It’s Not Time to Talk About Flamingoes

June had just drifted off to sleep. I lay on her bed, curled around her, wondering where I’d left my stack of papers on household toxins. If her nap was long enough I could read and highlight the whole thing and get it in the mail tomorrow before Noah got home from school, which would be two and a half hours earlier than usual, due to an early dismissal. Whenever I can I like to mail my packets to my sister on Fridays. I try not to do my research on the weekends and I like having my paid work done for a few days. It’s a luxurious feeling for an ex-academic who used to spend her weekends grading papers. The Friday mailing was looking iffy this week, though. Between running out of ink yesterday and forgetting to take the early dismissal into account until today, I’d fallen behind schedule.

Here I should note that the schedule is entirely of my own making. Sara sends me a topic and I send her the research when I finish it. She always says, “When you get a chance” or “June permitting” and she never makes me feel pressured or rushed. I do that to myself.

I climbed halfway out of June’s bed. And she woke up, crying. I put the pacifier back in her mouth and rubbed her tummy lightly. That will often do the trick, but not this time. She cried harder. I settled back into the bed, waiting for her to drift off again. And she didn’t. I began to sing “Hush Little Baby,” then “All the Pretty Little Horses,” about a half dozen times each. She was not sleeping. Every now and then she’d pop up to her knees and I would set her gently down on her back. This went on for about a half hour. We’d started the nap later than usual because she’d slept in the stroller during our morning walk. I might be able to get her to sleep again by putting her in the stroller again and going around the block a couple times, but even if I did it would be too late to get any work done before Noah got home from school. That much was clear.

I got up out of the bed, leaving her to wail while I collected jackets and shoes for both of us. Then I came back, picked her up and took her to the bathroom to change her diaper and get her coat and shoes and mittens on. I did not make eye contact or speak to her during this operation. I was fuming.

When Noah was a toddler there was nothing he could do that could make me madder than resisting naps. Beth and I were both working full-time then and he was in daycare only about half-time. I was doing a lot of my work at home with him, under real deadlines. A missed nap could mean not turning back papers on the day I’d told my students I would (which I hated to do) or having to stay up late, not knowing how many times Noah would wake me up or at what ungodly hour he would want to start the day. (I make smart, pretty, charming babies, but good sleepers, not so much.) I resolved that this time around it would be different. There’s just no point being angry with a child who can’t sleep. It’s not her fault. And even it were, what do I gain from it? Taking care of her is my primary responsibility most days. Anything else I do, whether it’s research, doing laundry or getting dinner on the table is extra. It’s gravy.

Somehow, though, when she won’t sleep it feels just as urgent and disastrous to me as it did five years ago. Even if what I was going to do during the break is non-essential, the break itself feels essential. I am just not an on-all-the-time kind of person. I need my alone time, even if I’m working during it. That’s why teaching college suited me so well and I can’t fathom teaching all day like elementary and secondary teachers do, day in and day out. Of course, I parent all day without a break some days, but often I do it badly, with ill will.

We had twenty-five minutes before Noah’s bus came, time for two circuits around the block. I’d been harboring the tiniest sliver of hope that June would fall asleep right off the bat, allowing me to go back to the house and get just a little work done, but near the end of the first circuit she was still awake. As we passed the baby swing hanging in a neighbor’s yard, a swing we’ve been granted permission to use, June began to struggle in the stroller and say “Out!”

“You are not riding in that swing!” I said, not in my kindest tone. “It’s time to sleep.”

A few houses later, we passed another neighbor’s pink lawn flamingoes. “’Mingo!” June declared.

“It’s not time to talk about flamingoes,” I said uncharitably. “It’s time to sleep.”

The second time around the block, on the part of the walk that goes by the creek, I noticed I was walking under a red maple, most of the way turned. The early November mid-afternoon light made the green-tipped red leaves glow. All around me trees were in various stages of turning, some still green, others greenish yellow, others fiery red. The trees burned and were not consumed.

It would be nice to say the beauty of nature made me forget my anger and filled me with appreciation for life and its cycles, but that’s not precisely what happened. I noticed the maple and considered how I’d walked right by it without seeing it ten minutes ago, and what a loss it would have been if I’d never seen it at all. I felt my anger abate just a little. I was calmer. As I reached the uphill part of the walk, I concentrated on feeling my muscles push the stroller up the short, steep stretch of asphalt. I tried to clear my mind of negative thoughts and emotions.

When we went by the swing again and June again started to struggle and say “Out!” I checked my watch. There wasn’t time. I used a nicer tone of voice, however, when I told her we wouldn’t stop.

And when we passed the flamingoes and she identified them, I just said, “Yep, those are flamingoes all right.”

At the bus stop, the stay-at-home dad who waits for his son there mentioned that his preschooler gets up at five on a bad morning and six on a good one and that he has given up his afternoon nap almost entirely. It could be worse, I thought. And later, I decided, we’d go back to the flamingoes.

Turn! Turn! Turn!

To everything
(Turn, turn, turn)
There is a season
(Turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose
Under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

From “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)” by Pete Seeger
Adapted from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Sometimes you know when things will happen. Fall arrived at 5:51 a.m. this morning, as expected. Even though it’s been warm for late September, the humidity is largely gone and there’s a chill in the air in the mornings when I go out to collect the newspaper. The red berries have appeared on our dogwood tree; its leaves are tinged with scarlet and some have even fallen. We’re at a moment of balance between the light and the dark (that blessed time of year when you can still get good corn and tomatoes at the farmers’ market and sweet, crisp apples and pears are for sale as well), but the tipping point is here. Each time we go to the Y to swim at the outdoor pool, I wonder a little sadly if it will be the last time this year. Yet at the same time I look forward to seeing the leaves turn and the snowfall through June’s eyes, this first year she’s likely to notice such things.

June’s half birthday falls on the equinox this year. Like the seasons, she’s halfway between one thing and the next. Starting tomorrow, she will be closer to two than one. Some parts of this transition are hard. She still wants her morning nap and gets very cranky without it. So by way of compromise I take her for a ride in the stroller or Beth drives her somewhere to induce a short nap that will carry her to her afternoon nap. That’s the theory anyway. In practice, the abbreviated morning nap is sometimes still too long or comes too late and interferes with the afternoon nap, returning us to our original problem. I’m going to give it at least another week to work itself out before giving up and switching tactics.

Other steps she’s taking on her journey from baby to little girl seem almost magically effortless. June is currently experiencing what the developmental psychologists call a “word explosion.” That’s just what it seems like, too. Words are just bubbling to the surface and exploding out of her. Noah says if she were a character on Super Why, her superpower would be “the power to talk.” She knows more than eighty words and adds new ones daily. She’s eager to learn more and often points to an object whose name she doesn’t know and demands, “Say!” Sometimes when she improves her pronunciation of a word (for instance when she said “yummy” for the first time instead of “nummy” which is how she usually says it), she beams and looks to me or to Beth for approval. She lets us know now when she needs a diaper change by announcing “Boopy.” (We are hoping this means she will show more of an interest in toilet training than her brother did.)

Her utterances are getting longer and more complex as well as more numerous. Her first four-word sentence was “No way! No seat!” meaning “If you think I’m getting in that car seat you have another thing coming.” One recent morning she saw a school bus out the window and said, “Bus. Noah back.” And not only does she use words to communicate with us and to keep up little running commentaries for her own amusement, she also made her toys talk to each other for the first time today. I watched her sitting on the couch with a foam rubber dinosaur in each hand. She held them so they faced each other.

“Go,” one dinosaur said.

“Shoes,” the other suggested.

“Thank you,” the first dinosaur replied.

“Thank you,” the second dinosaur returned.

And so on and so on.

She’s physically more agile as well. At the playground she tries to climb on equipment designed for much older and bigger kids. About a month ago she learned to climb the ladder to Noah’s top bunk. We had to take it down for her safety as well as the safety of the toys Noah wants to stash in a June-free zone. He’s adjusted by learning to climb up the back of the bunks. Every now and then, though, we put the ladder back and let her climb (under close maternal supervision). It gives her such joy. This afternoon as an impromptu half-birthday present I dug Noah’s old push bike out from the basement and gave it to June. I had Noah demonstrate how to sit on it and push it along with his feet. She was eager to try, but couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. She ended up alternately sitting on the seat and bouncing up and down and walking alongside it, pulling it by the handlebars. I tried to remember how we taught Noah to ride it, then I remembered he was already in daycare when he got it for Christmas at the age of almost twenty months and that he’d been riding a similar one there, so we didn’t have to teach him. I guess she will figure it out on her own. I doubt it will take long.

She’s also “prettier every day.” I know because our neighbor told me. (I am a little sad to see the red fading from her hair as she gets blonder, but her curls are more than adequate compensation. At the risk of sounding shallow, I admit I wanted curly-haired children. My own wavy golden-brown hair is my only physical vanity, even if I usually wear it back.)

Tonight, after an equinox supper of pesto burgers, corn on the cob and apple cider, we had cupcakes with orange and brown frosting and yellow sprinkles to celebrate June’s half birthday. “Nummy cake,” she commented appreciatively. Then she pointed to something on the table and began to grunt excitedly.

“What do you want, June?” I asked.

“I want…I want…” she said and trailed off, the word eluding her.

Beth and I stared at each other. “Did you hear that? She just said ‘I want’” Beth said. I nodded silently. Both words were firsts. It was an almost solemn thrill to hear her first “I,” marred only slightly by the fact that we never did figure out what she wanted.

Of course any toddler worth her salt needs to know how to throw a proper tantrum. June’s working on that, too. As Noah got ready for bed and Beth gathered up the week’s recycling and I tried to wash a pomegranate juice stain out of her light gray onesie, June expressed her displeasure that no-one was paying attention to her at that precise moment by hurling herself onto the floor in a high traffic area (between the living and dining rooms) and screaming. She doesn’t have the kicking part down yet but I’m sure she’ll get there. It’s part of what comes between one and two.

Not all change can be so easily predicted, however. This week Beth and I were deeply saddened and angered by the decision of the Maryland Supreme Court that the denial of marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples is constitutional ( & The decision was longer in coming than expected. At one point Beth and I were daring to hope we might be married on our twentieth anniversary in July, and even after that day passed with no decision handed down, we still hoped, almost never speaking of it to each other, so as not to jinx anything. After the decision, Beth confided in me that she’d been wondering where to go for our honeymoon. I admitted I’d been wondering if we should buy Noah his first suit for the wedding. I’d also been mulling over whether he could be trusted with gold jewelry and if June could possibly follow directions well enough to strew flower petals at our feet in front of the judge. But now, something we were allowing ourselves to think of as at least potentially happening in weeks or months is again years (or decades) off. I think history is on our side, but when you look at history it’s easy to pinpoint an event as being at the beginning, middle or end of a social movement. When you are living in history, it’s harder to tell. It took American women seventy-two years to get the vote, counting from the first women’s rights convention, held in 1848 in Seneca, New York ( If we take the Stonewall Riots ( as the birth of the modern gay rights movement and it takes much longer than that, Beth and I might be shuffling down the aisle in our walkers. She’s worth the wait, but it would be easier if I knew how long the wait would be.

Sometimes, though, change takes you by surprise, like the four purple crocuses that bloom every September in our front yard. When we moved here our old landlady was re-landscaping and gave us a bunch of bulbs she’d dug up to take to our new house. We planted them in spring, the wrong time of year for planting bulbs. Some of them, like the hyacinth and the tiger lilies, got themselves straightened out and bloom when the neighbors’ hyacinth and tiger lilies do. Other mystery bulbs never recovered from the shock and put forth only greenery and no flowers every year. (Or maybe they are greenery-only bulbs. Is there such a thing? I’m no gardener clearly.) The crocuses, however, lay dormant for several years, and now bloom every year out of season, at the time of year perhaps when the ratio of light to dark matches that in March. I’m not sure how it works, but I know it does. Despite the fact that they’ve done this before, I forget every year and I am surprised anew whenever I see them poking up out of the ground some time in the waning days of summer.

I hope some day, reading the newspaper, listening to the radio or perusing my email to be similarly surprised, by justice, come unexpected, sweet and beautiful after a long wait.

Welcome to 6:47

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

“Good morning, Noah,” I managed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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