Quarter Past Eight

First Weekend: Camping Trip

The kids have been out of school for ten days now.  Beth and the kids went camping the first weekend, leaving only about an hour after Noah got home from school.  June got home a little earlier and had a quick play date with Zoë before they hit the road.  Beth and both kids camped in Western Maryland Friday night and then Beth’s mom and brother came to collect Noah for his week with them on Saturday, and Beth and June camped another night before returning home Sunday afternoon.

While Beth and the kids were roasting marshmallows and attending nature programs, I had two days to myself and I made the most of it. I worked in the garden preparing beds and transplanting seedlings.  I sorted through mounds of June’s schoolwork and recycled most of it.  I went out to dinner by myself, read an entire novel, attended a benefit concert for NARAL in a friend’s back yard, and nearly finished working on a (very) short story I’m submitting to the Rehoboth Beach Reads short story contest.

Sumer Break Week 1: Drama Camp

The next week June attended Round House Theatre camp. I’d been thinking her half-day yoga camp would be a good way to ease into summer. I could work in the mornings and she and I could have some quality time in the afternoons in the absence of her brother.  But when the yoga camp was cancelled, I quickly realized I was more willing to have her in a full-day camp than no camp at all so after many frantic emails and phone calls to various camps, she ended up at Round House, which is a tried and true choice for us. We’ve had one or both kids in their summer camps since Noah was six.

Other than Noah’s absence (which is a big “other than” of course, as I missed him a lot) and other than the commuting to and from Silver Spring (Beth did drop-offs and I did pick-ups), it was in some ways a lot like a school week.  Beth and June left a little earlier than June’s school bus and I needed to leave the house a little earlier than she usually gets home so I had a workday of about the same length as usual.

Most days after camp we lingered in Silver Spring for an afternoon snack, on Thursday I voted early, and on Friday, I came to see the end-of-week sharing and then took June to play in the fountain until it was time to meet Beth for pizza and ice cream.  The sharing was cute, as always.  June was one of several Little Red Riding Hoods in a dance version of the story. The wolves carried Hula Hoops representing their bellies and when it came time to eat the Little Red Riding Hoods, they flipped them over their victims’ head so they were inside.  June’s look of comic surprise as she was being eaten was priceless.

One thing that made the week different was that we changed June’s bedtime, effective the first night of summer break.  It’s been 7:45 for a long time, which is earlier than most of her peers go to bed.  Unlike allowances, which go up on a predetermined schedule (on the child’s birthday every other year), bedtimes at our house are more based on what the child seems to need and his or her circumstances. June has always needed more sleep than Noah did at comparable ages, but I’d noticed recently she was having trouble falling asleep at night and I also wondered if she might wake later in the morning if she had a later bedtime. Summer seemed like a good time to experiment, so we bumped her bedtime up to 8:15, which in a pleasing coincidence is also her age.  (She’s eight and a quarter as of today.)

So far, the new bedtime is not having either of the desired effects. She’s still awake long after we put her to bed, not every night, but many nights and she’s not getting up any later.  But it’s possible she needs longer to adjust.  I’m willing to give it the rest of the summer and see how it goes. (I did tell her it might be a summer-only change.)

Meanwhile, going to bed later and not getting up any later has left her over-tired on occasion. On Tuesday while we were on the bus from camp to violin lesson she actually fell asleep and on Friday while we were at Ben and Jerry’s and she dropped her cone on the ground, she burst into tears and kept crying even after Beth said she could have a new one, which is not like her.

Second Weekend: Return of the Prodigal Son & Violin Recital

On Sunday Beth drove back out to Western Maryland to retrieve Noah. June and I had a pleasant morning at the farmers’ market and the library and then she had a play date with Riana, whose family is about to leave town for two months.  Among other things, they cut the dead (but quite fragrant) parts of the lavender plant in June’s garden and made sachets out of orphan socks and bits of ribbon.  I purchased one in a Little Mermaid sock for thirty cents and put it in my sock drawer.

Shortly after Beth and Noah returned, laden with treats from YaYa, we all headed out for June’s second violin recital. June seemed pretty confident about the recital ahead of time.  In fact, when she showed up at her last lesson before the recital in a shimmery silver cape she’d made at drama camp and her teacher observed mildly that she’d never given a lesson to anyone in a cape before, June pointed her bow at the ceiling and declared herself, “Super Violin Girl.”

When the time came to perform, June didn’t seem to have any of the pre-recital jitters she had last time. She was happy to sit next to Toby, a boy she knows from after-school activities (cooking and drama clubs) while she waited for the recital to begin and she was highly amused that the program called it the “June Recital.”  “My recital,” she mouthed to Noah who was sitting close by in the first row with his video camera. June played third out of nine performers and did a nice job on her three pieces: “Long, Long Ago,” “Happy Birthday,” and “Ode to Joy.”  (Later she admitted to Toby’s mom that she had been nervous but she “tried to look calm.”)

Here’s a two-minute video of her performance if you’d like to see it:


The other performers were six kids who played piano or guitar, an adult vocalist, and a piano teacher who played one of her own jazz compositions.  The vocalist was a big woman with a big voice who sang “All of Me.” June looked rapt during her performance. Later at home, I could hear her singing snippets of the song under her breath. After the recital we went to the Co-op and got the makings of a picnic dinner we ate at one of the tables outside. And so ended the second weekend of summer break.

Summer Break Week 2 Begins

This week will be more typically summer-like, with both kids home at least part of the day.  June is in a half-day camp at her old preschool and Noah is volunteering there.  He’s doing a mix of clerical work and helping out with the campers. I’m hoping Lesley can keep him busy all week because he needs the Student Service Learning hours.

Although we didn’t do it today, the plan is for them to walk to and from camp by themselves, starting tomorrow. June is very excited about this.  In fact, when she was in her middle year of preschool she made a collage she entitled “Me and Noah going to School Without Mommy.”  Now, four and a half years later she’s living the dream.

Faced with an abbreviated workday, I had to figure out what parts of my non-work routine would stay and what would go. Here were the results. Housework: eliminated.  Exercise: delayed until the kids were home. Reading on the porch with a glass of iced tea: time reduced, but kept.

I am still working on afternoon plans for the kids. Megan came over after camp today. The girls made bird feeders by smearing peanut butter and breakfast cereal on plastic jugs and they had a fashion show, which Noah filmed for them. Wednesday or Thursday we might take a field trip down to the Mall to take in the Folk Life Festival.  Both kids made a start on their summer math packets this afternoon and later in the week I will have them do some yard work, too. It’s not all fun and games around here, but I hope to find a good summer balance for them and for me. Whether you’re a middle-aged mom, a teenager, or eight and a quarter, there’s a time for work and a time for play.

The Great Rooted Bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take the Cannoli

Columbus Day is a unique day in the school calendar because Beth has it off, but the kids don’t. Because a lot of families are in this position, our county’s public schools have Open Houses on this day. Depending on the school, you can come for part or even all of your child’s school day and watch it in action.  I’ve always enjoyed this, as well as the opportunity to steal a little too-rare time alone with Beth.

After considering various ways of configuring the day, we decided to attend two of Noah’s classes—Media because it’s his favorite, and science because it’s immediately before Media—then go out to lunch and visit June’s afternoon class, which is the English half of her day. That way Beth could understand what people were saying.  Plus, I’m already signed up to volunteer in June’s Spanish class later this fall, so I’ll get a chance to be a fly on the wall there some other time.

We also scheduled June’s lemonade and hot cider stand for Monday afternoon, thinking that many working parents who wouldn’t be able to bring their kids on other days could do it this day. Like June’s last out–of-season lemonade stand (“Spring Break Trilogy: Part 1,” 4/18/11), this one was a reward.  Ever since we finally took June’s pacifier away last spring, she has not slept as well as she used to (which was never very well, as long-time readers know).  I was hoping to reduce post-bedtime out-of-bed wandering, middle-of-the-night wakeups and early morning intrusions into our room to roughly the level where they were six months ago.  I promised she could have a lemonade stand if she could stay in bed all night and stay out of our room and quiet (this part is key) until 6:30 on weekdays and 7:00 on weekends for at least 80% of the days in any given month.

Well, September was the month it finally happened.  The depressing thing is the main reason she met the benchmark is that I lowered the bar for what counts as noise in the morning. Once middle school started and Noah was getting up at 5:45 on schooldays, turning on lights and opening and closing doors, it hardly seemed to matter whether or not June was singing songs from Annie in her room at 6:15. I did draw the line at screaming arguments about bathroom access right outside my bedroom door, even if they did considerately close my door before commencing to scream. (They think perhaps it’s soundproof?)  So, I didn’t feel as celebratory as I might have otherwise when I counted the stickers on the calendar and found there were twenty-four, but a promise is a promise.  I asked her if she’d rather have a cider stand, since it is cider season, but in June’s mind a lemonade stand is a legitimate business enterprise and a cider stand is just some bizarre idea her mother had.  So we compromised. It would be a lemonade and hot cider stand.

To advertise the dual beverage stand, I sent a message to the listserv for June’s preschool class, which is still relatively active, and to the listserv for her old basketball team, I posted it as an event on Facebook and I sent out email to pretty much anyone I could think of who’d invited June to a birthday party or play date in the past year or so who wouldn’t be covered in the other categories.  I started my advertising blitz the Wednesday before Columbus Day and by Saturday I was getting nervous because I’d had a few people contact me to say they couldn’t come (because of parents who didn’t have the day off, a child’s yoga class, a family trip out of town, etc.). A couple other people said they might come, but not a single person had said he or she would definitely be there.  I wondered if this was going to be a huge flop.  I told myself we’d worried about the same thing last time, when she had a lemonade and hot tea stand on a cold, rainy April afternoon and it turned out fine.

Monday morning at the school bus stop, I spread the word about the stand to any parents I hadn’t already buttonholed the week before.  When June got on the bus I told her I’d see her in her afternoon class, and Beth and I headed over to Noah’s school to observe his second and third period classes.

They were doing a lab about motion and force in his science class.  The experiment consisted of rolling marbles down a chute and into a paper cup and measuring how far the paper cup moved.  Half the class was using mass as a variable so they had different-sized marbles. The other half was using acceleration as a variable so they arranged the chute at different angles.  The teacher said they would discuss the results of the experiment on Tuesday and dismissed the class.

We’d intended to walk with Noah, but he sped ahead of us.  I’m not sure why.  Did he not want to be seen in the halls with his mothers? Was it a game? (He kept looking over his shoulder at us and grinning.) Was he trying to impress upon us how little time he has to get from class to class, or was he genuinely hurrying so as not to be late for class? Who knows?

Next we went to an inter-period session called PBIS (Positive Behavior Incentive System) he has on Mondays between Science and Media. All the other days of the week it consists of reading for twenty-three minutes (which I am all for) but apparently on Mondays they focus on some positive behavior or attitude they want to encourage.  Today it was disability awareness, which again, I support, but it was really poorly done.  The kids were disengaged and the teacher didn’t do much to engage them but just plowed ahead with a presentation that mainly consisted of naming historical figures and celebrities with various disabilities.  For the most part the kids didn’t even recognize the names and the teacher let a comment about having a disability meaning you were “mental or retarded” slide.  Wadded up papers and rubber bands flew through the air.  Noah sat near the front and attended to the screen, though, so it’s possible he may have gleaned some interesting tidbit he’ll remember from the presentation.  He’s good at picking up information under less than ideal circumstances.

It was a relief to go to Media.  They are doing some interesting work in this class. Right now he’s working on digital children’s book, based on a story YaYa told him this summer. (He has to tell the same story in various formats. He’d already done an oral presentation on it.)  I’d hoped to see them working on a hands-on project like this, but they were starting a unit on newspapers and they watched a video on what reporters, editors, graphics people and printers do.  It was a bit out of date (1999) so the teacher kept stopping the video to explain how technology has changed at newspapers since the video was made. As the daughter of newspaper editor, I did find it interesting.  At the end of class, we said goodbye to Noah and left.

Beth and I had lunch out at Roscoe’s (I got beet and goat cheese crostini and a salad with argula, apples, gorgonzola and candied walnuts) followed by coffee and pastries at Takoma Bistro before it was time to go to June’s afternoon class.

June did not run away from us.  She waved and smiled and came over for kisses and hugs.  Perhaps this is the difference between first grade and sixth.  We directed her back to her work.  Over the course of about an hour, she worked with the teacher and her reading group, writing a summary of a story they’d read and then she went back to her table and did a huge pile of language arts worksheets.  Once she’d finished, she selected a book to read.  We told her goodbye and went home.

Overall, I felt the instruction we witnessed (with the exception of Taking Care of Business) was competent but not inspired.  I get the sense this was probably representative of June’s day, but possibly not so much of Noah’s. Having so many different teachers it’s hard to get a representative look in such a small slice of time. I also know his Media class is frequently more innovative than what we saw.  As I mentioned it’s his favorite class, and the only one in which he currently has an A.  The transition to middle school’s been bumpy for Noah.  He keeps forgetting to turn in his homework, work he completes diligently every night, and it’s hurting his grade in most of his classes, not to mention driving Beth and me insane.

Once home, I resisted the temptation to do any preparation for the stand before June got off the bus because I knew she’d be full of nervous energy and it would be better to let her work it off making lemonade and setting up the table on the porch with a tablecloth, paper cups, mugs for cider, a little papier mâché dish for her profits and her butterfly bank to make change.  I filled a big pot with cider and set it to simmer on the stove with two cinnamon sticks. The very last thing to do was to tape her sign to the gate and by 3:28, two minutes ahead of our advertised start time, we were ready for business. It was overcast and about fifty degrees.  June shivered in her seat and dashed inside for a cardigan.

Beth had gone to pick up some cannoli for dessert (we had a coupon for a half-dozen free mini-cannoli from Vaccaro’s) and she’d picked up Noah along the way.  Shortly after the stand officially opened they came home and were June’s first customers.  Around 3:40, June’s classmate Will and his mother and younger brother arrived.  The boys had two cups of lemonade each and his mom and I discussed having Will come over for a play date.  June’s recently taken a shine to him.

There was a bit of a lull, and then June’s best friend Megan and her parents and younger sister were coming down the sidewalk, followed by Lesley, and June’s old preschool classmate Merichel and her father, younger brother and a school friend of Merichel’s.  We haven’t seen Merichel’s family in ages, so that was nice. Because Megan’s younger sister and Merichel’s younger brother are in the Tracks and Leaves classes at the Purple School, Lesley found herself surrounded not only by former students but also by current ones.  Megan’s sister, who’s new to the school, was shocked to see Lesley.  “Teacher!” she exclaimed, as if surprised Lesley even existed outside the classroom.  We were quite busy for a while there pouring cider and lemonade, cleaning up spilled lemonade and making change. Both Jeff (Merichel’s dad) and I were trying to get our daughters engaged in the mathematical aspect of the transactions. A lot of people had seconds so I needed to heat more cider and make another pitcher of lemonade.

By 4:20, all the customers had left. June and I stayed in our positions until 4:30, but that was the end of it.  The change June brought to the table got mixed with the money people paid so we couldn’t tell exactly how much she made, but it was at least $7.  (I think we must have charged more than last time.)  Anyway, June was well satisfied with the whole experience.

For dinner I made a brandy-laced vegetarian chicken soup, ladled over garlic bread and with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top because I read on the Internet it was a favorite of Christopher Columbus and if it’s on the Internet it must be true, right? Anyway, the kids both ate it, much to my surprise.  And for dessert we had the cannoli, because Christoper Columbus had to have liked cannoli. That goes without saying.

It wasn’t a perfect day.  I’ve seen better teaching at other Open Houses, and it was really dreary day for a lemonade stand.  Also, I was feeling sad, for private reasons.  But we did get a glimpse into the children’s school lives, another against-the-odds lemonade stand success, a tasty meal out and another at home.  Some days you just have to take the cannoli.

Not the Same Thing at All

“I’m awesome,” Noah commented at 7:20 in the morning a week before school started.  He was in the kitchen, having successfully completed his first practice-getting-ready-for-school-in-forty-five minutes. Noah’s always been an early riser and he didn’t have to leave for school until 8:20 in elementary school, so he generally had hours to get ready.  He liked to start his day in a leisurely fashion, reading articles from Car and Driver behind a closed door in the bathroom, often while June pleaded for her turn.  But now that he needs to catch a 7:15 bus that’s at a stop a half-hour walk from our house, he needs to be out the door more than an hour and a half earlier than last year.

I could rant here about how they make kids get up earlier just as they are starting to sleep later (he still wakes before seven most mornings, but there were a few times this summer he surprised me by sleeping until eight or so.) Chances are you’ve heard this rant from a parent of a middle or high school student recently, though, so to save time, can you just replay the highlights in your head? Thanks!

As Noah had camp the week before school started, Beth had the idea that he should try to be ready in forty-five minutes every day, no matter when he woke.  That way we’d know if waking him up at six o’clock was going to work. The idea of waking him at any time is anathema to me, after eleven years and four months of trying to get first one and then the other kid to sleep longer. But there you have it.  For most of the week, the plan was for him to note what time he got up and get ready in forty-five minutes, rather than getting up any earlier than necessary.

He was ready or very close to it in forty-five minutes every day from Monday to Wednesday, and while he never woke before six, he wasn’t sleeping much later than that. The countdown always started between 6:05 and 6:35.

Thursday he had to try it in real time, in other words, at or before six a.m. because he had to attend his second middle school orientation in as many weeks and they ran school buses on the normal schedule for this one. Just to be safe Noah decided he wanted Beth wake him at 5:50, and she set her alarm for 5:45.  The commotion woke June, or maybe she was up already, but by 5:55, the kids were already arguing.  Even so, Noah was ready by 6:25 and he and Beth left the house at 6:35, a good ten minutes early. Beth waited with him until he boarded the bus and then she posted on Facebook, “The bus to middle school looks remarkably like the bus to elementary school, but it is not the same thing at all, is it?”

June and I went to Spanish Circle Time at the library, came home, ate lunch and waited for Noah’s return so we could take him to camp.  He got home around 12:20, after an abbreviated day in which he ran through his schedule and met all his teachers.  He had nothing to say to my questions about what class seemed like it would be the most fun, the hardest, etc. but that didn’t surprise me.  Open-ended questions like that tend to stump him.  Often you need to wait for him to process an experience and tell you about it later on his own. (I’m not much different myself, which is why you’ll learn a lot more about me reading here than if you were to surprise me by calling on the phone.)  We did learn he doesn’t have any classes with his friend Maura, who has been in at least one class with him every year since kindergarten, first at one elementary school and then at another.  (They also share a birthday.)  We were sorry to hear the streak is over.

Friday the kids both slept past seven, perhaps needing to recover from their early start the previous day. Because June’s school was holding its Open House in the early afternoon and Noah had a drama camp performance in the late afternoon, Beth decided to work at home in the morning and take the afternoon off.  June had a play date in the morning and when it was time to go to the Open House, we took Keller with us to school, where her mom met us and we split up to meet our kids’ teachers.

In the morning June has Señorita M, who was Noah’s first grade Spanish teacher, and who seemed happy to meet June.  In the afternoon she has Ms. R, who is new to us. In each classroom we studied the class lists posted outside the door and June encountered the names of many of her old friends. She encountered the friends, too, and there was much hugging and excited chatter.  June’s happy to have preschool and basketball friends Maggie and Zoë in class this year but sad that her “best best best friend” Megan is not in either of her classes.

Later in the afternoon we attended our fourth and final drama camp performance of the summer.  Noah did a clowning/mime routine about picking a stubborn flower.  Leaving the familiar theater for the last time until next year made it seem as if summer was really drawing to a close.

All signs did seem to be pointing that way: we’d already bought school supplies and the kids had new haircuts and new sneakers. (We needed to exchange Noah’s because the boys’ size sixes we ordered to replace his fives were, amazingly, too small.  We exchanged them for men’s size six and a half.  Men’s!)

By the weekend before school started, the kids’ summer homework was all but finished. They both completed their math packets some time in July, and in August Noah had written some short essays on his assigned summer reading, plus he had to write a poem, pick a song that reminded him of a character in Watership Down and design a CD cover with song titles for his own fictitious album. June had written a paragraph but she still needed to fill in her summer reading log with the twelve chapter books I’d read to her or she’d read on her own. June was still working on the log on Saturday and Noah didn’t finish illustrating his poem until Sunday but we still had time that last weekend for cell-phone shopping (Noah’s first), a potluck end-of-summer pool party at Sasha’s and a final play date with the twins (and Sasha, who dropped by to return our cheese boards, which we’d left at the party, and then stayed so he could help Noah and Richard and David build a wall of blocks and smash it with a remote control robot).

Sunday evening we went out for ice cream, a last-night-of-summer-break tradition.  As we ate Noah pointed out we had not gone to the movies this summer (I did take June and two of her friends to see Kit Kitteredge at the $1 movies one morning but he had not come with us). Beth and I had been intending to take Noah to a movie but we never did.  We could still do it, I pointed out.  “Yeah, he’s not dead,” Beth agreed. Noah grumbled about probably having so much homework he couldn’t do anything so it would be like being dead.

In the car on the way home, Beth said, “Goodbye, summer!”

‘You were fun, fun, fun!” June chimed in.

“You were boring, boring, boring.”  The pre-adolescent opined. June said he shouldn’t complain about summer and school. She announced a couple weeks ago without my asking her, “I’m ready for first grade!”  Noah’s been less spontaneously enthusiastic but I think that may come with the territory. When I’m not wondering how on earth I ended up with a son old enough to be in middle school (middle school, people!) or wondering who will keep track of him when he has no one main teacher, I’m excited about the humanities program.  I think it will provide him with the challenge and stimulation he needs.  And I think he’s going to meet some wonderfully smart and quirky kids, as he did in the gifted magnet center he attended the past two years.

It was a strange first-day-of-school morning because Beth and Noah were out the door before June was out of bed and I only scrambled out in time to watch from the window as Beth and Noah disappeared down the sidewalk. (I had given Noah a good luck hug in the bathroom ten minutes earlier.) Instead of the normal, noisy scramble of getting two kids ready at once, June and I were alone in the house from 6:45 until 8:20. It felt unnaturally quiet and calm.

The day zipped by and before I knew it the kids were home. They had the following conversation:

June: How was your first day of school?
Noah: Good. How was yours?
June: Good.

I didn’t get much more than that out of Noah, but June said the day seemed to go really quickly, “like six minutes” and they had two fire drills (one in each class) and both teachers read a story (one about a frog who dreamed he went to school in his underwear) and she played with blocks and when Ms. R went over the class rules she said the most important one was “Have fun.” Noah did mention that he couldn’t get his locker open so he had to bring everything home and that his gym teacher gave a Power Point presentation, which makes me think gym has changed a lot since I was in middle school.

In some ways the first day of school is always the same.  The picture at the gate, the mix of excitement and reluctance, a tinge of melancholy at the end of summer, the curiosity about what lies ahead, and the promise of a whole new year spread out before us.  But of course some years are different than others, especially when one of the kids is changing schools, taking a bigger leap.  June took one last year, now it’s Noah’s turn. Some years that first step onto the school bus seems like the same old thing, but some years it’s not the same thing at all.

Making the Crossing

The Beach, Continued:


The next day was calmer. Despite the fact that she’d gone to bed speculating exactly where in her room at home she’d lost her pacifier, June slept through the night and made it until 7:00 without waking us (a first for the trip and in fact it only happened one other time). We visited the Crocs outlet in the morning and everyone got a new pair for summer. Beth took the kids for bike and scooter ride and this time she was on her own bike so she could keep pace with them. I stayed behind to do laundry and then I got myself a café con leche and drank it on the boardwalk, reading The Washington Post Magazine until I looked up and was alarmed to see Noah and June go zipping by, apparently without Beth, but she was actually close behind.  We all went home and I made lunch for the kids while Beth got a massage. June and I napped (her first non-pacifier-assisted, non-car-assisted nap). When Beth returned she took June on a scouting mission to see which restaurants were open for dinner during the off-season.

While they were gone, Noah and I started Something Wicked This Way Comes.  This is more of an adult book than we usually read but he’ll be reading grown-up books in his English class next fall so I thought it might be a good idea to ease him in with some Bradbury. We’re reading my father’s college copy, a paperback with age-softened pages that cost him 60 cents in 1963. It has his pencil underlining and marginal comments.  Reading it to Noah makes me feel like I’m giving him a little piece of Dad.

I went for a walk on the beach once we’d finished reading. I meant to go further but I found the ridge where the kids had played two days before and it was such a nice place to sit I stayed there.  It was still long, but not as tall now and closer to the water. The tides and children with shovels had carved coves and channels all over it.  I settled right above the biggest cove, a shallow crescent big enough to park two cars. It was alternately a flat expanse of wet sand and a whirling mass of water. It was mesmerizing to watch, so I stayed a half hour as the late afternoon light grew golden and the damp sand into which I’d sunk my bare feet grew cold.

I met up with everyone back at the house. We’d told June she could pick a restaurant for dinner because she was doing such a great job sleeping without a pacifier. And so it was that in a town known for its fine dining, we ended up at IHOP.

After dinner, we played four rounds of Splash. June won the second round and announced she was keeping the scorecard. Later I found her winning Rat-a-Tat-Cat scorecard in her bed. She’s not a sore loser, but she is an enthusiastic winner.


It was time for another day trip. We took the 9:15 ferry from Lewes, Delaware to Cape May, New Jersey. Noah hadn’t been on a ferryboat in years and it’s possible June never has so this was the better part of the adventure. We experienced it largely separately, however, because I am prone to motion sickness and wanted to stay out on the deck, breathing fresh air, watching the seabirds soar and admiring the beauty of the Delaware Bay on a mild, sunny day.  The kids wanted to sit inside, eat snacks from the café and cruise the gift shop instead.  June made her big purchase of the trip, a set of plastic mermaids with accessories; she chose it over a model lighthouse embedded with shells and a sparkly dolphin magnet.

Our first stop in Cape May was the lighthouse. When Noah was little (around three to six years old) he loved lighthouses so we were constantly visiting them. We haven’t climbed one in years; in fact this was June’s first lighthouse.  She took the challenge very seriously, charging up the stairs, not wanting to stop at the landings where her mothers wanted to rest and examine the historical photographs and illustrations of Cape May.  Once we got to the top, however, she was very nervous on the observation deck and wanted to go right back down.

We went to see the shipwreck on Sunset Beach next. Noah read the informational sign about the sunken concrete ship and gave us the highlights, but the big attraction was the jetty. It was a perfect jetty, made of big black rocks, just challenging enough for climbing, with only a few off-limits algae-covered rocks at the end, and a “secret hideout” where you could climb down between the rocks, and watch the waves through a window-like gap. There were barnacles on the rocks and June found a sand crab when she dug in the sand near the water’s edge.  June made friends with a girl her age and that girl’s mother found a jellyfish and everyone had a lovely time. Noah made a game of racing down the jetty, bounding from rock to rock with Beth timing him and then June wanted in on the action to see if she could beat his times (she couldn’t).

It was hard to tear them away for lunch, but we did and after lunch we went to an old-fashioned soda fountain for milkshakes.  We strolled through the streets of Cape May, admiring the Victorian architectural confections—all the turrets and fancy woodwork and intricately painted trim. We had to hurry back to the ferry terminal to catch the 2:30 ferry back to Delaware where reading and bath and dinner awaited us. That night June went to sleep sucking on an ice cube so she could have something in her mouth.


It should come as no surprise to anyone that my day started at 5:05 a.m., with June informing me that her ice had melted. Later in the day she mentioned in casual, matter-of-fact tone that she could choke on an ice cube, or on the melting water, but people couldn’t choke on pacifiers because they’re made for sucking. Then she resumed wondering where hers might be, under the toy box perhaps? Beth patted her arm, told her she was doing great, and said she thought she was all done with pacifiers.  June chose not to acknowledge this remark.

Cape May was our last big adventure. We went out to breakfast and then Beth and June biked to the playground. Noah wanted to go with them but he and Beth misunderstood each other so they left without him and was put out. He had his helmet on and was insisting he was going to find them even though I wasn’t sure where they’d gone and Beth wasn’t answering her phone. He was looking at maps of Rehoboth and various playground locations as I tried to dissuade him. Sometimes when we travel and he’s out of his routine, it brings out the Asperger-like qualities of his personality.  (Note: we had Noah tested for Aspergers a couple years back.  He doesn’t have it but he faces some of the same challenges as kids who do, albeit in a milder form.)

I finally convinced him to come to the beach with me instead. We packed a picnic lunch of an apple, carrot rounds, cheese and water and supplemented it with boardwalk fries.  Next we visited one of the ridges. This one was down to a few mounds of sand, a short cliff and a shallow cove. Noah and I made the cliff crumble by standing at the very edge, thus demonstrating the effect of human activity on erosion, he said. He leapt off the edge, soaking his pants around the knees (he was wearing rubber boots). He found something that looked like a rain gutter and a few feet away a narrow metal pipe with bolts at the end sticking out of the sand. He tried to dig the pipe out, but the sand rushed back into the hole with each wave.

Later that afternoon while Beth and the kids went in search of turtles in a nearby pond, I went back to the beach by myself. I walked north for forty-five minutes until I came to a jetty and found a rock flat and high enough to stand without fear of getting drenched, even as water swirled around me on three sides. It was cold and windy, but I stayed about twenty minutes, until I saw a wave of such size and power and perfect proportions that I knew it was time to leave—it wasn’t going to get better than that—and then I saw a rainbow in its retreating spray.


I wanted the kids to come to the beach with me the next morning because I’d seen pools of water perfect for wading around that time the morning before, but they didn’t want to come, so I went alone.  The pools didn’t appear that day, though, and it was cold and windy; the wind was plucking bits of sea foam off the water and sending them flying through the air.

Later that morning the kids and I met a realtor and toured houses we were considering renting for our beach week in July.  (Beth elected to stay home.) Looking at properties online, we’d narrowed it down to two.  Both were further from the beach than I’d like but one was close to downtown shops and restaurants. We were leaning toward that one, but when we saw them in person, both kids fell head over heels in love with the more remote house. Interestingly, they both said right away it reminded them of YaYa’s house, even though they meant different houses (current and former–houses that have very little in common in my mind). Anyway, the house is a charming, old-fashioned beach cottage, with a deck that made Noah say, “A stage!” and white, painted wrought iron patio furniture that made June say, “A place for tea parties!” and two attic bedrooms with sloping ceilings and a walk-through closet that connects them. The kids’ enthusiasm swayed me and we booked it.

I took June to the beach in the afternoon.  It was still cool and windy but it was sunny so we were warm enough for shell hunting and sand castle making. She enjoyed jumping off the sand cliff without her persnickety older brother yelling at her for climbing in the designated jumping area and jumping in the climbing area.

That night we made our final pilgrimage to Candy Kitchen and had pizza at Grotto’s and our last full day at the beach came to a close.


The next morning we packed up the house and went to the realty to turn in our keys and sign papers for the next house. Then we returned to town, Beth got coffee and ran some Easter-Bunny related errands, while I took the kids to the beach.  The kite shop on the boardwalk was having a customer appreciation day and there were giant fabric balloons on the beach, a caterpillar the size of a school bus and a puffer fish about half that big, tethered to the sand and inflated solely by the wind. A few kids were diving into the sand under the balloons as they bobbed around and soon Noah and June joined in.  There was some kind of narrative about the caterpillar exerting evil power over June and Noah trying to save her, but I wasn’t paying very close attention, preferring to watch the waves.  The Easter Bunny was strolling around the boardwalk, and I pointed him out to June but she wasn’t interested. Beth said earlier in the week June had been showing her toys she might like in her Easter basket “in case the Easter Bunny is listening.” This made Beth think June has the Bunny’s number, or at least suspects the truth.

Around 10:55 a woman with a microphone announced there would be races and an egg toss for kids starting at eleven and June wanted to participate but we were supposed to meet Beth at a gazebo about two blocks away right then so I told June we’d come back.  Beth still had some more errands to complete, so I took the kids back to the kite store but when we got there I didn’t see Noah.  June accepted a piece of candy from the Easter Bunny and we turned back to find her brother, who had just taken such a long time to get his shoes on he was lagging far behind us.  We returned and June decided she wanted one of the free bagels so I got one for her and when I came back, Noah was gone again. I was more exasperated than scared.  He and I had just been discussing the fact that he’d left his bike lock at the gazebo so I figured he’d gone back for it.  I dragged June away from the games for the third time, but when I got to the pavilion, I found Noah’s lock, but not Noah.  I was more concerned now and asked the man who was now at the microphone at the kite store to page him.  He did, with no result.  By the third time Noah was paged, this time with a more detailed physical description, I was crying.  Apparently, I can only lose my kids once in a week without losing my cool. A little while later, Beth and Noah came riding and scooting up to the kite store.

“Where were you?” I yelled at him.

“It was my fault,” Beth said, putting her arms around me as I started to cry harder.  She’d found him while I was in the bagel line and taken him for a bike and scooter ride out to the summer house, so she could see it.  This had been the plan all along so she thought I’d know where he’d gone, but it didn’t occur to me she’d take him when I wasn’t looking so I had no idea.  Beth guessed what had happened, though, as soon as a stranger approached them and asked, “Are you Noah?”

By this time, the games were over and June never got to play, so we strolled down the boardwalk, had lunch and drove back to Takoma, even managing to dye our Easter eggs after the unpacking and laundry and dinner and before bedtime.  That night June went to bed without asking for her pacifier. We never even looked for it.

Coda: Sunday and Monday

The kids hunted for their Easter baskets in the morning and found them full of chocolate and jellybeans.  June got stuffed red monkey that looks like one she once lost (and mourned for years) and Noah got a t-shirt from Grotto’s.  Beth went grocery shopping and I did mounds of laundry.  Beth and June started flower, vegetable and watermelon seeds in pots and then Beth raised the training wheels on June’s bike and we stood in the driveway watching her make her wobbly way around it.  It was a pleasant way to ease back into our home routine, without the pressures of work or school.

Going to bed, I had no idea what awaited us.  June wandered into our room around 10:15, sleepy and disoriented, saying she couldn’t sleep. I’d sent her back to her room two or three times by 10:40 when I heard her sobbing and Beth and I both went into her room.  Even when I got into bed with her and held her she couldn’t stop crying.  I asked her if she wanted me to sing the songs I used to sing to put her to sleep when she was younger and she said yes so I sang them for an hour until she finally drifted to sleep.  At one point while she was in the bathroom I pried up her mattress and found two pacifiers in between the bed and the wall.  I took them to Beth and we quietly discussed whether or not to give her one. We didn’t, but I came pretty close.

Beth took the kids to Round House in the morning. It was June’s first-ever experience with a full-day camp and she was excited, and a little nervous, to be joining Noah in the fun. When I picked them up, after a day of trying to write about memory and cognition through a brain-fog of fatigue, I learned the theme of the day had been the ocean.  The kids were divided into younger and older groups and they performed for each other at the end of the day.  June was a crab being interviewed on a talk show.  Noah was full of praise for her performance and one of the counselors told me she was “a good little actress.”  Noah was the Carpenter in a puppet show version of  “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” and another counselor said it was always good to see him.  Noah said he couldn’t wait for summer vacation so he could go back to Round House, and June said it was fun, but after lunch and the play period, she’d been tired and wanted to go home.  On the bus, I wondered why the kids had fallen silent and looked back to see June asleep, leaning against Noah.

We’ve made the crossing out of the territory of Spring Break. Beth went back to work on Monday and the kids returned to school yesterday.  I’m not making any predictions about how long it will take June to go to sleep easily and consistently without her pacifier but the last two nights have gone well so I’m crossing my fingers for tonight.

Wild, Wild Horses

Prelude: Thursday and Friday

The kids’ last day of school before Spring Break was a Thursday. As Noah had no pressing homework and we were leaving for the beach on Saturday, I pounced on him as soon as he got home and set him to work, vacuuming, practicing percussion, cleaning his room.  I asked June to help with the last project and when Beth got home around 6:30 the kids were arguing about whether June was being “lazy” and I was at the stove, ignoring the row and stirring risotto.  I left the rice long enough to put my arms around Beth’s neck and say, “Thank you for taking us to the beach so the whole break won’t be like this.”

We had spring break all mapped out: Friday June would spend part of the day at Beth’s office, from the first Saturday to the second Saturday we’d be at the beach, Easter Sunday we’d catch up on chores and errands and on the second Monday, the last day of break, the kids would attend a one-day session at Round House Theatre.  Theoretically, I was going to work on the first and last day and be on vacation in between, but Friday was a fragmented kind of day, so other than some accounting, I didn’t work.

On Friday Beth took June to the office with her for two and a half hours. June helped her recycle some papers and open envelopes and then she drew pictures and read. I read to Noah and puttered around the house until 10:15 when I left to go fetch June, and  after enjoying some time with the newspaper at Firehook Bakery near Beth’s office, I met them in the lobby at 11:30 and we went out to lunch together at Meatballs, where Beth and I ate meatball subs made with lentil balls and June contented herself with tater tots.

Noah had a productive morning at home, doing math and English homework, and practicing his drums again.  In the afternoon, we were visited by a reporter from The Wall Street Journal who’s writing a story about kids’ allowances and who interviewed Noah about how he uses Quicken to track his money.  While she was at our house, she got locked out of her laptop and Noah fixed it for her, by suggesting she shut it down and restart it (always a good first step but it didn’t occur to me—Beth has trained him well).

Maggie came by for a play date soon after the reporter left, and that evening we had frozen pizza and various leftovers for dinner, Beth and I filled out our absentee ballots and we started packing.

The Beach: 


Less than half hour into the drive to Rehoboth I realized I had not looked for, found or packed June’s pacifier, which she’d lost the night before.  Beth and I had a whispered conversation in which we agreed not to go back for it. This would be our opportunity to wean her from her nap and nighttime dependence on it.

During a pit stop, June mentioned she was tired. I suggested she have a little nap because we were at least a half hour from our designated lunch stop. She agreed happily and as she climbed into her car seat, she asked for her pacifier. Somehow I’d failed to anticipate this. I broke the bad news.  She looked stricken, but she didn’t cry. Noah unhelpfully began to intone in a dramatic announcer-type voice, “Will June survive a week without her pacifier?”

“No, she won’t,” June muttered.

Beth sternly told Noah this was going to be hard for June and we needed to be kind to her.

I suggested he stop sucking his thumb for a week in solidarity, tapping his arm to remind him his thumb was in his mouth at that very moment. Noah did not to agree to this, so I offered not to bite my nails for a week. (I did it, too!)

June fell asleep shortly after this conversation but I warned Beth not to consider it a good sign, as the car is a powerful soporific.

We arrived at the house, unpacked and June and I hit the boardwalk while Beth went to buy food for dinner and breakfast.  I was on foot and June was on her bike, ringing the bell every few minutes.  “When I ring the bell it means I’m having a good time,” she said. As she pedaled toward Candy Kitchen, June commented, “I’ve had lunch,” in an offhand way. It was late afternoon, close to dinnertime, but I told her she could get something for later. She selected gummy teeth and perused the stuffed animals. She wanted to buy a giraffe, with her own money—despite my broad hints about the Easter Bunny’s propensity to bring stuffed animals.  I didn’t have enough cash on me, so it was a moot point and she reluctantly agreed to wait until later in the week, to see if she saw something she liked better.

It was cold, in the high forties, overcast and windy, so windy that the wind was propelling the bike forward as much as June was, and when we turned around she couldn’t pedal at all and I had to push the bike home.

That night we settled June into bed without a pacifier but with a stuffed rabbit, a stuffed cat and a baby doll.  We tucked her under her Cinderella blanket and put on her favorite bedtime CD—Peter and the Wolf.  “I have to do this all week,” she said.  It didn’t seem like a good time to tell her if all went well, she was saying goodbye to the pacifier forever.  As I left the room, she was moaning.

She couldn’t sleep. For an hour, I read The Invention of Hugo Cabret to Noah while Beth received repeated visits from June. She wanted the CD turned off, and then turned on again. Beth suggested she try counting backwards and then June came back for more explicit instructions. Finally, around 9:20, we realized she hadn’t been out of bed for ten minutes or so and I peeked in on her. She was asleep. She slept until 3:20 when I woke to her sobs.  She was standing in the hall outside the bathroom. She said she was thirsty and couldn’t find a cup for water.  I didn’t think this was her whole reason for crying, but I got her a drink and sent her back to bed.  Despite being up late and in the middle of the night, June was up at 5:45 and came into our room repeatedly until 7:00 a.m., with newsflashes like this one that woke me for good at 6:10—“I’m bored. I don’t want to play with my toys.”


Beth and I were pretty wiped out so I went and got take-out coffee to give us the mental focus for planning and list making.  We made lists of dinner menus, a grocery list and a list of possible day trips for the week.  We thought a low-key day would be best as three of us were sleep-deprived.  Plus Beth needed to grocery shop and she had some work to do, too.

Once our week was planned, I played two games of Hex with June and took the kids to the beach. Noah, irritated that I’d taken June to Candy Kitchen without him, got his turn. He chose raspberry gummy rings while June re-assessed her stuffed animal options. She left thinking she might want Ruby, of Max and Ruby. I thought a bunny might be appropriate for Easter.

It was still cool, but sunny and windless.  The sea was calm and sparkly. We found a big plowed ridge of sand, part of a beach replenishment project. It was about ten feet high and at least fifty yards long and it gave the kids’ play a focal point.  They slid down it and leapt off it, marking their record jumps with driftwood.  June leaned against the base while Noah buried her up to her chin and they pretended she was a mummy coming back to life and breaking free of her bandages (the blanket of sand). They built sand temples and sand volcanoes.  We were there almost two hours.

I thought with her poor night’s sleep, biking to the beach and back and an active morning of running and jumping, June might be exhausted enough to nap sans pacifier, but she just couldn’t.  About fifteen minutes into her attempt, she started to cry.  Noah came into her room to see what was wrong, but she told him, “There’s nothing you can do.”  So she didn’t sleep, and I didn’t either.  I even offered to let her sleep with me, but that didn’t work either.  Beth finished her work and took June to the playground while Noah and I read on the porch.

We had an early dinner and walked down to the boardwalk for dessert. Ice cream was the original idea but the wind had picked up again and it wasn’t feeling much like ice cream weather.  Beth got some anyway (she’s dedicated to ice cream); the rest of us opted for fudge. I would have gotten funnel cake if I could have gotten someone to agree to go halfsies with me.

The kids had time for a round of Rat-a-Tat-Cat before June’s bedtime. When I left her room less than five minutes after lights out, she was nearly asleep.


Monday was one of our scheduled side trips.  We spent the day at Assateague Island National Seashore and on the boardwalk at Ocean City.

As we drove into the park, Noah asserted that we’d been there before (true) and that we didn’t see any horses (false).  Beth and I had just been reminiscing about our last trip to Assateague during Noah’s kindergarten spring break and his challenging behavior during that outing (Postcards from Spring Break, 4/9/07). “It’s like the ghost of grumpy Noah came back,” I said.

But, other than occasionally insisting we’d never seen horses before and we wouldn’t see them today either, he was in a pretty good mood. Both kids ran down the sandy path of the Life of the Dunes trail, pretending to the superheroes, avoiding the villains (us) spying on them (taking pictures).  We all enjoyed the trail, but we didn’t see hide nor hair of the wild horses (only their abundant poop). I wondered if we should have pulled over when we saw people stopping by the side of the road, photographing distant horses.

We were near the beach so the kids played in the sand before we hit the Life of the Marsh trail.  On the drive there we hit pay dirt.  By the side of the road, just off the parking lot there were three horses, a brown stallion, a brown and white mare and an almost all white foal. The baby was snoozing on the grass. Not only did we see horses, but we saw a baby horse. This was a major parenting score.

We hoped to see water birds on the marsh trail, and there were ducks and quite a few snowy egrets flying, landing and standing elegantly in the water, but there were also horses.  Horses on distant spits of land, and then a shaggy brown horse right off the boardwalk trail.  We’d have to get closer than the recommended ten feet away to pass it. We edged by slowly. “I wish I could pet it,” June said wistfully.  She was sternly instructed not to do so. When we got to the parking lot, there were five or six more horses, all reddish brown, with manes ranging from tan to black.

“No-one’s going to say we didn’t see horses today,” I predicted back in the car on our way to the last trail, the Life of the Forest trail.  We had lunch at a boardwalk restaurant in Ocean City. Noah spied the carousel horses that decorated the place and said it was a day of horses and that’s when we saw the mounted police officer out the window.

After lunch, June rode her bike and Noah rode his scooter down the boardwalk. Noah wanted to go to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, so we did, with some trepidation about its appropriateness for a sensitive six year old. It was the kind of day when we just didn’t want to say no. I steered June away from videos of people who’d survived horrible accidents (shark attacks, etc.) and was relieved when she didn’t ask about the foot-binding exhibit or the Iron Maiden. What really caught her attention was the room of statues of the tallest person ever and the fattest, and the man with extreme body modification (green scale tattoos, filed teeth, surgically forked tongue).  She was talking about that lizard man for days.  The children got their fortunes told by a mechanical Gypsy and had their portrait sketched by a computer—Noah chose the style of Raphael and June went with Rembrandt.

After we’d had our fill of oddities and careful conversations about them, we sampled the boardwalk’s treats. Beth got a shake, I got a dipped cone, Noah got a chocolate-covered frozen banana and June got a cloud of blue cotton candy considerably bigger than her head. We sat on a bench to eat and soon the kids were playing in the sand. I joined them and we made our way down the broad beach to the water. We rolled up our pants and dipped our feet into the water.  At 3:50, I glanced at my watch and decided it was time to head back.

“This was a really fun day,” I told Beth as we walked up the boardwalk watching the kids riding ahead of us. It was about to get a lot less fun.

We were almost to the intersection where we’d leave the boardwalk and we couldn’t see the kids.  They had gotten out of our sight before briefly and we’d always caught sight of them, but not this time.  We stopped at the intersection and looked all around, but they were nowhere to be seen. Beth said a bad word or rather she spelled it, as if the kids were still there and still small enough for that to work.  We conferred hurriedly. Beth would stay in front of the restaurant where we ate lunch, in case they thought to go there.  I would go down the boardwalk after them. I jogged and walked and jogged and walked for twelve blocks.  Once I saw a little girl on a white bike and I yelled, “June!” but before the word was even out of my mouth, I saw it wasn’t her.  I heard the distinctive sound of scooter wheels coming from a side street and I looked but it wasn’t Noah. Finally I came to a barrier.  The boardwalk was undergoing repairs on the other side. They wouldn’t have crossed it. Part of my mind was relieved because the Ocean City boardwalk is not like Rehoboth’s little one-mile boardwalk. It goes on and on and on for dozens of blocks. I was glad to have the search area confined to a twelve block-stretch. But another part of my mind thought I should have seen them coming back unless…I didn’t listen and searched the area all around the barrier in case they were waiting somewhere nearby, on the beach or a restaurant patio. I yelled, “Noah!” over and over. No answer.

I turned back. I was no longer hurrying, but lingering now, looking all around me. When I got back to Beth, we’d have to call the police, I decided. And then about halfway back, I saw Noah, just Noah. This could be very good or very bad. “Where’s June?” I yelled, before saying anything else.

She was with Beth. The kids had been waiting by the car, where neither Beth nor I had seen them even though we both, independently of each other, peered down that street. They’d argued about whether to remain there, June remembering advice to stay put if you were lost, and Noah thinking we might be just around the corner. He did not leave her and finally he convinced her to come and they were re-united with Beth, who was in fact just around the corner and who sent Noah on his scooter to find me. I’d left my backpack with my cell phone behind with Beth and they had no way to call me.

In case you’re wondering if I’ve learned anything since the last time I lost Noah in a public place (Lost and Found, 7/17/10), I’ve learned this: even though I’d never deliberately leave Noah in charge of June in a crowded public place for upwards of a half hour, I now know they’ll stick together and discuss their options thoughtfully. I know that when it mattered, he had her back. That’s no small thing.

The kids seemed no worse for the wear, though Noah admitted the next day to having been “a little worried.”  Beth and I were wrung out. Back at the house, Beth made matzoh ball soup, we made the kids eat their carrots and drink their milk; I bathed June and read to Noah. Beth shepherded a pacifier-deprived June back to bed several times and finally they were fed and clean and safe in their beds and so was I, hunkered down with the only one in the world who loves them as much as I do.

Our spring break adventures continue in the next post…

Spring Forward, Postscript

The real test of our new morning rules came this past weekend.  All last week, June came into our room at 6:30 or later; one morning she even alarmed me by waking me and saying, “It’s 7:55,” when it was in fact 6:55, a perfectly reasonable time to wake given when we need to be out the door.  But keeping herself quiet until 7:00 on weekend mornings proved more challenging than 6:30 on weekdays. On Saturday she was in our room twice between 6:00 and 6:30 and I had to go into the kids’ room another two times during that time period to tell them to quiet down.  Finally, they went into the living room and read to each other, alternating pages from a Mercy Watson book (http://www.mercywatson.com/#books).  At breakfast, after a stern review of the rules, I praised the kids for deciding to go into the living room, because it had gotten much quieter after that.

“That was Beth’s idea. You should be complimenting her,” Noah admitted.  (She must have given them this advice while I was in the bathroom.) So much for leavening the criticism with praise, I thought.

Sunday morning wasn’t ideal either, as once both kids were awake at 6:15 they couldn’t resist talking to each other, and they only occasionally remembered to whisper.  Under the old system, June was coming to our room and Noah was reading so they rarely encountered each other, but now that she’s staying in the room with him, they interact with each other and their interactions are rarely quiet.  So we still have to figure out how to make the weekends work, but it’s early in the transition and I am not giving up on my vision of sleeping uninterrupted until 7:00 some Saturday or Sunday morning in the near future. I am ready to offer bribes, if necessary.

And speaking of transitions, the garden in the back yard has basically started without us. We have a cluster of daffodils there, an oddly frilly variety, which appeared for the first time several years ago, presumably planted by a squirrel. I’ve relocated some of the bulbs to the front yard, but I never manage to find them all. In fact it seems there are more of them there every year as I manage to separate the ones I find from too close neighbors, which makes them proliferate.

We also have broccoli and lettuce, both remnants of last year’s garden and the lemon balm and black-eyed Susan are starting to come back, too. The lettuce just sprung up on its own.  While lemon balm is known for its hardy and even invasive qualities and we’ve occasionally had black-eyed Susan come back, I don’t think of lettuce as a perennial; we’ve been growing it for years without ever seeing this happen. It must have been that the exceptionally mild winter spared the roots of a couple of the plants.

The broccoli I planted in late October.  I bought six plants on a whim when I saw them at the hardware store. I knew broccoli can be a fall crop and I was sad about the garden being almost over and thought it would be fun to extend our growing season. When I got home, I looked up some information about growing broccoli and discovered it was really too late to plant it in our area, but the plants looked sad and droopy and root-bound in their little pots and I thought they’d be happier in the ground, so I planted them, expecting they’d die before they produced any florets.  They grew a little in the next month or so, and then they stopped, going into a holding pattern for much of the late fall and winter. They didn’t get any bigger and they didn’t die (except for one that gave up the ghost in January or February).  And then they started to grow again, and all five remaining plants have produced florets.  The biggest, most vigorous plant started to flower the other day so I harvested from it and the next two biggest.  We’ll eat homegrown broccoli on spinach tortellini tomorrow night to celebrate the first day of spring.

As we change seasons, I want to celebrate it all, the transitions we work to make happen and the ones that emerge unbidden, but no less welcome.

Spring Forward

Maybe it was because had been getting light earlier or maybe it was just one of those random fluctuations in the kids’ sleep patterns, but for a few weeks before the time change they had been waking up early.  Earlier than their usual early, I mean. They are supposed to stay quietly in bed until six a.m. and then Noah is allowed to read and June, until Sunday, was allowed to come snuggle with us in bed.  She’d been doing that with disheartening regularity, right at six o’ clock on the dot, instead varying her entrance time within the 6:00 to 7:00 hour as was her previous habit.

Now when June was three and four years old, she’d usually fall right back asleep between us, and then the three of us would get some more rest, but that hadn’t been happening much recently.  Instead, there was more kicking and pulling off of covers and chatter than slumber once she came to join us.  Coming in at the earliest allowable time also meant that on the all too frequent mornings she woke me up at 5:30 because she’d forgotten to look at the clock or she’d lost her pacifier (yes, she still sleeps with one) or she wanted to tell me about one of her dreams I couldn’t get back to sleep, knowing she’d be back at 6:00.

So some time in February I started thinking about how June was close to the age Noah was when we pushed back his snuggle time to 6:30 on weekdays and 7:10 on weekends (“Welcome to 6:47”). And I started thinking it was time for a change. The late February weekend when June woke me before six on Saturday and Sunday put me over the edge.  I realized that pushing back the time she’s allowed to enter the room would not stop the unauthorized forays to our room (and in the short run might actually increase them) but it would give me more time to fall back asleep when they occurred. When I told Beth I was thinking of changing the morning rules she said, “Please!” so I knew she was on board.

I was only waiting for a good time to break the news to June when I realized switching over to Daylight Saving Time would create the perfect opportunity because it would be easy for her to stay in bed until seven the first day and then we’d just need keep her in the habit.  So on Saturday I told her the new rules—6:30 on weekdays and 7:00 on weekends–stressing it was because she was getting older and these are our rules for older kids. She wasn’t happy about it, but I didn’t get as much pushback as I expected. Maybe I did a good job selling the big kid angle.

Day 1: Sunday

As expected, the first day was easy.  We set the clocks forward an hour and also set the time June was allowed into the room forward an hour, so it was a wash, and it felt pretty much like a normal Sunday when she popped into the room at precisely seven a.m.  I asked her how long she’d been up and she said since 6:42, so that was an eighteen-minute sleep bonus for the grownups, I suppose.

She took a brief nap that afternoon so I let her stay up until 8:20 (thirty-five minutes past her no-nap bedtime) and she fell asleep easily.  Noah said he didn’t think he’d fall asleep when I put him to bed, but if he had any trouble he was quiet about it. I didn’t hear any tossing or turning. I fell asleep pretty easily at my normal bedtime as well.

Day 2: Monday

“Mommy, it’s 6:40,” June whispered.  She was standing by my bedside in the dark, the deep, quiet kind of dark that makes anything but sleeping seem like a very poor idea.

“C’mon in,” I mumbled and she climbed in. It felt early, too early, even though I’d gotten about the same amount of sleep as usual. I wasn’t up for reading a story until 7:15, but I then I read it and we got up and everyone got to work and school on time, though it felt like a bit more of a scramble than usual.  For instance, June and I were having a leisurely conversation in the kitchen while I made her lunch when I glanced at the clock on the stove and saw it was 8:12, only eight minutes until we needed to be at the bus stop and I stopped whatever I was saying to urge her to go get dressed.  I went to check on her several minutes later and found her out of her pajamas but wearing only a pair of flowered underpants and apparently not in the process of putting on clothes.  I pulled a shirt over her head and socks onto her feet while she got into a pair of leggings, then I brushed her hair into a sloppy ponytail–“no time for pigtails”– I told her and we were out the door.

At the bus stop I listened to parents of third and fourth graders complain about their kids having to take the MSA (Maryland’s No Child Left Behind tests) on the day after a time change.  Fifth-graders don’t start the tests until Wednesday, so I didn’t have to worry about that.

The kids got into two fierce arguments that evening.  The first one was about the rules of a soccer game they were playing before dinner (longer daylight and a light homework day for Noah facilitated this game) and the second one was over ownership of a candy necklace.  Two squabbles in one evening would not be unusual but they were really mad, crying and screaming at each other and using escalating words like “cheating” and “stealing.”  I wondered if the time change was making them out of sorts.  Once June had calmed down and we were talking about what had happened, she said they’d been “bitten by the argument bug,” quoting a favorite book of hers.  I suggested a make-up hug before June went to bed and they complied, but Noah was half-hearted about it.

Day 3: Tuesday

“It’s 6:30,” June informed me before crawling into bed with me.  Too dark, too early, too dark, too early, my brain was telling me.

Meanwhile, Noah was in the bathroom singing “Fifty Nifty United States” with a good deal of brio.  Then he popped his head into the bedroom and said, as if just noticing, “It seems really dark. It must be the daylight savings time.”

I wasn’t awake enough to respond. I guess it’s going to be this way for a while, but June’s doing a great job sticking to the new rules, and I think when I finally adjust to the new time, I’ll appreciate having a little extra time to sleep in the morning. Three days out, I’m cautiously optimistic.

Meanwhile, other things are springing ahead besides the time.  June will be six in ten days and we’ve been busy planning her party.  The theme is cats and she and I spent a lot of time selecting and ordering cat-themed plates, cups and goody bag loot–pencils, pencil sharpeners, erasers, bookmarks and stickers all in either Hello Kitty or Cat in the Hat patterns, plus cat bracelets and cat rubber duckies. June drew her own invitations with pictures of birthday hats and cats and Noah made an insert with the date, time and place info, plus a graphic of the number six and an exclamation point made from Hello Kitty’s face and the Cat in the Hat’s hat. Then June made a large drawing of a cat and seven tails for a homemade pin-the-tail-on-the-cat game and Beth and June purchased a piñata while they were grocery shopping on Sunday.  The party is not until the weekend after next but June’s in a state of high excitement about it.

Spring is also in evidence in the yard, even though it’s still officially winter.  Our crocuses are finished and the daffodils and hyacinth are in bloom, with tulips and even tiger lilies putting up shoots.  We have light and dark purple hyacinth. The dark ones we got last year in a pot as a condolence gift from our friend Megan when Beth’s dad died.  I planted the bulbs and they came up in February and started to bloom in early March right when I hoped they would. On Saturday, the first anniversary of his death, they were in full bloom. I like having a small living memorial there, to let us look back, even as we spring forward.

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.

The First Last

After a promising first six days with only one accidental nap, our no-nap routine started to falter about a week and a half ago. On the last Sunday in August June fell asleep on the bare wooden floor of her room and after forty minutes of sleeping there, woke up so out of sorts that she didn’t even want to go to her school’s Ice Cream Social. Ice cream, we coaxed. Friends! She was not interested. I wondered how we could get her up and walking and if we would have to drive to the playground instead but we finally got her moving and we arrived about a half hour into the event.

As we walked I said to Beth with sincere but unexpected nostalgia, “This is our last Ice Cream Social,” and then I added. “The first last.”

Then I remembered that Beth had spent the morning before at the Big Clean at June’s school, ripping up tile and shoveling mulch and that was really the first last. It was harder to feel sad about that one.

Kindergarten’s a year away but I think about it a lot and with some impatience. Maybe it’s because our kids are five years apart so we’ve had little kids for what feels like a very long time. When people ask if I’m sad about June stating her last year of preschool, I always say no. But every now and then I am, just a little.

June’s school year started a week and a day after Noah’s and, nostalgia aside, I was more than ready for it. Partly it was because Noah’s gone for over eight hours a day now that he’s going to a magnet school and has a long bus ride. So what with June either not napping or napping for shorter periods because I cruelly wake her up, once he started going to school it made for a long, tiring day without him home to help entertain her. (I’m napping less, too, under the new regime, and failing to go to bed any earlier, which makes me crabby.) Add to this the fact that I’d been working on a 4,000-word brochure about a digestive aid for Sara for the past three weeks and making minimal progress on it and feeling stressed about that and preschool five afternoons a week was seeming pretty appealing.

So I was really happy when the backpack nametag with the Great Blue Heron’s tracks on it arrived on Tuesday the week before school started. Lesley had mailed them out with a brochure about the structure of the school day. It made it feel like school was a reality, and not merely a mirage looming on the horizon but never getting any nearer. It was made even more special by the fact that on that very morning June and I had actually seen a black-crowned night heron (http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Birds/Facts/FactSheets/fact-blknightheron.cfm) in the creek. My friend Heidi, who’s a bird-watcher, helped me identify it and said it was a rare sighting. So maybe an actual Great Blue Heron would have been even more serendipitous sign, but a heron’s a heron, right?

Meanwhile, June would continue to fall asleep during Quiet Time almost every day until school started. On the last Thursday before school I peeked into the kids’ room. I was expecting to find June asleep in there since the Reggae for Kids CD had ended fifteen minutes earlier and all was quiet. But she wasn’t in bed, or sprawled out on the floor. Had she climbed up into the top bunk and drifted off there? Had she left the room without my hearing her? Then I spotted her sound asleep in the toy box. It was 2:05 when I found her there. How is she going to stay up until 3:00, no 3:30 with the walk home, I wondered.

On Friday June spent the morning and part of the afternoon at the house of the White-Tailed Deer (a.k.a. Blue Gingko, a.k.a. Praying Mantis), sharing her nanny so I could work. We’d done the same with the Field Mouse (a.k.a. Red Maple, a.k.a. Caterpillar) two weeks earlier. In between she’d been to her music teacher’s house where Becky’s daughter, a newly minted eleven-year-old sitter, watched her. All in all, I’d arranged for a record 16.5 hours of babysitting for this project but it was still far from complete.

So over the weekend Beth kept the kids out of the house most of the day Saturday and Sunday. They went to Great Falls (http://www.nps.gov/grfa/), the C & O Canal (http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/wash/dc6.htm),Wheaton Regional Park (http://www.montgomeryparks.org/enterprise/park_facilities/trains/wheaton.shtm) and had all kind of adventures. I got so much written that I was able to come along with them on their planned Labor Day excursion to the Newsuem (http://www.newseum.org) and the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden (http://www.nga.gov/feature/sculpturegarden/general/index.shtm) and the Smithsonian carousel (http://www.agilitynut.com/carousels/dc.html). We came home for a holiday supper of baked beans, veggie hot dogs, corn on the cob and homegrown watermelon. Then we headed out for ice cream at Moorenko’s (http://www.moorenkosicecream.com) to celebrate June’s last night of summer vacation.

Finally Tuesday came. Beth and I had a very positive early morning meeting with Noah’s teacher before school started while June sat in the corner of the classroom and drew quietly. Then Beth dropped us off at Starbucks. Everyone, from Noah’s teacher to the baristas who greeted June by name, seemed interested to hear it was her first day back at school and admired her new sparkly purple star necklace.

At the beginning of the Tracks year a lot of parents wonder about the logistics of lunch when you have to be at school at noon. Since June eats more or less constantly throughout the day I didn’t think it would be a problem, but at eleven o’ clock when I said it was time for lunch she wasn’t interested. Maybe the snacks of half an apple fritter at Starbucks at nine and the slice of whole-wheat toast with strawberry jam at ten were not well advised. I sliced up some apple to take with us and she asked for it as soon as we set out, but she only ate two slices and then handed the bag back to me. Oh well, I thought, snack’s at one, she’ll survive.

All the way to school, June kept exclaiming, “It’s my back to school day! We’re almost there!” We were about a quarter of the way there when she started in with the last one. We arrived at 11:57. As I signed June in, I stopped to admire the new electric blue paint on the back steps and the refurbished sand pit, which was filled with pristine, white sand. “It looks like a tropical beach,” another mom said.

We went inside and I put June’s spare clothes in her box. She located her hook, which was marked with the photo of herself she’d chosen, hung up her backpack and washed her hands. Then she walked into the classroom, found the attendance card with the heron tracks and her name on it, slid it into the chart and plopped down on the floor to play. The Black Bear, who’s new to the class, was playing with plastic dinosaurs and June joined him. I said goodbye and slipped out.

On the way home, June told me about her day. Lesley read a story about a girl who lived on “Troublemaking Street” and sure enough she got into a lot of trouble, from stomping on the stairs to cutting a hole in her sweater. During dramatic playtime they used the story as a springboard for their imaginings. Snack was cheddar cheese, crackers and melon. On the playground she made a sand castle and decorated it with flowers. She tried to play on the seesaw with the Bobcat (a.k.a. Yellow Holly) but it just stayed balanced and they couldn’t get it moving. She had a good time. She was happy to see her friends. She liked school, she told me, “but home is better.” It is nice to come home, I agreed.

Once we were home, I took off her shoes, brushed the sand off her socks, read her two Curious George books and then took her to her room for Quiet Time. She flung herself across the bed. Her eyes were closing before I even got the CD playing. Another school year is laid out before us, as bright and blank as a newly filled sand pit. It’s time to get in and start playing.