wrong. It wasn’t such a bad day after all.

Day 2: Sunday
And as if one Facebook-initiated meeting with some one I had not seen in twenty-five years was not enough for one weekend, we met up with Regina and her family for dinner Sunday night. Since they were on their way back to the Philadelphia suburbs and June had her swim lesson at the University of Maryland, I picked a diner in College Park where we met for an early dinner. We ate and talked about family and work and mutual friends and travel and children’s books and all manner of things. Regina is friendly and gregarious and Noah responded well to Beth’s coaching about interacting with people he’d just met and June remembered not to mention that meat comes from dead animals when Regina’s family ordered meat and we got desert to go and sent them on their way north. It was a fun time.

Day 3: Monday
Monday morning started off like a normal Monday. Instead of taking Noah to his bus stop Beth took him to Round House’s Theatre’s spring break drama camp, but they left at the same time they usually do. So after June watched an hour of television (The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That and Dinosaur Train), we took our usual Monday morning stroll. Because we didn’t need to get home by eleven for an early lunch and school (which starts at noon), the walk was a long meandering affair. We went as far as the Langely Park post office, where I mailed a packet of newsletter clippings to Sara and then we headed for Long Branch creek.

I watched June scramble down muddy embankments and balance on fallen trees, singing a little song to herself. “I’m not the girl you think I am. I am strong. I am brave,” over and over. I wondered who the “you” in her song was, but I thought if I asked her she’d become self-conscious and stop singing.

Eventually she got down to the water and started pulling rocks out of the creek and handing them to me. She was pretending she was a mother fishing and I was her daughter watching. The rocks were slimy with creek muck and pretty convincing as fish, if you used your imagination. I lined them up on a log and we counted them, first in English and then in Spanish. When I said it was time to go, June was reluctant.

That afternoon, shortly before it was time to go to Silver Spring and fetch Noah I got a call from the Field Cricket’s mom, inviting June over. So instead of spending from three-ten until forty-thirty standing at bus stops and riding on buses with me, June got to build a fort and play in the Cricket’s sandbox. It seemed like a pretty good deal.

Noah and I were on the porch reading The Sea of Monsters when the Cricket, his mom and little sister delivered June back to us. Noah came running down the sidewalk to greet her. “We’re going to the beach tomorrow!” he cried. June relayed the same information to the Cricket’s mom.

“We’re going to the dentist,” Noah added, sounded glum.

“We’re going to the dentist!” June sounded much more excited.

Noah hasn’t been to the dentist in longer than I will tell you and June’s never been. She likes new things and she’s almost as excited about her appointment as our trip to the beach. I hope both experiences like up to her expectations.

Light She Was and Like a Fairy

Light she was and like a fairy,
And her shoes were number nine,
Herring boxes, without topses,
Sandals were for Clementine

From “Oh my Darling, Clementine” by Percy Montrose

On Thursday evening I was lying in June’s bed, singing to her. I was just starting my second round of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.” Instead of the actual lyrics, I have always sung my children’s first, middle and last names to this tune. In both cases the total syllable count is only one off, so it works. (This is one of the benefits of having a five-syllable hyphenated last name.)

June interrupted me. She said, “I think at night instead of singing, you could just be quiet.” Noah made a similar request when he was a little younger than June is now (while I was pregnant with her in fact) so I had been wondering how long the nightly singing would continue. Just to be sure, on Friday evening I asked her if she had wanted no singing just last night or if she wanted to make a change in the bedtime routine. She was firm—no more singing.

I could have been happy about this. I’ve been snuggling with June at bedtime for fifteen to twenty minutes a night ever since she self-weaned two years ago. Lately I’ve been feeling that it’s too long. I’d like more time for myself in the evenings and I was thinking of gradually cutting back and here she’d handed me the perfect opportunity. I had been spending five to ten minutes of that time singing to her. So now we’re down to ten minutes of silent snuggle time and it was child-initiated and completely painless. For her anyway.

I can’t help but be a bit bereft about it. Except for a brief hiatus while I waited for my new audience to be born, I’ve been singing the same six or seven bedtime songs to my kids at night for almost ten years, and as of four nights ago, I’m not doing it anymore.

So it was a pleasant surprise when June suggested we have a concert in the backyard on Saturday afternoon. We’d gone outside to try out Noah’s old metal tricycle to see if she was big enough to handle it yet now that she’s outgrown her lightweight plastic trike. It’s a really heavy old-school tricycle and while I love it aesthetically it has not turned out to be very practical because by the time the kids are big enough to ride it they’re almost past trike age. The verdict was uncertain. If Beth can fix a problem with the handlebars, I think June could ride it for a summer. If not, she’ll get her first bike for her birthday.

After riding the tricycle up and down the driveway, June suggested we play soccer. She won the game 3-0, mainly because she kept changing the rules to her own advantage. (Yes, I know. I can’t let her keep doing that but we hadn’t played with the soccer ball and net for a while and I wanted to keep her interested.) Next up on June’s agenda was t-ball. She has her heart set on playing in the Takoma Park t-ball league this summer. Beth and I have some reservations because she’s so very tiny and the players are all five and six year olds, and as we know from the summer when Noah played t-ball, mostly boys. (“Will she be able to reach the tee?” Beth wondered.) But we’re going through with it because far be it from me to tell her that she can’t play because the other kids will likely be much bigger than she is. If she’s going to play sports, that will always be true for her. And I’m certainly not going to tell her t-ball is for boys. Anyway, she wanted to practice because she’s a bit of a perfectionist and she wants to be good at it already before the practices start three months from now. And she can reach the tee, ours anyway, and she’s not half bad at hitting the ball off of it without knocking it over. Better than her brother was when he was five, that’s for sure.

Next I put her to work helping me pick up sticks a recent windstorm had shaken from the silver maple in the backyard. That was when she said, “Let’s have a concert,” and I said okay. I started to go inside because I was imagining us going to the instrument bin, each picking something to play and jamming in the living room. “No, outside,” she insisted. This was going to be a singing concert. It turns out what she wanted was to take turns sitting in one of our patio chairs and singing while the other one listened. I was to go first.

And so I found myself singing to June in the golden light of a mild late winter afternoon. After a moment’s thought I settled on “Oh my Darling Clementine.” This was never a bedtime song for us. It was a commuting song for me and Noah. When I was still teaching, I used to pick him up from the university day care and then we had an hour and half commute home on train and bus. To pass the time, we used to sing a lot. Later it was a swinging song for June. I have always sung to my kids while pushing them on the swings.

When I got to “Light she was and like a fairy/And her shoes were number nine/Herring boxes without topses/Sandals were for Clementine,” I wondered idly how much smaller women’s feet must have been when the song was written. And I was amused because my little fairy wears kids’ size nine shoes now (and 8.5 and 9.5 and 10, due to the vagaries of different brands’ sizing, but she has more nines than anything else).

When it was June’s turn she sang “Old MacDonald” with a lot of brio and then I did a couple more rounds of June’s name to the tune of “John Jacob Jingelheimer Schmidt” and she sang “Dinosaur Round” (http://www.sandraboynton.com/sboynton.com.data/Components/Music/dinosaurround.mp3) from Sandra Boynton’s Rhinoceros Tap and I sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and I don’t remember what came next. I felt less sad about the end of our bedtime concerts when we’d finished. Clearly I have some more time left to sing to my children.

Some transitions come suddenly, as this one did. Others drag on and on and on. Potty training has been like that for us. Back in January June started pooping on the potty on an occasional basis (starting with an impressive three-day stretch that made us hope she was really on board this time). Back in September we promised her she could have a lemonade stand when she was completely trained and I worried what we’d do if it happened in the dead of winter. I’m not worried anymore. It seems likely that we’ll have spring or summer temperatures every day before I’m finished pulling soiled underwear off her on a daily basis. I can’t believe she’s almost five and not really trained. I thought surely no child without any kind of disability could train more slowly than Noah, but she’s proven me wrong.

Meanwhile we are phasing out her sleeping-through-the-night rewards because—hurray, she’s finally doing it almost every night—over 75% in January and over 90% in February for those of you keeping score at home. (I didn’t think she would start sleeping through the night regularly until she stopped napping, but clearly I was wrong about that, too, because she falls asleep every day after school and she sleeps so deeply it’s quite a chore to wake her.) In the place of the convenience store treats she got for every ten stickers on the sleep-through-the-night calendar, we are stepping up the potty rewards. On Friday I’m planning to buy her a small toy at Now and Then (http://www.mainstreettakoma.org/nowandthen) and to let her pick out at movie at Video Americain (http://www.videoamericain.com/aboutus/) as a celebration of learning to sleep through the night. Then a yet to be determined, potty-only reward system will kick in, because I have to try something new. And believe me, I will not be the least bit sad or nostalgic when we pass this milestone.

Look for a Lovely Thing

“Mommy, I’m going to poop on the potty,” June announced late yesterday morning as she slipped off her chair, leaving her lunch half-eaten on the dining room table. June’s been using the potty for pee since October, with only occasional accidents, but she very rarely has a bowel movement there. I think the last time was in November. But the last time she did it was just like this, a casual announcement and then results. Sure enough, soon she was calling me into her bedroom to see the full potty. I praised her and hugged her. It was all sincere and heartfelt, but I thought it could well be another two months before I saw what I was seeing again, so I took a good look before emptying it into the toilet and flushing it.

Several hours later, as June and I walked home from preschool she mentioned that she’d been meaning to try to stay awake all through Quiet Time (something she rarely does these days—it has basically turned into a nap by another name) so she could hear the end of the CD of songs from Disney movies. She often chooses it for Quiet Time so she’s heard the beginning many times, but she can’t remember how it ends. However, she went on, she was not going to do it today because she had remembered that Noah’s concert was tonight and she needed to take a nap so she could go.

The orchestra and band winter concert was at seven, which had presented me with a babysitting challenge. If June napped, she’d be fine to go but if she didn’t it would not have been a good idea to take her, which meant I would not know whether I needed a sitter until roughly three hours before the concert. So a couple weeks ago, I contacted our main sitter, explained the situation and offered to pay her a ten-dollar reservation fee in advance to keep the evening clear. It seemed like a good solution, but I knew June really wanted to attend the concert and I wondered if the pressure of knowing she had to sleep in order to go would keep her awake. I was actually considering relenting and letting her go even if she didn’t nap but I didn’t say it aloud.

As I was walking and puzzling over this, I was humming “Hard Rock Blues.” It’s one of the songs Noah has been practicing for weeks for the concert. I didn’t realize I was humming it until June joined in. Then we got louder and started singing “Da da da da da DUM,” to its staccato beat.

We got home and June announced she was going to poop on the potty again. She tried but couldn’t go. Then she climbed into bed, pacifier in mouth, and pulled her Cinderella blanket over herself. I started a CD (not the Disney one so she would not be tempted to stay awake). I checked on her ten minutes later, found her sound asleep and called the sitter to let her know not to come.

Noah got home at 4:25, bringing the unwelcome news that he had more homework that could be completed in an hour, which was about how much time he’d have before our early supper, clothes change, and departure for his school at 6:15. I helped him prioritize. He’d do one last pre-concert practice session and his math next because his math teacher does not accept late work and then he’d move on to the illustrations for his examples of simile and metaphor. There was more, but I doubted he’d get further than that and he didn’t. He was still doing the first illustration while I set the table. (Normally this is his chore, but I decided to give him a break.)

Around five, as Noah was drawing and I was cooking dinner, June said, “I’m going to poop on the potty now.” And she did. Well, this was an interesting and unexpected turn of events, I thought. More hugs, more praise, and then I hurried back to the broccoli, cabbage and carrots I was chopping for vegetables with rice and peanut sauce.

By 6:35, we were in the school gym, which was rapidly filling with one hundred and forty young musicians, their parents, grandparents and siblings. I was glad we’d arrived early because we got seats near the percussion section. The students were arranged in an arc of rows nestled along one of the long sides of the rectangular room and both of the short sides. The drums and glockenspiels (or bells as they call them) were on the right side of the room. I could not see many of the musicians in the front (except the clarinets) and none of the players on the left, but we could see Noah, which was the important thing. Soon all the seats were gone and there were throngs of spectators standing along the back of the room.

The room was warm with the body heat of all those people and loud with the sounds of musicians tuning up their instruments. It was strange to hear little snatches of the very familiar music Noah’s been practicing played on different instruments. I saw one of the clarinetists looking distraught and mouthing to another, “I can’t do this.”

Noah was having some trouble setting up his instruments. He needed one of the tables on wheels for his bells but there wasn’t one at the place where he was supposed to stand. He sought out the band director, but he either forgot or was too busy with other crises to help and he never came back. Beth and I noticed an unused table but it looked as if it would be difficult to maneuver it to Noah what with all the kids, chairs and instrument stands in the way. Noah unsuccessfully tried to get the director’s attention by waving his drumsticks in the air and eventually went to get him again. He returned saying the director asked him to try to move the table himself. “I’ll help you,” Beth said and got up. They managed to squeeze the table over to Noah’s area and wedge it in front of his snare drum. He would have reach over the drum and stand further away from the bells than he was accustomed to play them, but it was the best they could do.

Meanwhile June was antsy with the long wait. She was hungry and thirsty and hot and bored, she told me at various times. The day before she had imagined being at the concert and the band leader coming over and asking who she was and Noah saying, “That’s my little sister, June.” It did not seem very likely that this fantasy of being an important personage at the concert was going to come true.

She studied the program and looked at the pictures of a bear ice-skating and people throwing snowballs inside. The cover featured two blindfolded polar bears dancing a tango (I assume it was a tango because one of them had a rose in its teeth) on a very small and cracking ice floe. I thought it was an odd illustration, although in some ways an apt one for a concert of nine- to eleven-year-old musicians. So much could go wrong. June pointed to the big words on the front of the program and wanted to know what they said, “Music to Warm a Winter’s Night,” I told her.

Finally the hubbub of set-up died down and the concert began. The advanced orchestra students played two songs and then it was time for the band. They had eight songs; Noah was in three of them. They started with “Lightly Row,” that elementary school band standard. After such a long and stressful wait to start, Noah missed his cue and did not begin to play the bells until a few notes into the song, but he played the rest of it and beamed at us when it was over. The next time he played was in “Robot Assembly Line,” a composition by his band teacher, meant to evoke the noise of robots building cars in a factory. I noted how different the song sounded with all its parts and not just Noah’s. It was fun to see all the pieces coming together. The last song was “Hard Rock Blues,” which Beth said was her favorite. Before the concert started and in between songs we noticed Noah grimacing, most likely unconsciously. The tics we hadn’t seen in months seemed to be re-surfacing temporarily under stress. But after each song was over, he flashed us a brilliant smile.

The orchestra was up next. Their section was called “Winter Poems Suite.” Each song was preceded by a poem, read by a different student. It was a good idea but I wish the kids had access to a microphone or that the text of the poems had been passed out with the programs because even though I closed my eyes and strained to hear I could only catch a few lines of each poem. The only exception was Sara Teasdale’s poem “Night,” which I could follow only because I have it almost by heart.

Stars over snow,
And in the west a planet
Swinging below a star—
Look for a lovely thing and you will find it,
It is not far—
It never will be far.

I love this poem. It was a treat to hear it. June was less delighted. She had been interested to see Noah play but now that he was finished she was ready to go home. She mentioned this a few times, and also asked me questions like “Where do seeds come from?” and then something about evolution as I repeatedly said, “We’re listening to the music now. We can talk about that later.”

When the advanced band came on, I told her “Three more songs,” and she counted them down as each song ended. I reminded her Noah would have to pack up his percussion kit before we could leave, but he was mercifully quick.

Once he was ready to go, I gave him a hug and a kiss on the forehead, which he tolerated better than usual (he likes hugs but not kisses). He even smiled at me. “Congratulations on your first concert,’ I said.

“Was it my first concert?” he asked. It was his first since he was three and played “Twinkle, Twinkle” at a Suzuki concert, I told him. Tonight was the first concert he was likely to remember, anyway, and it had been a success.

It was 8:40 by the time we got home, so we rushed through the kids’ bedtime routine. Noah was wound up and June was tired and they fell to squabbling with each other. I started to fret over his unfinished homework but I made myself stop. Look for a lovely thing, I told myself. There had been plenty this day. I could take my pick.

In the morning Noah finished some, though not all, of his undone homework and June did her new potty trick two more times and then once more in the afternoon.

It is not far. It will never be far.

The Most Beautifulist

Autumn arrived yesterday but you’d never know it from the thermometer. It was the second of three straight days of highs in the 90s, at a time of year when it should be ten or fifteen degrees cooler. I didn’t write much about it but we had a crazy hot summer this year, nearly record-breaking, and I guess it just doesn’t want to quit. It will, though, and soon. I can tell because the dogwood tree in our front yard has a few red leaves along with the berries that appear on it every September. It’s always the first tree to change colors and it’s right on schedule.

More importantly, to us anyway, it was also June’s half-birthday yesterday. She’s four and a half now, as she will be happy to inform you. She told her drama teacher pretty much as soon as we entered the Rec Center auditorium, even though as we walked to class, she had started to get cold feet. I reminded her that she took the same class last winter and loved it, and that the teacher told me she was looking forward to seeing her again.

“I used to be excited, but now I’m nervous,” she persisted.

“It’s okay to be nervous,” I told her. “People feel that way when they start things sometimes. You just have to get used to it again.” Then I asked if she’d like me to tell the teacher she was feeling a little shy. June said yes and it seemed to make her feel better.

So I told the teacher and then June pretty much chatted her up nonstop for ten or fifteen minutes while we waited for other children to arrive. The class had been advertised with one starting time in the online catalog of activities and another in the print version so most of the class arrived late.

Once we got started, it was the familiar routine. The children did warm-up exercises, they sang a song (“Doe, a Deer”), which they will be learning along with an accompanying dance over the next eight weeks, and then the teacher read a story. It was Caps for Sale (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caps_for_Sale). After she’d read it, they reenacted it. If you’ve seen anything cuter than a bunch of two to five year olds all walking across a stage balancing multiple hats on their heads, I want to know what it is. A few times I caught sight of June’s face during the class and she was just radiantly happy.

We came home and ate lunch and then we got ready to leave for school. When I changed her from a diaper into a pair of thick, purple training pants I was unnerved to realize that the diaper was dry and it had been dry since at least 8:00 a.m. There was no way she would last until we got home at 3:30 and she never pees on the potty at school so she was pretty much guaranteed to have an accident. Not that this would surprise anyone. After making it through the school day dry most days the first two weeks of school, June had been wetting her pants at school all week. The only day she didn’t was Wednesday when I sent her to school in a pull-up because they were taking a field trip. On Tuesday she went through two outfits and came home in the Toad’s spare pants (pastel plaid capris, “very cool,” June said, not at all fazed by the multiple accidents).

Sure enough when the children came around to the front of the school to sit on the porch steps and wait for dismissal, June was in her spare clothes, but at least they were her own spare clothes. At home, I asked her if she’d like to sit on the potty. She complied. She had become more interested in using the potty since Wednesday, when I promised her if she learned to use the potty, she could set up a lemonade stand in the driveway. This has been a long-standing goal of hers, made more urgent by a recently viewed episode of Curious George. Like George, she wants to buy a soccer ball with the proceeds. This despite the fact that she has two soccer balls already—including a pink one—and she’s not even playing soccer this fall. (Silently, I was planning to suggest a hot chocolate stand if she didn’t train until the dead of winter.)

Anyway, back to the point. We had some potty momentum and it came just as I was planning a two-week experiment of underwear all the time except at night and while out of the house at places other than school. The pediatrician suggested this over the summer and I was lukewarm, given June’s sorry potty record over the past two years. But kindergarten’s only eleven months away and we had to start trying again at some point, so I decided on her half-birthday as a starting date. I thought I could make a big deal about how big she’s getting, four and a half, my goodness. It must be time to start using the potty, etc.

So, she’s willing now. She didn’t go when she tried after school and around 5:00, just as I was thinking I should have her try again, she had an accident. The next accident was around 7:40, again moments after I thought I should have her try sitting on the potty. Well, I thought. She’s not trained, but maybe I’m getting close to it.

In between the accidents, we had dinner. I made sesame noodles with broccoli and tofu (the kids ate plain udon noodles with tofu and broccoli). I chose this meal because while I was flipping through a cookbook last weekend, I read that long noodles symbolize long life in China and are traditionally served on birthdays. It was also something I knew the kids would enjoy. On the side, we each had a quarter of a softball-sized but perfectly ripe watermelon from the garden and there were cupcakes for dessert. June picked out the Spiderman cupcakes at the supermarket on Sunday and they had been waiting in the freezer ever since. She surprised Beth, by spurning the Dora cupcakes and butterfly cupcakes she had originally examined. She said the Spiderman cupcakes were the “most beautifulest.” They were vanilla with white frosting tinted red and blue and they had plastic Spiderman face rings and spider rings set into the frosting.

Noah remembered that his snap circuits kit (http://www.amazon.com/Elenco-SC-100-Snap-Circuits-Jr/dp/B00008BFZH) could be set up to play “Happy Birthday” and he let June help him connect the circuits in the proper configuration. He played the music, and then we sang the song ourselves and then we all blew out the candles and ate the cupcakes.

Later that evening I was in bed with June, singing her a lullaby when she interrupted me. “Mommy, I need to use the potty,” she said. I hesitated just slightly. Was the remote chance she would actually produce anything worth getting her out of bed? But in the spirit of staying positive, I got up and she did, too. She trotted off to the potty and I helped her get settled. A few moments later I heard the sound of liquid hitting plastic, a lot of liquid from the sound of it.

“I’m peeing,” June whispered.

“I know,” I said, laying a hand on her thigh. “Don’t get up in case there’s more.” I called Beth and she came in from the study to exclaim over June’s potty victory. After a few moments June said she was done and she got up and we all looked into the potty.

I saw many beautiful things yesterday. The red leaves scattered among the green of our dogwood, promising cooler days ahead; my daughter’s beaming face as she lost herself in imagination; one of summer’s last, sweet parting gifts from the garden, and colorful grocery store cupcakes seen through a preschooler’s appreciative eyes. But that full potty was, without question, the most beautufulest.

Fab Four: A Birthday in Four Acts

June turned four on Tuesday and as Vice President Biden would say, it was a big… well you know what he would say, right? And it was.

Act 1: The Weekend Before

My mom came to spend the weekend and we had a nice, low-key visit. We went out for pizza at Roscoe’s on Friday night and on Saturday morning we went to June’s first soccer practice of the spring season. The Red Gingko is playing on her team again and the Yellow Gingko is joining the fun this time, too. The three of them spent a lot of time before practice huddled together discussing who knows what. Two of June’s other classmates are on a different team for a total of one third of the Leaves class playing soccer at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings. (So when did we schedule her party? At 10:30 a.m. the Saturday after her birthday, which also happened to be during the first weekend of spring break when two of her best friends were going to be out of town, but I’m getting ahead of myself here…)

I had wondered if June would pick up where she left off at the end of last season or if she’d be shy all over again, but she jumped right in and was soon dribbling her pink soccer ball all over the field while I got to stand on the sidelines and watch and chat with my mom and other parents. Plus the weather was gorgeous. You couldn’t have asked for a nicer first day of spring.

After June’s nap, she opened her presents from Mom—two beautifully illustrated hard cover books about a fairy born without wings (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0316590789/ref=cm_cr_asin_lnk & http://www.amazon.com/review/R2C4R3KAJZVO6P) and the fanciest dress June has ever owned. The bodice is a white satiny material and the skirt is white with green vines and coral-colored flowers and it has underskirts that make it poof out. She loves it and I am terrified to let her wear it anywhere.

Next, Mom and I took the kids to the playground and they spent most of their time there splashing in the creek (Noah) or climbing on the boulders nearby (June). Mom and June and I played an extended game in which June stood behind a tree and Mom and I took turns knocking on her door and pretending to be UPS delivery people, the Big Bad Wolf, the Three Little Pigs and Red Riding Hood, all of whom needed help locating each other, all that is except the UPS woman- she delivered the wolf in a box at the beginning of the game, which set the rest of the game in motion. June kept pretending to be completely exasperated with these interruptions, but then she’d instruct us to knock again.

We saw Sasha there but he has recently decided he’s going to be in the Tour de France by the time he’s sixteen and was too intent on riding his bike to play with Noah. There was also a girl there who was in Noah’s second grade class and informed Mom she didn’t like Noah because he once tried to kiss her. I asked him later if he’d ever tried to kiss her and the look of utter shock on his face was comic. “No!” he spluttered once he could speak. I have concluded that either a) she is a pathological liar, or b) She misremembered which boy had amorous designs on her last year, or c) Noah crashed into her once—he’s always crashing into people—and she misread his intentions.

We came home and Mom played with the kids while I made pasta with asparagus and a strawberry sauce for cheesecake to celebrate the Equinox. Then we watched about half of Pippi Longstocking and it was time for bed.

Sunday morning we went to a different playground and then Mom and Noah continued the game of online Monopoly they’d started the day before until it was time for her to go home. Before I put June down for her nap I asked her to thank Grandmom again for the books and the dress and she said, “But I already did!” in an indignant tone, because, you know, thank yous are strictly rationed around here.

Act 2: The Big Day: Morning

“Happy Birthday,” Beth whispered to June when she crawled into our bed around 6:10 on Tuesday. June was too sleepy to respond at once, but eventually she said it wouldn’t be her birthday until it was light outside. June’s not a morning person, even on her birthday.

Once everyone was up and about we let June open three birthday cards, one from YaYa, one from Beth, Noah and myself, and one from Ladybug. Ladybug is the eponymous character of her own magazine, published by the same company as Cricket, but for a younger audience. Because I was renewing the subscription I bought a card with a ladybug on it and wrote her a message from the point of view of Ladybug telling June she was so happy she liked the magazine and that it would keep coming for another year. June did not buy it. “But how could Ladybug send me a card when she is not in our world?” she wanted to know. “ So I had to cop to having written it myself. It made me wonder if she will make it to first grade believing in Santa as Noah did. She did like the ladybug tattoo that came in the card, though and wanted it applied to her hand right away. And another of the cards had a sticker in it that said, “Yah! I’m 4!” which had to go on her shirt and the one from YaYa folded out into a castle with little paper doll princesses and a horse that could be punched out to inhabit the castle.

Between June playing with the paper castle and me trying to gather up the birthday treats we were bringing to school, the birthday card I needed to get in the mail for my sister, and the hand-me-down baby clothes I was bringing to school for the Red Dogwood’s new baby sister, we got a late start leaving the house and I was almost ten minutes late for my co-op shift.

The Blue Holly’s mom was doing the yellow team’s journals and she asked June if she wanted to do a special birthday entry. While June drew and the co-oper transcribed her story, the Blue Holly herself sat nearby and set to work making a long series of birthday cards for June. Soon the Blue Maple joined in. They kept bringing the cards to me as I read to a small group of kids. Put them in her backpack, I told them. When I examined them at home I found them covered with a multitude of random letters, or maybe not exactly random. They favor Hs. Os and Ts, just like June does when she writes. It’s amazing how close they all are developmentally sometimes. There were also balloons all over the Blue Holly’s cards.

During Circle Time, Lesley got out a dark, oblong wooden tray filled with polished stones and five votive candles and called June up front. The class discussed how many candles Lesley would need to take away to make four. There was general agreement that the answer was one. Lesley took away one candle and lit the rest. June walked around the lit candles four times and each time Lesley asked her to tell one thing about when she was one, two and three years old and one thing about what she would do when she was four. June replied that when she was one she was “learning to chew” and that when she was two she learned to ride her little bike and that when she was three she played with her mommy a lot. She didn’t have a clear goal for four—so Lesley suggested learning to swim.

The kids proceeded to snack, and after they’d had their fill of oranges, strawberries and popcorn, I handed out the sugar cookies with pink and blue sugar on top that June and I had made the day before. She initially wanted pink sugar for the girls and blue sugar for the boys but I put the kibosh on that plan, saying we could do some of each and let kids chose their own cookies, at which point June suggested we put both colors on each cookie and that’s what we did. As the kids were dividing up into groups for music, the Blue Gingko told me in a very grown up tone, “Steph, the cookies were delicious.”

Just before playground time, as the kids were all milling about in the coat room, June informed me in a panic that I forgot to put the lollipop favors into backpacks. So I rushed to get them in as the kids were shouldering their packs. I hope I got everyone, but it was kind of chaotic. If you’re a Leaf parent and you haven’t found one yet, check all little compartments of your child’s backpack.

On the way home, I let June walk on a brick retaining wall I have never let her on before because it’s high off the ground and it tilts out at an alarming angle. “You said I could do it when I was four,” June said. What I’d actually said was she could do it when she was a Track, which is another five months off, but it sometimes resistance is futile and I sensed this was one of those times.

“Do four year olds take naps?” she wanted to know after lunch. Yes, they do, I told her, and she did.

Act 3: The Big Day: Afternoon and Evening

By a strange coincidence, June’s birthday fell on free pastry day at Starbucks and free cone day at Ben and Jerry’s. Plus, you can get always get a free cupcake at Cake Love on your birthday. We were saving June’s birthday cake for her party so it seemed incumbent on us to take advantage of at least one of these opportunities. Beth came home early so we could go to dinner at Noodles and Company, followed by dessert.

But first June opened her presents from us and from YaYa. There was soccer net and ball, a big box of modeling clay, two outfits (both quite pink) and a tiara with pink ribbons that Noah picked out for her at Port Discovery. She immediately decided she wanted to wear the pink and green striped dress to school the next day and the tiara to dinner. So she did. We ended up getting both ice cream and cupcakes in the same evening, even though June only picked at her dinner. She did eat a fair amount of broccoli, and it was her birthday, so I set the bar low.

All evening she was full of proclamations: “I can do it myself. I’m four!” or “I know how to do everything. I’m four!” or Beth’s favorite, “I don’t have to hold hands in the elevator. I’m four!” Then she would add, “You guys can sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me again if you want,” as if she were conferring a favor.

As I was cuddling with her in bed that night, she told me “The night I was three and I was going to be four the next day, it felt different going to bed.” Maybe that’s why she was out of bed six or seven times with sippy cup and stuffed animal related problems before she finally fell asleep close to quarter to ten that night. But this night, her first night as a four year old, she dropped right off to sleep.

Intermission: The Day After

On Wednesday, soon after waking, June informed me, “It’s my second day of being four.” On the way home from school she asked, “Do four year olds wear diapers a lot?”

I pounced. “Not really,” I told her. “Actually I was thinking you would sit on the potty and wear underwear a lot this week. What do you think of that?”

She said “No!” about a dozen times quite firmly. So much for that opening, I thought.

In the afternoon, she played with her soccer net and made letters out of the modeling clay. I showed her how to make the letters of her name. Later Noah called me over, saying he’d added a word. I expected to find “Noah” under “June” but instead he’d written “Rocks.”

That evening we opened Auntie Sara’s presents, which had arrived that day. There was pink kimono-style dress, a necklace with interchangeable magnetic pendants (ladybug and rainbow) and a beading kit (the same beading kit June got Sara for Christmas actually—she regifted it). June put on the necklace with the ladybug attachment and with Noah’s help soon got to work making bead necklaces. It was hard to convince her to take them all off to go to bed.

Act 4: The Party

Friday morning, the day before the party, June and I were in the Langley Park shopping center and on a whim, I decided to go inside the Expo Mart and see if they had cakes. June wanted a supermarket cake instead of a homemade one and she and Beth were scheduled to get one that evening. I thought if we could find one, I’d save her a trip.

We went in and there was a bakery section, but no cakes. The Expo Mart, a small supermarket that serves the neighborhood’s Latino population, just opened in December and it’s a work in progress. Almost every time I’ve gone in looking for something specific, I can’t find it. However, what they did have, and what I really should have expected, given the demographic, was an impressive selection of piñatas. June gasped when she saw the princess in the gold dress. She wanted it. Could she have, please, please, please?

Let’s look at all of them, I suggested. June’s party was loosely organized around a coloring theme. We got coloring books and crayons for all the guests. There were crayons on the invitations that Noah designed for her and I’d picked out some multicolored foods (rainbow goldfish crackers and rainbow sherbet). I’d been half-hoping to find a rainbow cake or at least a very colorful one. And while June picked the party theme, her interest in sticking to it in any consistent manner was tepid and somehow princesses kept creeping in. She picked Disney princess plates and napkins and there was a random picture of Pocahontas on the invitations she forced Noah to include, despite his protests that it had nothing to do with the theme. (At one point I’d thought he’d found the perfect clip art—a princess that looked like it had been drawn by a child—princesses and coloring! Of course, June rejected it.) Anyway, I was wondering if I could steer her away from the princess and toward something more multi-hued. I found a star-shaped piñata with stripes in various colors and there was the traditional burro, also striped. She was having none of it because she had spied something even better than a gold princess. There was a pink princess! I knew I was beat then and asked a salesclerk how much it cost. It took three or four staff members and two languages to get someone to take it down. I paid five dollars over the price I told myself was the absolute ceiling of what I would pay as I was waiting to find out “cuanto cuesta la princesa rosa.” What can I say? I fell victim to “please, Mommy, please?”

Our evening plans involved going to Noah’s friend Joseph’s house where Noah had spent the afternoon and joining his family for pizza. But Beth discovered she had a flat tire as we drove down the driveway. So June and I went to Joseph’s house and Beth went to the service station. When we got there we found they hadn’t ordered enough vegetarian pizza and Noah had already eaten the last slice. So June and I had some cheese and crackers and we hung out for a while and walked home where I fixed dinner for June. By the time Beth got home I was getting the kids ready for bed. But Beth had brought home takeout falafel from the organic falafel cart in the gas station parking lot. (What? You don’t have an organic falafel cart in your Citgo parking lot? You need to move to Takoma Park.) The cake would have to wait until the next morning.

Saturday morning Beth took June to pick out a cake while I finishing cleaning the house. I had set up several play areas in the back yard the day before and Noah made signs for all of them (Bubble Zone on the table with the bubble soap, Sand Zone by the sandbox, Soccer Zone by the soccer net and balls, etc.) He also made a welcome sign with a circus ringmaster we taped to the front door.

Beth and June came back with a white-frosted cake with pink roses and a bunch of balloons and after some more tidying inside and out, the guests started arriving. I was reading to June in her room to calm her down when I heard The Yellow Ginkgo’s voice. We came into the living room and soon Blue Gingko and Blue Maple were there too, all busily exploring the array of toys in our living room.

In retrospect, the party was structured a lot like a school day. There was free play in the living room for about twenty minutes after arrival (the musical instruments were especially popular); there was an art project (coloring in the living room); there was outside play in the back yard (the sandbox and slide were big hits as was running in and out of the fairy princess tent which had been temporarily relocated outside); and there was snack (in the form of pizza, cake and sherbet). The only thing I missed was Circle Time and the funny thing was I had considered reading Harold and the Purple Crayon to the guests, but I completely forgot about it. (I also forgot to serve the goldfish crackers). We finished up with the piñata. I had been afraid June would cry when it was smashed, but the damage was not too bad, just enough to cause her to rain candy from the bottom of her tattered gown and Beth had to deliver the final blow after all the kids, including Noah and the Yellow Holly’s little sister, had taken several turns. The pink princess turned out to be one tough broad.

Overall everything went very smoothly. The girls all played nicely together and no one threw a fit or cried. Although she had very specific plans about all the activities and what she wanted her guest to wear (sunglasses, party hats) she was satisfied as long as she had partial participation with each part of the plan. I got a little nervous when the Blue Maple found June’s new tiara in the dress up bin and wore it for a while, but June either didn’t notice or didn’t care. Several moms stayed and the party was calm enough that we could actually sit and talk with the adults from time to time, which was an unexpected bonus. Noah helped with the piñata and the Blue Gingko, who knows from experience what older brothers are good for, drafted him to help her and June with the stickers in their coloring books. (The Blue Gingko also demonstrated her high level Disney skills while we ate, matching the princesses on the napkins to the castles on the plates.)

By twelve twenty the last guest had left and we let June open her presents. I thought she might be too wound up to nap, but she fell right asleep when I put her down around one o’ clock. She spent much of the afternoon coloring in the coloring book, listening to her new book, playing her new harmonica, turning her Tinkerbell lantern on and off and begging to fly her new kite. Beth had dinner out in Virginia with her high school friend Sue who had a layover at Dulles airport so I made quesadillas and the kids and I watched Cars. After they were in bed, I did the dishes and licked the frosting off the numeral four candle that was first used on Noah’s fourth birthday cake. Then I washed it and put it away to wait for my forty-third birthday come May.

Today June has been making signs announcing a party for her imaginary friend Gaspard and taping them to the walls and furniture. They are covered with hearts and lots of Hs and Os. With June organizing it, I’m sure it will be a fabulous event.

Half Past Three

At half past three this afternoon, Noah was just off the school bus and settling into the sky chair to read the A Series of Unfortunate Events book #12 (The Penultimate Peril). This is his after school routine. Sometimes he will talk to me a little about his day, but more often he wants to dive straight into his book.

June was trying to pull the book away, wanting to look at its cover illustration. Thinking quickly to avert conflict, I asked her if she’d like me to bring Noah’s outgrown wooden scooter up from the basement to see if she was big enough to ride it. “”Yes!” she said, her face lighting up.

Noah got this scooter for his fourth birthday, when he was considerably bigger than June is now so I wasn’t sure she would be able to maneuver it. I thought it was worth a try, though, because she has been trying to ride his current, much bigger metal scooter and this 1) makes him mad and 2) doesn’t seem very safe since the handlebars are almost as tall as she is.

We went down to the basement and found the scooter, a little dusty and specked with rust. The bell is broken and the handlebars are out of alignment with the wheel. Undaunted, I brought it upstairs. “Am I big enough? Am I big enough?” June wanted to know. I told her we’d have to try it and see. I put her helmet on and took the scooter down to the sidewalk. I asked her if she’d rather practice in the driveway or go down the quiet side street that goes down the side of our yard. Being June, she wanted to go down the busy thoroughfare our house faces. I decided I’d just stay between her and the street and I said yes. We could go as far as the creek, I said. She wanted to go further but we hadn’t even told Noah where we were going so I didn’t want to be gone long. Based on the length of the chapter he was reading, I figured if we were back by four, he wouldn’t even notice we were gone.

She got the hang of it almost immediately on the level parts of the sidewalk. On even the slightest inclines, however, she struggled to make the scooter go forward. She sped down the downhill parts, singing a song of her own invention:

I am going!
I am going on my scooter!
I am the fastest little girl!

Then the scooter picked up speed and she got spooked and jumped off. I grabbed the handlebars so it wouldn’t roll away. “Maybe I’m going too fast,” she said, before climbing back on.

Our progress down the block was impeded by porcelain berries and dogwood berries and black walnuts and acorns, all of which needed to be collected. She tried to stuff them in my pockets as her dress had none. Finally we arrived at the bridge that spans the creek. I lifted her up so she could stand on the wall and look down at the stagnant water. We talked about how the water wasn’t moving and we need some rain so it can move again and then it won’t look so yucky.

The way home was mostly uphill so we pushed the scooter home, walking on either side of it.

June turned three and a half today. It does feel like we are suspended between two poles, sometimes careening down the sidewalk, sometimes briefly paused to gather nuts and berries, sometimes stagnant and stalled. She loves school and bubbles over every day with things to tell us about it. She had a great first day of soccer and can’t wait to go back. She picks up new skills (like the scooter) all the time.

But potty training is still going agonizingly slowly. She did agree to sit on the potty at school today for the first time there, I think, but Lesley said she wasn’t happy about it and she came home with different underwear and shorts under her dress than the ones in which she arrived. This is how it goes most days.

Even more discouraging: after a promising first two nights sharing a room with Noah, she started waking several times a night, asking me to come lay down in her bed, saying she was scared, and coming up with creative reasons she needed to leave the room. There wasn’t enough water in her sippy, there was too much water in her sippy. The glowing numbers on Noah’s digital clock disturbed her. (“He should not have a clock like that. He should have a clock that goes tick tock.”) One night she was out of bed nine times, though most nights it’s closer to two or three. It’s been about two and a half weeks and I am running on fumes. I regret moving her out of our room (we did it, after all, in hopes of getting more sleep), but we made such a big production of it, I don’t know how we’d ever get her out of our room if I crumble now. So I feel stuck.

Around 5:30, June was playing in the yard while I picked tomatoes and cilantro for black bean and avocado tacos. She didn’t want to come in when I’d finished, so I told her I needed to get dinner started so there would be time for cupcakes before Beth dashed off to her 7:30 meeting at June’s school. She came in reluctantly and then started insisting it wasn’t her half-birthday, she was still three. She seemed on the verge of getting seriously upset. I was surprised and asked if there was anything she thought would happen on her half-birthday she didn’t want to happen. She said no. Then I asked if there was anything she thought would happen before she was three and half that hadn’t happened yet.

“Yes,” she said emphatically, placing her hand just over her head. “I’m only this tall!”

“Did you think you’d be taller?” I said.

“Yes,” she said. Noah started explaining that she was small for her age and a lot of kids younger than her are bigger than her. It’s true, but I didn’t think this was the way to go. I shushed him.

“You’re just the right size for you,” I said, kneeling down on the kitchen floor to give her a hug. “We love you just the way you are.”

Noah either got it or lost interest in the question because he let it drop and June seemed satisfied.

After dinner, I set the cupcakes out on a plate. We’d picked them up at the bakery yesterday afternoon: vanilla with raspberry frosting for June, vanilla with vanilla frosting and salted caramel drizzle for Noah, German chocolate for me, chocolate with vanilla frosting for Beth. June helped me pick out the candles (two yellow, one pink and half a green one) and sang softly to herself.

Happy half-birthday to me!
Happy half-birthday to me!

I lit the candles and June blew them all out with one breath. I know we’re halfway between three and four, but there are a lot of other things I don’t know. Are we at the halfway point yet with potty training? With sleeping through the night? (And exactly how tall did she expect to be by now?) While I would certainly like to know, I don’t need to, to love her just the way she is.

Sleep Thoughts

Sleep thoughts are spreading throughout the whole land.
The time for night-brushing of teeth is at hand.

From Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book

We launched Project-June-Will-Sleep-in-Her-Own-Bed-All-Night the very night we got back from the beach. The night I spent migrating back and forth between the bed and the air mattress and trying to think of some other place I might get some rest put me over the edge. We’ve been meaning to do this for a while but there were always other Projects. For much of the winter, I was nudging June to wean (she finally did at the end of March) and then in May we made the ill-fated move of starting to potty train her. I don’t even want to report on the status of that Project, except to say we are on another break, a longer one this time, and we’ve started discussing with Lesley how we will proceed with the at-school portion of her training in September, because it looks like there will be an at-school portion, barring a miracle between now and the second week of September. Lesley will meet us where we are and she says not to look at the first day of school as a deadline, so we won’t.

So with weaning complete and potty training on hiatus, that left getting June out of our bed at night. But what I was really waiting for all this time, even more than a convenient time between other transitions for her, was an opening, a hint of readiness. When Noah was two and three-quarters, and like June starting the night in his own bed and then joining us in the middle of the night, he suddenly went from waking every night to sleeping through the night about half the time. We had no idea why it happened, but we pounced on the opportunity and decided to stop co-sleeping with him. It seemed like a convenient time because I’d only have to take him back to his bed and convince him to stay there every other night or so instead of every night. And I hoped that once he was in the habit of sleeping in his bed all night, he’d stop waking up during the night all together. Well, it didn’t happen that way. He continued waking at about the same rate for the next two years. It was toward the end of my pregnancy with June that he started sleeping through the night most of the time (80% to 90% on average—and, yes, I kept records—stop laughing at me). The improvement in his night sleep started several months after he officially stopped napping and right after he finally stopped falling asleep in his tracks in the late afternoon once or twice a week. (He used to nod off while I was reading to him or during Quiet Time, the forty-five minute period of solitary, quiet play that replaced his nap during his last year of preschool.)

The first night back from the beach, two Saturdays ago, I told June that she was old enough and big enough to sleep all night in her own bed and not come to Mommy and Beth’s bed. She looked alarmed and said she wasn’t big enough, she was too little, she’d do it tomorrow. No, tonight, I said, and waited for the tantrum. It didn’t come, but she looked so sad I wanted to tell her to forget all about Mommy’s silly idea, of course she could sleep with us. Instead, I steeled myself and put her to bed. I wondered if it would be harder than usual for her to fall asleep, worrying about the new sleep regime, but she’d had only a short nap in the car coming home from the beach and she dropped off pretty easily.

She woke around eleven-thirty and came to our bed. I picked her up and carried her back to her own bed. I got in with her and stayed for twenty minutes, until she was almost asleep again. Then only ten minutes after I’d come back to bed, she was standing at my bedside table again. I was about to open my mouth and tell her she needed to go back to bed when I saw she was looking for a pacifier. She found one on the table and went back to bed herself, without a word. She slept there the rest of the night.

Beth and I were pleasantly surprised but she said we “shouldn’t be lulled” into a false sense of complacency.

“I’m not lulled,” I said. She said if it lasted a week, she’d be convinced June was really on board.

It’s been nine nights so far and most nights June wakes once, sometimes twice, and I go lay down with her. These wake-ups can come at any time during the night. The hardest parts were the two times she woke around 5 a.m. because when that happened, neither of us got back to sleep and I knew if I just brought her to our bed as soon as she woke up, we would have slept some more. On the bright side, she slept through the night (i.e. until 6 a.m.) twice and she hadn’t done that in almost two months.

So, I think it’s going pretty well, better than I expected. I am not up as often during the night as I was when I was constantly being awoken by June kicking or rolling into me, but the wake-ups do last longer because I have been taking her to bed and cuddling with her a little before I go back to bed. Also, she’s waking up a little earlier in the morning than she did before. In terms of overall quality and quantity of sleep, I think it’s a wash right now for me. Beth says she’s sleeping a little better. I’m hoping it’s a step, though, to better, more uninterrupted sleep for everyone. We have some challenges to overcome in the near future. We’ll be spending a week in West Virginia with some friends of Beth’s in several days and June will have to sleep all night in an unfamiliar bed. Also, she’s become insistent on Beth staying in the room after I’ve left her. This actually started shortly before we started her new sleep routine, but I think knowing she will be sleeping alone in the bed all night has heightened her reluctance to sleep alone in the room. It’s always two steps forward and one step back.

While I certainly hope I don’t have to wait until June’s almost five for her to make a habit of sleeping through the night, I know if I have to, I can. As I recently told a friend who’s pregnant with her second child, most things are easier the second time around.

Last night I asked Beth if she missed June in bed and she said, “No! Do you?”

“Sometimes, a little,” I admitted.

“You’re crazy,” she said, and maybe I am. If June wakes early from a nap, I still let her come to the big bed and cuddle her back to sleep. When I’m not trying to sleep myself I love laying on the bed with her, our limbs entangled, smelling the warm, sweet scent of June, a mix of soap and sweat and whatever she ate for lunch. I don’t think I’m old enough or big enough to give that up quite yet.

When the Clock Says Fourteen – Postscript

We spent Memorial Day weekend at my mother and stepfather’s house. They have nicer furniture and carpets than we do and my mom’s already put in her time risking her home décor to toilet train her own kids, so we had June in diapers the whole weekend. The break was such a relief that when we came home, we got a bit lax about underwear. I decided I’d give June the option to choose diapers or underwear at each change. Beth said maybe it would help her feel in control of the process. She did choose underwear sometimes but as the days went by she chose them less often and then I stopped asking her and just put on a diaper unless she requested underwear and then she stopped asking. When I did several days worth of laundry yesterday I was surprised to see June did not have any underwear in the wash at all. So, it’s official. It’s not a potty. It’s a penguin bed.

The break will end soon. Beth and the kids are out running errands right now and a new Max and Ruby DVD that can be viewed only after using the potty is on the list.

When the Clock Says Fourteen

A few weeks ago Beth asked June when she would start to use the potty. Her answer: “When the clock says fourteen.” As far as we can tell, that does seem to be her current plan.

We approached potty-training June with deep dread. She has not shown much interest and we probably would not have started yet if not for a looming early September deadline. She is supposed to be trained when she starts the 3s class at the Purple School. We’ve heard from another parent of a late trainer that the rule is not ruthlessly enforced, but I think we need to make a good faith effort, so a week and a half ago, we switched June over to underpants when she’s at home and awake. So far this is the score: eleven days, one success, and more loads of laundry than I care to count.

A little background–training Noah was a nightmare. Looking back on it we’re pretty sure his then undiagnosed sensory issues played a part. The summer he was three, several discouraging weeks into potty training, we urged him to “listen to his body” and he replied, “Sometimes it doesn’t talk. It needs a microphone.” It turned out to be an apt description of the problem. Even now a lot of the time he still doesn’t know when he needs to go. He has a schedule and that’s when he goes.

Meanwhile, he flummoxed his daycare teachers who ended up breaking their own policies by allowing him to move up from the younger preschool group to the older preschool group untrained. After six months of changing his wet and soiled underpants several times a day they gave up on him and put him back in diapers when he was three and a half. He was just barely trained when he started the Purple School at almost four and a half. He was still having frequent accidents, but we counted on the fact that he was only at school fifteen hours a week to minimize how many of them occurred there. It worked out pretty well. We still were peeling dirty underpants off him a couple times a week, but it only happened at school two or three times. We felt like we were pulling off some kind of ruse, passing him off as a potty-trained child. He was close to five before he was what I’d call functionally potty-trained.

Although it manifests itself differently in me, I think I have at least a touch of Noah’s sensory difficulties (I’m pretty sure it’s why I have never learned to drive) and I am almost certainly the genetic source of them. But we’ve been watching June for signs since she was a baby and she doesn’t seem to have them. She’s reasonably well co-ordinated for her age and other than a sensitivity to light (which I’ve heard can come with blue eyes) she doesn’t seem to respond to sensory data in an unusual way. So why is she the oldest untrained child in her class? Did we jinx her by unconsciously communicating our fears to her? When June was younger we used to say when she reached potty training age we’d find out if Noah was really hard to train or if we were really bad at it. We were joking (mostly) but right now it’s not seeming very funny.

One day last week, after an accident, I asked June what it feels like right before she pees. “I don’t know,” she responded in an annoyed tone. I asked if she ever had a funny feeling right here and I pressed lightly on her bladder. “I don’t know,” she repeated. Please not again, I thought.

Last week at Kindermusik, conversation turned to potty training. There’s a girl in the class, who just turned two, who is already trained. Someone else mentioned training her son shortly before his second birthday in a weekend. I will admit I had some uncharitable thoughts upon hearing this, but I congratulated the mother of the recently trained girl and shared our tale of woe. One mom asked if we were using rewards. I explained June was getting one M&M for every half hour she kept her underpants dry, three if she peed on the potty, and that each time she pees on the potty (or sleeps through the night) she gets a sticker on a chart. Four stickers are redeemable for a trip to the video store. “That’s a complicated system,” the mom said. That’s the problem, I immediately thought, it’s too complicated. We’ve confused her. Clearly, I am more than ready to second guess myself.

I don’t know what our next step is. June likes her underpants (especially the cheap, thin Elmo ones, which she prefers over the soft, absorbent, organic training pants I favor). I don’t think she wants to go back to diapers. The Velcro on her diaper covers is wearing out so they pop open at inconvenient times and scratch her legs. I know I don’t want to invest in a whole new set of covers now and I’m pretty sure the ones we have in the next size up would be too big. But one success in eleven days is pretty discouraging. Basically, we are using the training pants and underwear as diapers. June doesn’t like to sit on the potty, never volunteers to do so and has to be jollied or bribed into it. The one time she did pee there she was so alarmed she jumped up and started to cry. Not that she’s comfortable wetting her pants, either. That makes her cry, too.

Yesterday was my day off. I went out for coffee, read down by the creek and swam laps. Beth took June to Circle Time at the library, picked up Noah from his after school science class, made dinner (with banana splits for dessert!) and handled most of the underpants changes and potty sits. I’m hoping this break will let me go into today and the days that come with renewed patience. I will try, but I’m not sure my subconscious is getting the message. I dreamed last night I had to take June to a party where underpants were required and I kept changing her into outfit after outfit but each time I got her dressed, she would wet herself and I’d have to start over. For his part, Noah’s tying to create underpants excitement by calling out from his room which ones he’s chosen for the day each morning: “I’m wearing my star underpants because I’m a star!” he’ll say. Leave it to Noah to put a positive spin on the situation.

Still, I’d say we are all getting pretty impatient for fourteen o’clock.

Rock Around the Clock

July is here. It’s full summer and the second half of 2008 is upon us. I feel we’re on the cusp of so many things. This month first my father and then my mother will turn sixty-five. (Happy Birthday, Dad! Happy Birthday, Mom!) In August, Noah will start second grade and in September, June will start nursery school. Her class has a weekly summer playgroup so she’s meeting the boys and girls who will be her first real friends, although their interaction now is mainly limited to staring at each other from across the snack table. In November, we’ll elect a new President. June already knows her candidate—“I wuv Bwack Obama Pwesent,” she says. (I can’t argue with her terminology either. It would be a wonderful present.)

There are other things I can’t predict with any accuracy but I hope will happen before the year turns. Sleeping through the night, anyone? June experimented with this maybe a half dozen times this spring, and then she gave it up. Toilet training, maybe? We got some serious pushback on this when we tried a few weeks ago so the Elmo and Zoe underpants and the Abby the fairy stickers got put away. We’ll try again when she seems ready. Meanwhile, I put her dolls on the potty every now and then. She watches with guarded interest.

Speaking of June, she’s more two all the time. We hear “No!” a lot and she’s starting to throw the occasional tantrum, though they’re still pretty mild. I don’t think she’s really peaked yet. What I mind more is the constant refrain of “Gimme that! It’s mine!” (Whatever it is almost never is hers. In fact, once she grabbed the drawstring on Noah’s shorts and shouted, “It’s my string!”) Along with this possessiveness has come an endless stream of bickering with Noah. Up to now they haven’t gotten along pretty peaceably, but I think he’s out of patience with her and he’s laughing at her assertions of ownership less often and arguing with them more often.

Noah doesn’t change as quickly as June does, but I am seeing glimpses of the boy and even the man he’ll be in years to come. He’s missing four teeth right now and one of the top front ones is coming in. I am half curious how the adult teeth will look in his mouth and half afraid he won’t look like my little boy any more. He’s busy with his summer math workbook and is enrolled (at his own insistence) in three different summer reading clubs. We had his reading level tested last week in conjunction with one of them and he’s reading at the fourth-grade level. He’s moved onto a new passion recently– dragons. We have four different books about dragons checked out of the library, a new dragon pillowcase Andrea made and three imaginary pet dragons living in the back yard. As active as his imagination is, it recently took a rather realistic turn. One of Noah’s favorite activities is “story-game.” We tell a story, each taking a turn adding to the narrative. The one we are telling this week walking to and from art camp is about Noah and Sasha, grown up and working together as marine biologists. Noah’s the head of the team studying dolphins; Sasha’s group studies whales. They’ve even published their findings in scientific journals. (Noah invented one called Leaping Creatures of the Sea. Okay, so it’s not completely realistic, but it’s a change from the usual stories about magic and mysteries.)

People often say of parenting that the days go slowly but the years go quickly. It’s true. The hours and days and weeks and months and years add up until that baby you had not long ago is telling you he wants to join the robotics club in high school– the high school Noah will attend has one– and you think maybe he really will. But we live our lives not in years but in the small spaces of minutes and hours.

Here’s how the first day of July went for us, hour by hour.

June was up twice during the night, but never on the hour, so at 1:00, 2:00. 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 and 6:00 a.m., we slept.

7:00: June and I were snuggling and drowsing in bed. Beth was in Noah’s room reading his morning story to him.

8:00: Beth, June and I were eating breakfast. Noah was playing computer games.

9:00: I was hurrying to get everyone out the door. I needed to deliver Noah to art camp by 9:30 and to get June to the library by 10:00 for Circle Time.

10:00: We were approaching the library, with just a block or so to go. We’d taken a different route than usual because we’d dropped Noah off at camp and June was agitated the whole walk. “We have to go to the library! We have to sing songs with Ms. Karen!” she kept insisting, not heeding my assurances that we were in fact going to the library. When we reached Maple Ave, she seemed to recognize where we were, relaxed a little and said to me, “Don’t worry, Mommy. We’ll find Ms. Karen.”

11:00: We arrived back at home. I read the online newsletters I clip for Sara while June drew with chalk on the blackboard half of the easel. Occasionally, she would commission me to add something to her scribbles. Suns and rainbows are favorites of hers.

12:00: Mr. Rogers ended. We ate a lunch of noodle soup, crackers, cheese and fruit.

1:00: I rode the exercise bike while June napped.

2:00: I hear birdsong from the dining room. It was our clock, which plays a recording of a different bird for each hour. Two o’ clock is the Northern Mockingbird. I was sorry to hear it. I was lying in bed with June. She’d awoken prematurely from her nap and I’d put her back to sleep in our bed. I was holding her with one arm and holding Hearts in Atlantis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearts_in_Atlantis) in my other hand. The story was engaging and June was warm and snug in the crook of my arm. I could smell the faint odor of sweat on her skin, and the cantaloupe she’d eaten at lunch on her breath. I didn’t want to wake her up and go get Noah at camp, but that’s what I did.

3:00: “This playdate will be better when we get home,” Noah declared.

I’d picked up Noah and Jill from art camp a half hour earlier and brought them to the playground on the way home. Their play got off to a slightly rocky start. As I walked back toward the playground with June in tow (having recently retrieved her from the nearby woods), I heard Jill say, “Stop it right now, Noah, or I’ll tell your mom.”

As I headed apprehensively to the play structure where they were both standing, a woman approached to tell me Noah was blocking a younger boy’s path and not letting him down the slides. When I told him to stop he did, but he ran down to the creek to throw rocks in the water, leaving Jill behind. She told me about a time when he pushed her on the playground at school and she’d told the playground monitor. I wondered uneasily how long Jill’s memory was. Was she recounting something that happened last year, during Noah’s streak of bad behavior or was this recent? I didn’t ask, though, since I had my hands full chasing June around. I made a mental note to ask Noah about it later.

Eventually I got Noah and Jill reunited at the swings, but he was grumpy.

“Do you want to go home now?” I asked, thinking he might be right. A change of venue could help.

“I do,” Jill piped up.

“Not yet,” Noah said.

We agreed on leaving in five minutes.

4:00: Noah and Jill were in his room laughing and making shadow puppets on the wall.

The play date did improve at home. They ate a snack, took turns playing his guitar, and played with the hotel Noah made for school, which now serves as a dollhouse. They dumped all the pieces of the world map puzzle on the floor and didn’t put any of them together because they got distracted by the microscope. A crucial piece of the microscope fell out and they decided to make shadow puppets. All of these transitions occurred smoothly and without rancor. They ended their playdate with a game of online Monopoly. When Jill’s babysitter came to take her to her piano lesson at 4:25, Jill didn’t want to leave.

5:00: Cyberchase ended and Arthur began. I’d finished my work for Sara, folded laundry and had even snuck in a little more reading while the kids watched the first half hour of Noah’s television. It was tempting to keep reading, but I decided to put my book away and cuddle with them on the couch for the second show instead.

6:00: “This is fun,” Noah said. He and I were in the garden sitting by the lettuce patch. I was picking lettuce for salad and he was weeding. I was running late with dinner since I’d read two chapters of Dragon’s Egg (http://home.earthlink.net/~slthomson/9780061288487.shtml) to him around the time I normally start cooking. I’d intended to just dash out a pick a little lettuce but Noah was showing so much interest in gardening that we lingered. The sun was warm and I could smell the moist earth. June ran around the yard in big loops while Noah and I worked companionably together.

7:00: We ate a later than usual dinner of linguine with veggie meatballs and salad.
There was an unexpected benefit to getting behind schedule. Because Beth got home around 6:20, before I’d even started cooking, she and the kids played in the backyard, taking turns shooting hoops (Beth lifting June up into the air during her turns) while I cooked. No one screamed or cried or whined during the entire time I was preparing dinner.

8:00: Beth and Noah were playing a hand of poker. She’s teaching him various card games and they play every night before bed. On bath nights he sits there with his hair slicked back wearing the sleeveless t-shirts he wears to bed, studying his cards and looking for all the world like a 1940s card shark. He just needs a cigar and a fedora.

9:00: The children were asleep. I was in the kitchen and caught a glimpse of the backyard as the twilight faded to full dark. The air was full of dancing fireflies. I stayed at the window and watched them for at least five minutes.

10:00: Beth and I were in bed, but not yet asleep. Our bedtime conversation (whispered so as not to wake June in her bed in the corner of the room) was over. I rolled over on my side and waited for sleep.

11:00: Everyone slept. Time crept on. The rest of the second half of 2008 awaited us.