Over the Hump

“We’re over the hump,” I announced to Beth on Thursday morning as she arranged eggs and a slice of cheese on a tortilla for her breakfast. By that I meant we were more than halfway through the dreaded three-week camp desert.

This week did not get off to an auspicious start. On Monday it was already clear it was a no-sticker day by 1:20. Noah had kicked June in the bathroom around 7 a.m. because she wouldn’t get out of his way. On the way home from his educational testing that morning, they squished up against each other on the bench at the bus stop, each trying to get the coveted section in the middle, and then they bickered over who would pull the cord for our stop. These were minor flashpoints I was willing to overlook until we got home and June was trying to do a handstand on the couch and Noah was trying to eat a cereal bar on the same couch and it ended with him screaming at her and her crying.

I needed a break from them both so I napped during June’s Quiet Time (although she did not—she has almost completely stopped napping just this past week). That meant she was at large while I was trying to read Harry Potter to Noah and she made as much of a nuisance of herself as possible, squeezing in between us, climbing on us, etc.

By three o’clock, we were all pretty out of sorts with each other and the kids had no particular incentive to get along, having lost their afternoon sticker decisively during the couch incident. But, believe it or not I salvaged the day, through sheer determination, bubbles and a well-timed picnic.

The fact that it was the first day of August caused me to reflect on all the fun things I’d resolved to do with the kids at the beginning of the summer and how time really is running out. They’ll be back at school in just over three weeks. One of my resolutions was to bring out never-used or long-neglected toys. So I found the Extreme Bubble Kit Noah got for his ninth birthday. It’s a loop of rope attached to two sticks you dip in a bucket of bubble solution. It makes enormous bubbles. Noah loved it but he hadn’t played with it in over a year. I thought it might be a little tricky for June (she couldn’t do it last year) but she mastered it right away, actually before I could finish my explanation about how it might take her a while to get the hang of it. The kids made bubbles for over an hour and even managed to negotiate several changes in the pattern of turn taking on their own.

When it was time for dinner, I suggested a porch picnic. Earlier Noah had claimed it was Picnic Day and wanted a picnic. (Some Internet research confirmed this was true, in Australia, but whatever.) I was willing to go along, but dark clouds were gathering and thunder was rumbling, so I thought the porch would be safer, and quite pleasant if we got a good summer thunderstorm going.

There was trouble on the Metro and Beth didn’t get home until after 7:30, but the kids and I picnicked on the porch in the absence of rain, which seemed like it might not fall after all. Noah chalked the sidewalk with a Picnic day message, printed a sign with a checkerboard pattern and the words “Happy Picnic Day!” and June made flowers out of crepe paper and taped them to the walls of the house on either side of the front door in preparation. These kids don’t do things halfway, I tell you.

I had to put June to bed before Beth got home, but we left everything laid out on the porch for her and Noah and I kept her company while she ate, and the long-awaited rain fell. It was a short, gentle rain, rather than the soaking I’d hoped for, but it was nice in its own way.

Tuesday my strategy was play dates. The Toad came to play with June in the morning and the Eastern Fence Lizard came this afternoon and Noah had twin friends over at the same time, which means that afternoon there were five kids here, aged four to ten, four out of five boys. Some moments were as noisy as you might expect, but others were quite serene. At one point all five kids were on the living room floor, the three big ones playing Sleeping Queens while the two little ones, having abandoned the train tracks they were building, ate buttered whole-wheat tortillas and watched the card game.

It didn’t work perfectly. In the morning I had to remind Junes several times that the Toad was here to play with her, not to watch her argue with Noah over turns with the Extreme Bubbles wand. The Toad made a few bubbles but seemed more interested in pretending to be unicorns in peril with June. (You have no idea what dangerous lives unicorns lead: They have broken legs, wolves are approaching, “mad agents” are on the loose—you get the idea.) By the end of the afternoon play date with the Lizard, June, still not used to skipping her nap, was exhausted and ready for her guest to go about twenty minutes before it was time for him to leave. She asked if she could go to bed. I suggested reading a book to both of them instead and we settled in with Harold and the Purple Crayon.

The week went on. The kids’ behavior improved, maybe because we were busy. Wednesday, June and I attended one of Becky’s drop-in music classes and Noah had a drum lesson. On Thursday I took June to the library in the morning for Spanish Circle Time and the kids had pediatrician appointments in the afternoon.

Seeing that August page on the calendar also made me a little less laid back about how Noah spends his time. I switched over from occasionally suggesting he work on his summer math packet to requiring him to do a page a day before he can have any television or computer time. Thursday I actually made him a to-do list, something I haven’t done since the end of the school year. It consisted of exercise (a scooter ride), a page of math, a half hour of reading (his reading log is filling up more slowly than I thought it would), and practicing his drums (he didn’t practice at all between his last two lessons). Given the fact that we were out of the house from noon until four for the doctor’s appointment, the list was ambitious. By 6:15, when I called him to set the table and he hadn’t finished practicing his drums, he was upset and claimed there was too much to do and he’d never finish and he’d never have any media time again. But by seven, he’d finished eating dinner, helped me tidy the living room and he was watching Pink Panther cartoons on his iPod. By bedtime, he’d reached level 75 of Bloons Tower Defense IV, a balloon-popping game that he recently bought with birthday money and loves.

Friday he finished up his testing. June napped for the first time in a week so we had an extra-long Harry Potter reading (an hour and forty minutes) and then he practiced his drums. I agreed to let him skip his math since he’d been doing math at the testing and when Beth got home we went out for pizza and the good behavior ice cream. (After missing the first three, the kids got seven stickers in a row.)

It was a long week (I kept thinking it had to be a different, later, day than it was), but not a bad one, and I am doing some math in my own head: 7 days until the beach, 23 until school.