The First Last

After a promising first six days with only one accidental nap, our no-nap routine started to falter about a week and a half ago. On the last Sunday in August June fell asleep on the bare wooden floor of her room and after forty minutes of sleeping there, woke up so out of sorts that she didn’t even want to go to her school’s Ice Cream Social. Ice cream, we coaxed. Friends! She was not interested. I wondered how we could get her up and walking and if we would have to drive to the playground instead but we finally got her moving and we arrived about a half hour into the event.

As we walked I said to Beth with sincere but unexpected nostalgia, “This is our last Ice Cream Social,” and then I added. “The first last.”

Then I remembered that Beth had spent the morning before at the Big Clean at June’s school, ripping up tile and shoveling mulch and that was really the first last. It was harder to feel sad about that one.

Kindergarten’s a year away but I think about it a lot and with some impatience. Maybe it’s because our kids are five years apart so we’ve had little kids for what feels like a very long time. When people ask if I’m sad about June stating her last year of preschool, I always say no. But every now and then I am, just a little.

June’s school year started a week and a day after Noah’s and, nostalgia aside, I was more than ready for it. Partly it was because Noah’s gone for over eight hours a day now that he’s going to a magnet school and has a long bus ride. So what with June either not napping or napping for shorter periods because I cruelly wake her up, once he started going to school it made for a long, tiring day without him home to help entertain her. (I’m napping less, too, under the new regime, and failing to go to bed any earlier, which makes me crabby.) Add to this the fact that I’d been working on a 4,000-word brochure about a digestive aid for Sara for the past three weeks and making minimal progress on it and feeling stressed about that and preschool five afternoons a week was seeming pretty appealing.

So I was really happy when the backpack nametag with the Great Blue Heron’s tracks on it arrived on Tuesday the week before school started. Lesley had mailed them out with a brochure about the structure of the school day. It made it feel like school was a reality, and not merely a mirage looming on the horizon but never getting any nearer. It was made even more special by the fact that on that very morning June and I had actually seen a black-crowned night heron ( in the creek. My friend Heidi, who’s a bird-watcher, helped me identify it and said it was a rare sighting. So maybe an actual Great Blue Heron would have been even more serendipitous sign, but a heron’s a heron, right?

Meanwhile, June would continue to fall asleep during Quiet Time almost every day until school started. On the last Thursday before school I peeked into the kids’ room. I was expecting to find June asleep in there since the Reggae for Kids CD had ended fifteen minutes earlier and all was quiet. But she wasn’t in bed, or sprawled out on the floor. Had she climbed up into the top bunk and drifted off there? Had she left the room without my hearing her? Then I spotted her sound asleep in the toy box. It was 2:05 when I found her there. How is she going to stay up until 3:00, no 3:30 with the walk home, I wondered.

On Friday June spent the morning and part of the afternoon at the house of the White-Tailed Deer (a.k.a. Blue Gingko, a.k.a. Praying Mantis), sharing her nanny so I could work. We’d done the same with the Field Mouse (a.k.a. Red Maple, a.k.a. Caterpillar) two weeks earlier. In between she’d been to her music teacher’s house where Becky’s daughter, a newly minted eleven-year-old sitter, watched her. All in all, I’d arranged for a record 16.5 hours of babysitting for this project but it was still far from complete.

So over the weekend Beth kept the kids out of the house most of the day Saturday and Sunday. They went to Great Falls (, the C & O Canal (,Wheaton Regional Park ( and had all kind of adventures. I got so much written that I was able to come along with them on their planned Labor Day excursion to the Newsuem ( and the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden ( and the Smithsonian carousel ( We came home for a holiday supper of baked beans, veggie hot dogs, corn on the cob and homegrown watermelon. Then we headed out for ice cream at Moorenko’s ( to celebrate June’s last night of summer vacation.

Finally Tuesday came. Beth and I had a very positive early morning meeting with Noah’s teacher before school started while June sat in the corner of the classroom and drew quietly. Then Beth dropped us off at Starbucks. Everyone, from Noah’s teacher to the baristas who greeted June by name, seemed interested to hear it was her first day back at school and admired her new sparkly purple star necklace.

At the beginning of the Tracks year a lot of parents wonder about the logistics of lunch when you have to be at school at noon. Since June eats more or less constantly throughout the day I didn’t think it would be a problem, but at eleven o’ clock when I said it was time for lunch she wasn’t interested. Maybe the snacks of half an apple fritter at Starbucks at nine and the slice of whole-wheat toast with strawberry jam at ten were not well advised. I sliced up some apple to take with us and she asked for it as soon as we set out, but she only ate two slices and then handed the bag back to me. Oh well, I thought, snack’s at one, she’ll survive.

All the way to school, June kept exclaiming, “It’s my back to school day! We’re almost there!” We were about a quarter of the way there when she started in with the last one. We arrived at 11:57. As I signed June in, I stopped to admire the new electric blue paint on the back steps and the refurbished sand pit, which was filled with pristine, white sand. “It looks like a tropical beach,” another mom said.

We went inside and I put June’s spare clothes in her box. She located her hook, which was marked with the photo of herself she’d chosen, hung up her backpack and washed her hands. Then she walked into the classroom, found the attendance card with the heron tracks and her name on it, slid it into the chart and plopped down on the floor to play. The Black Bear, who’s new to the class, was playing with plastic dinosaurs and June joined him. I said goodbye and slipped out.

On the way home, June told me about her day. Lesley read a story about a girl who lived on “Troublemaking Street” and sure enough she got into a lot of trouble, from stomping on the stairs to cutting a hole in her sweater. During dramatic playtime they used the story as a springboard for their imaginings. Snack was cheddar cheese, crackers and melon. On the playground she made a sand castle and decorated it with flowers. She tried to play on the seesaw with the Bobcat (a.k.a. Yellow Holly) but it just stayed balanced and they couldn’t get it moving. She had a good time. She was happy to see her friends. She liked school, she told me, “but home is better.” It is nice to come home, I agreed.

Once we were home, I took off her shoes, brushed the sand off her socks, read her two Curious George books and then took her to her room for Quiet Time. She flung herself across the bed. Her eyes were closing before I even got the CD playing. Another school year is laid out before us, as bright and blank as a newly filled sand pit. It’s time to get in and start playing.