About Steph

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

Summer’s End

1. Before Hershey

It was a long summer break, eleven weeks instead of the normal ten; this was because Labor Day falls late this year and our schools always start a week before Labor Day. Despite this, about two weeks ago I told Beth I wasn’t as impatient for the beginning of the school year as I usually am by mid-August. She predicted being at home with both kids who had no camp for two weeks might take care of that.

The first Monday morning it looked as if it certainly would. The kids argued ceaselessly. Then I took June to go see Shaun the Sheep (Noah declined to come) after lunch and came home and made a cake and the separation, the outing, and the sugar seemed to cheer everyone. The cake was an un-birthday cake, because it wasn’t anyone’s birthday, or rather it was the exact midpoint between my and Beth’s birthdays, which is the longest stretch we have without one. The cake was chocolate chip, with chocolate frosting, and it was delicious. And I feel I should note that after that first wretched morning, the kids’ fighting died down to a bearable level. Some days they hardly fought at all.

The next day we met with an educational psychologist who had evaluated Noah earlier in the summer. We are trying to get a 504 plan for his ADHD. We tried four years ago and were denied, but it seemed like time to give it another go, as he’s starting high school this year. We’re also going to talk to a psychiatrist about what medications might be useful for him. The last two years have just been too much, for him and for the whole family, so we’re hoping to find a way he can be challenged but not overwhelmed by school. It will be a while before all the pieces are in place, but we’ve made a start and I feel good about that. His diagnosis has been bumped up from ADHD-NOS (basically ADHD-lite) to ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive, so that might help.

The kids hung out in the waiting room during most of the two-hour meeting (Noah was called in at the very end). We would have left June at home except Beth had taken the afternoon off so we could go see Inside Out after the meeting. The movie was fun and we went out for Burmese afterward.

In the interest of getting some work done, I scheduled overlapping play dates for June the next day, with one girl from 9:30 to 2:00 and with another from 1:00 to 5:00. During the morning, June and her friend were playing with dolls and blocks and singing some pop song I didn’t know. As I worked in the next room, it felt like I was listening to them snap back and forth between being little girls and tweens. They are right on the brink. When the second friend arrived, the all acted out scenes from Inside Out. June was delighted to finally have seen the big kid-movie of the summer and to be able to talk about it with her friends. We are sometimes a little slow to provide her with these experiences. (It came out months ago, I think.)

We continued to march forward with appointments for the kids. Thursday they went to the dentist and Friday to the pediatrician. The previous weekend they both got their hair cut. It was June’s second hair cut of the summer. She had eight inches taken off right before Girl Scout camp, just in time to be brushing it herself, but she decided she wanted it even shorter and to have about a quarter of it dyed blue, purple, and magenta. It’s her new look for starting fourth grade. She is well satisfied with it.

We were a long time at the pediatrician’s office and we were near Dupont Circle, where Beth and I lived from our mid-twenties to our mid-thirties, so we decided to have dinner at Pizza Paradiso, an old favorite of ours. A few things have changed in the interim. The restaurant moved a block down P St; I now need reading glasses to read the menu; and instead of a baby, Beth and I have a teenager who is five inches taller than me and daughter who is looking older with her multicolored hair. The Genovese (potato-pesto) pizza is just as delicious as it ever was, however.

My big accomplishment of the week, or so I thought at the time, was to get Noah’s schedule re-arranged so he could take band. I’d been communicating for weeks with the director of the music department, the CAP (Communications Arts Program) director, his counselor and an assistant principal, trying to find out where the conflict was in his schedule and if it could be changed. The kids were at the dentist with Beth when I found out so I called both Beth and Noah. When Noah got home, he gave me a big hug and said, “I’m in band!”

The weekend was uneventful. I indulged Noah by agreeing to make lemon bars with him and he indulged me by agreeing to listen to Willie Nelson while we did it.

The next Monday, I took the kids on a creek walk, which is something we do every summer. But because neither of them had asked all summer, I started to wonder if they’d outgrown this activity. I needn’t have worried. The kids splashed each other and we found a huge crawfish, deer prints in the mud, and many spider webs. We stood under our own street in the tunnel where the bridge goes over the creek and listened to the cars rumble above us and then we clambered out, with wet bathing suits and wet and sandy crocs to walk home.

2. Hershey: The Sweetest Place on Earth

Tuesday and Wednesday we took an impromptu get-away to Hershey Park. (I know they spell as one word, but I just can’t do it, so I won’t.) Beth had recently found out she had more vacation time than she thought and she needed to use it by year’s end or lose it, so off we went. We had just been to the county fair a week and a half earlier but summer would be over soon, so we seized the day.

The funny thing about this was that when I suggested to Noah he might want to go a little further in his summer homework than he’d planned the weekend before “in case something comes up” he looked at me and said, “Are we going to Hershey Park?” So much for being sneaky.

Noah had an orthodontist appointment in the morning, so we all went there first, and then we hit the road. We arrived at the park around lunchtime, had lunch and hit the rides.

Over the course of the two days we were there June was about as likely as Noah to want to go on rides that made everyone else say “No!” But the difference was when it was Noah, we’d say, “Go for it” but when it was June we’d look at each other and decide who was going, or make her skip it. So she never got to ride the biggest log flume and had to settle for a smaller one.

But she did get to ride the Laff Trakk, which is new this year. It’s an enclosed coaster in a big metal building. There are glow-in-the-dark decorations with a funhouse theme and black light. The cars spin around and go backward about half the time, which is why I wouldn’t ride it. I can’t even ride backward on the Metro. It wasn’t really Beth’s cup of tea either but since Noah wasn’t interested and Beth thought she could get through the ride without vomiting, she went with June. I told her later it was nice of her to go and she said, “Yes, it was,” especially considering there was a forty-five minute wait.

The Wild Mouse, pictured above, became a family favorite this year. It’s a little coaster with a lot of sharp turns but no big drops. We rode that one twice. Believe it or not I was making a worse face the first time.

In the late afternoon we hit the water park where June and did the Whirlwind, one of the bigger water slides. It dumps you into a big sideways funnel at the end and you go whirling all around the sides. (Thus the name.) It was fun but I wasn’t up to lugging a cumbersome double-seated tube up several flights of stairs to do it again so we stuck to smaller slides after that.

After the water park, we rode the Ferris wheel, went through the simulated chocolate factory tour at Chocolate World (both kids absolutely love this for some reason—I think it’s the singing cows), had a late dinner and went back to our hotel. As we were standing at the reception desk to check in, June whispered to me in a stricken voice, “Mommy, I forgot Muffin.” Muffin is June’s stuffed monkey and bosom buddy. He always comes with her when she sleeps away from home.

I pointed out it was lucky she had another monkey. June won Banana Monkey, as she named her, at a whack-a-snake game that very day. She’s no Muffin, but it turned out she was a decent pinch hitter. June had no trouble going to sleep.

In the morning we had some time before the park opened so we went to Hershey Gardens, a botanical garden near the park, which I highly recommend if you’re ever in Hershey and feeling over-stimulated. We enjoyed the rose gardens and the metal sculptures of insects and other animals. We probably spent the most time in the butterfly house and the children’s garden, where we found this cool musical space:

Back at the park, we went straight for the Great Bear, Noah’s favorite coaster because June had gotten to do her top choice ride the day before. The Great Bear is full of crazy twists and inversions. The cars start out hanging below the track but several times you are upside-down on top of the track. If you look up its description, you see a lot of words like “helix” and “corkscrew.” Needless to say, he rode that one alone, as the three of us stood on the ground below and tried to glimpse his green crocs flying through the air high above us. (I was the only one who saw them.) He says it’s so fast there’s no time to be scared but I will have to take his word for it because I am never trying it.

But the kids and I did the sooperdooperLooper and we all rode the Coal Cracker and the Trail Blazer—all of these are tamer rides, even if the sooperdooperLooper does go upside down once. Next I wanted to ride a wooden coaster, because I’ve always loved these best.

After some consideration, Noah and I chose the Comet. I almost gave up when I saw the line, but we decided to stay. Then as we were getting buckled in I almost wished we had given up because as I get older the fear to fun ratio of amusement park rides is definitely shifting and I was thinking, “I am too old for this!” It ended up being perfect, though, just scary enough. I probably would have gotten right back in line if it hadn’t been a half hour wait.

Before we left the park, June got a lock of her hair wrapped in multicolored threads to complete her back-to-school look. It cost her about a month’s allowance.

We stopped at Chocolate World to buy some treats to take home and then around four we started the drive home. The kids still had a few days of break left, but in some way it felt as if we left summer behind when we drove out of that parking lot.

Three Weeks, Three Shows

The kids’ camps are over—musical drama and tinkering and band and Girl Scout sleep-away and gymnastics and drama twice more. School starts in two weeks and in the meanwhile I’ll be home with both kids. I’ll be working and they’ll be finishing up their summer homework and going to the pediatrician and the dentist and arguing with each other and maybe we’ll think of something fun to do, too.

Camp season went out with a bang. The past three Fridays we’ve had performances to attend. These are always fun and this year was no exception.

Everyone Flips: Gymnastics Camp

June attended gymnastics camp at the University of Maryland the last week in July. It was her first time at this camp (though she takes Saturday classes there on and off).

Almost every summer I write a blog post complaining about schlepping kids to and from day camp on public transportation and how time-consuming and chaotic it feels with different pickup times and places every week. If I wrote that post it would be about this week, as College Park is the furthest from our house of any of her day camps and it required me to be in transit for two and half hours or more most afternoons. But I don’t think I will write that post. It was kind of a pain, made worse by the fact that it was miserably hot and humid that week, but up until the week June was at gymnastics camp, Noah handled almost all of June’s camp pick-ups for me, and he even got her from gymnastics camp one day, so I think we’ve aged out of that particular complaint. Not to mention the fact that in two or three years June will probably be getting herself home from most of her day camps, so the light at the end of this parenting tunnel is getting pretty bright.

We learned about gymnastics camp from a girl at June’s school bus stop who goes every year, sometimes multiple weeks. “It’s a great camp,” she told us. “You go swimming every day and on the last day there’s ice cream.” It’s true they did swim at the University pool four afternoons and had an ice cream party on the last day. There were also spirit days—like Maryland colors day, pajama day, or Wacky Wednesday. But, being a gymnastics camp, there was gymnastics, too. The kids in her age group (eight to sixteen) took a test and were divided up by skill level on the first day. June was in the most basic group but she didn’t mind. She was on the young end of the age range and hasn’t taken gymnastics for years like many of the kids. She was pleased that her best score was for cartwheels because she loves those.

June said she enjoyed using all the equipment and having more time to go into skills in depth than in her Saturday morning class. She came home so worn out most days that she’d slump against me on the bus and one day she nearly fell asleep.

On Friday, we all arrived at camp at three o’ clock to see what she’d learned, or rather what she and maybe one hundred and fifty other kids had learned. It was a huge camp. The younger age group (five to seven) went first, performing on the parallel bars and tumbling. Next the older kids did first front handsprings and then cartwheels across the mat simultaneously in short parallel lines. I’d never seen June do a handspring. She did a nice job. (I’ve seen a lot of them since then, plus one-handed cartwheels.) Then the more advanced gymnasts within this group did multiple back handsprings and other fancy tumbling.

Next the whole older group convened to do flips on two trampolines. The camp director explained that by the end of the week, “everyone flips,” no matter what his or her starting level of experience. And almost everyone, including June, successfully flipped. Spotters stood on either side of each kid and lightly supported their lower backs as they spun through the air. Most kids did just one front flip, but some did back flips or multiple flips.

After the flips, it was time for human pyramids. Both the younger and older groups did three-person pyramids in various poses. June’s group was near the back so it was hard to see, or rather, the people under her were hard to see. I could usually see her, as she was on the top. Then the older kids did one big pyramid, or actually it was more like a crenellated castle wall, a long line two kids high with an occasional third kid interspersed along the top.

Finally, all the kids were invited to take their parents to whatever equipment they wanted so they could demonstrate their skills. June flipped over the lower of the uneven bars, did cartwheels across a soft balance beam laid directly on the floor—often keeping on the beam the whole time—and jumped on the trampoline, landing on her bottom or knees and twisting around the in the air. When she was finished, we left the gym, headed for a pizza dinner, the weekend, and another week.

Drama Camp 1: Playmakers

A week after the gymnastics exhibition, June had another performance. She’d been attending drama camp at Round House, where we’ve been sending both kids to summer and spring break camps since Noah was in kindergarten. As a result, some of the counselors remember June as the baby I used to bring with me to pick-ups. (And now, as mentioned, Noah can pick her up from camp himself and did one day.) Also, now that she’s a rising fourth grader she’s in the middle age group (Playmakers) and camp met in a different building in Silver Spring. The program was also more focused on the final sharing than it is for the youngest group, although it’s still more process-based and less polished than June’s musical drama camp. Playmaker camps run most of the summer with different themes and technical focuses each week. June’s week was Mysteries and sound design.

The kids wrote the fifteen-minute play themselves over the course of the week. The night before the performance June gave me a plot summary while I was making spinach-quinoa fritters for dinner. I was trying to form the patties and keep an eye on the ones already sizzling in the skillet so I wasn’t paying perfect attention. While we watched the skit I was wishing I had because it was a bit confusing.

It seemed to be about an evil school photographer who made children disappear by taking their pictures with a magic camera. The parents are looking for them and their search takes them to a haunted house full of spooky sound effects where they find clues. Somehow they end up driving a car made of dumplings (this is where I really got lost) until they decide to eat it instead. In the end the detective who has been allegedly helping them is unmasked as the villainous photographer and they get their kids back.

The kids picked music to play in different scenes and shook a sheet of thin metal to make thunder and used other objects to make noise. They were clearly having fun and that was nice to see.

One of June’s old preschool classmates was at camp with her. When I asked her if she remembered him she thought about it for a long time and said, “sort of.” She probably hasn’t seen him since they were five so I wasn’t surprised her memory of him was foggy, but I always enjoy seeing the friends from her little kid days grown up into bigger kids.

Beth took the kids camping that weekend and they left right after the performance. June got use the fire starting skills she learned at tinkering camp and they waded in a lake and picked raspberries. I stayed in Silver Spring, got dinner, watched a movie (The Gift) and had ice cream before catching a bus home. I haven’t seen a horror movie or thriller in a theater in ages and I’d forgotten how different the audiences are than audiences at the dramas Beth and I usually see when we make it to the movies—more participatory and louder basically. It was nice to do something just for myself. I felt like I needed it.

Drama Camp 2: Dramatic Exploration

After that June’s camps were over, but Noah had one left. He was in the oldest group at Round House (rising seventh to twelfth graders), which meets at their theater in Bethesda. His week was called Dramatic Explorations and they were practicing scenes from different dramatic genres and using different performance styles. Other than Tuesday, when he was Mecurtio in Romeo and Juliet and they worked on stage combat skills, he was close-lipped about what they were doing, but he seemed happy enough.

Meanwhile, June was home with me. On Tuesday I took her to see Sponge Bob: Sponge Out of Water because it was the last week of $1 movies and then we got veggie burgers, fries, onion rings, and custard at Burgerfi afterward. Then she had three play dates in two days on Wednesday and Thursday, which allowed me to get some work done.

When we arrived at Round House Theatre at five on Friday, the set from Oliver was onstage because that’s what’s currently playing. (The older daughter of the director of June’s Frozen camp plays an orphan in that production—she’s been in camp with June for several years so June was excited to see her headshot on the wall of the lobby.) I wondered if they’d incorporate the set. I thought the staircase would work nicely for the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.

The camp director explained that they had been working on scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Tartuffe, and four contemporary plays over the course of the week. Everyone worked in every genre, although they would only perform in one or two scenes each at the sharing (as they call it).

They began with Romeo and Juliet. They did several scenes, switching actors for each scene. They did, in fact, did use the staircase in the balcony scene, although it was a comic version with a second set of actors providing rather loose modern language translations of each speech. June loved this scene, especially when Juliet, trying to get Romeo to leave so he won’t be discovered, tells him she’ll see him later but she needs to watch Netflix right now. In another scene, when the nurse tells Juliet that Romeo has killed Tybalt, the daughter of June’s second-grade Spanish teacher (and an elementary and middle school classmate of Noah’s) did a really excellent job playing the anguished nurse delivering the news.

A scene from Tartuffe was next, also well acted, and June was actually able to follow what was going on and grasp some of the characters’ motivations, which are quite different from their words.

Noah was in the last of the four scenes from modern plays. His was called Other Life Forms, although the title of the play was not announced ahead of time as with the other plays because the revelation that Noah’s character was an alien was the surprise ending of his scene, which up until that point seems to be a discussion between two friends of their respective love lives. The scene and the sharing ended with him saying, “I’m an alien from outer space” to laughter from the audience.

All the kids were good in all the roles. I guess if you’re still going to drama camp when you’re a teenager, you’ve self-selected. Noah was worried about this aspect of it ahead of time. Last year he did a week of drama tech, which is more up his alley, and he wasn’t sure if his acting skills were good enough for the oldest group, but he needn’t have fretted. He was really good, quite believable as a human and an alien.

Afterward, we got pizza and focaccia at an Italian deli and ate them in nearby park, followed by a trip to Haagen Dazs. The day had been hot but it had cooled down a little and it was pleasant to eat outside and celebrate another summer of good camp experiences behind us.

The weekend in between gymnastics camp and her last week of drama camp, I asked June what her favorite camp was this year and she said it was a tie between musical drama and sleep-away camp, “But I liked them all. I think I made good choices,” she said. She’s gained skills as a dancer, singer, and actor this summer; she learned to do a handspring and a one-handed cartwheel, and she slept away from home without relatives for the first time ever. I think I have to agree with her.

Noah enjoyed his camps, too, even if he still has a little regret over some mistakes he made in the band camp concert. He does tend to brood over things like that. I understand, being the same way. But I was glad he stretched himself and went to drama camp this year even though he was a little scared. That, in my opinion, is a stellar thing to do.


June got home from a week at Girl Scout camp last night. Right before she left for camp, Beth had a business trip to Phoenix and was gone for four days so it’s been a long time since the four of us have been together for longer than half a day. I was very happy to have everyone under the same roof again. In fact, I made a peach-blackberry cobbler this afternoon to celebrate our first dinner all together in eleven days. And then the kids fought all through dinner prep and dinner itself, making me wonder if I ought to send them to sleep-away camp on alternate weeks for the rest of the summer.

Anyway, backing up a bit, the week Beth went out town the kids went to tinkering camp at their old preschool. June was a camper and Noah was volunteering. The theme this year was Bushcraft, so they worked on plant identification, went geocaching, and learned to tie knots, use a hatchet, and set fires. For each skill they learned, they earned a badge. June earned at least a half dozen, plus two “extensions” for going above and beyond. On the day she started a fire with kindling, cotton balls and one match, June told me with some resignation, “I suppose I won’t be allowed to do that at home.”

Beth left on a Wednesday. It was our summer anniversary, commemorating twenty-eight years since we started dating. (We also celebrate a winter anniversary—of our commitment ceremony and wedding, which were conveniently on the same day, if twenty-one years apart.) Noah had an orthodontist appointment that morning so June walked the mile or so to camp by herself—she was very excited, as it was the first time she’s made this particular walk alone—and Beth took Noah to his appointment and then dropped him off at camp.

It had occurred to me that we could have a brief date in the interval between when Beth returned to the house and when she had to leave for the airport, but I thought she’d be too busy packing or too stressed out, so I didn’t say anything. I was surprised and pleased when she suggested going out for lunch after we’d exchanged gifts. (I got her a t-shirt from Café A-Go-Go she’d admired in Rehoboth and a bar of Ecuadorean chocolate from the Folk Life Festival. She got me gift certificates for two local bookstores.) We went to eat at Busboys and Poets, where we used one of the gift certificates for the meal. It was a bit of a tight squeeze for her to leave for the airport, but it was nice to touch base with her before she left.

Did you hear about the dust-up between Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, and Black Lives Matters activists at Netroots in Phoenix? If our Facebook feeds are at all similar you did. Beth was in the room when it happened. You’ve probably read all about it already, but if you want her take on it, she said O’Malley came off looking bad and Sanders was worse.

Late Saturday night (or actually in the wee hours of Sunday morning) Beth returned from her travels. I might have given her a sleepy hug and kiss when she came to bed, but I can’t say for sure. The next day was a whirl of regular weekend chores and getting June off to camp. I’d gotten June mostly packed the day before—and I only got teary when I watched her addressing envelopes for letters to send home—but there was more packing to do and Beth had to iron name tags onto all her clothes and go to the farmers’ market because it’s the time of year you just can’t miss it. After lunch we left to drive June to Southern Maryland, after coaching Noah on how to get to the house of the family friend who was driving him to band camp orientation (along with her own son who was going to play the euphonium in the fifth and sixth grade band).

On the drive to camp June was full of nervous energy, but she grew quieter as we got closer. After we got off the highway and onto narrow roads with names like Girl Scout Camp Road and Juliette Low Lane and then pulled into the grassy parking lot, she said, “I bet I’m the only one in the car with a knot in their stomach.” Even though she likes to try new things, she often gets nervous right before hand.

I’d been nervous about sending her away all week. She’s never been away from home not in the care of relatives before (and Noah’s first time was a five-day school trip to New York last fall) so I don’t have a lot of practice handing her over to strangers and walking away. But we did just that—and quickly, too. Lingering was not encouraged. We signed her in, put her suitcase and sleeping bag in a pile of other girls’ things outside the cabin and soon she was digging through her bags for her bathing suit, towel, water bottle and sunblock because she needed to line up to go to the pool for her swim test. We hugged her goodbye and drove away.

As we did I wished we’d managed to make it to orientation last month so I could have toured the camp. I wanted to see the insides of the cabins, the dining hall, the pond where she’d be canoeing and kayaking and catching frogs. But Beth had been in Detroit that weekend and although I found another mom who was willing to drive us in the end I decided I didn’t have time that weekend. June did know three girls who’d be at camp that week and one of them, her friend-since-preschool Maggie, was in her bunk. So she wouldn’t be completely alone.

I was mulling this over when Beth, who often knows how to cheer me up, suggested we stop at Starbucks. Back in the car I noticed the huge stacks of cumulus clouds. It was just a classic summer sky and looking at in while alone in the car with Beth made me think of all the road trips of our younger days and made me wish briefly that we were going somewhere other than home.

But we did go home. That week Noah went to band camp, Beth went to work, and I worked at home alone, possibly for the last week in the summer both kids would be occupied at the same time. In addition to working, I finished a novel I’d been reading for more than a month (Finders Keepers, I’d stopped in the middle for couple weeks to read a book club book) and made some headway weeding the garden, at least enough to find the errant watermelon vines, cut their tendrils off the vegetation to which they’d attached themselves and get them back into their patch. I also discovered the family of rabbits that’s laying siege to the garden has almost completely wiped out the carrots. June and I have very different feelings about these rabbits.

In the evenings we watched movies. Noah chose Back to the Future and Back to the Future 2, which were fun, although I wished they were less sexist. It was 80s week at our house apparently, because one of the numbers Noah was working on for band camp was a medley of 80s hits. He made a playlist of the original versions of the songs and played it for us one evening after our movie was over. I have to say I find Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” deeply evocative of the mid-eighties. The other songs have either picked up other associations for me because I’ve heard them often in the past three decades (“Thriller”) or just weren’t that important to me start with (Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.”)

It was nice to have time to focus on Noah, but I did miss June. One morning before she left for work Beth found me watching the videos of her Frozen performance and yes, maybe crying a little. When I did laundry and put it on the line, I couldn’t help noticing the colors were drabber than usual. There were a lot of whites and grays and blues and greens but not much in the way of pink, purple, or pastel. It helped that the camp sent updates about what they were doing each day, along with photos, and we sent her letters and email. (She was too busy to write more than one letter and she never mailed that one so we read it when she got home.)

The week passed and soon it was Friday, the big day. Noah’s concert was in the afternoon and June was coming home. The concert conflicted with her camp pickup so we arranged for Maggie’s family to bring her home with them.

Band camp is for kids entering fifth to tenth grade and they divide them up into three age groups. It was Noah’s first year in the oldest group. There were about fifty-to-ninety kids per age group and they have a week to learn five or six songs, so it’s an intense experience. They also take electives. Noah took composing and movie music.

When we got to the auditorium and sat down I started to feel very sleepy. I hadn’t slept well the night before because our room was too warm and I’d been weeding out in the sun for almost two hours earlier in the day. Plus the seats were comfortable and the building was air-conditioned but not over air-conditioned. I did manage to stay awake, however. It helped that the kids were great, all three groups. I always find it a little amusing to hear band arrangements of “Simple Gifts,” (which the fifth and sixth grade band played) because nothing fifty kids play all together with at least ten kinds of instruments can be said to be simple, but there you go. The seventh and eighth grade band played the Pink Panther theme in a medley of Henry Mancini tunes, which was fun.

The ninth and tenth grade band came on last. Noah played a lot of different instruments, including wood blocks, bells, bass drum, and a big set of chimes that looked like it belonged in a steampunk film. (You can see another kid playing it at the back left of the photo.) I thought it looked like fun to play but Noah wasn’t happy with his performance on that instrument. He was more satisfied with the 80s flashback piece. He played cowbell in the “Thriller” section and tambourine in most of the rest. During “Thriller” the camp faculty shambled across the stage like zombies, which was a nice touch.

After the concert we stopped for a few slices of pizza but as we were eating we got the call that June was almost home, so we left with our drinks and crusts still in hand so we could be home when Maggie’s folks delivered her.

June was tanned and happy and full of many, many facts about camp. She sang us songs she learned and told us about how they intentionally capsized the canoes so they would know what to do if one did overturn and about the food in the dining hall and the dance and the campfire and one special new friend she made who lives not too far away. When Beth asked if she wanted to go next year she said “Totally” and when I was putting her to bed she said wistfully, “It went so fast…”

It does go fast, I thought, as I settled this girl who is now old enough to go away from us and come back, into her own bed and told her goodnight.

What Frozen Things Do in Summer

Musical Drama Camp, Week 1

On our way out of Rehoboth two weeks ago, we stopped at a Crocs outlet to get the kids new Crocs. Noah had outgrown his and June felt she needed more as well, although she has a few pair. She very nearly got some with Olaf the talking snowman from Frozen on them but Beth was concerned that since we were buying big and it takes her a long time to outgrow her shoes that she might find the design too young before she outgrew them. But on the other hand, she was trying out for Olaf at musical drama camp in just two days and it seemed like it could be a good luck omen. In the end, she went for a bee and flower design from the sale bin instead.

June surprised us with her first choice of character. I’d been confident she’d want to be Anna as she is a lot like Anna—a friendly, outgoing younger sibling, often eager for attention, plus in previous years she has rejected any suggestion on the camp director’s part that she play a male role. But she said she thought Olaf was silly and funny and she wanted a funny part. Anna was her second choice. On the first day of camp she tried out for both roles and when she came home on the first day she thought Gretchen’s reaction to her Anna audition had been more positive. She’d arrived in braids that day and she looked the part, plus Gretchen said her voice was better for Anna than for Olaf. But when I dropped her off on Tuesday, Gretchen said, “Hello, Olaf,” and that’s how she found out she got the part.

Musical drama camp was two weeks this year instead of one, though the first week was short because Friday was a federal holiday. It was also the first week of summer in which we were in our most usual summer configuration—Beth at work, June at camp, me working at home, and Noah also at home, doing a little summer homework and house or yard work every day and helping me with camp pick-ups. The kids also had their first music lessons of the summer on Wednesday. As it takes me a while to get into a routine, and that routine changes every week in the summer as camp locations and pick-up and drop-off times differ, I was glad this one lasted two weeks. It was a good way to ease into the controlled chaos of summer.

Fourth of July Weekend

On Friday of the first week of drama camp Beth had the day off work and June had no camp, so we went to the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival on the Mall. June had been singing the songs from Frozen all the time, particularly Olaf’s number “In Summer” to practice, so they were in my head. As we left the Metro and approached the Festival I started singing and June immediately joined me:

Oh, the sky will be blue
And you guys will be there, too
When I finally do
What frozen things do
In summer!

“Not you, too,” Noah groused.

The focus of the Festival was Peru this year. Usually there are a few counties, but they’re tearing up the mall so there was less room than usual and it was a scaled down affair. We had lunch first: vegetable tamales, quinoa and avocado salad, choclo (large-kernelled Peruvian corn), fresh mango and pineapple, cookies with dulce de leche inside, and chocolate and passion fruit gelato. The corn was gummy so no one cared much for it but everything else was good.

We watched a couple musical and dance performances—cumbia and marinera, which is a dance of flirtation, according to the Smithsonian, and the dancers did use the handkerchiefs they carried to hide their faces and make it look as if they were kissing. I asked June if she thought they were really kissing and she shrugged. I always enjoy the music at the Folk Life Festival and we would have stayed at the performance tent longer but the venue was very small and it was hard to get a seat or even find a place to stand where you could see well so we just sampled a little.

In the kids’ tent, we listened to a creation story told first in an indigenous language spoken by a tribe with fewer than one hundred and fifty surviving members. The story was then translated into Spanish and finally English. June attended a workshop for kids by an urban poster artist from Lima and colored her own poster in bright colors. The artist had made a set of posters of Washington landmarks and Beth admired them so later while I was in the marketplace with the kids, Noah selected a postcard in one those designs and asked me to buy it for her. There were stripes of different colors in the background of many of them, reminiscent of a rainbow, so we looked for the Supreme Court, of course. But they didn’t have that, so he went with the capitol building. Earlier in the outing the kids had been bickering a lot and Noah had been complaining about having to come to the festival at all, so I was glad he made that gesture. And then on the way home, June informed Noah, “You may be annoying but you’re not evil,” which is what passes for sibling harmony some days.

Saturday was the Fourth. Our first order of business was the parade. June was marching with a Girl Scout contingent of several local troops and the rest of us were going to watch. But at 9:15 when it was time to leave, it was raining pretty steadily. I asked if she was sure she wanted to do it and she said yes. Beth had ironed three new Brownie badges onto her vest, since it will probably be the last time she wears it, and I’d dug through the bags of hand-me-downs in the basement to find a pair of khaki shorts since the girls were supposed to wear white shirts and khaki pants with their uniform vests or sashes. Noah wasn’t ready so June and I set out into the rain, with Beth and Noah to follow.

When we found the Girl Scouts it was a pretty small group and there were no girls there from June’s troop, which was a disappointment. After we’d been waiting for about fifteen minutes, a man came by with the news that there would be a half-hour rain delay, so we ended up waiting almost an hour in the rain before the parade started. But the rain cleared and the girls lined up to hold the banner and we bid goodbye to June and told her we’d meet her at the end of the parade. We made a stop at Spring Mill Bread Company, the new bakery in town, where we got coffee and pastries.

Then we walked down to the end of the parade route and waited for it to arrive. The parade was not as well attended as it usually is, so we didn’t need to get up from the benches outside the community center in order to see. There was the usual assortment of groups, starting with political candidates, a bagpipe and drum corps and various school and youth groups. There were multiple musical floats—playing everything from steel drums to zydeco, and dancers from different cultures and people walking dogs and people riding horses. They Boy Scouts rode their pinewood derby cars and the Girls Scouts had a fifteen-foot papier mâché statue of Juliette Gordon Low and a wagon covered with dolls in Girl Scout uniforms and that was enough to net them the prize for the best youth group.

Once we saw them arrive, I walked alongside them for the last two blocks of the parade and brought June back to Beth and Noah. We got funnel cake and ice cream—Beth said we were “taking a holiday from nutrition”—and we headed home. (I did pick some lettuce and the first two tomatoes from our garden for veggie BLTs at lunchtime and Beth made veggie hot dogs and fruit salad for dinner so the day was not entirely devoid of nutrition.)

June was very excited about the fireworks that night because she’s never seen them in her own hometown. I’ve always been strict, some might say to the point of being neurotic, about bedtime and as a result Noah never saw any fireworks anywhere until he was eleven. Last year we all saw them in Rehoboth (because there was no way I was going to pass up seeing them on the beach). I figured there was no putting that genie back in the bottle, so we were all planning to go to the Takoma fireworks together this year for the first time. It was made a little less stressful for me by the fact that the Fourth was a Saturday so June wouldn’t have to go to camp and dance and sing all day while sleep-deprived. And then, just before six we found out the fireworks were cancelled, or postponed rather, until Sunday. I was a little surprised because the rain was over, but they were concerned about the mud, I guess.

Neighboring jurisdictions were less cautious, however, so we were now faced with a choice. You can see the D.C. fireworks from the roof of Beth’s office building and her some of colleagues gather there every year, but in fifteen years of working for CWA, Beth’s never done it. She suggested we try it this year. I was hesitant, not sure what traffic getting out the city would be like, but I agreed. Sometimes I make an attempt to act like a normal person even if when I don’t feel like one.

Surprisingly, June resisted this plan. She really wanted to see the postponed fireworks in Takoma and she knew I would not let her stay up hours past her bedtime two nights in a row, but in the end we decided it made more sense to do it on a Saturday than a Sunday. (We also weren’t sure it wouldn’t rain the next day as well. It’s been an exceptionally rainy summer so far.) We had dinner at home and then drove into the city, stopping for microwave popcorn at Walgreens on our way. (The outdoor thermometer there said minus 196 degrees Fahrenheit. It was cool for July in the Washington area, but not that cool.) Once at Beth’s office we popped the corn and then went up to the roof where several of her co-workers and their families were mingling. There were a few elementary school-aged girls with paper and markers and June soon joined them. Noah found himself talking video production with the husband of the new Secretary-Treasurer of the union.

From the roof we could see two other rooftop parties. In one the participants seemed to have coordinated so everyone was wearing red, white, or blue tops. The fireworks started at 9:09, right on time. There were classic explosions, but also some innovations, like smiley faces and rings within rings. During the show June said, “If this is a dream, I hope I don’t wake up.” One advantage to not seeing fireworks until you are eight years old is that even the second year it’s pretty impressive. It lasted about fifteen minutes and then we were folding up our chairs and heading back to the car. Because we were far from the mall, traffic wasn’t bad at all. June, who’d been pretty zoned out in the car if not technically asleep, was in bed by 10:25 and asleep by 10:30 when Noah followed her to bed.

Sunday Beth, June, and I went to an outdoor pool and I made sour cherry sauce with cherries from the farmers’ market. We ate them with blueberries on vanilla ice cream as a belated Fourth of July treat. June wanted to watch fireflies in the yard while we ate, which I thought we could do without keeping her up past her bedtime again, based on the insects’ previous performance, but the darn bugs were tardy so she ended up staying up about twenty minutes past bedtime that night. I am considering this flexibility a demonstration of personal growth.

Musical Drama Camp, Week 2

The next week June went to camp every day again, and Noah and I held down the fort at home. He finished his summer math packet, started reading Into Thin Air, practiced his drums, vacuumed and mowed and weeded, continued to pick June up at camp and ran errands for me as well, picking up ice cream so I could make brownie sundaes and milk when we ran out.

The performance was Friday at 2:15. In addition to Olaf, June had a few small parts, including one she was assigned just the day before the performance. One of the Elsas was sick and she needed to sing her part in “Let It Go.” On the way to camp Friday morning, June was full of nervous energy.

We invited Megan to the performance and Noah and I picked her up at her house. Megan was very chatty on the walk to the community center and asked a lot of questions about which roles June would play and what songs she would sing. “I know why she wanted to be Olaf,” she commented, even though she had not discussed this with June. “She’s small and she’s funny.”

When we arrived at the auditorium, kids from another day camp in the same building who had watched the dress rehearsal were just leaving. We took our seats, splitting up so Noah could set up his tripod in an aisle and so Megan could sit as close to the front as possible. This ended up being fortuitous because Megan kept up quite the running commentary during the show. She was impatient for Olaf’s scenes and seemed to view all the others as impositions to endure. Whenever June was on stage she waved at her, but June kept in character and didn’t acknowledge her until she was in the wings, when she waved back. “So she did see me,” Megan said with satisfaction.

The cast was bigger than usual because Gretchen had two different age groups working on the same performance this year instead of doing two separate shows in separate weeks. So there were twenty-five kids, about evenly split between the two groups. The younger ones served as a chorus of Elsas, Olafs, and snowflakes. They wore white and changed only their hats depending on the scene.

What can I say about the show? It was wonderful. It gets longer and more polished as the core group of actors gets older each year. (The camp director just keeps shifting the age range upward so a lot of the kids come year after year. This is June’s fifth summer doing it.) The set was simple but cool. Boxes were stacked up to form a wall, with three sides painted to create different backdrops. Between scenes, they would flip them over to show the right one.

June played young Elsa in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” Her only line there was “Go away, Anna,” but it was delivered with a good amount of realistic older sibling scorn. She was a servant during the party scene, mopping the floor and sometimes dancing with the mop. She sang in a chorus of Elsas during “Let It Go.” There was only one solo line but a pretty long duet and her projection was great.

Here’s that number:

And then she was Olaf. I didn’t realize how many spoken lines she’d have. She was on stage for probably most of the second half of the show. And here’s her big solo, “In Summer.”

I have to say watching her play Olaf erased all my doubts about whether it was the right part for her. She nailed it, in my objective opinion. Noah even told her later that evening, “You were the best, the best actor,” and he doesn’t offer hollow praise so he must have meant it.

On Saturday morning we went berry picking at Butler’s Orchard and came home with a bounty of blueberries and blackberries. Today I’m making a blueberry kuchen because as I said when we were discussing what to do the berries, I am “contractually obliged” to make one blueberry kuchen every summer. And Beth commented that yes, she was pretty sure it was in our wedding vows. It’s like going to the beach and the Fourth of July parade and drama camp, and later in the summer, band camp and the county fair. These are the things we do in summer.

The Ocean Life’s For Me

The Week Before the Beach

The week before we went to the beach, Noah was in West Virginia visiting with Beth’s mom. June’s last day of school was on Monday and it was a half-day. I parlayed that into a full day of work by sending her home with a friend and then the next morning I sent her to another friend’s house and in that day and half I did most of my work for the week. June and I had a fun day Wednesday—we took a friend of hers to see Annie at the theater than plays second run movies for a dollar a couple mornings a week during the summer. Afterward the girls played in the Silver Spring fountain until Evie’s mom picked her up and June and I had lunch at Austin Grille. At home we read in the twin hammocks in our back yard, I mowed the lawn, and made chocolate chip cookies for homemade chipwiches. I worked a little on Thursday and Friday. June had a friend over—it was her fifth play date in four days—and we packed for the beach.

Getting to the Beach: Friday and Saturday

Late Friday afternoon Beth’s mom and Noah arrived in Silver Spring, where YaYa would stay in a hotel overnight before we drove to Rehoboth. We all had a pizza dinner at zPizza and then we left June to stay the night with her and we took Noah home. They swam in the hotel pool that evening and visited a flea market in the morning while we finished packing. At the market, YaYa bought June a teddy bear made of multicolored yarn there she named Tie-Dye, or Ty for short. We met up with them at the hotel and hit the road around eleven.

We made great time, arriving at the realty around three, even with a long stop for lunch. When we got inside the house, Noah exclaimed, “This is a cool house. This is an awesome house!” It was certainly the biggest house we’ve ever had—it had six bedrooms so no one but Beth and me had to share and it featured a mix of wood-paneled and airier rooms, a retro-looking kitchen painted aqua, plus a screened porch that wrapped part way around the side of the house. And it was only a half block from the beach.

Mom and Sara arrived around 4:30—Mom had another teddy bear for June, this one from her recent trip to Europe—and our party was complete. While Beth went on a grocery run and the kids got to work on the script of a movie they were planning to film, Mom, Sara, and I took a short walk down to the beach and then we came home and collaborated on a quick dinner—scrambled eggs with asparagus they bought at a farm stand on the drive, vegetarian bacon, and toast with orange-pineapple-apricot-peach jam from the same stand.

Sunday: First Day at the Beach, First Day of Summer

I woke around six to the sound of rain on the windowpanes. I stayed in bed dozing until around seven and then I got up and had breakfast with June on the screened porch. I was getting ready for a rainy walk on the beach when the sun came out so I left the raincoat I was borrowing from Beth at home and put on sunblock instead. The kids were working on their movie again and the rest of the adults were all either still getting up or eating breakfast.

I spread a towel on the sand. The sky had cleared considerably—it was bright blue with big puffy white clouds scuttling across it. The sea was silver and sparkly and full of leaping dolphins, some quite close to shore. I stayed about an hour and a half, leaving around eleven to avoid most of the mid-day sun.

At the house I read to the kids for a long time—over an hour each. June and I finished The Letter, The Witch and The Ring and started The Hobbit. Noah and I finished Crystal Keepers, which we’ve been reading slowly—sometimes just a few chapters a week—since his birthday in early May. While I was reading to Noah, Mom took June to Candy Kitchen and to Funland, where over the course of the week June won countless stuffed animals and both kids won tails you can clip to your pants.

About 3:30, I headed back to the beach, leaving Sara and Beth to work at the house. Sara’s whole vacation was a busman’s holiday, but Beth didn’t work much after Sunday. I was glad of that, as she often works through vacation.

The day was now sunny and hot. I got a cherry snow cone at the snack bar on the trail down to the beach. We’ve never stayed on this stretch of beach before, but I’d explored this trail from the beach side during an off-season beach trip and I’d wondered if the little hut sold food in the summer, so I was happy to see it did. I’d tried to bribe Noah into coming to the beach with me by offering frozen treats but he preferred to stay in his room with the blinds shut. YaYa, who had just spent a week with him, had taken to calling him the Prince of Darkness, because of similar behavior at her house.

I thought the idea of a secret little store, not visible from either the beach or the road, would appeal to June but she was so focused on her goals of getting someone to take her to 1) Funland, 2) Candy Kitchen, and 3) Jungle Jim’s water park that my description barely registered with her. Nonetheless, it reminded me of one of the years we stayed in The Pines and we discovered a grassy path that ran between the backyards of houses down the length of two blocks. We’ve been coming to Rehoboth for twenty-five summers now but I still love finding its hidden places.

While June was off accomplishing goals #1 and 2, I got a voicemail from my mom, asking if June could go on the Sea Dragon, one of those swinging Viking ship rides. She loves those but she’d never been tall enough until this year. I said yes but advised my mother to skip it.

The snow cone was bigger than I expected and I ate it in small bites to avoid brain freeze, so it was after four by the time I got in the water. It was early in the season so the water was cold—68 degrees, a 22-degree drop from the air temperature, so it was hard to get in, but once I was acclimated it was perfect—everything was perfect, the warmth of the air, the cool water, the pellucid light, the gulls wheeling overhead. The angle of the sun turned the sea spray from wave after wave into rainbows. I must have seen dozens of them. The waves were promising, big and breaking just where I like them. Then I jumped into the perfect one—it swept me up and into its inward curve and I flew over the top and dropped down to the water behind it, which is my very favorite thing to do with a wave. When it’s just right I swear I hang in the air for a moment before I drop, like Wiley E. Coyote, but without any injury resulting from the fall. Sometimes a whole beach week goes by without a wave like that.

That evening Beth and I took a walk to the beach and watched the sun set on the longest day of the year.


Monday started early because the alarm on my phone went off at 5:45. Noah had set it to go off Mondays to Wednesdays two weeks earlier when Beth was on a business trip to Detroit and I was getting him off to school. Since I usually leave it in its charger in the study overnight apparently I hadn’t noticed it going off in the interim. Neither Beth nor I really got back to sleep and the kids slept in that day, so we were eating breakfast together at 7:15 before anyone else in the house was awake.

Later in the morning we went on a series of errands together. We got coffee and visited Browse-About books where we picked up Into the Wild, part of Noah’s required summer reading (or so we thought—he’s actually supposed to read Into Thin Air—Beth exchanged the book later in the week). I looked for my book club’s next book—Cloudstreet and Sara wanted some books on toxins for work, but they didn’t have any of them. We also visited the olive oil store, or tried to; it was closed. Lastly, we rented a bike for me and one for Sara (Beth had brought her own bike) and we rode them home. I’d been telling Beth I wanted to get back into the habit of going on dates and while it wasn’t the most romantic outing, we were alone for a couple hours, so I think it qualified.

Back at the house, we ate lunch and then I started dinner because it was my night to cook and I wanted to go back to the beach in the late afternoon. I enlisted Noah’s somewhat reluctant help to trim and chop green beans and June’s enthusiastic help to shuck corn.

I made it down to the beach by 3:30 and around 4:30 Mom, Sara, and the kids joined me. The ocean was very calm so I thought it was a good opportunity to get the kids to venture deeper into the water than they usually go. June agreed to try it when I offered to hold her on my hip. The water made her buoyant enough for this to be a feasible plan. Sara and I passed her back and forth a couple times and then she said, “Let me go” and she was swimming in ocean water over her head for the first time ever. She’d tread water for a while and then she’d hang onto me again and back and forth. When I got out of the water, she stayed in, not as deep, but deeper than she normally would. When it was time to leave the beach, she didn’t want to go and the promise of frozen custard on the boardwalk after dinner lessened but didn’t eliminate her disappointment.


June was eager to go back to the beach the next day but she had to wait until mid-afternoon because she had a full day planned. In the morning she went on an early morning bike ride with Beth. I met them at Café a Go-Go for coffee, juice, and cake and then we all rode our bikes home.

It was a hot day—it had reached 90 degrees by 9:20, according to the thermometer on Rehoboth Avenue and I was trying to be responsible about the sun, so I stayed in the house, reading to both kids, hanging out with Sara and Mom, and doing laundry.

By 2:30, though, June and I were at the beach. We got snacks—potato chips for her and cherry water ice for me—at the snack hut. I settled on the towel to eat my water ice while June splashed in the shallow water. If I’d realized it would be the only rest I’d have for almost two and half hours, I might have savored it more.

The waves were a little rougher than the day before, at least at first, so when I came into the water, June did more clinging to me than swimming. But the water calmed a little and she got a little more daring and soon she was swimming again. I suggested she try diving under the waves because it’s really something you need to do when you swim in deeper water, but she said no and I said okay. Then about an hour later, without warning, she dove under a wave. I applauded and she looked surprised at herself and said, “It’s that simple?” I said it was and that now she had more choices for each wave—dive under it, jump up into it, or ride it toward the shore. She did all three repeatedly.

We were in the water until just before five without a break. I ended up mildly sunburned on my shoulders because we didn’t even get out long enough to re-apply our sunblock. She was so excited and pleased with herself that it was almost—but not quite—anticlimactic when I took the kids to the Haunted Mansion at Funland that evening and June kept her eyes open for the whole ride for the first time.

When we came home, Sara was eager to show us two short videos she’d just received of her soon-to-be adopted two-year-old daughter playing on a playground in China. I can’t wait to see Lily-Mei splash in the ocean and rides the kiddie rides at Funland.


In the morning the whole crew—all seven of us—took at walk on the Gordon’s Pond trail in Cape Henlopen State Park. As you might guess from the name, the trail goes around a marshy pond and you can see all kinds of water birds. We saw gulls, snowy egrets, great egrets and red-winged blackbirds. There’s a wooden platform that gives you a good view of the pond and there was a nice breeze, too, so we stayed there a long time.

The kids had considered filming part of their movie in the park (it’s the same park where they made a movie about a haunted watch tower during Noah’s twelfth birthday weekend) but artistic differences scuttled filming that day and in the heat of their arguing Noah almost didn’t come. But somehow the outing was salvaged and everyone seemed to have a good time once we got there. There had been a thunderstorm the night before so it was cooler than the day before, a beautiful morning really. The only sour note was when a man sped by us on his bike, yelling, “Get out of the way, ladies,” and knocked my mother’s walking sticks out of her hands. I guess there were no orphans or kittens for him to hit that day, so he had to settle for a senior citizen with bad hips.

Beth took the kids to Jungle Jim’s later that morning, where they had fun going down water slides and playing bumper boats. Beth and Noah came back slightly sunburned, though, and June had a really painful burn on her shoulders. We applied copious aloe, but that night she had to sleep in pajama bottoms only because she couldn’t tolerate her top. (We’ve been home several days now and it’s peeling, which is a new experience for her.)

While Beth and the kids were gone, I had some solo time on the beach and then Sara joined me at the end. I went in the water a few times, but mostly I read because I hadn’t had much time for that.

Mom and Sara made a lentil-sweet potato soup for dinner and afterward I read the Gollum chapter of The Hobbit to June while YaYa and Noah went out for frozen custard and to Candy Kitchen. After June went to bed and YaYa and Noah returned, I read Inkheart to Noah until bedtime. Beth and Sara made their own Candy Kitchen run while we read so after Noah went to bed, I sampled the chocolate-peanut butter and the chocolate-cheesecake fudge.


In the morning Beth and Sara took a bike ride and when they came home Sara made almond flour pancakes, her specialty. Since we were all gathered together, we watched some movies the kids made—a mystery called Clara Green and the Missing Diamond and some of Noah’s school documentaries, the F-CON project on banking crises of the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries, and the one they shot in in New York City last fall about a Grammy and Tony-winning composer.

We split off into different directions for lunch. Beth and YaYa had lunch with a family friend who lives in Rehoboth. Mom and I had lunch at a boardwalk restaurant and the kids took their first-ever sans adults trip to the boardwalk, where they had pizza and ice cream. (Mom and I actually crossed paths with them and they both looked pleased to be out and about on their own.)

After lunch the kids filmed a couple scenes for their movie after I helped them negotiate some of their differences and get back on track. In the late afternoon, June and I went to the beach and Mom and Sara joined us. June delighted in showing them her new ocean swimming prowess and they were suitably impressed. She couldn’t stop looking over her shoulder to make sure they were still watching.

For dinner Beth made her signature beach week meal—gazpacho, salt-crusted potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, and Manchego cheese with bread. Then we all took a walk on the boardwalk and got ice cream. We stopped at the kite shop on the way home and June picked out a ladybug kite.

Friday: Court Ruling

Beth, YaYa, the kids and I went out for breakfast at Noah’s favorite place to get crepes, which has now moved from a prime spot on Rehoboth Ave to an office park in Lewes. This makes it less attractive to me, but I went anyway, to be a good sport and because the crepes are pretty good. Beth checked her phone while we were all getting buckled into the car to go back home and that’s when we discovered the Supreme Court had ruled and gay marriage was now legal in the whole country.

“Yah!” June said.

“Great,” Noah said.

“Do you know the good thing about having two moms?” June asked and when we asked what, she said, “I know more about marriage laws than most kids my age.”

I spent more time on Facebook that day than I probably should have on our last full day at the beach—I didn’t get to the beach until after three, but everyone was so joyful, I couldn’t help it. Beth posted a picture of the guesthouse where I proposed to her in 1991. We’ve had a lot of important family moments in this town—from my proposal, to Noah’s first steps in a rental house just next door that guesthouse in 2002 to buying our wedding rings shortly after Maryland legalized gay marriage in 2012. It seemed fitting we should be in Rehoboth when we learned that couples in the last holdout states across the South and Midwest could now start shopping for their own rings.

In addition to reading Facebook, I also needed to act in Noah and June’s movie, which they ended up managing to film in two days, after having worked out the script earlier in the week. Everyone in the house had a part. YaYa and I were ghosts. We dressed in white clothes (I wore Beth’s bathrobe) and whitened our faces with zinc oxide. The play is about a woman, played by June, who receives a mysterious note from her ancestors and then travels across the sea to free their spirits, only to have them attack her before she wakes and finds it is all a dream. During the sailing song—filmed in a wood-paneled room that resembles a ship’s cabin—the sailor and her crew (Beth and Sara) sing an original song called “The Ocean Life’s For Me” and there’s a dance, too.

After filming was finished, Beth, YaYa, June and I went to the beach. They flew the ladybug kite and then June wanted to show off her ocean swimming for them, but the water was much rougher than it had been earlier in the week and she couldn’t do it, so she settled for doing cartwheels in the shallow water. I’d had a fun, if challenging swim right before they arrived, with wave after perfect wave and more rainbows in the sea spray. Call it the pathetic fallacy if you will, but nature seemed to be celebrating, too.

Beth, YaYa, the kids and I had pizza and gelato for dinner and then we made a final trip to Candy Kitchen. At home Noah finished editing the movie. He’d wanted to challenge himself to finish editing it while still at the beach and he succeeded. All the adults watched it before bed, as soon as Sara got back from a sunset bike ride in Cape Henlopen State Park. Everyone was impressed with June’s song writing and with the technical effects Noah used, especially how he made the ghost semi-transparent.


In the morning, we packed up the house and said our goodbyes to Mom, Sara, and YaYa. Beth, the kids and I stayed in Rehoboth for a few hours. It was cold, drizzly, and windy, so I sheltered in a boardwalk gazebo for a while. I didn’t want to go in the water too soon and get chilled in my wet suit. I finally got in the water around 11:15, after checking with a lifeguard to make sure it was allowed because the surf was high and no one else was swimming. I soon found out why. The waves were big—scary big—and really close together. I only lasted five minutes before giving up and getting out. I was getting pulled close to a jetty and I was afraid I might not be able to get out before without drifting too close to it, but I did.

We had more crepes and orangeade for lunch at an outdoor stand in town—the rain had stopped but we would have eaten there even if it hadn’t because Noah insisted, pointing out there are umbrellas on the tables—and then went back to the boardwalk for fries and to say goodbye to the ocean. I was still cheerful from the marriage decision and not too melancholy about leaving. We’ll be back in November or December and our families will be back some time in the next couple years, and when they do, there will be a new cousin to share the ocean life with us.

Middle School is Over!

Beth drove Noah out to West Virginia on Friday so he can spend a week of R&R with her mom, because while June still has another half-day of school on Monday, Noah’s last day was Thursday and his promotion was Friday morning. He’s officially a high school student now.

Thursday he had his last exam (geometry) in the morning and then the whole eighth grade went on a riverboat cruise in the afternoon. He didn’t have much to say about it except they could see the Washington Monument from the boat and the food wasn’t very good and there was a dance, in which he did not participate, but it was better than being in school.

Because of the cruise he didn’t get home until around five and when he did he yelled, “Middle school is over!” so many times that he got hoarse.

Before I talk about promotion, though, I want to tell you about the last big event of the year for kids in the Humanities magnet.


The first Monday in June Beth and I both took off work to watch the eighth-grade documentaries and multimedia presentations at AFI, a lovely art deco theater in downtown Silver Spring. They do this every year; it’s called F-CON, for final conference. (Many of their big projects have acronyms for names. The best acronym this year was ARMPIT—Antebellum Reform Movement Presentation in Technology. His was a PowerPoint presentation about a mid-nineteenth century labor leader.)

As we approached the theater, we saw they’d actually put his school’s name and F-CON on the marquee along with the other names of all the directors and films playing there. Beth shot a one-minute video of it. F-CON is at the very end.

F-CON was actually the third set of documentaries his class made this year, which was heavy on media projects. In the fall, they spent a week in New York City, interviewing subjects for biographical documentaries. Noah’s group interviewed a composer. In the winter they participated in a documentary contest about current events C-SPAN sponsors. Noah’s group did theirs on the repeal of DOMA and they interviewed Beth and me about how the legislation affected us. Despite the fact that I am in it, I have not seen this film because Noah, who has strong perfectionist tendencies, was not satisfied with the final product and didn’t want to share it. This is often how it goes with him, so I was glad he was basically forced to let us watch this film, which compared the banking panic of 1819 to the financial crisis of 2008.

It was great. All the films, websites, and skits were great. Beth said she kept thinking of little things they could change or include and had to stop and remind herself they are thirteen and fourteen years old. You forget that when you watch their work; it’s that professional. The assignment was to compare an event from the past to one in the present, along the theme of Challenges and Choices. The Salem witch trials and the Sedition Act of 1789 were popular topics. There were also presentations comparing the development of the steam locomotive and the D.C. Metro, as well as the first Transatlantic cable and the Internet. One film compared the Boston Massacre to last summer’s Ferguson protests and another examined themes of Romanticism in rock music.

There were fifteen presentations, lasting from 8:30 to noon. During the lunch break we took Noah out to Noodles and Company and Fro-Zen-Yo, then we went shopping at the AT&T store, where I got a new phone, my first smart phone. Never say I’m not a hip, up-to-date, cutting edge sort of person. (The next day I sent my first text.)

Anyway, back at AFI we watched a retrospective video a committee of eighth graders put together, using pictures and video from their three years of middle school. It was mostly chronological so the first pictures we saw of Noah were of his eleven-year-old self, on the Outdoor Education field trip they took for several days in the fall of sixth grade. He was practically a little boy compared to the big teenager we live with now. We saw more pictures of him and his peers dressed as figures from Greek myths at Greek Fest in sixth grade, doing research at the library at the University of Maryland in seventh grade, and being tourists in New York last fall, as well as pictures of them in the classroom, on stage, and on the soccer field. (It seems a lot of them were in drama club and played girls’ soccer.) I wished Noah, who did submit a bunch of photos, had sent some of the band. Anyway, it was lovely and sentimental and seemed so final that after we left it was hard to adjust to the reality that they still had two weeks of school (including a week of exams) left in their middle school careers.

But those weeks passed. Noah took exams in Spanish II, American History, English, Earth Science, and Geometry. His Media Production class had no exam. Some kids were still doing oral presentations that had been going on for weeks, but his was finished before exam week.


On Thursday Beth and I realized neither of us had asked Noah if he’d picked up his promotion tickets. There had been many stern notices from the school about the deadline for doing this and when I called the main office saying I had “a question about promotion tickets” the person I was talking to snapped at me that there were no more tickets available. When I clarified I just wanted to know if a specific student had collected his, she was friendlier. I was relieved to find he had, and thought we really would have been out of luck if he hadn’t.

Noah’s school has no auditorium so promotion was at a nearby high school. After I put June on the school bus we drove out there. We got there fifteen minutes before the doors opened for students. Dressed up teenagers and their parents were milling around, a lot of the girls wobbling in high heels. They let the students in first and then the guests. I was glad to get inside as it was a very hot day.

The jazz band was up on stage playing. The did a lot of the same numbers they did at the concert a few weeks earlier, but also “Summertime,’ which I thought was a nice tune to play for antsy teens on the verge of their summer break.

While we waited for the ceremony to begin Beth read a text from her mom, reminiscing about her own (her mom’s, not Beth’s) junior high school graduation. She even remembered what she wore. Beth said she wasn’t certain if she even had a junior high school graduation and that if she did, she didn’t remember anything about it. I remember the rehearsal for my middle school one, but not the actual promotion because I didn’t go. We’d moved in December of my eighth grade year and I didn’t really feel connected to my new school so I skipped it. At the time my mother’s boyfriend told me I’d regret it. Thirty-four years later, I don’t regret not going because it wouldn’t have been meaningful to me, but that fact itself makes me a little sad. It took me a long time to make friends after that move and it was a painful time in my life.

There were a bunch of kids on stage, who were going to give speeches, sing songs, play an instrument, or step dance (yes, really). I really wasn’t expecting quite so many performances, but it was nice. They alternated between speeches and musical selections. Noah has some very talented classmates. There was a very polished performance of “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and a rather spirited duet of “Lean On Me,” with the audience encouraged to clap to the beat and sing the chorus. There was also a surprise performance of a very popular retired coach, who sang “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” (The school mascot is an eagle.) It turns out he has a lovely baritone voice.

The performances and speeches went on so long I began to wonder if they were substitutes for having the class walk across the stage. Beth must have, too, because when the principal announced she was going to start reading names, Beth expressed surprise, and perhaps a little dismay. There are two hundred eighty five kids in his class, it was ten forty and promotion had already been going on for an hour and ten minutes by that point.

It also happened to be the day the House was voting on Trade Promotion Authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal Beth’s union has been working to defeat for months, and she wanted to be home in time to track the voting, which was supposed to start at eleven. (It was delayed until early afternoon so it didn’t end up happening during promotion. Thank goodness.) Anyway, the principal speed-read her way through the names and it didn’t take long. Then it was over and Noah was a high schooler.

Beth had go to the parking lot to find the band teacher, who had the medal Noah had forgotten to collect at school. They won them in competition, and while it’s the kind of thing Noah often doesn’t care about, he wanted this one. It meant something to him, so Beth went to find Mr. P and I stayed in the lobby waiting for Noah to emerge. Finally I texted him (because I can do that now)—“Where are you?” He answered with an image of a red car, so I joined Beth and Noah at the car.

In all the confusion, we never got a graduation picture. But we did take him out for an early lunch and for frozen yogurt because he asked. Beth asked if ice cream on the road would do—she was taking him to West Virginia later that day—and he said yes, but then he added quietly, “but now would be nicer.” One of the advantages of being a person who doesn’t ask for much is that sometimes, when you do ask, people listen, at least if that person is your mother. Beth agreed. We ran into both the principal of his school and his English teacher at the deli where we ate lunch and his fourth grade teacher at the frozen yogurt place.

Back at home, Beth had some work to do, related to TPP, and they both had to pack so it was almost three by the time they left. They arrived in Wheeling at eight and had pizza and the next morning Noah went swimming at Beth’s aunt Carole’s condo with Beth’s cousin Holly. Beth was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Let Summer Begin,” and for Noah at least, it has.

Party Girl: Or, Speechless No More

A week ago, on a Friday morning, I woke a little after six to June saying, “I can talk! I can talk!” in the hall outside my bedroom. Her voice was a little croaky, higher pitched than it usually is, and quieter but it was definitely talking, not whispering. My sister called two days later to ask for “the story of how June started talking again” and I had to tell her there was no story. I’m not sure what precipitated the return of her voice, but then again I’m not really sure why she stopped talking in the first place.

I had actually started to lose confidence in the Mean Girl theory because things did get better between June and her former friend at school and there was no noticeable change, at least not for over a week. So maybe that was it and maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it just took a week for her to feel relaxed about it.

In any case, she was excited to go to school Friday and I was relieved that she came home that afternoon still talking. That night we attended a carnival at her school and in between eating pupusas and gelato and watching her jump on the moon bounce I talked to her morning teacher who praised June for finding ways to participate during the six weeks when she wasn’t speaking. By Saturday afternoon, June’s voice was more or less back to normal. We’d made an appointment with a voice therapist at Children’s Hospital for next week. We haven’t cancelled it yet, just in case, but I’m hoping we can. It seems what Beth dubbed June’s “silent spring” is over.

Saturday June asked if she could go to the playground by herself. This is a new privilege I’d been on the verge of giving her when she lost her voice but I’d told her I wasn’t comfortable with her walking around alone by herself until she could talk, in case she needed to interact with someone. Her voice was still a little soft and squeaky then, but I said yes, because I thought she could use the positive reinforcement. She went to the playground Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, sometimes for hours. I asked her what she did and she said played and read a book.

The next Tuesday was June’s last Girl Scout meeting of the year. It was near the end of a six-day business trip Beth took to Detroit, so I was a little frazzled and forgot it was a parents-invited potluck until that morning. I decided rather than go out and buy ingredients for something I’d see what we had on hand. I’d been planning to make kale quesadillas for dinner anyway and we had two blocks of cheddar and an unopened package of tortillas. I picked nearly all the kale we had in the garden but once I sautéed it, it had cooked down so much, I decided just to make two quesadillas with kale and save them for home consumption and take a plate of eight plain ones cut into small wedges to the potluck.

When we arrived I noticed June’s the only third grader still wearing a Brownie vest. The timing of the bridging ceremony means the third-graders have been in kind of weird Brownie/Junior limbo since late March. Most of them have switched to Junior vests or sashes but some are evading the problem by not wearing any uniform elements at all. The badges they’re earing are still triangular Brownie badges, not circular Junior badges, though, so they can’t put them on their new uniforms and it’s hard to know what to do with them.

We ate macaroni and cheese and fruit salad and green-dyed devilled eggs and other dishes. Then there was ice cream and a green-frosted cake. I told June that my chocolate ice cream and cake were in Brownie and Junior colors. The eating and chatting went on a good bit longer than I expected. If I’d known, I might have tried to sit closer to the group of adults at the other end of our table.

Finally it was time to watch two groups of third-grade girls, including June, do dance routines they’d worked up for a dancing badge. The dance was the main reason I came to the potluck. I’d considered staying home and supervising Noah’s studying—it was exam week—but I’d been doing a lot of that recently and June wanted me to come so I did. She hadn’t told me much about the routine so I was surprised when the CD started and it was “I’m a Believer,” sadly not the Monkees’ version, but a remake. Still, that earworm is going to last a while. The dance was cute. The second dance routine was to an Irish jig and very well done.

The leader called the girls up next for earned badges and pins and for some reason everyone got slippers, too. Maybe it was an end of the year present from the leader? In any case, June is quite happy with them.

June had a violin lesson on Wednesday. Her teacher, who is quite talkative herself and has been very sympathetic to June’s plight—to the point of whispering in solidarity herself during June’s first voiceless lesson– was very happy to hear her voice again. “When June’s not talking, the world just doesn’t seem right,” she said.

Tuesday was field day. June said it was fun but had nothing else to report about it. While June’s morning class has been plowing ahead with math—they even had a test today, the second to last day of school– by Thursday June’s afternoon teacher seemed to have given up entirely on instruction. They whole third grade had pajama parties in their English classes that day. They wore pajamas to school and brought blankets, stuffed animals, and a book to read. Then they made little nests for themselves and read for an hour. It sounds like my kind of party.

There was another party today, one with a movie and popsicles, which caused Noah to say June was “a party girl.” Elementary school often ends this way, rather than with a flurry of exams. But this year it seemed like there was more than the end of another school year to celebrate. We’re all glad our party girl has her voice back.

Everything Happens at Once

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

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

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

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

Anyway, back to the week’s events…

Tuesday: Middle School Awards Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday: Elementary School Art Show

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday: Middle School Band Concert

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Something to Celebrate

Sunday: Mother’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: Birthday, ENT Appointment, Band Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday to Friday: Back to School

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

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

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

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

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

Still Speechless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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