Fab Four: A Birthday in Four Acts

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

Act 1: The Weekend Before

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act 2: The Big Day: Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Act 3: The Big Day: Afternoon and Evening

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

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

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

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

Intermission: The Day After

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

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

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

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

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

Act 4: The Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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