“It’s okay with me.” Rosie was pre-coffeed, still bleary-eyed, catching up with being awake.

“I asked why he wanted to be a girl scientist instead of just a scientist.”

“What did he say?”

“So he could wear a dress under his lab coat.”

In November, it was Ben’s birthday. Later, when it turned out Penn and Rosie were going to have to catalog for doctors in a focused, specifics-filled way a life they were living by more of a skin-of-their-teeth/seat-of-their-pants/bundle-of-their-nerves approach, they were glad for the formative moments that coincided with birthdays or holidays so they could remember when they happened. Claude wanted to make another cake for Ben’s birthday, but Ben wanted the pecan and pumpkin pies he saw all over the Thanksgiving displays at the grocery stores, and Claude’s culinary skills did not yet extend to pies. Instead, Claude wrote him a musical with a cast of brothers. If the specifics of the plot were a bit muddled—it involved a princess, a farmer, and, for some reason Penn and Rosie could never fathom, two clouds carrying toilet plungers—the sentiment was sweet and the recorder music quite moving.

“Claude made the princess’s dress himself,” said Rosie. “It was one of my old dresses—we have a bag of dress-up clothes the kids like to play with—but he added ribbons, sequins, a cape off the shoulders.”

“We only have boys,” Penn always added. “Someone has to play the girl in the skits and the games. It was no big deal.”

“Until the next morning,” said Rosie. “He wore the dress all weekend getting ready for the play. He said he was in dress rehearsals. After the play, he didn’t take it off, but Orion wouldn’t relinquish his cloud costume either. Dress-up is fun. Claude even wore the dress to bed. The next morning I made him take it off to go to preschool, and he really didn’t want to.”

Rosie was underplaying this. He more than didn’t want to. That was the one thing that was predictable about that morning: it had to fit exactly within the time allotted in order to work, and therefore it did not even come close. When Rosie woke at six, Claude was already up, had made himself cereal, was watching Sesame Street in his very rumpled princess dress. “Change into school clothes,” she said, kissing him on the head. Penn made breakfasts. She made lunches. “Claude,” she called over to the sofa as she sealed her fifth bag of mini pretzels, “get changed for school, please.” Penn made coffee, thank God, and Rosie unloaded the dishwasher. “Claude sweetie,” she called, unfolding the stool she needed to reach the shelf where the jelly jars lived, “school clothes.” She went upstairs to wake everyone else. Roo showered. Ben showered. Rigel and Orion threw fits about not wanting to take showers until Rosie decided she preferred hot water to clean children and let the twins go to school dirty. “Claude. Now,” she said. Penn took clothes out of the dryer. Rosie assembled after-school appurtenances then went upstairs again to get showered and dressed herself. “Claude,” she called down, “we’re walking out the door the minute I get back.” At 7:59, she was downstairs, dressed, packed up, and quite pleased with herself, ready to drop Roo through Orion at the bus stop and Claude at preschool and be on time for work by not a moment later than 8:29 a.m.

Claude was still sitting on the sofa in his dress.

“Claude!” she shrieked. “Why are you not dressed for school?”

“I am dressed for school.”

“You’re still wearing your dress!”

“I’m wearing it to school.”

“Claude, honey, we don’t have time for this this morning. The boys are going to miss their bus. Go change.”


“I said go change.”


“Claude,” said Penn, “Mommy told you to go get ready for school.”

“Several times,” said Rosie.

“You can’t tell her no.”

“No,” said Claude.

“Claude. I am not going to ask you again. Go take off that dress and. Get. Ready. For. School.”

Claude stood up on the couch, clenched his fists straight out behind him like booster rockets, and yelled at the top of his tiny voice, “I am ready for school!” Then he threw himself onto the carpet and cried.

Rosie and Penn had a brief conversation with their eyeballs. Penn went up to change out of his robe and drive the boys to the bus stop. Rosie sat on the floor next to weeping Claude and rubbed his back.

“Claude. Honey. It’s time for school. Do you feel okay? Don’t you want to go see Ms. Danielle and Ms. Terese? Don’t you want to see Josie and Taya and Pia and Annlee?”

“I have to wear my dress.”

“Sweetheart, you cannot wear that dress to preschool.”

“Why not? Josie wears a dress to preschool. Taya and Pia and Annlee wear dresses to preschool.”

“Is that why you want to wear a dress? Because all your friends wear dresses?”

“I guess,” Claude guessed. “And tights.”

“Well. Usually boys don’t wear dresses to preschool,” Rosie admitted carefully. “Or tights.”

“I’m not usually,” said Claude. This, Rosie reflected, even at the time, was true.

“I think this dress is a little long for preschool,” Rosie tried. “Tea length is a bit formal for the occasion.”