Spring Break Trilogy: Part I, Before the Beach

Not since Noah was in kindergarten and in trouble all the time at school have I been so ready for his spring break. Noah’s not in trouble now, quite the contrary, he’s happy at school and recently brought home his best report card of the year (7 As and 2 Bs). But he’s been working so hard that he really needs some down time. He’s got homework, of course, but not much more than a normal weekend, which means he can spread it out over the course of the two weekends that bracket his vacation and keep the five days in the middle homework free. During that time, we’re going to Rehoboth for three days. Here’s how we spent the first three days of break, before the beach:

Day 1: Saturday
The first part of the plan for Saturday was to go to the Smithsonian (Air and Space) to meet a friend of mine from high school who is in town briefly. She was traveling from the Philadelphia area with her husband and son and needed to swing into the Virginia suburbs to pick up her nephew. But almost nothing on Saturday went exactly according to plan.

To make a long story (involving heavy rain, traffic and a broken cell phone) short, I will just say we cancelled around 11:20 when we discovered that Regina and her family, who’d hoped to be at the museum by noon, were only as far as Aberdeen. Since everyone was geared up to leave the house and we had a broken cell phone (mine) on our hands, Beth proposed we go to the AT&T store in Silver Spring, out to lunch at Noodles & Company (Noah’s favorite chair restaurant) and then to Starbucks. A good plan, with something in it for everyone, I thought, so we went, got the phone fixed and ate lunch.

Returning to the car after lunch Noah asked, “Why are those lights on?” He was referring to the taillights of our car.

“Oh no!” Beth said and explained to Noah that the battery of the car might dead.

“We’re having a bad day,” Noah observed. Beth agreed.

Before she even checked to see if the car would start Beth was saying it would be okay if it didn’t. I could take the kids home on a bus and she would call someone to fix the car and cancel the presentation on text messaging she was supposed to be making in the city very soon. Whenever Beth says it will be okay and calmly outlines alternate plans, it’s a good sign she’s panicking inwardly, so it was a relief when the car started up fine. Beth drove us home and left for her presentation.

When we’d left, June was already pretty wet from playing outside in the rain while Beth had been trying to fix my phone and Regina and I were exchanging calls and changing plans, so by the time we got home, she was chilled and wanted a warm bath. It was unorthodox timing, but it seemed like a good way to get her warmed up and it would clear some evening time in case we managed to connect with Regina during the evening, so I went ahead and ran her a bath. Once she was clean and dry, she had her Quiet Time. Toward the end of it I started getting things ready for her lemonade stand.

Yes, that lemonade stand, the one that was the reward for being fully potty trained. June needed to be accident free for seven consecutive days and the previous Tuesday had been the seventh day. When I asked her if she would like to do it immediately or wait for warmer weather, she said as soon as possible. So we picked the first weekend day, even though cold and rainy weather was predicted. We have a roomy front porch. I figured we could set it up there and I was not expecting much foot traffic anyway. I posted it as an event on Facebook, sent out an invitation on the listserv for her preschool class, emailed a couple friends, and for good measure put up a few signs at Ride-on and school bus stops near our house. Noah made a fancier sign that he put on one of the pillars of the porch. (He would have made all the signs, but I wanted them up by Thursday night so they’d be there during the morning and evening commutes on Friday and he had too much homework to finish his sign until Saturday morning.)

Once June was awake, she and Noah started helping with preparations. I cleared everything off the round table we keep on the porch and cleaned and dried some plastic patio chairs and brought them up onto the porch along with a metal folding chair from inside. June selected a sheet with a Noah’s ark pattern to drape over the table. We brought out some quarters to make change and a collection of paper cups in many designs left over from birthday parties past. We made a pitcher of lemonade. I put a teakettle on a low boil in the kitchen and selected a few varieties of tea to display on the table because it really was quite chilly and I thought some of the adults might prefer hot tea.

Then it was 4:20, forty minutes before our advertised opening time, and we were all ready. June was so eager to get started that she wanted to start sitting at the table, but this didn’t seem like a good plan, so after an aborted attempt at thawing some cookie dough to bake into cookies for the stand (the dough didn’t thaw fast enough), we settled on reading Catwings books (http://hem.passagen.se/peson42/lgw/books/b_catwings.html) until show time. We finished the third one and then brought the fourth one out onto the porch.

Beth got home from her meeting around 4:55 and found us sitting outside. She asked if she could buy a cup of lemonade but June said family would have to wait until all other customers were served. There were no other customers in evidence, but Beth agreed to wait. At almost exactly 5:00, there was a terrific crack of thunder and June bolted inside the house. It was raining hard and there was a severe thunderstorm warning and, just for fun, a tornado warning, too. Beth started to talk to June about this, to prepare her for the idea that she might not get the turnout she was anticipating.

June looked stricken. “Do you think no-one will come?” she asked. We said we didn’t know. Beth promised her she could have another lemonade stand some other day if no one did.

We resumed our posts outside. I picked up the book and started to read. And then around 5:10, I saw a familiar red Prius with an Obama bumper sticker pull into our driveway. Noah ran out into the rain to greet the Mallard Duck and her mother and toddler brother.

“You’re a good friend,” I called to the Duck’s mom from the porch.

“It was so hot and I was getting thirsty for lemonade,” she said.

And then Lesley arrived and the Ground Beetle and her father and brother and soon we had quite a little crowd drinking lemonade on the shelter of the porch and watching the rain. Some people even had seconds. I made a second pitcher around 5:20 and then a woman who grew up in the same small Bucks County town where I lived from age nine to thirteen and whose mother is still a good friend of my mother’s was walking down the sidewalk with her daughter. She’d seen the announcement on Facebook and as she happened to be in our neck of the woods that day, she decided to drop in on us. And then the Toad’s father came by solo, even though his kids were at their grandparents’ house for the weekend. Finally, at 5:55, Andrea came with one of her daughters. I made her a cup of green tea and she took some lemonade to go and after she left, it was past our closing time of six so we started clearing off the table.

June was thrilled to see each new customer arrive and she made change more or less correctly (we’d practiced) and was quite satisfied with the whole experience. She cleared three dollars in profit. I felt grateful to everyone who’d come to drink lemonade in a thunderstorm just to make June happy. Though no one mentioned it, most of the customers knew why she had the stand. I will miss the community of her school terribly when her final year there ends in less than two months.

It turns out Noah was wrong. It wasn’t such a bad day after all.

Day 2: Sunday
And as if one Facebook-initiated meeting with some one I had not seen in twenty-five years was not enough for one weekend, we met up with Regina and her family for dinner Sunday night. Since they were on their way back to the Philadelphia suburbs and June had her swim lesson at the University of Maryland, I picked a diner in College Park where we met for an early dinner. We ate and talked about family and work and mutual friends and travel and children’s books and all manner of things. Regina is friendly and gregarious and Noah responded well to Beth’s coaching about interacting with people he’d just met and June remembered not to mention that meat comes from dead animals when Regina’s family ordered meat and we got desert to go and sent them on their way north. It was a fun time.

Day 3: Monday
Monday morning started off like a normal Monday. Instead of taking Noah to his bus stop Beth took him to Round House’s Theatre’s spring break drama camp, but they left at the same time they usually do. So after June watched an hour of television (The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That and Dinosaur Train), we took our usual Monday morning stroll. Because we didn’t need to get home by eleven for an early lunch and school (which starts at noon), the walk was a long meandering affair. We went as far as the Langely Park post office, where I mailed a packet of newsletter clippings to Sara and then we headed for Long Branch creek.

I watched June scramble down muddy embankments and balance on fallen trees, singing a little song to herself. “I’m not the girl you think I am. I am strong. I am brave,” over and over. I wondered who the “you” in her song was, but I thought if I asked her she’d become self-conscious and stop singing.

Eventually she got down to the water and started pulling rocks out of the creek and handing them to me. She was pretending she was a mother fishing and I was her daughter watching. The rocks were slimy with creek muck and pretty convincing as fish, if you used your imagination. I lined them up on a log and we counted them, first in English and then in Spanish. When I said it was time to go, June was reluctant.

That afternoon, shortly before it was time to go to Silver Spring and fetch Noah I got a call from the Field Cricket’s mom, inviting June over. So instead of spending from three-ten until forty-thirty standing at bus stops and riding on buses with me, June got to build a fort and play in the Cricket’s sandbox. It seemed like a pretty good deal.

Noah and I were on the porch reading The Sea of Monsters when the Cricket, his mom and little sister delivered June back to us. Noah came running down the sidewalk to greet her. “We’re going to the beach tomorrow!” he cried. June relayed the same information to the Cricket’s mom.

“We’re going to the dentist,” Noah added, sounded glum.

“We’re going to the dentist!” June sounded much more excited.

Noah hasn’t been to the dentist in longer than I will tell you and June’s never been. She likes new things and she’s almost as excited about her appointment as our trip to the beach. I hope both experiences like up to her expectations.