About Steph

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Wings

Wednesday to Friday: Perching

The Wednesday before her birthday, June had a friend over and they were talking about how their older brothers have more homework than they do. David’s brother attends the Highly Gifted Center, where Noah went for fourth and fifth grade.

“I might go there,” June said.

“I’m waiting, too,” David sighed.

It’s been a long wait to find out whether or not June (and most of her friends) got into the HGC, since we applied in November, but we found out the next day that she did not. A few of her friends did get in, including her very best friend Megan, and some more friends are wait-listed. June has taken this hard and we’re sad, too, because I’m familiar with the program and I think it would have been a good fit for June’s learning style.

We got the letter on a Thursday and Beth was working late that night. I decided to take June for a walk down to the creek after dinner because the crocuses have finally bloomed and it’s her favorite place when they’re in bloom. We swung by the 7-11 on the way and I bought her some Starbursts, which she loves. She ate them while we sat in the gathering dark on a tree stump surrounded by tiny purple flowers. She leaned against me and we were quiet together.

Mostly she hasn’t wanted to talk about it, but shortly before her party, she asked me tearfully if I could contact her guests’ parents and ask everyone not to talk about the HGC at the party. I didn’t think censoring her friends was a viable, long-term strategy but I thought just for the duration of the party she deserved a break, so I did. Among her four guests, two were admitted, one was wait-listed and the other I wasn’t even sure if she’d applied, but in either case we hadn’t heard anything about her status. The only child whose mother I didn’t contact was the wait-listed girl because she’s very reserved and I just didn’t think she was likely to talk about it.

Luckily, June’s parties always involve decoration so over the next couple days June and I cheered ourselves up making her Pin-the-Wing-on-the-Bat game and by hanging decorations on the porch (a big crepe-paper-and-cardboard parrot we bought this year and some bats from our Halloween collection) and inside the house, where we strung leftover butterflies from her forest party two years ago and more bats from a fishing line between the living and dining rooms. On Friday evening, Beth went to buy balloons, including a bee-shaped one that said, “Happy Bee Day.” The theme of the party, if you hadn’t guessed by now, was wings.

Saturday Morning and Afternoon: Flying Up

June’s Girl Scout troop held their bridging ceremony for Brownies who are flying up to Juniors at Hillwood Estates, Gardens, and Museum. The estate belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post, an heir to the Post cereal fortune and an art collector. It now serves as a museum of her collection, which specializes in Russian imperial art and nineteenth-century French decorative art. The reason they celebrate it there is because there’s a nice little bridge that goes over a fishpond in the Japanese gardens.

The ceremony consisted of the troop leader talking about the difference between Brownies and Juniors and everyone walking over the bridge and receiving a green ribbon and a wing-shaped patch for flying up from Brownies. There was also hand holding and singing and cake.

The wings patch was a fun coincidence because of June’s party theme. Suddenly I was seeing wings all over the estate. An angel statue in front of the mansion, cupid statues and geese in a frieze over a fountain, metal eagles on slate roofs and flag poles.

We had a lot of time to kill after the bridging because June and I were staying for a tour of the mansion and a craft inspired by the decorative items inside. (Beth went home to work on party preparation, including frosting the tiered cake and decorating it with candy butterflies.) There was a worksheet about flowers for the girls to do. They had to find five flowers in bloom on the grounds or in the greenhouse and speculate about why flowers are scented, etc., but June was finished by 11:20 and the tour didn’t start until 2:30. We went to the visitor’s center and read and ate the lunch we’d packed, but that didn’t take long because I had not brought enough reading material.

A couple other families we’ve known since June was in preschool were also hanging around the grounds and they had decided to explore the mansion on their own, in advance of the official tour, so we joined them for that and then the girls played on the grounds until it was time for the tour. We went through the mansion again, this time with a guide to explain it all to us. The craft activity was to decorate a box with jewel stickers and ribbon and other materials. Beth came back for us at four and we drove home.

Saturday Evening to Sunday: Soaring and Roosting

June invited Megan to come over early to help with the final preparations for the party. She arrived a little after five, resplendent in a phoenix costume and they filled goody bags with butterfly pencils, dragon tattoos, plane whistles, bat-shaped clappers, and fairy charms. Then they tested out the craft for the party, making an angel charm bracelet, which turned out to be trickier than I thought it would be, so I was glad they rehearsed it and there was time for Beth to give them a hand.

At six, the rest of the guests started arriving. Maggie was a bat and Zoë was Maleficent. Marisa came without a costume. Her mom explained she wanted to be Daedalus, but she ran out of time to make a costume. “We have Daedalus wings,” I said, which surprised Marisa’s mom for a second until she correctly surmised, “From Greek Fest?” The sixth-graders in the humanities magnet, which Marisa’ older sister also attends, do a big unit on Greek myths, that includes skits. Noah had been Daedalus two years ago and the wings were still in the basement. I brought them up but they were dusty and a little worse for the wear and Marisa politely declined them.

We fed the guests right away, setting the table with leftover thematically appropriate napkins from various birthday parties (ladybugs from her first birthday, butterflies from her fifth, and owls from her seventh).

Sometime while the girls were eating pizza or cake, they started talking about whether they got into the HGC and who else they knew did or didn’t. At first Maggie looked startled to be asked, and perhaps remembering her instructions, mumbled her answer but then nearly everyone was talking about it animatedly. I had told June that she should ask people not to talk about it if it came up at the party and eventually she did. There was silence for a moment until someone said she had “just one more question,” and to my surprise and relief, Marisa piped up and firmly said, “She said she didn’t want to talk about it.” And that was that.

Next June opened her presents. Some were wing-related, a fairy coloring book from Megan and a stuffed penguin from Maggie. She also got watercolor colored pencils, a Mandala sand painting kit, a magnet kit, and a big book of Mad Libs.

The girls then settled into their sleeping bags to watch Hercules, which we projected onto a sheet in the living room. June said it was related to the party theme because Hercules spends a lot of the movie riding around on a Pegasus.

The movie was over a little before nine and I told them they could talk quietly until ten. They played a game called “I Confess,” which involves someone making a confession and anyone who has also done what was confessed gets a point. I think the object of the game is to have a high score and not a low one, but it wasn’t entirely clear. I eavesdropped for a while but I have nothing salacious to report. I think they may be a little young for this game.

They weren’t too noisy after ten, though I did hear some talking. I think everyone was asleep by ten-thirty, and even better, they all slept until around 6:45. They watched an episode of Magic School Bus on air pressure and then we fed them bagels, cream cheese, and fruit salad for breakfast.

Someone suggested they all put their costumes back on and soon they were constructing a story line that involved an angel, a bat, a phoenix, and Maleficent and played at that until they got bored and we shepherded them to the dining room table where they assembled the angel charm bracelets. Megan was the best at it so she was helping everyone else and finished her own last. I slipped a couple extra kits into her goody bag, figuring she might like to teach her sister how to do it.

Next they went out to the porch for Pin-the-Wing-on-the-Bat and the piñata. June’s big on pinning games. Over the past few years her guests have pinned tails on a cat, legs on a spider, and rings on Saturn. She always paints the target herself and the game is always a hit, as is the piñata. Who wouldn’t want to whack a crepe-paper-and-cardboard butterfly until it disgorges candy?

By the time they finished these activities it was 9:05 a.m. and the party wasn’t over until 10. They decided to watch another Magic School Bus episode, this one on bats, and then they went to play outside until the parents arrived.

Beth took June to get a manicure in the afternoon and that evening we went out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant that happened to be having fundraiser that featured the jazz band from a local middle school (not Noah’s). As a result, we saw a couple families we know but haven’t seen for a while with sixth-to-eighth graders, most of whom I would not have recognized if they were not accompanied by their parents. It was a bit of a poignant reminder of how quickly kids grow and also suggested to me that our nine year old will be an adolescent some day in the not too distant future. And as if we needed any more tempus fugit reminders, one of these families was of Noah’s best buddy from preschool, a boy he does not even remember but at whose house he slept the night I went into labor with June. It seemed fitting to spy this family precisely nine years later. The boy, who was always the tall lanky type, looks older than Noah now, at least sixteen if I didn’t know him and had to guess. There’s something manly about the bone structure of his face.

Monday: The Bee Day

June’s actual birthday was Monday. She went to school with some leftover temporary tattoos of knights to distribute to her afternoon class. (She’d given away the dragons from a knights-and-dragons set at her party.) Beth came home early to take her to California Tortilla for dinner at her request. I stayed home to keep an eye on Noah, who not only had a large project due the next day, but also came home with news of three separate overdue assignments of which he’d lost track and which he hoped to complete before the quarter ended on Thursday. I felt bad not going to June’s birthday dinner, but we’d been out celebrating the night before and then we’d left Noah at home alone to work so I decided to split the difference and stay.

After Beth and June got home, we ate leftover birthday cake and she opened her family presents. She got a lot of clothes and books, an iTunes gift certificate, and a promise of a shopping spree at a second hand clothes store, another promised shopping trip from YaYa and a pewter fairy perched on a crystal ball from my mom. The next day more gifts arrived, a coloring book with complicated interwoven animal and plant designs from my mom, and a birdhouse with suction cups you can attach to window and can lift a panel to see inside, from my sister.

June’s birthday week has come and gone, though the multicolored parrot still hangs on our porch and June confided in me yesterday that it’s still exciting to be nine. A friend of mine told me recently, “I am so confident in June’s ability to kick ass at life in the short and long terms.” I am, too. She’s smart, imaginative, and resilient. Her wings are strong. I can’t wait to see where they take her in the next nine years.

March Madness

I don’t even know what to say about the last few weeks. The last week of February was difficult and the first week of March was worse.

The last Thursday of February Beth and June and I attended a memorial service for a forty-four-year-old woman who died of breast cancer. We did not know her well, but she was the mother of one of June’s preschool classmates, a girl who also played on a soccer team with June in first grade and on her basketball team from kindergarten to second grade. Grief would be too strong a word to use because we weren’t friends, but her death did make me very sad, for her not being able to see her children grow up, for her widowed husband, and most of all for her four girls, aged six to twelve.

And then there was the weather. In the space of two weeks school was cancelled on four days, not to mention a two-hour delay and an early dismissal. (That last one was scheduled, at least.) This brought us to seven cancellations for the year, three over what’s built into the school year. And even though the school district promised to make the days up this year, they’ve gone back on that and applied for a waiver from the state, which means my consolation prize of three days of uninterrupted work in mid-June might not come to pass either. We’ll see.

When a friend asked on Facebook why a few of us stay-at-home and work-at-home moms were complaining so bitterly about the days off, I answered:

It’s the disruption of trying to work with kids at home, it’s needing to decide which of the things other than work that I usually do that I am not going to do, it’s the loss of quiet time that’s important for me as an introvert, it’s the fact that I also lose the chance to recharge through exercise when the pool at PBES is closed or through socializing with other adults when basketball practice or my book club is cancelled…And this is unique to me, but it brings back my grief for my father because he died shortly before the big storms of 2010.

This is what I meant about my father. It doesn’t happen every time school is suddenly closed, but when we have a great many cancellations in quick succession, it often brings me back to the-world-is-spinning-out-of-control feeling I had in the winter of 2010, when the kids missed two and three weeks of school respectively. (June was in morning preschool then and if the school district had a two-hour delay, her whole day was cancelled.) The bulk of those storms happened the month after my dad died and it’s clear that these two events got cemented together in my mind in a way that makes me overreact to the real but honestly not dire inconvenience of having the kids at home on a workday. I understand it’s not quite rational but that doesn’t change it. Add some painful private difficulties to the mix and I haven’t been much fun lately.

But so far I haven’t had a day as bad as Saint Patrick’s Day last year (our tenth and last cancelled day that year). I spent that day mostly in bed, with the blinds drawn, listening to an audiobook–and to make matters worse, it a pretty bad audiobook. I was afraid all this winter of going back to that place and I thought I had around two weeks ago, on the first Monday of March.

We’d had an ice storm and school was cancelled. I’d woken at 5:45, sore all over from having spent two hours the previous afternoon chipping ice off our sidewalk, but at 9:00, I was still in bed and I hadn’t eaten breakfast. It wasn’t that I wasn’t hungry. Getting out of bed and getting myself something to eat just seemed too daunting. I finally did get up, though, by focusing on the goal of putting a load of laundry in the washer. I decided to get the newspaper while I was at it and bring it back to bed. When I went outside at first I thought it was raining, which was strange because it was a bright, sunny day. Then I noticed that when I wasn’t standing under a tree it wasn’t raining and I realized it was water dripping from the rapidly melting ice. It was such a strange phenomenon I called June outside and we walked all over the sunny, sparkly, ice-covered yard, looking at every twig and every tall weed outlined as if in glass and listening to the water patter on the frozen ground and the ice breaking and falling off the tree limbs and the shrubbery and the clothes line.

Startled out my lethargy, I decided to eat breakfast instead of going back to bed and told June I was going to the creek to do something and asked if she wanted to go. What was I going to do? Come and see, I said and then I went back to the front yard and filled the wheelbarrow. Noah, watching from the porch in his pajamas, guessed correctly. “Are you going to dump that in the creek?” he said.

June did come with me, half amused and half embarrassed, as I pushed the wheelbarrow a block from our house and then she watched, bemused, as I heaved the contents over the railing of the bridge. She told me I was “completely insane.” Perhaps, but I felt better enough to muddle through with my day and not to go completely off the rails when school was cancelled again on Thursday and Friday. Though when Beth took June to work with her on Friday I really wasn’t sure if she did it because June likes to go to work with her, or to give me a chance to work in a quieter house, or because she wanted to spare June from me because I was still in a pretty bad mood. She didn’t say and I didn’t ask.

On that day, after I finished working, I walked to the library to return a book and while cutting across the campus of the university near our house I saw ten robins crowded onto a strip of exposed grass and mud over what must have been a warm underground pipe. Two days later on the same campus, I saw two clumps of crocuses, yellow and purple, almost a month later than they usually emerge, but there nonetheless. And now, after a week of warm weather, we have crocuses in our yard, too, and hyacinth and daffodils poking their way out of the newly visible ground.

Over the course of last week, life slowly settled back into its usual groove. The kids went to school five days in a row. I swam on Sunday and had a book club meeting on Wednesday. June had a violin lesson, a Girl Scout meeting, a basketball practice, gymnastics class and a basketball game. Nothing was cancelled. Although I appreciate this normalcy, I still feel tender and exhausted. I have a mistrustful feeling about it, like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The change to Daylight Saving Time, which has seemed easier in recent years as the kids get older, seemed very hard this year. I’ve been tired all week, and I’m not the only one. On Friday night June put herself to bed, fully clothed and without telling us. I only discovered her fast asleep when I went to tell her to get ready for bed.

The Pandas’ last game was yesterday. They lost, which was not surprising as they lost every game this season. Their defense is pretty good and while four or five players are on the verge of becoming good offensive players, they have no one who can consistently score, and if you can’t score, you can’t win. Mike, their coach, has somehow remained positive and encouraging through all this, and for the most part the girls have been positive, too. I mean, look at the picture. It was taken right after the end of the last game. Do they look discouraged?

They’re eight and nine years old and while some of them want to win, some of them just want to have a good time. Plus they were on their way to an end-of-season party (graciously hosted by Talia’s family) and they were excited about that. They live more in the moment than I do. I know June was very solemn at the memorial service and sad at the death of her friend’s mother, but I don’t think it touched her too deeply. It’s harder for me now not to be touched by things like that, even when they’re peripheral to my life.

My book club is reading Anna Karenina and I found when I got up to the part when she confesses her affair to her husband, it seemed so much sadder to me than when I read it as a grad student. It was the whole situation–Alexei’s pain, the way he hides it (from himself and Anna), which leads her to read him as cold and uncaring, which makes her think she might as well tell him what he already half-suspects and desperately wants not to know for certain. I felt so sorry for both of them…I think I read more emotionally now, maybe because I’ve been out of academia for almost a decade and I no longer worry about being sufficiently detached and theoretical. Or it could just be that I’m middle-aged and I’ve seen more of life and what it does to people.

I don’t think I’ll end up throwing myself under a train any time soon, though. I have children to raise, after all, and daffodils coming up in my yard.

That’s Love

Friday: Before Valentine’s Day

On Friday morning Beth got up at 5:45, as she does every weekday morning. It’s her job to get Noah out the door and mine to get June out the door and I have the easier job by far. June requires much less oversight to stay on task and she doesn’t have to be at the bus stop, which is right across the street from our house, until 8:15. I am not even sure what time Noah is supposed to leave as the actual time of his leaving varies so dramatically. Sometimes he walks to the school bus stop, which is about a mile away. More often he takes a public bus to the school bus stop or when he’s really running late or trying to finish some undone homework, Beth drives him to school. I guess they leave around seven a.m. on average, but sometimes it’s as early as 6:45 or as late as 7:30.

The difference on Friday was that after driving Noah to school, Beth headed out to the grocery store to buy a bouquet of blue flowers for June to take to school for Valentines Day. She wanted one flower for her morning teacher, one for her afternoon teacher, one for her morning bus driver and one for her afternoon bus driver. I’m not sure why she specified blue, but Beth said there were a lot of artificially colored flowers there and she thought she could find blue ones. I was expecting dyed flowers, but the flowers she bought were actually white with some blue tinting spray-painted onto them.

There were flowers left over once June had extracted four so I put the rest in a vase on the dining room table. For the rest of the day whenever I saw them I thought about how Beth was shepherding Noah through his morning routine or fetching flowers for June for two and a half hours before she even left for a full day’s work. I posted about it on Facebook and one my friends commented, “That’s love.”

June left for school with her freakish flowers and with lollipops for all her classmates. This might have been the first year she didn’t make any homemade valentines. I know last year it was mostly store-bought. And that’s basically what she brought home, candy and store-bought valentines, with a couple simple red construction paper hearts, nothing like the elaborate creations she used to make and receive in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. It made me a little sad, but I guess that’s part of growing up. In two or three years, she’ll be too old for valentines at all (except maybe for family)…until she isn’t again.

Saturday: Valentine’s Day

Saturday morning Noah was not ready to exchange Valentines yet, as he was still working on our cards, so we left for June’s basketball game, agreeing to do it when we came home.

The Pandas lost their fifth straight game, actually getting shut out for the first time this season. The score was 8-0. It’s hard to explain that they are not playing as badly as it might sound like they are. Put as simply as possible, they prevent a lot (but not all) of the opposing teams’ balls from going into the basket, and they take a lot of shots at the basket, but for the most part they just don’t go in. Sometimes the shots are wild, but maddeningly often they bounce off the rim.

June’s actually having a pretty good season. She’s gotten a lot more aggressive on the court. She steals the ball and takes shots at the basket much more often than she did in previous seasons, though she’s never gotten a basket in a game. (She gets them in practice all the time.) In this game she took a ball to the face, which caused her to bite her tongue so hard it bled. She sat out the rest of the quarter but when she came back into the game, she played just as hard as she had previously. That’s heart.

Back home, candy was exchanged, as well as cards. June also received sidewalk chalk and glitter glue, which she put to almost immediate use. “I was almost out of glitter glue,” she said appreciatively. Noah got a t-shirt with Roscoe the rooster, the unofficial mascot of Takoma. I got a Starbucks gift card and my favorite hazelnut-Ceylon tea (special ordered from the tea shop in Rehoboth) and Beth got a gift certificate for two movie tickets. Everyone was happy.

That evening Beth and I headed out to the movies. It was snowing when we left and icy roads were predicted but we decided to go anyway. We saw Birdman, which I really liked, especially the uncertainty about what’s real and what’s not and the way it used point of view. When we emerged from the theater, the roads were indeed a mess. We could see cars spinning their wheels and Beth said she thought maybe we should leave the car in the parking garage and take a bus home. But after we waited fifteen minutes at a bus stop that usually has a stream of buses arriving and only one came in all that time (and not the route we needed), she decided to chance the drive home. There was a bus stuck just a block from the bus stop and getting stranded if a bus had to offload halfway home didn’t seem appealing either.

Beth had to think a lot about the best route home, assessing each intersection and what looked safest and changing course several times. We ended up on Sligo Creek Parkway, where traffic was slow, but moving. There wasn’t a lot of snow on the ground but the winds were so high it was blowing all over and all the tree trunks and signs were coated with snow. Close to Maple Avenue, we saw a car in the creek. I should clarify here that in this part of the country we don’t call any body of water that would be deep enough to sink a car a creek. Those are rivers. The creek in question was probably about a foot deep and the car nearly spanned it. The headlights were on and there was a woman, or maybe a teenager standing on the bank. I called 911 to report it and the dispatcher thanked me but said someone else had already called about it.

When we got to the hospital near our house, the roads were very well cleared and we got up the hill of the hospital campus with no trouble. Beth decided to park the car there as our street might be messier and we were close enough to walk home. We picked our way through the icy parking lots and sidewalks as the snow swirled around us, passing a few people trying to push a car along our street. I wished I’d worn a warmer jacket. Beth wished she wasn’t wearing crocs.

We got home an hour after we set out on a trip that usually takes ten or fifteen minutes, but as we lay in bed listening the wind whipping around the house and rattling the windows and the sound of snowplows scraping the roads, I felt lucky to be warm and safe and that Beth got us home. That’s gratitude.

Sunday to Tuesday: After Valentine’s Day

Monday was President’s Day so it was supposed to be a long weekend and then Tuesday was a snow day so the weekend just went on and on… Knowing this was likely to happen, I worked a little every day from Sunday to Tuesday, trying to stay more or less on schedule.

Sunday morning Noah and June watched a movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, together. They hardly ever do this anymore and I was touched by the sibling togetherness, even if they did have an argument about how long to pause the movie for a breakfast break. (Later I found out they’d also been working on a movie they started filming last fall while we’d been out the night before.) They went out briefly to play in the snow that same morning, but it ended badly with June crying because Noah had dumped snow on her face and then he was grumpy because she left him alone after begging him to come out and play with her. But he made it up to her by coming in and making her cocoa.

Later Sunday morning Beth and June went grocery shopping and then Beth and I took her to the pool that afternoon, but Monday, everyone but me stayed home all day. I took a walk to Starbucks, but it was bitterly cold and no one wanted to come with me. June was antsy and bored, but it led her to write a murder mystery, so I guess it was a productive boredom. I asked if the parents on the cover are sad because they are psychic and know in advance they are going to die and leave their child an orphan but apparently, they are in heaven, looking down sadly at their orphan child. June found the photo by googling “sad parents.”

We ate a lot of comfort food over the course of the weekend. Beth made spinach lasagna and garlic bread Sunday night and pancakes and fruit salad Monday morning. I made braised cabbage and carrots, with mashed potatoes and fake Italian sausage on Monday night and fake beef and cremini stew on Tuesday night.

Tuesday I was a little grouchy about the snow day. I just wanted the kids to go to school and leave me in my quiet house and the morning was challenging. I was trying to work and the kids were bickering and June kept interrupting me to tell me she was still bored. But she had a friend over for most of the afternoon and things got better. They played outside and built a platform out of blocks where Playmobil people enacted some kind of drama and they wrote more stories. June was working on a sequel to “Another Orphan Made” and Maggie started a series called Horror Hilarious, which I am assuming is some kind of horror-comedy hybrid.

We walked Maggie most of the way home (her mom met us on the way) and it did me good to get out into the bright, sparkly day. It is always pretty down by the creek when it has snowed. Earlier in the day I had cheered myself by buying spring clothes for June and looking beach houses to rent for our summer vacation in late June. I found one I really liked, close to the beach, beautiful, and a workable arrangement of bedrooms for all the relatives we’re inviting. It was pricy, though.

When we got home, I saw Beth had answered my email about the various houses with the following message, “Let’s rent the one you love.” That’s love for sure.

Team Players

Hawks and Jaguars

Thursday evening in the car on the way home from basketball practice, June and Megan were chattering about the GeoBowl, which would be held the next day. Both of them were competing in it: June’s team was the GeoHawks; Megan’s was the GeoJaguars. Megan’s younger sister, who was out of sorts, said she was glad they were on different teams. Why, they wanted to know. Because it was time they stopped being friends and started being enemies, she said.

“We’re not enemies because we’re on different teams!” Megan exclaimed, and then added stoutly, “I’ll be glad if June’s team wins.” June chimed in she’d be happy if Megan’s team won, too. They’ve been best friends since kindergarten and it would take more than a geography contest to come between them.

June had been studying for Geobowl since September. The way it works is that packets of information are distributed about a month into the school year to every student in the third, fourth and fifth grade. Then the kids fill in the blanks on the packets, which are corrected and returned to them. Then they take a qualifying quiz in November, and the top seven kids in each class comprise that class’s team. This year’s theme was Europe and Asia.

I volunteered to help grade the quizzes the week of Thanksgiving. A bunch of moms, plus a grandmother and an older sibling came over to the organizer’s house, ate popcorn and drank wine and soda while we graded. I did a big chunk of the fourth grade and then double-checked someone else’s work on a third grade class. No one graded her own child’s class, but people were discreetly informing other parents of their kids’ scores as we went along. As it turned out, there was a strong correlation between your mother volunteering to grade the GeoBowl quiz and a high score on the quiz. I suppose that’s not surprising.

Nevertheless, I didn’t actually expect June to do as well as she did, because her studying had been sporadic until the night and morning before the quiz, when she crammed for about an hour. Anyway, as a result of the grading party, I knew weeks before June did that she would be in the GeoBowl (and to some extent which of her friends would be), but I didn’t think I should tell her until it was official. Then one afternoon in December she came running off the bus, yelling that she was on a GeoBowl team.

There were two before school practices for all participants in January and June’s team had a couple weekend practices and also stayed in the classroom at recess or lunch a few times. They also put a lot of thought into their team name, slogan, and t-shirt design. June was an early proponent of the slogan, “Eat Our Feathers,” but in the end they went with “We Fly with Knowledge.” I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed about that. The logo was of a hawk flying with the Earth in its talons. Beth helped June find the clip art she needed and then she made the transfers and ironed them onto the shirts.

The morning of the Geobowl I quizzed June, picking about forty questions at random from the packet. She got all but three right, so I thought she was in pretty good shape. Beth and I arrived at the school cafeteria shortly before nine a.m. Almost all of June’s friends were on the stage, with one team or another and the audience was full of parents we knew. Most the teams had t-shirts, but in the case of the Mind Avatars, each member was in a different kind of costume. Some of the GeoRockers wore sunglasses and bandanas around their heads in addition to their t-shirts and one of the Wise Wizards had a wizard hat.

The competition started with two rounds of questions about capitals. None of the six teams missed a question. A couple rounds later the scores were still very close. Four teams, including the GeoHawks and the GeoJaugars, still had perfect scores and the other two teams were only a point behind each. The master of ceremonies, who was the father of one of June’s friends, looking very dashing in a tux, had been making jokes throughout the event, but at this point he got serious and said it was anyone’s game. It turned out this wasn’t true because at the end of the regular questions, the GeoJaguars and the Wise Wizards still had perfect scores. The GeoHawks lost to these two teams by one point because when asked to name nine of the ten largest counties in Asia by land mass, they included one incorrect answer: Iraq, which should have been Iran. At that point it went to tie-breakers and when after three more questions the GeoJaguars and the Wise Wizards still had perfect scores, it was declared a tie so the fourth grade could take the stage.

June didn’t seem disappointed to have lost and was happy for Megan, as promised. Beth had volunteered to serve as a judge for the fourth grade so she stayed and I left. We knew a lot of kids in this one (at least four fourth-graders from June’s bus stop were in it) and I would have stayed to watch, but I had not gotten ahead enough in work to do it. I heard it was a nail-biter, too.

Pandas and Blazers

About an hour and a half after June got home from school, we left for Megan’s house because there was even more excitement left in the day. June’s basketball team takes a field trip to a girls’ high school basketball game once a season, for inspiration. It’s always a fun outing and this year, because the game was in the late afternoon instead of the evening, we were going out for pizza afterward. We were picking up Megan and bringing her with us.

The game was at the high school Noah will attend next year. We’ve known he’ll go there for a while because it’s our home school and he selected it as his first choice. What we didn’t know was whether he would be in the general school population, in the math and science magnet or the Communication Arts Program, as he’d applied to both. We found out about a week ago he got into CAP, which was his first choice. He wanted to be in it because he’s enjoyed the Media classes he’s been taking in the Humanities magnet in middle school. (He didn’t get into the math and science magnet but since that was his second choice, he didn’t care.) I didn’t really understand how much he wanted to get into CAP until the day he did. He tends to play his cards close to his vest.

Beth took him to an information session on Thursday night while June and I were at basketball practice, but this was the first time I’d been to this high school since he got into CAP, so it felt different somehow, to be there, and suddenly a lot more real that Noah will be in high school next year.

The Pandas wore their team shirts to the game and were greeted on the loudspeaker. Right before the game started they joined the cheerleaders in two lines through which the high school players ran as they came onto the court.

I’ve been to a four Blazers’ games now so there weren’t too many surprises but it is still notable when one’s main experience of basketball is elementary school games, how much faster the high school game is, and how skilled the players are at passing to each other. They don’t seem to need to look for each other at all. They just throw and, magically, someone’s there to catch the ball. It’s not quite like this with third graders. It wasn’t the Blazers’ finest night, they lost 55-37, but the Pandas have lost all four of their games so far this season, too, so maybe it was heartening to see more skilled players lose big. The cheerleaders and the pom squad, which performed at halftime, were also the subject of much discussion.

I heard one Panda’s younger sister and another one’s younger brother have very similar conversations with their mothers about the Blazers’ mascot painted on the wall. It’s a devil, wearing a cape. The team used to be called the Devils, and while the name got changed a while back, the visual representation of the mascot did not. Both children stared at it and asked, “Is that a good guy or a bad guy?” The combination of the horns and the cape was confusing, I think. Finally the little girl decided, “It’s a devil superhero.”

After the game, we took over the dining room of Zpizza in Silver Spring, and consumed five pizzas and a few salads, despite the fact that the Pandas had been running back and forth from the gym to the concession stand all through the game. (June got Cheetos and root beer and knew better than to ask if she could go again.) The kids sat at one table and the adults at another, and we chatted about work and other things until the girls were getting antsy at their table and starting to wander around the restaurant and it seemed like a good idea to leave.

It was late, but June wanted to get ice cream, and it had been such a big day I decided to say yes. Megan and June sat at their own table and ate their ice cream, while Beth and I sat at a table across the room and watched them. Sometimes they are on different teams and sometimes they are on the same team but since they were in kindergarten, they’ve been a team of two. They both have other friends, of course, and you never know which childhood friendships will last and which will fade away, but when I think of them in high school, I imagine June’s sweet, loyal, big-hearted best friend still at her side.