About Steph

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

Before the Storm

I’m always a little baffled when other parents say they can’t wait for the school year to end because they are tired of the getting-off-to-school rush in the mornings. Speaking as a work-at-home mom, a little chaos in the morning seems a small price to pay for a whole day of quiet and calm. My summer weekdays consist either of trying to work with one or both kids home or they start with getting-off-to-camp rush, which unless Noah’s taking June to camp, generally means some kind of public transportation Odyssey that digs into my workday.

However, on the second to last Friday of the school year we did have a particularly memorable morning. In between 5:40 when the alarm went off and 7:25 when Beth drove Noah to school, Beth and I collectively:

  1. Convinced Noah that it was better to print his partially finished History chapter outline and turn it in than to turn in nothing because he was embarrassed not to have finished;
  2. Calmed a panicked June and removed a tick from her stomach;
  3. Spent a long time looking fruitlessly for Noah’s watch;
  4. Found Beth’s lunch on the kitchen counter and ran barefoot into the driveway with it before the car left.

All before I ate breakfast.

It was enough to make me think of two significant upsides to the end of the school year. Soon there would be considerably less homework drama and the alarm wouldn’t be going off so early any more. Whatever chaos unfolds before one or both kids leave for camp will take place a little later, maybe after I’ve eaten breakfast. And now we’re almost there. Noah’s last day of school was Thursday and June’s will be Monday. (If we’d made up all our snow days, hers would have been Tuesday, but I don’t suppose you want to hear me complain about how I got cheated out of day of uninterrupted work, so I will refrain.)

In some ways the end of the school year has seemed anti-climactic. June’s school didn’t have its almost-annual art show, Noah’s not in band so he didn’t have a concert, and he didn’t participate in the 9th grade CAP students’ public presentation of original one-act plays.

This was held at the community center a week and a half ago and I think he would have allowed us to attend, but one of his group members had a schedule conflict so they performed theirs in class instead and he didn’t want me to come to that. Noah was considering going to the showcase anyway, to support his classmates and to be available to be an extra in other groups’ plays—and if he had gone I would have, too—but his homework was crushing that week, with long review packets for his Physics and Spanish final exams and multiple history chapters to outline, so he didn’t go. (We also had to cancel a doctor’s appointment and a drum lesson so he could get through it and even so he ended up having to give up on the History.)

June had a few things going on, however. And there was something sad but important we all needed to do.

Saturday: Mystics Game

Gymnastics, running club, and orchestra all ended in May or the first week of June, but Girl Scouts kept going until last week, and the troop has been busy. They went on a camping trip the first weekend in June which featured kayaking and archery and a zip line and eating a great quantity of S’mores. (June reports she had five.) Beth chaperoned the trip and drove both Megan and Riana to the campground. She and June both came home tired and itchy from poison ivy but happy.

The next weekend, several local Girl Scout troops attended a Mystics Game. It was Star Wars night so before the game there were stadium staff wandering around in costume ready to pose for photos with fans. There was also a hair station where you could get Princess Leia braids.  Megan, Leila, and the troop leader all availed themselves of this service. There were also announcements about the visiting team attempted to “disrupt the Force” and a kids’ dance troop performed in Storm Trooper costume and several fans were picked form the crowd to come onto the court for a costume contest. The man in a Chewbacca costume won.

And speaking of going on the court, just before the game started, Megan’s little sister’s Girl Scout troop got to go out on the court and stand with the players during the National Anthem.

The game was fun. I am not a sports-minded person, but because of June in the past several months I’ve attended a college women’s basketball game at the University of Maryland, a gymnastics exhibition (also at Maryland), and now a professional women’s basketball game. I’m glad she expands my horizons this way, because it’s been a while, more than fifteen years since Beth and I went to a Mystics game (if we ever went—as with our concert-going history, all is blurry. Beth says she doesn’t remember but I think I do and it seems possible.)

During the game, I observed to Beth, “They’re better at this free throw thing.”

“Better than the Pandas?” she clarified. Well, of course. Who else would I mean? Fourth-grade-level play is my basketball standard, even if we occasionally go see high school girls or college women play.

Anyway, the game was close in the first two quarters, with the teams trading the lead back and forth. Both quarters ended with the Mystics just barely ahead. About halfway through the second quarter, June’s troop left for their on-court time. They were going to stand in two lines and give the Mystics high fives as they returned to the court. I swear I could see June smiling from my seat.

When the players are on the court and you’re in the stands it’s hard to tell how tall they are, unless one of the male referees approaches and you notice the players are all taller. But when your ten-year-old daughter and many of her friends are standing right next to them, looking like preschoolers, you realize, these are very, very tall young women. (Yes, professional basketball players are tall—this is the kind of insight you come here to read, right?)

When the girls returned, Beth and I took June and Riana to get ice cream. The lines were really long so we missed most of the third quarter. Something went seriously awry while we were gone. The Mystics got behind and although they made some progress closing the gap during the fourth quarter, they never caught up and lost the game 83-76.

The last three and a half minutes of the game were awful, not from a fan perspective (because I was only mildly invested in the outcome) but it was just too loud and overwhelming. They kept encouraging the fans to make noise and they sure did, yelling and beating these inflatable sticks everyone was issued on entering the Verizon Center.

And when I say the last three and a half minutes, I really mean fifteen or so because they kept stopping the clock for time-outs and foul-related free throws. Meanwhile, I just wanted the game and the screaming to be over. But the rest of the evening was pleasant and June found it quite satisfactory. We even stayed for the whole thing, which we had warned her we might not do if it ran too late. As it was we got home at 9:45, which is pretty late for the likes of us.

Tuesday: Girl Scout Potluck

The next Tuesday was June’s last Girl Scout meeting and there was a potluck. I am often a potluck slacker—hey, someone has to bring the chips and salsa—but this time I cooked. I brought a pan of quinoa with roasted chickpeas and vegetables. It was my friend Nicole’s recipe. Thanks, Nicole! It was a big hit.

Last year there was a dance performance at the potluck, but this year we just ate and then the girls got their badges and cookie-selling prizes. And then, June’s spring extracurricular activities were done.

Thursday: Vigil for Pulse

On Thursday night we all attended a vigil for the victims of the attack on the Pulse night club. This has been hard to talk about with the kids. Beth told Noah the day after and at dinner that night I thought we should tell June in case she heard about it at school and felt scared for us. In fact, as soon as we told her she started to list reasons why it couldn’t happen to Beth and me—we don’t live in Florida, we don’t go to night clubs. I could see her trying to convince herself. It was a heart breaking thing to have to watch. Some of her reasons were kind of spurious, but I didn’t knock them down. How could I?

A white lesbian friend with two black adopted boys posted on Facebook that her seven-year-old son said he wished she wasn’t gay. “My black son is worried about me being killed. I am worried about him being killed,” she noted sadly.

Meanwhile Beth reminisced about the first Pride we ever attended in Cleveland in 1989, how young we were (twenty-two) and how much has changed in the world since then. Thinking of the young people gunned down at the club, she said, “They will never see their dreams realized, they will never wonder at the changes.”

So when we heard there would be a vigil for the victims on Thursday night it felt important to go. We picked Noah up straight from his drum lesson and walked there. I haven’t been to a vigil in a long time but they haven’t changed much. I still know the words to the songs, I know how to shield a candle flame in the wind. It was June’s first one but she said it was about what she expected.

There were speeches and songs and the names of the dead were read. There were a lot of people there we knew and a lot we didn’t know, including a whole Boy Scout troop in uniform. The mayor and a City Council member and other Takoma residents spoke movingly. Afterward we walked through the crowd and hugged our neighbors and friends. It was good to be in a crowd of people who shared our fear and sadness and anger. It helped a little.

Friday: Wax Museum

But life goes on—it has to—and two days later, on the second to last day of school, June’s English/social studies class had a wax museum. Each student had researched a historical figure to represent and came to class in costume and with props. They lined up along a hallway outside their classroom and parents circulated listening to each child give a speech in character.

June was Mozart. She’d tidied up her corpse wig from Halloween by cutting it shorter, weeding out the black hairs in the white and putting it in a ponytail and she wore a white blouse.  From the waist down she was more twenty-first century in red and white striped shorts, but that didn’t show behind her table. In between giving her speech, she played her violin. I could hear it as Noah and I drifted through the crowd, listening to speeches by Frida Kahlo, Mary Cassat, Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet, Martin Luther King, Sonia Sotomayor, Jackie Robinson, Jim Thorpe, and other notable personages.

Back in June’s classroom, we watched a presentation of the class’s six-word memoirs. They started with an essay about a memory and then they had to boil it down to roughly six words. June’s was about her performance at Peanut Butter and Jam last winter and she had to coin a word to get hers into six words: It read “Nervexicted, but then music takes over.” It was a fun event. June was pleased that Noah, who had taken his last two exams the day before, was able to come, since he’d missed her orchestra concert.

Right after the wax museum, Beth, Noah and June all piled in the car and drove to West Virginia. Noah’s spending a week of R&R with Beth’s mom and June came along for the ride.

The Weekend Before the Storm

Left to my own devices from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, I worked several hours, went out to dinner and lunch, finished reading a mystery, mowed the lawn, ran some errands, menu-planned for next week, and blogged. While I was out Saturday afternoon, I ran into another work-at-home mom I know and her greeting to me was, “Are you ready?”

I said yes because what else can you say? Summer is certainly not as hard as it was when the kids were younger (the mom in question has one in middle school, one in elementary school, and a toddler).  And whether I’m ready or not, summer will start when June gets home from school Monday afternoon.

I’m glad that unlike forty-nine of my brothers and sisters, I’ll be there to greet her when she gets off that bus.

The Band is Playing

It’s Saturday and the band is playing
Honey, could we ask for more?

Prairie Home Companion theme song, adapted from “Tishomingo Blues,” by Spencer Williams

This is the story of two goodbye shows. The first was given by someone you’ve probably heard of—Garrison Keillor is retiring as the host of Prairie Home Companion this summer and Beth bought tickets to his last show at in the Washington, D.C. area as a birthday present to me. The show was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

The other man you probably haven’t heard of unless you had the very good fortune to have a child in an elementary school instrumental program at June’s school or the school where Noah attended fourth and fifth grade. His name is Mr. G, and next year instead of splitting his time between the two schools, he will teach at just one, so June will have a new orchestra teacher in fifth grade. Mr. G’s last concert at June’s school was Wednesday.

Saturday: A Prairie Home Companion

Prairie Home Companion has been on the air since 1974, with a brief interruption in the late eighties and early nineties. I must have started listening to it around the time it came back on the air in 1992; that’s when I got hooked on public radio. When I was in grad school in the mid to late nineties, I’d often knock off studying or grading around six p.m. on Saturdays and then I’d clean the apartment for an hour or two while listening to it. Back then, rather than being near the end of my Saturday nights, its eight o’clock ending time might be when Beth and I left to go out to a movie or something. We used to do that kind of thing a lot in our younger days. Anyway, it’s how I used to transition from work to play in the middle of the weekend.

Nowadays I’m more likely to listen to it while I’m cooking dinner with Noah—his night to help me is Saturday—though sometimes we listen to music of his choice instead. I rarely listen to a show all the way through any more, but I still enjoy it and find it something about it deeply comforting. Keillor, a tall, bespectacled almost seventy-four-year-old man who loves words and stories, has a deep singing voice, a sometimes dry wit and liberal politics, often reminds me of my Dad, who would be a year younger than Keillor if he were still alive. That’s part of the appeal, no doubt.

When Prairie Home Companion travels it comes to about a half dozen venues regularly. One of those is Wolf Trap, in Vienna, Virginia, which is just a stone’s throw from where we live, but despite this, we’d never gone to see the show. I’d never suggested it because it’s not really Beth’s thing, but when I heard Keillor was retiring I told her I’d like to go, so she bought tickets. By the time I asked, the seats under the roof were sold out, but I didn’t mind sitting of the lawn. You can picnic and if the weather’s nice it’s quite pleasant. We’ve probably seen more shows at Wolf Trap on the lawn than under the roof.

Speaking of shows we’ve seen there…Wolf Trap is a place we used to go a lot more often pre-kids than we do now and while Beth and I were on the lawn waiting for the show to start we made the amusing discovery that our lists of shows we remember seeing there have surprisingly little overlap. We’re both sure we saw performances of Beauty and the Beast and West Side Story there and probably the McGonagall sisters. But she doesn’t remember seeing a Buddy Holly tribute act I thought we saw there and she insists we’ve seen David Sedaris at one of the smaller, indoor theaters on the property and I thought surely I’d remember that because I really like him. We both think we might have seen the Indigo Girls there, but we’re not entirely certain. What has happened to our youth? I mean I know we’re not in our twenties or thirties anymore but shouldn’t we be able to at least remember that time? What are we going to reminisce about when we’re eighty?

I guess it’s a good thing I started blogging. At least there’s a record of our forties.

Anyway, back to the show. We got to the parking lot around 4:35 and walked to the lawn where we set up our blanket. We had to walk around a while to find a spot as the lawn was already packed but we found a place we could squeeze in with a good view of the stage. (The pictures were actually taken by our neighbor Chris, who was also at the show. They were on the opposite side of the lawn, so you can imagine us just to the side of the footbridge in the background of the picture.)

The show was very much as I expected. There was old-timey music including a Civil War song, a jazz band, a Guy Noir sketch, some Trump-related political satire, a parody of a Dylan song (“Don’t Think Twice”), and of course, the Lake Woebegon monologue. The only unexpected parts were the fifteen minutes before taping began when Keillor wandered through the audience, even up on the lawn, engaging in a sing-along with the audience. It being Memorial Day weekend, he started with a medley of patriotic songs, but soon it was Elvis Presley and the Beatles. (There was more singing with the audience after the taping ended as well.) I have to admit I was just a bit star-struck when he passed within fifty yards of us and then when he got back on stage and sang his opening song, “It’s Saturday, the band is playing/Honey, could we ask for more?” I felt a little thrill to actually be there.

About a half hour into the show, we dug into the picnic Beth packed for us, Havarti cheese, crackers, watermelon, a vegetable slaw, couscous salad, and chocolate chip cookies. The day had been hot—I thought he must have been very warm in that suit—but it cooled slowly as we sat on the grass and watched the golden evening light travel slowly down the backdrop of a gray frame house behind Keillor on the stage.

Soon it was over and we headed back to the parking lot, where, as Keillor had predicted from the stage, there was a terrible traffic jam. We sat in the car for over forty minutes before we could move at all. I guess that’s why some people left immediately after the monologue. Even so, we were home by 9:45, late for us to be out, but not too late.

Prairie Home Companion will still be on the air after Keillor retires. He’s handing it over to a new host, Chris Thile, next fall. Thile was actually at the show we saw, singing and playing mandolin. I look forward to seeing in what new direction he takes the show, but I know I will always miss Garrison Keillor.

Wednesday: Our Musical Garden

Three nights later June had her last concert with Mr. G. Let me tell you a little about him before I write about the concert. He’s the kind of teacher who show up for everything, and I mean everything. Any time we were at June’s school whether it was for Reading Night or STEM night or any other kind of night, there was Mr. G. I heard from parents of kids who went to one of the middle schools that June’s school feeds into that he would go to their band and orchestra concerts to see his former students play. When a friend of June’s who acts professionally was in a show, Mr. G was in the audience. He’s that kind of teacher.

You might think if you were in charge of instrumental music at two large and growing elementary schools—there are one hundred thirty kids in band and orchestra at June’s school alone—and the school district told you they wanted you to teach at just one, you might breathe a sigh of relief, but Mr. G said no, he’d prefer to stay at both schools.  He wasn’t allowed to, though, so this was our farewell concert with him.

As always, June put a lot of thought into what to wear. She needed a new top, as she wore sweaters to both the Holiday Sing and the Winter Concert earlier this year, and after an unusually cool May, warm and humid weather is here. She and Beth went to the thrift store the weekend before the concert to look for a “plain white blouse,” or that’s what I told them to do. Beth told me ahead of time, she doubted they’d be coming home with anything plain. What June chose was a lacy, knee-length, short-sleeved dress. She paired it with black capris and finished the outfit with music note socks and shiny black Mary Janes.

There was none of the usual rush to find sheet music because she’d left it at school during the rehearsal earlier that day. We all would have liked Noah to come, but he was sunk deep in homework (and would end up staying up late that night trying to finish a research project for Physics).

We made our way to the gym, took our seats in front of the orchestra, and looked at the program while the musicians warmed up. The theme of the concert was “Our Musical Garden” and many of the kids were wearing leis. At first we thought it was just the fifth graders but then we noticed some of the fourth graders had them, too.

I noticed that along with his trademark vest, Mr. G wore a tie with musical notes which reminded me of June’s socks and that reminded me that just before June’s birthday when she was having her music-themed party and I was looking everywhere for music note pajamas with no success, it was Mr. G who found some for her online. She wore those not only at the party but once or twice a week after that until the weather got too warm for them.

June had her lessons this year with a group of four other string players who had at least two years’ experience at the beginning of the school year. She was the least experienced of the group, having started violin the summer before second grade. They’ve been working on an arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” all year and it was the first song in the concert. She was gratified to finally play it for an audience.

Between the string quintet, the advanced orchestra, the combined orchestra, and the combined band and orchestra, June played twelve pieces of music. My favorite was “Sakura, Sakura” a Japanese piece meant to evoke cherry blossoms, but the Can-Can is always fun, especially as they play it faster and faster.

The concert was quite eclectic. There was classical music by Dvorák and Handel, folk songs, jazz, blues, music from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings. The fifth grade clarinets played “Kum-Bah-Yah” and the fifth grade trumpets played “Eight Days a Week.”

Here’s the string quintet playing Handel’s “Gavotte,” taken by mom of one of June’s friends.

In between the songs, a few students read original poems about their band and orchestra experiences.  Zoë’s was a limerick that started, “There once was a jolly old fellow/who even taught me to play the cello.” (That one was my favorite.) They ended the concert with “Ode to Joy,” which seemed appropriate to me because Mr. G brings so much joy to everything he does. When I asked June what she liked about him, she said, “He makes music fun.”

So thank you, Garrison Keillor and Mr. G. Thanks for the music and the fun. We really couldn’t have asked for more.

Girls on the Run

Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash
As we fell into the sun
And the first one said to the second one there
I hope you’re having fun

From “Band on the Run,” by Paul and Linda McCartney

At dinner last night, the night before the Girls on the Run Montgomery County 5K, June asked me if I was excited. Beth nodded her head subtly to prompt me, but I told the truth instead. I told June I was a little nervous, because I was planning to walk it instead of run it and even though I’d been told by one of the coaches that a lot of people do that, I was afraid I’d be the only one and I’d come in dead last.

June said she’d give me a dollar if I did. I asked what I’d get if I didn’t come in last, figuring it should be better than a dollar, but she said nothing, because she knew I wasn’t going to come in last.

June had been training since early March, running before school on Tuesdays and after school on Thursdays with the Girls on the Run chapter at her school. I hadn’t trained at all, because running’s not my thing and a three-mile walk isn’t beyond my capabilities. I was a little self-conscious, though, because a lot of parents I knew were running with their kids, and I needed to find June an alternate adult running buddy who could keep up with her, as all the girls are supposed to have a grown-up with them at all times. Her buddy ended up being Zoë’s grandmother, who’s currently in training for a half marathon. “Her whole family is into running,” June told me. Indeed, Zoë’s grandfather ran with her and her mom was one of the coaches and her older brother only skipped the race because he had a viola lesson.

We needed to be at the race site by eight in the morning, so Beth set her alarm for six-thirty so we could be out of the house by seven-thirty. June had requested a special pre-run breakfast of muffins, so we’d procured those the day before. I made a fried egg and a couple slices of veggie bacon to go with mine.

It was in the 50s and raining, well misting really, because why wouldn’t it be? It’s rained almost every day this month. It feels sometimes like we’ve been cheated out of May, which is one of the nicest months in the D.C. area most years. June and I both put long-sleeved shirts on under our race t-shirts and wore leggings (an article of clothing I normally reserve for wearing under skirts or to bed on cold winter nights). Once we were dressed Beth said we were “two girls on the run.”

We drove to the staging area for the race, a mall parking lot, and waited. The race wasn’t until nine, but they wanted everyone there early. There was a D.J. playing music and leading the assembled crowd in stretches. There were stations where you could buy merchandise and get your face painted or temporary dye for your hair. June didn’t need hair dye, though because she had just cashed in her birthday gift certificate for a new dye job the day before, after two months of waiting and wondering when she should use it. Beth had worried it might run in the rain, but I think June considered the satisfying possibility of showing up on race day with a new haircut and a quarter of her hair dyed in deep blue, purple, and fuchsia and decided this was the day. Indeed, there were a lot of exclamations about it, especially from Zoë who patted it and told her it looked pretty.

Of the thirteen third-to-fifth grade girls on June’s team, four were friends of June’s—Zoë, Evie, Claire, and Norma, plus Keira, a fifth grader who used to wait at June’s bus stop before she moved to a different part of town. Norma was wearing a jacket with the face of a Pokémon character on the hood, including ears. (It looked warm and I was wishing I had a jacket—with or without ears—as we waited in the rain and I started to get chilled.)  But in the vast crowd (there were over five thousand runners and who knows how many spectators) there were a lot of other girls we know who go to different elementary schools—preschool classmates, Girl Scout troop members, etc. Some of them we saw, others I only found out were there later, from their parents’ Facebook pictures.

The crowd was divided into three sections—purple, pink, and green—and the runners started in shifts. We were in the pink group, the middle one, so we started second. Walkers were instructed to stay on the right and I did. Right before we reached the starting line at 9:05, June gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek and she took off with Zoë’s grandmother.

It was a road race and the route wound around the mall and an office park, ending where it began, under a big inflatable arch. The runners separated from the walkers pretty quickly. As a result, I spent most of the race with walkers and reluctant runners, whose coaches—especially toward the end—had to keep wheedling them to run, against their tired protests.  “Why do you want to run so much?” one girl snapped irritably at her coach and another one swore she was never doing Girls on the Run again and was reminded by one of her teammates that she can’t do it again because she was in fifth grade. (There is a middle school program but it’s new and relatively small compared to the more established elementary school program.) I can only suppose that given the enthusiasm of June’s teammates, they weren’t saying anything like that to their coaches. I did see June once during the race as we travelled in opposite directions on opposite sides of a median. She waved at me happily and yelled, “Hi, Mommy!”

June says she alternated between jogging and walking but sprinted the last few hundred yards when the finish line was in sight. I alternated between walking briskly and walking at my normal pace. It was good to be moving, probably better than waiting at the sidelines like Beth, because once we got going I wasn’t cold any more, though it started to rain a little harder and I was getting pretty damp. I stopped at the water table and considered using a porta-potty along the route but decided against it because there was a line and I didn’t have to go that badly.

I checked my time when I crossed the finish line—it was 10:04, which means I’d finished it under an hour. I wasn’t last, though it was a close thing. I heard the announcer saying the last runners were coming down the last hill before the straightaway while I was in one of the porta-potties at the finish line. I collected a bottle of water and a strawberry cereal bar and went to find June’s team, who were all there except one girl. Beth estimated June did the race in about forty minutes, about halfway between the first finisher, a middle school girl who finished in twenty minutes and the walkers who brought up the rear. This would be a personal best for June, who had completed a couple practice runs in about fifty minutes. The last runner from June’s team arrived and the girls got pictures taken with their medals and the race was over.

Rather than wait in traffic while every other family in the county with a third-to-fifth grade girl exited the parking garage, we went into the mall and got mochas and hot tea at Peet’s.

“Did you have fun?” I asked June.

“Yes. Did you?” I said.

“Yes,” I answered truthfully.

“Maybe I’ll do it next year,” Beth said. I’d be happy to have her company as a third girl on the run.

Three Days in May

I. Cinco de Mayo

If Noah’s birthday was the day we needed everything to go like clockwork and it did, two days later, things were a bit rougher around the edges.

Here is my first Facebook post from that day:

May 5, 10:59 a.m.

Steph found June’s sneakers under the dining room table on the morning of the day she’s supposed to be running a practice 5K after school. Questions about whether or not she has time to take the shoes to school (probably) and whether this would constitute helicopter parenting (quite possibly) are swirling around in her head.

Interestingly enough, all the people who offered an opinion on whether I should take the sneakers or not were women over seventy, all of whom are grandmothers (Beth’s mom and two of her aunts, plus a friend of my mom’s). They all thought I should do it. Presumably, no one currently raising kids wanted to tell me what to do for fear of seeming to label me as too involved or not involved enough, depending on what I chose to do.

I did take the sneakers (after having emailed the coach to find out if June would be allowed to run in crocs and finding out the answer was no). While I was at her school I picked up her violin so she wouldn’t have to leave it by the side of the middle school track where her team was practicing. I left the sneakers at in the main office with a note inside one of them letting her know I had the violin.

The note was because they couldn’t page June to come down and get her sneakers right away because the fourth grade was on another field trip—this one to the Chesapeake Bay where they would wade in the water, touch crabs, and try to catch eels in nets. I’d volunteered to be a chaperone on this trip as well, but I didn’t expect to be picked so soon after the St. Mary’s trip and I wasn’t. The funny thing is that before St. Mary’s I hadn’t chaperoned a field trip since June was in preschool when I went with her class to the Portrait Gallery. (Beth went to Air and Space with her class when she was in second grade.) I’d always think I didn’t have time and maybe I’d do the next one. But then I started thinking about how they don’t ask for chaperones for middle school field trips and June has only a little over a year of elementary school left. There aren’t very many next ones left.

One of the reasons I had time to make the trip to June’s school on Thursday was that I’d front-loaded my work that week in hopes of going to the Interdisciplinary presentation at Noah’s school on Friday. This is something the CAP students do once a quarter. They have an intensive week-long experience with one of their teachers, spending half the school day in that class, during which they do some kind of hands-on learning based on a historical period. This week was the 1960s to 80s and Noah was in drama class, so he was in a skit that took place in the 80s. I really don’t know much more about it than that because he didn’t want us to come and we didn’t. He hasn’t wanted us to come to any of the Interdisciplinary presentations. This breaks my heart a little, as I loved see him perform at this kind of thing when he was in the Humanities magnet in middle school and he used to want us to come, not so long ago. I almost went anyway and I was struggling with the decision for much of the day Thursday because this is the last quarter and it was my last chance to see a ninth-grade Interdisciplinary presentation.

So, faced with decisions about how to mother, or specifically how much to hover around the kids, I did what I thought June would want and what I knew Noah wanted. What kids want isn’t always what they need or the right thing to do, but often it’s a decent tie-breaker. June actually seemed to take it for granted that I delivered the sneakers. Beth had to nudge her to say “thank you” that evening. Also, it was a good thing I got the violin because the note got lost somewhere in the shuffle and she forgot to get the violin and came home apologizing for leaving it at school.

Here’s my second Facebook post of the day:

May 5, 8:31 p.m.

Steph now realizes the sneakers were just the warning shot across the bow of this day. Since then Steph has passed a foggy, unfocused day in which she had opportunity to think “what happened to the last 45 minutes?” more than once; June came home without her backpack and coat; Noah missed his bus to drum lesson, walked a couple blocks to a less familiar bus route, took it going the wrong way and missed his lesson; and Beth came home and mentioned she’d accidentally bought a birthday card for her mother instead of a Mother’s Day card. Possibly the whole family should just go to bed right now.

I don’t really want to say much more about this, other than it was stressful exchanging phone calls and texts with Noah while he was lost because both the home phone and my cell were experiencing some kind of problem which made it hard for me to hear what he was saying. His voice was garbled and going in and out. I managed to give him a little guidance, but for the most part he figured out where he was and how to get home on his own, with the help of maps on his phone.

As a result of making this series of calls, and spending some time helping June come up with strategies for adding and subtracting fractions after she got home at nearly 5:30, I had to scrap my dinner plans for a baked nacho casserole and made nachos in the microwave or canned soup for everyone, depending on their preferences. And that was our Cinco de Mayo.

II. Mother’s Day

Three days later Mother’s Day started with breakfast in bed, courtesy of June. She was in our room at seven on the dot (the earliest she’s allowed to come in) with strawberry toaster pastries, fruit salad, and orange juice. Once Noah was up (about an hour later), we opened our cards and presents—Beth got a stack of dark chocolate bars from June and a gift certificate from our local bookstore from Noah. I got three bars of soap from June (lavender-vanilla, gardenia-orange, and jasmine-lemon) and an umbrella from Noah. (I recently lost mine, so of course it rained every day for over two weeks, breaking a record set in the 1970s.) June made us a joint card with a heart that says “Beth + Mommy = Awesome.” Noah made us two cards, with photographs of us on the front and nice pencil illustrations of our presents inside. Mine shows not just an an umbrella but the actual five-day forecast chart from the newspaper, calling for, you guessed it, more rain.

Mother’s Day gave me yet another opportunity to reflect on the kids’ relative independence, though this time it was June who was edging toward it. She bought her present for me in a store alone for the first time, the weekend before.  Now it was with cash I gave her and I was standing right outside the store, but she was proud of herself nonetheless. And she must have charmed the cashier because she emerged with her purchase in a pink bag with multicolored ribbons while my gift to my own mother had been handed over in a plain brown paper bag. June also knew just what she wanted for Beth so we took care of it all in one outing. I don’t know what process led to Noah getting his gift to me, but it took more prodding on my part than I’d like for him to finally decide what he was going to get Beth and to actually get it. In the end, though, he came through with good gifts for both of us.

The rest of the day unfolded like a normal Sunday in May. Beth and June went grocery shopping. There’s usually a photo booth at the Grant Street Market on Mothers’ Day where Beth and June have a tradition of taking a photo with some kind of prop, but it wasn’t there this year so they had to make do with a selfie, using a carnation they found on the street. I swam laps and went to the library. I read to both kids (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to June, Fellowship of the Ring to Noah) and continued to help June with her fractions. Beth mowed the back yard, did some gardening, and made dinner—veggie hot dogs and burgers, fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, grilled eggplant and asparagus—which we ate in the back yard. For dessert we had frozen treats from the ice cream truck. I’d been thinking of making strawberry shortcake, but I’m waiting for local strawberries to peak and there weren’t any at the farmers’ market after two weeks of good but not great berries.

III: 49

I turned forty-nine the following Wednesday. I had lunch with my friend Becky, at Kin Da, a Thai and sushi restaurant. Because we are both in our late forties, there was a moment when we were both searching all our pockets and bags for our reading glasses and wondering how we’d read the menu if neither of us found them. Luckily, we both did and she ordered soup and sushi and I got drunken noodles with tofu. I’d intended to get a Thai iced tea because I really like it but I rarely get one because I usually don’t want the caffeine at dinner. It was a rainy, chilly day, though, so hot green tea seemed more appealing once I was there. Becky’s daughter Eleanor is a high school senior, so we talked a lot about high school, and Becky, understandably, was feeling bittersweet about it all. She said I might find her weeping on a bench in downtown Takoma some time three months hence and I said if I did I’d sit down next to her wordlessly and just be with her.

Because it was a weeknight and Noah had a history chapter to read and outline, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to go out to dinner, but he finished in time and we went, but only after some grumpiness about my restaurant choice—Austin Grill, where I often like to go on my birthday. I like the strawberry lemonade and the enchiladas and sitting outside on a warm night. Well, it wasn’t a warm night—our run of cold, wet weather continues apace—but I still associate it with my birthday.  When we got to Silver Spring, however, we found it was closed.

So we looked at the menu at A.G. Kitchen, a Latin American fusion restaurant, which is in the same plaza. Seeing us perusing the menu someone came out and offered us a sample of the guacamole. We decided to give it a try. Once seated, we helped the kids select dishes they might like (beans and rice, green beans, and fries for June; asparagus and a big spinach empanada for Noah). Beth and I split another spinach empanada and we each got an order of wild mushroom mini tacos. Everything was very good—I think we may go back there.

Everyone ate their food without complaint, and everyone gave me presents. Beth got me tickets to see Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap. I asked because Garrison Keillor is retiring this summer and it’s my last chance to go, and I’ve literally been meaning to go to one of his shows for decades. I think it will be fun. Noah got me a gift certificate for the same bookstore where he got Beth’s Mother’s Day present. And June made me a homemade gift certificate good for my choice of various activities with her. I’m supposed to choose three, so I think I’m going to watch a movie with her, take her swimming, and have her help me in the garden.

At home, we ate the ice cream cake we bought the weekend before and our annual series of early-to-mid May birthdays and holidays was a wrap.

Fifteen

Noah’s birthday was on Tuesday and Tuesdays are so busy we had to make a plan two days ahead of time to determine when the four of us would all be home and awake at the same time in order for him to open his presents and eat cake.

We settled on before school for the presents if he could be ready before his usual leaving time of seven. June has before-school running club practice on Tuesdays but she leaves for that at 7:20 so it wasn’t really a factor, or it wouldn’t have been if she hadn’t also needed to squeeze a fifteen-minute violin practice in before the running club meeting. The next day was Bike-to-School Day and she wanted to participate so she needed to take her violin to school on Tuesday and leave it in the music room for her Wednesday lesson and I didn’t want her missing practice two days in row. (She would also be unable to bring the violin home on Wednesday because she’d be biking home as well, so it wouldn’t get home until Thursday.)

Beth’s been working long hours for the past few weeks because of the Verizon strike so there was only a slim chance of her getting home by the time June would leave for Girl Scouts at 6:20, so cake would have to wait until June got back from Scouts, even though that would probably keep her up past her 8:30 bed time.

On the big day Noah was ready by 6:50 so we gathered while he opened his cards and presents: a new phone case, an Amazon gift card, a couple t-shirts, the last two novels from the Chaos Walking trilogy, and a subscription to the Zingerman’s Bread-of-the-Month Club. Noah is a big fan of bread in general and this catalog in particular. (The first loaf, a mix of wheat, rye, and cornmeal came the next day and it was really good.) He seemed happy with everything and headed off to school. And June managed to get her violin practice done before her ride to running club came. Everything was going according to plan.

When Noah got home from school there was a birthday card and check from my mom that had arrived in that day’s mail. (She was surprised it came on time because she and my stepfather are on a long tour of Western national parks and she’d had trouble finding a mailbox and had mailed it only the day before, from Utah). To our surprise and amusement, it was the exact same card Beth’s mom got for him. Over the course of the day both grandmothers also called with birthday greetings. He didn’t have much homework so he was able to have an unhurried conversation with each of them and to play his drums. He’s been playing a lot recently, which I like to hear because when he does I know he’s doing something he enjoys.

Noah had asked if we could go to Noodles and Company for his birthday dinner—because if there’s a food he likes more than bread it’s pasta—but time didn’t permit, so we told him we’d go over the weekend. In the meanwhile, I tried to recreate the dish he often gets—egg noodles with marinated tofu, broccoli, matchstick carrots, and grated Parmesan. I even did some online research about the Noodles and Company marinade. Of course, the official recipe is not available, but people have made guesses and posted them. I also found a message board with someone purporting to have worked at Noodles and Company, who provided the main ingredients (soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar) but not the proportions. I did my best with the information I had.

The tofu wasn’t exactly right, everyone agreed, but I did my best and Noah gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for making me Noodles and Company.” We were eating when Beth got home. She actually arrived before June’s ride to Scouts came, but only by five minutes and she hadn’t frosted the cake yet, so we waited for June to come home before we ate it.

Then the girl in the Girls Scouts carpool Beth usually takes home didn’t go to the meeting that night, so Beth and June were home earlier than expected and we didn’t have to rush through the cake and ice cream. The cake was one of Beth’s specialties—strawberry cake with strawberry frosting and we had a couple pints of Ben and Jerry’s to go with it. We sang “Happy Birthday” to him, loudly and enthusiastically.

Noah’s birthday was the day of the Indiana primary and that night Ted Cruz dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, essentially handing it over to Donald Trump then and there, rather than waiting for the inevitable. After June had gone to bed, Noah and I discussed the race briefly. He, like so many Americans, is alarmed by the turn it has taken. I tried to reassure him that Clinton’s going to win the general, but he said, rather emphatically for my even-keeled son, “But how do you know that?” I don’t, of course. I wished his birthday could have ended on a better note.

But we weren’t quite finished celebrating it. We went out to zPizza and Cold Stone on Friday night and we’re going out for Noodles and Company tonight, both at Noah’s request. While we were at Cold Stone last night, I checked out their ice cream cakes and picked one out for my own birthday next week. It seemed like the efficient thing to do and I’ve had that red velvet-strawberry ice cream cake before and it’s good.

When I learned shortly before Noah’s birthday that there was a Taylor Swift song called “Fifteen,” I looked up the lyrics, wondering if there would be anything applicable. There wasn’t much actually. It’s about starting high school and he did that eight months ago and it’s about falling in love and if he’s done that, he hasn’t mentioned it to us.

But the line, “This is life before you know who you’re gonna be,” jumped out at me. I wondered how true it is. When I think of myself at that age, I see a lot of who I am now. I was a bookish, shy fifteen year old then and I’m a bookish, shy (almost) forty-nine year old now. I fell in love with a girl for the first time the spring I was fifteen and now I’m married to the second girl I fell for (just five years later).

So how much will Noah change over the years? Some, no doubt, maybe a lot; some people do change a lot from the teen years to adulthood, so I guess it’s true we don’t know who he’s going to be yet. But I’m pretty sure that the man he grows into will appreciate bread and pizza and pasta and making music. And I don’t think he’ll be voting for Donald Trump, if he ever runs for President again.

The Accidental Chaperone

I was surprised on Monday afternoon when June brought home the sheet of paper indicating I was a chaperone alternate for the field trip to the living history museum in St. Mary’s City the next day. I’d checked off the chaperone box when I filled out her permission slip—Beth and I agreed one of us would go but we hadn’t worked out which one of us. And then I got an email saying there were more people who wanted to chaperone than slots and it was a busy week for Beth because CWA is on strike at Verizon, so it seemed just as well.

However, the email said you could show up at school and see if there were any last minute openings, but I wasn’t planning to do that. In general, I prefer to know how my day is going to unfold well in advance. The fourth grade will be taking another field trip to the Chesapeake Bay later in the school year and we’d have priority for that trip if we sat this one out.

But then the paper June brought home Monday seemed to indicate they actually wanted people to come to school and see if there was space, so I decided I’d pack a lunch and bring the $10 admission fee with me when I dropped her off at school, just in case. June really wanted one of us to come and I thought I should make an attempt, though I didn’t expect anything to come of it. I had work, but no deadlines until the following week, so it was possible for me to go.

The time students were supposed to arrive was stated in different communications to be, variously, 7:30, 7:40, or 7:45. We aimed for the middle and got there just before 7:40. We saw June’s English/Social Studies teacher in the hall on our way to the cafeteria where the kids were gathering, and she said she thought there would be room on the buses because three fourth graders have recently transferred to other schools. And then the teacher with the clipboard taking chaperones’ names and cell phone numbers and collecting money said in addition one fourth grader was absent, so he also thought I could go.

I texted Beth “Looks like I’m going on this trip,” so she’d know where I was.

Knowing my aversion to spontaneity, she texted back, “You are a very good mom.”

So I settled in to wait with June and her friends in the cafeteria. The buses didn’t arrive on time, so we didn’t actually get underway until almost 8:30. The five fourth grade classes were split across three charter buses and there was a little confusion about where everyone should sit, so I wasn’t convinced that I was really going on this field trip until the bus was in motion and I was still on board.

The kids were excited to be on a bus with plush seats, a bathroom, and best of all, several television screens. June and I sat in the last row of seats, just opposite the bathroom, with her friends Zoë and Evie in the row in front of us.

Shortly after we got underway The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe started playing. June and I read the Chronicles of Narnia last summer and fall and at first she seemed excited to see it, even though she was lukewarm about the books. But the sound was not turned up very high, so her attention wandered. I don’t think I could have followed if I wasn’t familiar with the story—but having read the series over and over as a kid and once aloud to each of my kids, and having seen this adaptation about five years ago—I am very familiar. I can’t read on moving vehicles without getting sick and I was wary of putting on my headphones and thus missing any announcements or instructions so the diversion was welcome. June went back and forth between watching the movie, reading a Dork Diaries book, talking and playing hangman with Zoë and Evie and looking out the window.

We arrived at the St. Mary’s historic site around 10:30. It had been raining when we left and I’d been hoping it would clear up while we were on the bus, but it was still gray and drizzly when we got there. In case you or one of your kids hasn’t been a fourth grader in Maryland, St. Mary’s City was the first English settlement in the state and it was also the first capital of Maryland. All the fourth graders in our county study its history and culture for much of the year and then visit it in the spring.

We started with the Yaocomaco Indian village. There were several houses made of bent saplings and grass, with beds and household tools inside. The guide pointed out a woven shelter in the garden area where boys had to sit with a basket of rocks to throw at garden pests. I asked June if she’d like that chore this summer and she said no. There were no actors in the Yaocomaco village, but apparently current members of the Piscataway tribe do occasionally act out scenes there.

From there we moved to a tobacco plantation where we met an indentured servant who was making mint tea in the kitchen of the planters’ house. She explained you could tell her master was prosperous because he had a two-story house with glass windows and a wooden floor. The guide took us out to the garden, which wasn’t planted yet but explained that all food and medicine would come from the garden, as it was “the CVS of the seventeenth century.” We saw some livestock around the house, mostly cows and chickens, though I caught a glimpse of a pig in the woods.

Our next stop was the town itself where we visited a tobacco barn, a general store (“the Walmart of the seventeenth century”), and a print shop (“the Staples of the seventeenth century”). At each stop we met actors playing the parts of a farmer, another indentured servant, a storekeeper, and a printer. I asked June as we walked from one building to another if there were any slaves in St. Mary’s. It was a tobacco farming community so I thought there must have been. June was well informed on the point, “Not until the eighteenth century,” she told me.

As we moved from building to building, a few kids were picked as volunteers to shape an axe blade, to use the counting board to calculate a shoppers’ bill, or to ink the letters on the printing press. At the inn, our guide picked kids and told stories about reasons why they were staying at the inn—to appear in court was a popular one—and then had them lie down on the bed. Evie was being tried for witchcraft and she could be heard later in the day declaring, “I’m a witch!” with some enthusiasm.

When it was Zoë’s turn the guide was telling a story about a man travelling to meet his girlfriend who would soon arrive by ship. After she’d referred to Zoë, who has short hair, as “he” and “Joey” a few times, I started to wonder if I should correct her. I was standing close enough to lean in and whisper. But I wasn’t sure if Zoë would appreciate that or find it more embarrassing. While I was equivocating, the kids started to giggle, and when they did the guide shushed them and said to Zoë, “You’re a good sport, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am a good sport,” Zoë said. “I’m also a girl and my name is Zoë.” Her tone was just right, not disrespectful, but self-assured. I could not have pulled that off in fourth grade.

We took a break then to have lunch in the bus because it was still raining and we watched a little more of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as we ate. I hadn’t eaten much breakfast, thinking I was just dropping June off at school, so I was pretty hungry by that point. My apple and container of vanilla Greek yogurt didn’t seem quite sufficient, but it was what I had. Worse still, the pint of bottled water June and I were sharing was definitely not enough for a whole day. I’d thought there would be water fountains somewhere, but there were no water fountains in the seventeenth century.

Our last stop was the Dove, a recreation of one of the boats that brought supplies to the colonists and carried tobacco back to England. June was most excited to see this as they had studied the boat. After touring the boat itself we went to various stations on the dock where a block and tackle and different navigational tools were demonstrated.

At the very last station, the guide asked for anyone who hadn’t volunteered yet, and June, who’d patiently raised her hand at every station and two other girls who were also never picked seemed about to get their turns. The artifact was a “honey bucket” to carry human waste to be thrown overboard. The guide explained its use but never asked the volunteers to do anything (though at this station I’m not sure anyone would want to demonstrate). When the group was dismissed, one of the girls lost her temper, asking, “Why did you ask for volunteers?” but there was no answer. June was a bit put out, too, but she didn’t let it spoil her mood.

We all trooped back to the bus. We’d been running a half hour late ever since we left the school and then around forty-five minutes into the ride one of the buses overheated and ours stopped, too, in order to stick together. We were stopped about twenty minutes, so we were almost an hour late returning to school. There was another movie to watch, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. By the end of the day the bathroom on the bus was starting to smell like a honey bucket. I was sorry to be sitting so near it and I was also getting dehydrated and headachy and I was hungry, too.

We went into June’s school to fill our water bottle before walking the mile home, but I couldn’t shake the headache, so instead of making black bean and spinach tacos for dinner as I’d planned, I just heated up a vegetarian hot dog for June (she got herself some strawberries), ate some cottage cheese straight out the container, told Noah to make himself something for dinner, took a painkiller and went to lie down for a while.

Eventually I felt well enough to read a chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to June on the porch while we waited for her ride to her Girl Scout meeting, but the family who usually drives her to Girl Scouts forgot so she missed the meeting.

This seemed par for the course as it had been a day of the unexpected, both good and bad, but I was glad to have spent part of it in the seventeenth century with my favorite lass.

Wonder: Spring Break Report #3

Friday morning I was reminding June to get dressed so we could go to the Wonder exhibit at the Renwick Gallery. “If you don’t, everyone there will wonder why that girl is in her pajamas,” I told her. She was gracious enough to laugh at my joke. She usually does.

The Renwick was closed for two years for renovations to the building and when they re-opened in November, they celebrated with nine installations created specifically to showcase the building. I’ve been seeing people’s pictures of the exhibit for months and we finally got around to going on Friday, toward the end of the kids’ spring break.

Noah elected to stay home, but we invited Megan, and she was enthusiastic. We picked her up at her house at 9:30, drove to the Metro stop, took a train into the city and walked to the gallery. The first installation we saw was made of index cards set at different angles and piled into what looked like stalagmites or canyon rock formations. It was very cool, but the girls didn’t stay long in that room because they could see the rainbow in the next room and were drawn to it. From the pictures I’d seen online I thought this was made of projected light, but it’s actually colored threads.

The next room, filled with giant nests made of bent saplings, with doors to walk in and windows to look out, was also popular. The girls wanted to go back to that one once we had seen everything so they could go into more of them and pretend to be birds.

Some of the artists took the mission of fitting into the space literally. One artist took a mold of a living tree that was the same age as the Renwick building (about one hundred fifty years) and the rebuilt its exact shape with tiny cedar blocks that Megan said looked like Jenga blocks. The tree was hollow and laid on its side, suspended so you could stand by the roots and look into its interior. Another artist used the one hundred foot-long grand salon as the setting to explore the hundred foot-long waves of the 2011 Japanese tsunami by recreating the shape of the energy waves it produced in net-like fabric. This hung from the ceiling with different colors of light projected on it. The space was carpeted so a lot of people, including June and Megan, lay on the floor to look at it. They said they’d like to share a huge bedroom like that, with two beds.

Maya Lin took local inspiration in the Chesapeake Bay, creating a map of the bay and its tributaries in blue-green marbles on the floor, walls, and ceiling of a smaller room. There was also a room with large bugs all over the walls in decorative patterns, a maze made of strips of old tires woven into walls, and a group of rods studded with white LED lights twinkling in never-repeating patterns hanging above a staircase, like a chandelier. The gallery is going to keep this one permanently.

The text at the beginning of the exhibit said the art was meant to inspire awe and when we’d been through it the girls agreed it was “awesome,” so I guess it worked.

We visited the gift shop because Megan had some money burning a hole in her pocket and wanted a souvenir, but it turned out it was “the most expensive gift shop ever!” and both girls had to be satisfied with the free exhibit brochures. Megan was generous enough to leave some cash in the donation box and she thanked us twice for taking her.

After we left the museum we walked by the White House, because it was close, and then to Farragut Square, where we patronized the food trucks that line up there and ate on benches in the park, where red tulips are in bloom. The girls got pizza and tater tots and Beth and I got a mushroom sushi roll, edamame, and seaweed salad. There was a FroZenYo around the corner, so we got frozen yogurt, too.

We took Megan to our house to continue the play date. I’d originally said we’d keep her until three, but we extended it until four because as I told Megan’s mom, “They don’t seem to be tired of each other.” They rarely are. I am quite fond of Megan myself, in the special way you are of your children’s best friends. Friendship is a wonder, too, and it’s rewarding to see how it unfolds in your child’s life.

There was a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote on the wall of the exhibit that I think applies:

“Man is surprised to find that things near are not less beautiful and wondrous than things remote.” I think ten-year-old girls might find that to be true, as well.

Portals: Spring Break Report #2

Monday

Monday morning at 10:25 we left for the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, where we’d rented a chalet in the woods for two nights. As we drove to higher elevations, I could see the shadows of clouds on the hills. I remembered how when we drove east across North Carolina last spring break I could see the spring advancing as we drove and I wondered if it would be the reverse this time. At home the flowering trees were all in bloom except the dogwoods and maybe a quarter of the non-flowering trees had tiny green leaves. In Virginia and West Virginia, there were flowering trees everywhere, including an apple orchard blooming prettily about an hour into the drive. I saw forsythia, redbud, and daffodils everywhere, but by the end of our journey I wasn’t seeing leaves on trees any more, except on the willows.

On the way we stopped at Skyline Caverns. Somehow we’ve neglected to ever take June to a cave, though Noah’s been to at least two, and she squealed with excitement as we pulled into the parking lot. We arrived at 11:55 and had to wait twenty minutes for the next tour, so we perused the gift shop. June found a bin of rubber snakes she thought I might like for my anti-rabbit campaign in the garden. I did buy one.

Skyline Caverns is modest as tourist caverns go, but it has the essentials—stalactites, stalagmites and flowstone. And it has a unique feature, a spiky formation called anthodite. It looks kind of like sea anemones stuck to the ceiling. There are also a lot of streams and pools of water that reflect and double all the formations in fanciful ways.

The guide kept the cheesy jokes to the minimum and always gave warning before he plunging us into total cave darkness so June could scurry over to me to hold hands. We didn’t see any animals other than the trout they stock in one of the pools. But there are bats in the parts of the caves where the tours don’t go and the guide told us about a species of tiny eyeless beetles, now thought to be extinct, that once lived in the cave, as well as a rare snail, found only there and in a cave in Germany. (“That snail is better travelled than most,” Noah joked.) June was entranced. When I asked her what she liked best, she said, “Everything!” and afterward she kept repeating cave facts to us, as if we hadn’t heard them ourselves. It made me think we should take her to a bigger cave someday.

After lunch at a pizza place and ice cream, we drove to the chalet. It was high up in the sky and surrounded by trees, with a hot tub on the deck and a Jacuzzi tub in the upstairs bedroom. Our bedroom was a loft overlooking the living room and the woods, visible from the two-story picture window at the front of the house.

June tried out the hot tub right away, while Noah and I read To Kill a Mockingbird in the loft. We were up to the trial. I made dinner—roast asparagus, egg salad (made from our Easter eggs) and fried tofu. Afterwards, June had a bath in the Jacuzzi. I sat perched on the edge of it, with my legs in the warm, bubbly water, reading to her the twelfth and final book in the How to Train Your Dragon series, a birthday present. As I read, I didn’t realize the plug wasn’t in securely and the water level dipped below the jets. Suddenly water was shooting from them, into the air and splashing the whole bathroom. I bolted for the switch on the wall and then had to spend quite a long time, mopping water off the floor and changing into dry clothes. June got out of the bath and it wasn’t until she was in her pajamas that we realized in all the excitement she never actually soaped up or shampooed. We decided to leave that for the next day.

Tuesday

The next morning we left around ten to go on an expedition to the Paw Paw Tunnel trail. Noah was reluctant to go on a hike and after an hour of driving to our destination, asked, “Wasn’t there a closer trail?”

“There were a lot of closer trails, but this was the one I wanted,” Beth replied.

We walked a half-mile between the Potomac River and the C&O canal to get to the tunnel. June wanted to climb up the stairs at the mouth of the tunnel, so I went up with her. She was startled and a little spooked to see there was no rail up there. She noted it was scarier coming down than going up, but we made it down safely.

We entered the tunnel. The canal was on the left and we walked on the towpath where mules once pulled boats through the tunnel. Here there was a rail and that was a good thing because it was dark in there and the ground was muddy. Water dripped from the ceiling, especially at either end, and Beth and Noah used the flashlights on their cell phones to light the floor, so we could avoid puddles. The tunnel is about three-fifths of a mile long and when you’re far from either exit, it’s just the right amount of creepy to feel like an adventure. It took us at least ten minutes to cross.

At the exit, we were faced with a long, deep layer of mud, water, and dead leaves. Beth tried one side and it looked like her feet were sinking so I tried the other side and it was worse. I got one sneaker drenched on one side and the other one completely submerged. The kids did better, using a downed stick as a kind of bridge. Once we were across we were rewarded with a pretty waterfall on the other side of the canal.

Having been through the hill the tunnel traverses, now we needed to take the trail around and over it to get back. It was two miles of switchbacks up and then down. Once we got some height, the kids wanted to throw sticks and rocks into the canal and listen to the satisfying splash they made. Noah got one stick all the way across the canal, where it lodged in a cleft in the rock face. It was around here Noah forgot to be grumpy about being on a hike and seemed to be enjoying himself.

Near the summit, we rested and ate some trail mix. I was happy to be headed downhill soon after that. On this part of the hike, we now had nice views of the Potomac and the rivers and farmland behind the river. All along the trail there were tiny purple flowers and white ones Beth thought might be mountain laurel and little butterflies with pale purple and blue spotted wings.

Back at the tunnel entrance, June wanted to climb up again. It had scared her the first time, so she wanted to conquer that fear. It’s how she is. This time Noah went up with her instead of me.

We had lunch at a sandwich shop, were Beth and I got very tasty avocado Reubens. From there we headed to the famous springs.

Berkeley Springs State Park is the site of several warm water springs that were used medicinally by first Native Americans and then colonists, including George Washington, and pretty much ever since then. It’s been a park since the 1930s, which means you can soak your feet in the source of one of the springs, which is enclosed in a concrete rectangle, watch the water flow through canals into the spas, or fill a water bottle from water fountains for free.

There are also indoor baths where you can immerse yourself in the mineral-rich water for a fee. We went to the Roman baths, which are narrow rooms mostly taken up with something that’s between a large, tiled bathtub and a small swimming pool. You can rent them for a half hour, which we did. There’s a pitcher of water to drink in case you get thirsty in the warm water, which we did, and every now and then we’d add some cool water from the spigot, or get out to cool down. Noah perched for a while on the windowsill.

Beth and I had visited the baths some time pre-kids and we hadn’t been back since, and it’s a little less relaxing with kids splashing each other (both of them) or trying to swim over the limbs of everyone else who is sitting in the warm water (June). It was nice, though, especially after a hike. I left feeling very relaxed. Even Noah, who had said before the outing he didn’t want to go to the baths decided, “I guess it wasn’t that bad.”

We’d been planning to eat dinner out, but it had been a long day and we’d had a late lunch, so we just picked up some food at a health food store and took it back to the chalet to eat there. As we were leaving Berkeley Springs, I noticed a New Age shop called Portals, and I asked everyone where his or her personal portal would go, if we could all have one. No one had to guess mine. It would go to Rehoboth, of course. Beth had to think about it and said somewhere in West Virginia, but she wasn’t sure where, maybe Blackwater Falls and June said “Grandmom’s house” in Oregon because we don’t get to see her as much since she moved west a few years ago. Noah said instead of a place, he’d like his to go to another dimension, one in which he never had homework.

He was taking a three-day break from homework on this trip, with the exception of reading two chapters from To Kill A Mockingbird every day and when we got back to the chalet, we did that, and then we had dinner and made S’mores in the fireplace. It had been such an active day I thought I’d go right to sleep, but perversely, I couldn’t sleep for a long time, and then I was up in the middle of the night for a while so the next day I was sleepy and subdued.

Wednesday

The next morning before we left, Beth, June and I checked out the recreation center associated with the group of houses where we were staying. The pool was in use for a water aerobics class when we arrived so Beth and June shot basketballs while I watched. June couldn’t resist giving Beth pointers on how to pivot and shoot and she sounded just like her coach when she did so, even down to his intonation and wording.

When the aerobics class exited the pool, we had a quick swim. June is taking swimming lessons so she can pass the swimming test at Girl Scout camp this summer and be allowed in the deep end. She showed me her crawl and backstroke.

Next we packed up the house and drove home, stopping in Frederick, Maryland for a couple hours to have lunch and walk around the downtown. Then we drove another hour and we were home.

Travel isn’t exactly like having your own portal that transports you somewhere else, with no expenditure of time or money, but it does take you out of your own reality, even if for a few shorts days, and that’s usually a good thing.

Lovely Blossoms: Spring Break Report #1

On the first day of spring break June asked me some questions about her donor for a family history school project and I dug out his file, which I hadn’t looked at in years. I noted he’d taken a personality test and was an extrovert. I don’t think I paid much attention to this at the time we selected him, but it certainly explains a lot. For instance, we were looking at the file soon after June got home from back-to-back play dates, one at Megan’s house and then she and Maggie arranged to meet at the playground. Afterward, completely without irony, she said she hoped she had more to do the next day than she’d had to do that day because there had been too much down time. So it was a good thing we took her on a five and a half hour-excursion to the Tidal Basin the second day of spring break.

June wanted to dress like a cherry blossom for the occasion. She found pink sweatpants, socks, and crocs, but she had no pink shirts, so she settled on a white one, reasoning that some of the blossoms are white. She finished the outfit with a pink headband with white dots. Later on Facebook, Beth’s mom opined June made a “lovely blossom.” I have to agree.

Meanwhile, Beth wore a long-sleeved t-shirt with pictures of actual cherry blossoms she bought during some previous Cherry Blossom Festival. This was good, but Noah and I were in various shades of blue, brown, and gray and completely without floral design. Beth said I looked like a dead, dried up cherry blossom in my gray turtleneck, and June thought this was pretty funny. And actually, I had been feeling kind of like a dried up blossom for at least a week, headachy and easily fatigued.

We left a little before ten, took a bus to the Metro and then stopped at the Starbucks in Union Station for treats. Still in the cherry blossom spirit, June got a Cherry Blossom frappuchino. Beth tasted it and thought it was actually strawberry. I thought it might be raspberry, but I looked it up and she was right. It also had a green tea drizzle, either to evoke the stems or to give it an Asian twist. I decided to get into the spirit, too, and I got a cherry-oat bar and a hot green tea. Soon after I drank the tea, the caffeine chased my headache away and it didn’t come back the next morning as I feared it might.

From Union Station we took a circulator bus to the Tidal Basin. It was raining as we got off the bus and we’d elected not to bring umbrellas, which was seeming like a bad idea at the moment, but it wasn’t raining too hard and it stopped after ten or fifteen minutes so we didn’t get drenched.

We picked just the right day to go. We mainly picked it because Beth had the day off for Good Friday and the crowds would be less than over Easter weekend, but it happened to be the peak bloom day. All the trees were covered with puffy pink and white blooms, the slender saplings and the gnarled old ones. We walked all the way around the Tidal Basin, stopping at the MLK, Jefferson, and FDR memorials, reading the quotes carved in stone.

We lingered at the FDR Memorial the longest, because it’s the most interactive, with the most things to look at and read. I like the MLK memorial, but Beth and I were talking afterward about how they could have made it about the whole civil rights movement in the way the FDR memorial is about the Depression and WWII. From June’s point of view, the FDR memorial is the best because it has big blocks of stone to climb. Unfortunately, she slipped on the wet stone and banged the back of her head so hard it made an audible crack. Beth and I were checking her for signs of concussion the rest of the day but she seems to be okay.

On the way home, we had a late lunch at Union Station. The kids got pasta from Sbarro and I had a spinach Stromboli. Beth got avocado toast from Le Pain Quotidien and then June got candy from the Sugar Factory, and the rest of us got cupcakes from Crumbs. I thought the Cherry Blossom one, with pink frosting and cherry jam inside was the only choice, but they did have a wide selection of Easter-themed cupcakes, with jelly beans or Peeps on top. Noah got a chocolate one with yellow squiggle of frosting meant to evoke a chocolate egg.

By the time we got home it was almost three thirty. Noah and I read To Kill a Mockingbird and June did a phone interview Mom for her family history project and then we went out for pizza and gelato. It was a Good Friday indeed.

The Best Birthday Ever

June’s ten now. We are all in the double digits, at least until Beth turns one hundred in November 2066. We’ve been making this joke for a few weeks now and it still amuses us.

Friday: Pre-Party

Friday after school June and I set to work finalizing the schedule of activities for her birthday party the following day and decorating. Mostly this consisted of filling goody bags with noisemakers and sticking foam stickers in the shapes of instruments, microphones, and musical notes to the windows in the living and dining room. She’d already painted the staff with a missing note for the Pin The Note on the Staff Game, and our living room had been festooned since the previous weekend with helium balloons—one that said “Rock Star,” one with a picture of a guitar and one that plays “Good times! These are such good times! Leave your care behind! These are such good times!” when you tap it.  We decided to hold off blowing up the black non-helium balloons with white musical notes until the next day so the cats wouldn’t pop them. (Matthew had already popped the first one she’d blown up when she wanted to see what they looked like.) The theme of the party was, you guessed it, music.

Saturday to Sunday: The Party

It was a slumber party, her third one, and it started late Saturday afternoon. I felt a little more relaxed about it than I did the previous two years, like we’ve got this down now and we know how to do it.  On Saturday morning we gave her some early presents. We have a slumber party tradition that I buy her pajamas related to the party theme. I had the hardest time finding pajamas with either violins or musical notes on them, so I reached out to a few music teachers I know and her orchestra teacher knew of a web site that had just what I wanted. I gave June the pajamas along with a few music-themed shirts (two from us and one from Beth’s mom). She chose the yellow t-shirt with the heart, peace sign, and violin to wear to the party on Saturday and the one with Olivia the pig singing to wear on Sunday.

Megan came over a half hour early because June she needed some one-on-one time with her BFF before the big event. She “never” sees her alone any more, she said, only at basketball and Girl Scouts. I relayed this to Megan’s mom, who says she’s been getting a lot of “never” and “always” from Megan recently. She speculated it was a ten-year-old thing. Megan’s been ten for four months now, so her mom would know.

The rest of the guests arrived between five and five fifteen. They came bearing their band and orchestra instruments because they all play one and the party started with a jam session featuring two violins, a viola, a cello, two clarinets, and a saxophone. Everyone played at least one song alone and then they played some together. Because most kids start instrumental music in the fourth grade, the guests are all relative beginners on their instruments so we heard a lot of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” but Maggie performed “Happy Birthday” for June on the saxophone and Evie played one of their winter concert pieces on her viola.

After each girl played everyone else chanted her name. I was happy to see this brought a little smile to the face of her shyest guest, the one who periodically needed to retreat a little from the crowd before re-joining the fun. Being an introvert myself, I understand how it is in loud, chaotic environments.

And it turns out a music-themed party is loud, or this one was. June had six guests, two more than last year, so that could have been a factor, too, but over the course of the party there was a lot of playing and singing and in between there was non-stop chatter. Before the party June had brought up some instruments from the bin in the basement and throughout the festivities people picked up the guitar, the accordion, the toy piano, and the penny whistle and played them. Maggie kept asking if she could take the accordion home and June kept saying no.

After they’d finished their jam session, we had pizza. (I was impressed that no one had to be told to put her instrument in its case—they all just did it on their own.) Claire’s mom was still with us because she’d gotten a flat tire and was waiting for a tow truck, after trying unsuccessfully to change it herself. The jack wasn’t up to the job. She chatted with the adults and helped serve fruit punch until the truck came and she was able to leave.

Next June opened her presents. She got great gifts—a set of glow-in-the-dark stars, a book of fiddle music, a stuffed cat, an Amazon gift certificate, multiple kits—one for felting, one for making a nightlight out of crystals and one for making wind chimes—and two gift certificates for the local nail salon, which put together were more than enough for a mani-pedi. Zoë and Claire seemed as surprised as June was that they got her the same thing.

After presents we served the cake—shaped like a music note—and ice cream, and the girls changed into their pajamas to watch a movie, The Sound of Music, or part of it—that movie is really long. We projected the movie onto a sheet hung in the living room for a big screen experience. Most of the girls liked it, though it was a bit slow for Megan’s taste. They sang along with the songs they knew and June and Maggie reminisced about being in a summer camp production of songs from the musical when they were five, or mostly Maggie did because June doesn’t really remember it very well. There was a lot of lively commentary during the movie and a general consensus that Maria should not have kissed Captain Von Trapp. Sample feedback: “No, you’re making a terrible mistake. You’re like twenty and he’s like fifty nine.” I kind of agreed with them on that point, truth be told. Maria’s only a few years older than his oldest daughter. And speaking of Liesl, when the girls were all singing, “I am sixteen, going on seventeen,” it suddenly seemed they really would be some day, and not in the distant future either.

When it came to the Intermission, we paused the film for the night, and shortly afterward Norma’s mom came to pick her up since she wasn’t staying the night, and the rest of the guests got settled into their sleeping bags to tell ghost stories. I told them they should stop talking and go to sleep at ten, and I came out once shortly after ten to remind them, but I could hear the quiet murmur of voices for a while after that. Since it wasn’t enough to keep me awake, I decided to let them be. June says she thinks she was up until midnight.

Beth and I rolled out of bed around seven and started toasting bagels and slicing strawberries for breakfast. Everyone was awake, although Megan seemed to be trying to go back to sleep. She got up to eat, though.  Beth and I ate in the living room, listening to the girls’ breakfast conversation, which centered around Donald Trump (they don’t like him because he’s mean) and a girl at Maggie’s school who looks just like a vampire, pale skin, black hair and even long canines. All the boys like her because she cast a spell on them. Her brother looks like a vampire, too, but not their parents, so the kids may be adopted.

We watched the rest of the movie, with me offering running commentary on what was going on politically because there was some confusion about that and then Noah ran a karaoke session for them. They warmed up with “Let it Go,” and then sang a bunch of pop songs I didn’t know until they got to Katy Perry’s “Roar.” You can’t live with June without knowing this song. In fact, she’s got the chorus printed out and taped to the wall of her bedroom.

Next we moved them out to the porch to Pin the Note on the Staff and smash the piñata. These are birthday party games June loves and does every year. The guests asked me to judge who had pinned his or her note most exactly in the blank space intended for it and I pointed to one. “That’s mine!” Claire cried. Claire also knocked the piñata down (she was third in line, so only June, Maggie, and Claire got a turn.) It didn’t break, so I wondered momentarily if we should hang it back up, but the girls and Noah all descended on it and started emptying it through the hole used to fill it. Then Noah grabbed one side of the note and ripped it off and the thing was history.

We finished the last scheduled activity with twenty minutes to spare before parents were expected. It was a cold, gray day despite being the Spring Equinox, but given the choice between more karaoke inside and running around the back yard, they chose the back yard. That seems to be how all birthday parties end, at least in my experience.

Sunday: Post Party

June asked if she could get her mani-pedi that very day and Beth launched into an explanation of how Spring Break would be better because there would be more time and then interrupted herself to say, “But you want your friends to see it, don’t you?” and June said yes, and Beth said maybe and sure enough, that afternoon, Beth took June to get her finger and toenails painted dark purple that afternoon.

June spent a lot of the rest of the afternoon felting. Do you even know what this is? I’d never heard of it, but it involves shaping differently colored balls of wool by poking them with a needle. “It’s like magic,” June said. And it is. Over the course of a couple days, she made a hedgehog, a rabbit, a dog, a bird, a little person and a ball that’s dense enough to bounce.

June’s birthday was still three days off, but at dinner Beth mentioned she was almost into the double digits. “Until you turn one hundred,” June said.

“Will you visit me when I’m one hundred?” Beth asked.

June said she would if her busy schedule as a pop singer allowed. Beth pointed out she’d be sixty then and maybe not touring any more but I said Dolly Parton’s in her seventies and touring and Willie Nelson is in his eighties and touring so you never know. Maybe she should be a country star instead.

Tuesday: Class Party

Monday passed without anything particularly festive happening, though June did wear the last of her early birthday presents—a long-sleeved t-shirt with a violin made of butterflies.

June’s Science/Spanish class was supposed to have a party on Wednesday, the last day before Spring Break, and coincidentally, June’s birthday. The teacher had agreed she could bring some kind of trinkets to the party, since it was her birthday, and she settled on the leftover instrument and musical notes stickers. June was pleased to have hijacked the party into being partly hers because none of her teachers do birthday parties this year. But then Señora Y learned a number of kids would be out on Wednesday and she moved the party to Tuesday, and June ended up having to share it with a boy who had his birthday the previous Saturday and who was also going to bring party favors. She was slightly put out on both counts, but she brought the stickers anyway.

When she got home she reported Señora Y forgot the treats for the party and left her class with another teacher while she went off to get cookies. So the party was short and not only did June not get a chance to distribute her stickers in the confusion, but she also she forgot to go to her violin lesson.

Wednesday: Double Digits At Last

June requested cheese grits for breakfast on the morning of her birthday, because she likes them and I don’t often make them unless I’m also in the mood for them because they tend to get the pot messy. It was good strategic thinking on her part. I made them.

While June was at school I wrapped presents and made strawberry frosting for the cupcakes Beth had made with the leftover birthday cake batter before the party. We’d saved them for her actual birthday.

We planned for June to open presents in the narrow slice of time between dinner and when I needed to leave for book club. But when Beth got home at 6:40, I told her we had a problem. June was fast asleep. I’d found her in bed five minutes earlier when I’d called her for dinner, and I had no idea how long she’d been asleep. Usually when June falls asleep in the late afternoon or early evening it means she’s getting a migraine, so I was reluctant to wake her. It was the wrong weather for a migraine, though. She most often gets them when the temperature is dropping and it was a warm day.

June woke on her own at 6:45 and said she had a headache but not a really bad one yet. She wasn’t hungry for the birthday dinner she’d requested (nachos with pinto beans). I gave her some painkiller and asked if she wanted to try to go back to sleep or open presents. Open presents, she said, but she was pretty unenthusiastic unwrapping clothes I’d thought she would like. She did smile when she opened two books How to Fight A Dragon’s Fury (How to Train Your Dragon #12) and the second book in the Dork Diaries series. She’s been wanting to read both of these for a while and they’re never at the library. She also got some fabric for making doll clothes, an iTunes gift card, a membership at Animal Jam and a gift certificate to get her hair dyed again. This will be the third time since school started and it’s her last big gift-giving occasion until next Christmas so she’s going to save it for a while. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had it done right before sleep-away camp, if she can wait that long.

The big surprise was an aquarium with two new snails. June brought two snails (Moonlight and Sunlight) and a mosquito fish (Peppermint) home from school in a soda-bottle habitat some time last fall, after a science project (and a long successful, campaign to wear down Beth’s and my resistance). Peppermint died in December and Sunlight some time after that, and June was concerned Moonlight was lonely so she lobbied hard for a new snail and bigger digs for the snails. There’s a color-changing light in the aquarium and a sculpture of a turtle they can climb if they get tired of climbing the walls and the plants. She named the new snails Lollipop and Emerald. She’s very happy with them.

June was well enough to take a birthday phone call from my mom right after opening presents and when I got home from book club, she was in bed but still awake. I guessed from that her nap had been pretty long. Beth said she’d perked up after I left and had eaten most of her dinner, though she opted to save the cupcakes for when everyone could eat them together. She also took phone calls from Beth’s mom and Megan. “It was the best birthday ever,” she’d told Beth, headache and all.

I came into her room to say goodnight and she asked me to climb up to the top bunk to lay down with her. She speculated that she was still awake because she didn’t want her birthday to be over. Then she said maybe it would be her birthday until eleven a.m. the next day because that would be ten years and twenty-four hours after she was born and Noah said she’d previously said it would be her birthday starting at midnight on Wednesday so she couldn’t have it both ways. Eventually, she fell asleep.

And tonight we ate the cupcakes.