See You in September

“I like that too,” said Christopher Robin, “but what I like doing best is Nothing.”
“How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.
“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, What are you going to do, Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and then you go and do it.”
“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.
“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.”
“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again….

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out, “Pooh!”
“Yes,” said Pooh.
“When I’m—when—Pooh!”
“Yes, Christopher Robin?”
“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
“Never again?”
“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”

From The House at Pooh Corner, by A.A. Milne

Noah and I were sitting on the bleachers of an empty baseball diamond in Jecquie Park on the third day of summer vacation. When his class’s sparsely attended goodbye party had broken up he wanted to stay at the playground so Beth took June to the grocery store and said she’d come back for us after she’d picked up a few items. We’d acted out a story from his pirate stories cd, climbed on the play structure and ridden the see-saw. After some consideration of what to do next, Noah said, “Let’s go to Ecuador!”

“Okay,” I replied. “How do we get there?”

“There’s the bus,” he said, pointing to the bleachers. Noah enquired about the route to Ecuador. I said it was a long way and that we’d have to travel through the Southern United States, Mexico, Central America and part of South America. I estimated it would take at least a week. “This is a very fast bus,” he assured me. He wanted to see my watch. It was 5:45. “When the big hand is on the twelve, we’ll be there,” he said.

We sat in companionable silence for fifteen minutes. Every now and then he would remind me to look at my watch. I fretted a little, wondering if this was quality time or not. We weren’t doing anything. But it was the end of a hot day and I was tired and he was tired and doing nothing felt okay. As Christopher Robin pointed out, sometimes a nothing sort of thing is just what you want.

In planning Noah’s summer it’s been hard for Beth and me to find the right balance of activity and down time. Part of me wishes I was the kind of mom who could keep him so happily occupied at home with spontaneous, creative art projects, leisurely nature walks and educational science projects that we’d have no thought of sending him to day camp so someone else could entertain him for a few hours at a time. After all, after the rough patch he’s had at school this spring, doesn’t he need and deserve a break from structure?

To an extent, he does, but on the other hand he thrived this year in his extracurricular activities — yoga in the fall and science and drama in the winter and spring. He especially loved the last two and they seemed to give him something important and even spiritually renewing he wasn’t getting at school. So maybe it’s just the day-to-day grind of a six-hour heavily academic day he needs to escape. We knew we didn’t want to send him to the summer program at his school. It’s heavily promoted by the school and free and he attended last year. We sent him so he could get acclimated to the elementary school environment for several weeks of half-days before he had to navigate it in Spanish. Academically the program was much too easy for him, though, and he ended up kind of bored and restless by the end. So I was surprised when he started to say he wanted to do it again this summer. I even started to waver, thinking why spend close to $1,000 for day camps when he was asking to go somewhere free. Eventually we decided he was just responding to pressure from school to sign up. Then again he also said he wanted to play t-ball again this summer, which no-one was encouraging him to do, and he hadn’t seemed to enjoy that too much either. Maybe he was just seeking the comfort of the familiar. In any case, we over-ruled him on both counts, no summer school and no t-ball.

Instead we chose activities he’s either enjoyed in the past or seemed almost sure to enjoy—a week of art and dance camp at his old nursery school (where he’s taken part in several high quality after school or summer programs), a week of music and math camp at the Takoma Park Rec Center, a week of robotics camp at Montgomery College and two weeks of theater camp at Round House Theater, where he attended spring break camp. The camps total five of his ten weeks off. We decided against an ancient Egypt-themed camp, even though it’s another one of his many interests, since scheduling more than half of his summer seemed like a tipping point. We’re also considering weekend swim lessons at the Y and he will probably be working with an occupational therapist on some of the sensory problems we think may have been a factor in his school troubles this year.

It sounds busy, but it does leave him more than a month of time at home, visiting grandparents’ houses or on vacation (we’re going to the beach for a week in August). I hope he’ll have enough time playing with his archery set, shooting baskets and running in the sprinkler to help him recharge his batteries for first grade, as well as enough time spent in fun, educational activities with kids his own age (and away from his exhausted mother and sometimes demanding baby sister). I want to keep him socially engaged, feed his creative side and bolster his sense of mastery. I also want to preserve my own sanity. Mostly I just hope he’s happy for the next two and half months. And I’m profoundly aware of how privileged we are to be able to afford all this.

The school year did end on a good note, or at least an improved one. His report card was stellar and at the meeting of his educational management team, in late May, Señora A said Noah had made significant improvement in not talking out of turn, though staying in place and keeping his hands to himself were still frequent problems. The behavior chart he brought home on the last day of school showed him in green for all the school days in June and there was a lot less yellow and red in May than there had been in March and April.

I’ve witnessed continuing problems first hand, though. At the end of the year program Noah gave the introduction (alternating lines with a classmate) and a recitation on vowels. He did a good job, but I was a little sad he didn’t get a singing, dancing or acting part since I know he would have enjoyed that. My suspicion is he was judged not to have earned that privilege. Anyway, when the program was over, he grabbed the ogre head and the horns off the heads of two of the actors in the Los tres chivos vivos (Three Billy Goats Gruff) skit. Ruby, one of the goats, burst into tears when her horns ripped. Then at the goodbye party, Noah and another boy pulled up a girl’s skirt and made her cry. (I am making him write and mail apologies to both of them since he refused to apologize in person.) It left me wondering how and when we can make it through this puzzling maze of misbehavior and it if will be this summer. I hope so.

I glanced at my watch. It was 6:02. “We’re in Ecuador.” I informed Noah. “What do we do now?” He pointed to some picnic tables and indicated we needed to see the President. After a brief conversation in Spanish, the President of Ecuador personally stamped our passports and invited us to explore his “país hermoso” (beautiful country). Soon afterwards Beth pulled up and honked the horn. Inside the car the game continued. We pretended to be in a taxi on our way to our hotel. Beth described the amenities of the hotel and detailed the restaurant’s dinner menu. And off we drove, into the beautiful country of summer.