The Planet New York

The alarm on Beth’s iPhone went off at 6:30 on the day after Christmas, or as Noah kept reminding us, “the first day of Kwanzaa and the second day of Christmas.” I’d just finished nursing June and she and I were just drifting back to sleep. Beth and Noah were asleep in the dark of an overcast late December dawn. Moments later, we were all stirring, getting ready for a quick trip to New York. We’d spent Christmas at my mother and stepfather’s house outside Philadelphia and we’d decided to make the short hop up to New York to see my father and take in twenty-eight and a half hours’ worth of kid-friendly sights.

Two hours later we left my mother’s house on foot, toting only what Beth, Noah and I could carry in our backpacks. We walked to the Lansdowne SEPTA station ( Noah, used to buying Metro cards from machines, wanted to know why we were going inside the station. Beth explained we needed to buy tickets from an agent, “like in Frosty.” (We’d just watched Frosty the Snowman a few days earlier.) Noah was eager to watch the transaction and went up to the window with Beth while I sat on the bench and June climbed up and down a short flight of stairs, announcing “I climb stairs,” in case anyone in the station had failed to notice. We told Noah that Pop, who now works full-time renovating his and my mom’s house, had renovated the station twelve years ago.

At 30th Street Station, Noah was not terribly impressed by the giant Christmas tree or the famous statue of the angel with the fallen soldier (, but he was entranced by the spinning rows of text on the Amtrak arrivals and departures board.

The train was crowded and we had to split up so I could find a forward-facing seat. (Riding backwards makes me violently ill.) Beth and Noah sat together and I took June further up the car. Once we were seated, June was simultaneously lulled by the movement of the train and excited by the novelty of the situation. She would lean against me and start to nod off, then stand up and look out the window. I pointed out the boathouses on the Schuylkill River ( and other notable sights. “I on train,” she commented repeatedly. About twenty-five minutes into the journey, she collapsed in my lap and slept the rest of the way to New York.

Reunited with Beth and Noah at Penn Station, I inquired about his train ride. He said they had done some Mad Libs and pretended the train was a space ship traveling to “the Planet New York.” On the subway trip to our hotel, Noah noted which parts of the galaxy we were visiting as the stations flashed by on the lighted route map.

Walking into the lobby with its Christmas tree, poinsettias and bowls of ornaments and gold-painted pine cones reminded me that in similarly decorated hotels in Chicago, approximately nine thousand academics would soon be descending on the Modern Language Association annual convention ( I’ve spent the days right after Christmas interviewing for jobs or moping because I wasn’t interviewing for jobs at this convention more years than I’d like to say. I pushed the thought aside. June’s enthusiastic bouncing on the hotel bed, her mad dashing around the room, her laughing and squealing “I too fast!” cheered me right up. I called my father and made plans to meet for dinner, and before Noah had a chance to whine “Why do I always have to sleep on the pull-out couch” more than a dozen or so times, we were off to grab lunch at a burrito place and go see the Statue of Liberty.

My father warned us this trip would take a long time and he wasn’t kidding. We took two subways down to the Statue. As we switched trains, we just missed hearing a violinist and a guitarist who were packing up to move to another car. We arrived at the Battery ( around two p.m.. There we admired a poster advertising plans for an aquatic carousel, skirted a rally, and got in a very long line that wound around Castle Clinton ( to wait for our tickets. About fifteen minutes into our wait, Noah decided to make a game out of it by having everyone guess how long it would be until we made it to the ticket counter. Noah, ever the optimist, guessed seven minutes. I guessed a half hour and Beth guessed forty-five minutes. Beth set the timer on her iPhone and Noah decided whoever made the closest guess could have the head of his chocolate reindeer. I pointed out that since it was already his, there was no provision for a prize for him if he won. He said he didn’t mind. I like things to be fair, but since I thought there was very little chance he’d need a prize, I let it go. While we waited in line, June napped in the stroller and we watched the entrepreneurs who had painted their skin green and donned robes to pose for pictures with tourists. Beth won the bet. It took forty minutes and twenty seconds from the time we set the timer to get to the ticket counter and complete our transaction. Once there, we learned you need special tickets to enter the statue so we’d only be able to ride the ferry to the island and see the statue close up. Noah was a little disappointed, but still excited to go. He’s been studying symbols of our country at school, which was the reason for the excursion.

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

Two subway rides later (trains #6 and 7 of the day), we met my father and stepmother Ann for dinner. Ann admired Noah’s new glasses and Dad asked me questions about Sensory Processing Disorder ( and how Noah was doing. (The answer is just fine now that he has more compatible teachers.) Service was a bit slow, which was fine, since we were exhausted from running around. It was nice to relax, eat our pizza and pasta, and chat. Once we’d finished our meal, though, we needed to hurry back to our hotel and get our worn out kids to bed.

The next morning we met Dad for breakfast at Alice’s Teacup ( I highly recommend this teahouse to anyone who, like Noah, adores Alice in Wonderland. Quotes from the book and photographs of people dressed as characters from the book adorn the walls. The bathroom walls are painted with scenes from the book. There’s also a library of kids’ books, so Noah spent much of the meal with his nose in a book about magical creatures. Every now and then he would regale us with facts about them. The Naga (,
for instance, is half-human, half-snake and causes floods when angered. “I think I worked for him once,” Dad commented. We feasted on crepes, waffles, scones, tea and coffee. Once everyone was sated, Dad took us to a toy store and let the kids pick out their Christmas presents. Noah got a pirate castle and June got some small stuffed animals (a bear in a chef’s apron and a snowman) and a bead maze. Dad, who’s an editor who comes in and out of retirement, had an appointment to discuss a job at an investigative journalism web site soon after, so we parted company.

Our next stop was Central Park. Both kids had been cooped up in trains or the stroller or standing in line and they needed to move. We entered the park at Strawberry Fields (, and looked at the Imagine Memorial, which was covered in evergreen boughs and roses arranged in a peace sign. Shortly after entering the park, we noticed June had lost her little chef bear. (We looked for it on the way back, but we never did find it.) We walked along the paths and clambered on the big rocks. “I climb dis!” I climb rock! I climbing!” June announced as Beth and I scrambled to make sure neither child fell off the wet boulders. We made it to the Bethesda Fountain (, which was turned off and Noah and June played inside its basin. We went under the arches of the terrace and admired the mosaics on the walls and ceilings. It was beautiful and smelled of urine.

It was time to head back to the hotel and check out. It had been misting all morning and on the way back it started to rain in earnest. Both kids are generally sturdy about being out in the cold and wet but June had soaked her feet in a puddle in the park and her face was getting wet and after a while she started to whimper. Then her whimpering turned to crying and as we wheeled her into the hotel lobby she was screaming. We had just enough time to change her diaper and her socks before grabbing our things and leaving the room. A desk clerk had called to inquire politely, “When will you be leaving?” so we needed to hustle. June had stopped crying, but we decided to warm up a bit in the lobby before going back into the rain. After we’d exhausted the kid-entertaining possibilities there, we shouldered our packs and left. Ducking into a near-by Starbucks, I noticed June had conked out during the short stroller ride there, so we decided to stay inside where it was warm and let her sleep a bit while we drank coffee and raspberry soymilk, did Mad Libs and watched New York walk by.

When the rain let up, we walked thirty-three blocks down Broadway to Times Square. At home in Washington, we can recognize the tourists because they block the walking side of Metro escalators. I think New Yorkers must recognize their tourists because we’re the ones blocking sidewalk traffic gawking up at the tall buildings. “Those are sky-scrapers!” Noah said in wonder. We stopped to read the news on the CNN building banner (all about Benazir Bhutto’s assassination), watched the ads on giant video screens and checked out the various theater marquees. Without having read any reviews, I was most intrigued by Mary Poppins and knowing how long some shows stay on Broadway, I made a mental note to keep it in mind if it’s still there when both kids are old enough to take in a show. I learned that there’s a whole store dedicated to M&Ms and M&M-themed products and a Hershey’s store across the street. I didn’t see it, but based on the number of eight to ten-year-old girls clutching dolls I think we must have been near the American Girl store. We frequently got separated in the crush of the crowd and June and I would have to wait for Noah and Beth to catch up. Beth reports that during one of their absences, Noah fell flat on his back on the sidewalk. This is not an unusual occurrence for him and he was apparently having a tactile under-sensitive day because he jumped back up without comment, spurring a teenage boy nearby to say, “Tough kid!” with some admiration. Near the end of our walk, I bought some warm nuts in a paper bag to much on while we soaked up the last few sights of our trip.

We got on the subway at 42nd Street, only eight blocks from Penn Station, but we were too tired to walk any further. In the café car of the Amtrak train, we did Mad Libs, snacked on leftover pizza and potato chips and took turns trying on Noah’s Statue of Liberty glasses as we sped away from the Planet New York.

When You Send Your Children to the Moon – Postscript

Last night, as I was leaving Noah’s room after a bedtime snuggle, he said, “It’s scary to start a new grade.”

Sitting on the edge of the bed in his darkened room, I asked what was scary about it.

He said it was hard to remember where two rooms were instead of one. In first grade, the Spanish immersion program switches to a half-day format. So he has two teachers, Ms. C in the morning and Señorita M in the afternoon. I waited, but he didn’t have anything else to say about what was scary about it.

Goodness knows we’ve all been on eggshells all week. Noah’s been crying more easily and longer over small things. In the evenings, we quiz him about his day in falsely casual tones, and after he’s gone to bed, Beth and I try to read the tealeaves. On the whole, there have been more good signs than bad. He seems to be settling back into the routine. The first day of school he couldn’t figure out whom to play with at recess and played alone on the climbing equipment and with the digging machine. By Tuesday, however, he and Ruby had restarted their castle role-playing game from last year and played it the rest of the week, with some side trips to Vampire Mountain and Fairy Land. Just that afternoon, as we were talking about Back to School Night next week, Noah told me he wanted to come along (it’s unclear whether this is actually allowed) because “I like both my teachers.” And when we sent Noah’s occupational therapy report to school with our letter to Ms. C she responded the very next day, saying she’d read the thick, technically worded report and would try to implement its suggestions for Noah’s teachers. She also said she believes being active benefits adults and children and that she has the children moving around a lot during the day. Her classroom is called Tiger Town and they earn Tiger Tokens redeemable at the Tiger Store for good behavior. It’s the kind of imagination-engaging theme Noah loves. She has had the kids playing a lot of getting-to-know-you games this week and assigned them to bring home “Me in a Bag” one night for homework. Noah chose a photo of himself in his Halloween costume last year (he was the sun) to show he likes weather and imagining things, a kazoo to stand for his love of music and a print-out of a recipe for mango lassi from the Maya and Miguel ( website to show he loves mangos and watching PBS cartoons.

There were a few worrisome incidents, however, in Señorita M’s class. Noah reported that when another student misbehaved, everyone had to put their heads down on their desks, which does not strike Beth or me as effective discipline. Noah also mentioned getting in trouble for tangling up the Scotch tape, which seemed innocent enough to me. When I asked if he was supposed to be using the tape at the time, he admitted that he wasn’t. His paper kept sliding around on his desk, so he decided to tape it down without asking permission to use the tape and then he got tangled up in it. He thought this meant he would get bad marks for behavior that day, but when his weekly report came home, it was all smiley-faces. We have a meeting scheduled with both teachers next week.

There was almost no homework this week, so Noah used his normal homework time to work on summer reading assignments and has completed seventeen activities with only four left to do by the end of next week. Tonight we are celebrating a good first week of school by going out for Chinese and to Barnes and Noble to redeem Noah’s Reading Road Trip gift certificate. One week down. Thirty-five to go.

Welcome to 6:47

“Welcome to 6:47,” Noah chirped. He was standing by our bed in his T-Rex pajamas, waiting for a greeting from me.

“Good morning, Noah,” I managed.

About a week and a half ago we changed the time Noah is allowed to come into our room from 6:00 to 6:30 a.m. He accepted the change without fuss, possibly because we promised to play with him right away and not insist he try to lay quietly in the bed and avoid waking June, while we tried to drowse a bit longer ourselves. Or it could be because we bought him a digital clock for his room and he loves being able to announce the time.

The old 6:00 system was implemented when Noah was not quite three and new to sleeping the whole night alone. He would sometimes fall back asleep for a half hour or longer if we let him in the bed at 6:00 a.m. Those days are long gone. Now he’s wide awake long before any of his sleepy womenfolk have any desire to be. We were starting the day more and more often ignoring him, or scolding him, or engaging in some kind of conflict.

Our mornings are much better now. He’s holding up his end of the bargain (except for one morning when he came in at 4:48, having only checked the last two digits of the time) and so are we. Plus I like his new morning greeting, “Welcome to 6:32” or “Bienvenidos a 6:30” or some variation. It’s a good reminder to Be Here Now, as the Buddhists say, or to live in the moment as my mother recently advised me. And today we got a bonus, a full seventeen extra minutes of rest.

Noah wedged himself into the bed, between me and June, snuggling up close to me. Soon after June started to stir; then she woke, crying, and climbed over Noah to rest on my chest. First thing in the morning they both want, no, need to touch me. June falls asleep in Beth’s arms most nights after she’s had her fill of nursing and she sleeps nestled against her most of the night. When she wakes, at night or in the morning, however, she wants me. The trick is finding a way to arrange myself and both kids so they’re not fighting over Mommy-access. (Actually, this seems to be a lot of what parenting two is all about.) We also need to keep the snuggle session long enough to satisfy Noah and short enough to minimize sibling conflicts and excessive rough housing in the rather crowded bed. It’s a balancing act.

This morning it lasted twenty minutes. We lay together quietly for a while. Noah and June rolled together and shrieked. We barked like dogs. (June is really good at this.) We pretended to be horses. Finally, it was time for story and game. This is a Beth-and-Noah ritual. They leave the bed for Noah’s room where she reads him a story (right now they are working through a souvenir coffee table book about Disneyland) and then they play a game. This morning Noah wanted to play museum, a game during which he pretends to be a museum guide showing Beth the exhibits in a science museum. The water cycle, the food chain, and evolution are his favorites. Beth prefers Meteorological Moment because it’s shorter. In this game she pretends to be a radio announcer who relays a brief set of facts about weather she reads from one of Noah’s weather books. (If you listen to NPR, think Star Date, but about weather instead of space.) She couldn’t talk him into it, though, and soon the museum guide was telling her about the films that could be viewed at the museum.

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

It’s the fourth week of Noah’s summer break and the second week of camp. Last week’s camp was art and dance at his old nursery school. It turned out to be more art than dance. This week is music and math through the Takoma Park Recreation Department and it’s turning out to be more music than math. Both camps have been for four to six-year-olds and in both Noah has been the oldest camper. He doesn’t seem to mind playing with younger kids or that the activities have been slightly different than we expected. He seems quite happy in fact.

When I picked him up today a cd was playing and the children were dancing. The drums they’d painted earlier in the day were drying on the project table. Noah had the chance to pick the final activity and he had the teacher and one other child dance a dance of his own invention, called The Acrobatic Sky Show. (This dance and an accompanying chant grew out of a rather wild play date he had a couple weeks ago. There’s even a logo, but that’s another story.) The teacher asked him to bring a favorite instrument and cd the next day. After some discussion, we settled on his accordion and a cd of international music.

At home we had a pleasant afternoon. For lunch we ate cherries so juicy that both the children looked like vampires (and sloppy ones at that) when they were finished. June napped long enough for me to read an entire issue of Big Back Yard (a science magazine for children) to Noah. I tried to get him to alternate reading paragraphs with me (this is how we read the last issue) but he wasn’t in the mood. We watched Maya and Miguel and Curious George. We went to the creek to look for round and oval rocks to paint like beetles (a craft project from the magazine) and he gave the rocks their first coat of paint. I made a vegetable-orzo salad and while it chilled I read two chapters of Pippi in the South Seas to Noah, soaking my feet in the wading pool as June skinny-dipped in it. After dinner, Beth set up the bouncy castle again and the kids took turns bouncing. Before bed, we feasted on homemade sour cherry sauce over vanilla ice cream. (Beth made the sauce last weekend and we have been eating it every night since.)

As I left Noah’s room after putting him to bed, I glanced back at him with a small smile. “Welcome to 8:21,” I said. He giggled. I wasn’t wholly in the moment, though. My mind was casting ahead into the next forty-five minutes or so. I needed to get June to bed, treat cherry stains in both kids’ clothes, talk to Beth about our upcoming conference call with the occupational therapist the next morning, etc., etc.. Before I knew it, Noah was out of his room. The sippy of water he keeps in his bed at night was missing. I located and refilled it and returned it to his room. “Welcome to 8:26,” I said as I left the second time. And this time, the two-child portion of my day was over.

It was a good day, the way I hoped our summer days would be. They don’t always go so well. Sometimes June won’t nap alone and I have no alone time with Noah. Sometimes he’s whiny and June cries and cries and cries and there seems to be no way to make them both happy so I have to choose one, or sometimes neither if that’s what it takes to get dinner on the table. Sometimes I get angry at Beth as 6:00, then 6:30, then 6:45, then 7:00 pass by and she’s not home yet. Sometimes we run after the ice cream truck and we don’t catch it. Some days are more like I feared when ten weeks stretched out in front of me, seeming like a very long time indeed.

Either way, good, bad or in between, the days are now. With varying success, I try to be open to them and to welcome now.

Growth Spurts

I glanced back and forth between June, sleeping deeply on the bed, and the clock. It was 9:45 a.m., our target leaving time for our 11:00 pediatrician appointment. We’d managed, though an extraordinary stroke of luck, to schedule Noah’s belated six-year appointment back to back with June’s fifteen-month one. The diaper bag was packed; Beth and Noah were ready. All I needed to do was wake June, change her and go. I hesitated a moment, watching her peaceful face and her chubby little arms and legs sprawled on the sheets. I hate waking sleeping babies. Then Noah’s screams pierced the air and I didn’t have to. June’s eyes popped open and she immediately sat up, looking confused. I wondered, briefly, what he’d done this time as I set to work changing June’s diaper. It turned out he’d scraped his leg jumping from the radiator.

Despite an unexpected street closure we got to the pediatrician’s office in plenty of time so we stopped at Starbucks to fortify ourselves for the potentially long visit with iced lemon pound cake (Noah’s favorite), a vanilla frappe (for Beth who had a sore throat) and an iced almond latte (for me). In a last-minute bid to fatten June up, we fed her bits of Noah’s cake and the whipped cream from Beth’s frappe. I saved my ice for her sore and swollen gums.

We were called in quickly and nurse came to weigh and measure the kids. I lay June on the scale and we watched the numbers flash by while it averaged the data from our unhappily writhing child. Finally it stopped at 17 pounds, 11 ounces. “Yes!” I yelped. I knew she would still be off the charts at that weight, but she’d gained a pound and a half in three months, more than she had in the previous three, at an age when most children’s growth is slowing. For her, it counts as a growth spurt.

Noah was weighed in another room while I got June back into her diaper. “Fifty two pounds,” Beth reported when they came back into the examining room. I nodded. We already had a rough idea of what both kids weighed because we’d just come back from a long weekend in Wheeling, visiting Beth’s parents and celebrating her father’s birthday. We don’t have a scale at home, but they do and Noah loves to weigh himself there. Whenever we’re there he does it several times a day, announcing with equal enthusiasm any losses or gains of weight over the course of the day. I’d also weighed June—just once—by stepping on the scale with and without her.

Noah has gained nine pounds in the past year, six in the past six months. He has seemed big to me recently, but I thought it was just from being with June all day and using her as my frame of reference. He has only grown two and a half inches taller in that time, but he doesn’t seem fatter, rather more muscular. His body feels harder and his hands in particular seem bigger and more sinewy. Andrea, Beth and I discussed whether this growth spurt could at least partially account for the clumsiness and lack of body awareness that seemed to worsen for Noah this spring. Of course it can’t account for all his troubles. Crashing into people and using too much force on crayons and glue bottles maybe. Pulling hair and stealing goat masks? Probably not. Like every other explanation we’ve tried on (Is it a six-year-old thing? A boy thing? A sensory processing deficit?) it makes some sense but doesn’t explain the totality of his difficulties, although it does answer the “Why now?” question that is always tugging at my mind.

The sensory issues are part of the picture, too. In late May we had Noah evaluated by an occupational therapist. We just received her report and she found mild dysfunction in his vestibular, tactile and proprioceptive sensory processing. In plain English, that means he has problems with balance and needs to move frequently to regulate this sense. He is sometimes over-responsive and sometime under-responsive to touch and he seeks the sensation of deep pressure on his muscles and joints (by jumping or bouncing) to regulate that sense. He also has some trouble knowing where his body is relation to objects and other people. A lot of these observations ring true to us, but they still don’t explain why he functioned well in day care and school settings prior to the middle of this school year and so much worse after that. Even if it was something about his kindergarten environment, I don’t understand why problems didn’t crop up at once.

After the nurse left and the nurse practitioner examined both kids and conducted the interview portion of the appointment, it was time for shots. Three vaccinations for June and a TB test for Noah. He was nervous about it and wanted to know if it would hurt. Beth said in her experience it stung a little but his experience might be different. The nurse came in and asked who was first. Noah, Beth said, since he wouldn’t scream as long. But when the nurse came at him with the needle, he cried “No!” and jerked his arm away. Beth put her arm around him and tried to talk him into it. The gruff nurse lost patience and headed over to June, who was in my lap. June did not cry at the first shot, but mildly regarded the thin trickle of blood running down her thigh. By the second one, however, she’d decided enough was enough and began to wail. The nurse worked quickly and soon all three shots were administered and Loony Tunes Band-Aids covered the pricks. June continued to sob. As the nurse turned back to Noah, Beth said she didn’t want to have to hold him down, but in the end, she did just that. His eyes, red with tears, wide and terrified, sought mine. I wanted to look away, but I held his gaze with what I hoped was a more sympathetic than stricken look until the nurse had finished.

“Have a nice day,” she said, as she left us, each holding a screaming child. Beth’s prediction was wrong. Noah screamed longer. I think he actually startled June into quieting down as he thrashed on the floor and gave Beth an angry push. She told him to use his words. He had none, but he stopped pushing. Eventually he was calm enough to leave the room and soon after he was happily chatting as if nothing had happened.

I don’t know why this scene took us by surprise. After all, we have an official document from a licensed professional telling us our son is sometimes over-responsive to touch, and of course, we didn’t need to read it to know it was true. He has always had unpredictable responses to injuries, sometimes shrugging off hard falls, other times going to pieces over a minor bump. But the truth is, for whatever reason, shots have never been much of a problem. There was a blood draw at his four-year appointment that ended in screams and struggles, but the nurse had repeatedly botched it and it came after several shots and getting a plantar’s wart frozen off his foot. His last shot, a flu shot in November, was without incident. One thought kept running through my mind: “He’s changed.” Something about Noah is different, some part of him that keeps him physically and emotionally under control has deteriorated recently and I don’t know why. I hope the therapist can help, but my worry for him almost spoiled my happiness at June’s weight gain.

The afternoon was busy. Beth took the kids out to lunch, grocery shopping and to get Noah’s hair cut. I asked her if she still wanted to do it on what seemed to be a tactile-sensitive day for Noah. She said yes, his hair was getting long enough to tangle and she didn’t want to struggle with him over brushing it. Plus she’d taken a personal day to go to the appointment and get caught up on weekend chores we didn’t do since we were out of town. She just wanted to get it done. They dropped me off at home so I could clean house and do laundry from our trip.

It was late afternoon before they returned. The haircut went fine, Beth reported and though the nurse practitioner had warned June might be feverish and cranky from her shots, she’d been cheerful and pleasant. Beth had become sicker over the course of the day, however, so she went to bed, where she stayed most of the rest of the day, emerging for short intervals to inflate the wading pool, eat dinner and get Noah ready for bed. I don’t know how much rest she got, though, since June—feeling the effects of the shots, or her sore gums, or the oppressive heat, or some unknown existential angst– began to fall apart quite loudly in the early evening, and Noah was, well, Noah.

There were some quiet moments, however. Noah, June and I played in the wading pool for a while, and then Noah watched television from 5:00 to 6:00. As he watched, there was an occasional hiatus in June’s hysterics. During one of these, she escaped from me as I was getting her out of her wet bathing suit and she climbed naked onto the couch. She sat next to Noah, who was sitting on towels in his damp trunks and swim top, sucking his thumb, already absorbed in Cyberchase. I came to fetch her and paused again, as I had that morning, hating to interrupt a moment of peace. They sat cuddled up against each other, sixty-nine and three-quarters pounds of damp, momentarily still children. They were in parallel positions and June’s hair, curly from the recent humidity, increased their resemblance. Finally, I scooped her up, diapered her and put her in her hand-me-down dolphin pajamas. I deposited her on the same spot on the couch, but the moment was broken. She stood, and a few minutes later, having forgotten her recently mastered couch dismount technique, fell off onto the rug. I picked her up and brought her to the kitchen where I started dinner, with her either on my hip, or when I tired, clinging to my legs and screaming.

At dinner, Noah crankily rejected his tofu because it had a slightly different texture the tofu we normally buy and went out on the porch to bounce on his Hop!55. (For those of you who were or had children in the 1970s, think Hippity Hop.) I let him go. We bought the hopping ball on the therapist’s recommendation and at the moment he seemed to be using it for its intended purpose, to help regulate his emotions when he gets out of sync. Beth was still resting, so June and I ate in relative quiet, until Beth came out of our room and Noah returned from the porch and politely asked for bread and butter. How about bread and peanut butter, I suggested, wanting to get some protein in him. He is, after all, a growing boy. Peanut butter and jelly, he countered. I agreed and made it for him and we ate, growing boy, growing girl and tired moms.

En El Medio

Hay sí o hay no. ¡No hay en el medio!” Señora A exclaimed in frustration. (It’s yes or no, there’s no in between.”) She was trying to get Noah to admit or deny having pushed another student earlier in the day. She and Noah and I were sitting around a child-sized table and she was filling out the scores on his behavior contract for the day.

Noah looked shame-faced and wouldn’t meet her eye. “No sé,” he said repeatedly. (I don’t know.) It was hard to balance in the tiny chair with June squirming on my lap and it was hot in the room. Noah, June and I were all in jackets because after the meeting we’d have to rush to drama. I knew we’d be late, but I decided to stay as long as we needed to. It was his first day with the contract and I wanted to know how it had gone.

Señora A and Señora B (a school counselor) had drawn up the contract after our meeting with them, a rather frustrating meeting, truth be told. We’d prepared by asking Noah’s preschool (and now drama) teacher and one of the moms who volunteered at his school last year for advice about what works with Noah in a school setting when Beth and I aren’t there. Their advice, given separately, was remarkably similar. They spoke of Noah’s difficulty attending to directions given to the group as a whole.

“Noah won’t hear you unless you’re talking directly to him,” Kathleen, the mom, said.

Leslie, the teacher, added it was a good idea to touch him lightly on the shoulder when you spoke to him to keep him focused on you. “He has a busy mind,” she said, making it sound as if it was perfectly understandable it can be so hard to get him to pay attention. He is, after all, engaged in thinking deep thoughts. (One of his recent musings to me actually regarded the existence of el medio. “There is no highest or lowest number,” he told me. “But there is a middle. Zero is the exact middle.”)

But it turned out there were more pressing problems than securing Noah’s wandering attention. Señora A reported he had been hitting and pushing, that the other children were afraid of him. Noah’s version of events on bad days usually pointed to an accident, so we were unprepared for this narrative about an aggressive boy we scarcely recognized. As a result, and because the teacher and counselor spoke mainly to each other and not to us, Beth and I were more passive in this meeting than we intended.

When we came out of the meeting, which took place right before school started, we noticed Noah’s classmates all huddled around him, interested in the toy he’d been playing with while he waited outside in the hall. None of them looked particularly afraid.

In the end, Señora A and Señora B drew up a contract for Noah covering three types of behavior: keeping his hands to himself, staying in his chair and not talking or singing when he was supposed to be quiet. If he received seven out of nine possible points in any given half-day, he gets a sticker redeemable for prizes worth ten or fifteen stickers.

It took almost a week to get the sticker system in place. In the meanwhile, Beth and I tackled the problem like any overeducated, middle-class parents would: we hit the library, checking out books on six-year-olds, “spirited children,” and sensory processing disorder (Beth’s current diagnosis — I haven’t read that one yet). We also signed him up for a psycho-educational evaluation at Johns Hopkins, something we’d been considering for a while, given Noah’s quirky mix of intelligence and social immaturity. Right now we’re reading our books and waiting. Señora B said the contract would need two weeks before we knew if it was working. It’s been a week, but more often than not when I ask Noah he says Señora A didn’t give him a score for the day. I suspect she’s having trouble finding the classroom time to implement the system.

So we’re en el medio, neither here nor there, not really knowing what comes next. And there is an in-between; there always is. In the contract meeting, Noah freely admitted to every charge other than the pushing incident (in such beautiful Spanish I kept getting distracted from what he was saying by my delight and pride in how well he was saying it). This struck me, so once we were home, I pressed him further about it. “Why did you say you didn’t know?” I asked.

“Because I don’t know. I don’t remember pushing her…” He trailed off.

“But you think you could have?”

“Yeah.” Noah knows himself well enough to know that he runs into people without meaning to, sometimes without even noticing it happened. So in strict honesty (and he is a very honest child) he couldn’t deny pushing the other child, but at the same time he wasn’t quite ready to accept blame. It was an in-between kind of situation for him and faced with the declaration that such situations do not exist, he didn’t know what say.

All this angst about Noah’s school situation sometimes causes me to forget to worry about June. She’s in a bit of an in-between place herself. I took her for her thirteen-month weigh-in on Tuesday and despite all the extra-fat strained Greek yogurt and shredded cheese we’ve been feeding her she only gained five ounces in the past month. The nurse practitioner was a bit disappointed, but since she is growing and her head continues to grow (exactly a half centimeter a month) we don’t have to take her in at fourteen months and we have two-month reprieve from all this focus on her weight. I know she’ll have a growth spurt at some point, I just don’t know when and I’d like to just let it be until she does. Developmentally, she’s normal, just on the verge of talking and walking. She knows about six or seven words but rarely uses them. She is very close to walking. In fact, today I thought she was going to take a step.

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

Meanwhile, Noah’s week has been better than last. Monday and Tuesday he didn’t say anything about missing free-choice play or being called out of class to the disciplinarian. They had a substitute both days and I noticed he came home in a better mood than usual. On Monday afternoon he even agreed to take a walk with me, an after-school activity I often suggest and he rarely accepts. Today when I went to pick him up from school and take him to drama, I asked Señora A, “How was his day?”

She smiled, gave me a thumbs-up sign and said, “Super!” I thought about asking for more detail, but decided to leave it at that. I liked super. Why mess with it? (Later Beth speculated that the onset of warmer weather and with it outside recess almost every day, plus permission I secured from Señora A for Noah to suck his thumb in class has helped relieve some of his pent-up energy and stress and improved his behavior. Time will tell, I suppose.)

At drama it was Noah’s turn to come up with the idea that would start the improv. He’d decided ahead of time he would set the action in a haunted castle, but his imagination had been captured by a movie they watched in music class that day, about a musical child prodigy and he wanted to act that out instead. However, they’d only seen part of the movie and the information he’d provided Leslie was scant. She wasn’t sure where to go with it and she was trying to convince him to use another scenario. A long but unhurried negotiation ensued, with Leslie, Noah and the other students all chiming in suggestions. Leslie handled the situation with her usual respectful aplomb. Finally, they found el medio. The scene started with the prodigy’s story but ended up in the haunted castle (and somehow an alien egg from last week made a repeat appearance).

As we waited in the next room for class to let out, I told Kathleen that June still weighs only sixteen and a half pounds. She waved her hand. “You only have to look at her to see nothing’s wrong,” she said. Her little dramatist Caitlin is also small for her age, but very self-assured and strong-willed. She’s six going on thirty-six, so Kathleen knows small doesn’t mean sick or weak.

On the way home, I bought Noah a popsicle to celebrate his super day. We’re in-between, but there are worse places we could be.