I begin the day tiptoeing toward the shower before anyone wakes, and laying out my favorite summer dress and my best red shoes, tossing my tiny makeup collection into the purse. The children need to dress up, too, for eighth-grade graduation, and when they are moving, they will take up all of my attention.
I end the day showering off the farm dirt with a poison ivy soap, then washing off the scent of the poison ivy soap with a second shower and lavender/hemp oil soap. As I sit down to do a little work at the computer, after the children are finally settled, I top off the day by pulling a tick from my scalp. In my mind I continue the baby book of firsts: age 45, my first tick. He only chose me because my delicious children were too far away, I know. They are tick veterans. I’ll check the children again in the morning. I hope I got all of him.
The true end of the day, though, lying in bed and sorting through the days pictures, the candids not caught on camera but in my mind.
Brendan has been looking forward to this day for a long time. Simon, his eighth-grade buddy, has helped him carve a pumpkin, pour beeswax into a sand-casted candle mold, and has held Brendan’s hand on the walk from the train to the circus. The dads who acted as official circus chaperones joked that they had nothing to do—Simon was clearly revered and in charge. He is not a demonstrative boy, but he takes his responsibility as a role model seriously, as the children hang from his arms and legs.
Brendan has also been looking forward to this day for another reason: The Suit.
We don’t shop for children’s clothes—we rather collect them from some wonderful Good Karma conduit of children’s clothing. My attic houses girls’ clothes up to size 14, and boy’s clothes up to size ten. I shop church rummage sales for the shoes some other boy grew out of too quickly, knowing my son will outgrow them quickly, too, and each year near Christmas I buy fresh white tshirts, socks, and new turtlenecks—but mostly we “shop from the attic” when each season changes. When the children outgrow clothes, we label bags “for Lila,” “for Eliza,” and “for James” if they are still good, and “grift shop” for the way my children used to mispronounce thrift shop. The bags are then stacked by the door, for the next stop on the conduit.
One exceedingly pastel boy’s outfit, apparently purchased for a ring-bearer in a wedding then never worn, hangs in the back of the closet, where it’s been hanging every summer since Brendan was four. We’ve never had an occasion and a “fit” at the same time. And that’s been fine with me, but not with Brendan. He’s fascinated by this little suit.
I am from the Midwest, where men brave pastels only after the age of thirty, and even then some men never don anything that could remotely be defined as “pink.” This little suit is not pink, but instead it is a pale yellow pair of Little Lord Fauntleroy shorts, with attached suspenders, over a white polo with yellow and pale blue accents. When he wakes he rushes to put it on proudly. The outfit is topped with a tiny blue- and yellow plaid vest. My son looks astonishingly like a catalog ad from the 1960’s, astonishingly like no self-respecting Midwestern boy would ever look, ever. Good thing we live on the East Coast. He leans back with his belly out, and looks three years younger than his age. He looks very handsome, in his preppy-boy-wearing-pastels sort of way. He needs to run back to change underwear because the little bees printed on the first pair were quite visible. He rushes to change, and returns with his comb and Madeleine’s apple-scented detangler hidden behind his back. I stop him before he douses himself a second time. Good thing he hasn’t learned about after-shave.
Somehow we’ve inherited a pair of Doc Marten oxfords, just a few days ago. He’s been itching for a pair of dressy shoes, and we had nothing to remotely match the pastel boy suit. Brendan tucks his handmade graduation card into his pocket for Simon, then asks for an apron to wear while eating breakfast—a brilliant idea.
Madeleine wakes more slowly these days. She is changing quickly, this young girl who is still quite slight in comparison to her classmates. She needs to sleep later, is prone to slamming doors and stamping her foot over small injustices. She, too, though is enchanted by the rare opportunity to dress up, when we have such a huge selection of Good Karma dresses in the closet. She chooses the pink gingham, which arrived in the same bag of treasures as the Doc Martens, earlier this week. We tussle over the white cardigan with the lace collar, over the cream-colored fisherman’s sweater. She fishes out her frilly socks with the shell beads crocheted onto the cuffs, and locates a headband covered with pearls. And she asks for an apron to eat her breakfast, too.
My bright dress looks garish next to these delicate flower children— if I described it, even though it is quite pretty, you would see something entirely different in your mind. It involves a print of red peonies, more subtle than they sound. Topped with a black short-sleeved shirt, the dress’s collar looks like a matching scarf. The dress is my favorite because it is long, but light as a feather, the perfect hot-weather dress. It is also made by my favorite dressmaker, who went out of business this year—I have five Anokhi dresses, collected over fifteen years, and this is the last of my collection, purchased, as the others, during a sale, but this one—okay it is apple green with red peonies—only caught my eye after the “75% off” was announced. Suddenly apple green was worth trying. The red of the peonies makes it less… green. It loves the red shoes and cries out for a shade of red lipstick I’ve not yet found. My everyday lipstick will have to do.
The morning is sweet and teary, with ethereal music by students and faculty, and speeches by each graduate. Brendan was hoping he’d be mentioned by name in a speech by his favorite eighth grader, but he contents himself in the part of the ceremony when the first-graders gift their eighth grade buddy with a long-stemmed rose. In his yellow and pale blue short suit, his lip trembles as the music plays. I don’t falter, myself, as his lip trembles—if he cries, the whole room will fall to pieces, because he doesn’t cry small and will fall at the tall Simon’s feet. Luckily, something distracts him and makes him smile, and we all make it out of the room alive.
I drop by the school for a quick meeting, and Cecilia grabs me on the way through the door.
“You don’t look like you are dressed for raking,” she says.
“Am I supposed to be?”
“Did you get the email? The third grade farm plot is going to be plowed, but it needs raking to get it ready for next weeks planting. I hoped to have help this afternoon, but I don’t think anyone is coming.”
“I can come after school,” I said. What would we be doing, anyway?
“Can you pick up Helen? That way I can get some work done this afternoon.”
“I’ll be forced to buy them ice cream, you know, to fortify them. Then I’ll meet you around three-thirty, with rakes.”
I drove straight north, stopping to run errands while still in my comfy dress, then grabbed a salad, a rare luxury to celebrate a good year of my own work on these solo days. Home, then, to pick up farm clothes and tools and cash, then straight south toward school and ice cream. Then further south to the organic farm, to prepare the fields for a “Three Sisters” planting of sister crops corn, beans, and squash. The third grade girls talk on and on about the afternoon with the older grade kids, playing Capture the Flag for hours.
They are already flagging when we arrive, with the ice cream long gone. They proudly carry rakes and hoes across the road, across the field, past the blueberry patch—then they drop to the ground exhausted in front of the shed built by their class. They offer twenty minutes of work before finding a stray dad to take them to play in the pond. Three moms and an assistant teacher rake and hammer stakes for another hour, strategizing the best location for four ten-by-ten foot plots, building model mounds for planting next week.
I sneak into the farm stand to pick up zucchini, plums, pink lady apples and a bottle of iced tea. The children have already shared juice boxes. I pack them up and drive home, phoning Scott to please pick up pizza and meet us at home.
“Graduation is funny,” Brendan announces. “Because it’s really happy and really sad. You’re happy someone gets to go do something else, but you’re sad because they won’t be part of the school anymore. Some people cried to leave their friends.” We talk about it a little more, our favorite parts of the day, the dress-up part, the family of snakes living near the field we raked.
Although they assure me they are starving, Madeleine and Brendan vote resoundingly for me to drive by the ocean for a look at the surfers. The icy breeze is startling and we quickly drive home, for the required poison ivy soap scrub, followed by the hot pizza and the welcome baths to wash off the poison ivy soap scent. Followed by much silliness and bedtime reading and finally sleep, so I can get a little work done.
A good day, between my two showers. A little work left for me, then, and a good sleep, next.