Yellow Dogwood

Last Saturday evening, June shouldered her backpack and filled her doll stroller with stuffed animals. Then she announced it was her share day and she was going to school and asked me to come with her. We walked to the living room with the stroller. She addressed me as “Teacher” and showed me the stuffed bush baby my mom bought her earlier this summer. Then she showed me the stuffed cat that meows to the tune of “O Tannenbaum” if you squeeze its tummy. Then she did a dance for me. This must be how share day goes in June’s wildest imagination. Last year whenever I was there on her share days she could barely bring herself to speak she was so shy with everyone looking at her. The entertainment value of the whole scene was enhanced by the fact that she was stark naked at the time. As far as I know, there’s no “clothing optional day” in the Leaves class, but Leaves is a whole new frontier for us. (Noah started in the Tracks class, which is the pre-K year).

The Leaves class actually has the reputation among parents as being the most challenging class. As experienced one dad put it, the first year the kids don’t really try to play together and the last year they’ve more or less figured out how to do it but the middle year, when they are three and four, is the year they learn how to play together, and that comes with predictable conflict.

The next day was the Purple School ice cream social, held at a local playground. The kids played, the grownups chatted and signed up for shifts at the school’s booth at the Takoma Park folk festival later this month and the street festival in October. There was ice cream cake– peach ice cream with lemon cake and coconut ice cream with chocolate cake. I couldn’t resist trying both kinds. I would have liked to talk to people more but I spent a lot of time chasing June around the playground, pushing her on the swings, watching her go down the slides and spinning her on the spinning toys and throwing rocks down by the creek. This activity didn’t last long because, informed that she could not go into the creek because she had insisted on Mary Janes with socks instead of crocs, she made a few half-hearted throws and decided, “This is not working out.”

The big hit of the playground equipment, though, was the wobbly bridge. Each plank is suspended from a single chain so it tilts when you step on it. Before that day, June always insisted we go across it together, holding hands, but she got impatient waiting for me while I was talking to another mom and she went across herself. She was so thrilled she did it over and over and over. Then the child formerly known as the Squash Bug came over after June had been at it for a while. She, too, started crossing the bridge over and over and looked pretty pleased with herself. She asked me to go get her mom so she could see. It may be a challenging year, but I think the Leaves are up for any challenge.

School starts on Tuesday and this morning Lesley came by the house for June’s home visit, bearing a pink balloon for her. June informed us prior to the visit that she would not speak directly to Lesley, but only through me, since “I am going to be shy of her.” At first, June would only nod or shrug in response to Lesley’s questions, but after a while she started to get little smiles out of her, and pretty soon, June was talking. She shrugged when Lesley asked if she’d like to wear underwear at school, which Lesley took as a yes. She listened to Lesley tell her about what to expect the first day–they will pretend to go under the sea during dramatic play–and June chose the Yellow Dogwood as her symbol. In case you are wondering, there is no such tree. (Neither is there a Yellow Wooddog, which is how she reported her symbol to Beth when she came home tonight.)

I have always liked the Bugs and Tracks class symbols better than the Leaves class symbols because they refer to real bugs and animals. Hornworms are real. Painted turtles–Noah’s symbol his year at the school–are real. But the color/tree system allows the teacher to divide the class up different ways, by color sometimes, by leaves other times, so there’s a reason for it. And from June’s perspective, any leaf is a great symbol because while she’s actually frightened of most bugs, she loves leaves. Every time we leave the house, she collects them– dead leaves off the ground and live leaves she pulls off trees and weeds. Just this morning we went to the playground before Lesley’s visit and June came home with a fistful of ivy leaves she swiped from a neighbor’s yard.

As the meeting drew to a close, June took Lesley outside to show her a spider’s web, then she showed her toys to Lesley–the doll stroller, the elephant, the two pigs sleeping under blanket on the porch– and finally she demonstrated how she can stand on one leg. Considering she spent much of her teacher visit last year trying to hide from Andrea, I think June’s making progress with her shyness.

After Lesley left, June was keyed up. We bounced the balloon back and forth to each other and she made four finger paintings and kept changing her mind about for whom they were intended, sometimes Lesley, sometimes Becky (her music teacher) and sometimes Andrea. But in the end, she told me they were all for Andrea. Here I have to admit June has been making finger paintings for Andrea and Becky all summer and I have not made any effort to deliver them (or even remember which ones were which). I figure a couple painted tributes are a sweet gesture, but I don’t want to overwhelm them with piles of art from June. I might just deliver these, however. June’s been snubbing Andrea whenever she sees her (when we took Noah to art camp– which Andrea’s daughter also attended–and at the ice cream social). I think she’s been mad about Andrea not being her teacher any more, and at the same time wanting to reach out to her with the paintings. Once she fully recognizes Lesley as her teacher, I think the paintings for Andrea might stop and she’ll just be happy to see her around the school and when Andrea subs for Lesley in her class. I hope that’s how it goes anyway.

While June painted I looked at the dogwood tree in our yard. Most of its leaves are green, of course, but a few are tinged with red at the very edges. (It’s the first tree in our yard to change color.) When I looked even closer, though, I noticed there are a few yellow leaves hanging from its branches. We’ve lived in this house almost seven and half years, but I never saw that before. It made me wonder what else June’s Leaves year will make me see. We only have five days to wait.