About Steph Lovelady

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Cats, Dramatical Cats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are two videos you can watch of the show.

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

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

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

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

Underneath the Sycamore

We are the same
We are both safe
Underneath the sycamore

From “Underneath the Sycamore” by Death Cab for Cutie

What it Means to Be Brave: Saturday to Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, Back at the Beach…

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

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

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

Star of the Sea: Tuesday to Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rockets’ Red Glare: Friday to Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quarter Past Eight

First Weekend: Camping Trip

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

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

Sumer Break Week 1: Drama Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Weekend: Return of the Prodigal Son & Violin Recital

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

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

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

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


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

Summer Break Week 2 Begins

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

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

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

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

Stage Mother, postscript

June’s Indian dance performance was yesterday.  I almost didn’t make it because there was a repairperson fixing our freezer, which had been leaking and causing water to drip through the basement ceiling and it wasn’t clear whether he would finish in time for me to leave the house.  Noah was charging his video camera to tape the performance for me and Beth was arriving at the house in order to pick us up and take us to June’s school when he wrapped up and left.  He actually crossed paths with Beth in the driveway.

It was that kind of week.  The other main stressor was that June’s camp for the first week of summer break—a yoga camp she attended last year and liked and that was walking distance from the house and took place during a week when Noah would be out of town thus affording me a rare week with both kids occupied—that camp was cancelled at the last minute because the instructor had a family crisis.  So I spent hours over the course of several days on the computer and on the phone scrambling to get June into another camp at the last minute.  But I finally did and the freezer was fixed in time for me to go to her dance performance and it cost less than a new roof (the other possible explanation for the dripping water), so it all ended well.

Noah didn’t have much homework (or so we thought at the time) so he came, too.  The performance was in the multi-purpose room, which is a combination cafeteria/auditorium.  It was actually pressed into service as both that afternoon as the kids who attend the school’s after care were there to eat their snack of carrots and hummus and to watch the performance, alongside the parents and siblings of the children in the dance class.

On the registration form I filled out for Indian dance early in the spring it noted in all caps that it was a CO-ED class for BOYS and GIRLS, but apparently the use of capital letters was not sufficient to attract any boys to the class.  There were about ten or twelve girls standing on the stage in borrowed costumes when the show began.  (Before it began, they were peeking their heads out under the bottom of the curtain.) June had described her costume to us in detail the week before.  It was a purple sleeveless top with blue straps and loose blue pants with a flower and vine motif.  She loved it. June’s hair was braided (she told me later a girl in the class had done it for her) and she even had a bindi on her forehead. The dancing itself lasted about five minutes, maybe less. June was in the front row and her best friend Megan was in the back, but I could see Megan’s brilliant smile from all the way back there. June looked more serious, but like everyone, she seemed to be having a good time.

Afterward the group posed for pictures in their practice room, parents and siblings left so the girls could change and as she dismissed them, the teacher handed out cookies and lollipops as rewards for good behavior during the eight-week session. There was a great deal of speculation about which dancers would get a treat, but in the end, they all did.

School ends tomorrow with a half day. We bid a fond farewell to second grade, a somewhat less fond one to seventh grade, and the kids and Beth will embark on a camping trip during which they will meet Beth’s mom and hand off Noah to her, for a week of grandmotherly spoiling. While they are all gone I will enjoy a couple days of quiet and solitude, the calm before the storms of summer.

Stage Mother

The school year is winding down so I’ve been at the kids’ schools a lot, attending more end-of-year performances and celebrations.  This week it was a band concert for Noah Tuesday evening, and June’s afternoon class’s final publishing party Thursday.

Spring Concert

The band concert was poorly timed for Noah. It was the night before his biggest media project of the year, a ten-minute documentary on food processing, was due. He had worked on it over the weekend, but he couldn’t throw himself into it as completely as he would have liked because he had homework in nearly every subject, and some of it quite substantial. (Think twenty-five page review packet for his algebra final exam, for instance).

When I left to take June to her violin lesson Tuesday afternoon, shortly before Noah was due home, I left him a detailed note (with a timeline) about when I’d get home, when he needed to post his very last rough draft of the documentary for peer comment and when he needed to be ready to eat dinner and get dressed for the band concert. I considered a flow chart detailing which non-media homework (by subject) I would recommended he jettison and which he should try to do, but I didn’t go that far.  It was probably just as well because he disregarded the timeline and we were a little late leaving the house. I counted it as a win, though, because it was quite difficult to tear him away from his work and I really feared we’d be much later or even miss the concert outright.

Noah ate an early dinner at home and I’d packed June an emergency dinner (fried tofu and carrot sticks) in a plastic baggie, but the plan was for Beth and June and I to eat dinner from the food trucks outside the school while the band warmed up.  Vegetarian options were limited, though, to a pepper-and-onion burrito. Beth got one and June and I tasted it. June decided to eat the tofu and carrots instead.  Not being a big fan of peppers, I decided to skip dinner and have a snack when we got home.

The concert was part of a larger arts event and last year we explored more of what was going on, but this year because the concert was longer and we’re all a little tired and burned out we stayed outside the school enjoying the beautiful spring evening and chatting with another band mom we know because our kids went to the same preschool.

We went inside when it was time for the concert. The jazz ensemble played while people were taking their seats and then the official concert started with the intermediate band, the chorus, and then advanced band, which is Noah’s band. Usually I enjoy Noah’s band concerts. I have even been known to tear up with pride when they are especially good.  I really couldn’t tell you if they were good at this one or not, I was so distracted by wondering when it would be over.  I had failed to find a sitter for June and she was slumped against me, complaining of being tired, and I knew Noah would want to stay up as late as we would let him to work on his documentary, plus I was hungry, so I just wanted to go home and couldn’t get into the moment.

There was one treat, though. Noah got to play the cymbals up near the front of the stage during part of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and we had a rare, unobstructed view of him.  Even during the rest of the concert we could see him more clearly than usual, playing the tambourine in the back.  The choir came on again after the advanced band and finally the orchestra took their seats.  They were in the middle of their first of five songs when the fire alarm sounded.

The poor band/orchestra teacher kept conducting and the orchestra kept playing, but he was glancing over his shoulder at the principal, who had been standing the aisle, listening to the concert.  When the song concluded, she announced everyone had to evacuate the building.

Everyone poured out into the parking lot. Right before the orchestra started playing, Beth had gone over to talk to Noah and see if he wanted to leave but he said no. I think staying for the whole concert might be a requirement for the musicians plus the percussionists are responsible for lugging all the drums back to the music room after the concert is over. And despite the time crunch, I also think Noah genuinely wanted to hear the orchestra play.

Once we were outside, though, watching the fire trucks pull up to the school, I started to re-think the wisdom of this decision.  I found the band teacher, who still looked harried but who had lost his deer-in-the-headlights expression and asked him if we could leave, pleading Noah’s homework and June’s exhaustion. Given that the all the members of the various bands, the orchestra and the chorus, not to mention hundreds of audience members were milling around in the parking lot I don’t think he minded losing one of his charges much and he said yes, we should go.

Just then it was announced that it was a false alarm and everyone could re-enter the building. I dashed to Noah who was standing in the gelato truck line, and made him get out of line, with instructions to get on stage and get his music and drumsticks right away before the orchestra started to play again. He was reluctant. He wasn’t supposed to be up there, he said, but I convinced him and he disappeared backstage, finally emerging with the sticks after the first song. Later he told me he had crept along the floor so as not to be visible to the audience, which must have worked because I never saw him. As we left Beth kindly offered to go out and buy him some ice cream to eat as he worked, since I’d made him get out line. It was the right thing to do, as “getting out of the ice cream line” is actually our family shorthand for not fulfilling a promise.

She bought the ice cream and sure enough, Noah was up late into the night, talking with one of his classmates and incorporating his feedback into the documentary. Though he posted it the next morning before school, he wasn’t satisfied with it and planned to ask for an extension.  I felt my heart sink at this news, as I just wanted him to be able to focus on his other assignments and exams. The end of the school year was only a week and a half away but it seemed too long.

Every year during the last few weeks of the school year I have moments when I think I simply cannot wait for it to be over. Mostly this is because of Noah, and the strain his schoolwork puts not just on him, but on the whole family. Then just as frequently, I have moments when I cannot bear for it to be over. Mostly this is because of me, and the fact that I work at home, which is not always easy when my delightful, extroverted, and highly energetic daughter is home.

I will dearly miss that moment when June gets on the school bus and the day stretches in front of me, quiet and at least potentially productive.  She’s going to various day camps—both kids are—but she is registered for more weeks than he is. It’s not the same as school, though, because they are mostly half-day camps and ever-shifting logistics of getting her there and back are more complicated than crossing the street to the bus stop that is steps from our house. And then there’s the whole fact that I got cheated out of four days of school this year, but you’ve probably heard more than you care to on that subject, so I will restrain myself.

Publishing Party

Two days later I walked to June’s school with a tote bag containing my phone, keys, camera, and a big bag of Cheetos, June’s contribution to the publishing party snacks. (I would have preferred to show up with a healthier snack but Cheetos are June’s favorite treat—she will choose them over sweets—and it was the end of the year so we said yes.) I was determined to be more present at this event than I had been at Noah’s concert and maybe even to take pictures.  Because of the hurried way we’d left, we didn’t take our traditional post-concert photo of Noah in his band clothes. (He agreed to re-enact his drumstick retrieval at the kitchen table for the picture above.)

I arrived in Ms. K’s classroom at 1:45 and got right to work reading student work and leaving comments on their compliment pages. This was the third publishing party of the year and the students had work in their portfolios from the whole year.  Their new pieces included a selection of poems, a biographical essay (June’s were on Helen Keller who is her new heroine and Squanto) and an autobiographical essay about a personal achievement (she chose learning to play the violin for this one).

After parents and children and Ms. K had circulated around the room reading each other’s work and commenting for about forty-five minutes, it was time to eat.  I needn’t have worried about bringing a less than healthy snack. Other than a bag of baby carrots, it was all chips, our Cheetos, and sweets. So we didn’t stand out as nutritional scofflaws with our offering.

The kids settled on the rug and Ms. K started a video of herself as a talk show hostess interviewing each child in the class on such questions as “What is onomatopoeia?” “What are the parts of the writing process?” “List some literary devices,” and “How many sentences should a paragraph have in second grade?” (The answer is five in case you are called upon to write something at second-grade level any time soon.) The sound quality was poor and I couldn’t hear much of it, but Ms. K had learned from the last publishing party and had subtitled the whole thing, so that was helpful.

At the end of the party, I snapped a picture of June and Ms. K together. June had asked to wear a party dress to school that morning “because it is a party” and pointed out that Ms. K would probably be dressed up because she “has a great sense of style.” I passed on this assessment to Ms. K, who said she loved June’s dress, too.

Meanwhile, I will have one more chance to see one of my kids on stage and dressed up next week at the performance of June’s after school Indian Dance class. And then there are all the music camp and drama camp and musical theater camp performances to anticipate this summer… and that happy thought does help me get into the mood for summer break.

Merely Players

All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parts

As You Like It

I wanted to write about the fun end-of-year assignments Noah’s had recently—playing John Calvin at the Medieval Mixer and Sir Toby in a scene from Twelfth Nightand how his homework load has lightened to the extent he actually spent a good bit of Memorial Day weekend doing things other than schoolwork.  But then he came home Tuesday having remembered he’s supposed to have been keeping a journal on the Shakespeare unit since early April. He’d only written one entry and it was due soon, maybe Friday, he wasn’t sure. So maybe it would have been a good idea for him to have worked a little more during the long weekend after all…

Act I: John Calvin (Medieval Mixer)

Nevertheless… it is true he has had some fun assignments recently.  For the mixer each student was assigned a historical figure from the Medieval or Renaissance periods.  They had to write a two-page paper about their figures and give a speech from that person’s perspective.  Then they had to dress as their characters and mingle with each other, speaking as these people would if they had ever met.  Noah said his plan for the ad-lib part of the mixer was to tell everyone he encountered that they were predestined to go to hell, and I thought it was an excellent idea, but for some reason he didn’t do it.

Nonetheless, he did enjoy the exercise and he cut quite a figure as the Protestant reformer. Beth made his hat and sewed the furry collar onto his robe.  I went beard shopping at a theater supply store but they only had the kind you attach with spirit glue and we thought this would be too time consuming to apply and remove so Beth ordered him a beard online. (I found it somewhat ironic it was a gray beard because at the theater supply store the clerk asked Noah’s hair color and I said it was similar to mine, and he said, rather unnecessarily, “But without the gray?”)

Intermission: Long Weekend

The mixer was the Friday before the long weekend.  Beth took that day off and drove to Wheeling where she spent a few days visiting her brother. While she was gone I was very busy with gardening and housecleaning and grocery shopping and I needed to work a little, ghost-writing a blog post on carrots and cauliflower.  But the kids and I had fun, too.

Friday afternoon we hosed all the dust and pollen off the front porch, which is their favorite chore and one we only do once a year because it’s kind of a production getting all the porch furniture onto the lawn and then back onto the porch. That night I let them eat dinner (frozen pizza) in front of the television, which is another rare treat. We binged on PBS cartoons, watching Martha Speaks, Word Girl, and Curious George, or June and I did. Noah came into the living room to eat and he did watch Word Girl but after that he was in the room but doing something on his phone.

Saturday night June had a sleepover with Megan. I’d asked Megan’s mom if I could send June to play at their house so I could get some work done and she saw my play date and raised me a sleepover. I did some work while June was gone, but on finding myself alone with Noah, it seemed a better idea to take him out to dinner at Roscoe’s, have gelato at Dolci Gelato, walk all the way home and read a couple chapters of The Hunger Games.  We read at least ten chapters over the course of the weekend and came close to finishing it.

Monday afternoon I took the kids to the pool and then came home and made strawberry shortcakes with the perfectly ripe strawberries I’d bought at the farmers’ market on Sunday.  Beth came home as I was making them and we had a picnic of hot dogs, baked beans, devilled eggs, corn on the cob, watermelon, and of course, the shortcakes.  It was good to have her back home.

Act II: Sir Toby (Shakespeare Scenes)

Tuesday everyone was back to school and work. Noah wrote part of another Shakespeare journal entry that night but he seemed stuck, so I sent him to bed, forty-five minutes after his bedtime, with the entry unfinished.  Wednesday he had better luck.  After working on algebra and studying for a Spanish test, he tackled the journal entries again and this time he finished all but the last one. I stayed in the room with him as he wrote, reading him the questions he needed to answer. He would answer verbally and then I’d say, “Write that down.”  This often helps get him unstuck when he has writer’s block. He was pleased to have made so much progress on what had seemed like a daunting assignment but he did note it would have been a better idea to have written them as he went along, as he was supposed to have done. Lesson learned, perhaps?

Thursday afternoon Berth and went to Noah’s school to see the Shakespeare performance and right before it started I was talking to his teacher and found out exactly when the journal was due, as Noah was still unsure. The answer was all the entries except the last one—coincidentally the ones he’d written mostly in one night just the night before—were due the next day but the last one—which he hadn’t started—wasn’t due for a week. It was quite the stroke of luck.

The performance was of selected scenes from four different plays—MacBeth, Othello, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Noah was in the Twelfth Night group. Over the course of six weeks the whole class read A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream together and then the kids were split into groups read overviews of the other plays, selected a scene or two, set it in a new time and place, designed a set, assembled costumes, and rehearsed.

There was a MacBeth scene in which Banquo’s ghost made an appearance in a 1950s diner, another in which the witches make their predictions in a Saudi Arabian desert, etc.  I was not always able to tell what the new setting was supposed to add to the scene, but I thought the steampunk version of Othello might have been trying to take advantage of anachronism to stress the universality of jealousy, ambition, and violence.  I knew Noah’s group chose to set their scene in West Berlin of the 1980s because there are references earlier in the play to divisions in society, which they wanted to stress. With some guidance from us, Noah decided to wear a white t-shirt and khakis because the outfit was classic enough to work in pretty much any Western setting from the 1950s to the present and then he borrowed Beth’s demin jacket from college, an authentic 1980s relic, though not German.

Overall, the scenes were entertaining. All the kids seemed to know their lines and there was some good acting and it looked like everyone was having a good time.  Later Noah said he and other kids in his group had stumbled over some of their lines, but I honestly didn’t notice. I told him I thought because he knew the scene so well he could hear the mistakes they made that the audience and the members of other groups would miss.

Act III: Honoree (Middle School Awards Ceremony)

That very same night there was an awards ceremony for Noah’s middle school held at a nearby high school. We knew he was getting an award but not why.  Last year all the members of the band got awards because of their high-scoring performances at competitions over the spring. I thought it could be that again, though the band, under the less experienced leadership of a new director did not do quite as well as last year—still well, but not as well. So there was a pleasant amount of curiosity and anticipation about what the award might be going into it. In the car on the way there Beth speculated that all the seventh-grade Humanities magnet students would get an award for surviving the IDRP (interdisciplinary research paper) they wrote last fall. I thought it could be GPA-related because he had nearly all As last quarter.

We split up because honorees were sitting in one section of the auditorium and guests in another. There was a musical interlude by the orchestra and choir and then the ceremony started. The first two sets of students honored were for straight As and perfect attendance. I knew Noah wouldn’t be in either of those groups because he’s never had straight As and he missed at least one day this year… but in the middle of perfect attendance they called his name. Was it a mistake? Did they not count absences on Easter Monday because it was originally supposed to be part of spring break? He had dentist and orthodontist appointments that day so we didn’t send him to school.

Beth took out her phone and brought up his attendance record on the school’s record-keeping site and he was not marked absent the day he’d missed.  So it was a mistake. My heart sank a little, knowing that after receiving an invitation, he would be disappointed if he didn’t get an award he’d actually earned. We watched him come up on stage, take the award and shake a line of teachers’ hands. He had no other choice, but I wondered if he felt as if he was playing yet another part, after a week of acting.

I scanned the list of awards on the program, wondering if he might win another, because you can win more than one. I’d actually noticed a lot of overlap between straight As and perfect attendance, perhaps not surprisingly.  I thought his best chances were a content area award for either media or music, which are his two passions.  There were fewer kids receiving these awards and they were announcing names alphabetically by first name.  During the media awards they went straight from a Nila to a Sierra, so no dice there. No music award either.  I looked at the program again, with less hope. He’s done well in science and Spanish, but I didn’t think he’d really “demonstrated a desire to extend [his] knowledge beyond the curriculum, and served as a model to [his] peers.”  The only real possibility left was geography bee, and only if there were awards for the winner from each world studies class in the school because he did win the geography bee in his period, though he was eliminated at the school-wide level.  But only the school winner was honored and that was it.

When we reunited with Noah, he said it had been disappointing but he didn’t seem too down about it. He and I talked about it this afternoon and agreed it might be a funny story some day, though right now it’s more annoying than humorous, especially since he stayed up late last night expanding his Shakespeare journal entries and it would have been nice to have more time for homework earlier in the evening.

End-of-the-year events are not over, of course. Next week Noah has a short band concert during the Arts Alive event at his school and June’s afternoon class will have their third and final publishing party.  I am looking forward to seeing them play the parts of musician and writer, as those are among their favorite roles.

True to Type

My birthday is always around Mother’s Day. In fact, whenever I talk to my mom on either day (whichever happens to come first) she never fails to mention she brought me home from the hospital on Mother’s Day. Some years my birthday actually falls on the holiday and that’s what happened this year.  Even though both events were on a single day, the whole weekend had a relaxed but celebratory feel.

Friday: Girls’ Night In

Friday Noah was on a band field trip to Hershey Park and wouldn’t be home until late, so June had Beth and me to herself for the evening.  When I asked her if she wanted to go out for pizza, or stay home and watch a movie or play games, she wanted to do it all.  That’s more than can fit in between Beth’s usual arrival home between six-thirty and seven and June’s usual bedtime of 7:45, so we stretched things out on both ends. Beth came home early and we let June stay up late.  I knew the rest of us would be up late waiting for Noah and I was hoping that if we let her stay up late, too, no one would be up and making noise at 6 a.m. (It didn’t work. It rarely does, but a mom can hope.)

Before Beth got home, June and I scrubbed the grime off a couple fans because hot weather was predicted the following week and then we drank iced tea and played a board game of her own invention, plus two card games (Rat-a-Tat Cat and Sleeping Queens, both favorites of hers).  I suggested we watch Tangled or Brave, because she had not seen either of them and I am getting tired of Tinkerbell movies, even though they’re really as horrible as you might think. I thought she’d go for Brave, but she said, “Tangled!” immediately and so when Beth came home, bearing pizza, she set it to download while we ate.

June got herself a raspberry-lemon popsicle from the freezer and we settled on the couch to watch the movie.  When the backstory of how Rapunzel ended up locked away from the world in her tower was established, I said to Beth, “Didn’t we just see this movie?” Beth later concluded Frozen was better, but Tangled was entertaining enough.  Ironically, I’d suggested Brave and Tangled largely because I thought Noah wouldn’t mind missing them, but guess what movie they showed on the bus on the way home from Hershey? That’s right. It was Tangled.  What are the chances?

We put June to bed at 8:30 and Beth didn’t need to leave to get Noah until 10:00. She had a long phone conversation with her brother, but even so that left us with forty-five minutes just to hang out and talk, which felt luxurious. Noah’s bedtime is so close to ours that we’re rarely alone together in the house for any extended period of time. It’s that kind of thing that reminds me we need to be more proactive about carving out time to spend together.

Saturday: Dinner Out

Saturday Beth took June to Kung Fu and ran errands and Noah did homework and I did some chores around the house and started a project of collecting photos of my mom, Beth, and Beth’s mom for a set of Mother’s Day albums I would post on Facebook the next day.

We were planning an early birthday dinner at the Vegetable Garden, a vegan Chinese restaurant, because we wanted to avoid the Mother’s Day restaurant crush.  It’s a bit of a hike from Takoma, so we were intending to leave around five, but we were delayed over an hour by a flat tire. I almost gave up on the idea of going, because while I’m getting more flexible about bedtime, two nights in a row is pushing it for me.  But Beth gently nudged me into going, and we did.  I was glad of it as soon as the crispy black mushroom appetizer arrived because it is really, really good. We also got spring rolls, hot and sour soup, dumplings, a noodle dish, and a couple of vegetable-with-fake-meat dishes (my favorite was the “chicken” with asparagus). I just finished the leftovers for lunch today.

Sunday: The Big Day

The first notable thing about Sunday was that I slept in until 8:20. It’s rare for me to sleep past seven on a weekend and I’m usually awake earlier than that. The kids get up early (even the teenager) and though they are pretty self-sufficient about breakfast and entertaining themselves, they are not as quiet as I’d like, plus it’s a small house, and I’m a light sleeper, so there you go. I’d had trouble sleeping the night before, though, so I guess I really needed the extra sleep and it was enough so that I felt reasonably well rested when I woke.

We exchanged a great many gifts: Mother’s Day presents for Beth and me from the kids, and birthday presents for me.  Beth got a David Sedaris book from Noah and a big candle from June. I got fancy orange marmalade and a brownie from Noah, salted caramel-flavored sugar crystals and a bottle of shells and sand and shells glued to some driftwood from June. I also got a few books, two mysteries and Joyce Carol Oates’ Accursed, from my mom and Noah. Beth gave me a gift certificate for the American Film Institute, (our favorite date destination), another gift certificate for a Takoma coffee shop, and–best of all–the promise of a mid-week getaway to Rehoboth some time this summer. (We won’t be spending our usual week at the beach this summer, because we are going to Oregon to visit my mom, stepfather, sister and other relatives.) Books, coffee, time with Beth, and time at the beach is pretty much all I want out of life sometimes.

I continued to gather and post photos while Beth and June went grocery shopping and Noah read A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. In the afternoon Beth went to her MOOCs on capitalism and Andy Warhol.

While she was gone June and I toured the house next door, which after being vacant at least fifteen years and then undergoing a gutting and renovation that lasted about a year is finally for sale.  The realtor noted somewhat wearily that a lot of people at the open house were not potential buyers but curious neighbors like us. Because the house next door is three stories and ours is just one, we got to look out the windows at our own roof, which June found quite amusing. She’s hoping a family with kids moves in and soon.  Beth is not looking forward to having to share the driveway with neighbors, but it has to be better than sharing it with contractors’ vehicles and dumpsters, one of which clipped our eaves and did $800 worth of damage last summer. A side note: For those of you who don’t know the story of our cat Xander’s adventure in the basement of this house, I recommend this post—it’s a good one, with a surprise ending: “Xander in the House” (3/2/13).

Later I went for a swim and came home to the smell of lasagna baking. I’d requested spinach lasagna, garlic bread, and a salad with Romaine lettuce for dinner and that’s just what Beth made, along with a vanilla birthday cake with lemon frosting served with strawberry ice cream, also at my request. Everything was delicious. I very much appreciate everything Beth did to make my birthday special.

The weekend was especially nice because it came on the heels of a week in which I’d been sick, and after several weeks of high stress at work for Beth and my feeling kind of lost and sad.

There were a couple little things that cheered me during this time, though. My friend Megan very sweetly brought me a latte once day when June was home sick and I was complaining on Facebook that I couldn’t get out of the house to buy myself one.  Then I met an old friend from college who was passing through the DC area briefly. While we were catching up I told him about the online courses Beth is taking and about my book club, which was reading the Iliad at the time (we’ve since moved on to Thomas Pyncheon). Because Jim met us when Beth was a philosophy major and I was a comparative literature major–I was reading the Aeneid in Latin one semester when he and I lived together– he was clearly delighted we were proving to be so true to type even at the ripe old age of forty-seven.  As for Jim, he was math major, always very interested in computers, and he now works for Square, a company that runs a credit card payment app.

I guess underneath all the trappings of motherhood and middle age, the twenty year olds we once were are still in there somewhere.

A Teenager in the House

On my thirteenth birthday, I woke at my father’s house, hearing my stepmother exclaim to him, “Steve, there’s a teenager in the house!” She meant me, of course, but I was only half awake and easily confused and I thought someone had broken into the house. It seems like so many stark transitions happen in the space of just a year or two to kids that age: preteen to teen, middle school student to high school student, not to mention puberty. It can be hard to take in sometimes.

And so it was that Wednesday evening, three days before Noah turned thirteen, Beth and I attended an informational meeting about high school choice for parents of seventh-graders. The assignment process begins in the fall of eighth grade, so apparently it’s time to start thinking about this.

The meeting occurred on a day of torrential rain and a couple major roads were closed because of flooding. Our basement was also flooded and Metro was single tracking so Beth’s commute home took longer than she expected and I was downstairs bailing water when the babysitter arrived.  The drive was another a challenge. We had to change routes several times because traffic was backed up due to the road closures and even though Sligo Creek Parkway was open, the creek had overflowed its banks and there was standing water close enough to the road to give Beth pause about continuing that way.

Despite all these setbacks, we were only ten minutes late. I learned a few things at the meeting. The first is that there are even more specialized programs in our area high schools than I realized (they number in the dozens) and that the process for getting into them (a mix of lottery and application programs) is even more complicated than I realized, even though I was expecting a lot of programs and complication. Also, I knew this already, but you have to choose an academy within a high school. It’s a like a major. No one just goes to his or her default school. You have to choose, both the school and the academy within it.

We need to do more research and we are scheduling a meeting with his school counselor to discuss his options, but we know we are probably not interested in pursuing either the accelerated humanities or math and science magnets at our home high school. Noah’s been in academic magnets since fourth grade and up to this year it’s been a good experience for him, but this year had just proved too much. He is quickly burning out and we need to get him off the fast track so he has a reasonable chance at maintaining his love of learning and maybe even having enough free time to enjoy his teen years. Given his mix of giftedness and slow processing, the trick will be keeping him challenged without overwhelming him. Too easy work is as deadly for his motivation as too much work. I’d like to learn more about the performing arts magnet because more drumming and less homework sounds like a healthy change to me.

Noah’s birthday was low-key.  He didn’t want a party, didn’t even want to invite a friend or two to come to dinner with us as he did last year, despite my perhaps too frequent encouragement to do so. I got him a card that said, “Let us celebrate your existence with cake, and possibly ice cream,” and we did that. Beth made him a strawberry cake with strawberry frosting at his request and there was ice cream, too.

And there were presents, of course. He opened them in order of size, so the first box contained a lightning cable.  We are always searching for cords to recharge various devices and Beth has been saying Noah should have his own dedicated cable so he stops swiping hers, so now he has one.

There were several books, including one by the author of the Fablehaven series, which he enjoyed reading last summer and fall. (This was June’s present to him.)  He also got The Hunger Games trilogy because he and his classmates have been collaboratively writing a massive piece of online fan fiction based on the novels, with themselves as characters.  He’s been participating even though he has not read the novels so I thought he might get more out of the experience if he read the books. My mother was surprised I’d get him such violent books, as I have always been strict about media exposure. June’s only recently been allowed to watch most PG movies and I still say no to some of them.  But I reminded Mom that when I was Noah’s age I was reading Dracula and The Shining. I’m not suggesting we go on a slasher film binge together, but I think he’s old enough for any of the young adult dystopian fiction his peers are all reading.

The rest of his presents consisted of film equipment.  From us and from Beth’s mom, he got a new tripod, a lighting kit, a green screen and a frame and clamps to hold it. Noah has always enjoyed making movies. He takes a media class every year as part of the Humanities program. It’s his favorite class and he’s made a number of short films for school and for fun.  He’s working on a documentary about food processing right now (for school). The big project in eighth grade is a biographical documentary.  This involves a five-day field trip to New York and the resulting films are screened at The American Film Institute for family and friends. It’s the defining experience of the eighth grade year and we hope he enjoys it more than his ten-page research paper on product liability law that was his biggest seventh-grade project.

In Noah’s birthday card, I wrote the url for the Eastern Shore Writers’ Association blog, because I’d submitted an excerpt of my blog post about our trip to the beach last month, edited to focus on him and it had been accepted. You can read it here if you like (http://eswa-blog.blogspot.com). It’s the kind of present not every teenager would appreciate, but he seem pleased when he read it. I’d also emailed him a link to Dar Williams’ song “Teenagers Kick Our Butts,” after he went to bed the night before.  It’s worth a listen if you’re not familiar with it: http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Teenagers+Kick+Our+Butts/2J28Vl?src=5 Then, to emphasize the point, I sent a separate message titled “the important part” with these lines:

Find your voice, do what it takes
Make sure you make lots of mistakes
And find the future that redeems
Give us hell, give us dreams
And grow and grow and grow

I didn’t send this to him, but my other favorite line from the song is in the chorus, “Tell us what the future will bring.”  That’s the question always on your mind if you have kids, or teach kids, or love someone else’s kids.  Sometimes you get glimpses. For instance, at a local third to fifth grade elementary school (not one either of my kids have attended but within walking distance of our house), there’s a club called the Young Activist Club.  They have been trying to convince the schools to stop using Styrofoam trays in the cafeteria since Noah was in kindergarten. One of the founding members was the older sister of one of his nursery school classmates, a girl who is now in high school.  Because I knew some of the kids in the club and I sympathized with their cause, over the years I followed them on Facebook and cheered when I saw them at Fourth of July parades carrying trays with environmental messages written on them in marker. To a casual observer, though, it never looked like their campaign was getting any traction. Then I recently heard the whole school system is changing over to compostable trays, staring next year. The last publicity photo I saw was of a girl speaking on stage. She also went to my kids’ preschool, and is only a year older than June.  (She was the one playing guitar at June’s music school recital.) It took eight years, almost three cycles of students through that three-grade school, and it’s still not clear the compostable trays will actually be composted, but I know those kids will keep organizing if they aren’t, and that makes me feel hopeful about what my kids and all their peers can accomplish.

Noah asked if he could have a day without homework for his birthday and I really wanted to say yes, but when Beth and I looked at his assignments for the weekend, it just didn’t seem possible. He did do less than he would usually do on a Saturday. He did some algebra in the morning and then we took a break while Beth and June were at kung fu to finish And Then There Were None. When the murderer was revealed Noah said, “I thought it was him and then I didn’t,” which is usually how it goes when you read a mystery.

When Beth and June returned, we left for lunch because Noah had also asked if he could have lunch and dinner out and this time we said yes. We went to Noodles & Company, a favorite of Noah’s. I got Pad Thai because that’s what I had for dinner the night before I went into labor with him and for a long time we had a tradition of going out for Thai the day before his birthday, though we don’t do it any more.  In search of dessert afterward, we spotted a crepe cart at the Fenton Street market, and we got Noah a banana-pecan crepe, because after noodles, crepes are one of his favorite foods. (He’s all about the carbs.)

We ran into traffic on the way home because Commencement had just ended at the college around the corner from our house.  Watching the young people walking down the sidewalks in their caps and gowns I was thinking about middle school graduation a year from now, high school in five years, and college perhaps, in nine (unless he takes a gap year or graduates on the five-year plan). Either way, it suddenly seemed nearer than it had the day before.

Back home, Noah went back to factoring quadratic equations, with some help from Beth, who was in between the steps of making his cake. He and I took another study break to read the first two chapters of The Hunger Games on the porch because he asked if we could, and how could I say no on his birthday?

Later that afternoon Noah read Act II, scene I from A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream while I had coffee with a friend from college and his partner, who were visiting from out of town.  When I came back, we left for dinner at Vicino’s, an Italian restaurant in Silver Spring. The food was good but I’d forgotten how slow the service is there, so when we got home we had cake and ice cream and put June straight to bed, a half hour late and without her bath. Noah had to practice on his practice pad instead of his real drums, so she could sleep. He was up past his bedtime, too, finishing his percussion practice. So he and Beth and I all went to bed at the same time, ten, on the first night we had a teenager in the house.

Icons of Spring

Have I mentioned we had ten snow days this year, six over the limit of built-in school days and the school district is only making up two? I have?  Oh, yes, of course. What I haven’t mentioned is that despite the fact that there are five contingency days clearly scheduled on a calendar sent home at the beginning of every year, that when the school district decided to make up the measly two days, only one of those two make-up days was on one of the contingency days?  The other one came out of spring break.

Now it could have been worse, we could have been faced with the horrifying prospect of school in session while we had a beach house rented, but it was just the tag end of spring break, Easter Monday, which fell two days after our return.  But the fact remained that Beth had made an orthodontist appointment and a dentist appointment for Noah on Monday and June had more exciting plans, in the form of two tickets for the White House Easter Egg Roll Beth received from a colleague.

We decided to stick with our plans and kept Noah out of school. June went to school in the morning, but I picked her up around noon to take her into the city.  So despite my letters to the superintendent of schools and to state officials about how the school year should be extended, I ended up in the seemingly hypocritical position of only sending one kid to school for a half day on the first make-up day.

But perhaps you wanted to hear something about the Easter Egg Roll itself?

Crowded would be one description. While we were standing in one of many lines I heard someone say there were thirty thousand people there. I checked later and it’s true, although they weren’t all at once—thirty thousand tickets were issued in five time slots. We were in the fourth slot, 2:30-4:30.  After a picnic lunch outside the Takoma Metro stop where Beth dropped us off en route to Noah’s dentist appointment and a train ride into the city, we arrived at the Ellipse and got into line around 1:40. I did consult my map when we got off the Metro, but if I’d misplaced it I could have just as easily followed the hoards of dressed up children heading in the direction of the White House.

It took an hour and ten minutes to go through security, get our wristbands, and wait in line to enter the South Lawn.  As we inched along, I read How to Cheat A Dragon’s Curse to June until we got closer to the front of the line where music was playing and it was no longer possible to read without raising my voice. As we approached the White House June wanted to know exactly when we’d crossed into White House property. We were walking along the sidewalk, next to a wrought iron fence and I told her the squirrel on the other side was on the White House lawn. She seemed thrilled to be that close.

Once we got inside we had to choose from all kinds of activities, but we headed straight for the Egg Roll itself because that’s the classic event and our time was limited. The line there was pretty short and soon June was pushing an egg across the grass with a long wooden spoon right in front of the South Portico of the White House.  Next we headed for the snack area where we shared an apple, some baby carrots in a kefir dipping sauce, and bottled strawberry-kiwi smoothies. We peeked at the White House vegetable garden and noticed that their kale is doing better than ours.

June had a hard time deciding between the story-telling stage where Miss America would be reading stories or the obstacle course. We stood in line for ten minutes outside the roped off storytelling area before realizing that at the rate it the line was moving (not at all) we’d be admitted after Miss America was finished and Debbie Reynolds had begun and as June had no idea who Debbie Reynolds was, we left the line and headed for the obstacle course.

Next we headed to a booth where she did a science experiment, making hypotheses about which objects from a jumble on the table would sink and which would float in a tub of water and then testing her hypotheses and filling out a checklist of her results.  By the time she finished, it was time to hit the restrooms and get in line again to exit.  We were issued a box of Peeps and a commemorative wooden Easter egg as we left.

It had been fun and exciting but also kind of exhausting between the sun and the crowds so when June asked if she could get a soft pretzel from a street vendor the idea of sitting down on the grass and eating seemed attractive so I bought it for her and an eggroll for myself before we got back on the Metro and headed home.

I’m glad we went, though, because although we’ve been to the White House several times—once for a Christmas tour pre-kids, once on a regular tour when June was in preschool (“All The Presidents’ Pictures,” October 19, 2010), and once for a garden tour a year later-—we’ve never been to the Easter Egg Roll and it’s an iconic Washington springtime event, just like the cherry blossoms.

We did go to see the blossoms this year, the Friday before we left for the beach.  They are often a logistical challenge, mainly because of the short peak bloom period, which is difficult to predict more than a few days ahead of time, and parking issues.  We ended up going in the evening after June’s violin recital and pizza dinner because Saturday was busy with June’s kung fu lesson and packing for the beach. It was a hurried trip and not ideal in some ways, but beautiful as always. And the kids did seem to enjoy the novelty of going at night. As we left Noah surprised me by saying, “This was fun. We should do this more often.” I pointed out we go every year. “No, in the dark, in the rain,” he said.

I probably wouldn’t want to go the Easter Egg Roll every year, even if such a thing were possible and it isn’t; most people who go win their tickets in an online lottery, which is a better system than we first moved to the Washington area and I’d read in the newspaper about people camping out overnight in line for tickets. I might also need to give up the tradition of always going to the cherry blossoms, because it is hard to manage some years, especially for Beth, who has to drive and park if we don’t end up taking the Metro. Still, I do feel fortunate to live here, among the symbols of democracy and the fragile pink and white blossoms that herald the arrival of spring each year.