Lucky Duck

“I’m seven,” Noah announced when he came into our bedroom at 6:50 yesterday morning. “It’s my birthday.”

“Happy Birthday,” I answered, stretching my arms out of the bed to give him his first seven-year-old hug. “It’s also a weekend,” I reminded him. “So you’ll have to go back to your room for a little while.”

We recently instituted a later wakeup time for weekends. Noah can still come into our room at 6:30 on weekdays, but on weekends, it’s 7:10. (We proposed 7:00 and when he offered us an extra ten minutes, we readily accepted.)

Soon I could hear the clicking of Magna-Tiles ( fitting together and Noah’s cheerful voice singing:

You woo-woo-woo-woo can do woo-woo-woo-woo a la la la la la lot under water
You woo-woo-woo-woo can do woo-woo-woo-woo a la la la la la lot under water…

You can pretend you are mermaids or mermen
swimming deep beneath the sea
if you find lost treasure on the ocean floor
please bring it back up to me.


Apparently he was anticipating his party, which was going to have an “Under the Sea” theme. He’d picked an underwater scene he found online for the invitations. I’d bought gummy sharks and squids and other sea animals along with rubber ducks and water-squirters in the shapes of dolphins, sharks and alligators for the goody bags. Beth decorated the bags, drawing jellyfish on the girls’ bags and sharks on the boys’, per Noah’s instructions. The guests’ names were written in tentacles and teeth. She also fashioned him the “coral crown” he requested out of pink craft foam and baubles they found at a craft shop. Beth baked the cake and frosted it with a scuba-diving penguin on a blue background. (This, of course, was based on a design from Club Penguin.) The party itself was to be held partly on the D.C. Duck (, an amphibious tour vehicle that takes you to see some of the monuments and other sights on your way to the Potomac, where you take a short cruise.

When Noah came into the room Beth (who had arisen at 6:20, showered and left the house) was already on her way to stand in line for tickets for the Duck, which are only available on a same-day basis.

When Beth returned around 8:45, with tickets in hand and laden with coffee and pastries from Union Station, Noah began to unwrap his first round of presents. Among the big hits were the tropical fish short pajama set Andrea sewed for him (he decided to wear the top to his party), Magic Tree House #39 (appropriately titled A Dark Day in the Deep Sea) and a six-month renewal of his Club Penguin membership.

When the presents were opened, he started telling us more about his recess club, the Penguin Secret Agency, or P.S.A. (It’s based on the secret agent program on Club Penguin. Noah recently qualified to be a secret agent on the site.) Right now the recess club seems to be splitting its time between solving mysteries and growing its membership. Peter’s job is to talk up the club on the playground, while Sasha writes its name in sidewalk chalk. They’ve had a recent coup: a second grader joined the previously all first-grade club. I asked Noah if there were any girls in the club and he said no, that he’d wanted to ask Maura, but he didn’t because “she has her own club she’s the boss of, like me.”

“You’re the boss of the club?” I asked. This was news.

“Yeah, because I started it,” he said. This heartened me, not because I think he needs to be the boss of everything, but because after playing almost exclusively with Sasha for the first two-thirds of first grade, he went through a bit of a recess rough patch when Sasha started playing basketball with Sean instead. He remained friendly with both boys and they invited him to join in, but he doesn’t care much for sports so he turned them down. For several weeks he played by himself at recess, trying to recreate the games he and Sasha had played in solo versions. He was a bit downcast about it and I felt helpless to offer advice. I’ve rarely made friends easily and I’ve gone through a few dry spells myself (truth be told I’m in one now). I did try though, making occasional suggestions about how to approach children and reminding him of kids he’s played with in the past. Then, gradually, he began mentioning playing with one child or another for a few days at a time until more often than not, he had a playmate at recess. Then suddenly he was printing out membership forms for his club and discussing its growth potential. He’s rebuilt his social network with admirable speed and panache.

The child development experts say seven can be a whiny, melancholy, self-pitying age. So far we haven’t seen much evidence of that. Granted, he’s only been seven for two days, but it seems to be a good age for him. He’s doing well academically. His teachers say he’s reading and doing math well above grade level and they have no serious complaints about his behavior. His print of the letter N was selected for an elementary and middle school art show at a nearby mall. And he’s overcome a challenging social situation. So far it seems more like lucky seven than sad seven.

Seven is the age when boys in ancient Sparta left home to begin their military training. In medieval times it was the age when sons of nobility moved to the castle to serve as pages in training to be squires and knights. It’s the age at which many Catholics take first Communion. It seems to be recognized in many cultural traditions as an age of increased competence and responsibility. Maybe that’s why, when Noah was a baby and my sister asked how old he’d have to be to fly out to the West Coast and spend a week with her, I said seven. Now that I have a seven year old, and a rather absent-minded one at that, the idea of putting him on a plane by himself frankly horrifies me. So we won’t be doing that, or sending him off to military school, but we did increase his allowance from a dollar a week to two dollars, and with the raise we gave him some new chores.

The party was to be a new experience, too, and logistically more challenging than any we’ve attempted so far. Birthdays up to now have been backyard affairs with grandparents and friends of the family (birthdays one to four) or with his own friends (birthdays five and six). The most recent two have had themes (the five senses and weather) and there were decorations and games related to the theme, but mostly the kids ran around like wild things in the yard and ate cake. It worked for us.

We’ve adhered to the one-guest-per-year-of-the-child’s age guideline for parties, so when it came time to start planning the party, we told Noah he could have seven guests. It so happened this was around the same time he was finding himself short on friends. He could only come up with three. I felt so sad about this I started trying to compensate by suggesting more elaborate parties than we usually throw. My first idea was to take Noah and his guests to tour a cavern. He liked the idea, but when we looked into it we couldn’t find anything closer than ninety minutes from the house and we’d have needed at least one parent and probably more to volunteer as extra drivers, so we nixed the idea. Meanwhile, Noah came up with his under the sea theme and we started working around that. Could we tour a submarine? The only one we could find was at a military museum. We didn’t feel great about that and it presented the same transportation problems as the cavern. How about the oceans exhibit at Natural History, easily accessible by Metro? Closed for renovations. How about a ride on the D.C. Duck, something he’s wanted to do for a while? It goes on the river and not the sea, but it was close enough.

While all this brainstorming was going on, Noah’s guest list kept growing until it hit seven. I wondered if we should have stuck to the cake-in-the-backyard model, but it was too late to turn back. Then right before we sent out the invitations, Noah struck one of the guests from the list and didn’t replace her. Maura, who had her own birthday party and the last soccer game of the season that weekend, sent her regrets. On the morning of the party, Maxine woke up with a stomach bug, and despite her energetic pleading, her mother decided it wasn’t a good idea to send her on a boat. We were down to four of the original guests, plus a late addition, Jill’s younger sister Sadie, whom Jill wanted to bring along. Sadie’s in kindergarten, only seven months younger than Noah and he’s played with both sisters so inviting her seemed like a good idea. The girls’ mother, Suzy, offered to help chaperone as well.

We met Elias, Sasha and Sean at the Metro station at 3:15. All four boys were immediately engaged in a game in which the train was a time machine, taking them back to the time of the dinosaurs. Suzy, Jill and Sadie met us at the Duck at 3:45. The vessel was called “Lucky Duck.” It was smaller than I imagined and our party made up almost half the passengers. We settled into our seats in the open-air vehicle, ready to take in the sights of Washington, D.C. on a warm, sunny spring day.

I’d wondered if Noah’s guests would behave on the Duck, but they were good as gold, requiring only the occasional reminder to keep their elbows inside and to refrain from talking while the tour guide was speaking. June, on the other hand, was a wild woman, restless and noisy and squirmy. I had my hands full trying to keep her from hurling herself, her sippy and her pacifier over the side of the vehicle. I managed to keep her quiet and still for short periods of time by feeding her everything edible I could find in the diaper bag (a stick of barbequed soy jerky and a baggie of mixed dry cereal was all I had). She ran back and forth between my seat and Beth’s every few minutes. I ended up paying more attention to June than to any of the monuments or statues we passed. When we hit the George Washington Parkway and the Duck reached its maximum driving speed of forty miles per hour, June’s hair was blowing all over and she was laughing in delight. Once we were on the water, June was even more intent of throwing herself overboard. Meanwhile, the low-flying airplanes landing and taking off from National Airport fascinated all the kids, big and little. Once we were back on land, the guide let Noah pass out the souvenir quackers (duck-bill shaped noisemakers) and instructed everyone to quack “Happy Birthday” to him. It wasn’t quite recognizable as “Happy Birthday” but it was impressively noisy.

Back at Union Station, we exited the Duck. After Noah and Sasha nearly gave us a heart attack running away from us in the parking lot, Suzy, Jill and Sadie got into their car and we got back on the Metro. Once we were back in Takoma, Beth took June and drove up to Summer Delights, the ice cream parlor where the rest of the party was to be held, while I herded the four boys the several blocks from the Metro to the ice cream place. Noah, Elias and Sasha were playing a game in which they earned points by stepping on certain kinds of materials and avoiding others. This slowed their progress considerably, so I had to keep calling them to catch up to Sean and me. Sean was a bit disdainful of the game and declined to join.

At Summer Delights, we met up with a couple moms and younger siblings for pizza, cake and ice cream in the patio. Beth simplified the ordering process by limiting the choices to vanilla soft serve with rainbow sprinkles or chocolate with chocolate sprinkles. When it was time to sing “Happy Birthday,” the kids all spontaneously blew their quackers between the lines. They were all on the beat and it actually sounded pretty good.

As we left Summer Delights, June called out, “Noah, Sasha, C’mon!” (in a pretty good imitation of the impatient tone I’d used on the way over) even though Sasha had already left. On our way home, we swung by his house to return his quacker (confiscated by Beth for quacking in the train station, which she had forbidden). Then it was home for bath and opening the presents Noah received from his friends.

Today was a quieter day, full of errands and house cleaning. Noah got a haircut, wrote his thank-you notes and carried out his new chores of helping to clean his room and to assemble the recycling. In between, we found time to play the board game he got from Sadie and Jill and to read A Dark Day in the Deep Sea in its entirety. And tonight, Beth, Noah and June hailed the ice cream truck for the first time this season.

When I tucked Noah in, I left him with my usual litany: “Have a good night’s sleep. Sweet Dreams. See you in the morning. Mommy loves you very much.” Often I add something at the end about what will happen the next day, so I said, “Tomorrow will be your first day at school as a seven year old. “

“Yah!” Noah said, seeming genuinely excited about this.

Happy Birthday, sweet seven year old. Here’s to a lucky year.