About Steph

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Moderate Thrills

On Tuesday evening we got back from an eleven-day road trip to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. It’s been so long since we took a trip longer than a week that it felt luxurious to be away from home that long.

The main event was a family reunion in Wheeling. For five days we stayed in a cabin in Oglebay Resort with around twenty relatives, mostly descendants of Beth’s aunt Carole, plus other local relatives who dropped by the cabin daily. If twenty people sounds like a lot to fit in a cabin, don’t worry. It was two stories, with eight bedrooms, each equipped with two double beds. It was like a small hotel.

Because Carole and her late husband Gerry moved to Ireland while they were raising their family, her kids, most of her six grandkids, and her infant great granddaughter still live there, though Carole now lives in Wheeling, where she and Beth’s mom and their two sisters were raised.

1) Morgantown, West Virginia: Saturday Afternoon

On our way to Wheeling, we stopped in Morgantown. Beth’s parents met at West Virginia University and as we were also going to stop in Oberlin, our own alma mater, later in the trip, I observed we were visiting the college towns to which Beth, Noah, and June owed their very existence.

The reason for our stop in Morgantown was to visit a friend from our own college days. Stephanie was Beth’s first-year roommate in Noah Hall, where Beth and I met the following year and after which we named Noah. That’s why when she was letting us in her front door she said, “Hi, Noah. I lived in your hall.”

A brief story about Stephanie: For much of my first year of college I hung around the edges of a social group that centered around Beth and several of her friends. Stephanie was away my first semester and sometime during the spring semester, shortly after we’d met, she said to me out of the blue, “Do you write poetry or prose?” I was startled and alarmed and felt as if she had seen right into me because I did write fiction. It was years before I realized she was just playing the odds. We were at a liberal arts college and I was an intensely shy kid who observed more than she spoke. Of course I was a writer.

Stephanie and Cris just moved to Morgantown, where they’ve both taken jobs at the West Virginia University, and she was eager to show us the new house, which is lovely. They told us we were their first guests and put out a big spread for us—fruit salad, apple fritters, olives (much to June’s delight), homemade bread, and cheese. We ate and chatted for about an hour and a half about all manner of things—their move, things to do in West Virginia, and how June came to own a small colony of snails. We were sorry to leave after such a brief visit, but the reunion beckoned.

2) Wheeling, West Virginia: Saturday Evening to Friday Morning

We arrived at the cabin on Saturday evening. The rental was Friday to Friday, but another big group had arrived just before us, so there was a festive let’s-get-this-party-started atmosphere as we ate a dinner of cheesy rice bake and spaghetti and meatballs made by Beth’s cousin Sean.

We ate well all week. Beth’s mom and Carole made four lasagnas, and Beth made a big batch of her signature gazpacho with salt-crusted potatoes. Beth’s aunt Jenny made a peach cobbler and Sean’s daughter Rebecca made multiple pans of brownies.

People were arriving and leaving all week, not to mention the in-town relatives dropping by, so it was never exactly the same group, but by the end I knew who nearly everyone was. There was a lot Olympics watching and game playing and keyboard playing over the course of the week. Eanna, Sean’s youngest son, learned the music for two songs from Matilda so June could perform them for an assembled crowd of relatives two nights in a row. (He did the same thing with songs from Annie four years ago when he and June were seventeen and six. He’s a very sweet young man and he and June make a great duo.)

Over the course of the week, the group completed a thousand-piece puzzle of the Wizard of Oz. My contribution was eight to ten pieces in a poppy section. Many people helped finish the puzzle but Noah probably worked on it more than anyone. The puzzle seemed to help him interact with people, which isn’t always easy for him. It made Beth so happy that she went out and bought another puzzle of a wizard in his workshop looking through a telescope when it looked like the first one was almost done. That one got finished, too.

We celebrated two birthdays with cake. Carole’s seventy-ninth birthday party was Sunday night and this was the big event of the reunion. There was a cookout and Sean made two Indian curries (his specialty) and he gave a nice speech about how Carole has always made the places she’s lived—in several countries and several states—feel like home. There was an enormous cake decorated to look like Oglebay, with little trees and a lake and rocks made of licorice. There were probably at least forty people at the party, ranging from Carole’s ninety-something-year-old aunt to her eight-week-old great granddaughter. As it was the only night all of them were present, we took a picture of the six Junes—Andrea June (Beth’s mom), Elizabeth June (Beth), Beth’s cousins Meghan June and Laura June, our June, and the youngest, eight-month-old Delaney June, the daughter of another cousin. They are all named after Beth’s grandmother, Ida June, who went by June.

The Irish contingent was very sporty and they were always going off to mountain bike, play tennis, run, or swim. We went to the pool in different configurations almost every day. I usually went and June always did.

Some people went on day trips—there was one to Falling Water, and after we checked out of the cabin, most of the Irish went on an overnight trip to Washington, D.C., which was experiencing the hottest day of the summer with a heat index of over 110 degrees. We stayed behind.

We did go on the outing to Coopers Rock State Forest. The more ambitious people in the party left early and took a long hike while the rest of us joined them for an “epic picnic” (in Beth’s cousin Holly’s words) and then we all took a short hike to an overlook and admired the gorge. Next some of us took another hike to the bottom of the rock and back up again. A few of us squeezed into a narrow, damp crevice in the rock where the temperature fell about fifteen degrees in a few steps. The kids and I scrambled under an overhang lined with a thick layer of dead leaves and Noah saw a salamander and all of us saw a toad. There were huge millipedes all along the trail. It was a rough, rocky climb back up, especially for Jenny and Holly, who were in flip-flops.

On the last day at the cabin we took it easy. Beth and Noah spent most of the morning and good bit of the afternoon finishing the second puzzle. June got passed from one group of pool-goers to another and then after lunch, I took her again. Afterward, as we walked along the wooded trail back to the cabin, she was softly singing songs from Matilda. During the summer I often fret about the ratio of structured activities to down time, because she basically wants to do everything.  But at that moment, I thought we might have gotten it about right.

3) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Friday Afternoon to Saturday Morning

Have you seen the article going around Facebook about the difference between a vacation and a trip? The gist is that if you take your kids or visit extended family, it’s not a vacation, it’s a trip. I think it’s a little hard on trips, because I wouldn’t want to spend most of my time away from home without my kids and I enjoy time with my and Beth’s family as well.  But it’s true there’s a difference between getting away with just your spouse and being in a larger group. And by this measure, Beth and I hadn’t had a vacation in four and a half years, and then only if you count weekend getaways. Well, Beth’s mom helped us rectify that by taking the kids for about twenty-four hours so we could go to Pittsburgh alone.

After we checked out of the cabin Friday morning, we hung out at Beth’s mom’s house for a while and then Beth and I drove to Pittsburgh, stopping at a nice little Mexican restaurant in Washington, Pennsylvania. We stayed at a fancy hotel called The Mansions on Fifth. It consisted of two early twentieth-century mansions—one gray stone in an Elizabethan revival style and one Tudor and red brick. Inside the bigger building, where we checked in there was stained glass and carved wood paneling everywhere. We were staying in the smaller building, which was a little less grand, but still lovely.

Once we got settled, we went out to matinee of Florence Foster Jenkins. We watched Citizen Kane with Noah last fall and I was curious if the talentless singers were based on the same historical figure. I’m thinking yes. It’s billed as a comedy, but it’s really more sad than funny. It’s very well acted, though, and we both enjoyed it.

We weren’t hungry for dinner yet so we went back to the hotel and relaxed a while. Eventually, we had dinner at a barbeque joint, where you pick what kind of meat or tofu you want and then three sauces from a wide array. You get to taste as many sauces as you like before you chose and that was fun. We got classic tomato, a vinegar-based one, and a honey-based one. There were also a lot of sides and we got cornbread, stewed tomatoes and okra, and purple coleslaw. There was a television on and while we ate we watched part of the U.S./Serbia men’s basketball game.

Next we went out for gelato at a place with more flavors than I’ve ever seen. We got five between us. I liked the peach best. Back at the hotel we watched more Olympics until bedtime, or past it, actually. In the morning we had breakfast at a diner and then brought coffee back to the room where we read quietly until checkout time. I know. We’re maniacs.

(Back to #2) Wheeling, West Virginia: Saturday Afternoon to Sunday Morning

We drove back to Wheeling, reunited with the kids, and spent the afternoon at Beth’s mom’s condo, Carole’s condo and Carole’s condo’s pool. Noah made a raft out of pool noodles and floated on it, which is his favorite thing to do a pool. I did fifty laps, which sounds impressive, except it’s a tiny pool. Everyone else splashed and soaked in the pool.

Back at Beth’s mom’s house I took a short nap and we had Chinese takeout for dinner with Carole and Meg.

4) Sandusky, Ohio: Sunday Afternoon to Tuesday Morning

We drove to Cedar Point, the amusement park of Beth’s childhood. It’s also kind of a romantic place for us, as Beth and I went twice when we were in college, once alone and once with a group of friends the week between finals and my graduation. The kids have been there three times now, once when June was a baby and Noah was five, which neither of them remembers, three years ago, which they do, and this time.

Noah knew which rides he liked last time and June knew which ones she wanted to ride but couldn’t before because she was too short—and this year she could ride almost anything in the park because she’s 52 inches tall—so we headed in the direction of Iron Dragon, a hanging coaster that’s just about right for all of us.

The Iron Dragon is officially a “High Thrill” ride (a 4 on a scale of 5), but this points to a problem with the ride ratings at Cedar Point. I would call most of the 4s “Moderate Thrill” rides, a designation they actually apply to the sky tram and the like. Meanwhile, the 5s (“Aggressive Thrill Rides”) encompasses such an enormous range that Noah joked they should have another category called, “6, Aggressive Thrill Rides…No We Really Mean It This Time” because there are some crazy-scary rides at Cedar Point, enormous coasters that go straight down or have part of the car hanging off the side of the track or one that just shoots the car up and down a U-shaped track that looks like two twisted devil horns over and over.

We don’t go on any rides like that. Beth’s never been much for big coasters. When I was twenty-two I rode the Magnum, which at the time was the tallest coaster at Cedar Point and in the world, but those days are beyond me. Noah’s currently the bravest in absolute terms. He was the only one to ride a level-5 coaster, the Corkscrew, which is a fairly low to the ground looping coaster. June and I almost did it with him, but we bailed out of the line. June might be the bravest relative to age, but she’s had more amusement park experience than Noah did when he was ten, so it’s hard to say.

A lot of our conversation at Cedar Point consisted of what coasters we would ride, what we wouldn’t ride, what we rode in our youth but wouldn’t now, what we might ride when older, and what we might ride if offered a million dollars to do so. At one point we had the following conversation:

June: Would you go on that for a million dollars?

Me: I’m tired of deciding what I’d ride for a million dollars.

Noah: Would you decide what you’d ride for a million dollars for a million dollars?

Anyway, once we got to the Iron Dragon we learned they were running beta testing for a virtual reality version of it so you couldn’t ride the regular version until the next day. You had to be thirteen to do the virtual reality ride and that kind of thing sometimes makes me sick, so Noah was the only one to do it. There was a three-page parental permission form I had to sign in about as many places as the forms when we refinanced our house last month.

In the virtual reality version, you are riding on a dragon and you can’t see the track so you don’t know what’s coming next. Noah said he liked it but he prefers the unenhanced ride. June was disappointed not to be able to ride it right away, but we promised to come back the next day. So we did the Mine Ride and The Woodstock Express, which was the first coaster June ever rode. “It’s emotionally important to me,” she said. We visited a petting zoo, which had an eclectic collection of farm animals, rabbits, llamas, alpaca, kangaroos, and tortoises. When it got dark we rode the Ferris Wheel, where Beth took pictures of the park rides all lit up in different colors.

The last thing we did the first day was watch a show which featured singing, dancing, acrobatics, fireworks and just plain fire. It was kind of like one long music video with a medley of pop songs, a startling number of them from the 80s.  “We’re the target demographic,” Beth said to me, with surprise.

The next day we finally rode the Iron Dragon. One thing I like about it is how it swoops between tree branches and over a misty lagoon. It almost is like riding a dragon. It’s gentle enough for Beth and June loved it.

My top priority that day was the Blue Streak, the smallest of three wooden coasters in the park. I love wooden coasters but they are scarier than metal coaster of the same size and as I get older I scare more easily, so I needed to do it early in the day before I lost my nerve. Noah agreed to go with me, even though it scared the pants off him the last time he rode it, when he was twelve. As we were getting strapped in, I told him, “I am having some second thoughts about this,” but then we were off and it was so much fun, just exactly how much thrill I want out of a coaster, and I was glad I did it. And Noah liked it this time, too. June watched and decided to wait until she was a bit older, which was a relief to me.

Later the kids rode the Wind Seeker, a swing ride that slowly rises three hundred feet into the sky, spins you around for panoramic view of the park and lowers you. I have no desire to be that high in the air, so Beth and I sat that one out and watched the kids’ bare legs, a big pair and a little pair ascended up to skyscraper heights.

In the afternoon, Beth, June and I went to Soak City, the water park within Cedar Point. Noah wanted some down time and stayed at the hotel. We all did the lazy river and June and I did some water slides and Beth and June went into the wave pool. I left Soak City before Beth and June, but independently of each other, we all stopped to wade in Lake Erie on the way back to the hotel.

Back at the park in the evening, the kids and I rode the Iron Dragon a second time and the kids rode the Wind Seeker, also for the second time. June played a bunch of carnival games, which are harder than the ones at Funland, so she didn’t win anything, which was a disappointment, but by then she was out of money and we were out of time, because our moderately thrilling road trip was almost over.

5) Oberlin, Ohio: Tuesday Morning

We had breakfast outside the hotel, gazing for the last time at Lake Erie before we hit the road. About an hour into the drive home, we stopped in Oberlin. As we did the last time we were there, three years ago, we walked and drove around the campus, showing the kids places we’d lived and posing Noah in front of his hall. The kids listened politely as I said things like “And that’s where I lived the first semester of my senior year…” We got whole-wheat doughnuts at Gibson’s bakery because that’s what you do when you visit Oberlin, and we ate them at a table facing Tappan Square.

Noah said, “The next time I come here I could be touring it.” We’ve often joked that he has to apply to Oberlin, if only to say he was named after the dorm in his essay, but it was the first time he’s indicated he might just do it.

That evening, we pulled into a parking garage in Silver Spring, one town over from home, for a dinner stop. “Our House” was had come up on a playlist we were listening to and I sang along: “Our house is a very, very, very fine house, with two cats in the yard.” It would have been better, I guess, if it had happened as we pulled into our driveway, right before reuniting with our two cats, but it was a good enough ending for a nice, relaxing trip, with just the right amount of thrills.

The Fiddle and the Drum

Last Week of July: Band Camp and Tinkering Camp

Oh my friend,
How did you come
To trade the fiddle for the drum?

“The Fiddle and the Drum” by Joni Mitchell

We are done with the camp portion of summer. June was in camp five weeks straight, a week of overnight camp and four weeks of day camp, ending with orchestra camp at the University of Maryland this past week. Noah had only one week of camp this year, band camp the week before June was in orchestra camp, so we’ve had concerts to attend two Fridays in a row. I always enjoy the kids’ musical and dramatic performances, so that was a nice treat.

June’s friend Maggie and her older brother Eli were attending band camp, too, so we carpooled with them the first week. Beth drove the three kids to the University in the morning and Maggie and Eli’s mom drove them home in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, June was at a tinkering camp at her old preschool, learning to whittle a spear, making leaf rubbings, roasting bananas studded with marshmallows and chocolate chips in a campfire, climbing rocks near Sligo Creek, and sledding down hills—did you know you don’t really need snow to sled? It works almost as well on grass.

Most days June walked to and from camp with Megan and her eight-year-old sister Fiona, picking them up on her way, and on Tuesday and Wednesday stopping at their house to play for a couple hours before coming home. (Tink is a half-day camp.) Thursday, they added Talia to their walking party because she was coming home with June. Both Megan’s mom and Talia’s mom both told me their daughters were excited but nervous to walk to or from camp with no adults and that they probably wouldn’t have done it without June. “She’s like a Sherpa,” Beth commented.

Talia’s six-year-old brother Nate was also at Tink, so their mom (also named Megan) took him to the library to pick up some Star Wars books and then they joined us at our house for the second half of the playdate so we could have some adult conversation.

It was a hot, muggy day in a hot, muggy week, so I’d planned the play date around ways to keep cool; I got the sprinkler running in the back yard and made five orange and mango juice popsicles that mornings. But the girls quickly reminded me why I don’t plan what’s going to happen on a play date any more. They wanted to play Animal Jam in one of the hottest rooms of the house, so that’s what they did, though they did pause long enough to fetch popsicles from the freezer and to dash outside and run through the sprinkler for a few minutes. Talia also had an opportunity to beg her mom for one of June’s baby snails, because to our great surprise, her new snails are reproducing. Noah’s counted ten babies, though it can be hard to tell them apart from the gravel, so it’s anyone’s guess. June’s trying to give them away, and her friends are game, but the snails have not been too popular with her friends’ mothers. Sample dialogue:

Adult Megan: “No, because those snails have babies.”

Talia: “But that’s the point.”

As it was actually a little cooler outside our house than in it, Nate sat in the back yard reading his books and playing on Megan’s phone, and we sat out there with him, enjoying the breeze, eating popsicles, and catching up. “How’s your summer?” Megan asked me.  When we were both stay-at-home moms, and then later when I became a part-time work-at-home mom, Megan and I have often commiserated about how hard summer can be. But I had to say it really hasn’t been that bad.

Two of my biggest sources of summer stress—the kids’ bickering when they didn’t have camp and time-consuming camp drop-offs and pickups when they did—have diminished considerably. The kids haven’t been home at the same time any week so far this summer, between Noah visiting YaYa, our beach vacation, and their camps, so we’ll see if the arguing crops up later in August when they are home together for the last week and a half of summer break. Somehow, though, I don’t think it will and the reason actually makes me a little sad. As they’ve gotten older, they interact less. When they’re not trying to do anything together, of course, they don’t fight. I’m hoping it’s a temporary tween/teen thing and when they’re adults they’ll be closer.

The other thing that’s changed is I had to do very little in the way of camp drop-offs and pickups. June’s camps were mostly in Takoma and she could get herself to and from them, though on hotter days I’d sometimes take her on the bus in the morning if she didn’t feel like walking or (at drama camp) had bulky props to deliver.

Megan, who’s now working part-time, too, said registering her kids for the same day camp every week has helped a lot. This is something I’ve rarely managed to do. Not that there’s much opportunity now, as Noah’s aged out of a lot of camps. He would have gone to drama camp at Round House, but their teen program doesn’t run for as many weeks as their camps for younger kids and the only week he wasn’t out of town or at band camp was stage combat and he wasn’t interested. Plus, he’s been pretty busy with his computer science summer school class, so it may be just as well. In fact, the week he was at band camp he couldn’t finish his assignments, even working every evening after camp and the whole weekend, and he had to turn some of them in late.

Noah’s concert was at two p.m. Friday, an hour earlier than it usually is. I had to pick June up from Tink a half hour early so we could get to Maggie’s house. Maggie’s mom Kathryn was not only giving us a ride, their family donated an extra ticket for the concert. Every camper got only two tickets this year because they were in a smaller concert hall.

June was positively mournful as we walked down the brick path away from the brightly painted bungalow where she attended preschool for three years and has been going to camp every summer since then. “This is my last moment as a camper at Tink,” she said dramatically. It was true. The age range is five to ten.

It only got worse in the car on the way to the concert when we learned from Kathryn that the age for volunteers has been raised to fourteen just this year. (Noah’s been volunteering there for SSL credit since he was twelve.) Eli, who’s thirteen, had wanted to volunteer there this summer and had been denied. June was dismayed to learn she has to wait four years to go back, unless there’s a change in either the ages cutoffs for campers or volunteers. They’ve both changed over the years, though, up and down, so you never know.

We met Beth in the lobby and settled down to watch the concert. Maggie was up front playing the saxophone in the fifth and sixth grade band. Among their numbers was “Sakura,” which I know is meant to evoke Japanese cherry blossoms because the orchestra played it at June’s last school concert. It was interesting to hear it played on band instruments. Eli played percussion in the seventh and eighth grade band, but we couldn’t see him too well. The smaller concert hall had another downside, other than scarcity of tickets. There were no risers so it wasn’t possible to see the percussion players most of the time. I know he had a cowbell solo, though. His parents didn’t call out, “More cowbell!” That must have taken some restraint.

I did catch a glimpse of the padded white heads of the mallets moving while Noah played bass drum in the first piece of the ninth and tenth grade set. And I was pretty sure he was the triangle in “Kentucky 1800” because he’d been practicing a triangle part at home and he seemed to be moving slightly whenever I heard the triangle. He also played snare drum, triangle, wind chimes, cymbals, and timpani. Beth and I were happy he got some timpani experience because they didn’t have one at his middle school and he wasn’t in a school band in ninth grade because of schedule conflicts. He later said the song in which he played timpani “The Heart of Madness,” based on two Edgar Allan Poe poems and one story, was his favorite. I liked it, too.

His overall post-concert assessment was “It could have been worse.” He was concerned with some mistakes he’d made on the triangle, which of course I didn’t hear, partly no doubt because I’m not a musician, but more likely because I was mostly hearing the song as a whole and not focusing on the individual pieces.

Even after four years of band camp concerts I’m still amazed at how polished the concerts for all the age groups come off sounding, after only a week of practice. It’s not like a school concert, when they practice for months. But there is some self-selection involved. Noah once said that nearly all the kids who go to band camp are serious about music but not everyone in instrumental music at school is. That’s one of the things he likes about it. He’s modest and has a tendency toward understatement, so “it could have been worse” isn’t as dissatisfied as it might seem. I hope inside he’s proud of himself, because I certainly am.

We went out for celebratory pizza and then Beth, June, and I went to the fiftieth birthday party of our friend Becky, who used to be June’s music teacher in preschool. It was a dance party, and all three of us danced a little. There aren’t many people at whose birthday parties I would dance, especially as tired as I was after staying up two hours past my bed time the night before to listen to Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech at the DNC, but Becky is one of them. We also got a chance to talk with a friend who has a daughter in Noah’s grade and to June’s second grade teacher, and to eat cake. It was a fun evening.

First Week of August: Orchestra Camp

Sunday afternoon we were back in the same concert hall at the University of Maryland, for orchestra camp orientation.  After a brief informational meeting for parents, the kids split up. Beth left to go to a PTSA meeting and I followed the fifth to seventh grade orchestra to watch their first rehearsal.

They got right to work. The teacher seated the violas and cellos by experience level but the violins had to leave the room in groups of four to sight read a piece. This would determine whether they were playing first or second violin. The teacher said she didn’t like to stress the seating hierarchy in the younger group, then she explained at length how she might re-arrange them during the week based on their performance in rehearsals and how it was possible to appeal one’s seating assignment, and I wondered if this was the unstressed version, how cut-throat things were in the eighth to tenth grade group. June looked nervous when it was her turn to leave but she said later it went well. While the violins were going in and out, everyone else got right down to business, learning their concert pieces, with an occasional break for ice-breaking games.

Two of the songs June already knew from her school orchestra and another was “We Will Rock You,” which caused me to wonder to what extent songs at youth musical program concerts are selected for the parents’ entertainment value. What else could account for the disproportional presence of 70s and 80s pop hits at such events?

Campers also received their elective assignments. June had songwriting/composition, a cappella singing, and chorus. Those might have been her top three choices. In any case, she was very pleased. The elective classes are located all over a large, complicated warren of a building so they all had twenty-five minutes to locate all the rooms they’d need to find the next day. This impressed upon me what a grown-up seeming camp this was. I told June it would be good practice for finding her classes in middle school.

Finally, everyone reconvened in the concert hall for more information and for the camp director to raffle off various prizes, such as t-shirt from previous years, fast food coupons, amusement park tickets, a plastic baggie containing two Starburst, a pencil and $5, and an empty cardboard box which symbolized the privilege of sitting in the box seats the next day during the daily concert by guest artists.

Remember how I told my friend Megan this was the year camp transportation was a breeze? Well, I must have jinxed myself because there was a water main break on University Boulevard which snarled traffic for days as they tried to repair it. As you may guess from the name of the street, it goes to the University of Maryland and the bus I needed to take uses it.

We knew about the water main break ahead of time so I left the house at 1:50, and arrived at the stop just after two, thinking that no matter how bad traffic was, I’d still get to June’s camp in time for its 3:30 dismissal. Around three, when I’d been waiting at the stop for an hour, watching traffic crawl by, including several buses for routes other than the one I needed, I started to panic. I called the camp and left a message saying I’d most likely be late. I called the number on the bus stop sign that purports to tell you when the next bus is coming and got a recorded invitation to leave a message. (No one ever returned the call.) I tried to hail a cab, but the only one I saw didn’t stop for me.

After a series of tearful phone calls and texts back and forth with Beth, she got a cab from work and headed in the direction of the University while I walked a few blocks to the next bus stop, just in case the bus was detouring around my stop. There was a big crowd at that bus stop and when a C2 came soon after I arrived, there was some quiet cheering.

I ended up getting there before Beth, but still twenty minutes late. No one from camp had delivered the message to June that I’d be late, but apparently other people got stuck, too, because there were still quite a few kids waiting for pickup when I got there and June wasn’t too worried. We all went to the Student Union and had ice cream, because it seemed necessary after all that stress.

Tuesday they were still working on the road, but there were fewer work vehicles so traffic was better and I arrived more than an hour early. After that I arranged for June to come home with the mother of a sixth-grade girl she knows from her school orchestra.

June enjoyed camp. She made friends, liked her elective classes, and participated in the spirit days, wearing stars and stripes, or wacky clothes, or Maryland colors. She was assigned to play second violin. She had wanted to be first violin and was a little frustrated about already knowing the first violin part to two out of their five songs. She took it pretty well, though, considering she’s used to being a big fish in the small pond of her school orchestra, where she plays in an ensemble for advanced students. Turns out there are a lot more advanced players at orchestra camp.

On Friday afternoon it was concert time. June wore the required uniform of camp t-shirt and khaki shorts, though not without complaint. The shorts, hand-me-downs from Noah, were not exactly her style but nothing khaki would be, so we weren’t buying her shorts or a skirt she’d wear just once.

Beth, Noah, and I all met in the lobby of the concert hall. Noah and I got there almost an hour early, out of caution, and the last of the performances the elective classes were giving for the other campers was in progress. I got excited, thinking I might see June’s a cappella group or chorus class sing, but alas, they’d already gone. Parents aren’t explicitly invited to those mini-concerts, but if I’d known they’d be right out in the lobby for any passerby to see, I would have come earlier to see June and to see Noah’s movie music class perform the week before. Live and learn.

Choir camp and orchestra camp meet the same week, so their concerts are combined. Chorus went first, singing five songs. The chorus director reminded us the students had learned all the music in five days, which really is quite an impressive feat, especially as one of the songs they sang was a Serbian folk song, in Serbian.

The fifth to seventh grade orchestra was next. Their second song was “Ode to Joy,” and I have to admit, I thought, “Again?” when June first told me they’d be playing it because if you’ve been to as many band and orchestra concerts as I have, you’ve heard this one many, many times. But when they played it, I was won over, because it really is a pretty piece of music when it’s played well and they did play it well. The fourth song was June’s favorite, even though she said she missed a few notes in it. It was called “Fiddle and Stomp.” As you might guess, they stomped their feet in between the fiddling. And then they ended with “We Will Rock You,” and they rocked it.

The eighth to tenth grade orchestra was on next and they were just breathtakingly good, especially on “Waltz of the Wicked,” and “Danse Bacchanale,” both of which were complicated and hauntingly beautiful. I remember at Noah’s first band camp concert and being impressed with the older kids because I’d only heard elementary and middle school band concerts up to that point. This was similar. It was obvious a lot of those kids have put a lot of time and effort into their music.

It was a good two weeks of music-making. Noah’s considering being a junior counselor at band camp next summer, and June’s also thinking of returning, but switching to choir camp, so there’s a good chance I’ll be back at the University of Maryland at least once next year, hearing my kids fiddle, drum, or sing

When We Grow Up

Three and half weeks ago, while we were still at the beach, I received the sound files and lyrics for the songs June needed to learn for her musical drama camp production of Matilda. But she was too busy having fun to practice much while we were on vacation. As tryouts were the first day of camp (a few days after our return), the day we left I urged her to listen to the songs in the car and sing along “for as long as you can stand it.” Little did I imagine she’d sing for nearly the whole drive home. She put a lot of heart into it, especially certain lines like, “If you’re little you can do a lot./You mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you.” I think she identified.

But there were other lines that resonated with me during the two weeks she was at camp and I was hearing a lot of them. Here’s a bit of “When I Grow Up,” I particularly like: “When I grow up/ I will be strong enough to carry all/the heavy things you have to haul/ around with you when you’re a grown-up.” There have been a lot of those things lately, haven’t there? Multiple high-profile police shootings, both police on civilians and vice versa, a terrorist attack in Nice and another one in Kabul, an attempted coup in Turkey and the Turkish government’s response to it, the shooting in Munich, and the truly alarming spectacle of the Republican National Convention.

I had more personal worries as well. It may seem small in light of national and international events, but our cat Matthew has lost weight and he passed some bloody stool and I went on the Internet and found it could be anything from constipation to cancer, and so for a while I was very worried about him. We took him to the vet twice and they palpated his belly, and took blood the first time and urine the second time. Everything came back normal, but one of the times I was at the vet’s office there was a father with two girls there collecting the body of their cat, who had been put to sleep during exploratory surgery for cancer, so it felt like a near miss indeed. And we’re still not sure what’s caused his symptoms, so I have some lingering unease, even though he’s acting normally.

Meanwhile, while June was at drama camp, Noah was home most of the time doing his summer school computer science assignments, as well as summer homework for pre-calculus and English, and helping me with housework and yardwork.

This year we let June walk to and from drama camp. She did this with another day camp nearer to the house last year, but this represented an expansion of her roaming range and it also involved crossing a slightly busier street than she’s ever crossed before. I took her to camp the first day because I needed to turn in a form, but that afternoon she came home red, sweaty, and proud of herself. About half the time, I ended up taking her on the bus in the mornings, but most afternoons she came home alone, sometimes buying herself a snack at a convenience store on the way.

Auditions were on the first day and for the first time in six summers of attending musical drama camp, June tried out for the main character. She had a reason for not doing this before. The camp director divides the main role up between various actors to spread the acting out more evenly across the group. Nonetheless, June prefers to own her role. But there wasn’t anyone except Matilda she really wanted to be, besides possibly Lavender, Matilda’s best friend. She found out on the second day she got the part. In fact, twelve of the twenty kids in her age group were playing Matilda. (In addition, there was a chorus of nine younger kids who sang along with June’s group but didn’t play individual parts. In the video, they’re the ones in the vests.)

The last few days of drama camp Beth was away for a several days at Netroots Nation in St. Louis. This conference was inconveniently timed because she wasn’t available to drive Noah to his summer school computer science midterm in Gaithersburg, she missed our twenty-ninth dating anniversary, and worst of all, she would miss Matilda.

Noah successfully took a cab to his midterm, which inexplicably turned out to be a mid-class review session and not the test they were told they would have. Then he found his way home on public transportation on an unfamiliar route (bus to train to bus). Even though he was irritated that there was no test and felt like the whole thing was a waste of half a Saturday, I thought it was a good life skills experience. As a kid with a non-driving parent, he’s had to be pretty self-sufficient about getting around, but the cab was a new twist.

As for the anniversary, Beth and I exchanged gifts after she got home, a couple days after she got home actually because she was pretty busy. Before she left on her trip, she told me she’d had a good idea for me and forgotten it, so I asked if she’d been planning to get my Birkenstocks resoled because they need it and she’s done that before. No, it wasn’t that, she said, while Noah stage-whispered, “Go with it.” She took his advice and gave me a card with before and after pictures of Birkenstock soles tucked inside. I got her some wind chimes she’d admired. My aunt Peggy got us some at the beach as well, so now we have two new sets on the porch.

On the day of the performance, we met June’s best friend Megan in the auditorium. She was going to watch the show and come home with us for an extended play date, which would start at our house and then switch to Megan’s house for a sleepover. Noah set up his video camera on his tripod and I reminded Megan, who kept up a pretty constant running commentary during the Frozen performance last year that she had to keep quiet because unlike last year, we were all sitting together and she was near the camera. Megan promised she would and she was true to her word. She whispered everything she had to say.

The first song was “Miracle,” in which a group of spoiled children sing “My mummy says I’m a miracle” and other expressions of parental overindulgence, to be contrasted with Matilda’s sadly singing, “My mummy says I’m a lousy little worm/My daddy says I’m a bore.” The kids were in different costumes, a ballerina and a soldier are called for in the lyrics, but for some reason June wore a dog costume. She was not able to offer much of an explanation for this, but I think it must have been meant to indicate a child whose whims are humored. The choreography in this number was more complicated and ambitious than they’ve tackled in previous years. In some of the other pieces they used parts of the Broadway choreography, but this was the camp director’s invention.

June had her solo in the first lines of the next song, “Naughty.” The camp director, Gretchen, complimented her after the show for “setting the tone” well in this song. Here’s a clip of the first two songs of the show.

For the rest of the show she was singing along with the group, with an occasional line of dialogue. June especially liked the part where they rode scooters up and down the aisles of the theater. The show was well done, as usual. This year the girl who really stole the show was one of the director’s daughters, who was playing Miss Trunchbull, the evil headmistress. Lottie really nailed that role.

This camp is always a highlight of June’s summer, but the kids’ artistic endeavors were not over. The next week Noah volunteered at a day camp at the kids’ old preschool and he filmed and edited a zombie movie there, with the campers as actors. It was unscripted and pretty much consisted of him filming their play. He played it for them on the last day and it was a hit. This is a link to the camp director Lesley’s blog post about the whole zombie experience. The movie is included in two parts.

That same week June was away at Girl Scout camp and the theme of her program was “Artistas,”so she came home with a lot of art, including a tie-dyed t-shirt, a lot of ceramics, and a bracelet she made for Megan.

It was her second year at sleep-away camp and it was considerably easier to drop her off and drive away, both for her and for us. I did miss her while she was gone, though, and I was happy to pick her up on Friday. We drove to camp straight from the settlement of our newly refinanced mortgage to beat the rush hour traffic and settled down to wait for pickup time in a nearby Starbucks. On the drive down through Southern Maryland, I noted a lot of flags at half-mast, and wondered if they were all down for the same reason and if so what it was—there are so many possibilities—and also observed the predominance of Trump yard signs with unease. (My friend Onika later informed me the flags were lowered for the police officers in Baton Rouge, there’s an official website you can check.)

We were there at five on the dot, and when they called June out of the dining hall where the girls were waiting, she barreled out to give us hugs. Her hair had been French-braided by a counselor, no mean feat given how short it is, and even better, the counselor managed to do it so that most of the faded blue and pink left in her hair from having it dyed two months ago was is contained in one of the braids. It was a cool effect.

On the drive home and at dinner—we stopped at Pizza Hut and then Rita’s for Italian ice and frozen custard—she told us about camp: she’d been canoeing and had done archery once each, they did an art project and swam every day. She’d been in the lowest swim group for the second year in a row, despite having taken swim lessons this spring to avoid this fate. She mostly liked the food, and tried Apple Jacks for the first time ever, but the vegetarian lasagna was worse than last year—it had eggplant instead of noodles! (Beth surmised it was doing double duty as the gluten-free option.) She learned the camp is inhabited by mermairies, mermaid/fairy hybrids who grant wishes. She made a wish (to find her missing swim bottoms) and it came true. She thought she might have spotted a mermairy’s head in the pond while canoeing. One of her best camp friends lives in Silver Spring and she got her phone number so they can have a play date. She missed us but she didn’t get homesick.

All in all, June was very happy with her camp experience and we are happy to have her back. Even if she’s grown up enough to spend a week away from us without much worry or fuss, it’s still good to have her home.

The Deep Blue Sea

Day 1

The logistics of getting everyone to the Delaware shore were complicated. Members of our party were coming from Oregon (Mom), Idaho (my aunt Peggy and her ten-year-old grandson Josiah), West Virginia (Beth’s mom and Noah who had just spent a week with her), and Maryland (Beth, June, and me). To make matters more complex, Noah is taking a (mostly) online computer science class this summer and its introductory meeting was Saturday morning in Gaithersburg and the rental period started on Friday, so we’d be arriving in shifts.

The West Coast contingent flew out on Thursday and stayed the night in Arlington, Virginia. Peggy and Josiah arrived first and had time to tour Arlington National Cemetery. Beth drove June and me on Friday morning to meet up with Mom, Peggy, and Josiah so they could drive us to the beach, while she stayed behind with her mom and Noah. They’d follow us to the beach the next day.

Arriving at the motel, we saw Josiah first, walking toward the office. We yelled hi to him from the car and he yelled back, “We’re locked out of our room!”

Sure enough, we found Mom and Peggy outside their room. It took a while and many key cards to sort it out but eventually we got inside so they could collect their belongings and check out. We had to go to the car rental place next because they wanted to change the terms of the car rental. Finally, we hit the road, with Beth leading us through the challenging D.C. traffic. Once she got us safely on the other side she turned around and returned to the airport area, so she could meet her mom and Noah’s plane from Pittsburgh.

When we were on Route 50 and driving at highway speed, Peggy noticed something moving on the hood of the car. It was her sunglasses, an expensive prescription pair. They were partially sunk into the cavity in front of the windshield wipers so they hadn’t fallen off the car the whole hour we’d been navigating stop-and-go city traffic. It was nerve-wracking watching the case jiggle as Peggy searched for an exit, but luckily, they stayed put until she was able to stop the car.

Once stopped, she noticed an Afro-Caribbean restaurant. We’d planned to have lunch near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, but we’d gotten off to a slow start, so it was already lunchtime and she was intrigued. I was wary—would there be anything vegetarian? Anything June would eat? The answers were no, but they were flexible about accommodating us, and yes. June and I got beans and rice and vegetables, with curry sauce (me) and without (June). It was tasty and inexpensive. The only downside was that the service was rather leisurely, but we were ordering off menu, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

Between the printed directions Beth provided and help from Siri, we managed to reach Rehoboth. My mother, my aunt, and I are all what you’d call directionally challenged, so it was an accomplishment.  And even though I’ve been going to Rehoboth for twenty-five years, sometimes as often as two or three times a year, I don’t have the route completely memorized. I was able to provide useful input of the “this doesn’t look right” variety a few times and that’s when we’d turn on Siri.

We got to the house around 5:30, unpacked, and went out for pizza at Grotto. We shared the upstairs with a baseball team, which seemed to be having an end-of-season banquet. It was so noisy they gave us 10 percent off our bill.

When we left June and Josiah got three balloons between them (Josiah lost his first one almost immediately) and all three had popped or escaped within minutes of leaving. I was thinking we’d get frozen custard but it was cloudy and windy and so cool no one but June wanted any. Peggy opted for hot coffee instead. Mom went back to the house, saying she could be cold at the beach in Oregon, but Peggy, the kids and I ventured out onto the beach where June waded in the surf and Josiah dove right in, clothes and all.

After fifteen minutes we went back to the house and put the kids to bed. Mom and Peggy went out to get a few groceries for breakfast and ended up doing a more substantial shopping than they planned. It was 11:30 by the time they returned and I’d long ago gone to bed.

Day 2

On Saturday morning June and I got coffee and juice at Café a-Go-Go and then we went to Browseabout, where I picked up an order I’d made online—Stephen King’s latest for me and two summer reading list books for Noah. I paid for them using gift certificates my sister got for our birthdays. June didn’t want to be left out so I got her a book, too.

Next we visited a candy store and I got some licorice for my friend Allison. The store wouldn’t ship to Canada, so I took it to the post office, but I discovered there I’d left her address back at the house so I took June home, went to rent a bike, and rode it back to the post office. Did you know you have to fill out a customs form in triplicate to send a bag of licorice to Canada? Now you do. I got myself some lunch while I was out and then I came home and socialized with my relatives while they ate their lunches.

Next, we all headed out to Funland. Josiah was impatient to go back to the beach and not too keen on the idea of going anywhere else, but once we got there he was as happy as June to ride the Freefall, the Sea Dragon, the Paratrooper, and all June’s favorite rides.

It was four-thirty by the time the kids and I got to the beach, and Mom and Peggy didn’t get there until almost five. Josiah wanted to swim out deep so I took him out through the crash zone, through the big waves, out to where the waves were just little swells. My kids have always been cautions ocean swimmers—June only learned to dive under waves last summer and Noah rarely wants to go out deep—so it was quite different, in a fun way, to swim with a kid who seems to have no fear. June watched and said if she had face mask to cover her eyes and nose she might be able to do it.

When we returned to the house, around 5:30, Beth, YaYa, and Noah had arrived. I hadn’t seen Noah for eight days and he gave me a nice, long hug. Peggy made a tasty stir-fry for dinner and finally our whole party was gathered to eat it. Noah and June listened with fascinated expressions to a friendly debate Mom and Peggy had on the topic: “Is Linda sneaky?” Peggy argued pro and Mom argued con; but I think Peggy won the debate with examples of forbidden lipstick worn and movies attended when Mom was a teenager. (They had very strict, religious parents, and Peggy, who is nine years younger than Mom was apparently watching her older sister carefully.) Possibly the kids were wondering if they’d be arguing about their own childhood and adolescence when they’re in their sixties and seventies.

Day 3

On Sunday morning I took the younger kids to the beach to hunt for shells before the sun got too strong. It was a lovely day—with the exception of one cloudy day every day we were there was a lovely day—sunny, and with highs near eighty. We walked as far as the boardwalk where we got a face mask for June and goggles for Josiah. We looked for a boogie board leash for June’s board but we couldn’t find one. Once Josiah had his goggles, there was no keeping him out of the water, so I didn’t try and he got a second outfit in less than twenty-four hours soaking wet. I made a mental note to stop bringing him to the beach in clothes.

We went back to the house and I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to the Js. (He’s only read the first one but was game to jump into the fifth book. We stopped to explain things as necessary.) Next I read The Ask and the Answer to Noah, while the younger kids made things with melty beads—you know those multicolor beads you form into designs and then iron? The Js were playing with these all week. June made a smiley face, Santa Claus, an abstract design, and a princess while Josiah made a huge pile of people and skeletons, mostly heavily armed. The house was well stocked with toys and Josiah also built elaborate train tracks in their room that climbed up onto an unused bed and out into the hall until June told him she needed to be able to close the door.

After lunch I took the Js to the beach. June was excited to try to go deep in the water but the waves were bigger than they’d been the day before and both kids decided to ride the waves on their boards close to shore instead, while I went further out. While they were riding, the foam core of June’s board snapped. The fabric enclosing it held it together but it gave a wobbly ride now, so she wanted a new one. Mom and Peggy had been looking for materials to make her board a leash but they didn’t find exactly what they needed and we ended up buying her a bigger board with a leash, like Josiah’s.

After an hour, the waves had gotten smaller so we decided to give going out deep another try. We left the boards behind for easier entry. June was slow to enter the water. Her mask kept getting fogged up and she was continually taking it off to clear it and adjust the straps. While all this was going on, Josiah was jumping up and down in his excitement, saying, “Let’s go!”

June is not naturally fearless. She can seem like the daredevil in the family but it often takes a lot of effort for her to screw up her courage and try something hard. The remarkable thing about her is she so often makes that effort. In fact, when she agonizes, Beth and I are often telling her it’s okay to wait to do something, there’s always next year, etc. But you know how this story ends, right? She was visibly scared and I was scared for her and wondering if it was a good idea, but after a lot of wading in and running back while Josiah honestly didn’t seem to understand why she wasn’t going in already, we were past the point where we could avoid the waves and I started giving her curt, tense instructions, like “Dive! Dive now!” and she did it. When she came up from under the first really big wave, I said anxiously, “Are you okay” and she exploded into words.

“It was awesome! It was so fun! I love this!” So, she was okay.

I could touch bottom about three-quarters of the time but the kids couldn’t at all, so when she got tired or to needed to clear her mask, June clung to my side and once Josiah realized this was an option he occasionally clung to my other side. We dove under some waves and jumped into others. June loved it when a wave pulled her up its side and dropped her down its other side. “That’s my favorite, too,” I told her.

Sometimes it’s as hard to get out of rough surf as it is to get in, but we were lucky in this respect. A wave carried us gently to shore not once but over and over and we kept going back in for two straight hours. Once toward the end June was tired and I was holding her in both arms and she was sort of slumped down and a lifeguard waded out to make sure we were okay. It’s reassuring to know they watch that closely.

Meanwhile Peggy had arrived and was watching from the shore. We got out to say hi. I was pretty tired so I offered the kids ice cream, partly to get a rest. We went up the sandy path to the snack shack and ate our cones in the shade of the little building among the scrub pines. When I said I wasn’t going back in the water, Josiah decided to go back up to the house with Peggy while June and I went to sit with Mom. June sprawled out on her towel with her eyes shut. She was done in, but happy.

Back at the house, June and I sat on the side stoop, among the blooming hydrangea bushes, waiting for Mom to finish in the outdoor shower. We shared the Sunday comics and listened to Cat Stevens drifting from the screen porch of the cottage next door.  I sang along “Don’t be shy. Just let your feelings roll on by/Don’t wear fear or nobody will know you’re there.”

June said in surprise, “You seem to know this song.” I should, I was a big fan of Cat Stevens and Harold and Maude in my youth. Mom left the shower in a different direction than I anticipated so we waited longer than we needed to but I didn’t care—it was such a perfect moment. And once we were clean and dry and inside, Mom’s delicious fettuccine with asparagus in lemon cream sauce was almost ready.

Day 4

Monday morning Beth took the Js out and bought a long-handled shovel for Josiah and a new board with a leash for June and rented a bike for Josiah. They were planning to ride bikes to a pond where there are a lot of turtles, but now that Josiah had a shovel he wanted to dig right then and June wanted to go see the turtles, but he was overruled. YaYa set off on foot before they left and Peggy drove to join them. Surprisingly, they all managed to find each other and the turtles. The Js also climbed a big tree and when June’s croc floated away in the pond, Josiah helpfully fished it out with a stick.

I rode my own bike to the boardwalk where I sat in the shade of a gazebo within sight of the ocean and spent most of the morning chronicling our adventures thus far, by hand in a composition book.

Later Peggy, Josiah, June, Noah and I went to the beach, in groups. When Noah and I arrived, June was riding her board and Josiah was digging. She said he’d been doing that for an hour and a half.  Noah got his legs wet and then retreated back up to the towel while June and I went into the water. There was a strong northward tug so we’d gotten close to the red flag that marks the swim area and we needed to exit more hurriedly than I would have liked, rather than waiting for a good wave, but June handled it well. Later she wiped out and got the wind knocked out of her. She started crying once she could breathe and we went to sit on the sand. I was wondering if this was a get-back-on-the-horse situation or time to call it a day so I just kept quiet and waited until she said, “Let’s go back in” and we did.

I was getting tired of trying to stay in the area between the flags so we took an ice cream break with Noah. I abstained because I knew Beth was back at the house making her signature beach house meal of gazpacho, salt-crusted potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, and Spanish cheeses and I wanted to be hungry for that. Peggy and Josiah had left by that point, but Mom had arrived just as we were getting back to the towels.

June rode her board while Noah and I stood in the surf, talking about books and movies and his computer science class. It’s too easy for him, but it meets a tech credit he needs. It’s silly that the media classes he takes for his program don’t count, but they don’t, and no one can test out, so he’s studying Scratch, which he taught himself how to use when he was seven or eight.

Noah left the beach around 4:20 and June wanted to go soon after because her suit was full of sand but she couldn’t find her crocs. (It was a bad day for those crocs.) We thought maybe Peggy accidentally swept them up with her things so June wore Mom’s sandals to the house and of course, when I returned I forgot to bring them with me and Mom refused to let me go back and get them so she had to walk back to the house barefoot. And it turned out June’s crocs were on the beach after all. Peggy gave me directions to where they’d originally been sitting and there they were. I stayed at the beach past six. It was nice to have some solo time there.

Dinner was fabulous, as I knew it would be. Beth even put on some flamenco music for atmosphere. Peggy said she’d won the beach house cooking competition so far. Even Noah, who wasn’t sure if he like gazpacho, had seconds. We had some lemon curd in the house we’d been eating on short bread and pizelles and Mom and Peggy went out to see if they could find cake for it.

Shortly before bedtime, June, who was sunburned, said it was bothering her. Her face was red and hot to the touch. Her arms and legs were red, too, and the back of her legs looked particularly angry. We had no aloe in the house, so Beth and YaYa left just as Mom and Peggy returned with a lemon cake. They came back with some Solarcaine and I applied it to all June’s red places. Then just as if she was in a commercial, she said, “It is instant relief!” After a few minutes it wore off so we re-applied and then she was comfortable enough to go to bed.

I ate lemon cake with lemon curd on the porch with Beth and YaYa and then we went to bed, full of good food and satisfied.

Day 5

Tuesday we woke to the cozy sound of rain pattering on the roof. June came into our room around seven with the news that her burn felt better. We had breakfast and I was thinking of reading to the Js on the porch but Josiah was getting ready to make pancakes with Peggy and June was busy with a melty beads project. I considered doing laundry but Noah was still sleeping and he was wearing a pair of pajama bottoms he’d had on since Saturday night and my mom’s room was right off the laundry room and she was still asleep, so I decided to wait.

I thought I might take a rainy walk on the beach but the rain stopped as I was getting ready so it was more of a cloudy walk. The sand was only a little damp so I was able to sit on it and read and write. Later I walked pretty far north up the beach where a group of condos sets out free beach chairs for people staying there. As none were in use, I didn’t think it would be much of a transgression to occupy one.

The sea was calm, with moderate waves, widely spaced. It was a leaden color where it was flat, with just the tips of the tallest ways a translucent green-gray. I was on the beach four hours, since I didn’t need to avoid the sun, and I saw two big pods of dolphins, one traveling south and one north, plus plenty more travelling in smaller groups. There were crabs on the sand, not the tiny gray, bullet-shaped ones that burrow in the wet sand, but classic crab-shaped, sand-colored ones, that dart out of holes in the dry sand and scuttle sideways to the next one. I also found two horseshoe crabs washed up on the beach. I thought they were dead, but when I nudged them with my toe they wiggled their legs, one weakly, the other vigorously. I took them back to the water and watched as the waves took them back into the sea.

I came back and had a pleasant lunch of dinner leftovers with Beth. The house was mostly empty as Peggy, Mom, and Josiah had gone on a day trip to Dover to see a plantation and YaYa had taken June to lunch, and Noah was holed up in his room. When June came home she had a bag of gummy butterflies, a new dress, and reservations for high tea at the fanciest hotel in Rehoboth. By the time I’d read to both kids it was late afternoon, but June and I snuck in a quick swim before dinner.

This was our designated eat-out night. The older generation was going out for seafood. Beth and I were taking all three kids to Grotto because Noah hadn’t been there yet and it’s his favorite. June had an attack of reflux during dinner and didn’t eat much. She was quiet and looked unhappy in the way she often does before a migraine so Beth and I kept pestering her with questions about how she felt and asking if she wanted to go home, but she said no, it was just her throat. We were headed for Funland, specifically the Haunted Mansion, which seemed like just about the worst place for a migraine. But we were getting frozen custard and there was the walk to Funland, and no doubt a long wait in line, so there was plenty of time to watch her. And she did start to perk up as we approached Funland, and was fine after that.

There was a long line—when Noah saw it he considered bailing—but the Js were determined, so we got into it. June then had a half hour to listen to the talking corpse on the wall and get nervous. She’d only been in there twice and it still spooks her. After a while, Josiah, concerned, asked, “Is it really scary?”

“Yes!” said June emphatically.

“Moderately,” I said, after some thought.

“Not at all,” Noah said, with teenage nonchalance.

So Josiah had to draw his own conclusions.

Afterward he said he wasn’t scared at all, but the souvenir photo of him and Noah told a different story. I didn’t buy any as we already have a souvenir photo of June looking scared at the Haunted Mansion from two years ago (bought at her own insistence) and I didn’t think Josiah wanted a photo of himself looking scared at the Haunted Mansion.

June needed to use the bathroom afterward so I told Noah and Josiah to go meet Beth who was waiting on a bench on the boardwalk, but somehow they lost each other. “I thought he was following me,” Noah said and I was going to be annoyed with him until I remembered I lost Josiah on the very first night when I thought he was following me to the outside shower and he’d run off to chase a firefly.

It so happened that Mom, Peggy, and YaYa were having a post-dinner stroll on the boardwalk at just that moment and they found Josiah. Eventually everyone was reunited. Having everyone in one place, I was tempted to go home, but the Js wanted to ride the Freefall, so we let them have one ride before going home.

Day 6

In the morning Beth took all three kids to Jungle Jim’s waterpark and I enjoyed more solo beach time. While I was in the water, I saw a perfect V of geese fly above me flying north and quite large pod of dolphins.

Mom and I went out for lunch at our traditional beach lunch spot. Mom asked me if I was sad to be leaving in two days and I said, no, I was still in the moment and enjoying being at the beach. She looked surprised, not without reason. Often I am sad in advance to leave.

Beth and the kids had returned from the water park when we arrived so Peggy took Josiah to the boardwalk and Mom took June on a series of adventures. They went to Funland where she won a stuffed cow at an arcade game, to Candy Kitchen where she got a big lollipop, and the seashell shop where she got a necklace with a seahorse encased in plastic.

I read with Noah and then went back to the beach in the late afternoon. I was thirsty as I was walking down the sandy path to the beach and suddenly a cherry snow cone seemed appealing so I bought one at the snack shack. I walked down to the water’s edge to eat it. The sun was warming the back of my legs and the sea breeze was cooling my face. The shadow of a gull passed over the sand just over my shadow’s head and it was one of those moments you want to seal in your mind and remember forever.

Later Beth and June came down to the beach, followed by Peggy and Josiah. There was time for June and me to have a brief swim and for Josiah to fly his new kite.

YaYa made a scrumptious spinach lasagna, garlic bread, and salad for dinner, which everyone appreciated.  June had such a busy day we hadn’t had a chance to read so we slipped out to the porch to read another chapter before bedtime.

Day 7

On Thursday morning we split into two groups. Peggy, Mom, and Josiah went to tour a light boat while YaYa, Beth, and our kids had a breakfast at a boardwalk crepe stand and then spent most of the morning wandering around town. June got a pair of yellow flowered flip-flops, required for the showers at Girl Scout camp, and mooned over the hermit crabs we’d staunchly refused to buy her all week. The day before, she’d told me, “Grandmom says if I keep asking, eventually you’ll get me a hermit crab”—a statement my mother flatly denies making, so I’m not sure exactly what went down between them.

Both the snails we got for June’s birthday died within six weeks, along with the last surviving one she brought home from school last fall. We promised to replace the snails but I am over shelled creatures with short life spans. I also don’t like the idea of taking a sea creature away from the sea or the unnatural designs they paint on their shells. When I told June pestering wouldn’t work, she asked what would and I said growing up and buying her own in eight years.

We hit Candy Kitchen, the tea and spice shop, the soap shop, and Browseabout books where June bought Harry Potter glasses with three weeks’ allowance and Noah got a book with the rest of his birthday money from Auntie Sara. Finally, we recovered from all this shopping with coffee, juice, and frozen hot chocolate at Café a-Go-Go.

Back home, I read to June, then Beth took her on a bike ride and picnic at Gordon’s Pond and YaYa took her out to tea. I did laundry and hit the beach until it was time to come back and make dinner—veggie burgers with corn, a tomato and mozzarella salad and various leftovers because it was the last night.

We all took a final evening walk on the boardwalk, got ice cream and frozen custard, and Mom bought June a stuffed cat that walks and meows from a boardwalk toy store. June’s been admiring this particular cat for years. Then Mom took Noah to Browseabout to get another book. We split off into various groups and returned to the house in pairs and trios, packed, and went to bed. It was bittersweet as the week and the company were so lovely…

Day 8

Mom, Peggy, and Josiah left the next morning around 8:45. They had timed tickets to Mount Vernon at 1:55.  We finished packing and June and I returned my and Josiah’s bikes to the bike rental place. Then YaYa, Beth, and Noah spent the rest of the morning in a coffee shop while June and I swam for over an hour. By this point June wanted to get right into the waves, no easing in and getting used to the cool water. “Mommy, are you coming?” she kept saying as she strode deeper into the ocean.

We met up with the rest of our party for lunch—boardwalk fries and crepes from a stand in a little alley off Rehoboth Avenue.  Noah said “crepes in the alley” made it sound like they had cocaine in them, but mine was just Swiss cheese and walnuts. I cannot speak for the others.

The kids and I went back to the beach to put our feet in the water one last time. Well, Noah and I put our feet in the water. It was more of a whole body experience for June, but she was still in her bathing suit, so it was okay.

We strolled down to Funland to use up our tickets. June played arcade games and both kids rode the Paratrooper as I watched their bare feet soar high above me, right before we left the deep blue sea behind until our next visit.

Before the Storm

I’m always a little baffled when other parents say they can’t wait for the school year to end because they are tired of the getting-off-to-school rush in the mornings. Speaking as a work-at-home mom, a little chaos in the morning seems a small price to pay for a whole day of quiet and calm. My summer weekdays consist either of trying to work with one or both kids home or they start with getting-off-to-camp rush, which unless Noah’s taking June to camp, generally means some kind of public transportation Odyssey that digs into my workday.

However, on the second to last Friday of the school year we did have a particularly memorable morning. In between 5:40 when the alarm went off and 7:25 when Beth drove Noah to school, Beth and I collectively:

  1. Convinced Noah that it was better to print his partially finished History chapter outline and turn it in than to turn in nothing because he was embarrassed not to have finished;
  2. Calmed a panicked June and removed a tick from her stomach;
  3. Spent a long time looking fruitlessly for Noah’s watch;
  4. Found Beth’s lunch on the kitchen counter and ran barefoot into the driveway with it before the car left.

All before I ate breakfast.

It was enough to make me think of two significant upsides to the end of the school year. Soon there would be considerably less homework drama and the alarm wouldn’t be going off so early any more. Whatever chaos unfolds before one or both kids leave for camp will take place a little later, maybe after I’ve eaten breakfast. And now we’re almost there. Noah’s last day of school was Thursday and June’s will be Monday. (If we’d made up all our snow days, hers would have been Tuesday, but I don’t suppose you want to hear me complain about how I got cheated out of day of uninterrupted work, so I will refrain.)

In some ways the end of the school year has seemed anti-climactic. June’s school didn’t have its almost-annual art show, Noah’s not in band so he didn’t have a concert, and he didn’t participate in the 9th grade CAP students’ public presentation of original one-act plays.

This was held at the community center a week and a half ago and I think he would have allowed us to attend, but one of his group members had a schedule conflict so they performed theirs in class instead and he didn’t want me to come to that. Noah was considering going to the showcase anyway, to support his classmates and to be available to be an extra in other groups’ plays—and if he had gone I would have, too—but his homework was crushing that week, with long review packets for his Physics and Spanish final exams and multiple history chapters to outline, so he didn’t go. (We also had to cancel a doctor’s appointment and a drum lesson so he could get through it and even so he ended up having to give up on the History.)

June had a few things going on, however. And there was something sad but important we all needed to do.

Saturday: Mystics Game

Gymnastics, running club, and orchestra all ended in May or the first week of June, but Girl Scouts kept going until last week, and the troop has been busy. They went on a camping trip the first weekend in June which featured kayaking and archery and a zip line and eating a great quantity of S’mores. (June reports she had five.) Beth chaperoned the trip and drove both Megan and Riana to the campground. She and June both came home tired and itchy from poison ivy but happy.

The next weekend, several local Girl Scout troops attended a Mystics Game. It was Star Wars night so before the game there were stadium staff wandering around in costume ready to pose for photos with fans. There was also a hair station where you could get Princess Leia braids.  Megan, Leila, and the troop leader all availed themselves of this service. There were also announcements about the visiting team attempted to “disrupt the Force” and a kids’ dance troop performed in Storm Trooper costume and several fans were picked form the crowd to come onto the court for a costume contest. The man in a Chewbacca costume won.

And speaking of going on the court, just before the game started, Megan’s little sister’s Girl Scout troop got to go out on the court and stand with the players during the National Anthem.

The game was fun. I am not a sports-minded person, but because of June in the past several months I’ve attended a college women’s basketball game at the University of Maryland, a gymnastics exhibition (also at Maryland), and now a professional women’s basketball game. I’m glad she expands my horizons this way, because it’s been a while, more than fifteen years since Beth and I went to a Mystics game (if we ever went—as with our concert-going history, all is blurry. Beth says she doesn’t remember but I think I do and it seems possible.)

During the game, I observed to Beth, “They’re better at this free throw thing.”

“Better than the Pandas?” she clarified. Well, of course. Who else would I mean? Fourth-grade-level play is my basketball standard, even if we occasionally go see high school girls or college women play.

Anyway, the game was close in the first two quarters, with the teams trading the lead back and forth. Both quarters ended with the Mystics just barely ahead. About halfway through the second quarter, June’s troop left for their on-court time. They were going to stand in two lines and give the Mystics high fives as they returned to the court. I swear I could see June smiling from my seat.

When the players are on the court and you’re in the stands it’s hard to tell how tall they are, unless one of the male referees approaches and you notice the players are all taller. But when your ten-year-old daughter and many of her friends are standing right next to them, looking like preschoolers, you realize, these are very, very tall young women. (Yes, professional basketball players are tall—this is the kind of insight you come here to read, right?)

When the girls returned, Beth and I took June and Riana to get ice cream. The lines were really long so we missed most of the third quarter. Something went seriously awry while we were gone. The Mystics got behind and although they made some progress closing the gap during the fourth quarter, they never caught up and lost the game 83-76.

The last three and a half minutes of the game were awful, not from a fan perspective (because I was only mildly invested in the outcome) but it was just too loud and overwhelming. They kept encouraging the fans to make noise and they sure did, yelling and beating these inflatable sticks everyone was issued on entering the Verizon Center.

And when I say the last three and a half minutes, I really mean fifteen or so because they kept stopping the clock for time-outs and foul-related free throws. Meanwhile, I just wanted the game and the screaming to be over. But the rest of the evening was pleasant and June found it quite satisfactory. We even stayed for the whole thing, which we had warned her we might not do if it ran too late. As it was we got home at 9:45, which is pretty late for the likes of us.

Tuesday: Girl Scout Potluck

The next Tuesday was June’s last Girl Scout meeting and there was a potluck. I am often a potluck slacker—hey, someone has to bring the chips and salsa—but this time I cooked. I brought a pan of quinoa with roasted chickpeas and vegetables. It was my friend Nicole’s recipe. Thanks, Nicole! It was a big hit.

Last year there was a dance performance at the potluck, but this year we just ate and then the girls got their badges and cookie-selling prizes. And then, June’s spring extracurricular activities were done.

Thursday: Vigil for Pulse

On Thursday night we all attended a vigil for the victims of the attack on the Pulse night club. This has been hard to talk about with the kids. Beth told Noah the day after and at dinner that night I thought we should tell June in case she heard about it at school and felt scared for us. In fact, as soon as we told her she started to list reasons why it couldn’t happen to Beth and me—we don’t live in Florida, we don’t go to night clubs. I could see her trying to convince herself. It was a heart breaking thing to have to watch. Some of her reasons were kind of spurious, but I didn’t knock them down. How could I?

A white lesbian friend with two black adopted boys posted on Facebook that her seven-year-old son said he wished she wasn’t gay. “My black son is worried about me being killed. I am worried about him being killed,” she noted sadly.

Meanwhile Beth reminisced about the first Pride we ever attended in Cleveland in 1989, how young we were (twenty-two) and how much has changed in the world since then. Thinking of the young people gunned down at the club, she said, “They will never see their dreams realized, they will never wonder at the changes.”

So when we heard there would be a vigil for the victims on Thursday night it felt important to go. We picked Noah up straight from his drum lesson and walked there. I haven’t been to a vigil in a long time but they haven’t changed much. I still know the words to the songs, I know how to shield a candle flame in the wind. It was June’s first one but she said it was about what she expected.

There were speeches and songs and the names of the dead were read. There were a lot of people there we knew and a lot we didn’t know, including a whole Boy Scout troop in uniform. The mayor and a City Council member and other Takoma residents spoke movingly. Afterward we walked through the crowd and hugged our neighbors and friends. It was good to be in a crowd of people who shared our fear and sadness and anger. It helped a little.

Friday: Wax Museum

But life goes on—it has to—and two days later, on the second to last day of school, June’s English/social studies class had a wax museum. Each student had researched a historical figure to represent and came to class in costume and with props. They lined up along a hallway outside their classroom and parents circulated listening to each child give a speech in character.

June was Mozart. She’d tidied up her corpse wig from Halloween by cutting it shorter, weeding out the black hairs in the white and putting it in a ponytail and she wore a white blouse.  From the waist down she was more twenty-first century in red and white striped shorts, but that didn’t show behind her table. In between giving her speech, she played her violin. I could hear it as Noah and I drifted through the crowd, listening to speeches by Frida Kahlo, Mary Cassat, Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet, Martin Luther King, Sonia Sotomayor, Jackie Robinson, Jim Thorpe, and other notable personages.

Back in June’s classroom, we watched a presentation of the class’s six-word memoirs. They started with an essay about a memory and then they had to boil it down to roughly six words. June’s was about her performance at Peanut Butter and Jam last winter and she had to coin a word to get hers into six words: It read “Nervexicted, but then music takes over.” It was a fun event. June was pleased that Noah, who had taken his last two exams the day before, was able to come, since he’d missed her orchestra concert.

Right after the wax museum, Beth, Noah and June all piled in the car and drove to West Virginia. Noah’s spending a week of R&R with Beth’s mom and June came along for the ride.

The Weekend Before the Storm

Left to my own devices from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, I worked several hours, went out to dinner and lunch, finished reading a mystery, mowed the lawn, ran some errands, menu-planned for next week, and blogged. While I was out Saturday afternoon, I ran into another work-at-home mom I know and her greeting to me was, “Are you ready?”

I said yes because what else can you say? Summer is certainly not as hard as it was when the kids were younger (the mom in question has one in middle school, one in elementary school, and a toddler).  And whether I’m ready or not, summer will start when June gets home from school Monday afternoon.

I’m glad that unlike forty-nine of my brothers and sisters, I’ll be there to greet her when she gets off that bus.

The Band is Playing

It’s Saturday and the band is playing
Honey, could we ask for more?

Prairie Home Companion theme song, adapted from “Tishomingo Blues,” by Spencer Williams

This is the story of two goodbye shows. The first was given by someone you’ve probably heard of—Garrison Keillor is retiring as the host of Prairie Home Companion this summer and Beth bought tickets to his last show at in the Washington, D.C. area as a birthday present to me. The show was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

The other man you probably haven’t heard of unless you had the very good fortune to have a child in an elementary school instrumental program at June’s school or the school where Noah attended fourth and fifth grade. His name is Mr. G, and next year instead of splitting his time between the two schools, he will teach at just one, so June will have a new orchestra teacher in fifth grade. Mr. G’s last concert at June’s school was Wednesday.

Saturday: A Prairie Home Companion

Prairie Home Companion has been on the air since 1974, with a brief interruption in the late eighties and early nineties. I must have started listening to it around the time it came back on the air in 1992; that’s when I got hooked on public radio. When I was in grad school in the mid to late nineties, I’d often knock off studying or grading around six p.m. on Saturdays and then I’d clean the apartment for an hour or two while listening to it. Back then, rather than being near the end of my Saturday nights, its eight o’clock ending time might be when Beth and I left to go out to a movie or something. We used to do that kind of thing a lot in our younger days. Anyway, it’s how I used to transition from work to play in the middle of the weekend.

Nowadays I’m more likely to listen to it while I’m cooking dinner with Noah—his night to help me is Saturday—though sometimes we listen to music of his choice instead. I rarely listen to a show all the way through any more, but I still enjoy it and find it something about it deeply comforting. Keillor, a tall, bespectacled almost seventy-four-year-old man who loves words and stories, has a deep singing voice, a sometimes dry wit and liberal politics, often reminds me of my Dad, who would be a year younger than Keillor if he were still alive. That’s part of the appeal, no doubt.

When Prairie Home Companion travels it comes to about a half dozen venues regularly. One of those is Wolf Trap, in Vienna, Virginia, which is just a stone’s throw from where we live, but despite this, we’d never gone to see the show. I’d never suggested it because it’s not really Beth’s thing, but when I heard Keillor was retiring I told her I’d like to go, so she bought tickets. By the time I asked, the seats under the roof were sold out, but I didn’t mind sitting of the lawn. You can picnic and if the weather’s nice it’s quite pleasant. We’ve probably seen more shows at Wolf Trap on the lawn than under the roof.

Speaking of shows we’ve seen there…Wolf Trap is a place we used to go a lot more often pre-kids than we do now and while Beth and I were on the lawn waiting for the show to start we made the amusing discovery that our lists of shows we remember seeing there have surprisingly little overlap. We’re both sure we saw performances of Beauty and the Beast and West Side Story there and probably the McGonagall sisters. But she doesn’t remember seeing a Buddy Holly tribute act I thought we saw there and she insists we’ve seen David Sedaris at one of the smaller, indoor theaters on the property and I thought surely I’d remember that because I really like him. We both think we might have seen the Indigo Girls there, but we’re not entirely certain. What has happened to our youth? I mean I know we’re not in our twenties or thirties anymore but shouldn’t we be able to at least remember that time? What are we going to reminisce about when we’re eighty?

I guess it’s a good thing I started blogging. At least there’s a record of our forties.

Anyway, back to the show. We got to the parking lot around 4:35 and walked to the lawn where we set up our blanket. We had to walk around a while to find a spot as the lawn was already packed but we found a place we could squeeze in with a good view of the stage. (The pictures were actually taken by our neighbor Chris, who was also at the show. They were on the opposite side of the lawn, so you can imagine us just to the side of the footbridge in the background of the picture.)

The show was very much as I expected. There was old-timey music including a Civil War song, a jazz band, a Guy Noir sketch, some Trump-related political satire, a parody of a Dylan song (“Don’t Think Twice”), and of course, the Lake Woebegon monologue. The only unexpected parts were the fifteen minutes before taping began when Keillor wandered through the audience, even up on the lawn, engaging in a sing-along with the audience. It being Memorial Day weekend, he started with a medley of patriotic songs, but soon it was Elvis Presley and the Beatles. (There was more singing with the audience after the taping ended as well.) I have to admit I was just a bit star-struck when he passed within fifty yards of us and then when he got back on stage and sang his opening song, “It’s Saturday, the band is playing/Honey, could we ask for more?” I felt a little thrill to actually be there.

About a half hour into the show, we dug into the picnic Beth packed for us, Havarti cheese, crackers, watermelon, a vegetable slaw, couscous salad, and chocolate chip cookies. The day had been hot—I thought he must have been very warm in that suit—but it cooled slowly as we sat on the grass and watched the golden evening light travel slowly down the backdrop of a gray frame house behind Keillor on the stage.

Soon it was over and we headed back to the parking lot, where, as Keillor had predicted from the stage, there was a terrible traffic jam. We sat in the car for over forty minutes before we could move at all. I guess that’s why some people left immediately after the monologue. Even so, we were home by 9:45, late for us to be out, but not too late.

Prairie Home Companion will still be on the air after Keillor retires. He’s handing it over to a new host, Chris Thile, next fall. Thile was actually at the show we saw, singing and playing mandolin. I look forward to seeing in what new direction he takes the show, but I know I will always miss Garrison Keillor.

Wednesday: Our Musical Garden

Three nights later June had her last concert with Mr. G. Let me tell you a little about him before I write about the concert. He’s the kind of teacher who show up for everything, and I mean everything. Any time we were at June’s school whether it was for Reading Night or STEM night or any other kind of night, there was Mr. G. I heard from parents of kids who went to one of the middle schools that June’s school feeds into that he would go to their band and orchestra concerts to see his former students play. When a friend of June’s who acts professionally was in a show, Mr. G was in the audience. He’s that kind of teacher.

You might think if you were in charge of instrumental music at two large and growing elementary schools—there are one hundred thirty kids in band and orchestra at June’s school alone—and the school district told you they wanted you to teach at just one, you might breathe a sigh of relief, but Mr. G said no, he’d prefer to stay at both schools.  He wasn’t allowed to, though, so this was our farewell concert with him.

As always, June put a lot of thought into what to wear. She needed a new top, as she wore sweaters to both the Holiday Sing and the Winter Concert earlier this year, and after an unusually cool May, warm and humid weather is here. She and Beth went to the thrift store the weekend before the concert to look for a “plain white blouse,” or that’s what I told them to do. Beth told me ahead of time, she doubted they’d be coming home with anything plain. What June chose was a lacy, knee-length, short-sleeved dress. She paired it with black capris and finished the outfit with music note socks and shiny black Mary Janes.

There was none of the usual rush to find sheet music because she’d left it at school during the rehearsal earlier that day. We all would have liked Noah to come, but he was sunk deep in homework (and would end up staying up late that night trying to finish a research project for Physics).

We made our way to the gym, took our seats in front of the orchestra, and looked at the program while the musicians warmed up. The theme of the concert was “Our Musical Garden” and many of the kids were wearing leis. At first we thought it was just the fifth graders but then we noticed some of the fourth graders had them, too.

I noticed that along with his trademark vest, Mr. G wore a tie with musical notes which reminded me of June’s socks and that reminded me that just before June’s birthday when she was having her music-themed party and I was looking everywhere for music note pajamas with no success, it was Mr. G who found some for her online. She wore those not only at the party but once or twice a week after that until the weather got too warm for them.

June had her lessons this year with a group of four other string players who had at least two years’ experience at the beginning of the school year. She was the least experienced of the group, having started violin the summer before second grade. They’ve been working on an arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” all year and it was the first song in the concert. She was gratified to finally play it for an audience.

Between the string quintet, the advanced orchestra, the combined orchestra, and the combined band and orchestra, June played twelve pieces of music. My favorite was “Sakura, Sakura” a Japanese piece meant to evoke cherry blossoms, but the Can-Can is always fun, especially as they play it faster and faster.

The concert was quite eclectic. There was classical music by Dvorák and Handel, folk songs, jazz, blues, music from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings. The fifth grade clarinets played “Kum-Bah-Yah” and the fifth grade trumpets played “Eight Days a Week.”

Here’s the string quintet playing Handel’s “Gavotte,” taken by mom of one of June’s friends.

In between the songs, a few students read original poems about their band and orchestra experiences.  Zoë’s was a limerick that started, “There once was a jolly old fellow/who even taught me to play the cello.” (That one was my favorite.) They ended the concert with “Ode to Joy,” which seemed appropriate to me because Mr. G brings so much joy to everything he does. When I asked June what she liked about him, she said, “He makes music fun.”

So thank you, Garrison Keillor and Mr. G. Thanks for the music and the fun. We really couldn’t have asked for more.

Girls on the Run

Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash
As we fell into the sun
And the first one said to the second one there
I hope you’re having fun

From “Band on the Run,” by Paul and Linda McCartney

At dinner last night, the night before the Girls on the Run Montgomery County 5K, June asked me if I was excited. Beth nodded her head subtly to prompt me, but I told the truth instead. I told June I was a little nervous, because I was planning to walk it instead of run it and even though I’d been told by one of the coaches that a lot of people do that, I was afraid I’d be the only one and I’d come in dead last.

June said she’d give me a dollar if I did. I asked what I’d get if I didn’t come in last, figuring it should be better than a dollar, but she said nothing, because she knew I wasn’t going to come in last.

June had been training since early March, running before school on Tuesdays and after school on Thursdays with the Girls on the Run chapter at her school. I hadn’t trained at all, because running’s not my thing and a three-mile walk isn’t beyond my capabilities. I was a little self-conscious, though, because a lot of parents I knew were running with their kids, and I needed to find June an alternate adult running buddy who could keep up with her, as all the girls are supposed to have a grown-up with them at all times. Her buddy ended up being Zoë’s grandmother, who’s currently in training for a half marathon. “Her whole family is into running,” June told me. Indeed, Zoë’s grandfather ran with her and her mom was one of the coaches and her older brother only skipped the race because he had a viola lesson.

We needed to be at the race site by eight in the morning, so Beth set her alarm for six-thirty so we could be out of the house by seven-thirty. June had requested a special pre-run breakfast of muffins, so we’d procured those the day before. I made a fried egg and a couple slices of veggie bacon to go with mine.

It was in the 50s and raining, well misting really, because why wouldn’t it be? It’s rained almost every day this month. It feels sometimes like we’ve been cheated out of May, which is one of the nicest months in the D.C. area most years. June and I both put long-sleeved shirts on under our race t-shirts and wore leggings (an article of clothing I normally reserve for wearing under skirts or to bed on cold winter nights). Once we were dressed Beth said we were “two girls on the run.”

We drove to the staging area for the race, a mall parking lot, and waited. The race wasn’t until nine, but they wanted everyone there early. There was a D.J. playing music and leading the assembled crowd in stretches. There were stations where you could buy merchandise and get your face painted or temporary dye for your hair. June didn’t need hair dye, though because she had just cashed in her birthday gift certificate for a new dye job the day before, after two months of waiting and wondering when she should use it. Beth had worried it might run in the rain, but I think June considered the satisfying possibility of showing up on race day with a new haircut and a quarter of her hair dyed in deep blue, purple, and fuchsia and decided this was the day. Indeed, there were a lot of exclamations about it, especially from Zoë who patted it and told her it looked pretty.

Of the thirteen third-to-fifth grade girls on June’s team, four were friends of June’s—Zoë, Evie, Claire, and Norma, plus Keira, a fifth grader who used to wait at June’s bus stop before she moved to a different part of town. Norma was wearing a jacket with the face of a Pokémon character on the hood, including ears. (It looked warm and I was wishing I had a jacket—with or without ears—as we waited in the rain and I started to get chilled.)  But in the vast crowd (there were over five thousand runners and who knows how many spectators) there were a lot of other girls we know who go to different elementary schools—preschool classmates, Girl Scout troop members, etc. Some of them we saw, others I only found out were there later, from their parents’ Facebook pictures.

The crowd was divided into three sections—purple, pink, and green—and the runners started in shifts. We were in the pink group, the middle one, so we started second. Walkers were instructed to stay on the right and I did. Right before we reached the starting line at 9:05, June gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek and she took off with Zoë’s grandmother.

It was a road race and the route wound around the mall and an office park, ending where it began, under a big inflatable arch. The runners separated from the walkers pretty quickly. As a result, I spent most of the race with walkers and reluctant runners, whose coaches—especially toward the end—had to keep wheedling them to run, against their tired protests.  “Why do you want to run so much?” one girl snapped irritably at her coach and another one swore she was never doing Girls on the Run again and was reminded by one of her teammates that she can’t do it again because she was in fifth grade. (There is a middle school program but it’s new and relatively small compared to the more established elementary school program.) I can only suppose that given the enthusiasm of June’s teammates, they weren’t saying anything like that to their coaches. I did see June once during the race as we travelled in opposite directions on opposite sides of a median. She waved at me happily and yelled, “Hi, Mommy!”

June says she alternated between jogging and walking but sprinted the last few hundred yards when the finish line was in sight. I alternated between walking briskly and walking at my normal pace. It was good to be moving, probably better than waiting at the sidelines like Beth, because once we got going I wasn’t cold any more, though it started to rain a little harder and I was getting pretty damp. I stopped at the water table and considered using a porta-potty along the route but decided against it because there was a line and I didn’t have to go that badly.

I checked my time when I crossed the finish line—it was 10:04, which means I’d finished it under an hour. I wasn’t last, though it was a close thing. I heard the announcer saying the last runners were coming down the last hill before the straightaway while I was in one of the porta-potties at the finish line. I collected a bottle of water and a strawberry cereal bar and went to find June’s team, who were all there except one girl. Beth estimated June did the race in about forty minutes, about halfway between the first finisher, a middle school girl who finished in twenty minutes and the walkers who brought up the rear. This would be a personal best for June, who had completed a couple practice runs in about fifty minutes. The last runner from June’s team arrived and the girls got pictures taken with their medals and the race was over.

Rather than wait in traffic while every other family in the county with a third-to-fifth grade girl exited the parking garage, we went into the mall and got mochas and hot tea at Peet’s.

“Did you have fun?” I asked June.

“Yes. Did you?” I said.

“Yes,” I answered truthfully.

“Maybe I’ll do it next year,” Beth said. I’d be happy to have her company as a third girl on the run.

Three Days in May

I. Cinco de Mayo

If Noah’s birthday was the day we needed everything to go like clockwork and it did, two days later, things were a bit rougher around the edges.

Here is my first Facebook post from that day:

May 5, 10:59 a.m.

Steph found June’s sneakers under the dining room table on the morning of the day she’s supposed to be running a practice 5K after school. Questions about whether or not she has time to take the shoes to school (probably) and whether this would constitute helicopter parenting (quite possibly) are swirling around in her head.

Interestingly enough, all the people who offered an opinion on whether I should take the sneakers or not were women over seventy, all of whom are grandmothers (Beth’s mom and two of her aunts, plus a friend of my mom’s). They all thought I should do it. Presumably, no one currently raising kids wanted to tell me what to do for fear of seeming to label me as too involved or not involved enough, depending on what I chose to do.

I did take the sneakers (after having emailed the coach to find out if June would be allowed to run in crocs and finding out the answer was no). While I was at her school I picked up her violin so she wouldn’t have to leave it by the side of the middle school track where her team was practicing. I left the sneakers at in the main office with a note inside one of them letting her know I had the violin.

The note was because they couldn’t page June to come down and get her sneakers right away because the fourth grade was on another field trip—this one to the Chesapeake Bay where they would wade in the water, touch crabs, and try to catch eels in nets. I’d volunteered to be a chaperone on this trip as well, but I didn’t expect to be picked so soon after the St. Mary’s trip and I wasn’t. The funny thing is that before St. Mary’s I hadn’t chaperoned a field trip since June was in preschool when I went with her class to the Portrait Gallery. (Beth went to Air and Space with her class when she was in second grade.) I’d always think I didn’t have time and maybe I’d do the next one. But then I started thinking about how they don’t ask for chaperones for middle school field trips and June has only a little over a year of elementary school left. There aren’t very many next ones left.

One of the reasons I had time to make the trip to June’s school on Thursday was that I’d front-loaded my work that week in hopes of going to the Interdisciplinary presentation at Noah’s school on Friday. This is something the CAP students do once a quarter. They have an intensive week-long experience with one of their teachers, spending half the school day in that class, during which they do some kind of hands-on learning based on a historical period. This week was the 1960s to 80s and Noah was in drama class, so he was in a skit that took place in the 80s. I really don’t know much more about it than that because he didn’t want us to come and we didn’t. He hasn’t wanted us to come to any of the Interdisciplinary presentations. This breaks my heart a little, as I loved see him perform at this kind of thing when he was in the Humanities magnet in middle school and he used to want us to come, not so long ago. I almost went anyway and I was struggling with the decision for much of the day Thursday because this is the last quarter and it was my last chance to see a ninth-grade Interdisciplinary presentation.

So, faced with decisions about how to mother, or specifically how much to hover around the kids, I did what I thought June would want and what I knew Noah wanted. What kids want isn’t always what they need or the right thing to do, but often it’s a decent tie-breaker. June actually seemed to take it for granted that I delivered the sneakers. Beth had to nudge her to say “thank you” that evening. Also, it was a good thing I got the violin because the note got lost somewhere in the shuffle and she forgot to get the violin and came home apologizing for leaving it at school.

Here’s my second Facebook post of the day:

May 5, 8:31 p.m.

Steph now realizes the sneakers were just the warning shot across the bow of this day. Since then Steph has passed a foggy, unfocused day in which she had opportunity to think “what happened to the last 45 minutes?” more than once; June came home without her backpack and coat; Noah missed his bus to drum lesson, walked a couple blocks to a less familiar bus route, took it going the wrong way and missed his lesson; and Beth came home and mentioned she’d accidentally bought a birthday card for her mother instead of a Mother’s Day card. Possibly the whole family should just go to bed right now.

I don’t really want to say much more about this, other than it was stressful exchanging phone calls and texts with Noah while he was lost because both the home phone and my cell were experiencing some kind of problem which made it hard for me to hear what he was saying. His voice was garbled and going in and out. I managed to give him a little guidance, but for the most part he figured out where he was and how to get home on his own, with the help of maps on his phone.

As a result of making this series of calls, and spending some time helping June come up with strategies for adding and subtracting fractions after she got home at nearly 5:30, I had to scrap my dinner plans for a baked nacho casserole and made nachos in the microwave or canned soup for everyone, depending on their preferences. And that was our Cinco de Mayo.

II. Mother’s Day

Three days later Mother’s Day started with breakfast in bed, courtesy of June. She was in our room at seven on the dot (the earliest she’s allowed to come in) with strawberry toaster pastries, fruit salad, and orange juice. Once Noah was up (about an hour later), we opened our cards and presents—Beth got a stack of dark chocolate bars from June and a gift certificate from our local bookstore from Noah. I got three bars of soap from June (lavender-vanilla, gardenia-orange, and jasmine-lemon) and an umbrella from Noah. (I recently lost mine, so of course it rained every day for over two weeks, breaking a record set in the 1970s.) June made us a joint card with a heart that says “Beth + Mommy = Awesome.” Noah made us two cards, with photographs of us on the front and nice pencil illustrations of our presents inside. Mine shows not just an an umbrella but the actual five-day forecast chart from the newspaper, calling for, you guessed it, more rain.

Mother’s Day gave me yet another opportunity to reflect on the kids’ relative independence, though this time it was June who was edging toward it. She bought her present for me in a store alone for the first time, the weekend before.  Now it was with cash I gave her and I was standing right outside the store, but she was proud of herself nonetheless. And she must have charmed the cashier because she emerged with her purchase in a pink bag with multicolored ribbons while my gift to my own mother had been handed over in a plain brown paper bag. June also knew just what she wanted for Beth so we took care of it all in one outing. I don’t know what process led to Noah getting his gift to me, but it took more prodding on my part than I’d like for him to finally decide what he was going to get Beth and to actually get it. In the end, though, he came through with good gifts for both of us.

The rest of the day unfolded like a normal Sunday in May. Beth and June went grocery shopping. There’s usually a photo booth at the Grant Street Market on Mothers’ Day where Beth and June have a tradition of taking a photo with some kind of prop, but it wasn’t there this year so they had to make do with a selfie, using a carnation they found on the street. I swam laps and went to the library. I read to both kids (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to June, Fellowship of the Ring to Noah) and continued to help June with her fractions. Beth mowed the back yard, did some gardening, and made dinner—veggie hot dogs and burgers, fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, grilled eggplant and asparagus—which we ate in the back yard. For dessert we had frozen treats from the ice cream truck. I’d been thinking of making strawberry shortcake, but I’m waiting for local strawberries to peak and there weren’t any at the farmers’ market after two weeks of good but not great berries.

III: 49

I turned forty-nine the following Wednesday. I had lunch with my friend Becky, at Kin Da, a Thai and sushi restaurant. Because we are both in our late forties, there was a moment when we were both searching all our pockets and bags for our reading glasses and wondering how we’d read the menu if neither of us found them. Luckily, we both did and she ordered soup and sushi and I got drunken noodles with tofu. I’d intended to get a Thai iced tea because I really like it but I rarely get one because I usually don’t want the caffeine at dinner. It was a rainy, chilly day, though, so hot green tea seemed more appealing once I was there. Becky’s daughter Eleanor is a high school senior, so we talked a lot about high school, and Becky, understandably, was feeling bittersweet about it all. She said I might find her weeping on a bench in downtown Takoma some time three months hence and I said if I did I’d sit down next to her wordlessly and just be with her.

Because it was a weeknight and Noah had a history chapter to read and outline, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to go out to dinner, but he finished in time and we went, but only after some grumpiness about my restaurant choice—Austin Grill, where I often like to go on my birthday. I like the strawberry lemonade and the enchiladas and sitting outside on a warm night. Well, it wasn’t a warm night—our run of cold, wet weather continues apace—but I still associate it with my birthday.  When we got to Silver Spring, however, we found it was closed.

So we looked at the menu at A.G. Kitchen, a Latin American fusion restaurant, which is in the same plaza. Seeing us perusing the menu someone came out and offered us a sample of the guacamole. We decided to give it a try. Once seated, we helped the kids select dishes they might like (beans and rice, green beans, and fries for June; asparagus and a big spinach empanada for Noah). Beth and I split another spinach empanada and we each got an order of wild mushroom mini tacos. Everything was very good—I think we may go back there.

Everyone ate their food without complaint, and everyone gave me presents. Beth got me tickets to see Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap. I asked because Garrison Keillor is retiring this summer and it’s my last chance to go, and I’ve literally been meaning to go to one of his shows for decades. I think it will be fun. Noah got me a gift certificate for the same bookstore where he got Beth’s Mother’s Day present. And June made me a homemade gift certificate good for my choice of various activities with her. I’m supposed to choose three, so I think I’m going to watch a movie with her, take her swimming, and have her help me in the garden.

At home, we ate the ice cream cake we bought the weekend before and our annual series of early-to-mid May birthdays and holidays was a wrap.

Fifteen

Noah’s birthday was on Tuesday and Tuesdays are so busy we had to make a plan two days ahead of time to determine when the four of us would all be home and awake at the same time in order for him to open his presents and eat cake.

We settled on before school for the presents if he could be ready before his usual leaving time of seven. June has before-school running club practice on Tuesdays but she leaves for that at 7:20 so it wasn’t really a factor, or it wouldn’t have been if she hadn’t also needed to squeeze a fifteen-minute violin practice in before the running club meeting. The next day was Bike-to-School Day and she wanted to participate so she needed to take her violin to school on Tuesday and leave it in the music room for her Wednesday lesson and I didn’t want her missing practice two days in row. (She would also be unable to bring the violin home on Wednesday because she’d be biking home as well, so it wouldn’t get home until Thursday.)

Beth’s been working long hours for the past few weeks because of the Verizon strike so there was only a slim chance of her getting home by the time June would leave for Girl Scouts at 6:20, so cake would have to wait until June got back from Scouts, even though that would probably keep her up past her 8:30 bed time.

On the big day Noah was ready by 6:50 so we gathered while he opened his cards and presents: a new phone case, an Amazon gift card, a couple t-shirts, the last two novels from the Chaos Walking trilogy, and a subscription to the Zingerman’s Bread-of-the-Month Club. Noah is a big fan of bread in general and this catalog in particular. (The first loaf, a mix of wheat, rye, and cornmeal came the next day and it was really good.) He seemed happy with everything and headed off to school. And June managed to get her violin practice done before her ride to running club came. Everything was going according to plan.

When Noah got home from school there was a birthday card and check from my mom that had arrived in that day’s mail. (She was surprised it came on time because she and my stepfather are on a long tour of Western national parks and she’d had trouble finding a mailbox and had mailed it only the day before, from Utah). To our surprise and amusement, it was the exact same card Beth’s mom got for him. Over the course of the day both grandmothers also called with birthday greetings. He didn’t have much homework so he was able to have an unhurried conversation with each of them and to play his drums. He’s been playing a lot recently, which I like to hear because when he does I know he’s doing something he enjoys.

Noah had asked if we could go to Noodles and Company for his birthday dinner—because if there’s a food he likes more than bread it’s pasta—but time didn’t permit, so we told him we’d go over the weekend. In the meanwhile, I tried to recreate the dish he often gets—egg noodles with marinated tofu, broccoli, matchstick carrots, and grated Parmesan. I even did some online research about the Noodles and Company marinade. Of course, the official recipe is not available, but people have made guesses and posted them. I also found a message board with someone purporting to have worked at Noodles and Company, who provided the main ingredients (soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar) but not the proportions. I did my best with the information I had.

The tofu wasn’t exactly right, everyone agreed, but I did my best and Noah gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for making me Noodles and Company.” We were eating when Beth got home. She actually arrived before June’s ride to Scouts came, but only by five minutes and she hadn’t frosted the cake yet, so we waited for June to come home before we ate it.

Then the girl in the Girls Scouts carpool Beth usually takes home didn’t go to the meeting that night, so Beth and June were home earlier than expected and we didn’t have to rush through the cake and ice cream. The cake was one of Beth’s specialties—strawberry cake with strawberry frosting and we had a couple pints of Ben and Jerry’s to go with it. We sang “Happy Birthday” to him, loudly and enthusiastically.

Noah’s birthday was the day of the Indiana primary and that night Ted Cruz dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, essentially handing it over to Donald Trump then and there, rather than waiting for the inevitable. After June had gone to bed, Noah and I discussed the race briefly. He, like so many Americans, is alarmed by the turn it has taken. I tried to reassure him that Clinton’s going to win the general, but he said, rather emphatically for my even-keeled son, “But how do you know that?” I don’t, of course. I wished his birthday could have ended on a better note.

But we weren’t quite finished celebrating it. We went out to zPizza and Cold Stone on Friday night and we’re going out for Noodles and Company tonight, both at Noah’s request. While we were at Cold Stone last night, I checked out their ice cream cakes and picked one out for my own birthday next week. It seemed like the efficient thing to do and I’ve had that red velvet-strawberry ice cream cake before and it’s good.

When I learned shortly before Noah’s birthday that there was a Taylor Swift song called “Fifteen,” I looked up the lyrics, wondering if there would be anything applicable. There wasn’t much actually. It’s about starting high school and he did that eight months ago and it’s about falling in love and if he’s done that, he hasn’t mentioned it to us.

But the line, “This is life before you know who you’re gonna be,” jumped out at me. I wondered how true it is. When I think of myself at that age, I see a lot of who I am now. I was a bookish, shy fifteen year old then and I’m a bookish, shy (almost) forty-nine year old now. I fell in love with a girl for the first time the spring I was fifteen and now I’m married to the second girl I fell for (just five years later).

So how much will Noah change over the years? Some, no doubt, maybe a lot; some people do change a lot from the teen years to adulthood, so I guess it’s true we don’t know who he’s going to be yet. But I’m pretty sure that the man he grows into will appreciate bread and pizza and pasta and making music. And I don’t think he’ll be voting for Donald Trump, if he ever runs for President again.

The Accidental Chaperone

I was surprised on Monday afternoon when June brought home the sheet of paper indicating I was a chaperone alternate for the field trip to the living history museum in St. Mary’s City the next day. I’d checked off the chaperone box when I filled out her permission slip—Beth and I agreed one of us would go but we hadn’t worked out which one of us. And then I got an email saying there were more people who wanted to chaperone than slots and it was a busy week for Beth because CWA is on strike at Verizon, so it seemed just as well.

However, the email said you could show up at school and see if there were any last minute openings, but I wasn’t planning to do that. In general, I prefer to know how my day is going to unfold well in advance. The fourth grade will be taking another field trip to the Chesapeake Bay later in the school year and we’d have priority for that trip if we sat this one out.

But then the paper June brought home Monday seemed to indicate they actually wanted people to come to school and see if there was space, so I decided I’d pack a lunch and bring the $10 admission fee with me when I dropped her off at school, just in case. June really wanted one of us to come and I thought I should make an attempt, though I didn’t expect anything to come of it. I had work, but no deadlines until the following week, so it was possible for me to go.

The time students were supposed to arrive was stated in different communications to be, variously, 7:30, 7:40, or 7:45. We aimed for the middle and got there just before 7:40. We saw June’s English/Social Studies teacher in the hall on our way to the cafeteria where the kids were gathering, and she said she thought there would be room on the buses because three fourth graders have recently transferred to other schools. And then the teacher with the clipboard taking chaperones’ names and cell phone numbers and collecting money said in addition one fourth grader was absent, so he also thought I could go.

I texted Beth “Looks like I’m going on this trip,” so she’d know where I was.

Knowing my aversion to spontaneity, she texted back, “You are a very good mom.”

So I settled in to wait with June and her friends in the cafeteria. The buses didn’t arrive on time, so we didn’t actually get underway until almost 8:30. The five fourth grade classes were split across three charter buses and there was a little confusion about where everyone should sit, so I wasn’t convinced that I was really going on this field trip until the bus was in motion and I was still on board.

The kids were excited to be on a bus with plush seats, a bathroom, and best of all, several television screens. June and I sat in the last row of seats, just opposite the bathroom, with her friends Zoë and Evie in the row in front of us.

Shortly after we got underway The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe started playing. June and I read the Chronicles of Narnia last summer and fall and at first she seemed excited to see it, even though she was lukewarm about the books. But the sound was not turned up very high, so her attention wandered. I don’t think I could have followed if I wasn’t familiar with the story—but having read the series over and over as a kid and once aloud to each of my kids, and having seen this adaptation about five years ago—I am very familiar. I can’t read on moving vehicles without getting sick and I was wary of putting on my headphones and thus missing any announcements or instructions so the diversion was welcome. June went back and forth between watching the movie, reading a Dork Diaries book, talking and playing hangman with Zoë and Evie and looking out the window.

We arrived at the St. Mary’s historic site around 10:30. It had been raining when we left and I’d been hoping it would clear up while we were on the bus, but it was still gray and drizzly when we got there. In case you or one of your kids hasn’t been a fourth grader in Maryland, St. Mary’s City was the first English settlement in the state and it was also the first capital of Maryland. All the fourth graders in our county study its history and culture for much of the year and then visit it in the spring.

We started with the Yaocomaco Indian village. There were several houses made of bent saplings and grass, with beds and household tools inside. The guide pointed out a woven shelter in the garden area where boys had to sit with a basket of rocks to throw at garden pests. I asked June if she’d like that chore this summer and she said no. There were no actors in the Yaocomaco village, but apparently current members of the Piscataway tribe do occasionally act out scenes there.

From there we moved to a tobacco plantation where we met an indentured servant who was making mint tea in the kitchen of the planters’ house. She explained you could tell her master was prosperous because he had a two-story house with glass windows and a wooden floor. The guide took us out to the garden, which wasn’t planted yet but explained that all food and medicine would come from the garden, as it was “the CVS of the seventeenth century.” We saw some livestock around the house, mostly cows and chickens, though I caught a glimpse of a pig in the woods.

Our next stop was the town itself where we visited a tobacco barn, a general store (“the Walmart of the seventeenth century”), and a print shop (“the Staples of the seventeenth century”). At each stop we met actors playing the parts of a farmer, another indentured servant, a storekeeper, and a printer. I asked June as we walked from one building to another if there were any slaves in St. Mary’s. It was a tobacco farming community so I thought there must have been. June was well informed on the point, “Not until the eighteenth century,” she told me.

As we moved from building to building, a few kids were picked as volunteers to shape an axe blade, to use the counting board to calculate a shoppers’ bill, or to ink the letters on the printing press. At the inn, our guide picked kids and told stories about reasons why they were staying at the inn—to appear in court was a popular one—and then had them lie down on the bed. Evie was being tried for witchcraft and she could be heard later in the day declaring, “I’m a witch!” with some enthusiasm.

When it was Zoë’s turn the guide was telling a story about a man travelling to meet his girlfriend who would soon arrive by ship. After she’d referred to Zoë, who has short hair, as “he” and “Joey” a few times, I started to wonder if I should correct her. I was standing close enough to lean in and whisper. But I wasn’t sure if Zoë would appreciate that or find it more embarrassing. While I was equivocating, the kids started to giggle, and when they did the guide shushed them and said to Zoë, “You’re a good sport, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am a good sport,” Zoë said. “I’m also a girl and my name is Zoë.” Her tone was just right, not disrespectful, but self-assured. I could not have pulled that off in fourth grade.

We took a break then to have lunch in the bus because it was still raining and we watched a little more of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as we ate. I hadn’t eaten much breakfast, thinking I was just dropping June off at school, so I was pretty hungry by that point. My apple and container of vanilla Greek yogurt didn’t seem quite sufficient, but it was what I had. Worse still, the pint of bottled water June and I were sharing was definitely not enough for a whole day. I’d thought there would be water fountains somewhere, but there were no water fountains in the seventeenth century.

Our last stop was the Dove, a recreation of one of the boats that brought supplies to the colonists and carried tobacco back to England. June was most excited to see this as they had studied the boat. After touring the boat itself we went to various stations on the dock where a block and tackle and different navigational tools were demonstrated.

At the very last station, the guide asked for anyone who hadn’t volunteered yet, and June, who’d patiently raised her hand at every station and two other girls who were also never picked seemed about to get their turns. The artifact was a “honey bucket” to carry human waste to be thrown overboard. The guide explained its use but never asked the volunteers to do anything (though at this station I’m not sure anyone would want to demonstrate). When the group was dismissed, one of the girls lost her temper, asking, “Why did you ask for volunteers?” but there was no answer. June was a bit put out, too, but she didn’t let it spoil her mood.

We all trooped back to the bus. We’d been running a half hour late ever since we left the school and then around forty-five minutes into the ride one of the buses overheated and ours stopped, too, in order to stick together. We were stopped about twenty minutes, so we were almost an hour late returning to school. There was another movie to watch, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. By the end of the day the bathroom on the bus was starting to smell like a honey bucket. I was sorry to be sitting so near it and I was also getting dehydrated and headachy and I was hungry, too.

We went into June’s school to fill our water bottle before walking the mile home, but I couldn’t shake the headache, so instead of making black bean and spinach tacos for dinner as I’d planned, I just heated up a vegetarian hot dog for June (she got herself some strawberries), ate some cottage cheese straight out the container, told Noah to make himself something for dinner, took a painkiller and went to lie down for a while.

Eventually I felt well enough to read a chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to June on the porch while we waited for her ride to her Girl Scout meeting, but the family who usually drives her to Girl Scouts forgot so she missed the meeting.

This seemed par for the course as it had been a day of the unexpected, both good and bad, but I was glad to have spent part of it in the seventeenth century with my favorite lass.