About Steph Lovelady

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

Not Every Sunday, Not Every Monday

Friday & Saturday

A friend of mine posted on Facebook recently that she was down and wanted to some suggestions for what people do to feel better.  A lot of people, including me, suggested getting outside. I thought of this on Sunday, when I spent most of the afternoon outside. I needed it, as I’ve also been down for a while. Part of it was having a mild cold and part of it was missing Noah while he was away in New York for a week on a school trip, although even together neither of those factors really accounted for the depth my funk. I did notice after the fact that while he was away that I used a lot “dis” words in my Facebook status updates—“discombobulated,” “disquieting,” “disrupted.”

But then he came home and we were all very happy to see him. We went out for celebratory pizza at gelato at Mama Lucia’s Friday night, and he and June spent part of Saturday afternoon and evening working on a movie they’ve been making together and digging into the big box of Pop Rocks he bought at FAO Schwartz. The Supreme Court decision that allowed friends of mine to get married in Virginia and Colorado this week was also cheering.


Sunday we had a day of family togetherness planned. June’s music school had a booth at a little street fair in the morning and they asked her to come play her violin in front of the booth. She did this once at the farmers’ market last spring (4/12/14) and was happy to do it again.  Noah stayed home to finish up some work before our afternoon outings, but Beth and I were there to see her play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “Ode to Joy,” and two of her own compositions to a small audience and applause.  Afterward we stopped at a crepe truck and had a snack because we were going to have a late lunch.

Next we drove out to Northern Virginia, where we got cider, spaghetti squash, pumpkins and decorative gourds at Potomac Vegetable Farms. The kids and I picked two gourds each. Mine—a little orange and green speckled pumpkin and a white one—are on my desk. The rest are on the porch and the dining room table. Beth said she had “zero decorative gourd needs,” so no gourds for her.

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park on the Maryland side of Great Falls was our next stop. Last week Beth’s cousin Sean biked from Wheeling to Washington, D.C. and his mother, Beth’s aunt Carole was driving out with Beth’s mom to pick him up and bring him back to Wheeling, so we all agreed to meet up at the park for a picnic. We arrived around the same time as YaYa and Carole, a little before two. Sean was not expected until four, so we had our picnic without him near the canal. As always when members of Beth’s family are together, a lot of food was exchanged. We went home with our leftovers plus a bag of pistachios, some pretzels and three kinds of cookies. YaYa and Carole took with them their leftovers, a jug of cider, and a box of flax seed crackers.

After we ate we took a walk along the towpath and on footbridges and boardwalks over the Potomac River and on an island in the middle of the river. It was good, restorative even, to be walking around outside with family in a beautiful place. The kids had fun, too.  They both enjoyed throwing pebbles and acorns into the canal and Noah liked inspecting the locks and June found a sycamore tree that was hollow for at least ten feet up. It reminded me of the hollow tree in one of the Pippi Longstocking books.  Unfortunately, Sean got lost on the way to the park and around five we had to leave without having gotten to see him, but it was still a very nice afternoon, and not something we do every Sunday.


The next day was Columbus Day. I used to love Columbus Day. I always said it was my favorite minor holiday, its celebration of imperialism and genocide notwithstanding. Why? Beth has it off work and the kids don’t have it off school so it gave us a built-in date day every second Monday in October. When June was in preschool, we’d visit Noah’s elementary school because the schools all have Open Houses on this day, which is convenient for so many DC-area parents who work either for the federal government or for non-profits that follow the government’s holiday schedule. But even with June in school only a few hours, we always seemed to have enough time to have lunch out while she was at school and watch a Netflix movie while she napped.

But once June started elementary school, we had two schools to visit and we’d generally go to one in the morning and the other one in the afternoon. It was still pleasant and we still found time to eat lunch out, but it wasn’t quite the luxurious day it had once been.

So all this is to say that it wasn’t as disappointing as it would have been a few years ago when June announced Monday morning that she was sick to her stomach and didn’t want to go to school. I have to admit I did think sadly of the lost opportunity to have lunch alone with Beth before I tried to sort out who would go to which school when.

As a first step, we decided I would go to June’s morning class and Beth would stay home with June. June has math and science in the morning in Spanish and I speak Spanish and Beth doesn’t so that decision was easy enough.

I wanted to see this class, as opposed to June’s afternoon class, for two reasons. One was that since Noah’s been in middle school we always go to visit his Media Production class since it’s consistently his favorite and he has it during sixth period this year. But the more important reason is that June feels intimidated by Señorita Y.  Señorita Y has a reputation for being strict, but June usually does fine with strict teachers (and lenient teachers, and all teachers basically). It’s to the point where she won’t turn in forms and she failed to turn in her summer math packet because she was afraid to approach her, and as a result she isn’t eligible to go a party this week for all the kids who finished it and I had to wade through a lot of red tape to order to school pictures on the phone after they’d been taken. I wrote Señorita Y a note and asked her to tell June she can talk to her whenever she needs to, which she did.  I’m not sure if this talk will help matters or not, but I wanted to see what her class is like, even without June in it.

The lesson was on multiplication. They were discussing the commutative property when I arrived. Later they used a matrix to figure out 9 x 9 and various kinds of diagrams on the white board and in their notebooks to figure out other problems. They also had plastic tiles to arrange in row and columns. The lesson seemed well thought out and the kids were engaged, but I did see Señorita Y get cross on a few occasions, when a child was too slow to answer or asked a question that had already been asked and answered. She’s not a particularly patient or friendly teacher, but June’s doing well in her class, according to the mid-quarter progress report we received and some teachers (and bosses) are just like that. Learning how to deal with gruff authority might be what June needs to learn from her as much as multiplication strategies. I’m taking a wait-and-see approach before doing anything else about it.

When I came home, June was feeling better and she was ready for lunch. After she ate two bowls of lentil soup, an apple, and a pear, and asked for a cookie, I informed her that if she was well enough for a cookie, she was well enough to go to school for her afternoon class. She went back to her room to listen to a book on tape and to think about this and after the first cassette of Ramona the Pest was over, she decided she would eat the cookie and go to school. I gave it to her, feeling a bit like I was bribing her because it allowed me to go with Beth to Noah’s school, which was what I wanted to do.

We took June to her school and drove to Noah’s. We were going to his sixth and seventh period classes and then taking him home.  Driving him, we’d get home a half hour before the school bus and he needed an early start on his homework because he was going to a high school Open House for a math and science magnet that night.  I didn’t know whether I was going or not because I didn’t have a babysitter yet and while we leave June alone in the daytime for short periods and both kids alone at night, we don’t yet leave June alone at night.

In Media, the kids discussed how the interviews with their documentary subjects in New York had gone, as it was their first day back in class after the trip. After that, the teacher gave instructions for transcribing the interviews and set them to work writing thank you notes to their chaperones and interview subjects.  This was not too exciting to watch and the next period was not much more dynamic.

In science, they are designing green houses, each in a different ecosystem.  (Noah’s house is in Antarctica. I imagine heating it will be his biggest challenge.) The project itself sounds interesting but what they actually did in class was go to the computer lab and do research, so there wasn’t much instruction to watch in this class either.

That night Beth and Noah went to the Open House and I stayed home with June, as I had failed to find a last-minute sitter. This is the second time this has happened this month. I really need to find a back up sitter.  Anyway, Beth said the session was interesting and informative. Noah didn’t have much to say but I’m hoping after he goes to the humanities magnet session tomorrow he will be able to make some comparisons.  We had been leaning against having him apply to any high school magnets because seventh grade was so brutal, but eighth really has been better, at least so far, so we are considering the idea again.

It wasn’t an ideal Columbus Day. I would have liked some alone time with Beth, especially as she’s leaving on a five-day trip Friday morning, and I was sorry to miss the magnet Open House. I’ve missed two of these now and I am feeling out of the loop. But I think I have a better sense of June’s morning class and it’s always nice to see Noah in his school environment, even if the lesson plans were not particularly scintillating. That’s not something I get every Monday either.

Little Girl in a Red Granite Chair

Beth and Noah went on their annual early fall mother-son camping trip this weekend. They camped in Shawnee State Park in south central Pennsylvania, toured Lincoln Caverns, and had other adventures.  While one of her mothers and her brother were enjoying the natural world, June took in some culture.

I’d been wanting to go the Degas/Cassatt exhibit at the National Gallery for a while and Beth had originally suggested we try to go on Rosh Hashanah, which the kids had off school, but it ended up falling between two other days when Beth was leaving work early (Wednesday to take Noah to an orthodontist appointment and Friday to pick him up from school and leave on their camping trip), so she had to beg off, with regrets.

I thought I’d take the kids anyway, or maybe just June, as Noah had an English paper he wanted to write so he wouldn’t have to do it on the camping trip, but I ended up deciding not to go partly because Noah objected to being left behind and partly I thought there was a better chance he’d actually finish the paper if I stayed home and kept him on track.  (I found out later in the day what he’d really been interested in was the going out to lunch part of the plan and not the exhibit, which might have changed things if I’d known it at the time.)  He did write almost a page, which was not as much as he hoped, but it was something.

So I decided to try again on Saturday. Sometimes I try to do a lot of fun, consolation prize-type things with June when Beth and Noah are on this trip to because she doesn’t like being left behind and she gets sad.  She’d been complaining bitterly the night before that while she has invited Noah to come along on her annual late spring camping trip with Beth at least twice he never invites her to go on his trip. (It’s true, but he was up front the first time she invited him that he was not going to reciprocate because he likes the alone time with Beth, so she can’t complain she didn’t know how it would go down.)

The outing was not exactly a treat. June had no objection to going to an art museum but she wasn’t excited about it either. However, it would be one-on-one time, more so than if we stayed home and I cleaned house (which was the alternate plan), plus we’d been to Chuck E. Cheese for a school fundraiser the night before and I let her stay almost two hours, eating pizza, playing arcade games, and running around with her best friend and then I took her out for frozen yogurt, so I didn’t feel too bad about choosing an activity I wanted to do.

Getting out of the house was more difficult that anticipated.  June was slow to get dressed because she was upset (to the point of tears) about losing her progress in a long, multi-level game on the Electric Company website because she’d forgotten her username and couldn’t save the game. I hadn’t made her quit in order to leave, she had just gotten tired of it and quit around the same time I wanted to leave.  So we missed the 9:28 bus and then the 9:58 bus just didn’t come and when the 10:28 bus was late I was coming very close to throwing in the towel on the whole outing but at 10:34 a bus came and we boarded it. I’d even risked running back into the house shortly before the bus arrived to get the camera battery I’d left in the charger and was rewarded with a working camera. I also read a chapter and a half of The Grim Grotto (Series of Unfortunate Events #11) aloud to June while waiting for the bus so the time was not entirely wasted.

I’d chosen a Metro stop that required a line transfer for two reasons, because it was closest to the museum and also because there’s a Starbucks right next to it.  It was so close to lunchtime it seemed like fortification was in order if I wanted to go straight to the exhibit rather than the café.  There were no more transportation issues and by 11:35 we were leaving Starbucks and walking to the museum, vanilla milk and a latte in hand and vanilla scones and a toasted bagel in our bellies.

As we approached the West Building I noticed a poster for an Andrew Wyeth exhibit I hadn’t realized was there. I wondered if we could see both before June lost interest in art. The National Gallery of Art is very large and even with a map, I still needed to ask for directions twice before we found the Degas/Cassatt exhibit. Once we were inside, though, we were immediately rewarded with the sight of the exhibit’s most famous painting, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair.

It was the second to last weekend of the exhibit and it was pretty crowded. I was glad we hadn’t waited for the last weekend. Other than babies in strollers and strapped to their parents’ chests, June was the only child there. She was interested to see two big wooden boxes of Cassatt’s pastel crayons at the entrance. As we wandered through the three-room exhibit, I tried to find the balance between being pedagogical enough and not overwhelming June with explanations. I commented on how the girl in the armchair doesn’t seem to be posing, but is just sprawled out on the chair the way a child would naturally sit. We talked about how the artists were friends and she wanted to know how they met if she was an American and he was French. Then she asked if they ever collaborated on a painting. We noticed many of Degas’ painting were portraits of Cassatt and June took delight in counting how many of them there were. She might have lost count when we discovered one whole room consisted of sketches and paintings of Cassatt on a trip to the Louvre.  Meanwhile, a couple near us was having a discussion that went something like this:

“They weren’t lovers, though.”

“No, there was no sex involved.”

And then they just kept reiterating this fact in different ways. It made me wish Beth were there so I could whisper to her, “Did you know Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt had no carnal knowledge of each other?” but instead I stifled the urge to laugh because I didn’t think June was listening to them and didn’t really want to have to explain.

The Wyeth exhibit was right next to the Degas/Cassatt exhibit and I couldn’t resist going in, although this one was less kid-friendly, being nothing but paintings of windows.  How fascinating, I thought, and how boring, June seemed to be thinking.

“He sure did like windows,” she said.

“Why do you think an artist might like about windows?” I said.

“I dunno. The light?” she said.

I agreed. The windows do change the light in the painting and they also let you see two scenes at once, the inside one and the outside one, I explained.

I stopped short in front of Evening at Kuerners, because I’ve seen this painting before, three years ago at the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania with Beth. I even mentioned it as one of my favorite Wyeths in this blog post. It was on the wall in between two other paintings of a single lighted window of a house or barn seen from outside at night. Then we saw a painting of N.C. Wyeth’s studio from the outside on a snowy day. Beth and toured that studio on the same weekend getaway, albeit on a sweltering July day.

When we’d finished with Wyeth I asked June what she’d like to do next and she choose to see some of the sculpture in the permanent collection.  There were a lot of Rodin sculptures and also some Degas dancers. I pointed them out to June. It was a lot less crowded away from the travelling exhibits. Often we were alone with the guards, one of whom told June she looked like a Vermeer painting. I wondered which one he had in mind.

After a late lunch in the café, the one with the big waterfall right outside the window, I bought some magnets with Andrew Wyeth paintings on them–Evening at Kuerners (because if it’s going to follow me around I might as well take it home) and also the one of the studio. We paused in another gift shop long enough to read a children’s book about the painting of Little Girl in a Blue Armchair and we learned the answer to two of June’s questions.  Cassatt met Degas when she moved to Paris and he actually painted part of the background of that very painting.

Going up the stairs to exit the museum, I overheard a frustrated college-age man explaining to his out-of-town relatives that the café really wasn’t that expensive for D.C. and they should have just eaten there. Beth later pointed out someone should have told them when you get into a world-class museum for free, it’s a bit churlish to complain about the overpriced food. I agree, though I’d had a pang of regret when June’s eyes were bigger than her stomach and I had to throw out her nearly untouched $5.50 slice of pizza because you aren’t allowed to remove any food from the café. (We did smuggle out a brownie in June’s bag, don’t tell anyone.)

Next we headed for the sculpture garden. It was around two in the afternoon when we left the museum and it was noticeably warmer than when we’d entered. I was worried June would be hot because in the spring and the fall she has a tendency to dress for the weather that’s just around the corner instead of the weather we’re actually having, so on this sunny day with temperatures in the low eighties, she was wearing a ribbed turtleneck, a corduroy skirt, and tights. But she didn’t complain as we wandered through the sculptures. It had been so long since we’ve been there that she didn’t remember it and she enjoyed the more whimsical pieces. After a half hour or so we were both ready to leave.

We headed home. I rested a bit and then cleaned the kitchen, made dinner, menu-planned for the next week and made a grocery list. There was time for a few rounds of Mad Libs before June went to bed, and after a shower, I fell into bed with a book, our artistic day over.

She Likes the Nightlife, Baby

The kids have been back in school now for three weeks and so far everything seems to be going pretty well. Noah’s homework has been light enough that he’s finished before bedtime as often as not so he’s had some free time in the evenings.  He was able to go see The Giver with me over Labor Day weekend. And the next weekend he was actually finished by lunchtime on Saturday.  I made him do some research about his high school options that afternoon—because the Open Houses are in October and we need to decide which ones to attend—but we all went to the Takoma Park Folk Festival on Sunday. He invited Sasha to come with us. Noah had been at Richard and David’s house two days earlier to play a role-playing game called Dragon Lord. They are thinking of making a standing date every other Friday afternoon. It makes me happy that he’s had some time for leisure and hanging out with friends. If it’s true what everyone says about eighth grade being easier than seventh at his school, it would be a welcome change. Friday & Monday: Violin Lessons June’s violin lessons have started back up after a brief recess between the summer and fall sessions at her music school. At the last summer violin lesson, in mid-August, her teacher told us it was going to be her last lesson with June, as she was moving to Virginia Beach. Her husband got a job in the symphony there and the school didn’t want her to tell us until they’d hired a replacement. Elizabeth was a wonderful teacher, so we were sad to hear she was leaving. Right before this lesson, June started complaining about practicing and even said she wanted to quit violin so when we found out Elizabeth was moving, Beth said it was almost as if she had a premonition about it.  Anyway, we decided she’d give it until November because we were right at the end of session and I didn’t want her to quit if it was a passing whim. The new teacher was sick the first week of the school year so June didn’t have a lesson until the Friday after Labor Day.  Then she had another lesson the next Monday. Because the first one was a makeup lesson and I acted quickly to secure a good time, it was at four, which is when June’s lessons with Elizabeth were.  I like this time. It gives us just enough time to take the bus to the music school when she gets home from school and have a snack at the Co-op before the lesson, which has become a comfortable routine for us.  Unfortunately, her new regular lesson time is 5:45, too early to eat dinner beforehand and too late to cook dinner when we get home. I’m not sure how I’m going to handle this problem in general, but this week June and I made corn chowder before we left for the lesson and reheated it when we got home. At the first lesson, the teacher, Robin, spent about fifteen minutes chatting with June, asking her questions about her favorite colors, school subjects, what she wants to be when she grows up, etc.  She said she needed to know what kind of person she was because music is all about conveying emotion and seeing into people’s souls. This would have been a bit touchy-feely for me and I was glad I wasn’t answering these questions and having someone assess my soul, but June rolled with it. Robin liked June’s answer about her favorite color—aquamarine.  That always impresses people who are expecting a primary or secondary color. Then she looked through June’s music books and Elizabeth’s notations on them to see what kind of music June could already play. When June mentioned she’d composed two songs during her lessons with Elizabeth, Robin immediately decided to concentrate on these for the rest of the lesson (which ran over by about five or ten minutes—there was no one immediately after June and it wasn’t dinnertime so I didn’t mind). She listened to June play “Half-Scale Song,” and “Flower on a Butterfly” and taught her how to write the music. They did the first measure or so of the first song together. Her homework was to finish writing out “Half-Scale Song.” When I asked Noah to find some staff paper online for June, he knew of a program that would allow you to input the notes and print out the song. It can also play the song back for you. Over the weekend he took June to the site and he helped her figure out the notes through a combination of her playing them on the violin and listening to the computerized violin play it back to them.  In about a half hour, they had it printed. At the second lesson, June and Robin went over the song again and they both played it—June as she wanted it to sound and Robin as it was written, and together they corrected some errors near the beginning.  Robin circled the measures where there were still inconsistencies and asked June to fix them before the next lesson and also write out “Flower on a Butterfly.” All this was very interesting to watch. Robin’s an enthusiastic and engaging teacher, but I was a bit stressed by the fact that she seems to run habitually behind schedule. Our lesson started five minutes late and ended fifteen minutes late, even though there was another child waiting.  It only started when it did because I tracked down the school director and asked if Robin was in the building and he found her. And it only ended when it did because once it had gone five or ten minutes late, I pointed out the time to her and mentioned I’d seen another child on the whiteboard schedule right after June. So, I guess I will need to be the timekeeper during these lessons, but other than that, June’s off to a good start with her new teacher. Tuesday: Brownie Meeting Tuesday night was June’s first night of Brownies.  It was actually the third meeting of the year but we didn’t decide to join until after the list of after school activities at June’s school came out and she wasn’t interested in any of them. She had also decided against playing soccer because her best friend Megan’s not playing this year.  Then I remembered she really wanted to join her friend Maggie’s Brownie troop the year before but it would have kept her up at least a half hour past her bedtime. Even with her new bedtime I thought it would be tight, but when I asked if she was still interested she was enthusiastic, so we decided to give it a try.  So she now has regular evening activities on two consecutive days, which might mean I am lightening up about dinnertime and bedtime, although I keep asking at the music school if we can get an earlier time slot if anything opens up at any time, pretty please with a cherry on top, so maybe not. We arranged to carpool with Maggie’s mom. She would take the girls to the meeting and Beth, who gets home later, would fetch them.  I went with Kathryn and the girls because I needed to do some paperwork.  The troop meets in a little building in a municipal park with a playground and the girls were playing on the playground when we arrived.  Three of June’s preschool classmates are in this troop and another is thinking of joining, plus there are three girls June knows from her elementary school, so she felt right at home, even though she was joining in media res. It’s a mixed age troop, Daisies to Juniors, though all the girls wearing vests (and only about half of them were) were Brownies, so I’m guessing it’s a majority Brownie troop. I’d mentioned to June when she said she wanted to join that it’s a school year-long commitment and then she wanted to know if she could attend one meeting before I actually paid. It turned out I didn’t even have to ask for this accommodation because while the leader had the required health forms for me, she couldn’t locate a registration form and she didn’t want payment right away. When June got home, though, she knew she wanted to stay. She’d earned a badge for politeness, after spending much of the meeting discussing said topic. Some, but not all, of the girls earned the badge for participating in the discussion. They are going zip lining next week, not on their meeting day, and in the evening, so June’s nightlife is just getting more and more exciting.  Meanwhile she immediately started bugging Beth about buying her vest online.  I think she’s hoping to have by the next meeting. Thursday: Back to School Night Two nights later, Thursday, was Back to School Night at June’s school.  When Noah’s school had Back to School Night last week, we got a sitter, but because we’d be closer to home for this one, we decided to leave the kids at home alone. They’ve done this before, but never at night. Thursday morning we reminded Noah of this fact and told him he might have to put June to bed. “How about she puts herself to bed?” he asked. “You don’t want to exercise your new power?” Beth said. “Oh, right. She has a new bedtime. 7:45 again!” (Noah’s been annoyed that the gap between June’s bedtime and his has shrunk since she got a new one at the beginning of the summer and he’s unlikely to get a new one as long as he has to get up at 5:45 a.m. on school days.) For the third time in four days I was in a rush to get dinner on the table because of an evening activity. As we were eating I remembered I’d forgotten to give June her bath before dinner. It had been a hot day, too, and her hairline was all sweaty. She clearly needed a bath so I asked if she thought she could handle it herself.  She agreed and before we left I started the bath water running, dumped half an envelope of bubble bath in, put her towel and a pair of pajamas on the bathroom counter, and brushed her hair. “Don’t be too bossy,” I said to Noah as we headed out the door and he told June she was his servant now. But when got home, five minutes before June’s bedtime, and I asked if he’d been too bossy, she said, “He was fine.” Beth then asked Noah if June was well behaved. “She watched Netflix the whole time,” he said. She’d bathed and gotten herself ready for bed on time, which is more than I can say for Noah even though he was getting ready while we were home. But it’s good to know we can leave them for a couple hours and they won’t kill each other. Beth and I might even go to a movie this weekend without getting a sitter, though probably a matinee. I think we’ve all had enough of the nightlife this week.

sooperdooper, postscript

When I tucked Noah into bed Sunday night, he gave me an unexpectedly hard hug.  “Do you think school will be sooperdooper?” he said.

“I hope so,” I said.

“Do you think it will be like the sooperdooperLooper, fun but with scary parts?”

“Maybe,” I said.

“You should have put that in your blog,” he said.  So I am now.

The kids started third and eighth grade yesterday. We did the usual things beforehand.  We went shopping for school supplies about a week and a half before school.  June wanted to shop by herself, so she directed Beth, Noah, and me to wait at the other end of Office Depot as she strolled the aisles with a shopping cart and consulted her list. She did consent to let Beth pay.

Last Friday, June and I went to her school to meet her morning and afternoon teachers, Señora Y and Ms. P.  Señora Y has a reputation for being strict. I know nothing about Ms. P. When June introduced herself, Señora Y said she had “un apellido divino,” a divine last name. Then she spoke to the assembled kids and parents in such rapid Spanish neither June or I could follow everything she said, which worried me a bit, but June was too busy discovering that quite a few of her friends were in her class to care. She has fewer friends in the afternoon class with Ms. P, whose library, especially the Meg Mackintosh mysteries, attracted June.

All the third grade classrooms are trailers. This wasn’t a surprise, as the whole third grade was in trailers last year, too.  I don’t really mind. It’s a reality of a crowded school district and an elementary school with almost nine hundred students, but I simply refuse to call them “learning cottages,” as the school does.  June’s friend Megan’s mom once jokingly called them “learning shacks,” so I’m thinking I might adopt that, though “learning hovels” and “learning tenements” have a certain appeal as well.

Sunday night we went out for ice cream. It’s a last-night-of-summer-vacation tradition in our family, continued from my childhood. We voted on where to go.  I had the kids write their choices down on slips of paper and then Beth and I did the same.  Since it was the kids going back to school we decided if they agreed we’d go to their choice, and adult votes would be used to break a tie, if necessary. They did agree—both had written down Ben and Jerry’s—but I don’t think they would have agreed if we’d given our votes orally.  (For the record, Beth and I both wrote down Baskin Robbins—she was thinking nostalgically of her own childhood. I was thinking it was closer and therefore faster.)  But Ben and Jerry’s it was.  It was a pretty evening, warm, but not hot or humid, so we ate our last ice cream of summer vacation outside, seated at a table and on the cow statue.

Noah was revising one of his poem annotations, printing assignments and submitting them electronically right up until bedtime. In the morning he was up bright and early. Beth didn’t have too much trouble getting him out the door by 6:40.  June’s bus doesn’t come until 8:20, so we had plenty of time as well. Each kid posed at the gate for the traditional first-day-of-school photo.  (I spent a lot of the morning looking at other people’s first-day-of-school photos on Facebook. Many of June’s old preschool classmates have younger siblings starting kindergarten this year. I can’t believe all these babies are in elementary school now.)

As much as I’d been looking forward to the quiet house, it did feel strange and even a little lonely at first.  It was also strange to head off to Starbucks all by myself, to drink a latte and read my September book club book (Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist.) But it was nice, too; I won’t deny that.

June’s bus was ten minutes late coming home. She didn’t know why; it was probably just first day glitches.  She said “third grade was fun,” but she didn’t have much to tell me about it.  I asked if she could understand Señora Y and she said she spoke more slowly today. She didn’t have any homework. Noah was home ten minutes later, and not as lucky.  He only had one assignment, but it was the kind of open-ended assignment that often stumps him. He needed to write a letter to incoming sixth graders telling them what to expect from the Humanities magnet. So, he was up past his bedtime on the first night of school writing it and he was working on it again in the morning so Beth needed to drive him to school.

And we’re off… I’m hoping for a sooper doper year and I hope you have one, too.


I. The End of the Summer

I had an idea for a blog post in which I was going to chronicle every argument the kids had during the last two weeks of their summer break. I even had a title—“Why Do We Scream at Each Other” from “When Doves Cry.” I figured material would be plentiful.  After all they would both be home those two weeks, without any camp.  But then a funny thing happened… they didn’t fight much. A little, yes—they weren’t angels—but not enough for a wry, amusing blog post.  And I have to say I don’t mind not getting to write it. I was working those two weeks, reduced hours, but enough to dread having to play peacemaker on top of everything.

Maybe Noah was too busy finishing his summer homework to argue with June.  He didn’t leave it all until the end of the summer (like some of his panicked classmates who’ve been posting recently on their class listserv) but he had quite a bit left two weeks out, especially for someone who’s a slow reader and writer.

He had to read a collection of poems from various periods in American history, pick four poems and write a set of historical and literary annotations plus a short essay (expanding on the literary annotations) for each of them.  He had to write a speech nominating someone to be the subject of a documentary he’ll be making for his media class this year. And then there was a reading log he was supposed to have been keeping all summer and which required some creativity—he didn’t fabricate anything, but I’m sure there were omissions. And he also had to write a paragraph about his volunteer work at June’s tinkering camp in order to get Student Service Learning hours for the twenty-two and a half hours he spent doing clerical work and playing with campers there back in June. As I mentioned, he hadn’t exactly been slacking off in the homework department. Earlier in the summer he completed a geometry packet, wrote a short essay on sixteenth and seventeenth-century immigration, read a novel and wrote a set of annotations for it. Does anyone else think this is just too much? I do.

When I wasn’t working, I took June out of the house as much as possible to give Noah quiet to work, and to keep her entertained. We went to the library twice, the movies twice, and the playground and the creek once. We had two of her friends over and she went to two of her friends’ houses. The second week when I had five hours of babysitting and she had three play dates was much more pleasant and less stressful than the first week, when I had no babysitting and she had one play date. We are not yet to the point where I can work peacefully with both kids home and every one just does his or her own thing, though it always feels as if it’s on the horizon. (Work-at-home parents with older kids: when exactly does this happen?)

Noah did find time to read at least a chapter of Allegiant every day and to play Monopoly with June and me for several hours one day. I’d forgotten how long it can take to finish a game (we didn’t), how fun it can be, and how good Noah is at it. When we quit, June had been eliminated and he was far ahead of me.

The weekend in between those two weeks we went to Sasha’s Bar Mitzvah and the Montgomery County Fair. Sasha and Noah have been friends since kindergarten, so even though his congregation seems to play down the “becoming a man” aspect of the ceremony, in favor of “beginning the journey” of becoming a man, it was very moving to see him up on stage, giving his presentation about graphic novels and Jewish history, and to hear his parents’ heartfelt, honest, and funny speeches. The fair was fun, too.  I’d probably write more about that, but the last weekend before school started, we went to HersheyPark and as that’s more unusual for us—we go to the fair most years and we’ve never been to HersheyPark—so I will focus on that.

II. A Sweet Day

We didn’t even decide to go to HersheyPark until three days before we went, which for us qualifies as nearly unprecedented spontaneity. We had some coupons and had been considering it in a vague sort of way all summer, but we hadn’t gotten around it to it and by the time there was only one weekend of break left we figured Noah would be too busy wrapping up the loose ends of his homework and we’d kind of given up on the idea.  Plus, June was just short of one of the height cutoffs for rides and I thought it might be better to wait until next summer when she’d be allowed on more rides.

But it turned out Noah really wanted to go. He’s been the past two springs on band field trips, he likes the park, and he wanted to go as a family.  So I told him if he met a certain benchmark on his homework by Wednesday evening, we’d consider it. At first it seemed like he wasn’t going to make it and I felt guilty about setting him up for disappointment but then he rallied, met the goal, and all of a sudden, we had to a trip to plan.

We left the house at 7:50 a.m. on Saturday and were in the parking lot by 10:40. Cool, rainy weather was forecast and it rained on and off the whole drive.  When we got out of the car, it was overcast but not raining and the temperature was in the mid-sixties. However, the parking lot attendant—who told us to “Have a sweet day”—and the security guard who checked our bags told us we wouldn’t need the umbrellas either until evening or at all, so we stowed them along with our bathing suits in a locker and turned our attention to the question of where to go first.

Beth had encouraged both kids to pick two rides they considered essential so we could make to fit them in if lines were long. June wanted to go on a mine ride and a moderate-sized flume ride, called the Coal Cracker. Noah had helped June make her choices, showing her videos from the park web site and giving advice, but he’d forgotten to make his own selections, so we headed for June’s rides. We did the mine ride first and then since everyone liked it and the lines were short, we did it again. Noah and June sat together, as they did at her request every time riders were in pairs. I think she enjoyed riding without an adult right next to her. He was also her “responsible rider” on rides she was too short to ride alone but Beth and I didn’t care to ride.

We also did the Coal Cracker twice. June loved it. She got off of it skipping and pleading to do it again. After the first ride on that we checked out the photo they snap of you and three out of four of us had our eyes closed.  “Be more photogenic next time,” Beth advised us and so we were. The result was good enough to purchase.

After lunch we split up so Noah could do a more serious roller coaster, the Great Bear; he had to do it alone because its multiple and closely spaced loops are too much for his mothers or his younger sister.  The funny thing about it, though, is that it’s the first roller coaster he ever rode—on the sixth grade band field trip. If we’d been there we would have tried to talk him out of it, but he loves it.  Sometimes it’s a good thing for your parents not to be there.

While he was waiting in line I took June to some of the kiddie rides she still enjoys and when we met up again, we decided to tackle the sooperdooperLooper. This 70s-era coaster was one of the first looping coasters, so it’s pretty tame for a coaster that goes upside down. It’s low to the ground and has just one loop.  A friend of June’s had recommended it and I thought she could handle it. I thought I could, too. I used to be braver about roller coasters than I am now, especially in my mid-teens to early twenties.  I haven’t been on one that goes upside down in a long time and I will admit I closed my eyes right before the loop, but both kids kept theirs open by their own report.

When it was over and I asked them how it was, Noah said, “Awesome!” and June said, “Scary!” She was glad she’d done it but didn’t want to do it again. I felt about the same, but we all told Beth, in unison, when she asked how it was that it had been “sooper doper.” It was kind of an obligatory thing to say.

I would have liked to do a wooden coaster, because I like those and June had a sizable one in mind—also recommended by the same friend—but I don’t think she realizes how shaky wooden coasters can feel. Noah actually got a little freaked out by a slightly larger one just last summer, so I vetoed it, even though she was tall enough. She’d been close to her limit already and I didn’t want to push her over it.

It turned out the height cutoffs at Hershey are quite liberal, so June’s small stature was more a relief to me than an obstacle for her. The one exception was one of those slides you go down on a burlap sack. She was too small to go alone, even though she’s been doing a similar slide at the county fair since she was four. She was very indignant about having to go on my lap.

Even before that, June was measuring herself at every ride. Did she think she’d grown in the space of a half hour and would now be a Hershey’s bar instead of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup? It was unclear, but I saw a lot of other kids doing the same thing and heard one girl resolve to grow five inches in the next year, so she could be a Jolly Rancher, the tallest category.  (And why on Earth is it the tallest category anyway? Those things are much smaller than a peanut butter cup, or a Hershey bar, or a package of Twizzlers.)

Noah and I did the swings (one thing June was too short to do) and we all took in the sights on the Sky View (an aerial tram ride) and the Ferris wheel. The Sky View goes right through the tracks of several of the more aggressive coasters. One way amusement parks have changed since I was a kid is the way the tracks of different rides are intertwined. I guess it’s for space considerations but I appreciate getting a vicarious view of a ride I’ll probably never experience, except from this more sedate viewpoint.

We decided to skip the water park, to June’s dismay, because of time considerations and because it was just too cold. The last thing we did was go to Chocolate World, where we took the tour of the fake chocolate factory, ate dinner at the food court, and bought chocolate, of course.  I’ve been through that factory ride, both as a kid, and once when we took Noah to Hershey as a baby and I have to say I don’t remember the singing cows. They are so loud it’s hard to hear the informative narration about chocolate production, so if you were hoping I’d be able to provide you with fun facts about manufacturing chocolate, you’ll have to go elsewhere for that.

We stayed overnight in a hotel near the park. In the car as approached the hotel I asked the kids and Beth if they’d had a “sooper dooper day,” and they all agreed they had. I had, too, but I was exhausted and ready for bed as soon as we arrived, though I stayed up long enough to put June to bed, read a chapter of Allegiant to Noah, and read Facebook for a little while.  But an hour or so after we checked in, we were all in bed with the lights out, our sweet day over, and with only one day of summer break left.

So Oregon

Sunday-Monday: Westward Ho

About halfway through the third flight of the day June fell asleep. It had been an exhausting day and it was early evening our time so I wasn’t surprised. She woke a few minutes later when the flight attendant came by with the snack cart. She declined the offer of a drink, but again, I thought nothing of it, figuring she was so sleepy that the appeal of snacks and drinks high in the sky had diminished. It wasn’t until she started crying that I put the pieces together. I had just outlined them for a neurologist at Children’s National Medical Center less than a week earlier—falling asleep in the late afternoon, losing her appetite, and unexplained crying. June was getting a migraine.

I took her to the bathroom because she thought she might vomit, but she didn’t and we made our way back to our seats. Another flight attendant offered painkillers, which June didn’t want because they weren’t chewable, and earplugs, which she accepted but did not use, and a bag of ice with a wet paper towel inside. I used it to mop her forehead and I held the airsick bag for her when she did vomit during our descent. It was the first time she’d used one and I have to say she nailed it. It was also the first time June had flown. My mother and stepfather moved to Oregon a year and a half ago and this was our first visit.

For the first two and a half flights June enjoyed flying. “We’re in the clouds! We’re in the clouds!” she exclaimed as we took off, and she enjoyed pointing out the tiny houses, and road and even a miniature football field. She also read and colored in a coloring book provided by the airline. I read The Miserable Mill (book 4 in the Series of Unfortunate Events) to her and she and Beth listened to an audiobook of a Nancy Drew mystery.

My mom and Jim met us at the Medford airport and then Mom had to turn around and go back home because they had forgotten the booster seat. Luckily, Ashland, where they live, is not far from Medford so we relaxed in the lounge, glad to be on the ground, until she returned.

Sara came over for dinner and we got to congratulate her in person on finally being matched with a Chinese toddler girl, after years of trying to adopt first domestically and then from Haiti. Some time next spring or summer she will travel to China and bring home her daughter, who will be two by then.

We ate a lentil-kale stew Mom had made and all fell to bed exhausted, except Noah, who wanted to stay up until his bedtime on West Coast time. We let him because we all had to make the switch sooner or later. The rest of us went to bed about halfway between our bedtimes on EDT and PDT. Sara thoughtfully brought us a bottle of melatonin, which she said might help us sleep longer in the morning.

I’d been fretting for a long time before the trip that June would wake up at three in the morning the first day in Oregon and I would have to keep her quiet for six hours until it was reasonable to expect on-West-Coast-time-and-retired adults to be awake. Well, she slept until almost 4:30, when I had to adjudicate a dispute about bathroom access between both my kids. I thought we’d all be up for the day but I said everyone had to go back to bed and try to sleep and Noah and I actually did sleep. June didn’t and at 5:25, while she was getting herself a bowl of cereal (she’d already had a plate of strawberries), she knocked over a jar in the fridge and Mom and I woke to a loud crash. We both got up to investigate and we had a little pre-dawn chat before Mom went back to bed.

I ate breakfast and read to June on the deck and then took her on a walk around Mom’s neighborhood, looking for a playground Mom had mentioned but we didn’t find it. We did find wild blackberries and Queen Anne’s lace growing by the side of the road and as June had things to pick, she was happy.

Beth and Noah were up by the time we returned so we all headed back out together on a longer walk in search of espresso and Wi-Fi. On the way we enjoyed the mountain view— a lush, green range on one side of the road and an arid one on the other. Apparently, Ashland is at the juncture of two ecosystems. After second breakfast at a café and some computer time for everyone, June and I hit the playground, which Beth had discovered on the way. There were two preschool girls and a mom there. June played with them and within minutes had them all filled in on the plane ride, her migraine and her Kung Fu lessons (the little girls had suggesting playing at martial arts). I simply cannot imagine having June’s social moxie. As we left one of the girls wanted to know if I was the grandmother June was visiting, a detail I include because Noah said I should, and which Beth attributes to the gray hair at my temples, though I want to state for the record she has at least as much gray hair as I do and probably more.

When we got back to the house Mom was up and we spent much of the day walking around Ashland with Sara. We visited Lithia Park and tasted the famed mineral water (salty and with more than a hint of baking soda). You should only try it if you are curious. We saw the duck ponds and walked along a wooded trail. There was a playground with a giant rope climbing structure and it was just what June needed—two playgrounds in one morning after a day cooped up on planes. We had lunch at a restaurant with a nice view of the creek and we visited the Oregon Shakespeare Festival gift shop because Mom volunteers there. She said she would buy June “anything [she] wanted.” This turned out to be a deep blue and green princess dress and a white garland-like headdress. Then she had to take June around the store and show her off to all her gift shop friends. Meanwhile, Noah got a rubber duck that looks like Shakespeare with a beak.

In the late afternoon we went to Emigrant Lake, where we split into groups. June wanted to go to the water slide so Beth took her. Noah, Sara, and I swam in the lake and Mom stayed on shore with a book. The lake was only 35% full, due to a drought. Noah noticed the line of buoys that normally mark the swimming area, sitting up on the dried and cracked mud hundreds of yards from the current shoreline. He said we were rebels to cross the line. The lake, even in its reduced state, was pretty, ringed with mountains. Sara swam far out, but I stayed with Noah who enjoyed splashing and plucking small green gelatinous balls (algae perhaps?) from the water and throwing them.

Mom’s sister Peggy, her husband Darryl and their grandson Josiah, who’s just a month and a half younger than June, arrived from Boise in the early evening and our party was complete. We met for dinner at an Italian restaurant. June and Josiah, who are good buddies from the two years he and his mom lived in Brooklyn when we used to see them more frequently, sat together and made plans for later, which included playing Sleeping Queens, a card game Josiah learned from June at a previous family gathering, and he was eager to play again.

The new arrivals were staying at Sara’s house and June wanted to sleep over there, too, which meant Noah and I had some time to read Insurgent before bed. I managed to stay up until my bedtime and even a little past it that night.

Tuesday: Oregon Trail

In the early afternoon the ten of us piled into our vehicles to drive to the Oregon coast where we were spending a few days. June went with Peggy, Darryl, and Josiah and the two kids played Sleeping Queens with the cards spread out on a cooler in between them. We stopped a few times—for forgotten groceries at a health food store, for a late lunch at a picnic table near a river where Sara took a dip and finally at Jedediah Smith State Park in Northern California to see the redwoods and for Sara to try to swim in another river. On exiting the cars, we all scattered. The kids found a big fallen log with alarmingly large slugs on it (not quite as big as a banana slug but bigger than slugs have any right to be). While they were climbing on the log, Mom, Jim, and Sara headed toward the river. The left a helpful sign on the back of the car that said, “River” with an arrow pointing to the right. I went to find them in an attempt to make sure everyone knew where everyone else was. Sara was wading in the river but it was too shallow to swim. As we were all leaving the river, I heard Beth’s and June’s voices coming toward us and I veered in their direction. When I first caught sight of them, Beth was tumbling down a steep incline and then I heard June crying. I ran to them. Apparently they were going down the slope when Berth stopped to put her hand on a signpost to get her balance. But the sign was rotted at the base and it fell right on June. They were both scraped up—Beth worse—but June was more rattled, having taken a wooden post to the head.

After we’d cleaned them both up with Peggy’s first aid kit and checked June for signs of concussion, we drove the rest of the way to the rental house, had a quick dinner of white bean and artichoke sandwiches, and went to bed. Beth and the kids and I were in one room. June slept on the floor in a sleeping bag and Noah had a mat he placed in the closet. He liked being enclosed that way and ended up spending a lot of his free time in the closet, which led to the predictable jokes. (When I explained them to him, he joked that if he was gay, he thought I’d be “pretty understanding” about it, so I took the opportunity to say I would, but it would be fine with me if he was straight, too.)

The house was painted bright colors and was what Noah and I (independently of each other) called “very decorated.” There were a lot of wooden figures—on shelves and hanging from the walls—stars, animals, and mythical creatures. June liked the winged mermaid in our room best. I was taken with the snake in a sombrero.

I didn’t go down to the beach Tuesday evening, surprising those who know me best. It was dark and the trail to the beach was unfamiliar and involved crossing a highway, so I decided to wait.

Wednesday-Thursday: Down By the Turquoise Sea, Oh My, Under the Blue, Blue Sky

But the next morning I left the three kids playing Sleeping Queens and the adults chatting or making almond pancakes and I made my way down a steep, scrubby incline by the side of the highway and down to the beach. It wasn’t easy to get down it and I had to roll up my jeans and ford a marshy area before I was on sand. It wouldn’t have been a good idea after dark.

The beach was lovely—located at the north end of a long, shallow cove with those classic Pacific coast rocks rising from the water at either end. The sand was darker and more pebbly than East coast beaches but still mostly sand. There was a lot of driftwood, including whole logs and a lot of tubular kelp, some hard and dried into curly patterns, and some still flexible. There were eight vultures on the sand, walking around and occasionally stretching their wings. I was there over an hour and never saw another soul, though I could hear traffic not far behind me.

I returned to the house, and ate the leftover pancakes Sara made. Everyone wanted to go to the beach but the path I took proved too steep for some of the senior members of our party so we got into the car looking for a place with easier access, but not before Josiah had scrambled to the marshy pool of water and lost a flip flop.

At the beach the kids enjoyed playing with the dried kelp tubes. Noah immediately discovered a short, thick one that made a satisfying thump when he whacked it on the sand. June decided hers was a scepter and she was Queen June. Noah decided to overthrow Queen June and then she wanted him to tie her ankle to one of the longer, more flexible lengths of kelp that looked like a ball and chain. She had a suitably downcast prisoner look. Josiah built a pyramid of sticks and June, Josiah, and Darryl played in the surf but it was too cold for the rest of us to follow them.

Back at the house, June and Josiah started a treehouse they would work on the rest of the stay. The laid sticks and a flat rock in the crook of a tree branch and secured it all with yarn Peggy had on hand. The treehouse had its own constitution, a set of rules and punishments for breaking the rules. And they charged a dollar for admission.

Our afternoon adventure was a drive south along the coast, stopping at scenic viewpoints and beaches to see particularly impressive rock formations and in some cases to hike around them. We saw an arch, a natural bridge, rocky islands covered in conifers, and sea caves with water rushing in and out of them. And as June cheerfully noted after a particularly high, narrow trail, “we didn’t plunge into the icy water!” The water was turquoise in places and there was fog rolling in and out all day, usually just enough to be scenic without completely obscuring the view.

Mom and Jim showed us a beachside campground where they stayed in their trailer on a previous adventure and the kids enjoyed climbing the rocks that emerged from shallow water on one beach. The rocks were sharp with barnacles and mussels and one had succulent plants growing on one face.

We got home later than intended, which was worrying me because I tend to obsess about the kids’ bedtimes, but we found that in our absence, not only had Peggy chopped the vegetables for shish kabobs (which we knew she was going to do) but she’d made the rice, baked a peach-blackberry crisp with Josiah’s help, and even taken my laundry out of the drier and folded it. She is now my favorite aunt.

After dinner there was a talent show. June sang “Memory” from Cats to much acclaim and Josiah did magic tricks, quite skillfully I must say. (The next day he showed June how to do one of the card tricks.)

I stayed up too late trying to catch up on Facebook and then discovered while trying to undress that I was stuck in my jeans. I’d rolled them up to just under my knees in the morning on the beach, and then left them that way all day. Either my calves swell late in the day like some people’s feet, or I built up some muscle from all that hiking, or my jeans got wet and shrank a little. Whatever the reason, they would not unroll and they would not budge. It took Beth ten minutes of yanking on them and dragging them down millimeter by millimeter until I could get out of them. I should add lest there be any misunderstanding that these are not tight jeans. I don’t wear tight jeans. They are Mom jeans, from L.L. Bean, no less. Anyway, I wore different pants the next day.

I spent Thursday morning mostly at the house, socializing and reading to the kids. Josiah was really enjoying the Series of Unfortunate Events even though he came in at book 5, The Austere Academy. I did enjoy a brief jaunt down to the beach. It was a cool, sunny day and my stretch of beach was deserted though I could see people far to the south.

After lunch, nine of us drove to Arizona beach, so called because it’s sheltered by rock and somewhat warmer than nearby beaches. Beth had read there were good tidal pools there. We arrived an hour and fifteen minutes before low tide and we couldn’t find much interesting tidal pool life at first. But the kids didn’t care because there was a freshwater creek winding down the beach toward the sea and great quantities of sun-bleached driftwood in all sizes. Noah and Josiah swung heavy logs around and June and Josiah built things—they made dams and a castle guarded with a long wall of logs. They also attempted to build a raft—a long-standing goal of June’s. Meanwhile Beth and I were poking around the rocks near shore, looking for sea anemones and starfish. We edged around the corner of our cove, into the next one, picking our way through rocks and waves. At the far end of that cove, we hit pay dirt.

I found the anemones first. They were small and brown and covering a rock that was under shallow water. When I poked them they grasped my finger gently. I wondered the kids would leave their building projects to see them and then Beth spotted a red starfish on a rock a little further out, and I went back to get them. It took a while to get back to the original beach and talk to my mom, Peggy, Darryl, Sara, and the kids so by the time Darryl and the kids and I made it back to where Beth was (Mom and Peggy elected not to come as it meant wading through swirling seawater and across slippery rocks) Beth had found scores of starfish and hundreds more anemones. The starfish were red and orange and black, clinging to the rocks and to each other. In addition to the little brown anemones, there were big green ones. The more you looked, the more you found.

“This is magical,” Sara said.

Later Noah told Beth, “You keep suggesting things to do that sound really boring but turn out to be great!” (Beth asserts the trick is to undersell the activity. She’d described the tidal pool trip to him thusly: “We are going to a beach to look at pools of water on rocks.”)

The kids drifted back to their creek before the adults were finished marveling at the sea life but we eventually followed. I took a brief swim in the ocean, probably ten minutes or less, and the water was so cold my legs were starting to go numb when I walked back onto the sand. After my swim I was standing by the creek, near the ocean, when I saw Noah’s crocs come floating down the creek. I snagged them, returned them to him, and asked if he’d known they were drifting out to sea. June nearly lost her crocs at this beach, too. It was a hard couple of days on kids’ shoes.

Friday: If You Said Jump in the River, I Would

The next day it was time to check out of our beach house and drive back to Ashland. Noah and I went down to the beach to say goodbye to the ocean while people were finishing their packing. As we sat on a log and stared at the ocean and the conifer-covered hills at the north end of the cove, he said, “This is so Oregon.”

On the way home we stopped at the Smith River for a picnic lunch and to swim in a swimming hole. This was Sara’s favorite part of the trip because as much as I am an ocean person, she is a river and lake person. The swimming hole was shallow in some places and deep in others so it was good for everyone who wanted to swim. The water was cool and green and very clear. (“Lucid” according to the park website, so of course we all worked the word “lucid” into conversation as often as possible because we are that kind of family.) There was a rock face on one side with a good ledge for diving, but only Sara dove from it. “I hope Mom’s not watching,” I commented to Beth as we watched her, and luckily, she wasn’t. I understand the maternal point of view on these matters better now then when I was childless.

Once we got to Ashland, we visited Sara’s house and her tile mosaic studio, which we had not had a chance to see yet. It’s a charming house and as Beth noted with an eye toward its future inhabitant, full of breakable objects. The kids liked seeing the studio where Sara breaks colored glass with a hammer and then glues the pieces into pictures. What kid wouldn’t like at least half of that equation?

We had pizza for dinner on the green in front of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival theaters and watched the Green Show, which is a free show put on six nights a week. That night it was the Rogue Artists Ensemble performing HYPERBOLE: Bard, which in their own words “recreates a collection of William Shakespeare’s most famous scenes through clowning, masks, puppets, and original music.” This was fun. Noah has studied some Shakespeare in school, which might have helped him appreciate it. June thought the funniest part was the slapstick bit when Romeo and Juliet kept dying and coming back to life, only to find each other dead and killing themselves over and over.

When the show was over, I turned to find Beth talking to our friend Sue, who lived with us in a group house when we attended grad school at the University of Iowa about twenty five years ago. (Her mother lives in D.C. so we see her every few years.) Soon her husband Scott, who also lived in the house, came over and we were all exclaiming over the coincidence of finding each other. They live in Washington state now and happened to be visiting Ashland. We invited them to come have gelato with us but they had theater tickets so it was a very brief reunion.

After gelato, we said our goodbyes to Sara and returned to Mom and Jim’s house. We had an early flight the next morning but June had napped in the car so I let her stay up past her bedtime so I could read a chapter of The Austere Academy to her and Josiah.

Saturday: Homeward Bound

We were up at 5:30 and out the door by 6:35. Mom drove us to the airport. We parted, after many hugs goodbye, and began our trek home. June got a nosebleed in the Medford airport and I thought our journey east might be as eventful as the one west, but it wasn’t. June was an old hand at flying by now and just wanted to watch movies on the laptop, so I let her go over her media limit by watching all of Harry Potter and part of Frozen, both of which she has seen many times. She didn’t even want to rent the movie players they provide on the plane to watch something new, like her brother who watched 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I think after a week of adventure, she was ready to return to the familiar. And while it was nice to sleep in my own bed Saturday night, over the past few days I have often found myself thinking of all the relatives we saw and the bodies of water in which we immersed ourselves and the trails we hiked and the beaches we wandered and I imagine us doing it again some time.


Every summer I write at least one blog post about how summer discombobulates me, the different camps every week, with different locations and different drop off and pick up times that mean I need to construct a new routine from scratch every week, only to start a another one once I get into the rhythm of the current one.  (Although two Fridays ago, on June’s last day of art camp at our local community college, I had so successfully turned my mind to the next week that I went much too far on the bus to pick her up because I was thinking of drama camp in Silver Spring, which was the next week.)

Then on the weeks when June doesn’t have camp, there’s the scramble for babysitting and the stress of trying to work while she’s at home.  I haven’t actually had that kind of week yet this summer because June’s been in camp five weeks out of six and we were on vacation the other week.  But as of Friday she’s finished her last camp.  Noah has one more week (a week of theater design, starting Monday). While he’s doing that, June will be having a three-day visit with Beth’s mom in West Virginia and then the next week we all head to Oregon to see my folks.

The last two weeks of break neither kid has camp.  I’ll be working, but fewer hours and I think knowing it’s the very end of break I’ll be more motivated to be the kind of summer mom I often wish I could be, full of fun projects and outings or lazy afternoons reading or playing cards on the porch.

Transportation was my main challenge this week. Early in the summer Noah was volunteering at June’s tinkering camp (located at their old preschool) and he walked her to and from camp most days.  It worked out so well I had him handle about half her drop-offs and pickups to musical drama camp the next week and a couple of the art camp drop-offs the week after that.  The first day they walked off the front porch steps together, June thrilled to be heading out into the world alone with Noah, and Noah seeming quietly pleased at the responsibility, I had to stop myself from running down the block after them.  But it was amazing how quickly I got used to the convenience.  Soon they were stopping at a pizzeria on their way home and bringing home pizza for dinner, and riding on public transportation together as if they’d been doing it for years.  And this week, when he had band camp and couldn’t pitch in with June’s transportation, I really missed the help.  I had to remind myself that when he was eight, I would have been getting him at camp every day while wrestling with a stroller, a diaper bag, and a nap-deprived tantrumming preschooler on the bus.  So it really does get easier, I assure you, if you are currently raising small children.

That said, I will note for the record that my circumnavigations between June’s drama camp, the library, June’s music school, and one trip to Noah’s band camp took me on twenty-two buses and six trains this week. And some of them were late, as is inevitable when you take that many buses and trains. Yet I was never late for a pickup or a drop off (well, once, by about three minutes, but does that really count?) and I only lost one SmarTrip and one umbrella. I think that’s a decent score.

But what I really intended to write about here was band camp, or mostly the band camp concert, as I was there but I was not at band camp.  Camp started on Sunday afternoon with a three-hour orientation. In addition to daily sectional practice with the other percussionists, Noah was taking three electives—technology, movie music (his friend Sasha was in this one with him), and composition. He was glad to get into that class because he’d wanted to take it last year.

Camp lasted from nine to four Monday to Friday and ended with a ninety-minute concert (thirty minutes for each age group) on Friday afternoon. The truly impressive thing about this camp is how they pull together a polished-sounding concert in just a week.

On Sunday night at bedtime, Noah said, “I should have practiced.” I asked if they’d been instructed to and he said no, but he thought he should. I was heartened to hear this, as he hadn’t touched his drums all summer and I’d hoped he would, if just to fool around with them. Anyway, for the rest of the week after a full day of band camp, he practiced, mostly on his orchestra bells, which were standing in for the marimba and vibraphone he’d play in the concert. He didn’t tell me much about camp and Beth, who was driving him and Sasha there every morning, said they were not talkative in the car either, but he seemed happy.

Friday afternoon I picked June up from drama camp an hour early to take her to Noah’s concert. She had to miss her own performance but we’d decided earlier in the summer that each child would have one performance that everyone in the family would attend. For her it was Cats; for Noah it was band camp.  Because the campers spent the afternoon rehearsing skits June would not perform in, the counselors gave her an “assistant director” role. She sat in the back of the room and told actors when they needed to speak more loudly.  She seemed pleased with this duty.

We met Beth at the College Park Metro stop, where she’d left the car in the morning and we drove to the performing arts center on campus. I really like this auditorium (especially when compared to listening to concerts on folding metal chairs in a middle school cafeteria). The seats are comfy, the ceiling soars and is a pretty golden color and an interesting shape, and best of all, there are risers on the stage so you can see the percussionists. We had fifteen minutes to wait, so I read June part of a chapter of The Wide Window, (book three in The Series of Unfortunate Events.)

The fifth and sixth grade band went first.  Among their numbers were “De Colores,” which made Beth and me smile because if you have two children attend a Spanish immersion elementary school you get to know this song very well.  They also did “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” which I thought would be June’s favorite, but she said she liked “Creatures in the Attic,” which was full of spooky sound effects.

We finished our chapter while we waited for the seventh and eight grade band to take the stage. The conductor came on stage holding a large goose puppet. Noah later explained he did it so if any of them made a mistake they would know they were not the only ones who were embarrassed.

As I mentioned, we could see Noah better than usual, although I couldn’t always make out what he was playing if it was at waist level. The triangle and cymbals were pretty visible. (He’s the one playing cymbals in both pictures.) Consulting with him later I found he’d also played cabasa, wind chimes, and vibraphone. He liked “The Falling Rain” best.  He played cabasa and wind chimes in this one and there was audience participation—we had to snap when the conductor signaled for it. I liked “Cyclone,” but maybe just because the week I’d just had felt like one.

I was thinking as they played about a question a friend recently asked me about Noah and percussion.  I’d been explaining Noah’s slow processing and how it causes him difficulty at school sometimes.  Kevin wanted to know how he plays drums if it’s all about timing and doing things at exactly the right time.  I said I thought it was practice, that by practicing a piece over and over he learned how to come in at just the right place, which might be part of the reason he finds it satisfying, as coming in at the right time can be challenging for him, say, in class discussion, and you don’t get do-overs then.

I remember how when he was just starting to play, when he was nine, how every new song used to frustrate him—sometimes to the point of tears—because he wanted to be able to play it right immediately and he couldn’t. He’s still a perfectionist and could tell you every mistake he made in concert if you wanted to know, but he takes it in stride now. He knows mistakes come with the territory.  Plus there was a grown man with a goose puppet on stage, so how could he be embarrassed?

The ninth and tenth graders finished up the concert. Their last piece was called “Instant Concert” and consisted of snippets of well-known songs all strung together. “Thirty melodies in three minutes,” the conductor said. Hearing “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” in July made June laugh, but every familiar tune was fun to identify.  Here’s the full list.

After the concert we had pizza at a place I used to frequent when I was in grad school at the University of Maryland and then ice cream.  And so began a busy weekend featuring getting our middle-aged long-haired cat Xander shaved because he can’t reach his back to lick it any more and he had gotten mats in his fur, our annual berry picking expedition (always to the same berry farm) and my annual blueberry kuchen baking that follows said berry picking expedition, the kids running a lemonade stand/bake sale to benefit endangered species—June’s friend Megan helped with this—and music lessons for both kids.

In fact, on Friday night, going to bed, Noah said he thought he’d play his drums in the morning.   The next morning he had his first summer drum lesson—one of several he’ll have at June’s music school over the next few weeks to tide him over between band camp and the beginning of the school year.  Even though he’d been playing percussion all week he’d never actually played a drum and he said he felt rusty. Sure enough, Saturday morning around nine-thirty, I heard the controlled chaos of Noah’s drumming rising from the basement.

Noah and I are alike in many ways. I know my tendency to get rattled by admittedly small changes to my routine and my (closely related) need to think everything through carefully is just a milder version of his emphatic need for routine and his information processing challenges.  Even one of our cats, Matthew, can’t bear change.  Ever since Xander got shaved, Matthew’s been hissing and running away whenever he sees him, which leaves Xander looking completely baffled because it’s not their usual dynamic. I’m hoping it’s just the lingering smell of the shampoo the groomer used because his fur won’t grow back completely for four to six months. By then, I will be out of the cyclone and back in my comfortable school year routine and Noah will still be providing the steady back beat in the soundtrack of our lives.

Practical Cats, Dramatical Cats

June’s been attending musical drama camp at the community center for the past four summers.  She’s been Marta in selected scenes from The Sound of Music when she was five, Kate in scenes from Annie when she was six, and last year Dodger Girl (based on the Artful Dodger) in Oliver!. It’s always her favorite camp and the only one we take into account when scheduling our vacation weeks. (For Noah that camp is University of Maryland band camp, which he’ll be attending week after next.)

Part of the way Gretchen, the camp director, pulls the performance out of the campers in just a week is to send them the lyrics and music to the songs they will perform ahead of time.  They are expected to learn the songs and to be ready to audition for parts on the first day. That’s why June was practicing songs from Cats at the beach. June has sometimes gotten the part she wanted and sometimes not and she’s always a good sport about it, but she did have a preference this year and it was for Jemima, youngest kitten in the tribe and the one who sings both the first line of the first song, “Are you blind when you’re born?” and the first stanza of “Memory.”

When we arrived at camp on the first morning, Gretchen greeted June and asked if she had a part in mind.  When June told her, Gretchen nodded and said she thought she’d make a good Jemima, or possibly Mr. Mistoffelees, though she remembered from last year that June didn’t like to play male roles (a drawback in a camp that’s either all girls or almost all girls every year). June affirmed this was still her preference.

I introduced Gretchen to Noah, who was with us, and let her know he’d be doing some of the drop-offs and pickups. Two weeks earlier both kids had attended a tinkering camp at their old preschool (June as a camper and Noah for volunteer credit he needs for school) and he walked her there and back almost every day.  It worked out so well, I decided to have him help me out this week, too. Sometimes he walked her and sometimes they took the bus.  He didn’t complain about this duty, even when I accidentally sent him an hour early on Monday afternoon (the dismissal time was an hour later than last year). On Thursday he even picked her up at camp and delivered her to a friend’s house, giving me a nice long block of time to work.

Monday June came home with the happy news that she had been cast as Jemima and that she was the only Jemima. Sometimes roles get split.  This year for instance there were two Grizabellas and last year June was one of three kids reciting or singing lines that once belonged to the Artful Dodger.

Even though I wasn’t actually at the camp as often as in previous years because Noah was there instead, I still got to see bits and pieces of the show coming together; I arrived ten to fifteen minutes early the two days I picked June up and both times, I was just in time to see her practice her solo from “Memory.”

Turn your face to the moonlight
Let your memory lead you
Open up enter in
If you find there
The meaning of what happiness is
Then a new life will begin

I thought she sounded good, but that she wasn’t projecting enough.

In addition to learning their songs and choreography, the kids made their costumes, by sewing fur to leotards and leggings brought from home and they made ears and tails out of felt. June’s leotard got lost the very first day so Gretchen replaced it with a shimmery silver long-sleeved one that her daughters had outgrown. June was going to pair it with a pair of orange leggings because the actors had been instructed to bring clothes in colors cats can naturally be, but they were encouraged to mix and match. Kids’ families also brought in props such as cardboard boxes for the set, which is a junkyard. Our contribution was a wooden stool my stepfather made years ago. (Appropriately enough, he made it for an elderly cat who needed help climbing onto the bed.)

Meanwhile, at home, June practiced her songs. It was occasionally disconcerting to hear my fresh-faced eight year old sing lines like, “I can smile at the old days/I was beautiful then.” In the evenings, the Noah and June read T.S.Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats aloud for inspiration, a few poems each night before bed (sometimes with a good deal of spirited negotiation about what would be recited and what sung and by whom). We finished on Saturday night, the day after the performance.

Noah and I arrived at the auditorium at 2:25 on Friday, five minutes before show time. He was carrying his camera and tripod and I had June’s violin, for her lesson right after the show.  We met Beth in the lobby and took our seats when the doors opened.  We could see June huddled with some other cats right in front of the stage.  She didn’t seem to be wearing her leggings and I hoped they weren’t lost because they were a good pair and not nearly outgrown like the leotard.  (I was fretting about this on and off throughout the show, but later she I found out she had just forgotten to put them on and we retrieved them from the props room.)  It was one of two wardrobe malfunctions, because in her hurry to get dressed she put her leotard on backwards and it was tight in the seat as a result.  Also the oval of fur for her stomach was on her back. But there was no time to change and the show must go on!  (At least her shoe didn’t fly off her foot like it did in dress rehearsal, she told me later.)

There were six numbers, some of them songs and some of them chants: “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats,” “The Naming of Cats,” “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser,” “The Song of the Jellicles,” “Mr. Mistoffelees,” and “Memory.”

In the first song the singers were a little quiet in their solo lines and it was hard to hear some of them, as you’ll notice if you watch the longer video.  But it got better in the later songs and overall, the show was very nicely done and everyone seemed to be having a good time.  June made an adorable silver cat, even with her backwards costume, and her solo in “Memory” was just splendid.  It really improved over the course of the week, from what I saw in rehearsal. It was fun watching June and all the kids. Two girls attended June’s preschool (but not in her year); one has played soccer and basketball with June, and others I recognized from previous years at camp. A lot of kids, including Gretchen’s two talented daughters, come back year after year, like June.

Here are two videos you can watch of the show.

A short one (less than a minute) of June’s solo from “Memory”:

And a long one (twenty-three minutes) of the whole show, which Beth is calling “the grandmother version”:

After the show, Beth and Noah went home while June and I made a rushed trip to the library next door to the community center and then walked to her violin lesson. As a result, she arrived at the lesson in full cat costume, including face paint.  When her violin teacher said she’d never taught violin to a cat before, June observed she’d said the same thing a few weeks ago when June showed up at her lesson wearing a cape.  “You always keep it interesting, June,” Elizabeth said.

June wore the tail of her cat costume to bed that night and for most of the next morning, but we still have a week of drama camp left for each kid, plus band camp, so there will be no shortage of interesting around here for the rest of the summer.

Underneath the Sycamore

We are the same
We are both safe
Underneath the sycamore

From “Underneath the Sycamore” by Death Cab for Cutie

What it Means to Be Brave: Saturday to Monday

Sunday morning I was settling into the wrought iron chair and arranging my cell phone, reading glasses and a copy of How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword so I could begin to read it to June. But June was looking upward into the branches of the sycamore. It looked like a good climbing tree, she observed. Could she try it?  Yes, after we read, I said.

For my birthday back in May I asked for a summer weekend in Rehoboth. Our big trip this summer is to Oregon in August so we weren’t planning a Rehoboth trip at all. Beth surprised me with an offer of a few days instead, midweek, when it would be less crowded. But it was hard finding lodging for a few days and we ended up booking a whole week at a condo on the outskirts of town. It was different from the places we usually stay, not a classic beach cottage, but it had its perqs: price, access to a pool, and a big lawn no one but people walking their dogs or feeding the resident stray cats ever seemed to use. June enjoyed watching the cats as well as deer from our veranda.

The lawn also had a huge sycamore with four chairs underneath. The kids and I quickly fell into a pattern of reading under the tree in the morning while Beth biked or grocery shopped or worked. It was Hiccup’s adventures for June, and Katniss’s for Noah. June and I were up to #9 in the How to Train Your Dragon series and Noah and I were up reading the last book in The Hunger Games trilogy.  Early in the week, in the afternoons Beth took the kids to the pool (Sunday) or the water park (Monday) while I had some solo time at the beach. We arrived in Rehoboth on Saturday afternoon and it was Tuesday afternoon before anyone but me set foot on the beach. Pretty much the first thing I did on Saturday after we’d unpacked was to have Beth drive me to the boardwalk so I could rent a bike and be able to make the trek back and forth myself.

After two chapters I asked June if she wanted another. She usually does but she was impatient to climb the tree. She needed a boost to get into the lowest branches and I needed to stand on one of the chairs to give it to her, but then she scrambled along the length of a couple of them. She didn’t go too far up it.  I suggested she wait until another day to go higher. She seemed to like both the idea of going higher and the idea of not doing it right then. She’d been happy but also nervous in the tree. She’s like that, not naturally fearless like some kids, but always pushing her own boundaries. Later in the day I told her that’s what it really means to be brave.

Meanwhile, Noah had come outside. June was standing on a branch a couple feet over his head. “I’m taller than you,” she observed. He reached up and jiggled the branch a little. June told him to stop, lest she “plummet” to the ground and then they started to argue over the exact definition of the word “plummet” and whether she was high up enough to “plummet.”  He always has to try to burst her bubble. I guess it’s an older sibling thing. Earlier in the day when she came into the room with a phone on which she’d been playing Bejewelled and said, “I beat your high score,” he responded with something about different scoring algorithms on different versions of the game, which was probably true, but it served to deflate her.

But June had plenty of opportunities to prove herself that day. She swam deep underwater in the pool diving for pennies and that evening she rode the Paratrooper, a fast, tilting, sometimes backwards-travelling kind of Ferris Wheel at Funland. It was her first time on it and she was just barely tall enough at forty-six inches. She loved it. Noah loves it, too, so it was fun to watch them high in the air together, all smiles, their bare feet dangling high above us.

But part of the reason June was smiling was that we’d just gotten out of the Haunted Mansion. June’s been asking to go on this ride for years and years ago I said she could do it when she was eight. I based this on the fact that when Noah first rode it at the age of ten (which was the first year he asked) he was only mildly scared and I remember thinking he could have done it a couple years earlier. But what I failed to take into account in this calculation, and realized as we were standing in line and June pressed her body against mine at the sight of the hanging corpse outside the mansion, was that as a younger child, Noah was always more scared of stories (the Cloud Men in James and the Giant Peach terrified him) while June has always been more spooked by visual frights (think any Disney witch, but especially Maleficent).

I asked her gently if she wanted to get out of line and said it was okay if she did. No, she said, sounding grimly resolved.  I waited a few minutes.  Maybe she’d like to rethink her decision to sit with Noah and sit with me instead, I suggested.  Yes, she said, sounding relieved, she’d like that. Noah protested; he didn’t want to sit with a stranger. But it turned out the three of us fit in the car, just barely, as I am not exactly svelte, and in we went.

June snuggled up against me and I slipped an arm around her. It was dark inside and there was black light so June’s white t-shirt glowed. She liked that. I’m not sure exactly what else June saw in the Haunted Mansion because by her own account her eyes were closed about half the time and sometimes she had her hands over her ears as well. She did not see the giant spider, but she saw the room full of tiny skulls because Noah persuaded her to open her eyes in there. “It’s cool,” he promised her. The effect is made with mirrors and it’s one of his favorite parts. She did keep her eyes open for the zombie, she wanted us to know, even though she “desperately wanted” to close them. I asked her afterward if the ride was just the right amount of scary or too much. Just right, she said. She was proud and elated on exiting, so much so that we had to buy the souvenir photo. She does not mind that she is cowering in it. She says she will show it to her friends and they will be amazed at her bravery.

Meanwhile, Back at the Beach…

I went to the beach every day. On Saturday just for a ten-minute dip in the ocean when I got the bike, Sunday and Monday for most of the afternoon. I swam and took a walk, watched lifeguards train and teenagers on skim boards and the foamy water swirling around mossy rocks of my favorite jetty (yes, I have one) and found a little ruffled clear jellyfish washed up on the sand. I read and wrote and dozed under the shade of an umbrella someone donated to me when she left before her rental period had ended. I had fries and iced tea on the boardwalk and people-watched on the beach.

I think I saw my future self on Sunday afternoon. She was probably in her seventies, with long gray hair, unstyled, and wearing a simple black one piece. She was full of grandmotherly enthusiasm for her grandchildren’s swimming ability and their (really very impressive) deep hole ringed with dribble castles. But when they interrupted her praise to say they wanted to go back to the house, her face fell. “But I thought we’d stay…a lot longer,” she said. She didn’t really look happy again until some other relative agreed to take them and she settled back into her chair to stare at the ocean.

While alone I went to town long enough to do a little shopping, buying some hazelnut-Ceylon tea at the tea and spice shop for myself and looking for an anniversary present for Beth and a birthday present for my mom.

Star of the Sea: Tuesday to Thursday

Tuesday afternoon we all made it down to the beach. The kids and I biked (or scooted in Noah’s case). Part of the ride is along Rehoboth Avenue, a very busy street, so I decided the safest formation would be me in front, since I knew the way, with June in the middle and Noah bringing up the rear. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but all the way to the beach I could hear June yelling, “Get behind me” (though she never added, “Satan”) and Noah yelling “Get in front of me” and I’m pretty sure the distraction of their constantly switching places must have cancelled out any temporary gain in safety.

We hit Candy Kitchen first and then Funland, where Beth met up with us.  She’d been at the Farmers’ market. It was about 2:30 when we settled our towels on the beach, in front of Funland, just north of the Star of the Sea condominiums. June dashed off for the water before I could re-apply the sunblock we’d put on hours ago, she was that eager. She stayed in the water two and a half hours, pausing only a few minutes when I insisted on the sunblock, and then only getting out because the lifeguard had blown the 5 o’clock whistle when everyone has to get out of the water (at least temporarily).

Noah thought he wanted to swim in the deeper water with me, but changed his mind when he decided the waves were too big. June didn’t want to go in the deeper water either that day even though I told her it’s gentler there. I was getting tired of being buffeted by breaking waves so I left them to swim further out and then came back to the towel to read. June complained initially about having to play alone, after Beth and Noah left to go to the cheese monger (sadly closed) and to start dinner, but she reconciled herself to it, and we had a much more peaceful ride home.  “Let’s go, star of the sea,” I said as we began to pedal up Maryland Avenue.

“I’m not the star of the sea, Mommy,” she said, but she was laughing.

The next morning we were on the boardwalk before 8 a.m., breakfasting at the Dolles crepe stand. This lead to June playing in the ocean from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. I wasn’t in my suit and hadn’t intended to stay more than a half hour, but it’s hard for me to make anyone leave the beach.  When we finally left it was because I wanted to avoid the strongest sun of the day.

That day would have been my dad’s seventy-first birthday. I marked it as I often do, with food. He loved coffee and nice restaurants and chocolate ice cream so I had an iced café con leche that morning and for dinner we went to Planet X, Beth’s and my favorite restaurant in Rehoboth, and one we usually only visit when we’re staying with relatives and have babysitting. June liked the funky-fancy décor and by being flexible (sharing entrees so everyone could eat just the parts they wanted) both kids managed to eat. If you go there this summer, I recommend the seitan dishes. We had two of them and they were scrumptious. We followed it up with ice cream and frozen custard on the boardwalk. I had chocolate-peanut butter custard with chocolate jimmies.

Earlier in the day while I returned to the beach, June made her third trip to Funland, this time with Beth. She rode the Sea Dragon, one of those rocking Viking ship ride, for the first time. She liked it, but it made Beth sick. June also added to her stuffed animal winnings. So far she had two medium turtles, a mini rainbow-colored dolphin, and three mini beach balls. She’d been gunning for a large all week.

Thursday was my longest day at the beach. Ironically, this was because rain was predicted in the afternoon. After her morning bike ride, Beth found Noah and me reading under the sycamore and suggested we all hit the beach earlier than usual to beat the rain. We were by a little after ten.  Beth and the kids left three hours later to go home for lunch, but there was no sign of rain so I stayed until 4:45 when I left to meet them at Funland. June had won a small stuffed turtle and both kids had ridden the Graviton, one of those rides where you stand against a wall and centrifugal force pins you to it. I’d spent the day swimming, reading, and finally I saw dolphins and pelicans, for the first time that week. I also got my first sunburn in years on my arms and shoulders an on the part in my hair, even though Beth rented an umbrella. I guess I didn’t notice and move quickly enough when the sun shifted. Still, it was a very nice day.

The Rockets’ Red Glare: Friday to Saturday

Hurricane Arthur finally brought us some rain on the Fourth.  It started around 6:10 a.m. After a round of Sleeping Queens (we’d all been playing a lot of games—Quirkle, Uno, Roundabouts and Sleeping Queens), June and I read on the sheltered veranda, but by the time we’d finished and eaten breakfast the rain was blowing onto it, so I couldn’t read to Noah there and we had to do it inside. June amused herself listening to songs from Cats she needed to memorize for her musical drama camp the next week, playing with her menagerie of new animals, and practicing her violin.

Around 10:20 Beth and June left to go to the movies, a promised rainy day activity. They wanted to see How to Train Your Dragon 2, because June and I have been reading the series since Christmas and we’d just rented the first movie from a Red Box earlier in the week. (We also watched The Dark Crystal, which we found in the house’s stash of movies.) However, their first choice was sold out and they watched Maleficent. June is now completely unfazed by the witch who was terrorized her and caused her to run out of the room every time she tried to watch Sleeping Beauty as a preschooler.

Noah and I headed out to Starbucks while they were gone, braving ankle-deep water in the condo parking lot to get coffee and milk and pastries and sit and read for an hour and a half. Half of Rehoboth had the same idea apparently, so the lines for ordering and pickup were long, but orderly and cheerful, as everyone was on vacation. We did get a seat, too, and could have had the comfy armchairs, but sweetly Noah wanted a table so we could sit closer to each other.

After lunch, Beth drove me down to the beach and parked so the car would be handy after the fireworks. The rain had stopped by then but the surf was high and the lifeguards weren’t letting anyone in the water. They had a job of it, too, keeping people on shore. The atmosphere of the beach was odd—there were many more people than you’d expect on a cloudy afternoon when swimming was prohibited. The umbrella and chair rental stands were closed, too, so a lot of people who might have been swimming or sitting were just milling around. I read on the beach and then went into town to do some more birthday and anniversary shopping. The shops weren’t too bad, but Candy Kitchen, where I was forced to buy some chocolate-walnut fudge so I could break a twenty for bus fare, was mobbed.

I was home briefly and then we all set out for our Fourth of July festivities, dinner at Grotto followed by fireworks on the beach. This would be the first time June had ever seen fireworks. I am so crazy strict about bedtime that Noah had to wait until he was eleven, so I guess I must be loosening up a bit. It’s also possible that the idea of seeing them on the beach swayed me, as I have not seen fireworks since Noah was an infant and doing on the beach seemed really cool.

We’d finished our dinner by 6:15 so we had a three-hour wait until the fireworks were scheduled to start.  Beth and Noah started by reading on the boardwalk while June and I staked out a place on the beach. I got out my book and she was running around singing songs from Cats and practicing her cat moves. Then I got cold and went to buy a long-sleeved t-shirt and Beth and Noah came down to join June on the towel.  We read and played some more. Noah wanted to go buy popcorn and June wanted to go play in the arcade, so I stayed with the towel while everyone else went up to the boardwalk.  Finally it was almost show time.  June bought a glow stick from a vendor at dusk and around nine we could see the fireworks from Dewey (to the south) and Lewes (to the north), which was a surprise because we’d heard all the neighboring towns had postponed theirs, due to Arthur, but I guess they changed their minds.  June kept marveling that she was at the beach, at night, past her bedtime!  And Noah kept her excited by continually announcing the time: it was 9:04, 9:07, 9:10, 9:12 and then exactly on time, the fireworks started.

My favorites were the coordinated ones that seemed to spin in the sky like a Ferris wheel, but I also liked the squiggly, fizzy-sounding ones. We went to the fireworks in D.C. for many years before Noah was born and the year he was two months old (and too young to have a bedtime) so I’ve seen fancier fireworks, but never in a more beautiful setting and never with a more appreciative audience.  June could not pick a favorite. She loved them all and leaned happily against me for the whole show.

We were all happy and feeling as if the outing had been a success as we headed for the car. We had considered walking or biking home, to avoid the traffic, but we were afraid June would be too tired to walk a half an hour starting an hour and half past her bedtime, thus the car.  We’d have been better off with any other plan, including taking a bus, which we didn’t consider. Many streets, including Rehoboth Avenue, the main drag, were closed off and we got stuck almost immediately. Around 10:30, after forty minutes in the car and twenty minutes on the same block, Noah and I bailed and walked home.  June was asleep in her car seat, or we would have taken her, too. I was afraid to call Beth too often because I didn’t want to wake June, but I called once we got home and I offered to come back and get June when Beth said she’d woken and had been crying at being left behind, but she was asleep again, so I didn’t. It was 12:30 before they got home. I’d gone to bed but I couldn’t sleep until they were back.

The next day we were all short two to three hours sleep (June was the only one able to sleep in) and I felt weepy with exhaustion as we packed up the house. I don’t deal well with sleep deprivation and I had more than my share of it raising two children who were both very poor sleepers until they were five or so. (Remember they are five years apart and consider the implications.) I think this is the reason I’m so tightly wound when it comes to any sleep-related issue. So it was ironic that this was how I was rewarded for relaxing and acting like a normal American parent on the Fourth. I think I have to keep doing it, though, because you can’t put that cat back in the bag. I will just have to be brave enough to try it again. In a way, it’s good for just what you fear to happen because then you can see it’s not the worst thing in the world after all.

We got out of the house on time the next morning, though, enjoyed an hour or so on the beach, had lunch, paid one last visit to Funland, where June exchanged two of her medium stuffed animals for the much desired large and we hit the road. As we walked to the car, she told me cheerfully, “Next year I’m going for a giant.” Somehow, I think we might have to start making room in the toy box.

Quarter Past Eight

First Weekend: Camping Trip

The kids have been out of school for ten days now.  Beth and the kids went camping the first weekend, leaving only about an hour after Noah got home from school.  June got home a little earlier and had a quick play date with Zoë before they hit the road.  Beth and both kids camped in Western Maryland Friday night and then Beth’s mom and brother came to collect Noah for his week with them on Saturday, and Beth and June camped another night before returning home Sunday afternoon.

While Beth and the kids were roasting marshmallows and attending nature programs, I had two days to myself and I made the most of it. I worked in the garden preparing beds and transplanting seedlings.  I sorted through mounds of June’s schoolwork and recycled most of it.  I went out to dinner by myself, read an entire novel, attended a benefit concert for NARAL in a friend’s back yard, and nearly finished working on a (very) short story I’m submitting to the Rehoboth Beach Reads short story contest.

Sumer Break Week 1: Drama Camp

The next week June attended Round House Theatre camp. I’d been thinking her half-day yoga camp would be a good way to ease into summer. I could work in the mornings and she and I could have some quality time in the afternoons in the absence of her brother.  But when the yoga camp was cancelled, I quickly realized I was more willing to have her in a full-day camp than no camp at all so after many frantic emails and phone calls to various camps, she ended up at Round House, which is a tried and true choice for us. We’ve had one or both kids in their summer camps since Noah was six.

Other than Noah’s absence (which is a big “other than” of course, as I missed him a lot) and other than the commuting to and from Silver Spring (Beth did drop-offs and I did pick-ups), it was in some ways a lot like a school week.  Beth and June left a little earlier than June’s school bus and I needed to leave the house a little earlier than she usually gets home so I had a workday of about the same length as usual.

Most days after camp we lingered in Silver Spring for an afternoon snack, on Thursday I voted early, and on Friday, I came to see the end-of-week sharing and then took June to play in the fountain until it was time to meet Beth for pizza and ice cream.  The sharing was cute, as always.  June was one of several Little Red Riding Hoods in a dance version of the story. The wolves carried Hula Hoops representing their bellies and when it came time to eat the Little Red Riding Hoods, they flipped them over their victims’ head so they were inside.  June’s look of comic surprise as she was being eaten was priceless.

One thing that made the week different was that we changed June’s bedtime, effective the first night of summer break.  It’s been 7:45 for a long time, which is earlier than most of her peers go to bed.  Unlike allowances, which go up on a predetermined schedule (on the child’s birthday every other year), bedtimes at our house are more based on what the child seems to need and his or her circumstances. June has always needed more sleep than Noah did at comparable ages, but I’d noticed recently she was having trouble falling asleep at night and I also wondered if she might wake later in the morning if she had a later bedtime. Summer seemed like a good time to experiment, so we bumped her bedtime up to 8:15, which in a pleasing coincidence is also her age.  (She’s eight and a quarter as of today.)

So far, the new bedtime is not having either of the desired effects. She’s still awake long after we put her to bed, not every night, but many nights and she’s not getting up any later.  But it’s possible she needs longer to adjust.  I’m willing to give it the rest of the summer and see how it goes. (I did tell her it might be a summer-only change.)

Meanwhile, going to bed later and not getting up any later has left her over-tired on occasion. On Tuesday while we were on the bus from camp to violin lesson she actually fell asleep and on Friday while we were at Ben and Jerry’s and she dropped her cone on the ground, she burst into tears and kept crying even after Beth said she could have a new one, which is not like her.

Second Weekend: Return of the Prodigal Son & Violin Recital

On Sunday Beth drove back out to Western Maryland to retrieve Noah. June and I had a pleasant morning at the farmers’ market and the library and then she had a play date with Riana, whose family is about to leave town for two months.  Among other things, they cut the dead (but quite fragrant) parts of the lavender plant in June’s garden and made sachets out of orphan socks and bits of ribbon.  I purchased one in a Little Mermaid sock for thirty cents and put it in my sock drawer.

Shortly after Beth and Noah returned, laden with treats from YaYa, we all headed out for June’s second violin recital. June seemed pretty confident about the recital ahead of time.  In fact, when she showed up at her last lesson before the recital in a shimmery silver cape she’d made at drama camp and her teacher observed mildly that she’d never given a lesson to anyone in a cape before, June pointed her bow at the ceiling and declared herself, “Super Violin Girl.”

When the time came to perform, June didn’t seem to have any of the pre-recital jitters she had last time. She was happy to sit next to Toby, a boy she knows from after-school activities (cooking and drama clubs) while she waited for the recital to begin and she was highly amused that the program called it the “June Recital.”  “My recital,” she mouthed to Noah who was sitting close by in the first row with his video camera. June played third out of nine performers and did a nice job on her three pieces: “Long, Long Ago,” “Happy Birthday,” and “Ode to Joy.”  (Later she admitted to Toby’s mom that she had been nervous but she “tried to look calm.”)

Here’s a two-minute video of her performance if you’d like to see it:


The other performers were six kids who played piano or guitar, an adult vocalist, and a piano teacher who played one of her own jazz compositions.  The vocalist was a big woman with a big voice who sang “All of Me.” June looked rapt during her performance. Later at home, I could hear her singing snippets of the song under her breath. After the recital we went to the Co-op and got the makings of a picnic dinner we ate at one of the tables outside. And so ended the second weekend of summer break.

Summer Break Week 2 Begins

This week will be more typically summer-like, with both kids home at least part of the day.  June is in a half-day camp at her old preschool and Noah is volunteering there.  He’s doing a mix of clerical work and helping out with the campers. I’m hoping Lesley can keep him busy all week because he needs the Student Service Learning hours.

Although we didn’t do it today, the plan is for them to walk to and from camp by themselves, starting tomorrow. June is very excited about this.  In fact, when she was in her middle year of preschool she made a collage she entitled “Me and Noah going to School Without Mommy.”  Now, four and a half years later she’s living the dream.

Faced with an abbreviated workday, I had to figure out what parts of my non-work routine would stay and what would go. Here were the results. Housework: eliminated.  Exercise: delayed until the kids were home. Reading on the porch with a glass of iced tea: time reduced, but kept.

I am still working on afternoon plans for the kids. Megan came over after camp today. The girls made bird feeders by smearing peanut butter and breakfast cereal on plastic jugs and they had a fashion show, which Noah filmed for them. Wednesday or Thursday we might take a field trip down to the Mall to take in the Folk Life Festival.  Both kids made a start on their summer math packets this afternoon and later in the week I will have them do some yard work, too. It’s not all fun and games around here, but I hope to find a good summer balance for them and for me. Whether you’re a middle-aged mom, a teenager, or eight and a quarter, there’s a time for work and a time for play.