About Steph

Your author, part-time, work-at-home writer.

Getting It Done

The Weekend Before

Friday afternoon around five June and I got on a bus to go to downtown Takoma and get a birthday present and card for Beth. I already had a present but not a card and June had a card but no present, so we each needed something. We left Noah at home to practice his drums with the plan that we’d call him from the Co-op to let him know what the selection of fancy chocolate bars was like, so he could pick a few. He’d given me $15, which was all the cash he had on hand, and told me to buy as many as I could with that.

We went to the Co-op first and after conferring with Noah on the phone I bought five bars—dark chocolate with orange peel, dark chocolate with raspberry, dark chocolate with caramel and sea salt, plain dark chocolate, and milk chocolate with coffee beans. June asked if she could have a muffin and I bought that, too, along with a orange-cranberry chocolate bar for myself because I’d been looking at chocolate bars so long I wanted one for myself.

The next stop was Capital City Cheesecake, for liquid sustenance for June and me. I needed a latté and she needed a juice box. She finished the muffin she’d started to eat on the walk there while I read her a chapter from A Horse and His Boy.

At Tabletop, we made pretty short work of the gift and card buying. June considered many items, but in the end she chose a glass votive candleholder shaped like a turkey because we don’t have any Thanksgiving decorations and it’s Beth’s favorite holiday. She also got a penguin-shaped hot/cold pack, which she thought Beth might use on aches and pains. I got a card with a drawing of bookshelves, since I’d gotten her a book, The Gay Revolution.

It was close to six by the time we finished and we always have pizza on Friday nights so I decided to pick some up from Pizza Movers, which is just down the block. I ordered two pizzas and an order of mozzarella sticks and while we waited for them to make it June and I sat in the window seat and read another chapter of A Horse and His Boy. It was in this chapter that the dwarf Thornbut is introduced. June was considerably entertained by this name and kept muttering, “Thornbut” under her breath and giggling. We like to keep it classy.

The next morning, Saturday morning around 9:30, I was sitting across the dining room table from Beth. Noah and I had just come inside from raking leaves out of the driveway to the curb for the leaf truck and then we’d gone over his homework goals for the weekend and he’d left, presumably to start his Algebra II take-home test. Beth was absorbed in her work laptop. I reminded her she’d said she wanted to talk about strategy for the weekend, basically who was doing what and when.

On her list was picking up her own birthday cake from Cold Stone when she went ice-skating with June on Sunday afternoon. She’d been undecided for a while whether she wanted a homemade cake or a store-bought one and she’d settled on buying an ice cream cake, so it made sense for her to get it when she was going to Silver Spring anyway, rather than having me schlep out there on the bus. But still, it seemed wrong somehow. I’ve always baked or bought her a cake.

“Sometimes it’s nice to feel taken care of on my birthday, but this weekend it’s just about getting it done,” she said. She was embroiled in an ongoing work crisis and she already knew she’d be working most of the weekend and worse yet, Thanksgiving weekend. She wanted to “allocate the family time budget” wisely.

So she bought her own cake, leaving me free to supervise Noah’s homework (my main task on any given weekend), read with both kids, read nine chapters of Daniel Deronda for book club, go swimming, make dinner on Saturday, and clean the bathroom. She worked, grocery shopped, took June skating, and made dinner on Sunday.

The B-Day

When Beth got home from work on Monday, there was a stack of wrapped presents at her place at the table. I’d wrapped them all, as Noah was busy writing a paper comparing philanthropy, self-reliance, and fate in Walden and Maggie, A Girl of the Streets. Meanwhile, June had a play date with Megan that afternoon and ended up in a rush to finish her own homework as well.

I’d actually forgotten Megan was coming over until she arrived, bearing a bag of outgrown shoes for June. Lest she feel put out by the fact that no one seemed to be expecting her, I told her it was “a pleasant surprise.”

Megan, who’s good-natured as a rule, said, “I’m a pleasant surprise!” and liking the sound of it, said it again.

The girls played, and at the very end of the play date, watched a bit of Cupcake Wars, which is June’s new obsession. This meant I needed to explain to both girls what absinthe is, because it was a required ingredient in one round. That was fun.

Megan’s mom came to pick her up and June did her homework and practiced her violin while I finished up dinner. Beth had requested tofu sticks (think homemade vegetarian fish sticks) and French fries. I was running late with dinner because the tofu needs to marinate in a salt-and-pepper brine for two hours and I’d forgotten to do that until about an hour later than I usually would. But dinner was almost ready when Beth got home. It was lucky in this instance that the kids and I usually eat before Beth gets home because she gets home on the late side most nights. The result was dinner wasn’t late for her at all.

After dinner, Beth opened her cards and presents appreciatively, admiring the glass turkey and said we needed some Thanksgiving decorations. She said she’d use the hot/cold pack on her foot, which has been bothering her all fall. She said the chocolate bars would keep her well supplied with squares of dark chocolate to eat every day after lunch. She flipped through the index of the book immediately, looking for people she knows. She worked at the Human Rights Campaign from 1992 to 1999, so she knows a lot of movers and shakers in the LGBT rights movement. Then she jokingly looked for herself, but she wasn’t there.

“You’re more of a behind the scenes person,” I said.

“I am a behind the scenes person,” she agreed.

We put the numeral four and nine candles in the chocolate-and-salted-caramel ice cream cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to her and Beth’s birthday celebration was over. Noah and I were up late that night as he worked on the Thoreau/Crane paper and I read his drafts and made suggestions. In the morning, Noah and Beth were up early doing the same thing.

Here’s to another year, Beth. You’re the person behind so much of what makes our family work. You get it done. Next year, though, I’ll take care of the cake.

And Now For Something Completely Different

“Why does it say we’re having ‘Chaos Unleashed on Earth’ for dinner on Wednesday?” June asked. She was looking at the whiteboard on the fridge where I write the week’s dinner menus. And it did say “W: Chaos Unleashed on Earth” right after “M: Squash + Kale on Bowties,” and “T: Baked Eggs on Potato Hash.”

I explained we had a lot going on that night. Beth, Noah, and I had an appointment with a doctor in Bethesda to discuss whether to try a new medication for his ADHD—we’re still looking for the right drug and/or dose. I didn’t think we would get back until six at the earliest and then June had basketball practice at seven and I had book club at seven-thirty. So instead of a home-cooked meal that night, we were all going to eat various frozen foods.

Both kids looked at me silently, but skeptically. I asked if they thought calling a doctor’s appointment, basketball practice, and book club on the same afternoon and evening “chaos unleashed on earth” might be a bit of an exaggeration. Two heads nodded.

The point is…I am a creature of habit. Small changes seem like something completely different to me. Sometimes deviations from routine can be fun, though. We’ve had a few unusual days recently, and they all had something to recommend them.

Week 1

Wednesday: Veteran’s Day

On Veteran’s Day, Beth had the day off, June had a half-day, and Noah had a full day of school. The reason for the discrepancy is that K-8 teachers have parent-teacher conferences those afternoons. I’ve been going to these so long I didn’t realize they don’t do them in high school until I asked Beth whether we’d be trying to see Noah’s teachers before our appointment with June’s math teacher and she told me we wouldn’t be seeing them at all, which made the day simpler, though I do miss having that opportunity to touch base with his teachers on a one-to-one basis.

The kids left for school and we were left to our own devices in the morning, so Beth and I went to Busboys and Poets for breakfast. We saw another lesbian couple we know (moms to two elementary school-aged kids) come in as we were leaving. I guess it’s the lesbian-moms-briefly-without-kids hot spot in Takoma. Anyway, it was pleasant to have a mocha and an avocado omelet and uninterrupted adult conversation for breakfast instead of cereal and the newspaper, as is my usual habit.

In the afternoon, we went to see June’s math teacher, who explained what they were studying and told us nice things about June and gave us her report card. June had said earlier that she finds it nerve-wracking when she knows we’re talking to her teachers, so she was happy to hear it went well—not that we were expecting anything else. She just gets a little high strung sometimes.

As far as June was concerned, the big excitement of the day was the first basketball practice of the season. The Pandas’ coach, Mike, had decided to start practice early this year, in November instead of December. The Pandas had a 0-8 season last year, and he must have thought it would be nice to win a game or two. Not that the losing streak affected the team’s enthusiasm. Those girls have heart. It’s the Panda way.

Not counting Mike and his daughter Maggie, we were the first ones there, but soon the gym was ringing with the sound of running feet and shouting voices. I always enjoy basketball practice, partly for the opportunity to socialize with other moms, but also just to watch the girls. They always seem to be having fun and this was no exception. 

Thursday: The Day after Veteran’s Day

June had another half-day because it takes two days for teachers to get through all the conferences. I had an appointment for a mammogram in the city that I knew would eat up a good bit of the day, mostly in transit, so I arranged for her to go home with a friend and stay the whole afternoon, so I could get in a couple hours of work before Noah got home at four.

If I have a late morning or early afternoon appointment in the city I nearly always get lunch out so I tried a new (to me) rice/noodle bowl place. It’s the kind where you get a card with checklist of ingredients and you pick a certain number from different categories and then you get in line and hand it to them and they make it in front of you. I got buckwheat noodles in miso broth, with a fried egg, tofu, peanuts, seaweed, and other vegetables. It was really good.

For most of the five hours I was out of the house, I was binge-listening to a new NPR psychology podcast, Hidden Brain, which I recommend if you’re in need of a new podcast in your life. Other than the actual mammogram, the whole day was another pleasant change of pace.

Week 2

Monday: Sick Day

Nevertheless, I was looking forward to a week of the both kids being in school for five full days. We were two weeks into the third quarter and we’d had exactly four of those this year. So of course June woke up on Monday saying she felt sick and wanted to stay home.

She had no verifiable symptoms and I wasn’t sure she was really sick, but I let her stay home because I never want to send her to school when she says she’s sick and then have the school nurse call me and say she’s thrown up or something. Beth had an idea that she might have been nervous about a missing homework paper. She’d left it at Zoë’s house on Thursday and had been fretting about it ever since, even though she’d called Zoë, who had promised to bring it to school. I’m not sure if that was the problem or not, but that afternoon we checked and found out Zoë came through, giving the paper to their English teacher.

Anyway, she stayed in bed until 12:30, weakly requesting some chamomile tea and toast around 10:30. She seems to have figured out exactly how long she needs to stay in bed before I think walking her to school and back just isn’t worth it, because at lunchtime she was recovered, wanting lunch and cutting out fabric for a dress she wanted to make for one of her dolls.

The fact that June lays low and stays out of my way when she’s home sick means it’s no longer a lost day of work for me. I wrote some web copy about selenium and zinc, exercised, and even read a chapter of Daniel Deronda, which I’d be discussing at book club in two days. I did spend much of the afternoon with her, though, and, as always when something had to give, it was housework. I gave up plans to vacuum and sort through the masses of paper that continually drift onto the dining room table.

What I did instead was read two chapters of The Horse and His Boy to her and quiz her on the multiplication tables and on U.S. geography, as the qualifying test for GeoBowl was Wednesday. Since she was no longer feeling sick, I also had her practice her violin, finish her Native American diorama, and take the laundry down off the line. I kept her busy until dinner time. In exchange for letting her stay home when she requests it, I try to make sure sick days aren’t too appealing.

Wednesday: Chaos Unleashed on Earth

So, I bet you’re wondering how did that busy Wednesday go? It was fine. We got back from the doctor’s appointment at 5:50 (with a new prescription), heated up frozen lasagna, empanadas, and enchiladas and ate more or less at the same time. Beth and June left for practice around 6:45. I stayed at home until 7:25, which was cutting it close, because Noah was working on a 300-word opinion piece about American imperialism and I wanted to be there if he ran into a snag. But he’d written his introductory paragraph with no help by the time I left and for him that’s lightening speed so I was happy as I rode the bus (which came on time) to book club. I was only five minutes late.

I usually manage to remove myself from whatever I’m currently fretting about at book club. I think that’s part of why I find it so restorative—that and because it engages a part of my mind that used to get a lot more exercise—but I did occasionally wonder how Noah’s essay was coming as we discussed the psychological, sociological, and narrative elements of Daniel Deronda.

By the time I got home, around 9:20, Noah was in the bathroom in his pajamas, flossing. The essay was not finished but he was up against the word limit already. I offered to take a look at it and suggest cuts and he seemed open to that plan. Writing to word limits is something I do a lot these days, but he doesn’t always want to avail himself of my expertise. He was probably happy not to be told he had to go to bed with the essay unfinished, as it was twenty minutes past his bedtime.

We moved to the study. I told him to put in his required quotes before we started looking for places to cut. He did that while I perused Facebook. When he had all his points included, the essay was 360 words and had no conclusion. I started highlighting places where he could word things more succinctly and pretty soon he got into the swing of it and was finding them himself. A lot of the changes were actually improvements, but there were a few things I was sorry to see go. His quotes were pretty truncated and would have been more effective if he could have included more of them, but he got it down to 300 words, including a brief concluding sentence.

I help Noah with his homework frequently, everything from quizzing him on Spanish vocabulary, to reading to him (I’d read the one of the two required sources for the essay to him the night before), to helping him outline ideas or edit, to just being in the same room to make sure he’s attending to his work. Some of it I do just to make his life more manageable, but because he’s in a humanities program, some of it is actually fun for me. Anything to do writing usually falls into that camp.

He was in bed, paper printed, by 10:10. Beth and I go to bed very early, around 9:30 or 9:45 most nights, so she was already asleep. But what with all the mental stimulation of the evening, I was wide awake, so I took a melatonin tablet and stayed up another twenty minutes or so, so I wouldn’t end up tossing and turning in bed. And the chaotic day was over.

Monday is Beth’s birthday, which ushers in the holiday season for us. In the coming weeks, there will be a good deal more joyful chaos in our lives. I think I’m up for it.

The King and Queens of Halloween

Early Saturday afternoon, after gymnastics and a quick lunch, June was in the bathroom applying her corpse makeup. She was already in her corpse clothes, a long-sleeved black t-shirt and jeans from the thrift store she’d distressed the weekend before. Most of the holes were in the front of the clothes, though, and I was looking at her from the back. As a result, when I first saw her (without focusing on her gruesome-looking face), it felt as if I was catching a glimpse of June in high school or college, in her black top, skinny jeans, and ankle boots, putting the finishing touches on her makeup. This was a disconcerting vision, but Halloween is all about being unsettled, isn’t it?

I was actually kind of unsettled for the three weeks leading up to Halloween. It was for a happy reason. My sister was in China, picking up her newly adopted daughter and her business was temporarily closed. I had some small work projects to do and I picked up a big outside editing job so I had work, but not as much as usual and I was continually uncertain as to how I should be divvying up my time and spent a lot of time fretting about it, which made the extra free time feel less like leisure.

Worse still, very few of the big housework projects I had in mind, other than the usual cooking, cleaning and laundry, actually happened. I dealt with a drawer full of papers and cleaned most of the fridge, but I didn’t even finish that. I did read more than usual. I read an Agatha Christie mystery and Stephen King novel I somehow missed when it came out (Blaze). I got about of a third of the way through Daniel Deronda (which my book club is reading this fall) and I spent the last two hours of my furlough before June got home from school on Friday finishing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which seemed like an appropriate thing to do the day before Halloween.

Speaking of Halloween—this is a post about Halloween, so I suppose I should get back to Halloween—as I was watching June in the bathroom, we were all getting ready to leave for the Halloween parade. Noah’s Fiji Water bottle costume was so big we needed to go in shifts. Beth drove June and me to the Co-op parking lot where some carnival games were in progress and then she went back home for Noah.

June entered a contest to guess how many plastic spiders were in a jar and then she won a tiny checkers set with cardboard pieces in the shapes of pumpkins by throwing a football into a net with holes. Mostly, though, we wandered around, looking for people we knew. We found Keira, a fifth-grader from June’s school, who always has great costumes. This year she was a contortionist. She achieved this by covering her own legs with drapery and having fake legs bent over her shoulders. Then we met Grace (the witch from Wicked) and Lottie (Mozart), who in real life are two sisters June knows from years of drama camp. Lottie said, “June, I can’t look at your face. You are freaking me out.” I think this was exactly the reaction June had for been going for when she and Beth covered her face with peeling latex flesh and bloody wounds. It might have been especially satisfying because Lottie is two years older than June.

One of the parade officials announced the parade would start in fifteen minutes, which made me nervous because Beth and Noah hadn’t arrived yet and I didn’t want him to miss the judging. His water bottle costume was beautifully executed and he’d been working on it for several days, unlike last Halloween when he basically threw together his (still impressive) calculator costume in less than a day. Indulge me and take a close look at the details—the QTY line at the bottom of the front is one of my favorite parts, as is the whole back panel.

I caught sight of Noah shortly after the announcement. Shuffling along in the big blue box that covered most of his body, he was hard to miss. I directed him to the section of the street where teen and adults were supposed to stand. Luckily, it was right next to the nine-to-twelve area. Beth was parking the car, so she didn’t arrive until later, just in time to adjust the straps that attached June’s coffin to her back. Noah was having trouble keeping his lid on his head, so I was staying near him to balance it as needed.

Noah scoped out the competition and decided the motorized cupcake was the only real threat for Most Original. At first I thought it was a wheelchair costume, but when I looked more carefully at the wheels, they didn’t look like wheelchair wheels, so it might have been constructed over an ATV. In any case, the cupcake-on-wheels was getting a lot of attention. There was a zombie with a zombie dog, but I figured she was probably shooting for Scariest. A judge did complement Noah on his costume as she passed through the area and later a teenage girl ran up to him and said, “Fiji Water, I love you!”

“Do you think she’s a fan of Fiji Water or is she in love with you?” I asked him and he gave me an irritated look. (What’s the point of parenting a teen if you don’t embarrass him every now and then?)

There were photographers circulating, both journalists from the Takoma Voice and regular parade-goers. Both kids had their picture taken multiple times and June was interviewed. But the judges took June’s name and not Noah’s. In our experience, having a judge take your name doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily won (June’s was taken last year for instance and she didn’t win that year) but Noah’s never won without having had his name taken, and he’s won Most Original in his age group three times. I held out a sliver of hope, though, because I do remember a few times a winner being announced by costume only. It doesn’t happen often, though. Trust me, we are pretty close observers of the ways of this contest. It’s serious business to our kids. June’s been gunning for Scariest for a few years and so far, she had never won.

I don’t know if it was a desire to win that made her insistent on the gory makeup, or if it’s a developmental stage. At the a Halloween party at her friend Claire’s house the weekend before Halloween, Claire was a “psycho clown” and June’s friend Zoë was a “zombie triathlete” so maybe they are all just ready for scarier costumes. This does seem to happen at an earlier age than when I was a kid, though. And even as a fan of things scary, I’m not sure that acceleration is a good thing. The only thing I did to put the brakes on it, though, was not to offer to buy her a little wooden axe at the Takoma Park street festival two weeks ago. I saw it, thought it would be perfect for her costume, then wondered what I’d say if she asked for it. As I was thinking it over, she picked up a dagger from the same stand and pretended to fence with it, but then she just put it back and didn’t ask for either weapon and I didn’t suggest we buy them. I think having a weapon stuck in her mid-section would have been over the line for me…this year anyway.

Soon the judging was over and the parade started moving. We’d find out who won at the end of the route. Noah’s costume proved cumbersome to walk in, so sometimes he’d hike it up higher, which made walking easier but seeing impossible. I held his hand, which stuck out through a slot in the side of the box and told him when to slow down or stop to avoid trampling small children. When he got tired of not being able to see, he’d lower the costume again and walk more slowly. After a while he gave me the lid and I wore it on my head. I told him we were a group costume now. He was the bottle and I was the lid.

Once we got to the end of the route, the Grandsons, Jr. were playing. In between numbers, Rec Center employees announced the winners of the contest, starting with the four-and-unders. June and I went in search of a bathroom because we knew there would be at least one song between age groups and we both had to go.

We got back in time to hear the winners for the five-to-eight group. I have to say this particular set of judging was mystifying. A girl dressed as Hermione won Scariest. Hermione is many fine things, but scary is not one of them. A girl dressed as Katniss won Funniest. Again, Katniss is many fine things, but funny isn’t what comes to mind. Now we never saw Katniss so I allowed maybe it was a joke costume, maybe a cat with a bow and arrow or something. But then a Rubik’s cube won Most Original and I gave up any hope of things making sense for the poor five-to-eight year olds, one of whom was wearing a Montgomery County basketball league t-shirt and had half a basketball on her head, her face painted to resemble the rest of the ball, and was walking around with her head in a hoop with a backboard behind her. Clearly this child was robbed. But that’s how it goes sometimes.

We could only hope for better judging in the nine-to-twelve group. Scariest was announced first and it was June! They mangled her last name, but she didn’t care. She’d finally won! Beth looked relieved and said, “Thank God.” June’s been more gracious in recent years about Noah’s string of wins than she was when they were five and ten, but she’s seen him win several times and never won herself and they have at least the normal allotment of sibling rivalry, so she really wanted it. It helps that they’re never in the same age group and thus not in direct competition with each other, but still…

June went up to collect her bag of prizes (candy, pencils, a $10 gift certificate for Rec Department programs we can use for drama camp, etc.) A boy dressed as a ninja in a mechanized contraption along with dummies of the villain from Scream and a mummy with all three of them hooked up to each other to move in unison won Funniest and a girl in a shower stall won Most Original.

More songs, more waiting… Finally, they announced the teen and adult results. Scariest was predictably the zombie with zombie dog. Funniest went to the cupcake, which I thought might leave an opening for Noah to win Most Original after all. But it went to the lamppost from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. None of us had even seen said lamppost, which was odd because the teen and adult area was not as crowded as some of the kids’ groups where it would be easy to miss someone.

Noah was disappointed, as were Beth and I for him, but he took it okay. He’s generally a pretty easy-going kid. I hope this doesn’t sound like favoritism because I don’t think it is, but I seem to feel his disappointments more keenly because of that. He’s the one who doesn’t ask for as much, so I want him to have those things he does want. But you win some and you lose some. That’s life. We all know that. And he takes satisfaction and pride in crafting his costumes for their own sake, even if he also likes the outside validation. (He ended up getting some of that by tweeting a picture of his costume to Fiji Water. They re-tweeted it and by the time he went to bed he had more than a dozen shares or re-tweets or something. I don’t really understand Twitter.)

We waited to see who won the group competition, out of curiosity, and because June’s friend Marisa’s family always enters that and they’ve had some spectacular costumes over the years. This year they were the “Atoms Family” according to a sign they carried. They were all in black clothes, with hula-hoops orbiting their bodies at various angles. They won Most Original. We exchanged congratulations with them, and headed home to 1) make some adjustments to Noah’s costume (trimming it for easier walking and making a chin strap for the lid), 2) watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, 3) put the finishing touches (spotlights, fog machines, etc.) on our yard display and 4) to eat a supper of butternut squash ravioli and broccoli.

The kids left for trick-or-treating around 6:45. Last year they went with friends, but this year they decided to go together, which I thought was sweet. I stood on the porch watching the corpse and the water bottle go around the corner while I stayed behind to greet a few dozen trick-or-treaters. The first one came while we were still watching Charlie Brown. She was a tiny Princess Leia who was too shy to say either “Trick or Treat” or “thank you,” despite her father’s gentle reminders.

“I love what you’ve done with the place,” the dad said, gesturing to the skeleton and zombie emerging from the ground and all the ghosts, skeletons, etc., hanging from the trees and porch.

The kids were home and trading candy with each other by just after eight. Based on their walk around the neighborhood, Noah reported we were still “the king and queens of Halloween decoration.” Of some of our neighbors he said, “It’s like they don’t even take it seriously.”

The kids had today off school and June spent the day going from makeup violin lesson to first play date to second play date. When the second mom brought her home, she surveyed our yard and said, “You went all out.”

We go all out. We take it seriously. Don’t you worry about that.

Season of the Witch

This will be a bit of a bait and switch. The first two pictures are from Potomac Vegetable Farms, where we got our pumpkins last weekend (and where we get them every year). I took them because we always take pictures there but I was also thinking I might write a blog post about it. But while a pleasant enough outing, it was uneventful. We weren’t battling a stomach bug. It wasn’t pouring rain and the hatch didn’t pop open letting one of the pumpkins escape. You’ll have to go into my archives if you want to read about any of those pumpkin-related adventures.

I didn’t take any pictures on Wednesday, but it was eventful in a way that the weekend wasn’t. The soundtrack of the day was the evil laugh of the motion and sound-activated zombie in our front yard. The remnants of Hurricane Patricia were drizzling down on us all day and the rain drove the zombie crazy apparently. (Beth thinks it might have been short-circuited.) Whatever the reason, it laughed all day, as I was puttering around the house and editing a manuscript.

Wednesday afternoons and evenings are generally busy because June has a violin lesson at 4:45, or she has up to now. She’s decided being in the strings ensemble at school is enough violin instruction for her and she’s not going to take music lessons once the session is finished. She’s got a double make-up lesson next Monday, but this was her last regular lesson. As we rushed out the door, I was glad of that. It will simplify our Wednesdays, especially when basketball practice starts.

Noah called me while I was turning off the oven where the Brussels sprouts had been roasting to say he’d be home late because he’d missed his bus. I told him we’d be gone when he got home and reminded him to start on the history chapter outline that was due the next day. I regarded the sprouts and decided as they were just shy of done, I’d leave them in the warm oven, thinking it might stay hot long enough to finish them. Then June and I headed out for the bus stop.

On the bus, June said, “Oh man!” I asked what was wrong and she said she’d left the music she’d been practicing right before we left at home. I’d kind of hoped the teacher could bring her lessons to a well-thought out, orderly end, and this wasn’t going to help. But June did have some music with her and that would have to be enough. The teacher seemed ready to work with whatever June had, so I kissed June on the top of her head and decamped for the bakery down the block, where I got a cup of tea and a brownie. I’ve been tempted to do spend June’s lesson there many times but I was afraid of making a habit of it so I resisted. But now that it was the second to last lesson, there was no danger of that, so I went ahead. Also, there’s a nice big table in the center of the shop where I could spread out the pages of the manuscript.

After a crowded bus ride, we got home some time after 5:30. We sat on the porch to read the last few pages of the chapter of The Silver Chair we’d started while waiting for the lesson to start and then we went inside. I checked on Noah and found him working on his outline. I checked on the Brussels sprouts and found them blackened. I guess the oven stayed hot longer than I thought it would. I peeled the outer leaves off one experimentally and found it edible inside. I thought I could salvage the meal, but it would be time-consuming peeling all the sprouts. I got to work assembling the rest of the ingredients for risotto while June started her math homework.

It was not quite 6:30 when June came into the kitchen, looking teary. I wondered if she’d gotten frustrated with her math when she said, “I don’t feel good.” Migraine, I thought, remembering the storm. June’s headaches are often triggered by changes in barometric pressure. I gave her some painkiller and her prescription anti-nausea medicine. She asked if I could read to her, so I abandoned dinner preparations and started another chapter of The Silver Chair while she wept intermittently.

At once point I went to tell Noah dinner would be late and why, and it was then he thought to mention to me that the reason he missed his bus was that he’d had a debilitating headache of his own at school and was in the bathroom being sick at the end of the school day. (Later more details emerged. It was the first time he’d ever taken the Metro bus home from high school and because he had to cross the street to catch it from middle school he automatically did that and got on the wrong bus, getting pretty far from home before getting off and onto the right bus. It’s possible he hadn’t been home long when June and I returned.)

It was not quite seven when Beth got home. She relieved me, keeping June company while I went back to making dinner. It was seven-thirty before it was ready. (The kids and I usually eat between six and six-thirty.) June was feeling a little better but she was still in no shape to eat and Noah, who likes risotto, wasn’t sure he was ready for something with heavy cream and a lot of Parmesan so he had an apple and two pieces of toast. Beth and I ate in shifts, so June wouldn’t be alone. By this time, she was listening to an audiobook and seemed much improved. The crying was all over. I was surprised she hadn’t fallen asleep. She almost always does when she has a migraine. That and the fact that Noah had been ill, too, made me wonder if it was the beginning of a family-wide stomach bug and not a migraine at all. But at the moment both kids were feeling better. June even did some more of her math before going to bed, though she didn’t finish it until the next morning.

While Noah got ready for bed, the songs from the Halloween playlist he was listening to drifted out of the bathroom. I sang along briefly: “You better pick up every stitch/Must be the season of the witch.” It did seem like the kind of evening that might have caused our seventeenth-century counterparts to accuse a neighbor of witchcraft, especially when we went to bed and there was a strange luminance on my bedside table, which turned out to be the glow-in-the-dark spider webs that had arrived in the mail that day–“There were otherworldly cries all day! Our dinner was blackened and our children sickened! An eerie ball glimmered in our bedchamber!”

But the next day was better. The children both felt well and went to school. The zombie was silent. There were no dinner mishaps (other than the fact that both kids turned up their noses at the lentil-rice-cabbage casserole I made). And as a bonus, the repair-person who has visited our house three times over the past month trying to fix the exercise bike finally triumphed. And Noah came home with the news that his drama teacher praised his acting in his All My Sons scene and because he’d finished all his homework in study hall (a rare occurrence) he was able to spend some time working on his Halloween costume and relaxing.

Tomorrow afternoon we’ll be marching in the Takoma Park Halloween parade with June dressed as a corpse and Noah as a bottle of Fiji Water. I’m going to be on the lookout for witches.

Out to School

Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You studyin’ hard and hopin’ to pass
Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone

School Days, by Chuck Berry

The kids are seven weeks into the school year and they’ve settled into the routines of fourth and ninth grade. We got their mid-quarter progress reports a couple weeks ago and they’re both doing well. We’re still trying to get some accommodations for Noah’s ADHD and processing issues, but so far all we’ve done is go to meetings. No decision has been made, but the school officials seem skeptical given his good grades. What we’re trying to get across is that getting those good grades comes at a steep price for him—that school is basically his whole life. Taking another tack, he has also recently started on some medication we’re hoping might help him get his school work done more quickly, but this week he’s on a half dose to acclimate and make sure he doesn’t suffer any side effects. He hasn’t had any, but we also haven’t seen any benefits at this low dose.

June’s very involved with extracurricular activities at school. In addition to orchestra and choir, she’s joined the student leadership club and the recycling crew. The only reason she’s not on the safety patrol (the kids who help out at crosswalks) is because she missed the deadline for turning in the form last year.

Beth’s on a mission to talk Noah into trying a club. It’s part of our greater Noah-Should-Do-Something-Besides-Schoolwork project. There’s an apps club that sounds like it would be right up his alley but when Beth texted him “Did you check out the clubs?” on the day the clubs all had tables at lunch, he texted back, “Couldn’t find the one where you get to stay home and not interact with people.” She hasn’t given up, but for now, he’s not doing anything outside his classwork. He is considering private drum lessons since he’s not in band this year. I’m hoping to get him into a session at the music school that starts in early November.

Meanwhile, Beth and I are involved with their schools, too. Beth has joined the PTSA board at the high school and is doing a lot of web site work for them. I volunteered to compile study packets for the GeoBowl at the elementary school and I will probably volunteer again to correct the packets or to grade the qualifying quizzes when the kids take them in November.

We spent a good bit of Columbus Day at the kids’ schools because they were having Open Houses. June’s school was open for parents for an hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon. We decided to attend the morning hour because Noah has all his CAP classes in the afternoon and those were the ones we wanted to see most. June has math in the morning and now that she’s in compacted math, she takes it in English, so Beth would be able to follow the lesson.

We walked to school with June, arriving around 8:55, and waited outside the school until parents were allowed to come in and start lining up to sign the visitors’ log. Then we headed out to the trailers. June had all her classes in the portable classrooms in third grade and she was hoping to be back in the main building this year, but she has all her morning classes—math, Spanish, and science—out there.

The lesson was on finding the perimeter and area of a rectangle. Ms. O coached them into figuring out the formula for area (they had done the one for perimeter the previous week). They watched a video about perimeter and area in the context of farmers’ fields and she gave them a word problem to solve in pairs. When they were done they discussed the different strategies they had used to answer the question, which boiled down to 108 divided by 12. Some kids did it by long division; some multiplied different numbers by 12 until they came up with 108. Some subtracted 12 from 108 over and over until they came up with zero and counted how many times they had subtracted, while others did the same with addition, starting at zero and working up to 108. One boy drew a grid and kept adding rows to it until he had 108 squares. Ms. O praised most of the strategies, though she noted the grid might not be the most time-efficient way to solve the problem.

While the kids were working, Ms. O took small groups of them aside to talk through more problems involving a hotel room and its crown molding (perimeter) and wall-to-wall carpeting (area). During a down moment, I went over to the science corner and looked at the snail and fish habitats they’ve made from soda bottles. June’s been begging to bring hers home at the end of the unit and I wanted to get a look at it.

The lesson seemed well thought out and at the students’ level (though the instructional quality of the video wasn’t great). But the whole time I was trying to put out of my mind the teaching I’d witnessed at the HGC, the spark and passion I just wasn’t seeing in June’s class. This was made more difficult by the fact that we saw the HGC bus pulling away from her school with the face of one of her friends in the window as we were arriving. But I don’t think June shares my sadness about this. She seems to have moved on and is getting the most out of what her school has to offer, which is a good thing.

Another thing Beth and I both noticed immediately about June’s classroom was that all of her friends in the class—and one girl with whom she’s clashed for years—were together at one group of desks and she was in another with another girl I didn’t recognize and four boys. We asked her after school if they chose their seats or if Ms. O assigned them. June said they chose on the first day of school and that she chose hers because it had the best view of the Promethean board (an interactive, computerized white board). Beth and I had other ideas about why she might not have wanted to sit at the all-girl table. We both thought it was probably a good decision. I asked June about the girl who sits next to her and she said she’s never had a class with her before but she’s nice. I was glad to hear that.

Beth and I had lunch at Lebanese Taverna, where we saw the parents of Noah’s best friend from preschool—his folks had just finished a visit to a middle school and the high school. Noah and Ethan are actually in the same algebra class now, but since they haven’t been in the same school since they were five and Noah’s not good at remembering people from his past, he has no memory of his old buddy, which I find a little sad.

Next we headed to Noah’s school. While they normally have half their classes each day on an alternating schedule, that day all classes met, so parents could see whichever ones they wanted. We attended four of his seven classes—Photography, American History, English, and Drama.

The photography class was a lecture on how to remove the background from a photo in Photoshop. It was much too basic for Noah, who’s finding a lot of the class too easy because he’s already had three years of Media classes and some kids are starting from scratch. As a result, he’s been informally tutoring other kids, which is nice and I’m not going to complain about an easy class, given the rest of his workload. The teacher then introduced the next assignment, which is to make a cover for a tabloid magazine. He showed them some covers from the Weekly World News. The parents and the kids laughed at different ones, I noticed. “Is Dick Cheney a Robot?” was popular with the middle-aged set. (Later Noah asked us, “Who’s Dick Cheney?”) The stories on the kids’ tabloids are supposed to be about teachers and students at their school, so he advised them to tone them down a little and specifically forbade them from using the term “love slave,” which isn’t an instruction you get very often from a high school teacher.

American History was a lesson on nineteenth-century immigration. In addition to the teacher’s lecture, they watched a clip from Fiddler on the Roof and the teacher read them part of a piece from Sunday’s Washington Post Outlook section on the history of Italian-Americans’ assimilation process (it was a Columbus Day-themed piece). The kids seemed engaged and the teacher did, too.

In English, the teacher gave a Power Point presentation on some conventions of vampire literature because she wanted to make the point that in some ways, Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, as a story of female victimization, follows them. As someone who used to teach a month-long unit on vampires in a college class on horror, and who is kind of fond of Maggie, I found that interesting. She made the fatal flaw of not having read Twilight, though, and some of the students let her know how current vampire lit is departing from the norms. This may have lessened her credibility. I’m not sure. I haven’t taught horror since 2005 and I haven’t read Twilight either.

Drama was the last class. The class started in a cozy, bookshelf-lined room with a little stage at the end. I knew they were going to practice scenes from A Glass Menagerie and All My Sons during that class so I thought they’d be on the small stage, but the teacher took them to the stage of the school auditorium, which you can access directly from their classroom, instead. There she had them do some exercises to focus on physicality-they were supposed to walk around stage the way their character would, gesture the way they would, etc. Finally they broke out into groups and started practicing their lines. Noah’s doing a scene from All My Sons with another boy but they were pretty far backstage so I couldn’t hear much of their practice. I could hear a couple groups doing Glass Menagerie scenes better. It looked like a fun class and a good way to end the day.

We drove Noah home and a couple hours later—all of us but Noah who stayed home to work—went to El Golfo, which was holding a fundraiser for June’s school. We saw Ms. G, June’s English/Social Studies teacher there, but we were there early so Beth could go to the high school for a PTSA board meeting and we didn’t see a lot of families we know. Nonetheless, it was a good time. I always enjoy eating spinach enchiladas and tres leches cake and doing a good deed at the same time.

Back at home, Noah read and outlined a section in his history book about immigration and June took a shower. Beth got home from her meeting shortly after June had gone to bed, so she poked her head into the bedroom to say goodnight after a long day of all of us being out to school.

Octopus’s Garden

Many of you were nice enough to ask how Noah’s jazz band audition went. Sadly, although he spent a good deal of Labor Day weekend practicing the audition music and had a coaching session with a friend of ours who plays the drums, he didn’t get into the jazz band. He’s considering taking private lessons this fall and auditioning again for second semester. We’ll see. Meanwhile, June has a lot going on musically. She has a new violin teacher and she’s joined the orchestra and chorus at school.

June’s on her third teacher in a little over two years at her music school. The first one moved to Virginia Beach and the second one ended up finding her commute from Baltimore too time consuming. June was very fond of Robin and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her, so that was sad. She’s had three lessons now with Elise and she’s stricter and sterner than Robin, so it’s been an adjustment. She also made June re-learn a song from the Suzuki I book even though June’s recently started Suzuki II, which did not go over well with June. But June has always liked teachers and coaches who take their work and hers seriously and hold her to a high standard, so I think once she’s used to her, they will get along fine.

Instrumental music and chorus start in fourth grade. June had a hard time deciding whether she wanted to stick with violin at school, start a new instrument, join the chorus, or do some combination of these things. She didn’t want to be stuck playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” with beginners but we assured her that the instrumental music teacher is an old hand at teaching students who enter with different levels of experience. Mr. G is actually Noah’s old elementary school band teacher (he travels between the two schools). Beth made some enquiries, and sure enough, she found out students with two or more years experience would be taught in a separate strings ensemble and then June was sold.

There are only five students in the ensemble (she’s the least experienced of the five), compared with sixty beginning violin students in her grade. She brought home a lot of sheet music after her first lesson and none of it was “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” For some reason, they are learning “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s hard to identify the song from her part, though I do hear strains of it, so I’m curious to see how it will come together when the whole group plays. Their first concert is in January. I haven’t been to an elementary school band and orchestra concert in several years, but that’s back in my life now.

June’s had one chorus practice so far. Because the chorus only meets every other week, they’ve already started practicing songs for their first appearance, at this year’s Holiday Sing. So far these include “Eight Days of Hanukkah” and “Blitzen’s Boogie.” I have a soft spot for the Holiday Sing at June’s school so I’m looking forward to seeing her on the stage in December.

Sunday we attended the Takoma Park Folk Festival, which we do almost every year. We went despite the fact that Noah had an unfinished take-home assignment for Physics and he was in the middle of his summary of Stagecoach, which he watched earlier in the weekend for English, or maybe it was History. (His program is interdisciplinary and sometimes it can be hard to remember which assignments are for which classes.)

I was torn and considered leaving it up to him whether or not to come with us or just saying, let’s go and see if he objected. We said let’s go. He didn’t object. It’s a goal of ours for his homework not to completely rule our family life this year and this was a test case, I suppose. Besides, he was stuck with the Physics and the Stagecoach summary wasn’t due the next day or even the next week. It just seemed like a good idea to write it while it was still fresh in his mind. (We’d decided to watch it this weekend because June was at a slumber party Saturday night and Beth and I like to watch more grown-up movies than she’d enjoy with Noah when she’s out of the house.)

We got to the festival a little after two and had time to see four bands before it closed at six. This was a nice stretch of time to spend listening to music outdoors on a gorgeous mid-September afternoon. We started at the 7th Heaven stage, listening to Leticia VanSant and the Bonafides, an “Americana indie folk band” followed by Jelly Roll Mortals, which from the name you might expect to be jazzy, but instead was an “acoustic electric eclectic” band, according to the festival program. I enjoyed both, but the second one more because their sound system was better set up and it was easier to hear the lyrics. Being a word-oriented person, this is important to me.

We sat for a while with June’s preschool and Girl Scout friend Riana and her family. They had just been to the thrift store so Riana was in a flamenco dress and one of her younger sisters wore a princess dress. All day I kept seeing or stopping to talk to people we knew, from the time we were on the sidewalk approaching the festival and talked to a family whose two girls have been to day camp with June and who go to her music school until we were leaving and I spied a boy who’s in second grade at her school and also plays piano at her music school. Takoma Park is a smallish town and rather musical one, too, so people turn out for this sort of thing.

After two sets at the 7th Heaven stage, we switched to the Grassy Nook, which features children’s music and musicians under the age of twenty-five. June’s favorite babysitter, Eleanor, was playing there with her band, Bucky’s Fatal Mistake, in the final time slot of the day. The penultimate set was kids from the Takoma Groove Camp, which I’ve often suggested Noah try, though he’s never taken me up on it. (And I’ve never pushed too hard because it’s expensive, even for an area where expensive day camps are the norm.) I was curious to see what kind of musicians attend the camp and what they can produce.

When we got there another kids’ group was finishing up. One of their last songs was a cover of “Octopus’s Garden.” A few kids stood at the sides of the stage and blew bubbles for effect as they sang:

I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden in the shade
He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been
In his octopus’s garden in the shade

I’d ask my friends to come and see
An octopus’s garden with me
I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden in the shade


We would shout and swim about
The coral that lies beneath the waves
(Lies beneath the ocean waves)
Oh what joy for every girl and boy
Knowing they’re happy and they’re safe
(Happy and they’re safe)

While we waited for the Takoma Groove kids to go on and early in their set, June entertained herself at the carnival the Boy Scouts run nearby. I gave her five dollars to spend and with it she walked on the rope bridge, got a panda painted on her cheek and played a fishing game.

The first girl to perform sang three original songs of the folky singer-songwriter type. She was really good and I think she might be the younger sister of a girl who used to be a counselor at June’s musical drama camp years ago. The next group was a band, but I didn’t get to see them because June needed to go to the bathroom and I thought while we were up we might as well get food so we wouldn’t miss any of Eleanor’s set.

We came back to the Grassy Nook with lemonade, a mango smoothie, and two vegetable-rice dishes (fried rice and a tasty curry) to share, and waited for Bucky’s Fatal Mistake to start. They advertised themselves as “folk meets rock” but they were heavier on the rock side. It was a mix of covers (including the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”) and originals. Eleanor played bass guitar and sang one number. It was fun to see her and her friends rock out on stage. June wanted to go up and talk to her afterward, but she was shy about doing it when Eleanor was with the rest of the band. She managed to say hi, and then Beth chatted a bit with Eleanor and her mom, Becky, who had been co-managing the stage all day.

Next we bought ice cream, frozen custard, and Italian ice to eat as we walked down the hill to the bus stop, happy with our afternoon. Music does so many things for us. It lets us in, knows where we’ve been, gives us somewhere to invite our friends, and gives us joy, every girl and boy.

And back home, with a rested mind and some assistance from Beth, Noah finished the Physics.

September Fields

You better get up for your mama
You better grab the best of your life
I know you’re ready
To get older
Well all you have to do is wander
Over fields of dark time

Frazey Ford, “September Fields”

Before School: Thursday & Friday

The day after our return from Hershey Park, Noah had a half-day orientation at the high school to run through an abbreviated version of his schedule and meet his teachers. It was the only day that week I worked more than forty minutes. Instead of my original modest goal of ten hours a week for the last two weeks of break, I worked less than twelve hours total. Sara didn’t have much pressing work for me and with the kids home (not to mention our two-day road trip) I wasn’t that motivated to do more. I meant to get a play date for June Thursday but I never got around to it and she kept saying she was bored. I thought there was an upside to this, though. A little boredom right before school starts could be just the thing she needed to get her in the mood for a change. (So I didn’t get one Friday either.)

She was excited when the postcard with her teachers arrived. I asked her if she knew anything about the fourth grade teachers and if there was anyone she wanted to have or to avoid. She said no, she just wanted to know. I’d been hoping for Ms. G for English and social studies because Noah had her in second grade and she was good at keeping him challenged, which has been a concern of ours since we found out last spring that June would be staying at her current school. I didn’t think there was much chance of June getting Ms. G, though, because while the Spanish immersion program where she spends part of her day is small, the rest of the school is quite big, bursting at the seams with over nine hundred students. There are several non-immersion fourth-grade teachers. So I was surprised and very happy to find out she did get Ms. G in the afternoon.

Between having Ms. G and June being in compacted math (they cover the fourth grade curriculum and part of fifth), it was looking as if she might be more challenged than last year. This set my mind at ease somewhat, though I will admit I’m still sad about June not going to the Highly Gifted Center. On some level she is, too. Three of her closest friends are going and it’s never easy to be the one left behind. Shortly before school started she had a dream about touring Megan’s school because she was going to switch to it.

When Noah got home from orientation he said he thought he was in the wrong history class. It seemed to be a regular ninth-grade honors history class, not the CAP version. He’s supposed to take history, English, drama, and photography with his cohort of students in the Communications Arts Program this semester, along with Algebra II, Physics, and Spanish III with the regular school population. I had a sinking feeling when I heard this. I thought it might mean the school counselor who had re-arranged his schedule to fit in band had missed a required class. We were meeting with said counselor the very next day in order to talk about getting him a 504 plan so I told him we’d see about it then.

I read the last chapter and the epilogue of Triangle, the Fire That Changed America to him that afternoon. He’d finished his math packet and his English homework sometime in July but he still had a few chapters left in this book and some essay questions to answer. Over the course of the summer, I read both this book and Into Thin Air (about the 1996 Mount Everest disaster) to him so it would go faster. It’s the home version of a 504 plan. I recommend both books, by the way. They’re gripping if a bit grim to read back to back. But as a bonus, if you read them, you probably won’t have to answer any essay questions about them.

The next morning Beth, Noah, and I went to the high school to meet with his counselor. We explained the possible problem with his schedule and she said she’d look into it. We also went over some of the highlights of the psychologists’ report with her and she said she’d start the paperwork for a 504 application. We’ve been down this road before, so I know it will take a while and the results are not assured, but at least we’ve started.

Back home, I read to June and played a fractions game with her that was the last assignment in her math packet. After lunch we walked to her school for the Open House to meet her teachers. She has a lot of them for elementary school—four, not counting the specials teachers. She has a homeroom teacher, Señor F, whom she only sees from whenever she arrives until school officially starts at nine (twenty minutes tops), then she goes to math with Ms. O, then a Spanish and science class with Señora Y and in the afternoon she has Ms. G for language arts and social studies.

All the switching around in the morning is because of math tracking and because her homeroom is too big so some kids get skimmed off and go to a resource teacher who doesn’t have her own class for Spanish and science. Don’t worry if you didn’t quite follow that. It took me awhile. June was hoping not to have any classes in the trailers this year but she has math, Spanish, and science there.

June also wants to sign up for chorus, so that will mean eventually Wednesdays will be even more complicated. Possibly the craziest thing about her schedule is that she has lunch at 10:15. Yes, you read that right. School goes from 9:00 to 3:25 and she has lunch at 10:15. Because the school is so over-crowded lunch shifts run almost all day.

I spent the rest of the afternoon tying up loose ends of June’s fall extracurricular activities (setting up a time for her violin lessons, trying to find out what week Girl Scouts started) and coaching Noah through one of the essay questions on the Triangle fire when he got stuck.

Last Weekend

Saturday should have been a good day and in many ways it was. Beth and I went to a play, which we don’t do nearly enough. One of June’s long-time musical drama camp compatriots (and daughter of the camp director) had a role in One in the Chamber, which is about the long-term effects of gun violence on a family, years after they lose a son. If you’re local, you can still see it. The last show is tomorrow. Grace was great, as was the rest of the cast. I wasn’t sure the ending was really earned, but that was a script issue and not an acting issue and I won’t go into spoilers here. It was really nice to see a play and the theater is tiny so it’s quite an intimate experience.

While we were in the city, Noah took June to Megan’s house to attend an end-of-summer pool party/slumber party. Megan wanted to see some of her friends she won’t be seeing every day anymore since she’ll be at the HGC.

When we got home, Noah was working on his last Triangle essay (June had finished her reading log earlier in the day). I was glad they both finished their summer homework with a day to spare so there wouldn’t be any last-minute scramble with it on the last day of summer break. When Noah finished, we went for Italian at Vicino (http://vicinoitaliano.com), which is a favorite of Noah’s and then we tried the pastries at a new (to us) coffee shop in Silver Spring.

The only thing that went wrong that day was that Beth got an email from Noah’s counselor, confirming our suspicion that he was in the wrong history class and to get into the right history class, he’d have to drop band. I was sad and frustrated about this because he’d been so happy when he finally got into band the week before.

Sunday evening we took the kids out for ice cream, a night-before-school-starts tradition. But Noah developed a nervous stomachache while we were eating at the Noodles & Company we’d chosen for its proximity to Ben and Jerry’s and he didn’t get any ice cream. Then June ate only a few bites of hers before deciding she wasn’t hungry, so in the end it was really Beth and me who had back-to-school ice cream. We bought a pint to take home so Noah could have some later, though, and he actually felt better and ate some later that evening. June brought her small cup of vanilla ice cream home, too, and ate it over the course of several days, eating just a few bites at a time and putting it back in the freezer. I have never known anyone to make ice cream last like she does.

Back to School: Monday to Friday

The big day came. Noah went to high school. Beth took his traditional first day picture and I came out to the porch to join Beth as we, just a little wistfully, watched him walk to his new bus stop.

June’s picture was a bit harder to get. I’d had a dress in mind I wanted to suggest but she guessed it and pre-emptively said no. She countered with a t-shirt and bike shorts. I thought it looked like what she’s worn almost every day this summer and said she should pick something more special to mark the day. We ended up compromising on a t-shirt and denim skirt but this makes it seem like a much quicker discussion than it actually was. I kept asking myself why I wasn’t giving up, why I cared. Partly it was because Noah let me choose his first day outfits until he was in middle school at which point I said I thought he should probably start choosing himself. He probably would have let me keep right on picking. He really didn’t care one way or the other, but I had it fixed in my mind I’d have some input for the next couple years with June, though why I thought it would be the same with her I have no idea. I have, after all, met my daughter.

I went through with my day—a visit to Starbucks, which I didn’t frequent as much while the kids were home, a little reading, some exercise and housework, and writing an article for a supplement company newsletter. I checked Facebook frequently to see everyone’s first day of school pictures. I love those.

The kids got home around four. CAP kids stay after school for an extra period so he doesn’t get out of school until 3:20 and June’s walking home from school this year, so my workday has gotten a little longer. June’s been looking forward to being allowed to walk home alone for years. Alas, the first day got off to a rough start. The new principal stopped her when he saw her leave unsupervised, even though I’d signed the form allowing her to self-dismiss. She was only allowed to go when a counselor vouched that she was indeed in fourth grade. (This kind of thing is exactly why she hates being small for her age.) But other than that she said she had a good day.

Noah did, too. He’d had half his classes—they operate on a block schedule with each class meeting every other day. I am liking this so far because he can never get homework due the next day. On the first day he had homework assigned in just two classes and he’d done the Physics in study hall. This was gratifying because when he had to drop band we advocated for him not to replace it with another class and to have a study hall instead. He doesn’t need to take eight classes every semester to graduate, even though that’s how many students are routinely assigned.

He used the study hall well all week, doing all his Physics and Algebra homework at school. The history homework was reading and questions on Reconstruction. I was glad he had two nights to do it because it took him a while. He got more questions on the same reading on Wednesday (the next time he had history) that took him two more nights to complete. If the first week is any indication, history will be his most challenging class this year, as it was last year. But he finished his homework every night and went to bed more or less on time. Some nights he even had some free time.

June’s teachers didn’t give any homework the first week. At school she wrote a three-paragraph essay about her summer vacation in Spanish, which was encouraging to me. She really didn’t have to write much last year in any language. They are studying the civil rights movement in Ms. G’s class. June was shocked to hear that when swimming pools were desegregated some people filled them with concrete rather than let whites and blacks swim together. They also did a role-playing exercise in which the taller children were given more classroom rights than the shorter ones and then the shorter kids organized a protest at the teacher’s suggestion. This made a big impression on her, as you might imagine.

She had even more to report about recess than whatever was going on in the classroom. She and Evie and Zoë have formed a sap-collectors club. They scrape sap off the evergreen trees on the playground and they have plans to sell it. They also talk to their classmates about the virtues of sap. There’s going to be sap club party next week, I hear. She has smears of sap she can’t wash off her leg and she seems pretty happy about school.

After some hesitation, Noah decided to try out for Jazz Lab band (the less advanced of two jazz bands) next week. I’m proud of him for trying no matter how it turns out because he gets nervous when he has to audition and in fact he declined a chance to try out for Symphonic Band at the very end of last year when he first found out he couldn’t get into Concert Band (no audition required) this year because of the schedule conflict. He found out about Symphonic Band late and he would have only had two days to practice. This is a similar situation. The class is already in session, but his counselor asked the music director to let him audition anyway, which I appreciate. It would be nice for him to have a regular musical outlet.

Another first week is over. The kids get up for their mamas every morning. We hope they grab the best of their lives and we watch as they get older, every year, every month, every week.

Summer’s End

1. Before Hershey

It was a long summer break, eleven weeks instead of the normal ten; this was because Labor Day falls late this year and our schools always start a week before Labor Day. Despite this, about two weeks ago I told Beth I wasn’t as impatient for the beginning of the school year as I usually am by mid-August. She predicted being at home with both kids who had no camp for two weeks might take care of that.

The first Monday morning it looked as if it certainly would. The kids argued ceaselessly. Then I took June to go see Shaun the Sheep (Noah declined to come) after lunch and came home and made a cake and the separation, the outing, and the sugar seemed to cheer everyone. The cake was an un-birthday cake, because it wasn’t anyone’s birthday, or rather it was the exact midpoint between my and Beth’s birthdays, which is the longest stretch we have without one. The cake was chocolate chip, with chocolate frosting, and it was delicious. And I feel I should note that after that first wretched morning, the kids’ fighting died down to a bearable level. Some days they hardly fought at all.

The next day we met with an educational psychologist who had evaluated Noah earlier in the summer. We are trying to get a 504 plan for his ADHD. We tried four years ago and were denied, but it seemed like time to give it another go, as he’s starting high school this year. We’re also going to talk to a psychiatrist about what medications might be useful for him. The last two years have just been too much, for him and for the whole family, so we’re hoping to find a way he can be challenged but not overwhelmed by school. It will be a while before all the pieces are in place, but we’ve made a start and I feel good about that. His diagnosis has been bumped up from ADHD-NOS (basically ADHD-lite) to ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive, so that might help.

The kids hung out in the waiting room during most of the two-hour meeting (Noah was called in at the very end). We would have left June at home except Beth had taken the afternoon off so we could go see Inside Out after the meeting. The movie was fun and we went out for Burmese afterward.

In the interest of getting some work done, I scheduled overlapping play dates for June the next day, with one girl from 9:30 to 2:00 and with another from 1:00 to 5:00. During the morning, June and her friend were playing with dolls and blocks and singing some pop song I didn’t know. As I worked in the next room, it felt like I was listening to them snap back and forth between being little girls and tweens. They are right on the brink. When the second friend arrived, the all acted out scenes from Inside Out. June was delighted to finally have seen the big kid-movie of the summer and to be able to talk about it with her friends. We are sometimes a little slow to provide her with these experiences. (It came out months ago, I think.)

We continued to march forward with appointments for the kids. Thursday they went to the dentist and Friday to the pediatrician. The previous weekend they both got their hair cut. It was June’s second hair cut of the summer. She had eight inches taken off right before Girl Scout camp, just in time to be brushing it herself, but she decided she wanted it even shorter and to have about a quarter of it dyed blue, purple, and magenta. It’s her new look for starting fourth grade. She is well satisfied with it.

We were a long time at the pediatrician’s office and we were near Dupont Circle, where Beth and I lived from our mid-twenties to our mid-thirties, so we decided to have dinner at Pizza Paradiso, an old favorite of ours. A few things have changed in the interim. The restaurant moved a block down P St; I now need reading glasses to read the menu; and instead of a baby, Beth and I have a teenager who is five inches taller than me and daughter who is looking older with her multicolored hair. The Genovese (potato-pesto) pizza is just as delicious as it ever was, however.

My big accomplishment of the week, or so I thought at the time, was to get Noah’s schedule re-arranged so he could take band. I’d been communicating for weeks with the director of the music department, the CAP (Communications Arts Program) director, his counselor and an assistant principal, trying to find out where the conflict was in his schedule and if it could be changed. The kids were at the dentist with Beth when I found out so I called both Beth and Noah. When Noah got home, he gave me a big hug and said, “I’m in band!”

The weekend was uneventful. I indulged Noah by agreeing to make lemon bars with him and he indulged me by agreeing to listen to Willie Nelson while we did it.

The next Monday, I took the kids on a creek walk, which is something we do every summer. But because neither of them had asked all summer, I started to wonder if they’d outgrown this activity. I needn’t have worried. The kids splashed each other and we found a huge crawfish, deer prints in the mud, and many spider webs. We stood under our own street in the tunnel where the bridge goes over the creek and listened to the cars rumble above us and then we clambered out, with wet bathing suits and wet and sandy crocs to walk home.

2. Hershey: The Sweetest Place on Earth

Tuesday and Wednesday we took an impromptu get-away to Hershey Park. (I know they spell as one word, but I just can’t do it, so I won’t.) Beth had recently found out she had more vacation time than she thought and she needed to use it by year’s end or lose it, so off we went. We had just been to the county fair a week and a half earlier but summer would be over soon, so we seized the day.

The funny thing about this was that when I suggested to Noah he might want to go a little further in his summer homework than he’d planned the weekend before “in case something comes up” he looked at me and said, “Are we going to Hershey Park?” So much for being sneaky.

Noah had an orthodontist appointment in the morning, so we all went there first, and then we hit the road. We arrived at the park around lunchtime, had lunch and hit the rides.

Over the course of the two days we were there June was about as likely as Noah to want to go on rides that made everyone else say “No!” But the difference was when it was Noah, we’d say, “Go for it” but when it was June we’d look at each other and decide who was going, or make her skip it. So she never got to ride the biggest log flume and had to settle for a smaller one.

But she did get to ride the Laff Trakk, which is new this year. It’s an enclosed coaster in a big metal building. There are glow-in-the-dark decorations with a funhouse theme and black light. The cars spin around and go backward about half the time, which is why I wouldn’t ride it. I can’t even ride backward on the Metro. It wasn’t really Beth’s cup of tea either but since Noah wasn’t interested and Beth thought she could get through the ride without vomiting, she went with June. I told her later it was nice of her to go and she said, “Yes, it was,” especially considering there was a forty-five minute wait.

The Wild Mouse, pictured above, became a family favorite this year. It’s a little coaster with a lot of sharp turns but no big drops. We rode that one twice. Believe it or not I was making a worse face the first time.

In the late afternoon we hit the water park where June and did the Whirlwind, one of the bigger water slides. It dumps you into a big sideways funnel at the end and you go whirling all around the sides. (Thus the name.) It was fun but I wasn’t up to lugging a cumbersome double-seated tube up several flights of stairs to do it again so we stuck to smaller slides after that.

After the water park, we rode the Ferris wheel, went through the simulated chocolate factory tour at Chocolate World (both kids absolutely love this for some reason—I think it’s the singing cows), had a late dinner and went back to our hotel. As we were standing at the reception desk to check in, June whispered to me in a stricken voice, “Mommy, I forgot Muffin.” Muffin is June’s stuffed monkey and bosom buddy. He always comes with her when she sleeps away from home.

I pointed out it was lucky she had another monkey. June won Banana Monkey, as she named her, at a whack-a-snake game that very day. She’s no Muffin, but it turned out she was a decent pinch hitter. June had no trouble going to sleep.

In the morning we had some time before the park opened so we went to Hershey Gardens, a botanical garden near the park, which I highly recommend if you’re ever in Hershey and feeling over-stimulated. We enjoyed the rose gardens and the metal sculptures of insects and other animals. We probably spent the most time in the butterfly house and the children’s garden, where we found this cool musical space:

Back at the park, we went straight for the Great Bear, Noah’s favorite coaster because June had gotten to do her top choice ride the day before. The Great Bear is full of crazy twists and inversions. The cars start out hanging below the track but several times you are upside-down on top of the track. If you look up its description, you see a lot of words like “helix” and “corkscrew.” Needless to say, he rode that one alone, as the three of us stood on the ground below and tried to glimpse his green crocs flying through the air high above us. (I was the only one who saw them.) He says it’s so fast there’s no time to be scared but I will have to take his word for it because I am never trying it.

But the kids and I did the sooperdooperLooper and we all rode the Coal Cracker and the Trail Blazer—all of these are tamer rides, even if the sooperdooperLooper does go upside down once. Next I wanted to ride a wooden coaster, because I’ve always loved these best.

After some consideration, Noah and I chose the Comet. I almost gave up when I saw the line, but we decided to stay. Then as we were getting buckled in I almost wished we had given up because as I get older the fear to fun ratio of amusement park rides is definitely shifting and I was thinking, “I am too old for this!” It ended up being perfect, though, just scary enough. I probably would have gotten right back in line if it hadn’t been a half hour wait.

Before we left the park, June got a lock of her hair wrapped in multicolored threads to complete her back-to-school look. It cost her about a month’s allowance.

We stopped at Chocolate World to buy some treats to take home and then around four we started the drive home. The kids still had a few days of break left, but in some way it felt as if we left summer behind when we drove out of that parking lot.

Three Weeks, Three Shows

The kids’ camps are over—musical drama and tinkering and band and Girl Scout sleep-away and gymnastics and drama twice more. School starts in two weeks and in the meanwhile I’ll be home with both kids. I’ll be working and they’ll be finishing up their summer homework and going to the pediatrician and the dentist and arguing with each other and maybe we’ll think of something fun to do, too.

Camp season went out with a bang. The past three Fridays we’ve had performances to attend. These are always fun and this year was no exception.

Everyone Flips: Gymnastics Camp

June attended gymnastics camp at the University of Maryland the last week in July. It was her first time at this camp (though she takes Saturday classes there on and off).

Almost every summer I write a blog post complaining about schlepping kids to and from day camp on public transportation and how time-consuming and chaotic it feels with different pickup times and places every week. If I wrote that post it would be about this week, as College Park is the furthest from our house of any of her day camps and it required me to be in transit for two and half hours or more most afternoons. But I don’t think I will write that post. It was kind of a pain, made worse by the fact that it was miserably hot and humid that week, but up until the week June was at gymnastics camp, Noah handled almost all of June’s camp pick-ups for me, and he even got her from gymnastics camp one day, so I think we’ve aged out of that particular complaint. Not to mention the fact that in two or three years June will probably be getting herself home from most of her day camps, so the light at the end of this parenting tunnel is getting pretty bright.

We learned about gymnastics camp from a girl at June’s school bus stop who goes every year, sometimes multiple weeks. “It’s a great camp,” she told us. “You go swimming every day and on the last day there’s ice cream.” It’s true they did swim at the University pool four afternoons and had an ice cream party on the last day. There were also spirit days—like Maryland colors day, pajama day, or Wacky Wednesday. But, being a gymnastics camp, there was gymnastics, too. The kids in her age group (eight to sixteen) took a test and were divided up by skill level on the first day. June was in the most basic group but she didn’t mind. She was on the young end of the age range and hasn’t taken gymnastics for years like many of the kids. She was pleased that her best score was for cartwheels because she loves those.

June said she enjoyed using all the equipment and having more time to go into skills in depth than in her Saturday morning class. She came home so worn out most days that she’d slump against me on the bus and one day she nearly fell asleep.

On Friday, we all arrived at camp at three o’ clock to see what she’d learned, or rather what she and maybe one hundred and fifty other kids had learned. It was a huge camp. The younger age group (five to seven) went first, performing on the parallel bars and tumbling. Next the older kids did first front handsprings and then cartwheels across the mat simultaneously in short parallel lines. I’d never seen June do a handspring. She did a nice job. (I’ve seen a lot of them since then, plus one-handed cartwheels.) Then the more advanced gymnasts within this group did multiple back handsprings and other fancy tumbling.

Next the whole older group convened to do flips on two trampolines. The camp director explained that by the end of the week, “everyone flips,” no matter what his or her starting level of experience. And almost everyone, including June, successfully flipped. Spotters stood on either side of each kid and lightly supported their lower backs as they spun through the air. Most kids did just one front flip, but some did back flips or multiple flips.

After the flips, it was time for human pyramids. Both the younger and older groups did three-person pyramids in various poses. June’s group was near the back so it was hard to see, or rather, the people under her were hard to see. I could usually see her, as she was on the top. Then the older kids did one big pyramid, or actually it was more like a crenellated castle wall, a long line two kids high with an occasional third kid interspersed along the top.

Finally, all the kids were invited to take their parents to whatever equipment they wanted so they could demonstrate their skills. June flipped over the lower of the uneven bars, did cartwheels across a soft balance beam laid directly on the floor—often keeping on the beam the whole time—and jumped on the trampoline, landing on her bottom or knees and twisting around the in the air. When she was finished, we left the gym, headed for a pizza dinner, the weekend, and another week.

Drama Camp 1: Playmakers

A week after the gymnastics exhibition, June had another performance. She’d been attending drama camp at Round House, where we’ve been sending both kids to summer and spring break camps since Noah was in kindergarten. As a result, some of the counselors remember June as the baby I used to bring with me to pick-ups. (And now, as mentioned, Noah can pick her up from camp himself and did one day.) Also, now that she’s a rising fourth grader she’s in the middle age group (Playmakers) and camp met in a different building in Silver Spring. The program was also more focused on the final sharing than it is for the youngest group, although it’s still more process-based and less polished than June’s musical drama camp. Playmaker camps run most of the summer with different themes and technical focuses each week. June’s week was Mysteries and sound design.

The kids wrote the fifteen-minute play themselves over the course of the week. The night before the performance June gave me a plot summary while I was making spinach-quinoa fritters for dinner. I was trying to form the patties and keep an eye on the ones already sizzling in the skillet so I wasn’t paying perfect attention. While we watched the skit I was wishing I had because it was a bit confusing.

It seemed to be about an evil school photographer who made children disappear by taking their pictures with a magic camera. The parents are looking for them and their search takes them to a haunted house full of spooky sound effects where they find clues. Somehow they end up driving a car made of dumplings (this is where I really got lost) until they decide to eat it instead. In the end the detective who has been allegedly helping them is unmasked as the villainous photographer and they get their kids back.

The kids picked music to play in different scenes and shook a sheet of thin metal to make thunder and used other objects to make noise. They were clearly having fun and that was nice to see.

One of June’s old preschool classmates was at camp with her. When I asked her if she remembered him she thought about it for a long time and said, “sort of.” She probably hasn’t seen him since they were five so I wasn’t surprised her memory of him was foggy, but I always enjoy seeing the friends from her little kid days grown up into bigger kids.

Beth took the kids camping that weekend and they left right after the performance. June got use the fire starting skills she learned at tinkering camp and they waded in a lake and picked raspberries. I stayed in Silver Spring, got dinner, watched a movie (The Gift) and had ice cream before catching a bus home. I haven’t seen a horror movie or thriller in a theater in ages and I’d forgotten how different the audiences are than audiences at the dramas Beth and I usually see when we make it to the movies—more participatory and louder basically. It was nice to do something just for myself. I felt like I needed it.

Drama Camp 2: Dramatic Exploration

After that June’s camps were over, but Noah had one left. He was in the oldest group at Round House (rising seventh to twelfth graders), which meets at their theater in Bethesda. His week was called Dramatic Explorations and they were practicing scenes from different dramatic genres and using different performance styles. Other than Tuesday, when he was Mecurtio in Romeo and Juliet and they worked on stage combat skills, he was close-lipped about what they were doing, but he seemed happy enough.

Meanwhile, June was home with me. On Tuesday I took her to see Sponge Bob: Sponge Out of Water because it was the last week of $1 movies and then we got veggie burgers, fries, onion rings, and custard at Burgerfi afterward. Then she had three play dates in two days on Wednesday and Thursday, which allowed me to get some work done.

When we arrived at Round House Theatre at five on Friday, the set from Oliver was onstage because that’s what’s currently playing. (The older daughter of the director of June’s Frozen camp plays an orphan in that production—she’s been in camp with June for several years so June was excited to see her headshot on the wall of the lobby.) I wondered if they’d incorporate the set. I thought the staircase would work nicely for the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.

The camp director explained that they had been working on scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Tartuffe, and four contemporary plays over the course of the week. Everyone worked in every genre, although they would only perform in one or two scenes each at the sharing (as they call it).

They began with Romeo and Juliet. They did several scenes, switching actors for each scene. They did, in fact, did use the staircase in the balcony scene, although it was a comic version with a second set of actors providing rather loose modern language translations of each speech. June loved this scene, especially when Juliet, trying to get Romeo to leave so he won’t be discovered, tells him she’ll see him later but she needs to watch Netflix right now. In another scene, when the nurse tells Juliet that Romeo has killed Tybalt, the daughter of June’s second-grade Spanish teacher (and an elementary and middle school classmate of Noah’s) did a really excellent job playing the anguished nurse delivering the news.

A scene from Tartuffe was next, also well acted, and June was actually able to follow what was going on and grasp some of the characters’ motivations, which are quite different from their words.

Noah was in the last of the four scenes from modern plays. His was called Other Life Forms, although the title of the play was not announced ahead of time as with the other plays because the revelation that Noah’s character was an alien was the surprise ending of his scene, which up until that point seems to be a discussion between two friends of their respective love lives. The scene and the sharing ended with him saying, “I’m an alien from outer space” to laughter from the audience.

All the kids were good in all the roles. I guess if you’re still going to drama camp when you’re a teenager, you’ve self-selected. Noah was worried about this aspect of it ahead of time. Last year he did a week of drama tech, which is more up his alley, and he wasn’t sure if his acting skills were good enough for the oldest group, but he needn’t have fretted. He was really good, quite believable as a human and an alien.

Afterward, we got pizza and focaccia at an Italian deli and ate them in nearby park, followed by a trip to Haagen Dazs. The day had been hot but it had cooled down a little and it was pleasant to eat outside and celebrate another summer of good camp experiences behind us.

The weekend in between gymnastics camp and her last week of drama camp, I asked June what her favorite camp was this year and she said it was a tie between musical drama and sleep-away camp, “But I liked them all. I think I made good choices,” she said. She’s gained skills as a dancer, singer, and actor this summer; she learned to do a handspring and a one-handed cartwheel, and she slept away from home without relatives for the first time ever. I think I have to agree with her.

Noah enjoyed his camps, too, even if he still has a little regret over some mistakes he made in the band camp concert. He does tend to brood over things like that. I understand, being the same way. But I was glad he stretched himself and went to drama camp this year even though he was a little scared. That, in my opinion, is a stellar thing to do.


June got home from a week at Girl Scout camp last night. Right before she left for camp, Beth had a business trip to Phoenix and was gone for four days so it’s been a long time since the four of us have been together for longer than half a day. I was very happy to have everyone under the same roof again. In fact, I made a peach-blackberry cobbler this afternoon to celebrate our first dinner all together in eleven days. And then the kids fought all through dinner prep and dinner itself, making me wonder if I ought to send them to sleep-away camp on alternate weeks for the rest of the summer.

Anyway, backing up a bit, the week Beth went out town the kids went to tinkering camp at their old preschool. June was a camper and Noah was volunteering. The theme this year was Bushcraft, so they worked on plant identification, went geocaching, and learned to tie knots, use a hatchet, and set fires. For each skill they learned, they earned a badge. June earned at least a half dozen, plus two “extensions” for going above and beyond. On the day she started a fire with kindling, cotton balls and one match, June told me with some resignation, “I suppose I won’t be allowed to do that at home.”

Beth left on a Wednesday. It was our summer anniversary, commemorating twenty-eight years since we started dating. (We also celebrate a winter anniversary—of our commitment ceremony and wedding, which were conveniently on the same day, if twenty-one years apart.) Noah had an orthodontist appointment that morning so June walked the mile or so to camp by herself—she was very excited, as it was the first time she’s made this particular walk alone—and Beth took Noah to his appointment and then dropped him off at camp.

It had occurred to me that we could have a brief date in the interval between when Beth returned to the house and when she had to leave for the airport, but I thought she’d be too busy packing or too stressed out, so I didn’t say anything. I was surprised and pleased when she suggested going out for lunch after we’d exchanged gifts. (I got her a t-shirt from Café A-Go-Go she’d admired in Rehoboth and a bar of Ecuadorean chocolate from the Folk Life Festival. She got me gift certificates for two local bookstores.) We went to eat at Busboys and Poets, where we used one of the gift certificates for the meal. It was a bit of a tight squeeze for her to leave for the airport, but it was nice to touch base with her before she left.

Did you hear about the dust-up between Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, and Black Lives Matters activists at Netroots in Phoenix? If our Facebook feeds are at all similar you did. Beth was in the room when it happened. You’ve probably read all about it already, but if you want her take on it, she said O’Malley came off looking bad and Sanders was worse.

Late Saturday night (or actually in the wee hours of Sunday morning) Beth returned from her travels. I might have given her a sleepy hug and kiss when she came to bed, but I can’t say for sure. The next day was a whirl of regular weekend chores and getting June off to camp. I’d gotten June mostly packed the day before—and I only got teary when I watched her addressing envelopes for letters to send home—but there was more packing to do and Beth had to iron name tags onto all her clothes and go to the farmers’ market because it’s the time of year you just can’t miss it. After lunch we left to drive June to Southern Maryland, after coaching Noah on how to get to the house of the family friend who was driving him to band camp orientation (along with her own son who was going to play the euphonium in the fifth and sixth grade band).

On the drive to camp June was full of nervous energy, but she grew quieter as we got closer. After we got off the highway and onto narrow roads with names like Girl Scout Camp Road and Juliette Low Lane and then pulled into the grassy parking lot, she said, “I bet I’m the only one in the car with a knot in their stomach.” Even though she likes to try new things, she often gets nervous right before hand.

I’d been nervous about sending her away all week. She’s never been away from home not in the care of relatives before (and Noah’s first time was a five-day school trip to New York last fall) so I don’t have a lot of practice handing her over to strangers and walking away. But we did just that—and quickly, too. Lingering was not encouraged. We signed her in, put her suitcase and sleeping bag in a pile of other girls’ things outside the cabin and soon she was digging through her bags for her bathing suit, towel, water bottle and sunblock because she needed to line up to go to the pool for her swim test. We hugged her goodbye and drove away.

As we did I wished we’d managed to make it to orientation last month so I could have toured the camp. I wanted to see the insides of the cabins, the dining hall, the pond where she’d be canoeing and kayaking and catching frogs. But Beth had been in Detroit that weekend and although I found another mom who was willing to drive us in the end I decided I didn’t have time that weekend. June did know three girls who’d be at camp that week and one of them, her friend-since-preschool Maggie, was in her bunk. So she wouldn’t be completely alone.

I was mulling this over when Beth, who often knows how to cheer me up, suggested we stop at Starbucks. Back in the car I noticed the huge stacks of cumulus clouds. It was just a classic summer sky and looking at in while alone in the car with Beth made me think of all the road trips of our younger days and made me wish briefly that we were going somewhere other than home.

But we did go home. That week Noah went to band camp, Beth went to work, and I worked at home alone, possibly for the last week in the summer both kids would be occupied at the same time. In addition to working, I finished a novel I’d been reading for more than a month (Finders Keepers, I’d stopped in the middle for couple weeks to read a book club book) and made some headway weeding the garden, at least enough to find the errant watermelon vines, cut their tendrils off the vegetation to which they’d attached themselves and get them back into their patch. I also discovered the family of rabbits that’s laying siege to the garden has almost completely wiped out the carrots. June and I have very different feelings about these rabbits.

In the evenings we watched movies. Noah chose Back to the Future and Back to the Future 2, which were fun, although I wished they were less sexist. It was 80s week at our house apparently, because one of the numbers Noah was working on for band camp was a medley of 80s hits. He made a playlist of the original versions of the songs and played it for us one evening after our movie was over. I have to say I find Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” deeply evocative of the mid-eighties. The other songs have either picked up other associations for me because I’ve heard them often in the past three decades (“Thriller”) or just weren’t that important to me start with (Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.”)

It was nice to have time to focus on Noah, but I did miss June. One morning before she left for work Beth found me watching the videos of her Frozen performance and yes, maybe crying a little. When I did laundry and put it on the line, I couldn’t help noticing the colors were drabber than usual. There were a lot of whites and grays and blues and greens but not much in the way of pink, purple, or pastel. It helped that the camp sent updates about what they were doing each day, along with photos, and we sent her letters and email. (She was too busy to write more than one letter and she never mailed that one so we read it when she got home.)

The week passed and soon it was Friday, the big day. Noah’s concert was in the afternoon and June was coming home. The concert conflicted with her camp pickup so we arranged for Maggie’s family to bring her home with them.

Band camp is for kids entering fifth to tenth grade and they divide them up into three age groups. It was Noah’s first year in the oldest group. There were about fifty-to-ninety kids per age group and they have a week to learn five or six songs, so it’s an intense experience. They also take electives. Noah took composing and movie music.

When we got to the auditorium and sat down I started to feel very sleepy. I hadn’t slept well the night before because our room was too warm and I’d been weeding out in the sun for almost two hours earlier in the day. Plus the seats were comfortable and the building was air-conditioned but not over air-conditioned. I did manage to stay awake, however. It helped that the kids were great, all three groups. I always find it a little amusing to hear band arrangements of “Simple Gifts,” (which the fifth and sixth grade band played) because nothing fifty kids play all together with at least ten kinds of instruments can be said to be simple, but there you go. The seventh and eighth grade band played the Pink Panther theme in a medley of Henry Mancini tunes, which was fun.

The ninth and tenth grade band came on last. Noah played a lot of different instruments, including wood blocks, bells, bass drum, and a big set of chimes that looked like it belonged in a steampunk film. (You can see another kid playing it at the back left of the photo.) I thought it looked like fun to play but Noah wasn’t happy with his performance on that instrument. He was more satisfied with the 80s flashback piece. He played cowbell in the “Thriller” section and tambourine in most of the rest. During “Thriller” the camp faculty shambled across the stage like zombies, which was a nice touch.

After the concert we stopped for a few slices of pizza but as we were eating we got the call that June was almost home, so we left with our drinks and crusts still in hand so we could be home when Maggie’s folks delivered her.

June was tanned and happy and full of many, many facts about camp. She sang us songs she learned and told us about how they intentionally capsized the canoes so they would know what to do if one did overturn and about the food in the dining hall and the dance and the campfire and one special new friend she made who lives not too far away. When Beth asked if she wanted to go next year she said “Totally” and when I was putting her to bed she said wistfully, “It went so fast…”

It does go fast, I thought, as I settled this girl who is now old enough to go away from us and come back, into her own bed and told her goodnight.