The Tree They Come Home To

“If you are a gardener and find me,” said the little bunny, “I will be a bird and fly away from you.”

“If you become a bird and fly away from me,” said his mother, “I will be a tree that you come home to.”

From The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown

We got the good news on Wednesday afternoon. We had just returned from a Tracks reunion play date—two-thirds of the kids in June’s nursery school class attended—and the post card was in the mail. It was from Señora T, June’s kindergarten teacher, saying she was looking forward to meeting her and giving us her room number and the date of the first day of school (as if we needed reminding).

Señora T was the teacher we wanted for June, the one we thought was the best fit for her personality. We weren’t even sure if she was still teaching kindergarten in the immersion program because the program has just been cut from three classes to two in the kindergarten year and the school had been close-lipped about which of the original three teachers were remaining.

So I was happy to get the card. I read it to June, who was sitting in the sky chair on the porch, and she grinned. She especially liked the smiley face sticker affixed to the bottom.

The week before school started was an emotional one for me. Noah was at drama camp so it was just June and me. Although we’ve been in different configurations from week to week all summer, this still feels like the most normal arrangement after all these years of Beth and Noah off at work or school or camp and June and me at home. As June and I went about our routine, one moment I’d be melancholy, thinking it was our last regular Monday morning latte/vanilla milk date (until I remembered that Labor Day is coming up pretty soon and that in fact there are quite a few Monday holidays in the school year). And then I would be giddy with delight at the thought of all the time I would have (free time, time to work) very, very soon. Just last week Sara and I came to an agreement that I would be working for her for at least ten hours a week for the duration of the school year. I was eager to get started, being ready for the mental stimulation, not to mention the added family income, which will come with more regular part-time work.

Over the course of the week, June and I went on errands, waded in the creek, visited four different playgrounds and had play dates with the Ghost Crab and the Eastern Fence Lizard and met up with Tara and Lucas from 04-05-2008 (

The play date with the Ghost Crab took place on Thursday morning mostly at the playground attached to her (the Crab’s) new elementary school. I was watching the Crab’s toddler sister as well so their mom could have a little peace and quiet with her husband and their newborn. There’s a lot of climbing equipment at this playground, a rock walls and monkey bars, and the three girls kept me busy spotting them. When it started to drizzle we moved under the one of the bigger structures and the girls pretended to be camping. There was a lot of sitting around and pretending to cook and eat wood chips, served in the girls’ shoes. Later when the rain let up, they dug paths in the wood chips all over the playground, in loops that led back to the campsite. Once the pace of their play had slowed and I no longer needed to make sure no-one was about to fall on her head, I started thinking about the fact that in just a few days the Crab would be inside the school that’s probably been just a background to her games for years and June would be at her different school. Suddenly it felt like hanging out with high school friends, just days before everyone is off to college and everything changes between you forever, though I doubt June or the Crab had any similar musings.

Later that day we met Tara, a blogging friend of mine, and her very cute nineteen-month old son. The idea had been to play in the fountain in downtown Silver Spring, but it had rained earlier in the day and the fountain was fenced off so it turned into having dinner at Noodles & Company and then going to watch the fountain (just watching was entertaining enough for a toddler. He could not stop walking around it, pointing at it and shrieking). Tara and I have been reading each other’s blogs for years, so it was fun to meet her at last and she even gave us a loaf of carrot-cranberry bread.

In between these two social gatherings we met with the educational psychologist who evaluated Noah earlier this month. The tests she had him complete were meant to measure his intelligence and his processing speed and the yawning chasm between them. She gave him a diagnosis of ADHD Not Otherwise Specified, which means he does not exactly fit into any of the recognized subcategories of ADHD, but that he has some of the symptoms and would benefit from the kind of accommodations kids with ADHD get (extra time on tests, etc.). There was nothing the least bit surprising about this. It was pretty close to what I predicted, that he either wouldn’t have it or have borderline case. Still, it might be enough to get a 504 plan for him that will help him meet his academic potential in fifth grade and into middle school. So it’s good news, mostly, but it’s never easy to have a new label put on your child. It made me feel a little heavy-hearted.

The Open Houses at the kids’ schools were on Friday, at the same time, so I took June to hers and Beth took Noah to his. As soon as we found out June had Señora T I sent out emails to the parents of her three nursery school classmates who are attending her school as well as to the mother of another boy we know who will be in kindergarten there. (Malachi is the younger brother of Maxine, who used to be one of Noah’s best buddies in kindergarten and first grade and with whom he’s still friendly). I wanted to find out who was in her class. June is closest to the White-Tailed Deer, so it was disappointing when I got the first answer from her dad, saying she was in the other class. Later I found out that the Black Bear and the Field Cricket are in the other class, too. Only Malachi is in class with June and while she has played with him on a few occasions, she doesn’t know him as well as any of the kids from her preschool. I felt sad that she was basically going to be alone on the first day, without anyone she knew well.

I know she’ll make new friends quickly, though. She makes friends at one-week camps and she made a friend as we walked to the Open House. Another kindergarten girl walking with her family came up to her as we strolled along the creekside path to her school and when the grownups consulted we found out they were in the same class. A few sentences into their acquaintance the girl had decided to invite June to her birthday party. (Whether she’s actually having a birthday soon was unclear.) June can also see her old friends at recess and given the small size of the immersion program, doubtless they will all be in each other’s classes at some point.

June had been debating for a few days whether to say “Hola” or “Buenas tardes” when she met Señora T, but when the moment came her shyness got the better of her and she could not speak at all. I showed her around the room. We looked at all the toys (animals, blocks, art supplies, a play kitchen and a puppet theater). She was especially interested in the big plastic animals until a bossy girl told her the giraffes were hers and June could only have elephants. June would not have taken this from any of her preschool classmates, but she mutely accepted the elephants. I gently led her away from the animals and we located her table (she’s at la mesa azul, or the blue table), her coat hook and her attendance card. Once we’d seen everything there was to see and I’d picked up a packet of information and signed a paper saying she’d be taking the bus home, we left the classroom.

There had been a sign on the door when we entered the building indicating there was a tour of the school for kindergarteners and other new students at 2:30 but no one seemed to have any idea where the tours started. Finally I was told to go to the multi-purpose room (the combination cafeteria, gymnasium and auditorium) to wait. I signed up for the PTA and we mingled. We saw the families of the White-Tailed Deer, Black Bear and Field Cricket, all of whom felt sorry that June got separated from her tribe. The Field Cricket’s mom asked if we’d try to get her switched and I said no. While I think the short-term transition would be easier for her with ready-made friends in class, in the long run, I’d rather have her with a teacher who’s a good match for her. So we waited and waited and waited and the tour never started, or we missed it somehow (if we did a lot of other people did, too). By three, June was tugging at my clothes and asking to go home. (I’d woken her from her nap to take her to the Open House and she was tired. She was also a little overwhelmed. She’d been clinging to me the whole time we were there, which is not like her at all.) So I took her to see the art room, which I thought would be of particular interest to her, and we left.

As we walked home I was struggling with the question of what to do about the Back to School party we had scheduled for the following afternoon. We’d invited the four incoming kindergarteners we knew and their families. But two families couldn’t come and Hurricane Irene was scheduled to blow through our area on that very day. By some predictions, there might be only light rain by that time of day and we did have a picnic shelter reserved. But by others, there could be driving rain and high winds. It was the last business day before the party and I had to decide whether or not to try to cancel the reservation and get a refund. I didn’t think they’d give me one, as a week’s notice is officially required. Around four, I decided to call and ask. If they said no, we’d make a decision in the morning. But much to my surprise I was transferred to the Assistant Director of the Rec Center, who authorized a full refund, given the unusual circumstances. So I broke the news to June. There would be no party until some time after school started.

From all reports, Noah’s Open House went well. The teacher, Ms.W, seemed nice. The classroom was stocked with interesting puzzles and books. A lot of his friends are in class with him. Despite this cheering account, I felt unsettled all day. The disorganization of the Open House upset me because I didn’t want June to think of school as a place where people say things will happen and then they don’t. First I didn’t know whether or not we were having a party the next day and then I didn’t know when I’d reschedule it. I didn’t even know if school was going to start on Monday. Our notoriously unreliable power company ( had been announcing people should expect “multi-day outages” before the storm even started and if that happened, the beginning of school would likely be delayed. Even though I had felt nostalgic all week for June’s and my weekdays together, I didn’t want school put off. I had told Sara I’d start work Monday. And I also didn’t want the emotional upheaval of waiting for this big change to be prolonged.

Saturday morning after June’s play date with the Lizard, we all drove down to June’s school so we could show her where the bus will drop her off and so Noah could give her a tour of his favorite spots on the playground. He wanted to do a more thorough job but the rain was starting to come down harder and we hurried away.

Around four o’ clock on Saturday, the starting time of the cancelled party, I went out onto the porch to sit and watch the rain. It was cool and raining moderately hard and the tree branches were waving slightly in the wind, not inviting weather for a picnic, even under a shelter, but it didn’t look like a hurricane yet.

The wind and rain continued all afternoon and evening. Around nine o’clock the lights started to flicker, but the power didn’t go out until two-thirty a.m. when I woke to a loud pop. I knew from the greater darkness of the room that the streetlights were out and I got up and peeked into the kids’ room and sure enough their digital clock had gone blank. Before going back to bed, I watched the trees in the back yard and the neighbors’ yards tossing violently from the bathroom window. There was a savage beauty to it I might have appreciated more if I had not been afraid that our power would not be back for days. (When Noah was two, we lost power for four or five days after Hurricane Isabel.)

By Sunday morning it was all but over. There were some downed branches in our yard but no damage to our property. It rained in the morning, but a regular sort of rain and the afternoon was clear and sunny. Beth did a little grocery shopping but not too much because we didn’t know when we’d have refrigeration. I cleaned and napped and played a board game with June and read. Beth suggested we go for walk around the neighborhood to see what it looked like post-hurricane. It was a good idea, but for some reason, no one took her up on it. My mood had plummeted. “The rest of my life was supposed to start tomorrow,” I told Beth.

“The rest of your life will come,” she said. “It might just be delayed a day or two.”

But it wasn’t. Beth had been checking the county’s public school system web page all day for updates but it wasn’t until 9:45 p.m., long after we’d put the kids to bed thinking they wouldn’t have school the next day that we found out both of their schools had power and would be open. And at 10:30, just after I’d fallen asleep, the fan in our room kicked into gear. The power was back. (We were very lucky to get our power back so soon. Some of our neighbors are still without power, three days after the storm.)

Monday morning was a bit of a rush because we hadn’t fully prepared, but we got out the door in time. June was happy and excited; Noah was sometimes gloomy about vacation ending and sometimes full of a manic good cheer. At the bus stop June balked just a little in the line. I thought for a second she was going to bolt back to us, but she boarded the bus and soon we could see her smiling through the window in the second row. And the bus drove away; my baby was flying away from me. I only cried a little.

Given the list of things I wanted to do, six hours and forty-five minutes actually seemed too short. Up to now whenever I have gotten a substantial block of time it was so rare I felt I needed to squeeze in every last thing, It was hard to comprehend I had four more days just like it left in the week. So I caught up on email, Facebook and blogs after thirty-six hours offline. I did housework (hanging up the laundry on the line instead of using the dryer as I have just resolved to do at least once a week), I had coffee by myself and ran errands and read on the porch and exercised and worked a bit, too (though I have to admit, not much).

And that afternoon, my bunny flew back to the tree. She practically leapt off the bus steps into my arms. She was full of information. She drew a picture at school. Señora T taught them their colors but she already knew most of them. She answered a question about what could be rojo (red). She was in green on the green/yellow/red behavior chart all day. (There was one boy who was in yellow twice but nobody was in red.) She saw all of her nursery school friends on the playground but she mostly played by herself. She liked the monkey bars. She ate all of her lunch. She enquired if Noah had Quiet Time when he was in kindergarten and I said no. (I was glad she brought it up because I am hoping to phase out her nap. I think it might help her sleep better at night.) Instead of napping, she watched an hour of television and then Noah came home.

He had a letter from his teacher cut into tiny puzzle pieces. He had to reassemble it and write a reply for homework. He wrote about how a teacher should teach not just information but tactics and strategies of critical thinking. Without all the shadows, capital letters and other fancy formatting it would seem like a very serious letter. And it is, but it also shows his fun side.

While Noah wrote, June was busy eating like a house on fire: crackers with cream cheese, chips and cheese, yogurt with blueberries and granola. Apparently kindergarten makes you very hungry. I served veggie burgers and fries for dinner, because June loves fries, and we went out for ice cream to celebrate a successful beginning to a new school year and whole new phase of our lives.

When we got home I rushed June through her bath and bedtime preparations because it was almost eight and she hadn’t napped. She was asleep within two minutes of lying down. I know because I was still on the bed with her. Noah finished his letter and soon he was in bed, too, complaining a bit about having to go to bed at 8:45 again.

I am looking forward to them flying off every morning so I can begin figuring out who I am aside from Mommy, but I am also glad to be the tree they come home to.