Look at the Sunflower

Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust…

Yesterday was a strange day, happy and sad all at once. June had her first day in the Leaves class and my father had his second round of chemotherapy for throat cancer. I only found out he had cancer last week so it’s been weighing on me. He’s made it clear he wants his space right now, no phone calls or visits. So I sent a bouquet of sunflowers with a quote from Allen Ginsberg’s “Sunflower Sutra” (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poem.html?id=179382) and I’m contemplating what to put in a care package and taking comfort in the fact that my stepmother says his prognosis is good. We haven’t always had an easy relationship, but I don’t want to go into all that now.

June came into our room yesterday morning at 6:05, asking me to come lay down with her, just as she had at 3:15 and 11:55. Alert readers may be thinking “came into our room”? at this point. Over the Labor Day weekend, Beth and Noah cleared all the toys he’d been storing up on his top bunk, put them in bins inside the drawers under the bottom bunk and drilled holes for a hasp and combination lock into the drawers and locked them up. (He was put out that Beth insisted on knowing the combination to the lock.) Now Noah’s room is officially Noah and June’s room. They were just in time with the toy relocation, too. June learned to scale the back of the ladderless bunks on Sunday after almost two years of trying. We put the ladder back and she is constantly going up and down with and without it.

On Sunday night June slept on the lower bunk and Noah slept on the top bunk for the very first time. The first night June went right to sleep (after I’d reminded them to stop talking to each other a few times) but Noah tossed and turned, unused to sleeping on the top bunk. The second night they both fell asleep a little more quickly (after I’d admonished Noah a few times to stop trying to amuse June with beams of light from the flashlight he keeps up there so he can read in the mornings if he wakes before she does.) Two wake ups during a night is within the realm of normal for June, so I think the transition is going pretty well. Now we’re all trying to call it “the kids’ room” instead of “Noah’s room” and thinking about getting some wooden letters that spell out her name to put next to Noah’s name on the wall and putting up some of her artwork on the door.

When June got up for the third time, just after six, I let her into our bed in hopes of getting a little more sleep, but she was wiggly and wide awake. I pretended to sleep while she crawled all over me. Around 6:50 I gave up the pretense and we read a couple books and got out of bed to eat breakfast. Around 7:40 I broke up a fight between the children by telling June it was time to get dressed and asking her to choose between the purple and blue striped dress and the blue and green one. She pointed to the purple one. Then she wanted to know if she was going to a party. (It was reasonable supposition since she’s only worn this dress three times and always to a party.) No, school, I reminded her, much to her delight.

Her delight turned to dismay, however, when I mentioned that she was going to wear underwear to school. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” June said. She seemed surprised, too, as if we’d never brought up this bizarre requirement before. I told her she could wear a diaper until we got to school, mainly because I wanted her to at least arrive at school in dry clothes so I could jump into my co-oping duties without having to change her. Then she surprised me by saying she wanted to put the underwear on right away. I decided to throw caution to the wind and said okay. The pink underwear, she specified.

Once she was dressed and her hair was combed, she was satisfied that she looked “good and pretty” (a recent concern of hers). After a last minute scramble for my keys and quick photo session at the front gate, we were off.

We arrived at school at 8:20. When we came in I asked June if she wanted to use the potty and she declared she wasn’t “old enough” to use the potty. (This is what she says whenever she doesn’t want to do something.) Lesley asked how old would be old enough. June held up four fingers.

“Hmm…” Lesley said in a neutral tone.

I was expecting to be the only experienced co-oper so I was relieved to find out the Yellow Oak’s (aka Ladybug’s) mom was subbing for one of the new co-opers. I thought it would be easier for two of us to show the ropes to one new co-oper than for me to show them to two. It was actually a really easy day because only half the class was in attendance. (The others will start tomorrow.) I showed the Yellow Holly’s mom how to record the kids’ journal entries and between the two of us we did journals for all seven kids. All three co-opers pitched in and did the housekeeping jobs together while Lesley led the kids in dramatic play and for the first time in my two years at the school it wasn’t a mad rush to get it all done.

During Circle Time, Lesley introduced the concept of daily jobs. One of June’s jobs was to stick the number 8 to the calendar that had the numbers from one to seven already on it. Then everyone counted to eight and Lesley asked for predictions about tomorrow’s date. No-one answered but I could see a few of them were thinking about it and from the looks on their faces when she said nine, I think they knew the answer. Next Lesley showed them the talking stick, decorated with beads and the words “Talk” and “Listen.” It gets passed from child to child as they sing their morning greeting to each other: “Hello, Name. How are you?” June was sitting immediately to Lesley’s left so she had the stick first. Lesley explained what she was supposed to do.

“I’m not old enough,”June said softly. Lesley explained again that the singing was optional. Making eye contact and passing the stick is enough. June passed the stick to the next child wordlessly. Either June’s a trendsetter or this singing greeting is really scary for three year olds just getting to know each other because they all passed the stick without a verbal greeting, though I think one of the returning girls did answer “I am fine, thank you,” as Lesley sang the question. (Almost half the Leaves class is new. Leaves is a bigger class than Bugs and we had some last-minute vacancies come open this summer so we have eight returning students and six new ones.) As the stick went around I watched the new children, June’s new crop of friends, with a warm, curious feeling. They will be together for two years, which is a long time when you are only three. I’m eager to get to know them.

When the singing was over, I had the pleasure of hearing Lesley read The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher (http://www.librarything.com/work/629786), a book Noah’s whole class loved. I remember reading it to little groups of them over and over, or rather showing them its eerily illustrated pages and talking to them about what’s going on because it has no words. In between her observations and questions and the children’s, Lesley hummed in a suspenseful way.

“Is this a scary book?” someone wanted to know.

After a snack of peaches, apples, hummus and whole-wheat pita, a session of dramatic play followed. Lesley took the kids on a magic carpet ride to the bottom of the sea and over a mountain range while the co-opers cleaned. Once I peeked in and saw June wearing a blue gown from the dress-up rack. “Let’s go to a party,” she said. Around ten-forty when I needed to go to the bathroom, I realized June was still dry. I’d been asking her frequently if she wanted to use the potty, but every time she said no.

Around eleven, the kids went out to play on the playground. I stayed inside to finish a few last-minute housekeeping tasks since I was the official housekeeping person, but every now and then I looked out the window. Every time I did I saw June tearing around the playground, the skirt of her purple dress flying out behind her. When I finished and came outside, June and two other girls were playing at being cats. This consisted of running around and meowing. Lesley said she foresaw two years of meowing, because a class’s play patterns are often established early. (Noah’s class was all pirates all the time, at least among the boys. The girls were often fairies.) During a quiet moment, Lesley asked me about my father. Before I knew it, it was time to line up and go to the front porch for dismissal. The first day of Leaves class was over.

Once we got home, I asked June if she wanted to use the potty. She did not, but minutes later, as she was standing on a stool in the kitchen, watching me make a grilled cheese sandwich for her, she announced nonchalantly, “I’m peeing.” I looked down at the stool and saw she had.

In the bathroom as I changed her out of the wet pink underwear, I told her that although she would not go back to school this week, she’d go three days next week. She grinned and held up three fingers. “Can I stay until night?” she asked. I think she had a good day. I hope June has many more days like today this fall and that my father has as few as possible.

This afternoon I went to the backyard to pick a tomato for dinner. I surveyed what we have left in the garden: a lot of green tomatoes, herbs, zinnias and black-eyed Susans, some carrots, a handful of green beans and a little bit of lettuce. The cucumber vines are still flowering but there aren’t any cucumbers growing on them. I can’t tell if they are finished or not. And then there’s the sunflower. Most of our sunflowers were toppled by a storm in early August, but the granddaddy, the one that grew to a height of eight feet or more is still standing. A week ago I thought it was dead, but now it has a few new blooms on it. I expect it to stick around a while longer.

We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not our dread bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we’re all golden sunflowers inside…