About Steph

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

Everything Happens at Once

This was my Facebook status on Wednesday: “Steph went to a middle school awards ceremony last night and will go to an elementary school art show tonight and a middle school band concert tomorrow night. It’s the time of year when everything happens at once.”

But before I tell you about all those events… a bit of news about June. She told Beth a week ago that she’s been having trouble at school with a girl who used to be a friend of hers, but with whom she’s clashed on and off for a little over a year. Apparently, the girl has been talking about June behind her back for the past month, which if you’re keeping track, is how long it’s been since June lost her voice.

Beth and I had both been wondering, if the issue was psychological as the ENT concluded, what exactly it was. The most upsetting thing that’s happened to her recently that we knew about was not getting into the Highly Gifted Center, but the timing wasn’t right. We found out about that in mid-March and she didn’t lose her voice until late April. Suddenly everything made more sense.

After talking first with Beth and then with me, June came up with a plan to go see the counselor at school on Tuesday. We hoped that talking to us and then to a professional might help, but Tuesday she came home saying the counselor suggested trying to talk to the girl, and she did and it didn’t go well. In fact, she thought it had only “made things worse.” This was discouraging, to say the least. I kept thinking that in an after school special, after talking to the school counselor, or better yet, while talking to the counselor, her voice would dramatically return. The television of my youth has steered me wrong in so many ways.

Anyway, back to the week’s events…

Tuesday: Middle School Awards Ceremony

When you are invited to the awards ceremony at Noah’s school, you don’t know what award your child has won, just that he or she has won (at least) one. In sixth grade the whole band won an award for advancing to the state-level band festival. In seventh grade, he was recognized for perfect attendance, which was vexing, because he had not in fact had perfect attendance and it’s not very satisfying to win something you haven’t earned (5/30/14). This year the band advanced to the state festival again so I was almost sure that was why he was invited, but you never know, he could have won something else as well.

June had a Girl Scout meeting that night and rather than make her miss it, we sent her with Maggie’s family, with whom we usually carpool. The plan was for Beth to leave in the middle (the music awards are early so she thought she had a good chance to see Noah get his award), pick up Maggie and June and bring Maggie home and June back to the high school where the ceremony was taking place. Then another Scout family put in a plea for a ride home and Beth agreed to take three girls with her.

We arrived, after looking a long time for parking in the crowded high school lot, and listened to a brief orchestra and choir performance. The first two sets of awards were for straight As and perfect attendance. I was relieved Noah was not called up for either of those, as unearned awards two years in a row would be too much to take.

The content areas came next. Art and English were the first two. Right in between them, there was an announcement from the stage that two cars, including a red Ford Focus with an Oberlin College sticker on it, needed to move because they were blocking other vehicles. So Beth had to leave a little earlier than planned, and she missed the Music awards. But, much to my surprise, they did not recognize the whole band, as they had two years earlier. Only about a half dozen students were called and Noah wasn’t among them. (There are eighty kids in the band.)

I scanned the rest of the program, wondering what Noah’s award could be. If he were to win one in a content area I’d guess it would be English, because his teacher seems to appreciate his work, or possibly Media because it’s usually his best subject, but those awards had already happened. It wouldn’t be Physical Education, or Reading and Literature (a sixth grade class), maybe Science or Spanish, definitely not World Studies as he has really struggled with completing his work in American History this semester. Well, it wasn’t science or Spanish and it wasn’t World Studies.

I looked at the next group of awards, Specialty Awards. Nothing seemed likely. He doesn’t play a sport. I couldn’t imagine he’d be recognized as Eagle of the Year, for “respect, responsibility, and relationships.” He hasn’t finished the seventy-five hours of volunteer work they need to graduate from high school. (You get an award for finishing it while in middle school.) And he didn’t win the Geography Bee. I came to the unsettling conclusion that he was mistakenly going to get the Student Service Learning award (he’s only three hours short) or that he would never be called to the stage at all, either because the invitation was a mistake or because they’d missed his name for an award he should have won. I didn’t know which of these three options would be most upsetting.

When they got to the SSL awards, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to hear his name or not (I’d half convinced myself we’d miscounted and maybe he did have seventy-five hours), but I didn’t hear it. After the Geography Bee, there was one last award, called the Presidential Award. It didn’t have any description on the program. Once the teacher at the podium explained it was for eighth graders who have maintained at least a 3.5 GPA for every quarter of middle school (except the last one, of course, which isn’t over), I breathed a sigh of relief. He has had a 3.5 or better every quarter.

Later when I asked Noah what he was thinking he’d win (or if he was worried about winning something mistakenly or winning nothing) when he didn’t win a band award, he just shrugged. I think it’s possible he was he was worried, though, because when he crossed the stage, he had a big smile on his face. Beth and June arrived just about five minutes too late to see it.

Wednesday: Elementary School Art Show

There’s an element of surprise at the art show at June’s school, too. Every student has a piece in it, selected by the art teachers, and the kids don’t know ahead of time which one it will be. We were talking about this at dinner one night shortly before the show and Noah said, “What if it’s your worst piece?” June whispered in an exasperated tone—she can still convey exasperation just fine—that it couldn’t be, because the art teacher picked. Beth said later, this exchange tells you a lot about both kids and how they relate to outside validation.

June came home from school in good spirits. I asked her how her second visit to the school counselor had gone. Better, she said, but she didn’t want to say more, so we left it at that. While I was reading to her on the porch, though, she started to seem downcast and not to be very interested in the book, Something Upstairs, a story about a modern boy being haunted the by the ghost of a murdered slave, which she’d been enjoying previously. I asked if she felt sick, as late afternoon is the time she’s most likely to get a migraine and she said no.

I made applesauce for dinner because in addition to her lost voice, and the coughing, and the tongue pain, she had a new symptom—tooth pain. I’d been making scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes and the like for her for the past few days. (Her cough is almost gone, incidentally, and the tongue and tooth pain as well, thank goodness.) I was surprised when she ate only a little of the applesauce—both the kids love homemade applesauce—and nothing else on her plate. She said she wasn’t hungry. I asked if she was okay and if she still wanted to go to the art show and she said yes.

So we went. And for most of the time we were there, it was a pleasant occasion. Megan came running to greet us when she saw June and immediately took her to see June’s piece, which she had already located. It was a collage of a green guitar with musical notes in the background. (The assignment had been to paint something in response to a musical selection.) Then we looked at Megan’s collage and walked through the rest of the exhibits. We saw a lot of interesting art. June waved at friends and we stopped to talk with adults and we all had a good time. As we were leaving, though, June got a stricken look on her face and then she was sick on the sidewalk right in front of the school. We took her inside, alerted an administrator, and took June to the bathroom to get her clean. At home, she went to bed early at her own request.

I thought she might ask to stay home from school the next day, but she woke up feeling fine, and went about getting ready for school, cheerfully noting she’d remembered her library book and to wear sneakers for gym, so I sent her. And when she came home from school Thursday she was very excited because her favorite babysitter was coming to stay with her during Noah’s concert. June adores Eleanor and as we need sitters less and less as she gets older, having her come over is a treat.

Thursday: Middle School Band Concert

Getting Noah fed, dressed in his band clothes, and out the door was such a scramble that it wasn’t even until Beth and I were entering the cafeteria and finding our seats that I had a chance to reflect on the fact that it was his last band concert of middle school and his last band concert for a while because we recently got his ninth grade schedule in the mail and while he requested band, he couldn’t take it because of a schedule conflict. I felt a surprisingly strong wave of sadness about this as the Jazz Band began to play a Herbie Hancock song and the concert was underway. Eventually I relaxed into the music. They played Sonny Rawlings’ “St. Thomas” next and they were really good. They ended, fittingly, with a B.B. King tribute.

Intermediate band played next, among other songs the theme from The Incredibles and “Happy.” Next up was Advanced Band, which is Noah’s band. They played six songs, the first two with the Intermediate band. These were their festival pieces and the band teacher seemed quite satisfied to announce their success there. Next they played “Kitsune: The Fox Spirits,” which is based on Japanese folk tales. After that song, the band teacher recognized “a masterful mallet solo by Noah Lovelady-Allen.” He’s never had a solo in a concert before so that was a nice way to end his middle school band career.

But it got better. He had a solo in the next piece, too (“Arabian Dances”), still on xylophone, and in the last piece, “Blue Ridge Reel” three of the percussionists came to the front of the stage (most of the time they’re in the back where we can’t see them). Noah played spoons, another boy had a washboard, and a girl played the suspended cymbals. While it wasn’t technically a solo, the band teacher did introduce all the featured percussionists.

“Quite a big night for Noah,” a band mom we know said after the concert, and it was, though every time I mention it he tried to downplay it. After the concert the band teacher was circulating, talking to parents and we went to tell him how much Noah has enjoyed band, and he told us Noah was “a great musician” and that he’d submitted his name for a music award, but that he was told he’d submitted too many and had to cut the list. So that was nice to hear, too. I was still sad about him not being in band next year as we left, but it was a lovely farewell.

Weekend

Memorial Day weekend was busy, too. June had a sleepover with Talia on Friday night. I took the girls to Color Me Mine, a paint-your-own-pottery place and then we met Beth and Noah for dinner, which was zPizza and Fro-Zen-Yo. Although this sleepover was in the works long before we learned of June’s social troubles, I thought it would be nice for June to spend an extended period of time with one of her preschool buddies, one who doesn’t attend her school and is removed from the situation.

Then we invited Megan over on Saturday afternoon and they had fun making a sand painting from a kit June got for her birthday (from Megan, I think). This kept June occupied while Beth and I were cleaning out one side of the basement. (We’re getting a French drain installed so it doesn’t flood every time it rains any more.)

On Monday, Megan’s family took June to their pool, which was having an opening weekend party. I hope the past few days, spent in part with her favorite babysitter, one of her oldest friends, and her very best friend prove restorative for June. More than any award, or piece of art, or song, what we all most want to appreciate now is the sound of her voice.

Something to Celebrate

Sunday: Mother’s Day

On Sunday morning June told me, “The next two days are going to be all about you.” She was referring to the fact that my birthday fell the day after Mother’s Day this year. It wasn’t all about me of course. For one thing I was sharing the celebration on Sunday with Beth, but more than that I knew how I was likely to spend those days. It’s not that it can never be all about you when you’re a parent, but sometimes it can’t and this was one of those times.

June did her best to fete us, though. She made us breakfast in bed (waffles with apple slices and yogurt), delivered just after seven and about a half hour later the kids brought us presents—chocolate for Beth, a bouquet of folded cloth flowers June made at Girl Scouts and my very favorite tea (hazelnut) for me. June also made us a card, cut into the shape of a flower. And we stayed in bed reading the paper until almost nine, which was luxurious.

Beth spent the rest of Sunday morning grocery shopping and attending a street fair with June where they had their picture taken with mustaches, as one does. I spent it sitting next to the computer where Noah was working on the organizer for his overdue essay on the Indian Removal Act, reading first the Washington Post magazine and then Brain, Child and looking up every paragraph or so to say something like, “That looks good. Write another sentence.” His ability to attend to his schoolwork is at low ebb these days and it goes considerably faster if someone watches him do it. This has been consuming a lot of my time recently.

He actually finished the organizer, which he’s been working on since March. We were both really happy about that. It was so detailed I thought the essay would practically write itself, but unfortunately, there just wasn’t any more time to work on it that day. After he had lunch and practiced his orchestra bells, he spent the rest of the afternoon re-writing a scene from As You Like It into different poetic genres.

I thought we had received all our Mother’s Day presents but when Beth and June came home, they’d picked up a bouquet of purple flowers, a cookie that said “Mommy” in frosting and balloon in the shape of an inverted pyramid that said “Happy Mother’s Day.” June also thought they should buy popsicles “for Mother’s Day,” but Beth thought fudgsicles were a better idea since she actually likes those.

After I put away the groceries, I went swimming and to the library, then I came home and read a bit to June. We started new book called Witch Catcher, which is the sort of children’s book that begins with the protagonist moving into a spooky old house left to her family by an eccentric distant relative. I read a lot of those books as a kid and it’s a source of continuing disappointment that no eccentric distant relative has ever left me a spooky old house. (I’d prefer one on a cliff overlooking the sea. That’s the best kind.)

For dinner we had takeout Ethiopian, which Beth had picked up earlier in the day. June had the idea that the kids should re-heat it and dish it out themselves and then they would have made dinner for us in addition to breakfast.

Monday: Birthday, ENT Appointment, Band Festival

“Happy birthday,” June said, bearing a tray with a bowl of Cheerios and a glass of orange juice. It was my second breakfast in bed in a row. She’d broken the first glass and Beth was busy cleaning up the juice and the glass and warning people not to walk in the kitchen in bare feet. She was in rush to get Noah out the door and we weren’t doing presents until the evening so we barely spoke.

June was still coughing, and we had an appointment with an ENT in the afternoon, so I worked a little in the morning and then napped after lunch because June had been up late into the night before with a new symptom, tongue pain. (That one only lasted two days.) Around two June and I set out for the doctor’s office, where we were to meet Beth. We arrived in the city early enough to stop at Starbucks and I used the gift card my Mom had sent for by birthday to buy a S’mores frappuchino, which is about the most decadent thing they have on the menu these days, but it was my birthday. June got a more sensible orange-mango smoothie and popcorn.

I knew the doctor’s appointment was not going to give us the magic answer to June’s troubles as soon as the nurse starting asking us questions about her symptoms and looking surprised at every answer. Then the doctor came in and asked a lot of the same questions and she looked surprised, too. She examined June’s throat by putting a tiny camera on flexible tube up her nose. Based on the appearance of her vocal cords and the way they move when she coughed or tried to speak, she told us it’s not croup or laryngitis, which were her pediatrician’s diagnoses. Her throat is irritated (from the non-stop coughing) but not infected and her vocal cords are not inflamed. Also based on the fact that none of the home remedies or medicines she’s had have stopped the coughing, she told us there was “no organic cause.” She reworded this about a half dozen different ways, each time starting, “To be perfectly honest” in case we were having trouble believing her, I guess, but I wasn’t.

I thought back to June’s sprained wrist in first grade and her sprained knee in second grade (5/9/13 & 9/30/13) and how the pain she perceived took much longer to abate than any medical professional thought it should. It seemed it might be another case of miscommunication between her mind and body. And, of course, if there’s no physical cause, there’s no physical cure. So we left the office, all of us downcast and without a treatment plan.

But, it was still my birthday, so we went through with our plan to go out to dinner. Beth suggested we eat in the city but it was early (around five) and I was pretty full from the frappuchino, so we went back to Takoma so we could eat a little later. June had suggested we hang out in the city and do Mad Libs until we were hungry. I thought how that actually could be fun, sort of an adventure, but Noah was on a band field trip, because they had advanced to state-level festival this year, and we needed to be home to pick him up after dinner.

On the Metro I noticed people giving June alarmed looks, no doubt wondering why we had this violently coughing child on public transportation. I am getting used to this look. We ate at Busboys and Poets again. It’s my fourth time there in the past few weeks, but I haven’t exhausted the menu. I had vegan “crab” cakes with sautéed vegetables and iced green tea.

At dinner I futilely quizzed June about whether anything happened at the Girl Scout camping trip or school that was upsetting her, thinking there might be some emotional upset at the root of this. “Not really” she whispered cheerfully to every inquiry. Then I reminded Beth, “You didn’t say ‘Happy birthday’ to me except on Facebook.”

“I didn’t?” she said, remembering about the spilled orange juice and the broken glass and then she said, “Happy birthday.”

Then, thinking about Facebook, I mentioned some of the nice messages people had left me, my uncle reminiscing about the first time he met me and my friend Joyce who lives in Indiana saying how much she misses me.

“Unlike me, who just said, ‘Happy birthday,’” she said.

I smiled at her, “Well, those people didn’t make me a birthday cake with strawberries in the middle,” I said because she’d made this cake the day before. I’d asked her to make a Neapolitan cake—chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry in any combination. She went with vanilla cake with leftover strawberry frosting from Noah’s cake and fresh strawberries between the layers and chocolate frosting on the top and sides. And they weren’t just any strawberries but the first local strawberries of the season. So I wasn’t really mad at her. It was just that kind of day.

Once we got back home, Beth went to pick up Noah from his band festival dinner. We learned the band was ranked “Superior” and according to the judges was “one of the best” middle school bands in Maryland.

They’d had a celebratory dinner after festival and it turned out the plain pizza ran out before his turn in line and there was nothing left but pepperoni so he hadn’t eaten any. Just the week before he’d gotten food poisoning on a Spanish class field trip to a tapas restaurant (probably from accidentally eating something with meat) so we’re glad he didn’t try just picking off the pepperoni. But this meant he needed dinner. And we were already pressed for time if we wanted to eat cake and get June to bed. Then I remembered something else, “I have to open presents.” I immediately regretted the ungrateful way that sounded but as I said, it was just that kind of a day.

So I melted some cheddar cheese on tortilla chips and gave them to Noah with carrot sticks and chocolate milk. He ate while I opened my presents. Beth got me a frame with space for three pictures and one already inserted. It’s of the kids in the bathtub at the ages of one and a half and six and a half. We have very similar bathtub pictures of me with my sister, her with her brother, and our kids at approximately the same ages. I’d been meaning to display them together since we took the picture (we in fact took it to go with the others) but we had never gotten around to it. Noah’s gift was a pre-ordered copy of Finders Keepers, Stephen King’s new book, which will be out soon. He actually printed the cover design and made a dust jacket, which he put on another hardback book, so he’d have something to wrap. June got me some hot cocoa packets, a cloth shopping bag, a flowerpot, and some Sweet William seeds. She also made a card cut into the shape of a birthday hat.

Next, we had the cake. It was as good as it looked. As I put Noah to bed that night I told him I was proud of the band’s good showing. “I am, too,” he said, which for him is like bragging.

Tuesday to Friday: Back to School

Meanwhile, I’d decided it was time for June to go back to school, as she’d missed more than a week and we had no clear next step medically speaking. I’d been corresponding with the assistant principal for a few days and she was initially skeptical but I eventually convinced her, which required more assertiveness than comes naturally to me. I wanted to get administrative buy-in before I sent my constantly coughing child to school. I didn’t want it to end with her teachers sending her to the nurse and the nurse sending her home. June’s pediatrician had already told us she was not contagious but now the ENT has as well, and I had a note to that effect, so on Tuesday off to school she went.

I decided to ease her in with a half-day. Megan had brought some make-up work to the house that morning, so in the morning June did several math worksheets and then practiced her violin, and around eleven we walked to her school. As we got close she said she felt sick and I told her it was probably nerves and that she’d be okay.

We arrived about a half hour before the class change, so first we visited the main office and checked in there and then I took her to the nurse to explain the situation and I showed the nurse the notes from the ENT. Finally, I took June to her morning class, which was about to dismiss, so we could turn in her work and get that day’s homework. Neither of us was expecting the transaction to be anything but businesslike, but when we opened the door of the trailer, the room erupted in cheers. Kids were yelling, “June! June!” and her teacher came over to give her a hug. We had noticed previously that when she’s very emotional, the coughing slows and she was so overcome, she didn’t cough for almost a minute. I was silently watching the classroom clock.

That night she went to Girl Scouts and she went to school for a full day Wednesday, also complaining of a stomachache right before she got on the bus. I told her it would be like the day before and her nerves would settle and I guess they did because she went to school Thursday and Friday without complaint.

June’s coughing has slowed somewhat. Now it’s down to around two to three times a minute instead of six to twelve, but she’s been plateaued there for a few days and she still can’t speak above a whisper. Beth’s been consulting with June’s pediatrician on the phone and it’s possible we might send her to a voice therapist if her voice does not return, but that’s not a firm plan. I think we’re kind of hoping she’ll just wake up speaking one morning, as the doctors don’t really seem to know what to do. Between Noah’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and mine, we’ve had a lot of family celebrations recently but hearing my daughter speak for the first time in three weeks would really be something to celebrate.

Still Speechless

Monday morning Beth took June to the pediatrician because eight days after returning from the camping trip she still could not speak above a whisper and now she had a barking cough as well. They diagnosed croup, which surprised us both because we thought kids her age couldn’t get it, but apparently they can and the pediatrician said they are seeing a spike in older kids with it recently. They gave her a steroid treatment for the inflammation in her throat and said if it was going to work, it would in several hours. It didn’t. We sent June to school for the afternoon with a new coil-spring notebook for writing down what she wanted to say.

She came home seeming tired and not particularly enthusiastic about going to her violin lesson, but I said I thought she should because her teacher drives from Baltimore and she’d already be on her way. She agreed and I said if she was still feeling worn out on Tuesday she could stay home from school to rest.

She powered through the violin lesson and I told her to forget about her homework. If she was well enough to go to school in the morning she could do it then and I’d write her a note if she didn’t finish it. She did stay home from school on Tuesday. She did her homework and practiced violin and recorder and drank the strawberry smoothie I got her while I was out doing errands. (She didn’t want to come with me.)

She practiced the recorder because the third-grade recorder concert was that evening and she wanted to go. I usually don’t let her participate in after school activities if she’s stayed home from school, but the concert was going to be quite short and it was a one time thing, so I agreed she could go to that but not to her Girl Scout meeting, which partly conflicted with the concert anyway. We did need to swing by it, though, to pick up a Mother’s Day gift she’d made for us the previous week.

The recorder concert featured all the third grade classes playing a song or two each. It sounded about like you’d expect a third-grade recorder concert to sound. There were some familiar songs, like “Hot Cross Buns,” but then something called “Hot Cross Fun,” which started like “Hot Cross Buns,” and then went in a different direction. Megan’s class played something called, “Recorder Rap,” and June’s class did “It’s Raining” and “Old McDonald.” June shared a music stand with her friend Marisa. Megan’s mom Kerry commented she looked “very comfortable on stage.” I assured her she was indeed.

After the concert was over, June started coughing harder than she had been. (I watched the video Kerry took of the concert later to count how many times she coughed in the footage. It was only twice while her group was on stage, once right before a song and once right after.) We wondered if playing had further irritated her throat, but she’d practiced that afternoon longer than she had played on stage with no ill effect. It was puzzling.

Beth saw June’s morning and afternoon teachers standing near each other so she went to let them know why she’d be out of school and that we thought she’d be back Wednesday. We were wrong about that.

Beth dropped Noah and me off at home so he could do a worksheet about the fall of Richmond and the siege of Petersburg (he’s studying the Civil War) and she and June went to her Girl Scout meeting to get the present. When they got home we all sat down to eat Noah’s leftover birthday cake. But June couldn’t eat. Her coughing had gotten much worse. We tried having her swallow a spoonful of honey, put her head in the freezer, and stand in the bathroom with a hot shower running but nothing helped. By this time she was starting to have trouble breathing, so Beth took her to the Emergency Room.

They got seen right away, which Beth said was good and bad because it made her afraid it really was an emergency. They gave June a nebulizer to use and a second steroid treatment and a dose of narcotic cough syrup to help her sleep. It was after eleven when they got home and June was exhausted. She slept in our bed with Beth that night so Beth would know if there was a problem, but there wasn’t any. June fell asleep easily and slept until morning.

Despite being up almost three hours past her bedtime, she was up at her usual time, and she was still coughing almost continuously. Every time we timed her over the next few days she was coughing every five to ten seconds. This leaves her enough time to breathe, but we thought it would be hard for her to concentrate in class and for others to concentrate around her, so she stayed home Wednesday and again on Thursday and today. She’s a little tired—and very bored—and her throat is understandably sore, but she is not otherwise ill.

I read to her every day and did Mad Libs with her (doing all the reading aloud parts myself) and she came on an errand with me to fetch milk at the Co-op and helped me cook dinner twice instead of her usual once a week and also helped me bring laundry in from the clothesline twice. This afternoon I took her to creek to go wading.

Mostly, though, she had to entertain herself, because I was trying to work. Beth bought her a book to read, and an invisible ink activity book, and swimming mermaid doll, who came with us to the creek. June practiced cartwheels and somersaults on the lawn, and unbraided and re-braided her Native American doll’s hair. She wrote and illustrated a little booklet called Poems of Nature. They are mostly rhyming couplets with a rather melancholy tone, e.g. “The raven hides his head in shame/crying to the world in pain” or “Sitting in the shade all day/Watching others go out and play.” I think she is getting tired of staying home from school.

We’re currently waiting for a referral to an ENT and are all anxiously awaiting hearing her talk in a normal voice and go a whole minute without coughing.

Old Enough

Noah turned fourteen on Sunday. I was thinking about that age, how uncomfortable with life I was then and how in other points in history adults fashioned different roles for kids (well, boys) at that awkward age. So I wrote in his birthday card, “You are old enough to be knight’s squire, except you don’t live in medieval England, old enough to be a blacksmith’s apprentice, except you don’t live in colonial times. So you will have to settle for going to high school.”

He didn’t ask for much in the way of presents and he didn’t get a big gift like the drum kit we bought him when he turned eleven or the light and filming equipment we got him last year. He’d asked if we could go away for the weekend, like we did when he turned twelve, and I would have really liked to, but he had gotten very behind in his schoolwork. He had been behind for weeks in fact, since before spring break, despite some progress playing catch-up the previous weekend. So it just didn’t seem feasible.

He does like to eat out, though, so we decided to take him out for dinner three nights in a row, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday we traditionally have pizza so he chose zPizza in Silver Spring and Fro-Zen-Yo. (He couldn’t decide where to have dessert, so he let June choose.)

Saturday it was Noodles & Company and Ben and Jerry’s. Noah’s signed up for online promotions from Noodles & Company and he had a birthday gift certificate. This was fortuitous because we have an on again, off again tradition of eating Thai food on the night before Noah’s birthday. This was because on the night before he was born, Beth and I had dinner on the balcony of a Thai restaurant near our apartment in the city to celebrate my last day of teaching for the semester. (I was expecting to have a few weeks to grade my students’ research papers and get ready for the baby, but the baby had other plans, so I graded some of the papers at the hospital.) At Noodles, Beth and I both ordered Pad Thai with tofu and Beth suggested we eat at the outside tables. These are bit too small for four people, though, so we split up–kids at one table, adults at another. I told Beth we were eating alone, just like fourteen years ago.

Sunday morning the birthday boy seemed grumpy and not that interested in opening his presents. He did, though. He got t-shirts from us and from my mom because few of the ones he wore last summer still fit. We got him one that says “#drums” and one that says “got noodles?” (though the second one didn’t come in the mail until later). My mom got him one with a picture of Shakespeare that says “Will Power” and a pen that’s marked “Mightier than the Sword” and an eraser that says, “Out Damned Spot.” Beth’s mom got him a gift certificate to Politics and Prose and a big bag of Cow Tails caramels (his favorite). We also got him the kind of cord he likes for his phone, one that has an on/off switch for his headphones on it, and June got him a book in a fantasy series he’s reading. That seemed to please him the most and he gave her a genuine sounding “thank you.”

He did some homework in the morning, working on the organizer for a long overdue essay on the Indian Removal Act, but he was complaining of a headache (which in retrospect probably accounted for his bad mood) and by ten-thirty he said he just wanted to go back to bed, so he did. He stayed there until one. I read to him for an hour or so. We finished Mostly Harmless, the fifth and final book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy we’ve been reading since Christmas or maybe it was Thanksgiving. (The fact that Douglas Adams went two books past three and still called it a trilogy tickles Noah). Then we started Crystal Keepers, the book June got for him. It’s a little young for him, but sometimes that’s just what you want. I understand that well.

By this time, his head felt better and he seemed more cheerful. He had lunch and practiced percussion and then worked a little more on the organizer until it was time to go out to dinner yet again. This time it was Vicino in Silver Spring, an old-fashioned Italian restaurant, the kind you probably went to when you were a kid. There was a familiar song from an opera I could almost but not quite place playing when we arrived and the white cloth tablecloths were covered with clear plastic. I was hoping there would be baked ziti and there was. Both Noah and I had that, Beth had Eggplant Parmesan, June had spaghetti with marinara, and we all split an order of fried mozzarella and spinach sautéed with garlic. (We were eating the leftovers for days.)

We headed home for cake and ice cream. At Noah’s request, Beth had made a strawberry cake with strawberry frosting and bought pralines and cream ice cream to go with it. It was delicious, as Beth’s cakes always are. As I was saying goodnight to Noah, I remembered another present I’d bought so long ago I’d forgotten about it. I told him to stay in bed and I’d go get it. It was a pair of blue and white striped summer pajamas from Hanna Andersson. He loves these pajamas so I keep buying them even though he’s in adult sizes now and I always thought I’d stop when he wasn’t in kid sizes anymore. He’s a modest, unassuming kid and he really doesn’t ask for much, so I like to do what I can to make him happy.

I’m glad we’re keeping him for the next four years instead of sending him off to a blacksmith or a knight. I have a feeling those years will go by quickly, so for now, fourteen’s old enough.

Speechless

June’s Girl Scout troop went on a camping trip the last weekend in April. Well, they’ve been going in shifts, but June went that weekend, and Beth went along as a chaperone. While they were gone Noah and I passed a quiet weekend. He made some progress catching up on a backlog of overdue homework and I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, worked in the garden, went swimming and to the library.

Beth and June returned around lunchtime on Sunday. When I asked June how the trip went she gave me a thumbs up but said nothing. When I jokingly asked if she’d lost the power of speech, she nodded. She’d woken that morning with laryngitis. As a result, I didn’t learn as much about the camping trip as I might have right away, but Beth did her best to fill me in, telling me about the archery and hollow tree so big twelve girls could stand inside and the Maker’s Fair where despite the presence of 3D printer and 3D pens, most of the girls just wanted to make things out of cardboard boxes. Beth also said they cooked most of their meals over fires, so I thought maybe June’s throat had gotten irritated by all the smoke.

June had a violin recital that afternoon. As she felt fine other than her inability to speak, we went. The recital had been divided into three performances because there are too many students to fit all at once in the school’s largest room. There were ten students playing at the 5:30 performance. Eight of them played piano, there was one guitarist, and June was the sole violinist. I was privately amused that the boy playing the guitar was named Dylan. June played seventh. They put the more advanced students at the end so she’s been pleased to see her name appearing later and later in the program with each new recital. It may have also helped that the students at this particular recital seemed to skew a bit young. The oldest performer was probably eleven or twelve and usually there’s a teenager or two.

June composed the piece the played herself. It’s called “Owl in Flight” and it has a haunting, slightly mournful sound, especially at the beginning. When she was first writing it she said she imagined it could be played at a funeral, and she considered my suggestion of “Memory” as a title (or maybe she was just being polite). She played well and got a lot of applause. Here’s a video.

After the students had finished, a guitar teacher played a couple songs, including Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Overs.” He played harmonica and sang as well. I thought the Simon and Garfunkel song was a bit of an odd choice to use as inspiration for a group of mostly elementary school-aged kids. It doesn’t contain anything wildly inappropriate, it’s just unlikely they’d be able to relate to melancholy song about the break up of a long-term relationship.

After the recital we had dinner at Busboys and Poets, which opened in February. It’s a bookstore with a restaurant wrapped around it, if you can visualize that. Anyway, the food is very good and we are very excited to have a real bookstore in Takoma again. The selection is small, but you can special order any book they have at Politics and Prose, and pick it up a day or two later, so it’s almost like having a big bookstore a mile from our house. Beth got vegan coq au vin, and I got a grilled Brie and vegetable panini and the kids got pizza.

It was an inconvenient school week for June not to be able to talk because she had two oral presentations. Her English class was having a publishing party to read the storybooks they’d written to each other and parents and in her Spanish class they were presenting their research projects on contagious diseases. June and Zoë have been collaborating on an informative poster, speech, and skit about pinworm. (The poster has a border of squiggly worms drawn in marker, which I thought was a nice touch. I’d include a picture, but it’s at Zoë’s house.) I wrote a note, asking her teacher if they could go last in hopes that June’s voice would return in time and the teacher agreed.

The publishing party was Wednesday. I was hoping June’s voice would be back by then but it wasn’t, so the teacher read her story for her. It wasn’t quite as festive as June’s second grade teacher’s publishing parties, but Ms. K was admittedly quite a hard act to follow. It was nice to hear June’s story, a tale of friendship drama, read aloud.

I’d like to say it was nice to hear her classmates’ work, too, but most of them read so quietly I was hard pressed to figure out what to write on my comment cards. I strained to hear and managed to find something complimentary to say for most of the kids in her group and when I couldn’t, I wrote about the illustrations. Their storybooks were printed and bound and they came out looking very nice. After the kids had finished reading, Ms. P served them cookies and carrots and the adults left. Only a few parents had come (it was pretty short notice) and June seemed pleased I’d was there.

As for the pinworm presentation, the class has not yet finished with these, so there’s a chance June may still get the opportunity to act the part of the girl who wears her gardening gloves and doesn’t get pinworm in front of her class. I hope so.

It’s been a week now since June lost her voice and now she has a barking cough to go with it so Beth’s going to take her to the doctor this week. I miss hearing her voice. At Noah’s birthday dinner tonight (more about that in a future post), I told her so, and Beth and even Noah chimed in they missed it, too. “I’ve been missing it since I lost it,” June whispered.

She took a little notebook to class with her all week so she could write to make herself understood and at home she’s mostly been whispering, so we still know what’s on her mind. And next Tuesday the whole third grade will be performing a recorder concert before a PTA meeting, so I know she will continue to make herself heard.

Southland in the Springtime: Part III, Williamsburg, VA and Washington, DC

We arrived in Williamsburg on Friday evening after an afternoon of driving in and out of rain. Beth had found us a suite, which meant we weren’t all crowded into the same hotel room, quite the luxury. There was a living room area between the kids and us, so we stood a chance of sleeping past six. We even had a king bed.

There was a kitchen, too, but no time to cook. It took a long time to check in and we wanted somewhere quick to eat so we were happy to find a Noodles & Company nearby. This is one of the kids’ favorite chains and it’s somewhere they’d both get vegetables and protein. We’d opted to visit Busch Gardens on Saturday instead of Friday because of the weather and sure enough we could see the rain coursing down the windows as we ate, but we were lucky to get out of and back into the car during breaks in the storm. We went back to the hotel and everyone went to bed. The kids did let us sleep until around seven. There was a breakfast bar downstairs, so we ate and headed for the park.

If you’re not from the East Coast, Busch Gardens may require a little explanation. It takes the theme in theme park seriously and the theme is Western Europe—specifically the British Isles, Italy, France, and Germany. (There’s also an area devoted to New France, or French Canada. Beth guesses they needed somewhere to put the frontier-themed rides all amusement parks seem to have.) The park is quite pretty. It’s no Cedar Point, of course, as it lacks Lake Erie, but it does have a lot of trees and flowers. Daffodils and tulips were everywhere. And the admirable adherence to the theme means there’s a lot of hokey scenery. Classical architecture and statues in Italy, big beer barrels marked Oktoberfest in Germany. You get the picture. We took a lot of cheesy photos, especially in Italy because my sister has spent of a lot of time there (in the real Italy) and I thought she might get a kick out of it. I liked the little touches—graffiti in Latin on the walls near the food court, fake ironwork on the bathroom stalls in Germany, etc.

No one but June had a strong opinion about what to do first, so after we entered the park, in England, which was strung end to end in Union Jacks, we headed for Germany and the Curse of the DarKastle ride, pausing only to get a dolphin painted on her face. The artist used a stencil and spray paint, which I’d never seen before. I thought $10 was a bit steep for face paint but it really lasted. It was still there three days later when June finally asked me to scrub it off because it was a little smudgy.

When we got to the castle it wasn’t open yet, so after admiring the icicles that hung from it and other details, the kids and I went and rode the swings twice and then it was open. The DarKastle, as you might guess, is Busch Gardens’ version of a haunted house. You wear 3D glasses and the effects are all computer-generated. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer a haunted house with actors or material props and scenery. June, however loved it and wanted to go right back on as soon as we got off, so I took her on again while Beth and Noah waited for us.

Next, after a long line that wound through what looked like a stone passageway in an Irish castle, we rode Europe in the Air, a flight simulator, with views of various icons of Western Europe (Stonehenge, the Coliseum, etc). It’s similar to an IMAX film, except the seats tilt and shake as if you were flying. It made both Beth and me a little ill.

We had lunch in shifts, Beth and Noah and I had crepes in France before Europe in the Air, and then June and Noah had pasta in Italy after it (yes, he did have lunch twice) while Beth and I got gelato.

The kids also rode a ride that looked like a gondola in Italy and that was about all we did, other than buy a t-shirt for Noah (who has outgrown most of his from last year) and ride the sky ride to get from one place to another. We would have liked to try one of the water rides (Escape from Pompeii looks fun) but it wasn’t quite warm enough to get soaked. We also considered riding the sightseeing train that circles the park, but there wasn’t time as we had a long drive back to Maryland and we needed to leave mid-afternoon.

We enjoyed our trip to Busch Gardens but part of day seemed almost long enough. We all agreed it’s not as good an amusement park for us as Cedar Point or Hershey Park. What we all missed was any moderate coasters. There were kiddie rides and big thrill rides, but nothing that fit our niche. I am not the daredevil I was (briefly) in my teens and early twenties, but I do still enjoy a classic roller coaster and there was nothing like that. I thought Noah, who’s a little braver than me, could probably handle Loch Ness Monster, but he took a look at it and said no.

So, we bid adieu to Europe and drove back to Maryland. We almost always go out for Indian when we return home from vacation, so we did that. We weren’t quite finished being tourists, though, because the cherry blossoms were in bloom and we went to see them the next morning.

We were lucky to catch the peak this year, as it only lasts several days, and we’d been gone over a week. It was the latest peak since 1993, according to the National Park Service, occurring about a week past the average date.

It was also a beautiful Sunday morning, in the low seventies and sunny, so we expected crowds, both for the blossoms and for a ten-mile race that was taking place along the Tidal Basin. Our friend Tom (June’s friend Talia’s dad) was running and we looked for him as we watched the race go by, but we didn’t see him. Getting across 15th Street to get from the Metro stop to the blossoms turned out to be quite the challenge, with the race going down it. We waited around ten minutes for a break in the race and were just about to sit down on the curb and eat our picnic breakfast right there when suddenly a bunch of other people who were also waiting to cross the street made a break for it and we all dashed through the middle of the race.

We walked the whole perimeter of the Tidal Basin, something I almost but not quite take for granted now, after years of having kids too little for that hike. Anyway, it was lovely. And June had fun climbing the rocks at the FDR Memorial, as always.

We’ve been home almost a week now and are well into the routine of work and school. The cherry trees along the streets in Takoma Park are well past their peak. We keep seeing the white petals blowing through the air (the other day Noah came home from school with his curls full of them) and little green leaves are replacing the flowers. Our dogwood is budding, the daffodils are almost finished, and there are tulips in our back yard. The flowers and flowering trees of home are sweet reminders of the flowers of the road—at the altar at YaYa’s church on Easter morning and in the gardens of the Biltmore and along the highway in North Carolina and in the plantings of a theme park version of Europe.

Southland in the Springtime: Part II, Nags Head, NC

Tuesday we drove from mountains to ocean. It took almost ten hours, with a stop for lunch. North Carolina is a really long state. Once we descended into the piedmont, some trees had tiny leaves, not just buds, and all along the road there were small purple flowering trees, maybe Eastern redbuds, based on my Googling.

We had lunch at a diner where Beth and I between us had cornbread, a biscuit, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, sweet potato fries, cole slaw, macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter pie. When after a moment of hesitation, I added sweet tea to my order, Beth said I was going for “the full Southern.” It was all very good.

By mid-afternoon the trees were mostly pines and by late afternoon, there was water in ditches all along the road, presumably dug there to drain the swampy land. Then we started crossing broad rivers and sounds on long, narrow bridges with seagulls wheeling overhead and then we were in the Outer Banks.

The house was a classic Outer Banks house on stilts, right on the beach, with an upper and lower deck in the front, plus two landing-type decks in the back. You could walk straight off the front decks onto the beach, which caused June to exclaim over and over, “This house is literally on the beach.” She liked being able to play in the sand whenever she wanted and in fact had started building a sand castle while we were still doing our settling in chores and the next morning right after breakfast, she was at it again.

It was just after seven when we arrived so I needed to feed the kids and get sheets on the beds and make sure June took a bath while Beth made a quick grocery run. But June and I did steal ten minutes between all that to stand with our feet in the waves in the falling dusk. That night we fell asleep with the windows open, listening to the crashing waves.

At 8:45 the next morning, June and I were having a picnic breakfast (cucumber slices for her and an Easter egg for me) on the beach. It was a second breakfast, as we’d eaten the first one on the upper deck, from which we saw both pelicans and dolphins. That was the only time we saw dolphins but there were pelicans flying over the ocean in front of the house all the time. In fact, I started calling the deck Café Pelican because I ate so many meals there and saw so many pelicans, in the hundreds no doubt. Around 9:15 it started to rain—intermittent rain was predicted for the next two days—and we went back to the house.

I put on my raincoat and took a walk to the fishing pier. It was about a half hour walk from the house so it made a good focal point for a stroll. I found a piece of driftwood with large barnacles on it, some pretty shells, and a red, white, and blue crab leg. I pocketed the shells and leg to take back to show June. While I was walking it started to rain harder and I ended up getting pretty wet.

When I got to the pier, I stood under it, sheltering from the rain and watching the waves break around the pilings. When the rain let up, I walked out on the pier. It should have cost $1.50, but for some reason they didn’t charge me. There were little gaps between the boards, so you could see the swirling water far below you, which was a bit unsettling, and the pier itself creaked and swayed ever so slightly in the wind. I was there so soon after the deluge, I had it to myself for a while but eventually some people came to fish.

I went home, changed into dry clothes, and read Return of the Dragon to June on the deck. After lunch, I straightened up the kitchen and made a grocery list for Beth. She went shopping while June and I went to the beach again. It had stopped raining, but a cold fog had rolled in. June was intrigued by my description of the pier and she wanted to see it so we made the whole walk over again. As we approached, she got a little nervous about being so high up and she asked if there was a rail. Once I said there was, she said she’d be fine. She did peer at the ocean between the gaps in the boards and she was a bit horrified people were fishing on a fishing pier. (“I don’t want to see any dead or dying fish!” she said. I advised her not to look in the buckets.) We sat on a bench at the very end of the pier and watched the gentle swells of the water beyond the breakers.

We came home and relaxed the rest of the afternoon, all of us but Noah that is; he was doing homework. That evening he finished a big project for his media class. It’s a website for a fictional pasta company, Noah’s Noodles. It’s basically what he’s been doing with his weekends for the past couple months. Check it out but don’t actually order any noodles. They don’t exist.

It got cold that evening so we had to close all the windows and turn on the heat, after trying to tough it out by wearing sweatshirts and wrapping ourselves in blankets so we could still hear the ocean.

It rained that night and there was a brief but intense downpour in the morning. When it let up a bulldozer started moving sand around in front of the house. It looked like it was making a driveway for a neighboring house. It almost made me wish we had a preschooler to appreciate the show.

Around 9:40 I headed out to the beach with a copy of Anna Karenina, a towel and a thermos of hot tea. There was a chair on the beach not far from the house so I sat there, covering it with the towel and propping an umbrella up over my book during a passing shower. While I was there an enormous flock of migratory birds, black, smaller than gulls and long-necked, flew north just over the water. It took at least ten minutes for them to pass. June came down from the house to watch them and play on the beach while I read.

After lunch we visited Jockey’s Ridge State Park to climb the tallest natural sand dune on the East Coast. We took a nature trail down to the sand, through a small pine wood and back up onto the dune. It was a fun hike, with nice ocean and sound views, and eerie vistas of twisted, windswept trees. June was full of energy and running circles around the rest of us. Noah was moody and alternately saying the park was “fun” and “cool” and then glumly complaining about his lack of progress on a history project. He cut his foot on something in the sand (glass perhaps—June found some nearby) and said it was a metaphor. I said yes, because his progress was impeded but he had not sustained a life-threatening injury. It’s not easy being thirteen going on fourteen, I remember that. We did stop on the way home for ice cream—a banana split for me, brownie sundaes for Noah and Beth, and Heath bar flurry for June. I hoped the combination of fresh air and frozen treats would help raise his spirits.

I went back to the beach to read more Anna Karenina, coming inside when my hands got too cold to turn the pages. June and I made dinner, scrambled eggs with chopped olives meant to represent a shell-strewn beach and a green asparagus sea. (This was all her idea.) After dinner she and I read more of her book on the beach. She wrapped herself in the beach towel to stay warm.

Friday morning—a warm, sunny morning—we packed up the house and dropped off the keys at the realty. Noah and I took a brief walk on the beach while we waited for the dishwasher to finish its cycle. He wanted to go as far as the pier but there wasn’t time. I found a nearly whole conch shell I was going to take back and add to the collection I was leaving on the deck rail for the next people but then I discovered another shell inside and thinking it might contains a tenant, I tossed it back into the sea.

Since it was sunny in Nags Head and storms were predicted in Williamsburg, where we were headed next, we decided to spend the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon at the beach before driving north.

For the next couple hours we split up. Beth took the kids to play miniature golf and they dropped me at a public access beach. There were a lot more people on this beach—either because there was a parking lot or because it wasn’t fifty degrees and raining I’m not sure. Maybe both. Anyway, the weather was lovely, around seventy and sunny, and the waves were big and scenic. I spent two hours reading and napping and taking a walk.

We had lunch at a pizza place on the highway, eating on the patio, and then we drove to the stately red brick Currituck Beach Lighthouse, where we climbed 220 steps to the top and enjoyed the wind and the the beautiful views of sea and sound. “Some day we are going to be too old to do this,” I said to Beth, after we’d descended.

“But that day is not today,” she answered me cheerfully and she was right.

Next installment: Bush Gardens and cherry blossoms.

Southland in the Springtime: Part I, Ashville, NC

We just got back from a very fun spring break road trip. We spent the first leg with Beth’s mom in Asheville, North Carolina, where she lives part of the year now.

Five hours into our drive, around three in the afternoon and near Roanoke, Virginia, Beth said, “It’s greener here.” It was. There was light green, gold, and dark pink fuzz on the branches, all of which were bare at home. I thought once we reached Asheville the altitude might cancel out the effect of a day’s drive southwest but it didn’t. Lawns were green, flowering trees were blossoming, and daffodils were in bloom, with some already finished. Over the course of nine and a half hours and four states (Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina), we’d driven into spring.

The drive would have been about twenty minutes shorter but we went to a different street by the same name (Way instead of Court), which as it turns out is a very similar looking cul-de-sac in an entirely different neighborhood. The residents of the house drove up as we were standing on their porch and an elderly man said, “Can I help you?” which I think is Southern for “What the hell are you doing on my porch?” Eventually we found the right house, where Beth’s mom, Ron, and a homemade spinach lasagna awaited us. It was warm enough that evening to eat ice cream on the screened porch.

Saturday we explored the city. We took a trolley tour through its beautiful Victorian neighborhoods, downtown area, and arts district. We learned a lot about Asheville and its famous residents, particularly the Vanderbilts and Thomas Wolfe.

After that we had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, with a lot of plants, a sheet of glass with water coursing down it and skylights. I got barbequed tofu with cole slaw—all the barbeque joints the tour leader pointed out put me in the mood—and a spicy carrot-apple-ginger drink. I was glad to have something zippy because I was stuffy from a cold the four of us had been passing back and forth for weeks. (It was my second time around with it.)

From the restaurant we proceeded to the establishment that most intrigued Beth on the trolley tour—The French Broad Chocolate Lounge. Noah was hoping for couches made of chocolate, but instead there was an extensive selection of chocolate in solid and liquid forms and a line out the door. There was an employee—a chocolate bouncer if you will—monitoring the line and admitting people in groups. There were tiny chocolate-mole truffles to sample in line. Once inside we ordered drinking chocolate (I recommend the dark chocolate liquid truffle) and various other treats.

Next we moved on to a festival in a nearby park. June spent most of her time climbing up and sliding down inflatable structures. There was also a kids’ karaoke booth that inspired Noah to say, “I don’t know why anyone would ever want to do that,” but June studied the songbook and was seriously considering it before losing her nerve and deciding against it. Many kids performed songs from Frozen, but oddly one chose “Piano Man,” and sang it as if she’d never heard it before, which might have been exactly what was happening. June got her picture taken with the Easter Bunny and we went home, where we dyed Easter eggs and I had a short but deep nap.

We’d had such a big and late lunch no one but the kids even wanted dinner so they had leftover lasagna. Noah finished a take-home geometry test and then he and I read a Douglass Adams short story, “Young Zaphod Plays it Safe,” that comes between books four and five in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

Easter morning after the kids found their baskets, we had a cinnamon roll-French toast casserole Ron made and then we went to church. YaYa had asked me to bring some half-opened cut daffodils from our yard for the flower ceremony, which is a Unitarian tradition. Members of the congregation bring flowers to make an eclectic communal bouquet and then at the end everyone takes different flowers home. There was a lot of music at the service and people lit candles to symbolize their joys, concerns, and sorrows. The children had an Easter egg hunt during the sermon. As we left we collected flowers, leaving with more daffodils, a tulip, a sprig of grape hyacinth, and a yellow, spiky flower I couldn’t identify.

After church we went shopping for provisions and then had a picnic and a hike to a waterfall in Pisgah National Forest. It was a pretty walk, but the trees were a bit more bare than in downtown Asheville. The fall wasn’t a steady stream of water, more like a heavy rain falling from a high rock into a creek. The kids and I went behind the water where we climbed rocks, observed the multi-colored cliff wall, and got good and muddy.

On the way out of the forest we stopped to see Sliding Rock, a natural waterslide Beth and I slid down during road trip through the Southeast we took in our mid-twenties. When YaYa and the kids saw it, the older and younger generations had a similar reaction, “You went down that?” We used to be interesting, apparently. June said she wanted to try it some day, until she learned the pool where you land is eight feet deep.

We came home and June had a bath in YaYa’s whirlpool before we went out to dinner at a Jamaican restaurant. I had jerk tofu with grilled pineapple and vegetables. Asheville is known as a foodie town for good reason.

Monday we visited the Biltmore, a mansion belonging to the Vanderbilts and the largest private residence in the U.S. It did make Hillwood, a D.C. mansion June and I toured two weeks previous, look downright modest, though as far as I know, the Vanderbilts had no Fabergé eggs. What they did have was a 250-room Gothic style house with 99 bedrooms, lovely mountain views, a swimming pool, and a bowling alley on 125,000 acres of woods and farmland. There weren’t as many formal gardens as I expected but we did see a very nice area planted with tulips.

We had lunch in a restaurant located in the converted stables and visited a few of the numberless gift shops on the property before going back YaYa’s house. Noah, who had been feeling under the weather, had stayed home. We collected him and Ron and headed out for an early pizza dinner, stopping at Barnes and Noble to look for my book club’s next book (Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones). They didn’t have it, but June found a graphic novel her friends had recommended and spent most of dinner reading it. (By breakfast the next day she’d finished it and she risked carsickness re-reading it much of the next day.)

Beth had a work crisis that evening and had to work a little, but afterwards she and I went back to the chocolate lounge, which I think is her new favorite place. We bought chocolate bars and toffee for later and more liquid truffles (I tried the milk chocolate one this time, also very good). Then we came home and ate the cake Ron had made earlier in the day. It was triple layer Italian cream cake with jelly beans and chocolate shavings on the frosting.

Tuesday morning we packed to leave. June gave a farewell violin concert under the tree in the front yard she’d climbed many times and we said our fond goodbyes and hit the road by 9:15 en route for the beach.

Stay tuned for more spring break adventures.

Wings

Wednesday to Friday: Perching

The Wednesday before her birthday, June had a friend over and they were talking about how their older brothers have more homework than they do. David’s brother attends the Highly Gifted Center, where Noah went for fourth and fifth grade.

“I might go there,” June said.

“I’m waiting, too,” David sighed.

It’s been a long wait to find out whether or not June (and most of her friends) got into the HGC, since we applied in November, but we found out the next day that she did not. A few of her friends did get in, including her very best friend Megan, and some more friends are wait-listed. June has taken this hard and we’re sad, too, because I’m familiar with the program and I think it would have been a good fit for June’s learning style.

We got the letter on a Thursday and Beth was working late that night. I decided to take June for a walk down to the creek after dinner because the crocuses have finally bloomed and it’s her favorite place when they’re in bloom. We swung by the 7-11 on the way and I bought her some Starbursts, which she loves. She ate them while we sat in the gathering dark on a tree stump surrounded by tiny purple flowers. She leaned against me and we were quiet together.

Mostly she hasn’t wanted to talk about it, but shortly before her party, she asked me tearfully if I could contact her guests’ parents and ask everyone not to talk about the HGC at the party. I didn’t think censoring her friends was a viable, long-term strategy but I thought just for the duration of the party she deserved a break, so I did. Among her four guests, two were admitted, one was wait-listed and the other I wasn’t even sure if she’d applied, but in either case we hadn’t heard anything about her status. The only child whose mother I didn’t contact was the wait-listed girl because she’s very reserved and I just didn’t think she was likely to talk about it.

Luckily, June’s parties always involve decoration so over the next couple days June and I cheered ourselves up making her Pin-the-Wing-on-the-Bat game and by hanging decorations on the porch (a big crepe-paper-and-cardboard parrot we bought this year and some bats from our Halloween collection) and inside the house, where we strung leftover butterflies from her forest party two years ago and more bats from a fishing line between the living and dining rooms. On Friday evening, Beth went to buy balloons, including a bee-shaped one that said, “Happy Bee Day.” The theme of the party, if you hadn’t guessed by now, was wings.

Saturday Morning and Afternoon: Flying Up

June’s Girl Scout troop held their bridging ceremony for Brownies who are flying up to Juniors at Hillwood Estates, Gardens, and Museum. The estate belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post, an heir to the Post cereal fortune and an art collector. It now serves as a museum of her collection, which specializes in Russian imperial art and nineteenth-century French decorative art. The reason they celebrate it there is because there’s a nice little bridge that goes over a fishpond in the Japanese gardens.

The last time I was at Hillwood, coincidentally, was the day I found out I was pregnant with June. Beth’s mom was visiting and we all took Noah to an event for gay families. He enjoyed using the put-put course on the grounds and jumping from rock to rock in the fish pond and I remember being filled with secret happiness. It seemed fitting to be back at the very same pond, so close to her birthday.

The ceremony consisted of the troop leader talking about the difference between Brownies and Juniors and everyone walking over the bridge and receiving a green ribbon and a wing-shaped patch for flying up from Brownies. There was also hand holding and singing and cake.

The wings patch was a fun coincidence because of June’s party theme. Suddenly I was seeing wings all over the estate. An angel statue in front of the mansion, cupid statues and geese in a frieze over a fountain, metal eagles on slate roofs and flag poles.

We had a lot of time to kill after the bridging because June and I were staying for a tour of the mansion and a craft inspired by the decorative items inside. (Beth went home to work on party preparation, including frosting the tiered cake and decorating it with candy butterflies.) There was a worksheet about flowers for the girls to do. They had to find five flowers in bloom on the grounds or in the greenhouse and speculate about why flowers are scented, etc., but June was finished by 11:20 and the tour didn’t start until 2:30. We went to the visitor’s center and read and ate the lunch we’d packed, but that didn’t take long because I had not brought enough reading material.

A couple other families we’ve known since June was in preschool were also hanging around the grounds and they had decided to explore the mansion on their own, in advance of the official tour, so we joined them for that and then the girls played on the grounds until it was time for the tour. We went through the mansion again, this time with a guide to explain it all to us. The craft activity was to decorate a box with jewel stickers and ribbon and other materials. Beth came back for us at four and we drove home.

Saturday Evening to Sunday: Soaring and Roosting

June invited Megan to come over early to help with the final preparations for the party. She arrived a little after five, resplendent in a phoenix costume and they filled goody bags with butterfly pencils, dragon tattoos, plane whistles, bat-shaped clappers, and fairy charms. Then they tested out the craft for the party, making an angel charm bracelet, which turned out to be trickier than I thought it would be, so I was glad they rehearsed it and there was time for Beth to give them a hand.

At six, the rest of the guests started arriving. Maggie was a bat and Zoë was Maleficent. Marisa came without a costume. Her mom explained she wanted to be Daedalus, but she ran out of time to make a costume. “We have Daedalus wings,” I said, which surprised Marisa’s mom for a second until she correctly surmised, “From Greek Fest?” The sixth-graders in the humanities magnet, which Marisa’ older sister also attends, do a big unit on Greek myths, that includes skits. Noah had been Daedalus two years ago and the wings were still in the basement. I brought them up but they were dusty and a little worse for the wear and Marisa politely declined them.

We fed the guests right away, setting the table with leftover thematically appropriate napkins from various birthday parties (ladybugs from her first birthday, butterflies from her fifth, and owls from her seventh).

Sometime while the girls were eating pizza or cake, they started talking about whether they got into the HGC and who else they knew did or didn’t. At first Maggie looked startled to be asked, and perhaps remembering her instructions, mumbled her answer but then nearly everyone was talking about it animatedly. I had told June that she should ask people not to talk about it if it came up at the party and eventually she did. There was silence for a moment until someone said she had “just one more question,” and to my surprise and relief, Marisa piped up and firmly said, “She said she didn’t want to talk about it.” And that was that.

Next June opened her presents. Some were wing-related, a fairy coloring book from Megan and a stuffed penguin from Maggie. She also got watercolor colored pencils, a Mandala sand painting kit, a magnet kit, and a big book of Mad Libs.

The girls then settled into their sleeping bags to watch Hercules, which we projected onto a sheet in the living room. June said it was related to the party theme because Hercules spends a lot of the movie riding around on a Pegasus.

The movie was over a little before nine and I told them they could talk quietly until ten. They changed into pajamas (June wore the new tropical bird pjs I gave her as an early birthday present) and then they played a game called “I Confess.” It involves someone making a confession and anyone who has also done what was confessed gets a point. I think the object of the game is to have a high score and not a low one, but it wasn’t entirely clear. I eavesdropped for a while but I have nothing salacious to report. I think they may be a little young for this game.

They weren’t too noisy after ten, though I did hear some talking. I think everyone was asleep by ten-thirty, and even better, they all slept until around 6:45. They watched an episode of Magic School Bus on air pressure and then we fed them bagels, cream cheese, and fruit salad for breakfast.

Someone suggested they all put their costumes back on and soon they were constructing a story line that involved an angel, a bat, a phoenix, and Maleficent and played at that until they got bored and we shepherded them to the dining room table where they assembled the angel charm bracelets. Megan was the best at it so she was helping everyone else and finished her own last. I slipped a couple extra kits into her goody bag, figuring she might like to teach her sister how to do it.

Next they went out to the porch for Pin-the-Wing-on-the-Bat and the piñata. June’s big on pinning games. Over the past few years her guests have pinned tails on a cat, legs on a spider, and rings on Saturn. She always paints the target herself and the game is always a hit, as is the piñata. Who wouldn’t want to whack a crepe-paper-and-cardboard butterfly until it disgorges candy?

By the time they finished these activities it was 9:05 a.m. and the party wasn’t over until 10. They decided to watch another Magic School Bus episode, this one on bats, and then they went to play outside until the parents arrived.

Beth took June to get a manicure in the afternoon and that evening we went out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant that happened to be having fundraiser that featured the jazz band from a local middle school (not Noah’s). As a result, we saw a couple families we know but haven’t seen for a while with sixth-to-eighth graders, most of whom I would not have recognized if they were not accompanied by their parents. It was a bit of a poignant reminder of how quickly kids grow and also suggested to me that our nine year old will be an adolescent some day in the not too distant future. And as if we needed any more tempus fugit reminders, one of these families was of Noah’s best buddy from preschool, a boy he does not even remember but at whose house he slept the night I went into labor with June. As with our return to Hillwood, it seemed fitting to spy this family precisely nine years later. The boy, who was always the tall lanky type, looks older than Noah now, at least sixteen if I didn’t know him and had to guess. There’s something manly about the bone structure of his face.

Monday: The Bee Day

June’s actual birthday was Monday. She went to school with some leftover temporary tattoos of knights to distribute to her afternoon class. (She’d given away the dragons from a knights-and-dragons set at her party.) Beth came home early to take her to California Tortilla for dinner at her request. I stayed home to keep an eye on Noah, who not only had a large project due the next day, but also came home with news of three separate overdue assignments of which he’d lost track and which he hoped to complete before the quarter ended on Thursday. I felt bad not going to June’s birthday dinner, but we’d been out celebrating the night before and then we’d left Noah at home alone to work so I decided to split the difference and stay.

After Beth and June got home, we ate leftover birthday cake and she opened her family presents. She got a lot of clothes and books, an iTunes gift certificate, and a promise of a shopping spree at a second hand clothes store, another promised shopping trip from YaYa and a pewter fairy perched on a crystal ball from my mom. The next day more gifts arrived, a coloring book with complicated interwoven animal and plant designs from my mom, and a birdhouse with suction cups you can attach to window and can lift a panel to see inside, from my sister.

June’s birthday week has come and gone, though the multicolored parrot still hangs on our porch and June confided in me yesterday that it’s still exciting to be nine. A friend of mine told me recently, “I am so confident in June’s ability to kick ass at life in the short and long terms.” I am, too. She’s smart, imaginative, and resilient. Her wings are strong. I can’t wait to see where they take her in the next nine years.

March Madness

I don’t even know what to say about the last few weeks. The last week of February was difficult and the first week of March was worse.

The last Thursday of February Beth and June and I attended a memorial service for a forty-four-year-old woman who died of breast cancer. We did not know her well, but she was the mother of one of June’s preschool classmates, a girl who also played on a soccer team with June in first grade and on her basketball team from kindergarten to second grade. Grief would be too strong a word to use because we weren’t friends, but her death did make me very sad, for her not being able to see her children grow up, for her widowed husband, and most of all for her four girls, aged six to twelve.

And then there was the weather. In the space of two weeks school was cancelled on four days, not to mention a two-hour delay and an early dismissal. (That last one was scheduled, at least.) This brought us to seven cancellations for the year, three over what’s built into the school year. And even though the school district promised to make the days up this year, they’ve gone back on that and applied for a waiver from the state, which means my consolation prize of three days of uninterrupted work in mid-June might not come to pass either. We’ll see.

When a friend asked on Facebook why a few of us stay-at-home and work-at-home moms were complaining so bitterly about the days off, I answered:

It’s the disruption of trying to work with kids at home, it’s needing to decide which of the things other than work that I usually do that I am not going to do, it’s the loss of quiet time that’s important for me as an introvert, it’s the fact that I also lose the chance to recharge through exercise when the pool at PBES is closed or through socializing with other adults when basketball practice or my book club is cancelled…And this is unique to me, but it brings back my grief for my father because he died shortly before the big storms of 2010.

This is what I meant about my father. It doesn’t happen every time school is suddenly closed, but when we have a great many cancellations in quick succession, it often brings me back to the-world-is-spinning-out-of-control feeling I had in the winter of 2010, when the kids missed two and three weeks of school respectively. (June was in morning preschool then and if the school district had a two-hour delay, her whole day was cancelled.) The bulk of those storms happened the month after my dad died and it’s clear that these two events got cemented together in my mind in a way that makes me overreact to the real but honestly not dire inconvenience of having the kids at home on a workday. I understand it’s not quite rational but that doesn’t change it. Add some painful private difficulties to the mix and I haven’t been much fun lately.

But so far I haven’t had a day as bad as Saint Patrick’s Day last year (our tenth and last cancelled day that year). I spent that day mostly in bed, with the blinds drawn, listening to an audiobook–and to make matters worse, it a pretty bad audiobook. I was afraid all this winter of going back to that place and I thought I had around two weeks ago, on the first Monday of March.

We’d had an ice storm and school was cancelled. I’d woken at 5:45, sore all over from having spent two hours the previous afternoon chipping ice off our sidewalk, but at 9:00, I was still in bed and I hadn’t eaten breakfast. It wasn’t that I wasn’t hungry. Getting out of bed and getting myself something to eat just seemed too daunting. I finally did get up, though, by focusing on the goal of putting a load of laundry in the washer. I decided to get the newspaper while I was at it and bring it back to bed. When I went outside at first I thought it was raining, which was strange because it was a bright, sunny day. Then I noticed that when I wasn’t standing under a tree it wasn’t raining and I realized it was water dripping from the rapidly melting ice. It was such a strange phenomenon I called June outside and we walked all over the sunny, sparkly, ice-covered yard, looking at every twig and every tall weed outlined as if in glass and listening to the water patter on the frozen ground and the ice breaking and falling off the tree limbs and the shrubbery and the clothes line.

Startled out my lethargy, I decided to eat breakfast instead of going back to bed and told June I was going to the creek to do something and asked if she wanted to go. What was I going to do? Come and see, I said and then I went back to the front yard and filled the wheelbarrow. Noah, watching from the porch in his pajamas, guessed correctly. “Are you going to dump that in the creek?” he said.

June did come with me, half amused and half embarrassed, as I pushed the wheelbarrow a block from our house and then she watched, bemused, as I heaved the contents over the railing of the bridge. She told me I was “completely insane.” Perhaps, but I felt better enough to muddle through with my day and not to go completely off the rails when school was cancelled again on Thursday and Friday. Though when Beth took June to work with her on Friday I really wasn’t sure if she did it because June likes to go to work with her, or to give me a chance to work in a quieter house, or because she wanted to spare June from me because I was still in a pretty bad mood. She didn’t say and I didn’t ask.

On that day, after I finished working, I walked to the library to return a book and while cutting across the campus of the university near our house I saw ten robins crowded onto a strip of exposed grass and mud over what must have been a warm underground pipe. Two days later on the same campus, I saw two clumps of crocuses, yellow and purple, almost a month later than they usually emerge, but there nonetheless. And now, after a week of warm weather, we have crocuses in our yard, too, and hyacinth and daffodils poking their way out of the newly visible ground.

Over the course of last week, life slowly settled back into its usual groove. The kids went to school five days in a row. I swam on Sunday and had a book club meeting on Wednesday. June had a violin lesson, a Girl Scout meeting, a basketball practice, gymnastics class and a basketball game. Nothing was cancelled. Although I appreciate this normalcy, I still feel tender and exhausted. I have a mistrustful feeling about it, like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The change to Daylight Saving Time, which has seemed easier in recent years as the kids get older, seemed very hard this year. I’ve been tired all week, and I’m not the only one. On Friday night June put herself to bed, fully clothed and without telling us. I only discovered her fast asleep when I went to tell her to get ready for bed.

The Pandas’ last game was yesterday. They lost, which was not surprising as they lost every game this season. Their defense is pretty good and while four or five players are on the verge of becoming good offensive players, they have no one who can consistently score, and if you can’t score, you can’t win. Mike, their coach, has somehow remained positive and encouraging through all this, and for the most part the girls have been positive, too. I mean, look at the picture. It was taken right after the end of the last game. Do they look discouraged?

They’re eight and nine years old and while some of them want to win, some of them just want to have a good time. Plus they were on their way to an end-of-season party (graciously hosted by Talia’s family) and they were excited about that. They live more in the moment than I do. I know June was very solemn at the memorial service and sad at the death of her friend’s mother, but I don’t think it touched her too deeply. It’s harder for me now not to be touched by things like that, even when they’re peripheral to my life.

My book club is reading Anna Karenina and I found when I got up to the part when she confesses her affair to her husband, it seemed so much sadder to me than when I read it as a grad student. It was the whole situation–Alexei’s pain, the way he hides it (from himself and Anna), which leads her to read him as cold and uncaring, which makes her think she might as well tell him what he already half-suspects and desperately wants not to know for certain. I felt so sorry for both of them…I think I read more emotionally now, maybe because I’ve been out of academia for almost a decade and I no longer worry about being sufficiently detached and theoretical. Or it could just be that I’m middle-aged and I’ve seen more of life and what it does to people.

I don’t think I’ll end up throwing myself under a train any time soon, though. I have children to raise, after all, and daffodils coming up in my yard.