When She Got Three

June turned three on Monday. It was a long-awaited milestone. For months, June had been telling us what would happen “when I get three.” (Because she pronounces it “free,” it often sounded like she was planning a jailbreak.) Most notably, she was going to “get bigger and bigger and bigger.” We tried to break it to her gently that while she’s growing every day she wasn’t likely to be noticeably larger on her birthday. The day was agonizingly slow in arriving. Every now and then she would observe with a sigh, “I’m still two.”

Round One: Saturday and Sunday

Eventually, the big day was only two days away. At lunch on Saturday June asked, “Who is coming to celebrate my birthday?” It was understandable she was confused about the plans because they were complicated.

“Ya Ya and Aunt Carole will be here this afternoon and tomorrow we’ll have cake and presents with them. And then on Monday it will be your birthday and you’ll have more presents. And then on Thursday, Grandmom will be here and you’ll have more cake and presents,” I told her.

June beamed. This was sounding good.

Beth’s mom and her Aunt Carole arrived as promised shortly after June’s nap. We went to Pottery Barn (http://www.potterybarn.com/index.cfm?page=viewall&cm_pla=Brand&cm_ven=Google&cm_ite=pottery+barn&cm_cat=Search&bnrid=3360101) to look at a cabinet Ya Ya had seen in a catalog and was considering purchasing. Then we were off to our favorite vegetarian Chinese restaurant (http://www.thevegetablegarden.com/) for dinner. June was the only one in our party who wanted chopsticks. After a few unsuccessful attempts to pick her noodles up with them she settled on holding the chopsticks with one hand and pressing the noodles to it with the other hand as she guided them to her mouth. Noah proclaimed the effort “very good for her age.”

Sunday morning everyone went to the farmers’ market to shop and listen to Banjo Man and we picked up a Max and Ruby movie and The Very Hungry Caterpillar at the video store as a special treat for June. After a lunch of leftover Chinese and a nap, June went to the playground accompanied by Ya Ya and Carole. There they ran into the Praying Mantis and her mother and grandparents. We had Mexican takeout for dinner — Noah printed out place cards in fancy script for the meal — and then June opened her presents from Carole and Ya Ya. She got a glittery green t-shirt from Oglebay Park and a big pink doll stroller. I had a feeling she’d like it because when she was over at the Dragonfly’s house in January she spent quite a long time pushing a teddy bear around in her friend’s doll stroller. Well, she loves, loves, loves this toy. Her rag doll and Purple Bear have been traveling all over the house in it. They go to coffeehouses, and the post office and quite frequently, to the hospital. (They are prone to breaking their legs.) We’ve also taken the doll and the bear outside for a walk through the yard and down the block. The stroller even came to the corner to meet Noah’s bus on Monday and Tuesday. You get the picture.

After presents came the cake. Per June’s instructions, it was a vanilla cake with green frosting and cherries and a numeral three candle on top. June had been asking to see the candle several times a day for the past few days. When June saw Beth carry the cake out, she gasped with pleasure. But then she stopped and said, “But I didn’t get bigger.” Apparently, she did not feel sufficiently big for cake. She soon forgot this obstacle, however, and after everyone had sung “Happy Birthday” in Spanish and English, as the birthday girl requested, we all dug in.

Round Two: Monday

On the morning of June’s actual birthday, Ya Ya and Carole arrived at our house from their hotel at 7:35, all set to walk over to Noah’s school where he gave them a tour and introduced them to his morning and afternoon teachers. Back home, I gave June a bath and we had a pretty normal day. Just for the day I let June wear the still too-big size 7 red sneakers we bought for her awhile back when Noah needed a pair. (They’ve been in the closet for weeks and she’s been coveting them.) We took our weekly Monday morning stroll to Starbucks where we picked up some chocolate muffins to take home for an after-dinner birthday treat. (We’d frozen the remains of the cake to save for my mom’s visit and I felt like some kind of baked good was called for on the real anniversary of her birth.) We watched Sesame Street, and read and napped and played outside. I made buttered noodles with cheese and carrots for the kids’ dinner and Beth and I had pasta with spinach, chickpeas and garlic sauce. June opened her presents from us and from Auntie Sara after dinner (all except the remote-control water bug Noah picked out for her–it had yet to arrive). I think the first issue of her Ladybug magazine subscription (http://www.cricketmag.com/ProductDetail.asp?pid=5) was probably the biggest hit of the evening. We read it cover to cover twice. When Noah said to June, “You’re three!” she insisted she was still two. “If you’re waiting for a growth spurt, Juney, you’re going to be two a long time,” he predicted.

Interlude: Tuesday and Wednesday

On our way to the library Tuesday morning I explained to June that when Ms. Karen asked if there were any birthdays this week, I’d say yes and everyone would sing “Happy Birthday” to her. “Ms. Karen will sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me?” June exclaimed in astonishment, as if she doesn’t see this happen to other children nearly every Tuesday.

Ms. Karen did not disappoint. “Are there any birthdays this week?” she asked. I raised my hand, pointed down to June’s head and held up three fingers. “She’s three!” Ms. Karen said. “I’ve known her since she was very little. Three! That’s a big one.” June was grinning. Ms. Karen was talking about her in front of the whole Circle Time crowd! Then said crowd — probably at least seventy-five kids, parents and nannies– sang “Happy Birthday” to her. Two of June’s Purple School classmates and at least six kids from past and present sessions of music class were there. A pair of twins from music class came over with their nanny after Circle Time was over and, with some prodding from the nanny, offered more birthday greetings. Then we left with a Frog and Toad book and a Sandra Boynton board book. It was a highly satisfactory outing.

Tuesday night I presented June with some new (to her) pajamas. Most of hers are getting small, so I’d paid a visit to the magic box of hand-me-downs earlier this week and washed two pairs of stripy pajamas for her. I changed her into the blue, orange and white pair. Beth made a big deal out of how big June was getting and how she now needed some new pajamas. June wanted to see if they were “good for jumping on the bed.” She tried it. They were very good for jumping on the bed indeed. As we snuggled in her bed, before she fell asleep she told me, “I’m big like you, Mommy.”

Wednesday morning, June’s music teacher was sick and class was cancelled. We went to the playground instead. As we got ready to go, I caught June admiring her new numeral three t-shirt in the mirror. When I asked her if she’d like to walk there or ride in the stroller, she said she’d walk, “because I’m big.” At the playground she wanted to try the big kid swings. I usually steer her away from these, especially when there are bucket swings available, but I decided to say yes this time. I pushed her very slowly as she held tightly to the chains with her mittened hands. When she’d had enough, without any warning whatsoever, she leapt off, landing gracefully on the wood chips.

Later that morning June and I boarded a bus and went to the co-op in search of allergen-free treats to bring to school for her birthday celebration at school the next day. There are a lot of allergies in June’s class (eggs, dairy, and corn are the big ones) so this was no easy task. Finding something wasn’t the problem; there were plenty of vegan treats at the co-op. I kept picking up cookies and slices of cake in the bakery aisle and thinking, “Ooh, this looks good,” but there was never enough of any one item for everyone and I had a feeling that bringing in more than one flavor of something could be an invitation to discord. So we headed over to the boxed cookies aisle and picked up some vegan chocolate alphabet cookies. We also rounded up twelve lollipops as party favors to go in backpacks and headed home.

That evening, Beth was studying the ingredients on the box and said, “Steph, I hate to break this to you but there’s corn flour in these cookies.” I had completely forgotten about corn! So, we had to resort to popsicles, which were already in the freezer and made from 100% fruit juice, even though Thursday was supposed to be rainy and in the 40s, not really the kind of weather that makes people long for popsicles.

Round 3: Thursday

The morning was cold and rainy, as predicted. June and I set off for school. Her bright yellow backpack, full of popsicles and lollipops, swung from the stroller handles. It was my day to co-op, so I’d be there all morning. Beth was planning to swing by for circle and snack time, to participate in the festivities. (In the meanwhile, she stayed home to do a little housecleaning in preparation for my mother’s arrival later in the day.)

At school, I had parking lot duty and then I helped three of June’s classmates with their journals. (The child draws a picture and the co-oper transcribes what he or she says about it.) Beth arrived around 9:35. “Beth’s here!” June squealed when she came into the classroom. At circle time there was such an abundance of maternal laps, June didn’t know where to sit. She started in my lap, ran over to Beth’s for a while, and then she returned to me. After everyone speculated about what the Ant, who was out of town, might be doing that day, and before the teacher read The Night Kitchen, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to June. I watched her smile and I thought — this just never gets old for her.

While the kids ate a snack of baby carrots, pretzel rods and strawberries, I slipped the lollipops into their backpacks and set to work slicing the popsicles in half. The box was contained seven grape popsicles and seven cherry ones. I figured if there were fourteen of each every child could have his or her first choice of flavor even if they all wanted the same one. No one seemed to find popsicles an inappropriate treat. Between the eleven kids and five adults, we came close to polishing off the whole box. Beth left at 10:25. The kids spent the rest of the school day at the play dough table and on the playground. As I was getting June into her stroller, the Cricket’s mom came by to inquire how June’s birthday celebrations had gone and then she sang “Happy Birthday” to her.

My mother arrived late in the afternoon. As I finished making beans and rice and quesadillas for dinner, she played with the kids. June was taking her doll to the store to buy a balloon (in the stroller of course). Noah was the sales clerk who sold her the smiley face “Happy Birthday” balloon that’s been floating around the house since Sunday.

After dinner, June opened her final round of presents (except for the remote-control bug that’s still missing in action). Along with some clothes, Mom and Jim got her a personalized CD. Noah has a similar one they got him a few years ago. Your child’s name is sprinkled liberally throughout each song. He got it out to play it recently and June was transfixed. “The CD is talking to Noah!” she exclaimed. Later she asked me to play it again while he was at school. She seemed a bit disappointed when it played. I think she was hoping that in his absence it would address her. Now she had her very own CD. We put it on and when a female voice said, “It’s a great day, June!” before starting to sing the first song, she cried, “It’s talking to me!” Then when male vocalist began the second song she said, “Now the man is talking to me.” Later in the CD there’s a song with animal sounds. “The duck is talking to me!” reported an astonished June. Let’s just say she’s very, very happy with this CD.

After presents, we watched a DVD and ate defrosted birthday cake. In bed, June had some trouble getting to sleep. Over and over her arm stretched up, trying to reach the balloon string, which was now tied to her bed frame. She has had a wonderful week getting three. I don’t think she wants to let go. But she’s got plans for next year. This morning she told me that on her fourth birthday, she wants to bring chocolate chip cookies to school.