October 25, 2022
It is still dark when four-year-old Sam is up a little after six in the morning. He rubs his eyes and sits up in bed, a mattress on the floor he has slept on since he was an infant. Sam’s parents chose this for him instead of a crib so that when he awoke he had the freedom to move as he wished. The entire room was prepared to be safe, like a crib, with just a few things made available on a low shelf. Once, Gwen, the parent-infant educator at Sam’s Montessori school visited, and Sam had proudly shown her his room. Gwen said, “Oh, I see you have a floor bed!” but Sam just calls it “bed.”
Sam hears his sister, Hannah, get out of bed in the room next door. Hannah is nine. “Today is Saturday, Sam,” she says, knowing intuitively that her younger sibling is awake. On weekdays, Mom and Dad set an alarm to wake up before the children, but on the weekend they like to sleep in a little late. “Let’s go check,” says Sam. The children meet in the passageway outside their room, and a ceiling light activated by motion flickers on. The motion-sensor switch was Mom’s idea so the children can be independent if they need the bathroom at night. On rainy days, when the house is dark, it also serves as a fun game to see how still you can be before triggering it.
After using the bathroom, the children check Mom and Dad’s bedroom door. It has a sign that says, “It’s the weekend! Have some breakfast before driving your old parents around the bend!” Hannah reads the sign to Sam and the children giggle. They are sure Dad made that sign because he always makes humorous signs for them. Even Sam, who cannot yet read, gets funny notes and reminders, always written carefully in cursive.
The children help themselves to bowls and cups that are conveniently located on the second-to-lowest pantry shelf. Mom has recently moved them there from the lowest shelf now that Sam is taller. “Sam has had a growth spurt,” she informed the family when showing them the new set-up. “Now he can reach the higher shelf and it makes it easier for the rest of us to access the things we need. Look! The lowest shelf now has the bin for recycling.”
Hannah fetches the whole-grain cereal and pours the milk. There are two scoops in the container for cereal: the larger scoop is blue and is marked “H” and the smaller scoop is pink and marked “S.” The children serve themselves, remembering that Mom and Dad encourage them to prepare one portion first, then a second only if they are still hungry. If Sam wants more milk later, he can help himself to the small pitcher of milk on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator. As the children eat, they watch the sunrise and the birds visiting the bird feeder just outside the dining room window.
After breakfast, Hannah gets out her special set of 72 Prismacolor pencils and a large sheet of paper to illustrate a map of a civilization she has been researching at school. Using a sturdy wooden stool kept in the kitchen for this purpose, Sam places his bowl and cup in the sink. He thinks of the rhyme Dad made up for him to remember what happens next. Oh yes, “Toilet, breakfast, and teeth…” the song goes. Sam brushes his teeth and gets dressed. Mom always makes sure he has access to three of everything he needs to choose from underwear, pants, shirts, and socks, so getting dressed is easy.
Meanwhile, Hannah is already engrossed in her map, which is rapidly getting bigger and more detailed. After knocking on their door, and being invited into Mom and Dad’s room, Sam snuggles in their bed with them. For the next three hours, Sam works with Mom or Dad to unload the dishwasher, weed the vegetable garden, and fold laundry. He also gets on a bike ride around the block with Dad.
It is almost eleven o’clock when Hannah emerges from her work, which now covers a large part of the living room floor. She has joined several large pieces of paper together with washi tape. “I’m starving,” she announces. Mom smiles and points to Hannah’s breakfast bowl and cup, still on the dining table. Hannah knows that Mom is a lot more flexible on weekends and says that some days are for being creative in your pajamas. After Hannah has cleared her breakfast things away, Mom asks, “What’s next?” Hannah runs off to get dressed and returns to select a pear from the bowl of fruit on the kitchen island. She gets out a cutting board and a sharp paring knife. Sam watches her cut it. “If you cut the pear in half, will you get two quarters?” he asks. “No,” replies Hannah, “I will get two halves. When I cut each of those in half, I will get four quarters. One whole pear makes two halves or four quarters.” Sam is not sure he understands but nods anyway.
A little later, everyone is getting ready to hike through the greenbelt to the neighborhood park for the afternoon. Dad and Sam work together to make sandwiches and hull strawberries for a picnic lunch. Mom retrieves the stale bread she’s saved in the freezer to feed the ducks. Hannah fills water bottles and packs the picnic blanket. It takes a while to get everything ready, and then Dad remembers the most important thing: the frisbee!
After an afternoon of hiking, playing, and exploring, Mom, Dad, Hannah, and Sam are home. Everyone is exhausted. Sam and Dad relax with a book, while Mom makes hot chocolate for the family as a special weekend treat. Hannah enters the kitchen fuming. “Sam has invaded my Prismacolor pencils,” she says. “I know because the greens and blues are mixed up!” Mom hugs Hannah. She acknowledges how angry Hannah is and how frustrating it can be to have a younger sibling to contend with. When she is feeling better, Mom reminds Hannah of the house rule that anything within Sam’s reach is available to him. “But I did put them away on my art shelf!” Hannah insists. Mom realizes that Sam’s recent growth spurt has enabled him to reach some items that belong exclusively to Hannah. Mom and Hannah plan a time after church the next morning to discuss how to solve the issue of Sam’s evolving height and how to reorganize her belongings to protect them from “invasion.” Mom thinks to herself that Sam is developing impulse control because he has looked through Hannah’s pencils, but not used them.
When everyone has finished their hot chocolate, Dad checks in with Mom and explains to Hannah and Sam that he needs to excuse himself to study to work at his computer. The children groan. Dad is a computer engineer but never uses a computer in front of the children. Hannah knows that her parents try very hard to keep their life filled with real-life experiences instead of screens and minimize their use of electronic devices in front of her and Sam. While Dad works and Mom cooks dinner, Hannah explains to Sam the various parts of the civilization map she has illustrated. Sam repeats some of the big words Hannah uses. Even though he does not know what they mean, he loves to practice saying words and hearing how they sound coming from his mouth.
After an hour, Dad is done working. Soon after, Mom finishes cooking and Hannah rolls up her large illustration. Sam sets the table. As Dad, Mom, Hannah, and Sam sit down to dinner, the sun is setting and they chew slowly, watching the birds on the bird feeder. Mom tells the story of how earlier in the day the ducks gobbled up the stale bread the children had tossed to them from the pond’s bank.
Weekends are the best part of the week because everyone is home.