About Steph

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

You Lose Some

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop, from “One Art”

Over the course of twenty-four hours, June’s team finished near the bottom of the GeoBowl competition, her basketball team lost a game, and she was waitlisted at her top choice of middle schools. But she wasn’t at all discouraged by the first two and only a little by the last. I’m not either. Here’s why.

GeoBowl

Beth and I both quit work early on Friday afternoon to attend the GeoBowl, the annual geography contest at June’s school. June didn’t make her class’s team last year, so it was the first time I’d been to one in a couple years. Beth swung by the house on her way from work to pick me up and drive to June’s school.

The way the GeoBowl works is all the third to fifth graders in the school get a packet of geography facts about that year’s region(s) to study in September and then there’s a team from each English/social studies class, consisting of the six kids who did best on a quiz given in November. (I volunteered to help grade these.) Teams are announced in December and then they study and compete at the GeoBowl in February. This year the theme was the Americas and Africa.

We arrived early so we helped set up folding chairs at the back of the multi-purpose room, where the floor was freshly mopped and slippery after the last lunch shift of the day. They were a judge short so Beth volunteered, even though usually parents don’t judge their own kid’s grade. Soon the fifth grade came filing in. Six teams went up to the stage and their classmates sat on the floor in front of the stage to watch.

Two of the teams wore team shirts. Da Beasts were in red t-shirts, as were the Pirates of the Caribbean, who also wore red bandanas on their heads. June’s team, the Golden Globes, had made a last-minute attempt to get everyone to wear blue or purple (not, puzzlingly, gold), but most of them forgot.

The GeoBowl is often extremely competitive. When Noah was in third grade, his team finished last, only three points behind the winning team. When June was in third grade, it went into three tie-breaker rounds and in the end, they had to declare a tie so the next grade could take the stage.

This one started with a question for every team about capitals of countries. Each team got their question correct. June was her team’s spokesperson in the oral rounds so she came to the microphone to give the capital of Madagascar (Antananarivo).

Soon after, the scores began to diverge. For most of the contest, Da Beasts and the Pirates of the Caribbean were neck and neck, with the Smarties close behind. When there was a round of questions about bodies of water and June’s team was asked what’s the deepest lake in Canada, I knew they’d get it right because June was her team’s designated Canada expert and I’d been quizzing her so I knew she knew the answer. (It’s the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories.)

They missed a question about the location of the Galapagos Islands, guessing it was off the coast of Mexico and after that they missed some more—they could only name four or five of the seven capitals of Central American countries—and then they were out of contention because top three teams were getting everything right or close to it.

The high point-value questions are saved for the whiteboard round in which all the teams answer the same questions and hold up whiteboard with the answer. The very last one– worth seven of the total twenty-five points for the whole GeoBowl—was “What seven Canadian provinces border the United States?” June’s face lit up. She knew that one! Her team provided the correct answer. The M.C. drew out the suspense by having the top-scoring teams give their answers last and pointing out, after Da Beasts had submitted their correct answer, that if the Pirates of the Caribbean got all seven right they would win the GeoBowl and if they got six right it would go to a tie-breaker. They knew the answer and won, with Da Beasts just one point behind, and the Smarties two points behind them. June’s team tied for fourth place.

As always, it was fun to watch. I love it when there’s a team (or more than one team) that gets every question right. It’s inspiring to see kids who’ve studied hard and know their stuff, even if it’s not your kid’s team. And because the Golden Globes got all their questions pertaining to Canada correct, June was stoked when it was over and quite gracious about congratulating her friends on the winning team.

This is what Beth had to say on Facebook: “Love the GeoBowl. Our country is strengthened by our public schools and the terrific teachers, staff, parents and students who invest their time each day building our future.” I think that about sums it up.

Panda Game

On Saturday afternoon, June played two quarters in her basketball game, up from one quarter in the last one. She was a little reluctant—not having played much this season seems to have made her unusually skittish about getting in the game—so I was glad she did it.

It was quite a game, too. The teams seemed evenly matched for most of the first quarter and then the orange team (I never caught their name) hit their stride and scored two baskets in the last forty seconds, bringing the score to 8-4. And almost as soon as the second quarter started they scored again. I think they were ahead for the rest of the game after that, but the Pandas didn’t give up and they didn’t lose heart. They played hard, scored a few more times, and in the end lost 16-11. This wasn’t one of those times when the shots just kept bouncing off the rim and it just seemed like bad luck that they lost. The other team was highly skilled. They were fast and several of their players were excellent shots. Considering how good the other team was, the final score was quite respectable.

It was also nice that the coach’s daughter scored two of the Pandas’ five baskets because she’d had a hard morning, finding out she’d been rejected at one middle school magnet and waitlisted at another while her older brother got into a high school magnet. No other Pandas had received their letters, so a ripple of anxiety went through the bleachers as parents realized their kids’ letters might be at home in the mailbox right then. We discussed it quietly, while watching the game and writing our postcards to elected officials. This seems to be a Panda parent tradition now. At Beth’s suggestion, a few of us wrote to both our senators urging them to vote against Andy Puzder for Secretary of Labor.

Waitlisted

So, we got home and the letter from the humanities magnet was there, in a thin envelope. June asked if she could take it to her room and open it. She was in there so long Beth and I were sure it was a rejection and that she didn’t want to tell us. But it seems she was just studying the letter, because eventually she came out and told us she was waitlisted. She had memorized all the statistics in it—how many kids are on the waitlist, how many are accepted in the average year, etc. She seemed upbeat about it. “At least I still have a chance,” she said.

And at thirty-three to fifty percent it’s a considerably better chance than she had of getting in outright, as the acceptance rate at the humanities magnet is less than twenty percent. I started messaging and emailing the parents of friends of hers who had applied to the same magnet. Four were rejected, two more—including her BFF Megan—were waitlisted, and one was admitted. I think June’s both glad to have a chance of going to the same middle school as her best friend after two years of separation while Megan’s been at the Highly Gifted Center and proud of the achievement of even being still under consideration at a competitive program, but also realistic about her chances.

Meanwhile, June’s second-best friend is going to our home middle school where June will go if she doesn’t get into the magnet. If she goes there she’ll stay in Spanish immersion, which is a good thing, and you can take guitar there as an elective which interests her because she’s about to start guitar lessons. So, I’m confident she’ll land on her feet at either school and I think she is, too. She says if she doesn’t get into the humanities magnet she will be only “moderately disappointed.”

Sanctuary Meeting

Shortly after we got home, Beth left to go to a teach-in about Takoma Park’s status as a sanctuary city. I stayed home to make some lunch for Noah so he’d eat something (he didn’t seem willing to tear himself away from his homework) and then I followed her. While I was waiting for the bus, she texted me that it was standing room only in the community center auditorium and they were sending people to overflow rooms. I arrived about twenty minutes into the meeting and slipped in the back. They were still letting people in, but it was packed. There were people sitting in the aisles and standing behind the seats.

When I got there Maryland Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez was speaking. (I’d missed the poem by Takoma Park’s poet laureate. What? Your small town doesn’t have a poet laureate?) The speeches were interspersed with musicians. Basically, the meeting, which lasted over two hours, covered the history of Takoma Park’s status as a sanctuary city (one of the first) and then elected officials, community activists, and the police chief took questions about what to expect in terms of federal funding cuts, now that sanctuary cities are under attack. It seems to me the answer is no one really knows.

Being there, though, and hearing people speak about the stakes for undocumented immigrants in our community made the question of what middle school my relatively privileged fifth grader will attend seem a smaller concern than it had earlier in the day. I know for instance that she’ll be going to one and won’t be deported. A couple days later I donated to CASA de Maryland, because they do a lot of good organizing that’s needed more than ever now.

DeVos and Sessions Nominations

Beth was planning to go to the DeVos nomination protest after work on Monday, but she had to come home and pick up our Girl Scout cookie order. A lot of people we knew were there, though, and a couple of them were close enough to Elizabeth Warren to get pictures. (That’s a celebrity citing in our neck of the woods.) A sixth-grade girl we know was there with her mother, holding signs that said, “There Are No Grizzly Bears in My School” and “DeVos Gets an F.”

Nonetheless, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education on Tuesday and unlike all the little personal setbacks that didn’t rattle me this week, I took this politcal loss hard. I knew her confirmation was the most likely outcome, but she was so unqualified and so corrupt and it was so close, a fifty-fifty vote with the Vice President breaking the tie. It was just heart-breaking and it plunged me into despair because she seemed like the only nomination we really had a chance to defeat. Sure enough, Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General on Wednesday and Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services today. I hadn’t been holding out any hope there, but it didn’t cheer me up any.

I asked Beth at dinner on Wednesday if she thought the left has had any real practical victories in the past few weeks, not just morale-boosters like half a million people marching. Getting the travel ban stayed, she said without hesitation. But that’s not settled, I said. It will be going back and forth in court for a while until it gets to the Supreme Court and who knows what will happen then. Yes, but it got people who were detained in airports out and gave others time to complete planned travel to the U.S., she said. That is something, I agreed. We have to appreciate the victories, even if the defeats outnumber them. At least in the short run, they undoubtedly will. But just yesterday, the stay was upheld, which was very good news indeed.

I know it’s a marathon and not a sprint, so when I get tired and discouraged, as I inevitably will, I’ll pick myself up again. What other choice do we have? Like Elizabeth Warren, we will persist.

We Can Be That Girl

The first week of the Trump administration was sickening. No, really. June, Beth, and I all came down with a stomach virus. June stayed home Monday and Tuesday, went to school Wednesday and came right back home after only an hour a half. It was bad timing because I’d gotten sick the night before and had to drag myself out of bed to go get her. That same day Beth came home from work early, quite sick, and after that I didn’t even bother making June go to school Thursday, even though she probably could have gone. She also missed two basketball practices and a Girl Scout meeting. Beth said being too sick to follow the news from Wednesday afternoon until Thursday was kind of perverse relief.

I worked a couple hours each day (being the least incapacitated of the three of us) and cooked dinner for whoever was in any shape to eat, though on Thursday, reading “Cabbage and Noodles” on the white board, I decided no-one’s digestive system was up for cabbage, except Noah’s (he never got sick) and I didn’t make it.

By Thursday night, everyone was well enough to sit up at the same time and Noah didn’t have any homework because the next day was a teacher grading day, so we watched the fifth episode of Series of Unfortunate Events. (Over the course of the weekend, we watched the last three, so now we have to wait impatiently until they make more.)

June played in her first Pandas’ game of the season on Saturday afternoon. She missed the first two because her ankle was still weak and the third one because we were at the women’s march. She was tired from her recent illness so she only played a quarter, but she played up to her usual level and did a good job keeping the ball away from opposing players. The Pandas won, 10-6. They were ahead or tied for most of the game and they were just on fire in the last quarter, taking shot after shot at the basket and getting most of the rebounds. Megan scored three of the five Panda baskets. She also brought cupcakes with white and teal frosting (the Pandas wear teal shirts this year) and plastic basketballs stuck in the frosting, so everyone lingered in the mid-county community center lobby longer than usual after the game, eating cupcakes and talking.

During the game, the parents had shown a different kind of team spirit, writing postcards to our elected representatives with postcards, pens, stamps, and addresses provided by the coach’s wife. It was hard to decided what to write about, but the Mexican border wall and the Muslim ban were front of mind, so I went with that.

Noah had almost no homework because it was the weekend between semesters so he and I were planning to make a vegetable lasagna and a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, but shortly after we got home from the game he fell asleep and slept for three hours. I was afraid to wake him, thinking he might be sick, but at 6:30 he woke disoriented and disappointed that it was too late to make the lasagna. Everyone fixed themselves something quick for dinner and he and June went ahead and made the cake.

Sunday afternoon Beth and I went to the White House to protest the refugee and Muslim travel bans. I didn’t decide whether I was going until the last minute. I had to skip my weekly swim to do it. And so there would be something for dinner after the rally and June’s voice recital, Beth, Noah, and I worked that morning in shifts on the lasagna we didn’t make the night before. (Beth grated cheese, Noah and I grated, diced, and sautéed vegetables and then Beth assembled it.)

The kids stayed home (though Noah considered coming with us). The timing unnerved me because the rally lasted from one to three and June’s recital was at four-thirty. We decided we’d just stay for the first half. Beth bought poster board while she was out grocery shopping and we painted our signs. Hers said, “Stop playing politics with immigrant and refugee lives” and mine said, “America is better than this.” I thought they complemented each other, plus I can re-use mine at future rallies.

This was a more or less spontaneous rally and tens of thousands of people came, so we weren’t sure if Metro would be overwhelmed, but it wasn’t too bad, though definitely more crowded at Metro Center than on a normal Sunday afternoon. If there was a stage or speakers, we never saw it or heard them.

The chain link fencing they put up to block off Pennsylvania Avenue during Inauguration is still up (maybe they’re not planning to remove it, given all the protests), so the crowd was on Pennsylvania Ave and in Lafayette Square and the surrounding streets. We were kind of cut off from each other, which meant competing chants kept starting and drowning each other out. “No hate! No fear! Refugees are welcome here!” was the most popular one, though. Beth seemed to particularly like, “We won’t go away! Welcome to your ninth day!” It seemed like a good way to pledge ourselves to oppose him every step of the way, not to let this be easy for him because it’s certainly not easy for us.

We left the rally around two, stopped at La Mano for coffee, and we were home in plenty of time for the recital. It started like they all do, with the youngest children, those who need reminders about where to stand when they play the violin and whose feet don’t touch the floor when they sit on the piano bench. The beginning students played songs like “Lightly Row” and “Twinkle, Twinkle.” Then a mother-daughter pair played a Beatles song (“And I Love Her”) on the guitar, followed by another guitarist who June knows from drama camp who played “Worried Man Blues” and “Au Claire de la Lune.”

June went on about halfway through the program. The teacher who was announcing all the students spoke enthusiastically about how June had written her own song. It surprised me a little because June’s played her own violin compositions at previous recitals and Noah and his teacher played a drum duet they wrote at his recital last winter and no-one’s ever mentioned it before. But I was glad for her because she likes to be recognized like that.

Then just as she was ready to sing, someone realized her accompaniment wasn’t set up, so the next child on the program, a pianist, played “A Little Night Music” while they set up the laptop with the recording of June’s voice teacher playing her song on the piano. (The teacher was unable to come to the recital and play it in person.) Poor June, I thought. She’d probably gotten herself all psyched up to sing and then she had to wait.

When it was finally her turn, I knew she was nervous, but she wasn’t showing it, unless you noticed her grip on the microphone stand. She smiled and sang:

If you ever need a friend who has a shoulder to cry on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I can be that girl if you need it

If you ever need a friend who has a warm bed to lie on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I will be that girl when you need it

I’ve been thinking ‘bout how we used to hang out
And I was wondering if you wanna start over again
Over again
I’ve been thinking ‘bout our old lemonade stands
All the things we said
We called ourselves potatoes…potatoes

If you ever need a friend who has a shoulder to cry on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I can be that girl if you need it

If you ever need a friend who has a warm bed to lie on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I will be that girl when you need it

I’ve been noticing you glancing over at me
Maybe thinking ‘bout how we used to sing

If you ever need a friend who has a shoulder to cry on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I can be that girl if you need it

If you ever need a friend who has a warm bed to lie on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I will be that girl when you need it

Here’s the video. You knew there would be a video, right? It’s about two minutes long.

There was a satisfying amount of applause and then June’s school friend Toby played a jazzy song on the piano. He and June haven’t had the same recital slot for a while so I was pleased to see how good he’s gotten. A few kids later there was the only other vocalist, who sang a song from Moana. She was a big hit, too. The last three students were teenage pianists, who were all quite talented.

As we were filing out of the room, the director of the school pulled me aside and asked if June would like to do an encore performance at the 5:30 recital. At first I said no because it had been a long day, but then I thought I should leave it up to her so I found her in the back room where the performers were getting cookies and juice and she said yes.Beth and Noah went home, but I settled in to watch another recital.

This time I got a better seat in the front row. As I looked over the program I noticed that there were a few repeats from the 4:30 program, namely the Moana girl and the last three pianists. I didn’t know they did that. June’s never been asked to perform more than once, either ahead of time or spontaneously.

So, there was another recital with more adorable tiny children, more elementary and middle school kids starting to show mastery of their instruments and a few very accomplished teens, the ones from the first program as well as a slender teenage boy who sang “Amazing Grace” in what I was expecting would be a tenor but in what turned out to be a booming baritone voice. (I imagined his mother in the audience remembering his little boy voice and marveling.)

After both performances, people kept stopping June to praise her. One woman said she’d cried during her song. “Why would she do that?” June asked us later.

Beth ventured that it might be that in these times the idea of someone being a good friend, a welcoming person offering a shoulder and shelter could be especially moving. It’s a good reminder we can all be that girl, that boy, that man, or that woman.

And the next day Beth was at the Supreme Court after work, protesting again.

This is What Democracy Looks Like

Monday: MLK Day

The Monday before the inauguration was MLK day. Our traditional service project for this day is to participate in a creek cleanup. We choose this activity a long time ago because it’s easy for little kids to participate, or if they choose not to participate, to run around in the woods while the adults fish beer cans and trash out of the creek and off its banks.

It’s been a few years since I’ve participated. Two years ago, I was miserably sick with strep throat on MLK day and a year ago I don’t remember what happened but I know I didn’t go—maybe Noah had too much work and I stayed home to supervise. But this year everyone was well and community service seemed too important to waive because of homework. Beth and I wondered, independently of each other, if a creek cleanup was enough given the circumstances. My first thought for an alternative activity was volunteering at a food bank, but you have to be thirteen and June’s only ten, and the environment is dear to my heart, so we stuck with the creek cleanup.

All the creek cleanups I’ve done over the years have been along Long Branch creek somewhere between our house and June’s school, but this one was a bit farther away, in between the Long Branch community center and library. The strip of woods that surrounds the creek is wider there so instead of working in the creek and very close to it, we had a bigger area to cover. The amount of litter was greater, too. In under two hours the four of us filled five garbage bags full of recycling and two with trash.

It does seem like a worthwhile activity when you’re confronted with the trash-strewn woods and then you and a bunch of strangers get to work and after a couple hours, large swaths of it are cleared. But as Beth pointed out, it just points to bigger social problems, because someone might have been sleeping on those two mattresses other volunteers dragged out to the community center parking lot. This is not an uncommon find and I always wonder if we should just leave them be. Not to mention that well over half of what we were picking up was empty beer cans and bottles, probably not the leavings of social drinkers.

So, feeling simultaneously like we’d accomplished something with our morning and that we hadn’t, we went to La Mano and got lattes and steamers and headed home, where Noah immediately took a bath to get the smell of stale beer off himself.

Friday: Inauguration Day

Beth and the kids only had three days of work and school the next week because they were off Friday for the inauguration, not that we had any intention of going, or watching it on television or turning on the radio any time between the hours of eleven and four. I also observed a Facebook blackout during those five hours. (Beth decided to watch the Obamas get on their plane and fly away and it made her cry.)

We decided the best thing we could do with the day would be to binge-watch A Series of Unfortunate Events, as the first eight episodes were released on Netflix on Friday the thirteenth. I made (vegetarian) pasta puttanesca and chocolate pudding for dinner the night before, a meal the children make for Count Olaf and his theater troupe in the first book. We are hard core fans of this series, and the audiobooks, especially the ones Tim Curry narrates. We even bought a new, modern-sized television to watch it. This was an event.

I would have liked to be watching at the exact moment Trump was taking the oath of office, but Noah had a classmate coming over at noon so they could finish a documentary they were making on Edward Snowden for their media class (and submitting to a student documentary contest run by C-SPAN), so we had to stop shortly before then. Starting Thursday night and continuing Friday morning and evening, we watched the first four forty-five minute episodes, which I realize might not constitute a binge for some people but for us it does.

If you love these books, you will probably love the show, which captures their quirky essence much better than the movie. If you haven’t read them, start there. I have to say, though, I was identifying with the three Baudelaire children, with their house burned down, the people who were supposed to be looking out for them dead or missing and suddenly in the care of someone who does not wish them well. So, maybe it was not as escapist an activity as planned. Still, the Baudelaires and resourceful, brave, and loyal to each other. That counts for something.

After lunch, June and I made peanut-butter chocolate chip cookies while listening to the Indigo Girls, I read several Shirley Jackson essays, and then I took her to a voice lesson. She’s got a recital next weekend so she and the teacher worked on diction, expression, and other performance considerations. After the lesson, June had her jury for the recital and she passed it. I could tell she was nervous because she was clutching the front of her pants with both hands, but from her face you would have never known it.

On the way home, we swung by Roscoe’s to pick up pizza and an arugula-beet salad, which we ate at home, not really wanting to interact with other people than necessary on this bleak day. Once Noah had put the finishing touches on his movie and had submitted it to C-SPAN, we watched one last episode of the Series of Unfortunate Events, and went to bed so we could all be rested for the big event of the weekend.

Saturday: Women’s March

Beth and Noah were out the door by seven. Beth was supposed to show up at her office to greet the busloads of CWA members arriving at her office and Noah was going to assist Mike, the CWA photographer who was filming the march. I was proud of Noah for going because he absolutely hates crowds, but he knew was important. It helped that he had a task to focus on and that he got to use some cool photographic equipment like a 360-degree camera and a steady cam. He even endured holding hands with strangers during a CWA sing-along, but I missed that as it happened before June and I got there. This must have been horrifying for him. 

June and I left about an hour later, right after she made her “Another Girl Scout Against Trump” sign. It was a last-minute job, but if you look carefully you’ll see she printed out and taped the Girl Scout insignia to it. She chose this message because she was appalled to hear some Girl Scouts marched in the inauguration parade. She also decided to wear her Girl Scout vest over her hoodie.

While we were at the bus stop in front of our house, a stranger pulled over and asked if we’d like a ride to the Metro. I thought about it and decided it was a day to trust women, so I said yes. She told us she had a disability that made marching hard so she was shuttling friends to the Metro and seeing June’s sign, she figured that’s where we were headed. As we approached the Metro I could see steady streams of people on foot, many in pink hats, all walking toward the stop. June looked surprised and excited to be seeing crowds already, in our little town. The trains were crammed, but we got on the first one we saw because people packed themselves in tighter to make room for us.  We were right next to a group of women scientists in their lab coats.

We arrived at CWA headquarters shortly before nine. There was a mini-rally on the sidewalk in front it, which repeated every time new busses arrived, meaning we heard some of the speeches and chants twice. In between we went inside and sampled fruit and an egg and bagel sandwich at the breakfast buffet for members who’d been on buses since the wee hours of the morning. They’d come from states as far away as North Carolina, but the ones who arrived while we were there were from New York and New Jersey.

We set off to march with the second group, but we got separated from them almost immediately in the chaos on the mall. We were much too far away from the stage to hear the rally program or even to catch more than glimpses of the Jumbotron blocks away. So, we turned our attention to the crowd. We drifted through it to people-watch and read signs.

Some of the most popular signs were “Girls Just Want to Have Fun-damental Rights” and “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and various feline-themed signs. I also saw a lot of “Love is Love is Love” and “Black Lives Matter” signs and portraits of Trump in the style of Obama’s iconic Hope posters, except they either say “Nope” or “Grope” and there were also a lot that said “Make America Think Again.” The next day over dinner we discussed how making fun of Trump’s physical appearance (hair, skin, small hands) was a slippery slope, even though he himself treats people that way. (It was our “When they go low, we go high” moment.) But we all thought “Super Callous Fragile Ego, Trump You Are Atrocious” was fair game.

I thought this one summed up things pretty well: “There Are So Many Things Wrong with Trump I Can’t Fit Them on This Sign.” June’s sign was popular as well. All day people were taking her picture and many former and current Girl Scouts wanted to pose with her. (Beth tweeted her picture to the Girl Scouts.) I learned later people left drifts of signs in front of the Trump Hotel and lined the White House fence with them and when the fence was completely obscured, they tossed more over the fence. I wish we’d seen that and done it, too.

By eleven-thirty, the mall was completely packed, I was feeling a little claustrophobic and needed to use the bathroom badly. The march wasn’t even supposed to start for an hour and a half, so we started looking for porta-potties, I found a bank of them but the lines were several dozen people deep behind each one, so Beth suggested we walk back to her office and re-group. We got back there around noon, used the facilities, and stayed over an hour, mixing with more members who’d arrived. We split one of the box lunches that had appeared on the buffet table between the three of us, to supplement the hard-boiled eggs and trail mix we were carrying. Beth ate the veggie wrap, I ate the apple, and June had the potato chips.

Back at the mall, we hung back a bit to avoid getting trapped in the mass of pink-hatted humanity crammed onto it. It was unclear how we’d know when it was time to march because no one within blocks of us could hear anything, but eventually people started walking down the length of the mall. Beth noted the crowd wasn’t going along the official march route. Later we learned there were too many people to fit on the official route. It was already filled from end to end by the time the march was supposed to start so people spilled out into nearby streets and reached the White House by various routes, like water pouring into all available channels.

Our tributary went by the Trump Hotel and a small pro-Trump counter rally. The crowd took a break from chanting “Black Lives Matter!” “Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like. This Is What Democracy Looks Like!” “Hands Too Small, Can’t Build a Wall,” and “We Need a Leader, Not a Creepy Tweeter!” etc. to chant “Shame” at them.

We also were going along the Inauguration parade route for a while and the stands were still there. They were quickly packed with people who wanted to watch the march go by. Workers who had been taking one of the stands down before the march arrived stood by and watched. One of them was standing on a truck full of stand parts, grinning and laughing.

Considering how chaotic the march was, the police response was restrained. There was not a single arrest. I realize this was probably because while diverse, the march was still majority white. A group of half a million people of color marching on the street without a permit might not have been so tolerantly received. However, once we were almost to the White House the police started throwing up metal barriers in the street to keep the marchers away from it. Some verbal communication would have been appreciated here because it looked like people might get trapped between the fence that was already blocking access to the White House and the new barriers. We had to look lively to get back on the other side ourselves before the line of barriers was complete.

At this point, we turned around and walked back to Beth’s office again. Mike and Noah were already on the Metro, so we got in the car and drove home, tired, footsore and joyful. June kept commenting on the fact that neither Beth nor I had been to a big march until we were in college. She seemed happy to have reached this milestone earlier than we did.  But she’s living in more dire times.

Of course, I would have rather taken my ten-year-old daughter to the inauguration of the first woman president. That’s what I fully expected to do and I’d been looking forward to it. Beth and Noah went to Obama’s first inauguration when he was seven and it was a great experience for him. But this was excellent experience for her, too, if the point is learning about democracy.

Today, two days after the march, Beth and Noah went to work and school. I was home working, too, but also tending to June who had been felled by a stomach bug Sunday night, and was staying home from school. It was a chilly, rainy day, but I was still warmed by the thought of half a million people all returning to their regular routines, but possibly taking a short break to write their Senators and representatives, as I did.

Silver

Late Saturday morning, Beth came into the bedroom where I was reading Catcher in the Rye to Noah. “I opened an anniversary gift,” she said. It was four days before our anniversary and I knew what had happened. The card that announced I’d donated to Friends of Blackwater must have arrived. Since I’m almost always alone in the house when the mail comes, I’d counted on whisking it away when it arrived, but I didn’t think to check the mailbox before her on Saturday.

Beth read the message in the card saying it was to save “the silver birches and everything else you love at Blackwater.” I’d taken that angle because she’d admired the birch bark on the ground when we were hiking in Blackwater over Christmas and because it was the silver anniversary of our commitment ceremony (as well as the fourth anniversary of our legal wedding). “Mommy likes themes,” Beth observed to Noah.

“Remember the time she got you all those gold gifts?” he said, sounding close to laughter. If you’re a long-time reader with a very good memory, you may recall that on the twenty-fifth anniversary of our first date, thinking twenty-five was the gold anniversary, I got her a bevy of golden-colored gifts. The problem with this is twenty-five is the silver anniversary. Well, I didn’t return all the gifts but I resolved to wait four and a half years and have a do-over on the twenty-fifth anniversary of our commitment ceremony. The amazing thing is that I remembered and carried it out this plan.

“Well, now you know something about the rest of you gifts,” I told her.

Later that day, Beth, June and I attended the first Pandas game of the season. I almost didn’t go because June wasn’t playing. Her recently healed broken ankle had been acting up ever since she jumped from a platform at Seneca Creek State Park on New Year’s Day. Beth, June and I had gone on the First Day Hike. (The hike was otherwise fun.  We saw a beaver dam and swans on the lake and the park provided hot chocolate and S’mores at the end.) I asked her coach whether he thought she should play and he thought it was best to rest it a little while longer.

I always go to June’s basketball games and often to her practices, even though I don’t need to go because she has a standing ride. It still surprises me how much I enjoy watching, given how little interest I have in sports in general. Even knowing June wouldn’t play, I realized still wanted to see the game. I wanted to watch her friends, all these girls who’ve been together for years, some since kindergarten. I wanted to see who had a good game and who’s improved since last year. It’s official. I am a Panda fan. Or maybe I should say “Fanda.” Beth came up with that one, to describe the big stuffed panda June dressed in her team shirt and brought to the game.

We’d had our first real snowfall this year the day of the game. It only amounted to about an inch, but it was falling pretty hard in the late morning and early afternoon. That might have been the reason the games were running late when we got to the community center. We had a long wait and some of the moms started to reminisce about the Pandas’ very first game, mainly about how shocked the girls were when the opposing team knocked the ball out of their hands. They’re not surprised by that any more.

They’re ten and eleven now instead of five and six and they’re used to the game. That was a good thing because it was a somewhat rougher game than usual or maybe the referee was just more apt to call fouls on both sides. The game was constantly interrupted for free throws. In the first quarter the Pandas got a basket and one of those free throws and going into the second quarter they were winning 3-0. I was glad to see them score early because the Pandas only had seven players to the Sharks’ ten so I thought they’d be worn out by the end of the game. That didn’t turn out to be a problem. They weren’t being outrun at the end, but they didn’t score again and the other team did, so they lost 7-3.

Sunday evening Beth said, “You know how I opened one of my gifts early? I think you should have one of yours.”

“To make things even?” I asked.

“No, I think you should have it. It’s Kindred,” she said. Just that day I’d gone to the library to check out Octavia Butler’s time-travel fantasy because it’s my book club’s January book. On finding all the copies were checked out and the second closest library didn’t have an available copy either, I’d purchased one online from a local bookstore that very day. I was able to call Monday morning and cancel the order. Beth and I listened to Kindred together on audiobook on a long-ago car trip, either pre-kids or when Noah was small enough to sleep through it, so it was a sweet gift and I was happy to be able to start reading it Monday morning.

Our anniversary was Wednesday. I read Kindred in the morning (I’m almost halfway through it now) and wrapped gifts and worked on some pamphlets for a line of supplements distributed by physicians. When the kids got home between supervising their homework and making dinner, I also made a spice cake with a lemon glaze. I used the same recipe from the cake we served at our commitment ceremony twenty-five years ago. I make it almost every year on our anniversary. In fact, because we celebrate two anniversaries, one in July to celebrate our first date and one in January to celebrate the commitment ceremony and the legal wedding (held on the same day twenty-one years apart) whenever we have an anniversary, June always asks if it’s “the cake one.”

Beth got home around 6:45, just as June’s ride to basketball practice arrived, so we had to wait to exchange gifts and eat cake until she got home around 8:15. My presents to Beth were wrapped in silver wrapping paper with pictures of birch trees on it. I’d ordered it for this purpose and Beth enthusiastically admired it. I went all out with the silver theme. I got a card with a picture of a silver tree on it, I wrote on the card in silver marker, I put silver sprinkles on the cake and one of her gifts was a silver-colored pillar candle. (The scent was supposed to be “silver birch” but we all agreed it didn’t smell like tree bark, more like laundry June said. And then Noah wanted to know if it was clean laundry or dirty. Clean, she said, exasperated.)  I also got her a copy of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 because, sadly, a work about the racial strife of a quarter century ago seems more relevant than ever these days.  My second gift from Beth was Margaret Atwood’s Hag Seed, which I’ve been eager to read.

Over the long MLK weekend we’ll go to a high school girls’ basketball game (a Pandas field trip) and another Pandas game in which June’s still not playing, and we’ll probably participate in a creek cleanup, which we do most MLK days. Beth and I also have tentative plans to go to a movie. We’re thinking Hidden Figures. During the last few days of the kids’ winter break we actually went out a did a lot of things. In addition to the previously mentioned hike, we all saw a lovely production of The Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre, and Beth, June and I attended our neighbors’ New Year’s Eve party and Beth and I went to see Fences, which was very well acted. We often get stuck in our routine and it feels good when we go out and do something a little out of the ordinary, as a family and especially as a couple, even if it’s just going to the movies.

Beth and I wrote nearly identical things in our cards: “Here’s to 25 more” and “Here’s to the next 25.”  So, here’s to that, to the comforting rituals we repeat and the little jaunts that break them up.

We Need a Little Christmas

Friday: Christmas Eve Eve

We left for Blackwater Falls State Park (http://www.blackwaterfalls.com) on Saturday, the morning of Christmas Eve, and the day before was a whirl of activity. I’d finished my work for the week on Thursday so I could go to the dentist in the morning Friday and pack for the trip. Beth took off work early and she met me at Union Station as I was coming back from the dentist. We admired the big Christmas tree Norway sends to Washington every year and visited the model train display the kids, especially Noah, used to love when they were little. Then we had lunch at Shake Shack and headed home.

I mopped the kitchen floor and did a couple loads of laundry and when the kids got home I had Noah vacuum the dining and living room floors and everyone packed and we took June’s present to Megan’s house and picked up pizza to bring home. All this time there was a tree tied to the top of the car that had been there since Thursday. We were taking it to West Virginia. After dinner, the kids opened gifts from my mom and Beth’s brother Johnny and his wife Abby so we wouldn’t have to pack them. June got books from a series she’s reading and a new basketball and Noah got a gift certificate. “Merry Christmas Eve Eve,” I told June when she went to bed.

The last thing I did before collapsing into bed was to make gingerbread dough to take with us. We hadn’t had time to make any holiday sweets, what with the kids in school and Noah overloaded with homework until two days before Christmas. But I had another motive for baking the gingerbread at the cabin. Eighteen years ago, we spent Christmas in another cabin in the same park with Beth’s parents, her brother, her brother’s then girlfriend and now wife. Beth and I arrived first and made gingerbread before anyone else got there. To this day, Beth’s mom still talks about walking into the cabin and smelling the baking gingerbread and how happy it made her.

Christmas Eve

We left a little after ten and arrived around two-thirty with a stop for lunch at a very festively decorated little Italian restaurant with excellent garlic knots. We also went into the dollar store next to the restaurant, looking for cookie cutters because I’d forgotten to pack those. The man at the counter practically yelled, “Merry Christmas!” at us and I couldn’t tell if it was genuine merriment or political aggression. Maybe we looked like the “Happy Holidays” types. As it was I was just a little nervous about driving through rural Virginia and West Virginia with our “I’m With Her” magnet still on the car bumper. Anyway, they didn’t have any cookie cutters.

Check-in for the cabins was at four and we were hoping they’d be lenient about it because we were eager to set up the tree and get dinner started, but they weren’t, so we had to wait in the lobby of the lodge for an hour and a half. Fortunately, Beth’s mom arrived almost the same time we did, so we all sat around the gas fire and caught up with each other.

Once we got into the cabin, we unpacked and decorated the tree and put presents under it and adorned the mantle with boughs Beth trimmed off it. Then we had chili and cornbread YaYa made (she did most of the cooking while we were there and she fed us well). Then we watched Frosty the Snowman and one by one, we went to bed, ready for Christmas.

One my friends decorated her house for Christmas earlier than usual this year, saying “I’ve never needed Christmas more.” I had some trouble getting and staying in the spirit, but I kept trying and sometimes it worked. As I mentioned this was my second Christmas at Blackwater and it was Beth’s third (her family had Christmas in a cabin there the year she was nine). It seemed like a good year to get far away from everything.

Christmas

I told the kids they could open their stocking gifts at six at the earliest and to be “quiet as mice” until seven. The surprising thing is this worked. Noah slept until seven-thirty, so it was easy for him, but apparently, June opened her stocking at 6:25, right outside our door, so quietly that I thought the faint rustling I heard was Beth’s mom going to the bathroom. Later she told us “You wouldn’t even know I was a kid” from what was in the stocking—some mint tea she’d wanted at the tea shop in Rehoboth, a tin of mints, an orange, a spa cloth, some gloves, and some peppermint Hershey’s kisses.

The rest of us opened our stockings all together and then the rest of the gifts. June got the two things she wanted most, a 3D pen and a gift certificate to get her hair dyed. The pen came with a book of projects and she got busy with these right away. By the time we left, she was almost out of rods for it. She made a pair of eyeglass frames, earrings, a butterfly, a picture frame, and some red and white berries to transform a pine cutting into mistletoe, under which Beth and I were obliged to kiss. She also got clothes and a book/DVD set of Anne of Green Gables and I don’t remember what else.

Noah’s gifts were even more grown up than June’s—a set of flannel sheets, pajama bottoms, gift certificates and three loaves of bread from his favorite food catalog, to be delivered between now and February. The first loaf—cranberry-pecan arrived today.

I got several books, including a Shirley Jackson collection and a Shirley Jackson biography, my two favorite teas (hazelnut and black chocolate), plus lotion and soaps in many scents, and flower seeds. Beth got flavored sugars, basil-infused olive oil, her New Yorker subscription renewed, a gift certificate for a local coffee shop, and the new Springsteen memoir.

YaYa’s main gift was a Google Home. We spent a lot of the day making requests of it—to play the radio, set timers for cooking, even to flip a coin to settle a dispute between the children. She was quite pleased with it. She also got a Carly Simon memoir and a mug with deer on it and some soap with a cabin embossed on it to remind her of the cabin.

After we opened presents, I read to both kids, then everyone but Noah took a walk along the edge of the river canyon and by a half-frozen pond. The sides of the canyon were dotted with evergreens and bare gray trees and cut with a long waterfall on the far side.

It was peaceful by the pond—the ice was a dull silver; the open water was shiny. June wandered by the edge, breaking off little pieces of ice. The trail went on and we might have walked further, but YaYa had a not quite healed fractured toe and Beth was feeling ill. When we got back to the cabin, she went straight to bed while everyone else ate lunch and she stayed in bed all afternoon.

The kids and I made gingerbread cookies while she was asleep. In the absence of cookie cutters, we used glasses and knives and a pizza cutter, and the top of a Tupperware container to shape circles of various sizes, people, a caterpillar, the first initials of our names, and a smiley face as big as a dinner plate. We decorated with bits of hard candy, as I’d also forgotten the dried cranberries we usually use. But it was fun to improvise and I think the kids will remember this year’s cookies for a long time to come.

YaYa made spinach lasagna for dinner and Beth got up to eat, though she went back to bed while the rest of us watched Frosty Returns. And then Christmas Day was over.

Boxing Day

Beth was feeling better the next day, so after Noah did some pre-calculus and Spanish, we went out to lunch and then we went to see Blackwater Falls. It’s a 57-foot fall on the Blackwater River. There’s a boardwalk of steps that goes down to various viewing platforms. It was a warm day, in the fifties and sunny and some of us didn’t even wear jackets—but there was ice along the rocks near the bottom of the falls, and rapidly dripping ice along the rock walls to our side as we descended. The water going over the falls is stained brown from the tannin and very loud as it crashes to the bottom. It’s a mesmerizing sight.

Back at the cabin, Beth and Noah watched Revenge of the Sith (they’ve been making their way through all the Star Wars movies over the course of the past year or so) while YaYa took June swimming at the lodge pool and I wrote this.

Then Noah and I read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe—a YA novel about growing up Latino and gay in the Southwest in the 1980s I highly recommend. While we read, he started to feel ill, so he skipped dinner, which was YaYa’s signature baked macaroni and cheese and spinach pies she buys from a Lebanese bakery in Wheeling.

Our dinner conversation turned for the first and only time on the trip to the sad and frightening moment we’re in politically. It came up because YaYa was talking about being in high school and she mentioned her civics class was called “Problems in Democracy.” It seems like a good title for Noah’s current AP Government class, though it’s called NSL Government (National, State, and Local Government), a somewhat less appealing course title. But then again, YaYa graduated from high school in 1961, right on the verge of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, so democracy had its own problems then, too, didn’t it? We turned our attention from our national nightmare to Nightmare Before Christmas, which YaYa, June and I watched until it was time for June to go to bed.

Some More Days

Noah still felt ill the next day and Beth had relapsed so he spent the day in bed, emerging around four o’clock for a banana and some toast—his only meal of the day, and she spent the day on the couch, making her way through the Springsteen memoir. YaYa took June back to the pool and they were gone for hours.

Around four-thirty, I went for a walk. It seemed like a good time for winter walk. I’d see the sunset and if I walked an hour, I’d be back before full dark. I set out along the road in front of the cabins, and returned via a cross-country ski trail behind them. It was a straight, narrow trail with yellow-brown grass and tall, slender, bare trees swaying in the wind on either side. The sky reddened and then darkened and clouds blew quickly across it. I stumbled on a playground near a picnic shelter, well, just swings, and I sat on one and swung for a while, with the lyrics from Suzanne Vega’s “Freeze Tag” going through my mind:

We go to the playground
In the wintertime
The sun is fading fast
Upon the slides into the past
Upon the swings of indecision
In the wintertime
Wintertime
Wintertime
We can only say yes now
To the sky, to the street, to the night
We can only say yes now
To the sky, to the street, to the night

There’s so much we’ll need to say no to in the coming months and years, loudly and repeatedly if we don’t want to lose our way as a country, but it’s also important to remember to say yes, too, to ourselves, and to each other. I’m still working on that.

Beth made tacos for dinner and June contributed a tiny piñata to each place setting. She made them out folded notebook paper and filled them with bits of ribbon candy. She drew designs on them I thought might be poinsettias or snowflakes, but she said they were just abstract decorations. After dinner, YaYa made drinking chocolate with condensed milk and whipping cream. June said it was “as think and rich as melted chocolate bars.” It’s a quote from the Polar Express, June’s favorite Christmas book. We drank it while we watched the rest of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The next day, our last full day in the cabin, everyone woke up feeling well. Beth made pancakes for breakfast and all the womenfolk went for a hike, leaving Noah to soak in the bath and do some Government homework. (His teacher gave them a series of small assignments do over break and was perverse enough to call it an “advent calendar,” even though there was no chocolate involved and it started on Christmas Eve instead of ending then.)

We started with the Elakala Falls trail, which was about as much hiking as YaYa wanted to do, so we split up there and she went home while we tackled the Balanced Rock trail and then used the Shay Run trail to get back to the lodge where we’d parked the car.

It was cold when we set out—in the mid-twenties—but sunny and still so it didn’t feel too bad, though Beth and I both wished we’d thought to put on long johns under our jeans. The trails were surrounded with ferns, rocks covered with moss and lichen, evergreens of all sizes, including a lot of saplings growing quite close together, and towering rhododendron bushes, their leaves curled against the cold. There were icicles on the boulders and needle ice pushing up out of the ground all over. Beth was quite taken with these intricate crystal formations.

The water at Elakala Falls and in all the little creeks and runs was reddish brown with tannin and where the sun fell on it, it glowed. All along the Balanced Rock trail but especially near the end and at trail intersections, people had built cairns. June took pleasure in adding to them, and collecting icicles, and walking along a fallen log like a balance beam. The log was on the ground on one end and stuck in the fork of a tree on the other so it was inclined and slightly bouncy, making it a challenge, but she didn’t fall. And of course, at the end of the trail, we found the Balanced Rocks themselves, two boulders resting on each other.

After lunch, there was another expedition, YaYa and Beth took the kids tubing on artificial snow, while I stayed home to read. When everyone got home, Beth took the decorations off the tree and I read “Lamb to the Slaughter,” a Road Dalh story, to Noah. It’s about a woman who kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then cooks it and serves it to the detectives who come to investigate. Apparently, his English teacher thought it would make cheery Christmas reading. (It’s actually a fun story, though I probably just wrecked it for you.)

We had noodles and cabbage with veggie sausage for dinner and then Beth and Noah took the denuded tree outside and came back to report the sky was full of stars—Orion, Cassiopeia, the Dippers, plus Mars and Venus.

Beth and June played a set of Christmas songs together on the violin and then Beth played “Silent Night” while June sang it. YaYa was a suitably appreciative audience. After Beth diagnosed and fixed a problem with the gas fire, we watched a little bit of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town while June toasted marshmallows on said fire and we had more drinking chocolate.

The next day we checked out of the cabin and did a little shopping at the lodge gift shop. While we were there it started to snow hard after hours of sleet. It was the first real snow we’d seen the whole time we were there. The timing seemed cruel, as Beth loves snow and she loves Blackwater canyon. I suggested we stay, but we left, for fear the roads might get bad. Within twenty minutes we’d driven entirely out of the snow, though back at the park they were supposed to get six inches. (We did get a little snow squall of our own today in Takoma Park, but it only last a half hour or so and melted almost immediately.)

Despite illness and the lack of snow, we did spend time with each other and appreciated the natural beauty of one of Beth’s favorite places. I think we all got a little Christmas.

The Opposite of Terrible

It’s time for school concerts. Noah played in the winter band and jazz concert a couple weeks ago, and June’s school’s holiday sing was Monday.

Winter Band and Jazz Concert

Noah was a nervous wreck in the car on the way to the band concert. He’s been playing drums for six years and he’s not usually too worked up before concerts, but he’s in an advanced band in which he was placed because of a schedule conflict and he’s got a bit of an imposter complex about it. He said he thought the fact that he was so nervous would make it more likely he’d make mistakes.

I thought he might be right, but I told him even if he did make a mistake he’d be the one most likely to hear it, that all the sound the audience is taking in making it hard to hear individual errors. He wasn’t having it.

Noah took private lessons instead of playing in the band last year so this was our first high school band concert. At his school, they split the orchestra, band, and chorus concerts into three different nights. I thought this meant the concert might be shorter than a middle school concert. But there are five different bands at his high school, not counting the marching band, which I don’t think plays at concerts. Noah had attended the orchestra concert the week before and had gotten back later than I expected, so I wasn’t expecting a short night. A glance at the program confirmed that would be the case again.

June was with us, even though it would surely keep her up past her bedtime, because we don’t have a sitter any more now that Eleanor’s in college and we so seldom need one I never invested the time in finding a replacement. If June had her way I would have found her a ride to and from her school’s Reading Night, someone who would drop her off at our empty house when it was over. But even though she’s been staying home alone for years we didn’t feel quite right about having her alone in the house at night, so we made her come. She probably would have been excited about being out late if it wasn’t for the fact that she was missing something she wanted to do. But she was mature and didn’t complain too much. It might have helped that we bought her a brownie at the bake sale and I read to her from Cricket while they were setting the stage between groups.

Another way the concert was different from a middle school concert was the fact that we were in comfortable auditorium seats, the band was up on stage, and there were colored lights behind them that changed from blue to green to red. It was nicely done.

The Jazz Combo played first. This group consisted of two saxophonists, a pianist, a bass player, and a percussionist. Because it was such a small and talented group, there were plenty of opportunities for solos. My favorite piece was probably “Black Orpheus,” but they were all good.

As would happen with each band that followed, the teacher introduced members of the band who were in the school’s music honor society and those who had made the county honors bands, the all State bands, the All Eastern Bands, and the Honors Band of America. There were a lot of names to announce. The musicians at Noah’s school are an accomplished bunch.

Next up was the Jazz Ensemble. They had vocalists, a boy and a girl, for three of their five numbers, which interested June. I think she might have been imagining herself up on stage with a microphone and a big band backing her six or seven years hence.

Then the concert band played a few songs. One was one of those high concept band pieces with which you’re probably familiar if you’ve ever had a kid in band. It was called “The Great Locomotive Chase.” It was inspired by a Union raid on the railroad tracks in Georgia during the Civil War, and featured instruments that sounded like a train whistle and other sound effects. That was fun. June was starting to fade, though, and she alternated between leaning against me and Beth. I was tired, too, as I’d been up late keeping Noah on task the night before as he wrote an alternative ending to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

Symphonic Band (the intermediate band) was next. Noah’s going to play in this band next semester. It’s hard to fit in band with as many required classes as the CAP kids have, so this year they’ve just let him play whenever his schedule allowed, which we appreciate. Many kids in CAP just drop music and I’m glad he hasn’t had to do that, even though he had to skip a year.

At last, it was time for the Wind Ensemble, or the advanced band. I don’t know why they call it the Wind Ensemble when it’s not just wind instruments, but there you have it. Noah had told us what he was playing in each song ahead of time. We like to know because it’s usually impossible to see the percussionists all the way in the back. He’d also told me weeks ago he didn’t have any difficult parts, so I was surprised to hear the snare drum as the most prominent percussion sound in their first piece, “Matador.” This is a very fast song and he sounded fantastic, very precise. Beth and I exchanged happy, relieved looks over June, who muttered, “He probably made three little mistakes he’ll go on and on about.”

Noah played timpani in “Amazing Grace,” a smaller part, but I’m always glad whenever he gets some timpani experience because they didn’t have one at his middle school and it’s been an audition bane for him because of that. He played the bass drum and woodblocks capably in “Hebrides Suite” and the concert was over.

As we walked back to the car I asked him how he thought it went and he said, “okay” and later, “not terrible.” This for him nearly amounts to self-promotion. But he’s right. It wasn’t terrible. It was the opposite of terrible. I’m happy he held his own with challenging music and I hope he’ll be comfortable in Symphonic Band next semester. It was clear from the concert he doesn’t belong in the non-audition concert band, which was his first choice (because he hates to audition). But whatever band he plays in, I always enjoy hearing him perform.

Holiday Sing (and Electoral College March)

June sang and played violin at her school’s Holiday Sing once last Friday and twice on Monday. Last year she was in the chorus, but there was no chorus this year, so the whole fourth and fifth grade sang instead, preparing in their regular music class. The band and orchestra played, too.

June is having the opposite problem Noah’s having with music this year, and I think it’s a worse problem to have. Mr. G’s replacement isn’t as skilled at assessing the students’ skill and experience levels and coming up with appropriate lessons for everyone. This was Mr. G’s superpower.  Mr. B is basically treating them all like raw beginners. June says the fifth graders who just started to play last year are incredulous at how easy the music is and she’s been playing for almost three and a half years. Not surprisingly, there’s no advanced string ensemble this year.

So, we’d been considering having June drop out of orchestra after the January concert, but then we found out there wasn’t going to be a January concert this year so the timing is less clear. It’s hard to see the point of pulling her out of her science and Spanish class once a week if she’s not learning anything. But before we take that step, I wanted to address my concerns with Mr. B first. He did offer to give June some harder music and meet with her after school on Mondays, which was generous of him. But the first piece he gave her was “Frere Jacques,” so we still have the same underlying problem.

Meanwhile, to keep from losing ground, June’s been practicing songs from orchestra camp and last year’s orchestra selections, and she’s using online tutorials to learn new songs. She and Beth have also been practicing Christmas songs together in preparation for a joint performance for Beth’s mom at Christmas, which they are both enjoying. The obvious solution is to put her back into private lessons, but between Scouts, basketball, and voice lessons, she has enough on her plate without adding another item to her weekly calendar.

This year the Holiday Sing was the same day the Electoral College met. I’d noticed this coincidence ahead of time and I thought it might mar my enjoyment of the event. Sure enough, I was melancholy as I walked to June’s school.

Just two days earlier I’d taken another long walk, from the Washington Monument to the White House, as part of a rally and march to ask the electors to vote their conscience.

I told June I was going to a rally to ask the electors to vote their conscience and asked if she’d like to make me a poster. She considered. “Is it okay if it has glitter glue and sparkles?” 

“Yes.”

She was sold.

I told Noah where I was going and he said, “Why do you think that will work?”

“I don’t,” I said.
“Then why are you going?”
“Because sometimes you have to try even when it seems hopeless. That’s what we learn from Frodo and Sam, right?”
He gave me a half-skeptical, half-sad smile.

The march started at the Washington Monument and proceeded to the White House. Even though we’d had an ice storm that morning the day had warmed up considerably. The late afternoon light was a lovely pale gold. I wore my coat unbuttoned and even got a little overheated as I tried to keep up with the marchers, who on average were probably about twenty years younger than me and pretty well spread out in the street. The march was spirited, but sparse, as these things go. The signs were about all sorts of lefty issues, relevant I suppose because they were all issues affected by the election, but I would have preferred a narrower focus on our appeal to the electors.  At the end we were standing by the reviewing stands for the inaugural parade, which are under construction. This seemed to point out how little we could really do about it.

But when I got home, Beth had made a lasagna and Noah had made enough progress on his pre-calculus so we could read the last chapter of Return of the King after dinner. I felt I’d done what I could and it was comforting to be back home.

At June’s school before the Holiday Sing, I sat in a row of a few other mothers of June’s friends. The mom next to me and I discussed how neither of us was sad to be leaving elementary school behind at the end of the year and the state of instrumental music at the school. She seemed to agree with my assessment but I could tell from a look of mild surprise on her face, that I am considerably more worked up about this than she is. This had been happening to me every time I talk to someone about instrumental music. I guess I need to tone it down.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when the band started to play “Jingle Bells” because they didn’t sound half bad, if a little morose because the tempo was so slow.  Their Hanukkah selection, “My Dreidel” was fine, too. I started to wonder if the orchestra would sound better than anticipated, once all the different instruments were playing at once, as opposed to June’s simple, repetitive piece of it that I’d been hearing at home. Sometimes that does happen. But when they played, it sounded more like an exercise for beginners than a song played by kids with over a year’s experience playing together. I was also having disgruntled thoughts about watching children fiddle while Rome burned.

Luckily, the singing part of the Holiday Sing was next. In this performance, the fifth grade sang a few songs alone and then there was a sing-along with the fourth-grade audience. Half the fifth grade (all that can fit) got up on risers and sang a traditional Puerto Rican Christmas song, followed by a spirited rendition of “Let it Snow.” There was a pause while the two halves of the fifth grade traded places and sang their songs.

I was sitting in exactly the wrong place to see June. The music teacher was blocking my view of her. But the teacher was swaying and the longer the concert went on the more pronounced her swaying became, so I could sometimes see brief flashes of my daughter. This was somewhat amusing.

They sang two songs alone and then it was time for an eight-song Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Christmas sing-along set. Many of the songs were familiar from years past. There’s a Hanukkah song I’ve always liked called “In the Window,” and “Ocho Candelitas.” They shook things up a bit with the Christmas songs. No “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Feliz Navidad,” which are perennial favorites. Among the new songs was “Mele Kalikimaka.” I’d like to think this Hawaiian-themed song might have been a tribute to our outgoing President, but who knows? At any rate, they don’t change the songs much and in my ten years of attending this concert I don’t think they ever sang it before. And then, my last Holiday Sing was over.

That night, doing the dishes, I was trying not to think about what had happened that day, that out of 306 electors who were supposed to vote for Trump, only two had the decency and temerity to consider his appalling words and actions and say no. I wasn’t expecting a different outcome—really I wasn’t—but if it had been even a dozen of them, I might have felt a little better about humanity.

As I pushed these thoughts away, I found myself humming that pretty Hanukkah song, so familiar from years of Holiday Sings. I’ve never heard it anywhere else. The experience of hearing children on the verge of their winter break, singing songs of joy for all these years has also been the opposite of terrible. Maybe I will miss it after all.

Postscript: Beth went to a march about a week ago as well, against the Muslim registry, and President Obama recently took steps to make that registry less likely. We are not powerless.

 

Beach Replenishment

Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Fifty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brace Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Run

Election: Tuesday

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

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

Well, now I hope she doesn’t remember.

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

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

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

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

Aftermath: Wednesday to Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5K: Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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