Napless in Takoma

At dinner on Sunday night, I made an announcement. I told June she’d be starting the Tracks class in a couple of weeks and asked if she remembered that we’d talked about how it meets in the afternoon so she will need to stop napping. She nodded. I told her I thought it was time to start practicing and instead of napping the next day, she’d have Quiet Time instead. I thought she might protest, but she took it remarkably well. In fact she didn’t even seem very interested in the conversation.

Now when I made a similar pronouncement to Noah at the same age, he was ecstatic because we’d been struggling over naps for some time. But June loves to nap; she asks to go to nap and usually falls asleep in less than five minutes. At least she did until Monday, when we went napless. I was expecting her to fall asleep during Quiet Time most days in the beginning and for her to be a teary, cranky mess when she didn’t. But five days in, it’s going pretty smoothly, not without challenges, but a lot better than what I was anticipating.

Monday after lunch June said, “Can I go to nap now?”

I replied, “We’re doing Quiet Time instead, remember?”

“Oh yeah,” she said casually. “But can I still have my pacifer?”

For the past year or so June has only been allowed her pacifier at naptime and bedtime. I’d considered this question and had decided ahead of time to say yes. I thought it would ease the transition.

She looked relieved and ran to get it. I spread some CDs out her bed for her inspection. They all still had the little stickers on the backs with the running times on them I’d affixed when Noah used to have Quiet Time. Quiet Time CDs must be at least a half an hour long. I still need to put stickers on all the kids’ CDs we’ve acquired since Noah started kindergarten and we discontinued Quiet Time. I’m not in a big rush, though, because June picked the same CD of fairy stories the first four days ( I have a feeling the Quiet Time CDs we have labeled may last for a long time.

I also provided June with some markers and drawing paper and she got right to work drawing as I turned on the CD. About twenty-five minutes later I peeked into the room. The drawing was on the floor and June was in bed, under her beloved Cinderella blanket, looking very sleepy. Okay, she’ll be asleep soon, I told myself, but a little later I heard her getting out of bed and at the end of the CD’s fifty-minute running time she trotted out of the room wanting to show me her picture. It was of someone wading in water, not surprising since Noah and June and I had spent the morning wading in the creek.

I’d been conflicted about what we should do in the afternoons this week. Should we stick close to home in case June was too tired for outings, or would outings keep her mind off the fact that she was tired? June’s general preference is to go, so I decided to give it a try. We took a walk and even though she was very slow on the way home, she remained cheerful. By dinnertime she was dragging, but she managed to stay up until I put her to bed around 7:40. It even took her fifteen minutes to fall asleep, faster than usual but I though she might go out instantly.

Tuesday things went pretty much the same way. In the morning Noah went over to Sasha’s to play and June went to a babysitter’s so I could get some work done on a writing project about a prebiotic and fiber supplement. Again, June went to Quiet Time shortly after lunch, drew and listened to the fairy CD and did not fall asleep. Again, I took her out of the house in the afternoon to help keep her awake. We went to Now and Then ( and bought her a tea set for an upcoming tea party she is hosting for two of her friends and then we went to the playground. She was exhausted by dinnertime and this time she fell asleep almost immediately after I put her to bed.

Beth and I were both surprised at how easy it seemed. “Maybe she was more ready than we thought,” Beth said.

Wednesday we had a packed schedule. In the morning Beth and I were leaving the kids with a sitter and meeting with the educational psychologist to discuss the results of Noah’s testing (more on that in another post). In the afternoon, Noah had a play date with twins who will be attending his new school. (Their mother had posted on a local listserv looking for play dates.) And in the evening, there was an ice cream social for the incoming fourth-graders at the Center. The original plan was for me to stay home with June while Beth and Noah attended the ice cream social, since it started at seven, which would keep June up much too late in the new scheme of things.

But while the kids were watching television after the play date and before dinner, I noticed June slumping against Noah on the couch. Her eyes were slowly, slowly closing. I wondered what to do. It was past five and a nap now could mean trouble getting to sleep at night. But on the other hand, it could also mean we could all attend the ice cream social. And if I woke her, how on earth would I keep her awake and cook dinner at the same time? Well, it turns out the answer was if I set off the fire alarm while frying tofu that would keep her up. But by that point she’d been conked out on the couch for forty-five minutes because I just didn’t have the heart to wake her.

So we all went to the ice cream social. I didn’t put her to bed until 9:00, her old bedtime, and she was up for a while but she didn’t come out of the room, so I considered it a success. After all, what she really needs to learn to do is to be reasonably alert from noon until three. A catnap in the late afternoon is not a disaster. Goodness knows, Noah had plenty after we officially terminated his nap.

Thursday we went to the library for Spanish Circle Time and then to the Co-op to pick up a few items for Sasha’s potluck end-of-the-summer pool party on Friday. In the afternoon June and I made an oatmeal cake with butterscotch frosting. June did not sleep either during Quiet Time or during Noah’s pre-dinner television hour. (I, however, went to my bedroom while June was in Quiet Time and Noah was reading The Magician’s Nephew and I lay down for my first nap since this experiment started. I found that with the door to the kids’ room closed and the door to our room closed and the fan on for white noise, I couldn’t hear her CD, even though she was in the next room. I managed to doze for a half-hour or so and found myself less likely to snap at the kids when they bickered after that. June’s not the only one who gets cranky without her nap.)

Shortly after dinner, around 6:30 June was sobbing because her diaper “wasn’t comfortable.” I made multiple, futile attempts to straighten it and eventually decided just to take her out of it and all her clothes and put her in the bath to see if that would improve her mood. Soon she was pretending to be a mermaid (her favorite bath time activity these days) playing with her duck, shark and fish friends. That lasted a long while. Once she was out of the bath and in pajamas and had eaten a slice of cake, it was around 7:20 and she said she wished she were in her “warm, soft bed.” Go ahead, I suggested. I wasn’t quite ready to put her to bed because I was engaged in Ten-Minute Tidy, a Thursday night tradition at our house. I bet you can guess what we do—we tidy, at least Beth, Noah and I do. June’s participation is optional. Often Ten-Minute Tidy actually last longer than ten minutes, but Noah’s only obligated to pitch in that long, thus the name. June didn’t help with the tidying, but she didn’t go to bed either. She lay down on her stomach on the kitchen floor to draw. Once I did get her into bed, around 8:00, she fell asleep almost instantly.

Friday morning we had a friend of Noah’s over, along with her mother and younger brother, who’s June’s age. Maxine stayed after her mom and brother had left so the big kids could finish their game of Monopoly. Toward the end of their hours-long game, I took June to her room for Quiet Time. She had finally tired of the fairy CD and wanted to try something different. She chose Pocketful of Stardust ( The very first thing she did was to climb in bed with Muffin, her stuffed monkey, (who she’s recently taken to calling her husband) and get under the covers. Between this and the lullabies on the CD, I thought she might sleep, but in a few minutes she was out of bed, dancing with Muffin. Later, I learned, they went on an ocean voyage. At any rate, she did not sleep. We attended an Open House at Noah’s school and a pool party at Sasha’s house and that kept her reasonably alert during the afternoon. We got home late and she’d tired herself out in the pool and on the trampoline so after a bath and dinner she was more than ready for bed. I think it took her less than a minute to fall asleep once I got her into bed at 7:55.

Not having to lay down with June for twenty minutes and then escort her back to her bed several times after leaving her is a big plus of the new routine in my book. If ending the nap consolidates her sleeping enough so that she starts sleeping through the night more often than her current average of 50% of the time, that would be an even bigger one. I am sorry to miss my more extended break in the middle of the day–that forty-five to fifty minutes goes by fast–but if it means unbroken sleep in the night, it might be a decent trade.

Improvising Monday

Last week Noah attended Improv day camp. It’s run by Round House Theatre, where he’s been going to summer day camps and spring break camps since he was in kindergarten. This year he moved up to the middle age group (nine to twelve year olds) and had his choice of more specific topics in theater. Since he loves role-playing games, we knew Improv would be a natural fit for him and it was. He loved the camp. (Who knows, it could be a family tradition—my sister has acted in several improv troupes over the years.)

On Friday afternoon there was a performance, or as they called it a sharing. The kids demonstrated several of their favorites from the games they’d been playing all week. Noah was in a taxicab sketch. As each new passenger entered the cab the others had to adopt a character trait of the newcomer. Noah said later this was his second favorite game. The one he’d hoped to be in was called “You’re Late,” in which an employee has to explain his or her lateness to a boss with help from other kids who are pantomiming possible explanations. Apparently earlier in the week Noah had successfully communicated the concept “alien abduction” to one of his peers by sticking his pointer fingers by the sides of his head, antennae-style.

Written up on a big sheet of paper behind the actors were the five Rules of Improv. Apparently, these rules were a big deal at Improv camp because Noah had also written them in his journal and commented on them to me earlier in the week. He was interested that they were different from the Five Pillars of Improv he learned on the Improv episode of Fetch, With Ruff Ruffman ( (In case you’re interested these were: Support, Trust, Risks, Confidence and Fun.)

The rules, according to Round House, are:

1) Work with the Team
2) Listen and Respond
3) Make and Accept Offers
4) Say Yes
5) Stay in the Present

In her introduction, the camp director noted that these were not only rules for Improv, but also for life. I had opportunity to think about this on Monday morning. Beth’s union is having its annual convention and political conference this week, which has meant long hours for her, both this past weekend and the first four days of this week. On Monday, she left the house at 7:10 a.m. and did not return until 9:35 p.m. It was also the first day of a week when Noah would be home all day, after three consecutive weeks of day camp, so I needed to adjust the weekday rhythm June and I had developed to include him. The kids started arguing almost immediately after Beth left and by 7:45 I had snapped at Noah. This wasn’t getting off to a good start. I took a deep breath and tried to re-center myself. Work with the team, I reminded myself. Listen and respond. Make and accept offers. Say yes. Stay in the present. Here’s how it went:

Listen and Respond:

The next time I heard crying, I came into the living room and calmly asked for both sides of the story. It turned out there was no dispute about the facts on the ground. June wanted to make a coloring page for Noah and have him color it and Noah thought it was a good idea except he wanted to make the coloring page and have her color it. I paused to make sure no one wanted to add any nuance. This one seemed too simple. “What if you both make coloring pages for each other?” I ventured.

“Mommy, that’s a great idea!” June exclaimed.

“I should have said that when I thought of it,” Noah said softly. I left the room, my work done. (Of course they got sidetracked and didn’t make the coloring pages until today, but whatever, the screaming stopped.)

Say Yes:

At naptime, June was unable to fall asleep. She’d had trouble the day before as well, taking forty minutes to drop off. This day, I made her lie down for an hour and twenty minutes, sometimes cuddling with her and sometimes leaving her alone. In the abstract, I welcome any sign that June’s naps may end spontaneously because in six weeks she will be attending school from noon to three in the afternoon and if she doesn’t stop napping on her own in the next few weeks, I am going to have to make her stop and that might not be pretty. But as for her skipping her nap on any actual, specific day, it’s harder to for me to accept. There’s always something I want to do or I am exhausted and want to sleep myself. But even giving up after an hour and twenty minutes represents some kind of progress for me. The summer Noah was four and was in at the napping some days and not others stage I used to drive us both crazy trying to insist he sleep when he just couldn’t do it. The struggle could drag on for hours. So far there’s been a lot less conflict about the issue this time around. It helps that June likes to nap, so she’s willing to give it a pretty long try herself.

Still, she was out of bed a few times, finding me in the garden, or on the couch reading Prince Caspian to Noah, to tell me she couldn’t sleep.

Finally, I asked her, “Would you like to have Quiet Time instead?”

“Yes!” she said, so I got a forty-minute long CD playing in her room, provided her with crayons and a stack of drawing paper, and left Noah to read on his own while I lay down on our bed next to the fan, resting until the music stopped. She said yes, but I did too, yes to change, and to what comes next.

Work With the Team:

Monday was the only day this week I had no outing planned so I was hoping to accomplish a lot at home and I did—mowing the lawn, doing a couple loads of laundry, tending to the compost, weeding in the garden and staking some plants that fell over in the storm we had Sunday afternoon. I also had work for Noah. In addition to taking out the recycling, which he’s supposed to do whenever it gets full (and it was overflowing) and setting the dinner table, which is a new daily chore for him, I wanted him to clean the kids’ room. I reminded him of this, after Quiet Time was over. He protested a little, because this is normally a first weekend of the month chore for him. I explained we’d be out of town next weekend and this was the only day this week we’d be home all day. Next he wanted to know why he had to pick up June’s toys. (She helps with this chore as well but on a more voluntary basis. Often she wanders off before the job is done.) I told him Beth and I pick up things that are not ours all the time and it’s just part of pitching in and being a member of the family. I was prepared to mention that as he was cleaning the room, I was in the next room folding clothes, most of which were not my own, but I paused and saw I didn’t need to do it. He’d gotten back to work.

Make and Accept Offers:

Of course, being Noah he soon got distracted and was in my room sitting on the bed and fiddling with the air-conditioner. He pulled out the filter and found it was full of dust. Could he clean it, he inquired. Feeling a bit like Tom Sawyer, I said, yes, he could, if he finished cleaning his room. And he actually went and did it, and then came back and cleaned the filter.

Stay in the Present:

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a completely napless June come evening, because this was the first day in her life she didn’t nap at all. Every other day I have resorted to Quiet Time (and it’s probably been less than five times) it was either because she took a very short nap (less than a half hour) and then couldn’t get back to sleep or she fell asleep during Quiet Time. That didn’t happen on Monday, but for the rest of the afternoon she was perfectly happy. She had no big meltdowns and didn’t even seem more tired than usual. After dinner, around seven, I asked her how she was feeling. Fine, she answered. Perhaps a little tired, I suggested. Yes, she thought she was. So I got her ready for bed and put her to bed around 7:25 instead of her usual 9:00. By 7:30, she was sound asleep.

Beth wasn’t home yet and wouldn’t be for hours still, so I had a free hour with Noah, which is a novelty. We decided to finish watching The Wizard of Oz, which we had started the night before. Our timing could not have been better, because while the first half of this movie was just about as much as June could take (she ran out of the room whenever the witch appeared and she appears much more often than I had remembered), the second half is pretty much non-stop menacing wizard, cackling witch and flying monkeys. We could not have watched it with her. It was nice to be able to relax and enjoy it without worrying about June’s emotional state. Noah liked it, too. When we got to the famous “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” line, he cracked up. While it’s a cliché to me, it was fresh for him and very funny and he made me see the humor in it all over again. I think it’s easier for kids to stay in the present, having so much less in their pasts, but sometimes being with kids helps us get back into that state of mind and that’s one of their best gifts to us.

By eight-thirty, Noah was in bed, too. I spent a little time online and then finished my improvised day in the bath, surrounded by sprigs of floating lemon balm and reading a collection of Victorian vampire stories Beth got me for our anniversary a couple weeks ago (

Two more days have passed, long days, not without conflict, but not without fun either. We’ve been to June’s first-ever movie in a theater, which was a big hit, and attended an outdoor concert of kids’ music, which was not. June resumed napping. Now that we’re past the midpoint, my attention is turning to the end of the week, the kids’ long-overdue pediatrician appointments on Friday and packing for our upcoming trip to the beach. We’ll get through the rest of the week the same way everyone gets through every week, making it up as we go along.

To Nap, Perchance to Dream

“How long has she been sleeping?” Beth asked me at two-thirty on Saturday afternoon.

“A long time,” I answered.

June’s naps have been shrinking. Until recently an hour and a half to two hours, they are now closer to an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes most days. An hour and a half is a long one. So this hour and forty-five minute nap caught us by surprise, especially coming as it did on a day when we had afternoon plans. Beth was taking the kids to Maryland Day (, an annual festival at the University of Maryland, while I stayed home to work on an editing job.

In the end we had to wake her up and hustle her into the car still half-asleep so Beth and the kids could arrive on campus before everything shut down at four. They had just enough time to pick one activity and one snack so Noah chose to the wind tunnel, where they experienced hurricane-force winds and June chose the cotton candy stand and everyone came home happy.

One way or another, June will stop napping some time in the next four months. Either the nap will peter out naturally or we’ll have to wean her from it when she starts afternoon preschool next September. Noah was napping right up until he started the Tracks class, though he was starting to resist them and he did skip them on occasion. About three weeks before the school year started, we instituted something I called Quiet Time. Instead of napping, he stayed in his room and played quietly for the duration of a CD of his choosing. I marked all his CDs with little stickers indicating their length. Quiet Time CDs had to be at least a half hour long. Because nap was starting to become something of a struggle, Noah took to Quiet Time with enthusiasm. He didn’t have to nap any more! Except, quite often he would fall asleep during Quiet Time, sometimes on the bare wooden floor of his room. This occasional narcolepsy went on until the middle of his Tracks year when, probably not coincidentally, he also started to sleep through the night more often than not for the first time in his life. I don’t know whether discontinuing his nap eventually helped him sleep better at night or whether something just clicked in his brain that helped consolidate his sleeping into one uninterrupted chunk and eliminated his afternoon sleepiness.

It would be nice to know because then I might have some inkling of when June might sleep through the night on a regular basis. She’s actually made some big strides in this direction. Last year it happened just two or three times a month on average, then quite suddenly in January she started sleeping through the night almost half the time (approximately 40% in January and February and yes, I am keeping track). March was even better at just over 60%. I was feeling pretty positive about things and then, after an exceptional four-night streak in mid-April, she just stopped. She’s been up once or twice a night for the past six nights and I am dragging again. I find it takes about three consecutive nights of good sleep for me to start to feel significantly better, so sometimes I almost don’t remember that June really is sleeping a lot better than she was a few months ago. I have to hold onto that, especially since my own mid-day siesta is not a sure thing these days.

I do lie down during June’s nap most days, unless I have some really urgent work to do. Sometimes I sleep, sometimes I just rest, sometimes I read. But every now and then an unusually short nap will take me by surprise and June will get up while I am still up doing the lunch dishes or checking my email or something like that. About a month ago June took a fifteen-minute nap and I was unable to coax her back to sleep. So I explained how sometimes children can’t nap and then they have Quiet Time. She was very interested and on board with the whole idea. A few days later I was unable to get her to sleep at all and I thought, okay, this is it, the beginning of the end. But that day when the CD ended, I found her curled up in her bed asleep and we haven’t needed to resort to Quiet Time since then, until yesterday.

Sunday June took a very short nap, about twenty-five minutes, and woke up coughing. I lay down with her in bed and she got another ten minutes or so of fitful sleep before waking up for good. That night, her cough kept her up again so I was dismayed, but not too surprised when yesterday’s nap got cut short at exactly the same point, twenty-five minutes into it. This time she couldn’t get back to sleep at all, and I really needed to close my eyes for a little while, so I re-introduced the concept of Quiet Time. She was co-operative at first, but it only took a few minutes for her to realize that this Quiet Time routine just meant not being able to leave her room and she started crying and saying, “I don’t like it” over and over again and coming out of the room every three or four minutes. It finally occurred to me that most of her best toys are in the living room and not the bedroom, so I fetched her some finger puppets, her magnetic dress-up doll, a stack of blank paper and a big box of crayons and after that she was happier. A half hour later when the CD ended, I came into the room and found her bent over a cardboard box she was using as a table, scribbling industriously. There was a stack of drawings on the floor next to her. One of them was a map with a lake, she told me. The other one was of a person sleeping in bed and dreaming. The dream person was in a bubble, as dreams are often portrayed in cartoons. I was charmed by this drawing and I also thought it was a little funny she was drawing a sleeping person when she couldn’t sleep herself.

After another rough night last night, June fell asleep almost instantly at naptime today and she slept an hour and fifty minutes. I think she will be napping for a while yet, but the end of an era is near. At least we have a map that shows us how to proceed, and a few more weeks or months of sweet afternoon dreams.

Half Past Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep Thoughts

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

From Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sometimes, a little,” I admitted.

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

Stay Beside Me All the Night

“I want nursies,” June said. It was 8:50 and I’d been lying in her bed with her for twenty minutes, waiting for her to fall asleep. I’m letting June self-wean and we’re almost there. I’m using the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” method, which works pretty much the way you’d expect from the name. We’ve been at it almost six months now and she only asks to nurse a couple times a week, down from twice a day when we started.

While I’ve been waiting for her to wean, I’ve gotten back into the habit of staying with her until she falls asleep most nights. I used to leave her to fall asleep on her own but now if I do that she automatically asks to nurse, so we’ve taken a step backwards in the sleep independence department. I do let her fall asleep on her own after she nurses if she does nurse, though, so she hasn’t gotten completely out of the habit. Right now she seems to need one form of comfort or the other. I can’t get away without offering one.

Tonight, though, I was afraid she’d need both. It was the first night of daylight savings time and I was trying to put her to bed what seemed like an hour ahead of schedule to her. We’d planned to split the difference by putting both kids to bed a half hour early on Saturday night, but we didn’t manage it.

After she nursed, I sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” before leaving. I use the Rosemary Wells lyrics (

Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky
Faithful friend with eye so bright
Stay beside me all the night
Tiny star my promise keep
Light my travels through my sleep

I left and let Beth know June was still awake. If I leave June awake and she starts crying for me, Beth goes in, fetches the pacifier if it’s gone missing, tucks her in and makes a quick exit. I was on my way to the shower when I heard her.

“Your daughter’s weeping,” I called to Beth. June’s diaper was wet so I lurked in the hallway, waiting for my turn in the bathroom while Beth changed her.

After I turned off the shower, I listened for June’s voice. I could hear her chattering away in our room, but I didn’t hear Beth. I wondered if she was in there or not. I peeked in. Beth was on our bed reading and ignoring June’s running commentary from her bed.

June still sleeps in our room. She starts the night in her own bed, and then when she wakes up she comes to our bed. Getting her to sleep the whole night in her own bed and someday maybe even sleep through the night are back-burner goals I’m hoping to give more attention once the weaning process is finished. I’m thinking it might help to move her out of our room and into Noah’s but that opens a whole other can of worms. Noah’s top bunk is littered with toys he doesn’t want June getting into and he sleeps on the bottom. He slept on the top for a couple months when he was six then decided he liked the bottom bunk better. So we’ll need to get him a new, safe place for his treasures, convince him to sleep on the top bunk and referee the inevitable extra arguments that will ensue once they are sharing a bedroom. Just thinking about it makes my head hurt.

June cheerfully observed that I was out of the shower. She asked Beth if she thought I would dry myself off and put on pajamas. Beth said she thought I would. Her prediction proved correct.

I looked at June, half-sitting up and staring at me expectantly. I sighed a little. “Do you want me to lie down with you?” I asked. She nodded.

I lay down in the toddler bed and curled myself around her. I sang the ABCs and several other songs I use as lullabies. Then I got up and left the room again. I emptied the dishwasher and then peeked back in the room. June was lying on her side, turned to the wall. I couldn’t see her face but she was breathing heavily. I was pretty sure she was asleep even though her hand was waving slowly through the air. Sometimes her body keeps going for a little while after her mind has drifted off. It was 9:55, just about her bedtime if we hadn’t changed the clocks. We hadn’t made any progress.

Like mother, like daughter: I was lying in bed awake until past eleven, trying to get to sleep. Normally I’m out by ten or ten-thirty at the latest.

June woke at 12:50. This was not unexpected as she’d been coming to bed around 11:50 the past few days. During the last half of January she was sleeping through the night about twice a week and I was pretty excited about it. In all of February, she only did in twice, but it was two nights in a row and there were a lot of close misses. She was making it to five a.m. pretty regularly for a while and I could feel the difference. I was a lot more rested when I wasn’t being awoken over and over by her flinging her limbs over mine or pulling the covers off me.

Even though she was in our bed most of the night, she stayed put (either that or she was bothering Beth instead) and I slept pretty well. I woke at 6:50. I let everyone sleep another five minutes, and then I nudged Beth. “It’s almost seven,” I told her. Our human alarm clock was still sleeping. Beth went to wake him.

Soon I could hear Beth reading to Noah from his book of pirate stories and the two of them discussing which country their imaginary van would visit that morning (it was somewhere in the former Soviet Union). Their voices must have woken June because she started to stir around 7:05. We had a long, wordless snuggle, then I read her a book a couple of times and we stumbled out of bed around 7:45. Noah has two speeds: asleep and awake, but June needs to re-enter the world slowly.

Beth was reminding Noah to wear mismatched socks for Crazy Sock Day at school and exhorting him to brush his teeth. I was slicing mango for June’s breakfast and studying the calendar to see what we had on tap this week: a fundraising dinner for June’s school at a local Mexican restaurant, Math Night at Noah’s school, an afternoon play date with the Bumblebee. Another night was over. Another Monday morning was in full swing.

Rock Around the Clock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I do,” Jill piped up.

“Not yet,” Noah said.

We agreed on leaving in five minutes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Years, Two Months, Two Weeks: A Toddler’s Day

The Wee Hours

June woke around midnight, got up on her knees in bed and started crying. I stumbled the few steps from our bed to hers, scooped her up and set her down on our bed next to Beth. I made sure she had her pacifier and offered her a drink of water before shuffling off to the bathroom. By the time I returned, she was nearly asleep again. At 1:30 she woke again. This time she was a bit more restless, rolling around and asking for her sippy repeatedly before she finally settled down and slept again.

This is how our nights go and have gone for so long that it took me a while to realize that June isn’t nursing at night any more. She appears to have night-weaned herself at least couple of weeks ago. I don’t know exactly when it happened because her night nursing has been sporadic for months so it wasn’t a sudden or obvious change. And I’m not getting any extra sleep as a result. Middle of the night requests for water and her “’fier” are just as frequent as ever.

I considered night-weaning June many times, but I always put it off because I was certain it would be a drawn-out and traumatic process. I also wasn’t sure it would help her sleep for longer periods because when I night-weaned Noah at eighteen months he continued to wake up just as often as he had been before. So, it wasn’t long and traumatic, but it hasn’t helped her sleep either, at least in the short run. It’s still a good thing, a necessary precursor to sleeping through the night…someday.


Beth and Noah left for work and school at 8:20 and by 9:00, June and I were out the door. We have an outing almost every weekday morning. It could be a trip to the library or music class, or a walk to the playground or around the neighborhood. This morning, though, I decided to stay home and mow the lawn. The grass was getting tall and the predicted high temperature for tomorrow is 98 degrees, so it seemed like a good idea to get at least part of the lawn mowed before the really hot and muggy weather sets in. June was happy to play in the yard until she discovered I had locked the gate between the side and back yard to keep her out of the wading pool while I mowed. She stood by the gate and cried, “But I need to go in the swim pool!” in increasingly desperate tones. Eventually she abandoned words all together and sobbed. I tried to calm her and had little success so I went back to mowing, deciding the sooner I finished the better.

By the time the front and side yards were mowed, June was calmer and the object of her desire had shifted to blowing bubbles on the porch. I glanced at the back yard, calculating how long it would take to clear it of toys and empty the pool (I didn’t want June in it unless I was within arm’s reach). I’d have to do all that before I could even begin to mow. I decided to leave the back for Beth. She’d probably be pleased and surprised I’d gotten any of the mowing done. I blew bubbles for June (she doesn’t have the hang of doing it herself yet). Then she wanted to swing, so I put her in the sky chair. I sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Clementine.” (For reasons I don’t fully understand, I have always sung my children songs about death while I push them on the swing.) June sang along, all smiles. She had traveled from despair to joy in a mere half hour. It’s not a long trip when you’re a little over two.


After Sesame Street, a bath, lunch and a nap, June began lobbying to go into the wading pool again. I meant to take her out there before Noah got home from school so she could have it to herself, but I kept trying to squeeze it in one more chore before we went outside. I folded a load of laundry, emptied the dishwasher and skimmed an article about the health benefits of green tea and printed it for Word Girl’s background files. Then, before I knew it, it was 3:15, time to wait for the school bus. I took both kids out to the pool together. There was the predictable splashing and laughing, but also a good bit of squabbling. When June wanted Noah to move she attempted to push him and had about as much success as you’d expect a 22 ½ pound person trying to shove one who weighs at least 55 pounds. She tackles him with gusto, as if she’s sure one of these days she will be able to take him. I have to admire her spunk, even as I strive to improve her manners.

June got out of the pool and commenced climbing up the incline of the slide. She’s a climbing fiend and loves to go up slides this way. Sometimes she turns around at the top and slides down. Other times, she will just climb down the ladder. She’s a strong girl and a stubborn one and she likes to do things her own way.

It’s partly that stubborn streak and partly the horrible time we had potty training Noah that makes us approach training June with such trepidation. June’s been telling us when she needs a change since she was eighteen months old (which is more than Noah did at two, or three, or even four). However, whenever I talked to her about using the potty “sometime soon,” she regarded me with incomprehension or skepticism, or she simply said, “No,” in a matter-of-fact tone.

Then yesterday as I was changing her and mechanically going through my spiel about how she’ll use the potty someday, she surprised me by saying. “June use potty. Sit on potty today.” Not one to let the window of opportunity slam shut, I waited until she’d had a dry diaper for a couple hours, then asked if she wanted to sit on the potty. She said yes and ran to the bathroom. I tried her on the child-sized seat that folds out of the toilet lid, but she was scared of sitting up there, so I fetched the potty from the basement. She didn’t like the feeling of sitting over a hole there either, so we compromised on a brief, bare-bottomed sit on the closed lid. She’s happy to sit on the potty this way and has done it several more times.

After Noah and June finished playing outside, she demonstrated her potty sitting for him. He was kind enough to cheer for her and she looked pleased. I’m not sure how to get her to sit on the potty with the lid open, but we have a trip planned to Target this weekend to look for Sesame Street underpants and reward stickers. I hope this will inspire her to take the next step.


There was a carnival at Noah’s school tonight, a fundraiser for the PTA. Our first stop was the dunk tank. While Noah waited in line for a chance to dunk Ms. C, his morning teacher, I bought pizza for everyone. Ms. C shook her fist at one of his classmates who’d dunked her, and pretended to be angry with her. Every time she went into the water, she splashed the watching, squealing crowd. Noah took his turn and failed to hit the target. The teacher handing out the balls told him his last throw was close, even though it wasn’t. We all went to sit on the curb and eat. I didn’t have a fork or knife to cut the pizza so I handed June a whole slice. It flopped in her hand as she tried to control it, but she finally found the right angle and she methodically ate all but a couple bites of the large slice, taking an occasional break to swig water from the liter bottle we were all sharing. She wanted nothing to do with her sippy.

When we’d finished, Beth took Noah to play some games and I took June to the smaller of the two bouncy castles. The kids inside looked older than June, but not by much, so I asked the attendant if it was okay for a two year old. She said it was fine if I was comfortable with it. I am working on being comfortable with June’s daredevil streak, her desire to climb higher and go down bigger slides than Noah did at her age. (I’m holding out on the big kid swings. They just don’t seem safe to me, so she’s only allowed in the bucket swings.) Of course, she does need limits. She fell off either the dining room table or a chair last month and bit all the way through her lower lip. Beth had to take her to the nighttime pediatric urgent care. Amazingly, she didn’t require any stitches, but this visit made a big impression. June still talks about it on an almost daily basis. Whenever she gets a bump or scrape she suggests we go to the doctor who will “help me feel better.”

Anyway, the bouncy castle was smaller than the one we have at home and the kids inside seemed pretty sedate. I was plenty comfortable. When it was her turn, June didn’t even bounce. She entertained herself by climbing in and out under the door flap until her time was up.

After she exited the bouncy castle, she dashed off to the playground. She climbed up the slide and slid down for a while. Then she spotted the monkey bars. She was particularly drawn to the triangular handles kids use to swing across the bars. She wanted me to lift her up so she could clasp one. I did. She wanted me to let go and let her dangle. I didn’t. Annoyed, she struggled to get free and when I lowered her to the ground, she took off running across the field. I caught up with her near the basketball courts where three groups of teenagers played three separate games. I thwarted June’s attempts to cross the courts without escort. I carried her, twisting and kicking, through the carnival games and finally found Beth watching Noah jump in the larger bouncy castle. My back ached. I set June down on the grass and Beth told her we’d be going home as soon as Noah got out.

“No!” she cried and sprinted off in the direction of the playground where we’d started. Some days are too good to relinquish when you’re two years, two months and two weeks old.

Spring Cleaning

Oh, right, Arbor Day, I thought when June and I stepped off the bus in front of the library yesterday morning and I saw all the little saplings in buckets of water and a small crowd milling around in front of them. Once a year you can get free trees at Takoma Park’s Arbor Day celebration. They set them up on the lawn of the library and anyone can come and take up to five. Last year, we got a black cherry tree to replace a tree we had to have cut down (its roots had been severed during some road work and it was listing dangerously close to the house). Then we hired someone to mow the lawn, as we do most springs for the first mowing of the year, to get it short enough for our push-mower to handle. I forgot to tell the mower that the bare little stick poking up out of the ground in the side yard wasn’t a weed tree and that was the end of the cherry tree.

I wondered if we should try again. The logistics of carrying June, her folded up stroller, the diaper bag and a small tree on the bus home seemed a bit daunting, but still, free trees are hard to pass up. I led June into the library, undecided. There was a storyteller just about to start up in the children’s room. All this and I’d just come to collect a book I’d placed a hold on. The original plan was to dash in, get the book, walk over to our local coffeehouse and post a sign advertising myself as a writing tutor, maybe linger over a cup of chai for myself and a fruit cup for June, then catch a bus home. I started revising in my head. If we stayed for the storyteller (and it seemed mean not to as June craned her head curiously in that direction) it would be too late to go to Savory. I didn’t want to endanger June’s afternoon nap by keeping her out so late she’d fall asleep in transit. If we didn’t go to Savory, we could walk home with the little tree sticking out of the basket under the stroller. It was still risky, from a nap perspective, but I decided to try it.

Luck was with me and she didn’t fall asleep. After lunch and nap, I took June outside to play while I engaged in some spring-cleaning in the yard. The grass is getting long and lush, especially in the side yard, which has always been the dampest part of the yard. The idea was to pick up all the trash that has been blowing in over our fence all winter, gather the wide assortment of toys scattered hither and yon and stash them on the porch, in the sandbox or under the eaves, and pick up all the sticks that would catch in the mower blades so I could mow the lawn the next day. I consulted with Noah, who was sitting at the computer, before I went out. Would he help me with this job for a little extra cash? How much? Two dollars if he stuck with it until the job was finished. How much if he didn’t? It would depend on how much work he did. He was undecided. Beth reminded him his Club Penguin ( membership is about to expire and he doesn’t have the six dollars he needs to renew it. Noah spends most of his allowance these days on computer games. He made no move to get up. I took his sister outside and began to pick up trash.

After just a few minutes, Noah came out and wanted to help. I sent him back inside in search of garbage bags, one for trash and one for recyclables. He consulted with Beth, who thought I must want yard waste bags for sticks. It took a long while of sending him back and forth to straighten this out. I suspected he might have gotten distracted on some of the trips because he was gone an awfully long time. Once I had my bags, I kept on with the trash while Noah put a few toys on the porch, occasionally wandering off or forgetting what he was supposed to be doing. I cleared the front and side yards and moved onto the back. Meanwhile, June started to melt down and Beth took her back inside to read books and do puzzles.

Shortly after they went inside, I pushed the deflated bouncy castle under the eaves and exposed the bare dirt underneath. Noah spied a worm wriggling there.

“It’s Lowly Worm,” I joked and Noah laughed. The last time we moved the castle, June saw all the worms underneath and insisted they were Lowly Worm, the character from the Richard Scarry books ( June loves Lowly Worm. It didn’t seem to bother her that these worms did not have faces and were not wearing any clothes, let alone dashing little Tyrolean hats.

Noah crouched down to watch the worm. Then he picked it up on a stick and moved it to another part of the yard. “This is a smart worm,” he exclaimed as it kept escaping from him. I considered telling him to get back to work, but this was exactly the kind of thing I think he needs to do more. We spend about approximately forty-five minutes outside when he gets off the school bus on all but the coldest and wettest days, but I don’t think he focuses on nature much. He runs around and bounces on his castle or his hopping ball. We draw with sidewalk chalk, blow bubbles, swing in the sky chair, pretend to menaced by giant snakes and think of ways to trap them. Then it’s television, homework and computer games until dinner. I rarely see him really looking at bugs and plants and animals like I used to when I was a kid, which seems odd to me, since he’s so interested in science.

One of the pegs used to secure the edges of the castle was driven deep into the ground and I couldn’t pull it out. I asked Noah, who wanted to play with the hose, to soak the ground around it to see if that would loosen it up. It took a lot of wiggling, but I finally coaxed it out. Noah then lay on his stomach next to the hole in the ground, watching how the mud was slowly filling it up. He asked where the dirt went when you made a hole like that. I explained that the dirt around it gets more compacted. Then we talked about how worms aerate the soil and whether or not their poop serves as fertilizer.

Noah picked up a few sticks, and then he declared picking up sticks was boring. It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him that some parts of life are boring, that grownups do boring things all the time. I had a few examples in mind: laundry, washing dishes, etc. But I stopped myself because he knows already; kids do boring things all the time, too. Writing out his list of spelling words four times a week is boring. Feeding the cats every morning is boring. There was no need to lecture him on the virtues of boredom. Instead I asked if he’d like to hose down the dirt and dust off the plastic sleds, then scrub them dry so I could put them in the basement. This was more enthusiastically received.

I kept on with the sticks. There were a lot of them under the silver maple. I fell into a pleasant, mindless sort of rhythm. It was hot, at least eighty degrees. I’m sick, with a nasty cold, and the heat felt like a mild fever, baking the infection out of me. When I was a kid, my mom often told me to go outside and sit in the sun when I was sick so I developed a strong belief that this was a healthy thing to do. As part of the research I do for my sister I’ve been reading a lot about Vitamin D recently, about how many people may be deficient in it because we don’t spend enough time outside and when we are outside, we cover ourselves in sunscreen ( It seems like the question is up for debate in scientific circles, but I know it felt healing to me to be moving around slowly in the yard on a hot spring day, getting rid of the clutter.

Beth brought a more cheerful June back outside. When June saw Noah cleaning the sleds with the hose she got very excited and wanted him to spray her with it. Beth took her back inside to change her into her bathing suit. (She tried to get away with just putting her in a swim diaper, but June, never one to do things halfway, insisted on the suit.) The two kids played with the water until June got cold and I needed to take her back inside and get her toweled off and dressed. When I returned, Noah was hosing off the chalk marks we’d made on the fence (a target and a scoreboard for a ball-throwing game we invented for the five to ten minutes of extra math practice Noah is supposed to do every day for Maryland Math Month). I surveyed the lawn one last time and came to the reluctant conclusion that the grass was really too long for me to mow. We’d have to hire it out again. There was more I could do in terms of cleanup, but it was 5:45 and time to start dinner, and the yard really did look a lot better. Noah wanted to know how much money he’d earned. A dollar, I said.

Once in the kitchen, I turned on the radio. It being the first night of Passover, there was a story on NPR about making gefilte fish. I got to thinking about the concentration of spring holidays this week: Passover starting that night, Earth Day on Tuesday, Arbor Day on Friday. All at least in part about rebirth and renewal: finding out you’ve been spared, healing, growing. (Easter would normally be in the mix here but it came early this year.) Prairie Home Companion ( came on the radio at six, as I was boiling linguine and sautéing vegetarian Italian sausage. Garrison Keillor sang:
Oh my sweet, sweet old someone,
comin’ through that door.
It’s Saturday. The band is playin’.
Honey, could we ask for more?

Well, yes. We are so rarely completely satisfied and I am sick and I never get enough sleep, and I can’t figure out how much and what kind of paying work I want to be doing, and so on and so on. But I had a new book to read, a cherry tree sitting in a pitcher of water in the kitchen sink, a pleasant hour with my son and a relatively tidy yard and all it cost me was a dollar.

And that night, for the fifth time in her life and the third time this month, June slept through the night in her own bed. Sometimes you really can’t ask for more.

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!

“No! No! No! No! No! No! I don’t wike it!”

It wasn’t clear what June didn’t like. Possibly it was just being awake. When Noah was June’s age, his unvarying morning greeting to us was “Happy day!” even on mornings when he’d slept poorly or was so sick he could barely croak out the words. Now June does not have her brother’s sunny disposition. I have to say, though, I understand her better. My thoughts on waking most mornings are more along the lines of “No! No! No!” than “Happy day!” This morning, though, something felt different.

I reached for the light on my alarm clock and was surprised to see it was 7:00 a.m. already. Then I noticed Beth was not in the bed with us. Either June and I had slept through Noah waking and fetching Beth for their traditional early morning routine of reading and games, or it was one of the rare days Beth has to go wake him so he’d be ready for school in time. I’d gone to bed at 9:00 the night before and had been asleep by 9:30. June had only woken me twice (as opposed to the five to six times she’d been up the night before). I felt an unfamiliar, but pleasant sensation. I was rested.

After a quick nursing and a few books, June was in better spirits. We ventured out to the kitchen for breakfast. June, who rarely eats much in the morning, picked at her breakfast, then she wanted out of her high chair. I ate my raisin bran and perused the paper with June in my lap. Across the table, Noah was happily working on an experiment from the Magic Science kit he got for Christmas ( Suddenly he burst into tears. He’d put the powder into the wrong test tube. The leftover solution from yesterday’s potion was bubbling anew. Noah sobbed, “I did the wrong thing!” He’s a cheerful boy, my Noah bear, but he’s also easily upset.

Beth rushed to his side, sat down and pulled him up into her lap. We tried to reason with him. There was plenty of powder left; he could just start over with the right test tube. “But I can’t make it like it was before!” he wailed, meaning the old solution.

“Noah,” Beth said, trying to sound awed. “You made your old potion bubble again! You are such a powerful wizard.” Noah wasn’t buying it. Then Beth told him how I’d mentioned to her that of the two potions he made the day before (a fast bubbling one made with hot water, baking soda and citric acid and a slow bubbling one made with the same ingredients but ice water instead of hot water), the slow one was still fizzing past lunchtime. He perked up a bit and showed some interest. Beth kept talking until he was calmed down and had agreed to resume mixing his glow-in-the-dark solution. Soon he was deep in concentration, measuring zinc sulfide and pouring it into the tube.

After Beth and Noah had left for work and school, June and I got ready to go to Circle Time at the library. We made a detour to stop at Savory ( for a vanilla chai, my new favorite drink there, and then we set off for the library. I felt energized and cheerful as I pushed the stroller along Park Avenue and admired its graceful Victorian homes. The name of the street (not Park Place but close enough) reminded me of the online Monopoly game I’ve been playing with Noah and I found myself wondering when we’d get back to it and looking forward to it. One of the rewards of parenting a school-age child is that he’s getting old enough to play games that are actually fun. The day was sunny and unseasonably warm, which no doubt contributed to my good mood. Mostly, though, I think it was getting close to enough sleep. The sad thing was, it wasn’t even what I would have called a really good night’s sleep pre-kids, since I’d been awoken twice, but my standards have shifted radically.

When we reached the Children’s Room of the Takoma Park library (, a wide smile spread across June’s face and she began to wiggle in the stroller. We’ve only been going to Circle Time regularly for about a month but June just loves it. While we’re there she sits quietly on my lap and never sings or does the hand motions to any of the songs, but she watches intently and memorizes what she sees. At home, I am always hearing little snatches of library songs and catching her doing the motions as she sings. Because I know she’s watching me, when we are there I touch my head, shoulders, knees and toes in the required places in the song and I put my arms up over my head with my fingers tented to make a rocket ship as we sing “Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! We’re Going to the Moon” even though this kind of participation makes me acutely self-conscious. Today, though, I found I really didn’t mind. I didn’t feel silly. I just did it. It was even a little bit fun. When the librarian launched into “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!” I had to agree.

After Circle Time was over, I wondered if we should walk home. It was past ten-thirty, so there was a real risk June would fall asleep in the stroller and I would miss the opportunity to work during part of her nap, but the day was so lovely I decided to chance it. If she got drowsy, I could always stop at a bus stop, wake her and wait for a bus. As we passed the mid-way point of our walk home, June was kicking her legs enthusiastically and singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” As we crossed the newly reconstructed footbridge over Sligo Creek, she was belting out “Jingle Bells.” As I mounted the long, steep hill of the hospital campus, she fell silent. I peeked at her. She was looking a little sleepy, but we were pretty close to home. I walked up the hill as fast as I could, amazed at how much easier the climb seemed than usual.

We made it home with June still awake. I walked through the front door, really smelling the sharp, sweet pine scent of our wreath for the first time in weeks. I’d told Beth the day before we should take the wreath and the twinkling snowflake porch lights down. Now I was reconsidering.

I went straight to the bathroom. When I came out I regarded the house, thinking about the load of clean, unfolded laundry in a basket on my bedroom floor, the second load sitting in the dryer, the dishwasher full of clean dishes and the piles of dirty dishes from dinner and breakfast on the counter. Then I glanced at the indoor/outdoor thermometer. It was 62 degrees outside on this Tuesday morning in the first full week of January 2008. I decided to take June back outside to play.