Noah had a sketch of a bicycle he drew in art class selected for a countywide art show for elementary and middle school students. The show was at a mall about a half hour from Takoma Park, and quite near one of our favorite vegetarian Chinese restaurants, so clearly we were obligated to go to the show and then eat at the Vegetable Garden. Late Saturday afternoon, we set out for the White Flint Mall.
The outing started off with some errands—I needed to deposit a check and the car needed gas. While I got out of the car at the bank I dropped the camera we’d brought to take pictures at the exhibit on my seat and joked that Beth and the kids could take pictures of each other while they were waiting for me. Beth laughed, but June thought it sounded like a good idea, so while they were parked and later as we drove around she snapped over sixty pictures—a few of me and Beth, but more of Noah who was conveniently sitting right next to her, some close-ups of herself, plus houses, other buildings, trees, the sky, her shoes, her car seat, pretty much anything that caught her eye. Noah also took a picture of her when she handed him to camera to delete a photo she didn’t like. (Included here. Isn’t it a great shot of her?)
At the mall, we went to Noah’s school’s display first. Each school had a very small area to use, and as Beth noted it was the same amount of space for K-5 schools like June’s as for 3-5 schools like Noah’s. Noah was not particularly enthused about his drawing, saying he’d done others this year he liked better, but we admired it as well as those of his classmates, and then we moved on to other schools. We went to June’s school’s display next, to see if any of Noah’s old classmates or June’s current ones had work in the show. It was at this point that I realized we’d only told June that Noah had a drawing in an art show and we hadn’t mentioned it wasn’t only for his school. It slowly began to dawn on her that he had been selected for an honor for which she was also eligible and she had not been. This must have been almost inconceivable to her, because art is her thing and she’s good at it and Noah doesn’t even like art much. (I’ve noticed, however, that even though he doesn’t draw for fun the way June does his drawing has improved a lot in the past couple years. He’s much more careful with it than he used to be.)
At first June resisted the realization, saying maybe there would be something of hers in the display. We’d received an official notice about Noah’s drawing (as we had the last and only other time he was in the show, in the first grade for his print of the letter N) so we knew there wasn’t going to be any of June’s art there.
When we got to her school’s display, matters got even more galling. Several kindergarten students were represented. I read their names off the tags. “They’re not in my class,” she said somewhat dismissively. The kindergarten projects were called “Art Elements” and consisted of paper boxes. When you lifted the lids you saw wooden blocks in different geometric shapes arranged inside. June had actually mentioned this project to me previously, but I hadn’t really been able to visualize the boxes until I saw them. June asserted that she never finished hers. This could well be true. She has art on Thursdays and they did have a Thursday off the week before last so her class might be behind the ones who have art on other days. Her implication was clear, however. This was the reason her Arts Elements box was not in the show. No one challenged June; it was clear she needed to save face somehow.
We visited a few more displays of schools where the kids’ friends go, and saw some interesting work. Beth especially liked the skeleton marionettes one school had made for the Day of the Dead.
We passed by a Gap and asked Noah if wanted to go shopping for shorts—he needs some new ones—but he wasn’t in the mood. Just as well, I thought, because June didn’t need anything and if we went to see his art and bought him clothes it might just be too much for her to bear.
It was time to leave the mall for the restaurant, but now that June’s psychological crisis was resolved, Noah’s began. We couldn’t leave the mall, he said, we hadn’t gotten a snack. Beth and I were puzzled. Why would he want a snack– we were heading straight for dinner. We always get a snack when we go to a mall, Noah insisted. Usually a soft pretzel, but sometimes something else. We couldn’t leave without it. “We wouldn’t want to mall police to come after us,” he wheedled, mostly joking but not entirely. By now we understood well enough. Noah had turned a pattern into a rule and he really felt as if we were breaking an unstated but important agreement. He hung behind for a few moments as Beth, June and I headed out into the parking lot, then he gave up and joined us.
He was out of sorts but luck was with us. Beth spotted two geese with two goslings strolling across the lot. It was an unexpected and welcome distraction from the unjust lack of soft pretzels. We got a little closer to observe the fluffy bright yellow and brown goslings. A mall security vehicle was following the birds, presumably to ensure their safety. We wondered where they’d come from, how they’d entered the lot (up the ramp perhaps?) and how they’d get back out. Alone the adults could fly, but with their babies, they were stuck on foot. It was like being really near somewhere you wanted to go but couldn’t get to with a stroller, I said. Those days are recent enough for me to empathize with the geese. At least the baby geese seemed co-operative, Beth observed. They were sticking with their parents and not complaining.
And neither were our goslings. Despite their trials neither of them had made much of a fuss and by the time we got back into the car, they were both happy and we drove off toward soup, dumplings, fried black mushrooms and other delights of the evening.