About Steph

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

Beach Replenishment

Thanksgiving

It was a quiet drive to the beach. It usually is now that the kids disappear into their electronics on long drives. Beth and I didn’t have much to say and I was trying to keep my mind off current events. I made sure to admire the trees along the highway, past peak, but still pretty. But my thoughts inevitably wandered from nature and as we were exiting the Chesapeake Bay Bridge I realized I’d barely looked at the water and this is the loveliest part of the drive to Rehoboth.

We arrived at the house and ate a late lunch of sandwiches we’d picked up at the WaWa just outside town. June and I left around 2:30 to take a walk on the beach. It was a warm, sunny day. We’d brought hoodies in case it was windy on the beach, but we didn’t need them. June took her shoe and sock off her good foot and walked half-barefoot on the sand. She’s using crutches on and off since she stopped wearing the boot and I wasn’t sure how she’d do with them on the sand, but she got along decently.

We rambled back and forth between the beach and the boardwalk. I was happy to be moving, enjoying the mellow late November sun and the salt tang of the air. We ran into the family of a sixth-grade girl who was in the string ensemble at school with June last year. Her dad was on crutches, too, and we exchanged stories about why. By the time we left the beach at 3:45, the clouds were just touched with pink.

Back at the house the kids and I made our traditional apple-turkey table decorations, with a twist this year. June gave hers three heads and Noah’s had none. Then Beth and I finished cooking the dinner we’d started at home the previous day.

We feasted on a tofu roast, stuffed, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushroom gravy, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, and rolls. We didn’t share what we’re thankful for as sometimes do at Thanksgiving dinner, but I thought about it as we ate. There’s plenty. We have each other, decent health, enough for our needs and many of our wants, like a house at the beach for Thanksgiving weekend.

We did the dishes and Beth made a fire. We sat in front of it and ate pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and apple tart. (I think everyone sampled two of the three desserts.)  Once June was in bed and Noah was soaking in the big, clawfoot tub and Beth had retreated to our bedroom to read, I called my mom, and we talked while I watched the fire die. 

Black Friday

We got off to a slow start on Friday. Noah slept in—I woke him at 9:15 and he either went right back to sleep or just stayed in bed. He didn’t make it down to breakfast until 10:15. Around 10:50, the rest of us left him doing pre-calculus at the dining room table and went to take a walk on the beach and boardwalk and then to start our Christmas shopping. Beth split off by herself a couple times. Mostly I was helping June do her shopping. Between Candy Kitchen, the tea and spice shop, the seashell shop, and the bookstore, she nearly finished it.

She wanted fries so we got some and sat on a bench on the boardwalk to eat them. We were right next to Santa’s house and we noticed there seemed to be a lull in the line so we got into it. The people in front of us were forcing an unwilling toddler to sit on Santa’s lap. He was crying and covering his eyes with his hands. They took pictures anyway. What is wrong with people? When it was June’s turn, I noticed Santa had a safety pin and I wondered if it was political, but it was on his pants, so maybe he just had a rip there.

The fries were just an appetizer. Next June and I had lunch at the Greene Turtle, which I patronize mainly for the view, so June thought it was logical to ask for a balcony seat. It was in the mid-fifties, not frigid but colder than I might think to eat a restaurant meal outside. I asked anyway. The manager was a little reluctant, but he seated us out there and we had the whole balcony to ourselves. The server said it was nice to step out of the overheated restaurant, but I tipped her 25% for having to go out of her way.

I got my usual off-season meal there—hot tea, fried mozzarella, and apple-pecan salad. June got pizza. It was fun looking down on the people strolling along the boardwalk and we had a great view of the beach. June started the crossword on her menu and was disappointed that the “large animal with one horn” was a rhinoceros and not a narwhal, which she though would more appropriate for a seaside eatery. Irritated, she switched over to the connect-the-dots of a sea turtle. (I didn’t bother telling her The Greene Turtle is a chain with non-beach locations.)

June wanted frozen custard next but I was a little chilled from eating on the balcony so it was easy to say no. We went back to the house where Noah was still doing homework. He didn’t want to go out shopping with me, so I read to June and we relaxed until it was time to leave for an early dinner at Grotto’s. We wanted to finish in time for the holiday sing-along and tree-lighting downtown. Our regular Grotto’s had a line so we went around the corner to the smaller one on the boardwalk. The kids were slightly disgruntled because it wasn’t decorated for Christmas like the big one and there’s no gelato there. So after we ate, we went back to the bigger location where Beth and Noah got take-out gelato and June and I assessed the Christmas trees decorated by Delaware charities and she chose to bestow the dollar I gave her on a local cancer charity’s tree.

The sing-along was much more crowded than two years ago, a year when it was bitterly cold and the only other time we’ve gone. Between not being able to get very close to the bandstand and the sound system only working intermittently we often couldn’t even make out what song the chorus was singing but eventually it got better and we could sing along. Noah hadn’t been that enthusiastic about attending this event so Beth and I were surprised and pleased when he started singing. I guess I haven’t heard his singing voice in a while because I was also surprised at how deep it is now.

I also learned I’m the only one in my family who knows the words to “Home for the Holidays” as I sang:

I met a man who lives in Tennessee
And he was headin’ for
Pennsylvania and some homemade pumpkin pie
From Pennsylvania folks are trav’lin’ down
To Dixie’s sunny shore
From Atlantic to Pacific, gee,
The traffic is terrific!

The songs were mostly secular (“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Let it Snow,” etc.) until the very last one, “Angels We Have Heard on High” and then they lit the tree.

June and I got frozen custard to eat on the way home. (I was going to abstain but they had pumpkin-cinnamon, so what could I do?) Given the crowds, I was glad we’d walked instead of driving. I’m sure it was a massive traffic jam getting out of there.

June was pretty tuckered out from walking most of the day on her crutches but she managed to stay awake long enough to watch The Year Without a Santa Claus before she went to bed. After she was in bed I took a bubble bath in the big tub and read half an Alice Munro short story, which was the only reading I did on the whole trip.

Saturday

We had breakfast out, at Egg. We’re looking for a new go-to place for crepes, now that Gallery Espresso went out of business, after a brief stint out in Lewes under the name Paradigm. We all liked it, though June had been hoping to eat at the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel’s fancy Victorian-themed restaurant.

As Noah was already out of the house, he and I did some of his Christmas shopping, while Beth and June did the same. Later Noah returned to the house to work, and I met up with Beth and June, who’d been to see the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel’s Christmas decorations. The next thing on June’s agenda was for me to read to her in the lounge of the Sands Hotel. This is something we used to do when we stayed there or when we stayed in nearby hotels without lounges and we needed to give someone (usually Noah) some peace and quiet. As we had a whole house to spread out in, it never occurred to me we’d need to camp out at the Sands. But apparently, it’s a tradition now, so I brought Eleven Birthdays and read it to her in front of their Christmas tree.

I wanted to head back to the house for lunch and June wanted to eat lunch out so we compromised. Her first choice was Green Man, and mine was Grandpa Mac. I thought we were closer to Grandpa Mac, but I wasn’t sure, so I told her we’d eat at whichever one was closer. She agreed to the deal and I looked the addresses up on my phone. Sure enough, Grandpa Mac was closer, so I got to have baked mac and cheese with spinach for lunch and it was really good. While waited for our food and ate, we went over the test prep packet for the humanities magnet and I showed her how to make a graphic organizer and a web for the essay, as these are required and she’s never learned how to do that at school. That made me feel useful and pleasantly pedagogical.

It was mid-afternoon by the time June and I got home. I had the kids change into their Christmas outfits so we could do a Christmas card photo shoot on the beach. We got some nice pictures, which increases the chances that we’re actually doing a card. Noah looks solemn in all the shots because I’d said I might want to do a pensive-looking card, but June disregarded that suggestion and smiled.

I stayed on the beach after Beth and the kids left and walked south. I usually go north but there’s a beach replenishment project going on in the center of the beach that involves a lot of heavy machinery on the sand and a barge and a floating barrier out in the ocean. We walked by it many times over the course of the weekend and it was kind of fascinating to watch, but I wanted a quieter walk. The clouds were just starting to go pink. It was the time of day when the shadows in all the footprints and depressions in the sand get very sharp and the water is slate gray in places and silvery and illuminated with the last light of the day in others.

Shortly after I got back to the house we all left to see the light festival at Cape Henlopen State Park. It was a nice display, similar to the one we see in Oglebay most years, but smaller. They were also having a winter carnival in the Cape May-Lewes ferry parking lot, with live music and rides. We considered going up in the Ferris wheel but it was colder than the night before—in the mid-forties– and windy. I might have done it if I’d known for sure there would have been a view of the water, but we passed on it. There were also people ice-skating, or trying to, on a small rectangle of plastic.

Back at the house Beth made another fire and we ate a dinner of food from various restaurants and Thanksgiving leftovers in the living room while we watched Christmas is Here Again. It was a cozy end to the day.

Sunday

Beth made pumpkin pancakes, we packed up the house, and I took another short, solo walk on the beach. We drove to downtown Rehoboth where we did some more Christmas shopping and then June finally got to eat at her choice of restaurant, after having been overruled twice. She chose Green Man. I told everyone that the Green Man was a symbol of resistance during insurrections that followed the Norman Invasion, a fact I picked up from this book, which I read for my book club in September.

Over our lunch of sandwiches and smoothies I explained to everyone how the Green Man was a symbol of authentic pagan Englishness in opposition to French Catholicism and how some of the native laborers who built the Norman cathedrals, included Green Men in the decorations as a small act of rebellion.

The kids and I headed down to the beach one last time. Noah always puts his feet in the ocean for the number of waves that corresponds with the last two digits of the year whenever we leave the beach. He does it barefoot, no matter what the season. I do it, too, but with rain boots in the colder months. However, I’d left my boots in the car which was parked quite a distance away so I did it barefoot, too, but only for two waves. It was cold but not as cold as I thought it would be. June was sitting the ritual out because I didn’t want her to get her ankle brace wet, so I said I was doing the two, June the zero and Noah the sixteen in 2016.

June wanted to get her fortune told by the mechanical fortune teller on the boardwalk. I said no reflexively but then she suggested the fortune might contain a phrase I could use as a blog post title. I handed over the dollar. But, alas, Zoltar wasn’t working that day, so we didn’t get to see the future.

It was around three when we finally hit the road after a long stop at the outlets to buy the kids new fleece-lined crocs and shoes for their upcoming band and orchestra concerts and some clothes for June. This timing meant we got to the Chesapeake Bay at 4:45. The sky was burning, the water was shining and as we crossed it, I felt just slightly replenished, more ready to face the uncertain future and to keep making small acts of rebellion.

Fifty

During all the awful tumult of the post-election fallout, a good thing happened. Beth turned fifty. Her birthday usually comes right before Thanksgiving and this year it was the day before. Because of that, it often seems to usher in the holiday season for our family and Tuesday afternoon, as I was out getting a birthday card for her, I felt my heart lighten a little. We still have a lot to celebrate.

When Beth and I started dating, I had just turned twenty a couple months earlier and she was several months shy of twenty-one. We’ve spent our twenties, thirties, and forties together and now we’re embarking on our fifties. It’s a comforting thought, that we’re in this together, come what may.

Beth took her birthday off so we could cook and prepare for our Thanksgiving trip to the beach. (We’re renting a house in Rehoboth from Thursday to Sunday.) The kids had a half-day, so in the morning I took Beth out to La Mano and we got coffee and split a cranberry-orange scone. There were no seats available so we walked up to downtown Takoma and sat at the table outside Dolci Gelato, which wasn’t open yet, so it didn’t feel like we were squatting. It was a pretty day and the morning sun was warm enough so we didn’t feel cold.

From there we went to the hardware store, because Beth knows how to party on her birthday. No, seriously, it was birthday-related. ACE sent her a $10 coupon for her birthday and she bought twenty leaf bags with it. Then we drove to the library so I could return a book and get another one, but I forgot it doesn’t open until noon on Wednesdays, so we came home and puttered around the house. I worked a little and did laundry. Beth made cranberry sauce and mushroom gravy.

June got home around one and started to set up her gift for Beth—fifty origami cups she’d made over the last couple days, each with candy inside (miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups, Hershey’s kisses, or espresso caramels) arranged on the living room floor into the shape of the numerals 5 and 0. I’d told Beth ahead of time June’s gift was “showy and sweet” and Beth replied, “Just like June.”

It took longer to set this up than either June or I anticipated. We’d tested it on the living room carpet the day before to see if the cups would stand up when weighted down with candy and the our test cup did, but it turned out fifty of them were more of a challenge and they kept falling over. They were all shaped just a little differently and different kinds of candies weighed them differently as well. The Reese’s cups worked better than the kisses or the caramels. June also wanted them to touch each other, which she thought would help them support each other and I thought would lead to domino-like toppling. We were both right at different points in the endeavor. She ended up making the five, I made the zero, and since we had cups left over, she made an exclamation point.  Noah observed that depending on where you stood to view it, it could look like 50!, 105, or 501. Beth told June it was “magical.”

All Beth’s presents from us were food. I guess, given the circumstances, we all gravitated toward comfort food. Noah got her a set of dessert sauces—bittersweet chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, sea salt caramel, and dark chocolate sea salt. I got her two boxes of fancy crackers, two hunks of cheeses we’d never tried (Piave Vecchie and dry Jack), two baking mixes (brownies and molten chocolate cake), apple cider syrup, and pumpkin pancake and waffle mix.

After Beth opened her presents, I made brandied sweet potatoes and while they were in the oven, we headed back to the library and then to the grocery store to get a prescription. Noah was just finishing drumming when we got home, so I read most of Act Three of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to both kids. They’re not often free at the same time, so reading this play has been slow going, but we’re all enjoying it.

Next I made Beth’s requested birthday dinner—breaded baked tofu sticks with curried tartar sauce, egg noodles, and homemade applesauce. For dessert, I made a chocolate cake with coffee frosting. I put it in the oven just before we sat down to dinner. About five minutes before it was supposed to come out of the oven, I realized I didn’t smell cake. Turns out I’d turned off the oven when I took the sweet potatoes out and I never turned it back on when I put the cake in. Luckily, it only needed to bake a half hour and by cooling it on the porch, I was able to get it frosted so we could all eat cake and ice cream before June’s bedtime.

A few days ago, I told Beth I was thinking of not doing a Christmas card this year. It just seemed like a lot of work and it was hard to imagine putting a smiling picture of us on the front of it or writing a cheerful letter about what we’ve been up to this past year. The annual card means more to me than to her, so I thought she might go along with the idea of taking a pass. Instead she looked surprised.

I said I wasn’t sure if it was just post-election depression and if I’d regret it later if we skipped a year. She asked if I’d thought it was too much work last year. I said no, so clearly it was post-election depression, but that the part I wasn’t sure about was whether I’d regret it or not. She gently suggested we take some pictures at the beach “just in case.” We discussed the possibility of sending a card with no letter, of taking a more pensive looking picture, of putting some political message on the card.

I’m still not sure what we’re going to do, but I think she handled it just right. If she’d said that we should do the card, I might have said it was pointless and started crying. If she’d said sure, let’s skip it this year, I probably would have cried, too, because that would mean it really was pointless. We’ve had our share of rough patches and misunderstandings over the years, but sometimes she knows just how to handle me. I guess twenty-nine years of experience comes in handy there. I’m lucky to have her in my life and I’m happy she’s been on Earth for fifty years.

I’ll close with this excerpt from Springsteen’s “All That Heaven Will Allow,” which Beth put on a mix tape she made for me when we were much, much younger.

Rain and storm and dark skies
Well now they don’t mean a thing
If you got a girl that loves you
And who wants to wear your ring
So c’mon mister trouble
We’ll make it through you somehow
We’ll fill this house with all the love
All that heaven will allow

Happy fiftieth birthday, sweetheart. I love you in good times and bad.

Brace Yourself

In a period of just nine days, Noah got his braces off, June got hers on, and she swapped her boot for an ankle brace.

June got her braces two years younger than Noah and she’ll be wearing them longer, and in two phases because she has more serious bite issues. Her teeth were sore for a while and she complained at dinner the first night she had them, “Noah is flaunting his braceless teeth at me.” But she got a lot of compliments on the teal color she chose and she said her friends at school told her she looks “adorable” with them, so there’s that. She’s supposed to brush after every meal now and a boy who saw her in the hallway with her toothbrush called her a nerd for brushing at school. I asked her if that upset her and she said no, “because I already didn’t like him.”

Today June got her boot off after wearing it for almost four weeks. She has a brace now she can wear with shoes. She’s a little wobbly on her feet and isn’t supposed to try to run for another three weeks, but it’s progress.

We are all also trying to brace ourselves for the upcoming change in administration. It’s not easy. It’s hard to know whether to be more appalled by the steady stream of horrifying appointments—a white supremacist as chief advisor, a climate change denier in charge of the transition at the EPA, an opponent of civil rights at the Justice Department—or the hate crimes committed by people who now feel emboldened.

You’re probably painfully aware that there’s been a spike in hate crimes nationally. Just in our little corner of the world, a Black Lives Matter sign at UCC church in Silver Spring that a friend of mine attends has been repeatedly vandalized. An Episcopal church in Silver Spring with a majority immigrant congregation had their sign advertising Spanish-language services defaced with the words “Trump Nation. Whites Only.”

And in more chilling examples, swastikas were drawn at a Bethesda middle school and at the French immersion elementary school a biracial friend of June’s attends, someone wrote “KILL KILL KILL BLACKS” on a restroom wall. Then last Friday a group of white nationalists were doing Nazi salutes at an Italian restaurant in Friendship Heights, a restaurant we frequent because it’s near the kids’ dentist. A boy who went to Noah’s preschool a year ahead of him and who’s now a junior at his high school heard about it on Twitter and got there in time for the protest.

When I went to book club about a week after the election, I expected to find the members in a variety of emotional states, from glum to energized to organize. It’s not a politically-focused book club, but it’s an older lefty crowd for the most part. I’m the youngest regularly attending member, at forty-nine. When I got arrived, there was no pre-discussion chatter, which is a little unusual. Everyone was silent until we started discussing our book, The Secret Chord. It’s historical fiction, based on the life of King David. The election never came up, which was also unusual. People often want to connect what we’re reading to current events and it’s hard to stop thinking about this particular event.

Once we’d finished and were preparing to leave, one man who’s fairly involved in local politics, said without preamble or explanation, “Does anyone have any reason be hopeful?”

There was a long silence. It seemed no one was going to say anything so I searched for something, even though I haven’t exactly been a ray of sunshine lately. I said the fact that we’d just read a book that takes place three thousand years ago might encourage us to take the long view. The story was full of betrayal and violence, based as it is on the Old Testament. But David’s tumultuous reign led to the more peaceful and just reign of his son Solomon. I didn’t say it that well at the time, but I wish I had because they were all so sad…

But as I read political discussions among liberals and progressives on Facebook, it’s hard to see the way forward. Did Trump win because he mined a deep seam of racism and misogyny in American culture? Or did Clinton lose because she didn’t focus on economic issues important to the white working class, who voted for Trump despite his hateful rhetoric and not because of it? (Although if that’s the case, it’s sobering to note that racism wasn’t a deal-breaker for big chunk of the electorate.) Or has the role of class been overstated here, given how many middle and upper class whites voted for Trump, in which case it might be about race after all. No one on the left seems to agree, which makes it hard to know how to proceed.

But are we really just going to argue about what to call the march on the day after the inauguration and whether we should be wearing safety pins or not? I hope not.
And speaking of safety pins, I found one on one of June’s shirts as I was hanging wash on the line last week. Somehow I didn’t notice it when she was wearing it. I’d explained briefly why some people were wearing them and she’d decided to wear one to school herself. I know people are divided on whether this is a helpful gesture or not, but I was moved that she took it upon herself to do it.

Something else that made me feel hopeful last week was the massive walkouts at local high schools. The week after the election, there were walkouts Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in suburban Maryland and the District. These were mostly peaceful, but unfortunately violence broke out in Rockville when a kid in Trump hat confronted the crowd and was kicked and punched by protesters. I don’t condone or excuse that.

Here’s an article about the walkout at Noah’s school, where about a third of the student body walked out and a smaller group took to the streets.

Noah was at the orthodontist getting his braces off when the protest started but when he got back to school and discovered his English class empty—because every single kid had walked out—he went to the stadium to join them. He didn’t take part in the street protest. He’s not a natural rebel and he hates crowds, so I’m not surprised but I’m glad he participated in part of it and that his school’s walkout was peaceful. I’m proud of all the kids who go to his large, diverse school and their passion and commitment to social justice.

At each rally I go to (and so far I’ve been to two—one in Takoma and one in Silver Spring), Blair students have given speeches alongside religious leaders, local and federal government officials, school system administrators, and members of the police. These teenagers haven’t succumbed to despair, which helps pull me back from the brink when I get close.

For my part, I’ve signed petitions and picked up the phone although I absolutely hate making political phone calls. Last week I asked my mom and sister if in lieu of Christmas gifts we could all donate to progressive organizations and send each other cards to open on Christmas that say what organizations we chose. They both said yes and that made me feel good, like we could all dig a little deeper into our wallets now. It’s a small thing, but like Noah, I’m not a natural rebel. Maybe over the next several years, I will learn.

The Long Run

Election: Tuesday

June and I went out to lunch on Election Day. I was antsy and didn’t want to stay in the house all day, plus I had a check to deposit and she had to buy a birthday present for Megan, so we made an outing of it that ended with sandwiches and dessert at Capitol City Cheesecake.

I rubbed June’s back fondly as she finished her dessert and said, “This could be a historic day. You might remember this day forever…The election, not the cannoli,” I clarified and she laughed.

Well, now I hope she doesn’t remember.

We put her to bed at 8:30, her normal bedtime, but I was planning to wake her up as soon as Clinton won, to tell her the good news, that a woman was going to be President, and that a madman wasn’t.

Just before results starting coming in, I’d helped Noah hurriedly finish a short essay for his AP Government class by typing as he dictated it to me while pacing around his room and eating a taco—yes, like many of you, we decided to celebrate Taco Tuesday that night. It seemed funny at the time. (Beth also made chocolate chip cookies to commemorate the kerfuffle over Hillary’s comments about staying home and making cookies back in the day.) Noah was eating late because hadn’t come to the dinner table to eat with the rest of us because he wanted to finish his work in time to watch the results.

Beth, Noah, and I spent most of the evening huddled on our bed with the laptop, the iPad, and my phone, watching the results come in and reading our friends’ Facebook commentary. He gets up very early (5:45) so his official school day bedtime is 9:00, although more often than not he’s up later than that doing homework. I’d told him he could stay up until at least 9:30 and then we’d re-evaluate, because I thought it might be over by then.

As you know, it wasn’t over at 9:30. We all watched it unfold as most of you probably did, in stunned horror. By eleven, I was starting to shake. It felt like shivering with cold, but I wasn’t cold. And then I just didn’t want to watch any more. I might have if an end was in sight, but was clear by then it probably wasn’t going to be settled until the middle of the night so Beth and I went to bed and tried to sleep. I wanted to Noah to get some sleep, too, because he had two big assignments due Thursday and he’d need to be in good enough shape to work Wednesday, but he was fiercely insistent about staying up and it felt so huge, so important that we let him take the laptop to bed. He’s not sure what time he fell asleep—it was sometime during the long stretch of time when Trump had 244 electoral votes.

Aftermath: Wednesday to Saturday

I was up almost every hour during the night, checking the electoral vote count on my phone and being sick in the bathroom.  Beth didn’t sleep well either, but she got up before me so she had the job of telling June, who received the news with tears.

She wasn’t the only one crying. I cried on and off all morning. Beth said people were crying on the Metro. Noah said people were crying at school. The CAP kids could go to an optional meeting to process their feelings about the election during their first period. (Noah chose to remain in his Media class because he had some film editing to do and he preferred to keep his mind on that.) His school, which is large and very racially diverse, also had counselors available to speak to students during both lunch periods.

Wednesday was the one day that week I had a full day to work because the kids had Monday off for a teacher planning and grading day, Tuesday off for the election, and June’s school had half-days Thursday and Friday for parent-teacher conferences. But I was in no condition to write anything, so I read instead, catching up on a trade magazine I read for Sara so I can send her links to any relevant articles. It was something to do to keep my mind occupied.

Early in the afternoon I went to bed, fell asleep almost immediately, and slept deeply for an hour. That helped some. So did the long, hard hug Noah gave me when he got home from school. Beth and I often comment, sometimes jokingly, that he’s almost a man now, at fifteen and a half, but I actually felt it when his big, strong arms were around me. I felt a flash of hope, that he and his smart, caring peers might be able, eventually, to set right whatever goes wrong in the next four to eight years. It’s a lot to put on them, and I don’t absolve myself from trying, too, but the thought made me feel a trifle less hopeless.

I muddled through Thursday, working, sweeping the porch, cleaning the bathroom, cooking a green tomato, purple cabbage, and brown rice stew with the last of the garden tomatoes. It was difficult at times to convince myself that any of this was worth doing, but it felt marginally better than crying all day, so I did it.

Friday Beth had the day off work for Veterans’ Day and June was going to Megan’s after school so we had some time alone together, which was welcome. I didn’t work that day, but before Beth and I left on our lunch and movie date, I had a few things to do.

After June got on the school bus I removed the Clinton/Kaine sign from our fence and replaced it with a Black Lives Matter sign. I would have put it up earlier (and left the Clinton sign up longer) but we only had one set of rods. After that, I went through the drawer where I toss appeals from non-profits and decided to give to Planned Parenthood and the Environmental Defense Fund, for starters. I’ll be writing more checks later, but the idea of losing several years of action on climate change is particularly terrifying right now. My next step was to unfollow a couple people on Facebook. I don’t want to unfriend anyone, because my feed is almost entirely liberal as it is, and so many people never hearing each other’s voices might be part of what got us into this mess, but for now, I don’t need to hear any gloating. I’ll start following them again when I feel up to it.

We went for lunch at Eggspectations because there’s a lot of comfort food on the menu there. Beth got a veggie burger and a salad, I got butternut squash soup, and baked brie with apple slices, grapes, and raspberry sauce. We split a piece of pumpkin Smith Island cake. Then we went and saw Moonlight. If you’ve read the reviews and haven’t seen it yet, it’s as good as they say.

It was my first time out of the house since Tuesday. Previously Beth had urged me to go out, because as she said, “the world’s still out there.”

As we drove home, I said, “I guess there’s still good food and art.” And there is.

We picked up June from Megan’s house and brought her home so Noah could take her to her voice lesson while we went to a very positive parent-teacher conference with her English and social studies teacher. It left us thinking he’d write her a good recommendation for the humanities magnet. (She decided not to apply to the math/science magnet after all.) 

We swung by the book fair while we were at June’s school and bought a graphic novel June specifically asked us to buy her. While we were there, a mom who was President of the PTA for a long time told us she was going to work on connecting undocumented families at the school with immigration lawyers.

Late that afternoon, there was a rally at another local elementary school to support Takoma’s Muslim and immigrant population. I wanted to go, but June’ voice lesson conflicted with it, so Beth dropped me off at the rally by myself. It was important to me be there because I remember how comforting it was to go to the rally after the Pulse nightclub killings and how much it meant to me to see so many straight friends and neighbors there. I wanted to that pay that forward.

Here’s an article about the rally. I knew a lot of people there and it was good to see them. Some of the speeches were moving, and I teared up when I saw the kid, around June’s age, holding the hand-lettered sign that said, “We love you. We will fight for you! You are safe,” and two more holding cardboard studded with tiny colored lights to read “Love” and “Hope.” Beth and the kids arrived around 6:20, just as the rally was breaking up and we drove to Silver Spring for pizza and frozen yogurt.

On Saturday morning I had to wake Noah up at nine, after a near-record eleven hours’ sleep. He almost never sleeps this late and I hated to do it, but he had a lot of homework. An hour later he said he felt sick and decided to go back to bed. Eventually, I came into his room and read to him first from his Government textbook and then from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which he’s reading for English. And then he worked on the Works Cited for a group research project and felt well enough to get up and drum.

In the afternoon, June went to Megan’s carnival-themed birthday party, because in addition to good food, and art, there are still kids in the world and they are still getting older. In a few years, these turning-eleven girls will know more about the world than they do now, for good and for ill. It’s up to us to prepare them.

5K: Sunday

This morning, June completed the Girls on the Run 5K, walking the whole way. When we found out her ankle was fractured, we assumed she’d sit out the rest of the season, but she wanted to keep going to practices, at first just to watch, and then once she got the boot she started walking laps while her peers ran. When it came time for the practice 5K on the track at a local middle school, she surprised us again by saying she wanted to do it, and the real 5K, too. She was able to walk the practice 5K in about an hour and suffered no ill effects so we said she could walk the real one, too.

We arrived at the staging area, a mall parking lot, at 7:50 a.m., an hour and ten minutes before race time. It was a chilly morning. There was frost on the windshield of the car when we left and the temperature in Bethesda was just under freezing when we arrived. We visited some of the booths. June got temporary green dye sprayed on her hair at the “Happy Hair Station” and Beth bought her a pink satin cape at a merchandise booth. Then we waited for her teammates to arrive.

Adults who hadn’t seen each other since Tuesday exchanged condolences. Zoë’s mom, who is one of the team coaches, said of the event, “I need some girl power in the worst way.” So I wish I could say the event inspired me and filled me with hope. I was proud of June and her teammates, of course. How could I not be? They rock. But I had not slept well the night before and my mood had cratered again, and the loud music was making the headache I’d arrived with worse. I was glad when the race got underway and the parking lot cleared out.

The last time June did a 5K, I walked the route and Beth waited at the finish line. This time we swapped places. Beth and Megan both walked with June while the rest of the team ran.

I’d agreed to watch the sign and the balloons the girls would use to re-unite in a crowd of seven thousand people. The first runner from June’s school was back in about thirty-five minutes and the next one about ten minutes later. Then the rest of them started drifting back. I figured June would take at least an hour, so I headed to the finish line shortly before then.  After ten minutes or so I saw Megan and June go under the inflatable arch with their arms raised, and Beth walking just behind them. And then I did feel moved.

We went into the mall to use the bathrooms and get some food and hot beverages while we waited for the traffic jam of people trying to leave the race to clear. We ran into one of June’s friends who is now at another school and her mom in Starbucks. Her mom, who works in the civil rights division of the Department of Justice and who had run the race with her daughter, said, “I thought this would make me feel better, but it didn’t.”

I said, “Some things make me feel less bad, but nothing makes me feel good.” I guess less bad is a start, because we have a lot of work to do in the coming years and we can’t lose ourselves in despair. At least we have to try not to let that happen.

One of the things people often say they admire about Hillary Clinton is how she perseveres. I know someone else like that and I’m with her, and all her strong, capable, big-hearted friends, for the long run.

This is Halloween

Saturday: Halloween Parade 

Fifteen minutes before we need to leave for the Halloween parade is always a hectic time at our house and this year was no different. June’s costume had been pretty much finished for a week, but the paint was still damp on Noah’s. This is how it usually goes.

So at 12:30 on Saturday afternoon, Beth was spraying hairspray on June’s hair and teasing it into a mad scientist style, while I was cutting painted emojis out of poster board for Noah’s costume, carefully because the paint was still tacky. Meanwhile, Noah was using the paper cutter to cut up the business cards June was going to pass out along the route.

Maybe by now you’re wondering, what the kids were going as? June was the Tongue Twister, a character of her own invention. She wore a lab coat with tongue twisters and graphics of a tongue tied in knots on it. She had the aforementioned crazy hair and a big pair of glasses that distorted her eyes and she carried two wrenches in which she was twisting a rubber tongue. (Did you know you can order rubber tongues from the Internet? Now you do.)

Noah was a Samsung Galaxy 7 Note phone on fire. The flames are my favorite part of this costume and they were a group effort. Noah printed a model for tracing onto the poster board and he and June traced the shapes with pencil. Then he painted them with three layers of paint—yellow, then orange, then red. Then he and I cut them out and he and Beth glued them to the front of his costume with spray glue. Halloween inspires us to teamwork.

We had some Halloween-themed temporary tattoos, so though I wasn’t in costume, I got into the spirit by decorating my face with a witch, a vampire, and a ghost and the backs on my hands with a black cat and a mummy. Beth wore a necklace of plastic skulls that light up red, but it was too sunny for the lights to show. It was an unseasonably warm day. I was in a black turtleneck and a denim skirt with no tights or leggings and I was a little warm. I was glad June had opted for a camisole under her lab coat instead of a warmer shirt.

We got to the Co-op parking lot around 1:15, fifteen minutes after the festivities started. There’s usually a lot of milling around before the contestants divide into groups for the judges. June guessed how many plastic spiders were in a jar and played some games. Beth, Noah, and I people watched and waited for the contest to begin.

There were the usual adorable babies and toddlers in bee, lion, and bunny costumes. A boy who used to be in Kindermusic with June was either the Grim Reaper or a Dementor on a skateboard. A girl from her drama camp was the Phantom of the Opera and a girl from drama class was a Minecraft dragon. I think that’s what she was—neither of my kids has been much into Minecraft.

I saw an unusual number of zombies this year—including zombie cheerleaders, a zombie prom queen, and some standard zombies. There were also several individuals and groups, male and female, going as Ghostbusters. My favorite version of this had a baby in a white snow suit with a sailor hat and collar as The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, though I was a little afraid he or she was going to overheat in that get-up.

Noah thought his most serious competition for Most Original in the teen and adult category was the house from Up. The house wasn’t that detailed, though. Just cardboard rectangle and roof painted yellow.

It’s an election year so I expected some political costumes and there was both a Hillary Clinton (accompanied with Secret Service agents) and a Donald Trump in June’s age group. The girl dressed as Clinton had a photo of Clinton’s face blown up and held in front of her own face and she wore a pantsuit. The boy dressed as Trump had a “Make America Great” hat and a blazer on, and there was money sticking out of his blazer pocket. There was an adult Nasty Woman and a Basket Full of Deplorables, which I never saw but I heard about later from Beth and Noah. I’d predicted someone would do that, but Beth and Noah said it wasn’t done the way I would have guessed. It was a man with a basket attached to his rear. I would have preferred it as a group costume with multiple people in a big basket.

Speaking of group costumes there was a group of adults I think was going as decades. There was a flapper, Elvis, a hippie, etc. I liked that idea. People were walking around taking pictures of each other and both kids had their pictures taken by a representative from the Recreation Department and by strangers.

Around two it was time to divide by age. I went to march with June and the nine to twelve year olds and Beth went with Noah in the teen and adult area. Usually the judges circulating through the crowd only ask a few people’s names and if they ask yours there’s a good chance, but not a guarantee, that you’re going to win. It at least means you’re under consideration. But this year the nine-to-twelve judge was asking every kid’s name and it took a while for her to get them all down. Then later, once we were marching, she came back and asked June for her name again. June thought that was a good sign.

We marched to downtown Takoma and June did pretty well with her boot. When anyone commented on her costume, she handed them one of the business cards she had in her jacket pocket. They have a picture of her on the front and tongue twisters on the back and they say, “You’ll be tongue-tied by the time I’m finished.”

While we were waiting for the contest results to be announced, I commented to Beth, “It’s not too cold for gelato,” because we were standing right in front of Dolce Gelati. She didn’t care for any, but I bought some for myself and the kids.

As we were eating the gelato, June realized she didn’t have her tongue. I went back into the Dolce Gelati and downstairs to the bathroom in the basement where we’d just been but I couldn’t find it.  Shortly afterward, a friend of hers (the one dressed as the Phantom of the Opera) came up to us and said, “I found your tongue” and handed it to her. It was black from being on the ground, but she was glad to have it.

“That’s why it’s handy June knows everyone,” I said to Beth.

The Grandsons, a local band that always plays at this event, was up on stage playing. There’s usually a pretty long wait for the results, but sooner than I thought, they were announcing results for the four and unders, and then the five to eights, and then the nine to twelves, without pausing for music between results, as they often do.

In June’s age group, Most Original went to Hillary Clinton, which was a bit of a surprise as Presidential candidates in Presidential election years are not really unexpected. Consider this—in the Family Circus in the Sunday comics, Dolly was Clinton and Billy was Trump. I think we can all agree that it’s in the Family Circus, original is probably not the right characterization.

Scariest went to Donald Trump, another surprise because I didn’t think a contest run by a municipal government would go there. We waited for Funniest, because June had strategically tried to design a costume she thought could win any of those three categories. And they never announced it. They just took a break for a musical interlude before the teen and adult results.

Well, we were all sad for June because it was a good costume and she really wanted to win, as did Noah. For whatever reason, both kids have latched onto this contest and it means a lot to them. Nonetheless, she took it pretty well, even if she was surprised. I think after her name was taken a second time, she thought she had it in the bag. I’ll admit, I kind of thought she did, too.

After another song or two, they announced Most Original for teens and adults and it was one of the Ghostbusters. Scariest went to one of the zombies, a good one with a lot of elaborate makeup and Funniest was…the Samsung phone. The M.C. made a joke about asking him to stay away from the stage, but Noah went up and collected his prize, a $25 gift certificate for Busboys and Poets. He was happy to win, though I think he would have preferred Most Original. Unlike June, he has a clear preference for that category.

While we waited for Beth to fetch the car, Noah kept telling June the judging was really bad this year. I was touched by that because I didn’t feel that as her parents Beth and I could say too much about it or we’d be modeling poor sportsmanship. However, he was better positioned to comment on it, both as her brother and someone who had just won.

We headed home, made popcorn and watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, because June had been wanting to do that. Then I read Serafina and the Twisted Staff to her, while Noah did some homework. Around six, we dropped June off at her friend Claire’s house for their annual Halloween party where she met friends dressed as an archer, a fallen angel, a vending machine. Once we’d dropped her off, Beth, Noah, and I went out to dinner at Noah’s favorite Italian restaurant.

Monday: Trick or Treat

Getting the kids out the door for trick-or-treating was nearly as rushed as getting to the parade. Right before it was time to leave, I realized I needed to do June’s hair because Beth wasn’t home yet, and the kids remembered I hadn’t gotten the Frankenstein’s Monster head candy bowl from the basement and we hadn’t set up either the little coffin with a skeleton and colored mist coming from it, or the bigger fog machine. I got the candy bowl and filled it and set Noah to work on the fog machines.

Plus, there were some Halloween decoration we never got around to putting the batteries in—despite June’s frequent reminders. And I never made a replacement Halloween playlist to play while waiting for trick-or-treaters.  Over the years I’ve made two of these, both of which got accidentally deleted for some reason.

The kids left around 6:40 with Noah was protesting it was too early and no one would be home and Beth and me telling them to go already because June was slow with her boot and he was slow in his costume and I wanted them home by eight because June would need to wash the hairspray out of her hair and he had undone homework.

I did the dinner dishes and waited by the door for trick-or-treaters. I heard one group making their way through the fog on the way to the door saying, “I forgot about this house,” so I guess we were decorated enough, even without all the batteries.

The kids came home a little after eight, and Megan came to the door around 8:20 while June was about to get in the bath, so she came to the door in a bath robe, with her crazy hair. Megan had called that afternoon to invite June to trick or treat with her, but between their more ambitious route and June’s ankle and Noah not having plans to go with anyone else, it seemed best not to change plans at the last minute.  We promised June they could go together next year, maybe without adults, if it was okay with Megan’s folks. June and Noah tried to hit Megan’s house while they were out but no one was home, so I’m glad they at least got to see each other, however briefly. Megan had on a Mexican dress and a Day of the Dead mask and skeleton tights. 

This is Halloween for us. We decorate the porch and the yard and carve pumpkins, the kids make costumes and march in the parade. Sometimes they win the contest and sometimes they don’t. They come home on Halloween night with bags full of sweets and plans for next year.

Break a Leg

A week after June fell off the playground equipment and hurt her right ankle, she still was in a lot of pain and couldn’t put any weight on that leg, so Beth took her to see an orthopedist and it turns out it wasn’t a sprain at all–she’d fractured the growth plate of her fibula. It’s apparently a common injury in kids from ten to fifteen years old who are undergoing growth spurts and her feet have been growing very quickly recently. So now she’s in a boot for three weeks and when she gets out of that, she’ll have a brace for another three weeks. She’s still using one of the crutches for balance, but it’s easier for her to get around now that she can put both feet on the ground. We both feel bad about the fact that she was walking around for a week with a fractured ankle.

So…the 5K she was going to run in mid-November is now out of the picture. She’s still going to her running club practice twice a week, to cheer on her team mates. And on Thursday, her first practice with the boot, she walked laps while the other girls ran. I let her basketball coach know that she probably won’t be able to run when practice starts up again in late November. He’s working on some drills she can do without running, because he’s that kind of coach.

The final performance in June’s acting class was Wednesday afternoon, the very day she got the boot. I contacted Gretchen to let her know June would be there, but that she probably wouldn’t be able to change into the bottom half of her costume. She was supposed to be wearing a bathing suit. As soon as she got home from school, we threw her swim top in a bag along with her props and headed out to the elementary school where the class meets on the bus.

Parents weren’t supposed to come into the room until twenty-five minutes into class, so the kids could run through their scenes, but once I’d accompanied June up to the third floor classroom and gotten her situated, Gretchen asked if I’d like to stay and I did. I watched while Gretchen and the members of June’s group hastily re-blocked the scene so June could be sitting down the whole time.

When the rest of the parents came in, the kids demonstrated a couple of acting warm-up games I’d seen on the first day of class–it was the one where they all have to repurpose a prop and the one where they form a human machine by performing repetitive movements while saying one line from their scenes.

The first scene was from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Gretchen’s older daughter Lottie was filling in for a kid who dropped out of the class a few weeks ago. The three actors were all expressive and had a good rapport with each other despite having had less time to work together than the other groups. (Watching them practice this scene over the course of six weeks piqued June’s interest in the play, and we just finished the last novel in the series, so we’re reading the play now.)

The next scene was adapted from a novel called Bad Girls. In it one girl is bullying another and a third who wants to social climb but has some reservations about what it takes. Again the kids all worked well together and did a good job conveying the sometimes conflicting emotions of the scene.

After each scene, Gretchen would talk about acting principles it demonstrated, such as subtext, substitution, objects, or obstacles. In most of the scenes, she had the actors stop and start over if there was a rough spot and then she’d discuss the challenges the actors were facing. It was a like a little acting seminar.

In the June’s scene, the third one, the challenge was the lines. Her group was doing a scene from Foursome, an absurdist play by Ionesco. The lines are so repetitive it can be quite easy to lose your place, whether you’re looking at the script or you’re off book, as June was. They only had to stop once, and they put quite a lot of passion into the scene, which is an argument.

At first, the other two characters are arguing and June’s character is reading a book and sipping a drink and trying to ignore them. Then she intervenes as the voice of reason and gradually gets drawn into the argument and becomes as emotional as the other two.  She was supposed to start sitting while the other two characters argue with each other, and then jump up to join the argument, but in the new blocking, she stayed seated the whole time. It would have been harder to change the movements of the other two characters because they get quite physical with each other.

The final scene was from the film version of Where the Wild Things Are. In this scene, the actors demonstrated their off scene beat, or an imagined pre-scene they use to get into character. Some of the other groups showed theirs, too, but this one was more involved and the two boys played it for laughs.

I always enjoy seeing June perform and this was a fun event. I liked seeing the kids acting as well as seeing some of the process behind it. Gretchen just announced the play for next summer’s musical drama camp will be Beauty and the Beast and June’s already looking forward to that. She thinks she’d like to be the beast.

And speaking of acting, I mentioned a few posts ago that June was in an online commercial for the Alliance for Retired Americans. Well, it turns out it was just her feet. They’re the ones waltzing in pink crocs:

We’re all looking forward to seeing both her feet, without an Ace bandage, a boot or a brace sometime in early December.

Of Pumpkins and Presidents

We live pretty near the Maryland/Virginia border but we don’t go to Virginia often. We’re more often in the District, where Beth works and where our doctors and dentists are. However, in the past week, we’ve visited our sister state twice, or at least June and I have.

1. Pumpkins

Late last Saturday afternoon we drove forty-five minutes to Potomac Vegetable Farm, our traditional source for jack-o-lantern pumpkins. There are certainly closer places we could get pumpkins or pumpkin farms with more bells and whistles in terms of activities, festivals, etc. But we started going to Potomac Vegetable Farm before the kids were born because the family of a friend of ours from college ran it, and now it’s a sacred tradition. We’ve only missed one year when we all had a stomach bug.

On the way there I noticed Northern Virginia is Clinton/Kaine country, if yard signs are any indication. And that’s good, because unlike reliably blue Maryland, Virginia is a swing state, or it often is, in a normal year. (It went for Obama twice, but Bush twice before that.) It’s looking pretty safe for Clinton at the moment.

Noah was working on the script and storyboard of his dystopian trailer before we left and it was hard to pull him away from it, but I’m glad he agreed to come because it turned into a pretty fun family outing. We picked out some decorative gourds and our jack-o-lanterns—I opted to go with a white pumpkin this year—took the traditional pumpkin farm photo of the kids, and stocked up on cider and fall produce. I got beets, squash, a sweet potato, and some late cherry tomatoes to cook with and Beth got a couple green tomatoes, which would supplement our garden tomatoes when she made her signature fried green tomatoes for dinner on Sunday.

From the farm, we headed to Sunflower, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant we’ve never tried before and which we all enjoyed. If you go, I recommend the fake shrimp. I also appreciated the owners’ commitment to sunflowers in the décor. There were real sunflowers growing outside the restaurant (dead now of course, but I’m sure it was pretty when they were in bloom) and sunflowers decorations everywhere you look inside.

As we finished our meal, we discussed dessert options. June’s been wanting to try bubble tea for a while now and Beth looked on her phone and found a (mostly) Asian dessert place nearby that carried it. June got mango and I got coconut and Beth and Noah went for chocolate cake and raspberry cheesecake respectively. As we drove home, sipping our sweet drinks and listening to Halloween music and catching glimpses of the enormous full moon that kept popping in and out of view, I felt deeply content. Over the next week, whenever I glimpsed the little pumpkin and yellow and green gourd on my desk, it kept reminding me of that pleasant day.

2. Presidents

Almost a week later, on Friday, I chaperoned a fifth grade field trip to Mount Vernon. I signed up because the last field trip I went on to Saint Mary’s City last spring was fun. But as happened last time, I didn’t really expect to be chosen because there are often more parents who want to chaperone trips than there are slots. But when June came home the next day with a form about a new online training about child abuse and neglect all school volunteers have to complete and I asked if I could wait to see if I was chosen before I did it, she said, “Oh, you’re in.”

So I did the training, and it was kind of annoying, because near the end I lost all my progress due to a computer glitch and then I had to start over. But I persevered and Friday morning found me at June’s school.

We almost didn’t go on the trip because on Wednesday at recess June twisted her ankle and on Thursday morning she still couldn’t put any weight on it, but she really wanted to go so we decided to give it a try.

We got a ride to school with Megan’s mom, who was dropping off her younger daughter. The buses left the school at 9:40 and crossed the Maryland/Virginia border about twenty minutes later. It was a pretty drive. The leaves are just starting to change and we passed the Washington Monument, National Airport, and drove through charming Old Town Alexandria with all its colonial architecture. I noticed some water birds in the Potomac. And then about 10:35 we arrived at Mount Vernon. As we disembarked from the bus, Zoë noticed the Clinton button on my backpack and said, “I like your button.”

Chaperones were allowed to wander with their groups until our tour of the mansion at 11:30. I was sharing a group of eight girls with the father of one of June’s friends, but it soon became clear June couldn’t keep up on her crutches, so I told him I was going to peel off with her so we could go at her pace. We made our way slowly toward the mansion, stopping to rest on benches and to read short bits of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows while her classmates went to explore the farm and gardens.

June was a trooper with the crutches, but she was getting tired and red-faced, so when we got to the mansion, I left her with her math teacher—I couldn’t find my co-chaperone or her social studies teacher—to go see if I could get a loaner wheelchair. In retrospect, I should have done this at the entrance, where they have more wheelchairs, but we were still trying to keep up with the group then and there was no time to stop and ask. They only had an adult size wheelchair at the mansion. The wheels were too far apart for June to comfortably maneuver it by herself but all we needed was some respite from walking for her and I could push her.

She rode in the wheelchair through the line to get into the mansion and then we stowed it outside because she wanted to go up to the second floor. During their reading about George Washington and his family she got especially interested in his step-granddaughter Nelly and she wanted to see her room, so she hopped up the stairs while I held the crutches.

There were a lot of school groups visiting that day (or maybe every day) and so they really hustle you through the house, but you can explore the out buildings at your leisure. We peeked into the smokehouse, the stables and carriage house, the storehouse, the clerk’s office, and the paint storage cellar. They used a lot of paint at Mount Vernon because even though the mansion looks like it’s made of stone, it’s really made of wood carved to look like masonry and painted with paint mixed with fine sand, to give it the glitter of mica in stone. Anyway, it needed frequent repainting. We got shooed away from the ice house because we’d gotten too close to a private tour group, so we never saw inside it.

Reading the signs, I noticed they almost never used the word “slave.” Instead it would say “enslaved gardeners,” “enslaved cooks,” “the enslaved population,” etc. It made me reflect on how this shifts the concept from slavery as a state which is continually forced on a person rather than a slave being something he or she inherently is.

I asked June what else she wanted to see and she said the Washingtons’ tomb so I pushed the wheelchair carefully down a pebbly hill to see George and Martha’s white marble sarcophaguses housed a big brick tomb that also houses the remains of other relatives as well. I would have liked to go see the slave memorial and the wharf but I was afraid of going even further downhill with the wheelchair. I learned later from the Mount Vernon website we were only fifty yards from the slave memorial at the time, but I didn’t know that, just what direction the signs said to go. It was hard pushing the chair back up the hill so when a passerby asked if he could help I accepted his offer. Thanks, stranger!

We peeked into a vegetable garden and an orchard on our way back to the museum but we didn’t go into them, as there were stairs. At the museum we toured exhibits about Washington’s childhood, the French and Indian War, and the Revolutionary War. It was nice to have a flat surface for the wheelchair. We didn’t have time to see the 4-D movie we later heard June’s classmates extol, but maybe we’ll go back some day.

We returned the wheelchair and re-joined June’s classmates for a late picnic lunch on the lawn near the driveway. As we ate the sky clouded over, the temperature dropped dramatically, a terrific wind kicked up, blowing leaves everywhere, and it started to sprinkle rain. By the time we were gathered to wait for the buses, it was raining in earnest. I helped June into her raincoat and urged her to go slowly on the wet pavement. (She’d fallen twice on wet restroom floors in the museum.)

We ran into traffic on the way home and there was a lot of water on the road the bus pushed up in sheets and the drive that took less than an hour getting there two hours and fifteen minutes getting back. We were an hour and twenty minutes late returning to school and the whole fifth grade missed their school buses. (Something similar happened on the way home from St. Mary’s last spring so I wasn’t surprised.) I’d been hoping to put June on her school bus and walk home by myself, but we got a ride with another chaperone. Thanks, Mindy!

During the bus ride, I asked June if she was glad she went and she said, “Yes. Are you?” I said I was glad to have gone and also to have been there to help her get around. “I wouldn’t have gone without you,” she said, leaning against me and resting her head on my shoulder. She was so tuckered out she actually fell asleep for fifteen minutes or so.

I have a piece of paper on which I jotted down these words, a quote from Washington, which were painted on the wall in the museum: “That the Government, though not absolutely perfect, is one of the best in the world, I have little doubt.”

Our democracy was far from perfect then, as I’m sure the enslaved population and many of the women would have attested, and it’s still far from perfect, but it’s gradually getting closer to fulfilling its promise and I think it’s quite a lot better than near-apocalyptic vision of one of the Presidential candidates. It was moving to visit the home of our first President near the end of the second term of our first African-American President and on the eve, I hope, of the first term of our first female President. It makes me wonder what other almost unimaginable changes will take place in my children’s lifetimes.

Visitation Day

Monday

Monday was Columbus Day and that means we spent the day at the kids’ schools. The schools all have open houses that day because many parents have the day off work, plus by that point the kids have been back to school for six weeks, more than half of a marking period, so everyone is or less back in the swing of the routine. We choose to visit Noah’s school in the morning, because that’s when he has his CAP classes and June’s in the afternoon because that’s when she has her only accelerated class (Math 5/6).

At we got out of the car in the high school parking lot, Noah said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Yes, we did. I’ve always found these visits instructive, ever since the kids were in kindergarten. There’s no substitute for seeing your kids’ classes in action.

Normally Noah has most of his classes every other day, but so parents can see any class there are shortened versions of all nine periods on visitation day. (Doesn’t that make it sound as if the kids are in juvy? Or maybe expecting the Virgin Mary?).

We stayed for four periods—Journalism, Media Production, English, and AP Government. The lesson in Journalism was a discussion about interviewing sources—basically dos and don’ts and the reasons behind them. In Media Production, they were working on their biggest project for the fall—producing trailers for imaginary dystopian films. The teacher talked about the assignment for a while and then they broke into their groups to work on their proposals for the assignment. I occasionally approached his group, and hung around, trying to get close enough to hear but staying far away enough so he didn’t die of mortification. When I wandered away, I admired the posters from last year’s dystopian trailers on the wall.

In both of the next two periods there was a chance we’d see him present something, a speech and a skit, but we didn’t know if his turn would come while we were there, so there was a bit of suspense. The speeches in English were part of their unit on 1984. They had to write a short persuasive speech using ethos, pathos, logos, and at least three propaganda techniques. They’d drawn their topics from two piles of index cards, one of possible audiences and one of proposed actions. This resulted in some amusing combinations. Noah’s favorite was “Convince the RNC to buy tutus.” (Beth said she thought if someone told the RNC Donald Trump would disappear if they’d wear tutus, they’d all be sporting them.)

Noah’s assignment was to convince soccer moms in his school’s PTSA to join his high school’s (imaginary) painting club. We didn’t get to see him give it at school, though we’d both heard it at home—I thought he made especially good use of the slippery slope, by arguing that if moms didn’t spend quality time with their kids this way, the kids would do poorly in school and end up homeless. We did get to hear kids try to convince Santa’s elves to buy English textbooks, nudists to purchase juice with probiotics, single women to adopt cats, and business executives to shave their head to benefit children’s cancers. The kids were smart and funny—they knew how to keep it fun without losing sight of the assignment’s objectives.

In AP Government, the kids were presenting their mock campaign ads. Again, they’d been randomly assigned their candidates and ad formats. Noah’s group was doing what used to be called a “man on the street” ad for Clinton, though Noah said they call it “real people” now. This time we did get to see his group go. I thought Noah had the best line: “I pay my taxes. Hillary Clinton pays her taxes. I mean, that’s something we have in common.” His delivery and timing were just right. Most of the kids chose a skit format, as they hadn’t had much time to prepare their ads, but one group did a video for Johnson, with a student pretending to a little kid talking to his (real) father about the election.

We left Noah’s school around eleven and went to the Sears repair center to drop off our malfunctioning microwave, then out to lunch, and then home for just long enough to do the breakfast dishes and start some laundry and then to June’s school to see her math lesson.

June’s class has been working on multiplying and dividing fractions. The teacher went over a few problems on the Promethean board, covering both the mechanics of different ways to do the problems and also engaging the kids in discussion about why these methods work. Then the students broke into groups to rotate through activities.

June started on a laptop, doing an online review unit on multiplying three-digit numbers by two-digit numbers. Next she played a game with a boy, that involved drawing flat sticks with fraction multiplication problems written on them from a cylinder. They’d take turns solving the problems while other student checked their answers from an answer key. Each time a student correctly solved a problem, he or she would keep it and whoever had more sticks at the end won. The twist was some of the sticks said, “Zap” on them and if you drew that one, you lost all your accumulated sticks. Next June and six other students met with the teacher for small group instruction. The only activity she didn’t get to do was watching videos about multiplying and dividing fractions. The class seemed thoughtfully taught and the kids were engaged.

This was my last Columbus Day observing an elementary school class. Middle school is on the horizon. October is the month fifth graders have to decide if they are applying to any magnets and if so which ones. If June had her way she’d be applying to the performing arts magnet but it’s far away and there’s no bus provided, so we’ve regretfully ruled it out, as we did for Noah.

Of the schools she can apply to, June was adamant for a long time that she only wanted to apply to the humanities magnet Noah attended and not to the math and science one and we’d agreed that was fine. However, when her fourth grade PARCC scores came home last week and her math scores were higher than her reading and writing scores, I said, half-jokingly, “Are you sure you don’t want to apply?”

She surprised me by saying, “I don’t know. Maybe I will.” And later that day, she said she’d decided she would apply to both. I’m glad she’s keeping her options open. If she doesn’t get into either or chooses not to attend one, she’ll go to our home middle school, where she could continue in Spanish immersion. It’s only a quarter of the school day—two periods in Spanish and six in English– but that’s about how her school day breaks down now and it’s another good option to have. I think she could do well at any of those three schools.

Wednesday and Thursday

The kids had Wednesday off school for Yom Kippur and June started working on the application essay for the humanities magnet. As she did so, she spoke somewhat glumly of the odds of getting in (they expect 650 applications for the 100 spots available).  “Have some confidence,” Noah said. It was an odd, and touching, moment of role reversal for them.

We’ll be visiting all three middle schools this month, and going to current elementary school to hear a panel of alumni reporting back on each of the schools. The first information session was Thursday evening at the Humanities magnet. They divided the kids and parents up for separate presentations so I’m not sure what she heard, but it must have been very convincing, because when we were re-united she said, “I really want to go here.” We saw a lot of people we knew—I think there were at least five kids from her preschool class alone—not to mention kids she knows from elementary school and extracurricular activities.

It made the idea of June and her peers actually in middle school somewhat less theoretical and abstract. And if we needed any reminder we’re about to leave elementary school behind for good and have two kids in secondary school, this month will be a loud and clear one.

Famous People, Postscript

Well, if acting in an online advertisement and winning a small town pie contest count as steps toward fame, June’s getting more famous. In any case, she had quite the weekend.

The commercial consisted of kids doing things associated with older people, waltzing and playing bingo, specifically. I think the gist is that the Alliance for Retired Americans is working to ensure the social safety net for seniors is still intact when today’s kids are retired. I haven’t seen it yet. I’ll post it when we get a copy.

And yes, she won the Takoma Park pie contest, in the Most Unusual category. Her entry was a cantaloupe pie with a whipped cream/cream cheese topping. There were fifty-seven entries and seven categories: Best Apple Pie, Best Peach Pie, Best Other Pie/Sweet, Best Other Pie/Savory, Most Unusual Pie, Best Kid Pie, and Yummy Mess. The judges were local politicians, a food writer, a chef, and a restaurant owner.

June’s entered this contest three or four years running and because last year the judges were very late announcing the winners, I was wandering through the stalls of the farmers’ market looking for a raspberry-yogurt smoothie and I missed the announcement when they made it, five minutes early. June didn’t hear it either and had to run over when Beth was motioning wildly to her. She got there in time to receive her certificate, free farmers’ market hat and tote bag.

Then we got in line to buy slices of pie. The contest is a benefit, the proceeds of which buy vouchers for SNAP recipients to purchase farmers’ market produce, so when you enter, you’ve donated your pie and if you want to taste it, you need to buy a slice. (The contest ended up raising $956 for the SNAP Match Fund.) We bought two slices of June’s pie, a slice of peaches and cream pie, and a slice of apple caramel pie.

Beth told June she was proud of her for going her own way and being original. The contest used to be an apple pie contest but this year they opened it up to any kind of pie using in-season ingredients available at the farmers’ market. When June wanted to make a cantaloupe cream pie, Beth was skeptical about how it would taste. But June held firm and it was actually pretty good. I thought it tasted like a pumpkin pie, but without the spices and sweeter. I said we were also proud of her for not getting discouraged after having entered the contest a few times, without winning.

Then June launched into an earnest explanation of how when you don’t win something, you learn about how to do better and if you keep trying, you’ll eventually win. This has been her experience with the Halloween costume contest and the pie contest, and it seemed like it might be poor parenting to say some people never win, despite their best efforts, so I held my tongue.

If you’d like to try the pie, here’s the recipe, adapted from this one June found online.

Marvelous Melon Pie

Ingredients List

Crust

1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
3 T powdered sugar
8 T butter

Filling

4 c. cubed cantaloupe
1 c. sugar
1/3 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 c. cornstarch
¼ tsp. salt

3 egg yolks
3 T water
1 T butter

Topping

1 c. heavy whipping cream
8 oz Neufchatel
½ c. sugar
1 T milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

  1. Mix flour and powdered sugar together. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press dough into the bottom and up the sides of an 8.75” pie tin.
  2. Bake crust for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk together sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt.
  4. Puree cantaloupe. Cook puree over medium heat. When the puree begins to warm, stir in sugar/flour/cornstarch/salt mixture. Add butter.
  5. Cook and stir until mixture comes to a low boil and begins to thicken. Beat egg yolks and water together in a small bowl. Gradually stir in a small amount of cantaloupe mixture to warm yolks. Pour yolk mixture into cantaloupe and continue cooking for 2 minutes more while stirring continuously.
  6. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Once cooled slightly, pour into pie shell.
  7. With a mixer, beat whipping cream until it forms soft peaks. Set aside.
  8. Cream together Neufchatel cheese and sugar. Beat in milk and vanilla until smooth, then fold in whipped cream until well blended. Spread evenly over cantaloupe in pie tin.

Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving

Famous People

In mid-August, while we were still on vacation, I made a list of all the extracurricular activities June wanted to do this fall and when they met. There were six: her school orchestra, voice lessons, acting class, gymnastics, Girls on the Run (running club), and Girl Scouts. Amazingly, none of them conflicted with each other, so it was up to me to decide how much was too much, in terms of money and running her around, and trying leaving her a least a little down time.

Have you seen this article about getting back into the swing of school and kids’ activities? I must say I identified.

I presented June with the list as we were driving home from West Virginia and asked her to cut it down to four, at least one of which had to be a physical activity. This was agonizing for her. She eliminated gymnastics first, which was a little surprising, since the summer Olympics were still in progress and I thought she might be inspired by the U.S. women’s team’s excellent performance. Not taking gymnastics meant she was definitely doing Girls on the Run, and because that activity was the only one with a looming registration deadline, we left the other decisions for later. For weeks, she was stuck between quitting Girl Scouts or quitting orchestra. She knew for sure she wanted to start two new activities: voice lessons and acting class.

Girl Scouts started the last week of August and she went to the first three meetings, as I’d already signed her up last spring, and orchestra hadn’t started yet. I told her she could decide to stop going if she wanted to switch to orchestra, as we’d only be out $15, but she was leaning toward staying in Scouts.

It made me a little sad to think of her quitting violin after playing for three years and showing some aptitude for it. Because orchestra meets at school and it’s free, it would be an almost effortless extracurricular (like chorus, which we don’t even count as an extracurricular for that reason) if it weren’t for practicing. She’s often reluctant to practice, and she’s had the summer off playing, except for orchestra camp, so I knew getting her back into the habit could involve some nagging and would also have to be squeezed into her busy afternoons and evenings.

On the one hand, I felt guilty for putting limits on her by making her choose between the many, many things that interest her. But on the other hand, when her winter basketball coach contacted us about starting practice early this year and wanted to know what evenings she was free and the answer was “almost none,” I felt bad about that, too, as it seemed to indicate I’d let her get overscheduled.  There’s no winning this game. I am going to feel guilty no matter I do.  But apparently she’s not the only busy fifth grade girl we know because later when the coach got back to us he said there was no night when he could get a quorum, so he scotched the idea of starting practice so far in advance of the season, and I have to admit that was a relief.

I didn’t actually get the starting and ending dates for all her activities until last week and when I did I realized that because orchestra starts late this year, not until the last week of September, that if she attended the four voice lessons we’d already purchased, and then she took a break from those lessons for about a month, the acting class would be over and there would only be one week when she’d only have five activities going at once (which really meant six meetings because GOTR meets twice a week).

I made her this offer before she’d had her first voice lesson and she said she wanted to start the lessons before she decided. I figure if she isn’t willing to swap a month of voice lessons for a whole school year of orchestra she doesn’t really want to play violin anymore and I’ll feel okay about her quitting if that’s what she chooses. We’ll see.

First Voice Lesson

June’s first voice lesson was the second week of school, on the Friday after Labor Day. She’s taking them at the music school where she took violin for two years before she started taking it at school instead and where Noah takes drum lessons in the summers and last year when he wasn’t in band. (More on Noah and band below.)

The music school is on the second floor of a narrow row house and the recital space, office, and three practice rooms, while warm and inviting, are a little cramped. (They are in the process of expanding into another building on the same block.) So I was glad to find her lesson would be in the largest studio, where there’s a window looking out on some trees and a comfy couch over by the drum kit where I could sit, while June and the teacher, Ms. A, stood and sat by the piano.

Ms. A started out by having June sing notes to determine her range. She seemed surprised and impressed by it. Next she asked June what kind of music she liked. Katy Perry and Bach, she said, a combination which gave Ms. A another surprise. Ms. A asked which kind of music she’d prefer to work on, pop or classical. Pop, June said. I added that she’s in a musical theater camp every summer, so that’s another style she enjoys. Ms. A found Katy Perry’s “Firework” and “Quiet” from Matilda on her phone and had June sing along to both.

Between them, they decided to make those her first two songs, starting with the pop tune. Ms. A instructed June to play notes on the keyboard at home and sing along with them, and to watch herself singing in the mirror, as they are going to work on aspects of performance other than purely vocal ones.

June was quite satisfied with the lesson. As we were walking home, she picked up a chunk of concrete from a crumbly place in the sidewalk. “A souvenir of my first voice lesson,” she said. Then she said if she ever became a famous pop singer someone might buy it for a lot of money. “You never know what people will buy from famous people,” she said.

I don’t know if June will ever be famous, but when Beth shared this picture of her on a dock on the Chesapeake Bay while they were on a mother-daughter overnight trip to Southern Maryland last weekend, I joked it should be her first album cover, assuming cover art still exists then. Beth’s mom says it’s “full of feeling” and that seems appropriate for June.

Acting class 

By the third week of school, June’s activities were nearly in full swing, with everything but orchestra having started. Girls on the Run had its first two meetings. Beth is one of the Tuesday morning coaches this year, so she’ll be going with June to the before-school practices. 

Acting class started the next day. The class is at a nearby elementary school and is taught by the director of June’s musical theater camp. June met Gretchen by taking her preschool drama class, when June was three and four years old and has been summer camps with her every year since she was five, so they know each other well. June has a few friends in the class as well, which is nice.

We met Gretchen outside the school at four o’clock, five minutes before the class’s starting time, but we weren’t allowed to enter the building because bus dismissal was running late and the school was supposed to be clear of bus riders before extracurricular classes could start. Gretchen was getting nervous that the students in the class who attend this school and could have already been sent to the room by their teachers might leave when they saw she wasn’t there. Finally, she secured permission to enter before the wayward buses arrived and we found the room and a handful of kids waiting for us.

I won’t normally attend the class—in fact June may walk there herself some days—but I’d brought June to make sure she found her way to the room and so I could pay, and I was curious so I asked if I could stay.

Gretchen started off with an exercise meant to help the kids learn each other’s names. They had to come up with a word that alliterates with their names. June had done this very exercise at GOTR just the day before so she stuck with the name she gave herself there, “Jumpy June.” There were some theater games next. The kids had to describe the sensory experience of eating a sandwich (everyone chose a different kind), come up with new uses for a prop (a plastic basket) and then turn themselves into interlocking parts of a machine. (It was a time machine.)

With a half hour left, Gretchen starting describing and distributing scripts for short scenes the kids will work on in groups of two and three for the rest of the six-week class. She lay them on the carpet so kids could pick them up and browse through them. June gravitated at first to a scene from The Christmas Carol, but no one else was interested in that one. There was a boy who wanted to do a scene from Bridge to Terabithia who was in a similar position and as both of the scenes called for a boy/girl pair, I thought one of them might decide to join the other, but instead June drifted over to a pair of girls who needed one more girl for a scene from Ionesco’s Foursome. The translation (and the all-female casting) was from Gretchen’s master’s thesis. I have to say French absurdist theater was a bit of a surprise, but June says she likes the scene because it’s an argument and she gets to yell. Her group will be performing it at the end of October.

As we were leaving the class, Maggie’s mom offered to drive June home, not only that day, but on an ongoing basis, an offer I readily accepted because it will simplify my Wednesday afternoons.

Speaking of rides, that evening after we were in bed, Beth asked me how June was getting home from her Thursday afternoon GOTR practice, and I realized I hadn’t made arrangements for that. I was already fretting about the fact that Noah had a lot of homework assignments due Friday and he hadn’t used his time well while I was at June’s acting class, plus I’d be away the next evening at Back to School Night at Noah’s school, so I wouldn’t be able to supervise much Thursday night either. I was also feeling guilty that June and I hadn’t managed a whole chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that day because what time I did have between getting home, putting the finishing touches on the dinner I’d made while the kids were at school, and doing the dinner dishes, I spent reading four chapters of 1984 to Noah and quizzing him on the geography of Central America and the Caribbean.

I knew I wouldn’t sleep unless I took care of this first, so I got out of bed to email Zoë’s mom to ask if she could bring June home. This was the arrangement last spring, but I hadn’t touched base with her about it. The fact that I don’t drive often complicates June’s extracurricular schedule. Anyway, I had my answer and June had her ride by the time I woke up the next morning.

Update on Noah and band:  

It took a few emails and most of the first week of school to sort out, but eventually we learned that Noah was not mistakenly put in the band that appeared on his schedule. The non-audition concert band he wanted meets during one of his required CAP classes and the advanced band teacher agreed to let him in without audition, at the request of his guidance counsellor, who remembered he couldn’t get into band last year and felt sorry for him. When Noah first learned what happened, his first instinct was to quit, because he worried he was in over his head, but after some encouraging words from the band teacher and some nudging from us, he decided to stay. I’m proud of him, because he can be self-critical about his playing and the idea of playing with advanced musicians is somewhat stressful for him.

Noah doesn’t seek the spotlight as readily as his sister—who couldn’t believe he wanted to be in a band and he was in a band and was thinking of quitting that band—but he does like to play, and it always makes me happy to hear his drums or his bells, just as I like to see June on stage. I love to watch them perform, famous or not.

Meanwhile, June will have another chance to perform this weekend. Remember when she was in a commercial for the NEA three years ago? On Saturday morning she’s going to participate in the filming of another one for the Alliance of Retired Americans, a lobbying organization for retired members of the AFL-CIO. She may or may not be in the final cut. Wish her luck!

Update (9/17): Because there were only twelve kids at the shoot, they are using footage with all of them.