About Steph

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

A Room of One’s Own

The week before school started, June went to the middle school three times—on Monday morning to help teachers set up their classrooms and earn student service learning hours, on Thursday morning for a half-day sixth grade orientation, and late Thursday afternoon for the sixth-grade picnic. I was grateful for these activities both to keep June occupied and to make the school a more familiar place. Aside from our visit to Hershey Park, June had been kind of bored the last few weeks of break, at least until three friends came over in four days at the very end.

And as of the beginning of Labor Day weekend, we’d done none of the three water-related activities I’d told June we would do in the last three weeks before school started. We’d been thwarted trying to go to the nearest outdoor pool because of its limited schedule and my inability to remember it’s closed on Fridays. Three Fridays in a row I thought, “We should go to Long Branch Pool today.” Fortunately, the last two times I remembered why we couldn’t just a moment later and didn’t raise anyone’s hopes by mentioning it. Eventually I gave up on going, though it made me a little sad never to have gone to an outdoor pool this summer. (To clarify, June’s been many times—at camp, with YaYa in West Virginia, and with friends, but I never did.)

I set the Friday before Labor Day aside for a creek walk, an end-of-summer tradition the kids and I have. It consists of taking a walk down the middle of Long Branch (or sometimes Sligo) Creek. But Friday it was freakishly cold for the first day of September, in the sixties and overcast. Noah and I outvoted June and decided to put it off for later in the weekend when it would be warmer.

Back in early August I took June to see Kubo and the Two Strings at the one-dollar second run movies, but a sprained ankle prevented the usual post-summer movie trip to the Silver Spring fountain so I said we’d have a do-over movie-and-fountain date later in the summer. We invited a friend to see Leap on Saturday, with a visit to the fountain afterward. And it was just as cold that day and raining to boot. I would have let the kids go in the fountain if they wanted to, but Norma thought it was too chilly. June would have gone in, but it was fenced off as it often is on rainy days. So that activity was out, too.

Saturday night June was complaining of a sore throat and running a fever. On Sunday morning, there was no improvement it was off to urgent care so they could rule out strep throat. We normally wouldn’t go so soon but we didn’t want anything to scotch the first day of middle school on Tuesday. The rapid strep test came back negative, but June was lethargic and we decided to wait another day on the creek walk.

On Monday, Beth made pancakes for breakfast, as she often does on holiday weekends. June felt better, so shortly after breakfast, the kids and I headed for the creek, where we waded for over an hour and saw many little fish, three crawfish, and great quantity of spider webs. It’s been unseasonably cool for the past couple weeks and the water was surprisingly cold when we first stepped in and Noah was grumbling about it, but soon he was cheerfully throwing rocks and splashing June. When I said something about “if we do this next year” he insisted we have to do it, so I guess he had a good time after all. And I fulfilled one promise.

We always go out for ice cream the last night of the kids’ summer break and this year was no exception. (Well, Noah might say it was because June, being the one to start a new school, chose the venue and we got frozen yogurt, which he pointed out, is not ice cream.) It occurred to me if we went somewhere in downtown Silver Spring we could make one last-ditch attempt at playing in the fountain, but when I said it could only be for fifteen minutes or so, June didn’t think it was worth giving up the privilege of choosing where we got our frozen treats.

While all this was going on, Beth had been toiling during her evenings and weekends moving June out of the kids’ shared room into my office, which I’m sacrificing so the kids can each have some space of their own. This has been huge project, involving a lot of moving things around and assembling new furniture. Noah helped Beth put the new Ikea loft bed together and he showed some aptitude for it. (He has the right temperament—patient and calm.) Beth’s goal was to get June sleeping in the new room by Labor Day weekend and not only is the bed finished but a lot of clothes and belongings are in there, too. But I’ll hold off on pictures until the room is finished and decorated.

It was really June who wanted and advocated for the room switch. When we decided to do it, we offered Noah the office but he said he preferred to stay put, so June also scored the bigger room. My desk is in the living room now, which isn’t ideal, but in theory, when Noah goes to college I’ll get my space back. I think I want it for the same reason June does. It makes a difference to have a room of one’s own. But right now, at eleven, June needs it more than I do. And Beth did everything she could to make it easier for me, including buying me a new desk with drawer space. (My old desk was more like a small table.)

It’s a time of a lot of changes, beyond June starting middle school and getting a new room and new short haircut. Their decision a couple weeks ago to go by gender-neutral pronouns was surprising, and it’s been hard to remember to use them, though I’m trying. They also have a new name, North, which Beth is using sometimes, but so far, I can’t bring myself to say it, though I did write it on a school form in the preferred name space. Names are important to me, almost a hobby. I read and comment on a baby-naming blog even though I haven’t had a baby to name in quite some time. In fact, the only thing I regret about not having more kids is that we only got to name two people. The names we did choose are full of family history. For a while June was considering using their middle name (and I suggested their initials—J.D.—but I don’t think that was ever under serious consideration). I think it would be easier for me if the new name was somehow connected to the name we gave them. But maybe that’s the point, the difference.

Both kids went back to school on Tuesday, a week later than usual because the governor changed the Maryland school calendar to promote late season business in Ocean City. Now we have only two snow days built in even though the old number—four—was frequently inadequate, which is the main reason I opposed this move. It’s becoming rare to have an actual 180-day school year and this will make it harder.

But maybe you wanted to hear about the kids’ first day and not about my beef with the governor? I’d tell you, but neither of the kids told me much. I spied on June’s bus stop from the porch (the stop is right in front of our house), noting that about half the kids there are seventh or eighth graders who used to wait at June’s elementary school bus stop. I saw June talking to a seventh-grader, who used to walk to school with June when the two of them were in fourth and fifth grade, and another girl I don’t know. June wore sneakers for gym, intending to leave them in their gym locker and change into crocs for the rest of the day, but they lost the crocs somehow. Noah didn’t get into band yet again, because of schedule conflicts, but he’ll be in the intermediate band second semester, so that’s something. June had almost no homework; Noah had homework in three subjects. He’s working for the school television channel this year and the first broadcast is Monday. I think this will be fun for him.

I worked only fifteen minutes Tuesday because I had an orthopedic appointment for the knee I injured last summer, then I stayed in the city for a pro-DACA rally. It was bigger than the one I attended last month, and angrier, because it was held the day the President announced the program was being rescinded. I was moved almost to tears by the speakers, who were young, brave, hopeful, and fired up. They are just the kind of people we need in this country right now and I hope their organizing is successful. If you’d like to help, Beth’s running a fundraiser for CASA on her Facebook page.

I got home around 2:40, hot and exhausted, because the day was warm and a little muggy and June had insomnia the night before, which meant Beth, June, and I were all up until almost midnight and then Beth’s alarm went off at 5:40.

I had forty minutes before June’s bus was due. I could have exercised or cleaned or worked, but instead I put a glass of ice water on my bedside table, turned the ceiling fan onto its highest setting, fell into bed, and slept briefly. There’s a whole year ahead of us and I think I’m going to need to be rested for it.

Monumental Getaway

Gettysburg: Thursday

Three out of the past four summers we’ve gone to Hershey Park at the end of August. And, no, I will not write it Hersheypark, I just won’t, and you can’t make me. This year our trip wasn’t quite at the end of the kids’ summer break because our school calendar changed and they won’t go back until after Labor Day, but was close enough. We didn’t want to go too near Labor Day weekend, for fear of crowds. That’s also why we went during the week instead of on a weekend.

The kids had dentist appointments on Thursday morning, so we left early that afternoon. We’ve been squeezing in as many medical appointments as we can before school starts—two pediatrician appointments, two dentist appointments, one orthodontist appointment, and Noah got his wisdom teeth out, all in two weeks. I got in on the fun, too. I contracted a raging case of poison ivy on my right arm and left hand while weeding in the yard and had to go see my doctor to get a prescription for steroids after aloe, apple cider vinegar and some OTC remedies failed me. Between all the appointments and needing to work, most of my tentative plans to do some fun things with the kids during the last three weeks of summer break when their camps were all over went by the wayside. But this should make up for it.

We hit the road, drove an hour and fifteen minutes and had a picnic lunch at Cunningham Falls State Park at a pretty spot near the dammed lake. After we ate we went down to the water and watched the sunfish swimming in the shallows. June, hoping to get nibbled, waded in and stood still, but the fish did not oblige.

Our next stop was Gettysburg. One of Noah’s summer homework assignments is to write a short paper about monumental architecture and he didn’t want to use any of the many examples in our back yard, because he thought that’s what a lot of his classmates would do. He asked me if there were any monuments on the way to Hershey Park and I suggested Gettysburg.  There are dozens of monuments there. He chose the Pennsylvania State Monument, which is an excellent example of this kind of thing, having columns, a dome, the names of thousands of Civil War soldiers on metal plates, statues of many historical figures, plus Nike the goddess of Peace and Victory. It doesn’t get much more monumental than a goddess with a sword and an olive branch standing on a dome.

We spent most of our time at Gettysburg at this monument so Noah could photograph it and June and I could climb to the top. (There’s a staircase inside.) There was a nice view of the battlefield from up there and you also get to see the back of Lincoln’s head from a tiny window part way up the stairs. We looked at the lists of soldiers who served and learned that of the 34,000 Pennsylvanian soldiers who fought at Gettysburg, 1,200 were killed or mortally wounded and almost 4,000 more were wounded or went missing.

We also visited the Virginia State Monument and the statue of Abraham Lincoln outside the visitor’s center, where we read the Gettysburg Address on a big metal plaque. We could have read it many times, as it’s all over Gettysburg and not just in the park. I saw a motel that had the text of the address written all along the balcony rail. I was quite taken with that. The Visitor’s Center is also not without whimsy. The coffee shop is called Battlegrounds. I was a little surprised by that and thought they might as well have called it Hallowed Grounds, if they wanted to go there.

But a battlefield is a solemn place and while of course I did think about divisions in our country now and then while there, what hit me the hardest was watching my sixteen-year-old son walk along one of the trails and thinking about the fact that a lot of the soldiers—twenty percent by some estimates—were boys under eighteen. I also thought about the fact that while the last seven months have certainly felt like an ever-deepening crisis, it’s far from the worst crisis our country has seen. I think we’ll survive it.

And speaking of the present moment…as Confederate monuments are much in the news these days, Beth posted this essay to Facebook the day we were there. It’s a reflection by an African-American resident of Gettysburg about the Confederate monuments there. It’s worth a read.

Hershey: Thursday to Saturday 

We arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon, settled in, and headed to Chocolate World. Chocolate World is a separate attraction, adjacent to Hershey Park, featuring a huge store, a food court, a simulated chocolate factory tour and other activities such as chocolate tastings. We ate dinner there and entered the park. June wanted to be measured for her ride classification immediately and was disappointed to be a Hershey bar, having missed the Twizzler cutoff by a fraction of an inch.  I don’t think there was ever a time June wanted to ride a Twizzler-and-Jolly-Rancher-only ride, but it was the principle of having the options limited like that.

That evening we rode the mine ride and the swings, which were all lit up with red lightbulbs. Beth, June, and I had had a late night Wednesday because June had insomnia so I was exhausted and we only stayed until 8:30.

Friday morning Beth and June went to swim in the hotel pool while Noah and I stayed in the room, reading The Waste Lands. We’re up to the third book in the Dark Tower series and I’m really enjoying sharing it with him, as I love these books. Mostly I’m impatient for the kids to go back to school, so I can have some peace and quiet to work, but the fact that it will slow our progress through Roland’s world is one drawback.

Being in such a chocolate-centric place had put me in the mood for mocha so Beth found a coffeehouse and I got one, plus a hot chocolate for June and at 10:07 we were walking through the gates of the park. We’d stay for almost eleven hours. (When we left, Noah said, “Why are we all so tired?”).

We were tired because we walked between 18,000 and 22,000 steps according to Beth’s and Noah’s phones. We went on all manner of rides, together and in different combinations. The picture is of us on the Wild Mouse, a little roller coaster with lots of sharp turns but no big drops. The picture is like every amusement park ride picture we’ve ever purchased, with all of us looking excited or scared except Noah who is unperturbed.

We also rode the smaller flume ride, which is a favorite of June’s, and the sky tram, which I love because it winds between the tracks of big coasters I’d never ride, and gives me a vicarious view of them. One of these is the Great Bear, which Noah always rides alone because no one else in the family wants to do quite that many loops. Noah, June, and I rode the sooper dooper looper, though and I even bought a tie-dyed t-shirt that says, “I survived the sooper dooper looper.” It’s one of only two coasters I’ve ever ridden that goes upside down (the other is the Corkscrew at Cedar Point) so while Noah thinks the slogan on the shirt is a joke given the small size of the coaster, for me it’s only partly one.

While Noah was off riding the Great Bear a second time, Beth, June, and I went to the water park. We didn’t stay too long there so we didn’t get to do the lazy river, which Beth and I would have liked or any of the water slides, which June and I would have liked. Instead we went in the wave pool for a couple of its cycles. It was refreshing the first time but by the second cycle I was starting to feel claustrophobic, because it was quite crowded.

Over the course of the day, I was dithering about whether to go on the Comet, the smallest of the three wooden coasters at Hershey Park. I’ve always loved wooden coasters best but as I get older, I get more scared of them and I always think maybe this is the year it will be more scary than fun, but I went on it with Noah and it was more fun than scary so that day hasn’t come yet. Beth probably knew I was going to go on it but she listened patiently while I talked myself into it. I do this every year. While we were riding the Comet, June went on the Laff Track, an indoor, glow-in-the-dark coaster that goes backward.

Of course, since it was Hershey Park, we didn’t just go on rides, but we ate a lot of sweets, including but not limited to sundaes and shakes with various kinds of Hershey candies in them. The strangest thing anyone consumed, though, was the soda Noah got that had frosting on top (not whipped cream, but buttercream frosting) and pop rocks at the bottom. It was advertised as an “immersive, multi-sensory beverage experience.” Before he drank it, Noah regarded it and said, “It’s like soda for Millennials… I see the Instagram potential.”

After a pizza dinner, June got a caricature drawn and we started repeating rides. June would have liked to stay until closing time at ten, but the rest of us were ready to call it a day by nine. (Well, some of us were ready earlier than that.)

We were finished with the park, but not with Hershey.  On Saturday morning, we spent a few hours in the botanical gardens on the site of Milton Hershey’s original rose garden, visiting the butterfly atrium, the rock, ornamental grasses, and herb gardens, and of course, the roses. With Beth’s help, June (who has decided to use gender-neutral pronouns) shot a short film about what they would do all day if they lived in the gardens.

We had lunch at an Italian bistro in Hotel Hershey and then went back to Chocolate World for dessert and to shop for candy. June also came out of there with a doll wearing a dress with Hershey’s kisses all over it. Its name, of course, is Candy. And as tradition dictates, we rode the factory tour ride, though the kids were distressed to find they’d changed the theme song the cows sing.

Finally, around mid-afternoon, we drove away from Hershey and the last of our summer getaways was over. But someday we’ll be back. And when we are, June will be a Twizzler.

While She Was Gone

Trip 1, Beth and June: Thursday to Wednesday

Beth had two back-to-back work trips the first two weeks of August. Except for one night at home, she was gone for ten days.  June was gone most of that time, too, because Beth took her with her when she left for the first trip (the CWA convention in Pittsburgh) and dropped her off in Wheeling with her mom for a week of what the kids call Camp YaYa. She hung out with various relatives, ate cupcakes with Beth’s aunt Carole to celebrate her eightieth birthday, went swimming three times, saw a production of Godspell and The Emoji Movie, and spent the night in a treehouse cabin with YaYa. Noah’s been visiting YaYa for a week every summer since he was about June’s age or a little younger, so she was glad to finally get her turn.

At home, Noah and I were left to our own devices. He was at drama camp during the day the last three days June was gone, but we found time to finish the first book in the Dark Tower series, start the second one, and watch Psycho and The Birds. I didn’t cook anything much more demanding than pasta or frozen foods for dinner (except one night when I made a big vegetable stir-fry) and I got a lot of work and a little reading of my own done. It was nice to have both the one-on-one time with him and some time alone.

I started thinking about our fall garden, as a lot of our summer plants are dying prematurely this year and I didn’t want the garden to be over in mid-August. I planted carrot seeds in an unused plot, cilantro in a couple pots, and cauliflower, chard, and lettuce seeds in a starter tray because those seeds were a little old and I wasn’t sure what would come up. When I have a better sense of what’s going to germinate and survive the seedling phase, I may buy some starts to fill in the gaps. So far, there’s cilantro and carrot tops coming up and I see several promising-looking chard seedlings.

Since I had time sit on the porch a little while every morning, I also enjoyed what we already have in the yard. The resurrection lilies bloomed right on time the first week of August. They’re all done now. One morning during a delightfully cool spell, while I was sitting on the porch, wearing long sleeves and socks and drinking hot tea, I noticed a hummingbird sipping from the flowers on the volunteer trumpet vine that’s taking over our side fence. And as I was looking in that direction, I further noticed that the black cherry tree I planted in the side yard nine years ago was bearing fruit for the first time. (This is about on schedule apparently. They start to produce fruit when they’re ten years old and it was a sapling when I planted it.) The fruit is tiny and bitter, so I’ll leave it for the birds, but I’m glad the tree is healthy and developing as it should, especially since we have a couple of ailing silver maples in the front yard that may need to come down, which makes me very sad.

Intermission: Wedensday

Wednesday afternoon, Beth returned with June. I was happy to have everyone under one roof, if only for night, so I made a summery feast–yellow squash and corn soup, blueberry muffins with frozen berries we’d picked last month at the berry farm, and slices of one of the last garden cucumbers, and peaches from the farmers’ market. Beth left for Netroots Nation in Atlanta early the next morning, before I was even awake. Having seen her for a few hours made me miss her sharply, more than I had during the six and a half days she’d just been gone. But this was a shorter trip. She’d be returning late Saturday night.

Trip 2, Beth: Thursday to Saturday

I worked Thursday and June helped me clean the bathroom and make dinner (blueberry pancakes with more of the frozen blueberries). Friday I took off work. I was intending to take June to the library and the Long Branch pool, as I haven’t been to an outdoor pool all summer. But when I looked up the hours, I found it’s closed on Fridays and the Piney Branch indoor pool where I swim laps every Sunday is only open early in the morning and late afternoons and evenings on weekdays. This might have worked most days, but late afternoon was out because Noah had a drama camp demonstration we were planning to attend.

It was already shaping up to be a challenging day. I’d woken with a mysterious itchy rash on my right arm. Then while I was making a run to the Co-Op for milk, I lost my SmarTrip and my phone gave me an ominous warning about a virus I thought was probably fake but just to be safe I decided to power it down and leave it off until Beth got home and could look at it. Nothing seemed to be going according to plan.

So, I thought about it and made a new plan. June had been wanting to go on a picnic for a while so I suggested that. She was right on it, making pasta salad and sugar cookies while I was running my errands. I suggested something with protein might be a good idea, so we also took some veggie turkey slices, and I threw some fruit into the bag as well. The sky was looking threatening, but we packed umbrellas and headed out for the playground. We ate at the picnic table and then June waded in the creek. She didn’t want to swing or use any of the equipment, which made me think about how my kids have been coming to this playground since we moved to Takoma when Noah was a year old, but now our playground days are close to over.

Back at home, June helped me clean the kitchen, without complaint. Before he left for camp that morning, Noah had mowed the back lawn, also without complaint. It made me reflect that kids growing up is not all bad.

The trip to Round House Theatre was nerve-wracking because the first of the two buses we needed to take was twenty minutes late and for most of the trip I was sure we’d miss the second one and possibly Noah’s presentation. But we just barely caught it and we arrived ten minutes early. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt the weariness I often feel after stress settle over me.

The topic of the camp was theater design and for a week the campers focused on a play that Round House is producing this fall, working on sketches of costumes for characters, brainstorming props, experimenting with lights, painting scenery, and designing background sound. Individually and in groups, they gave presentations on each of these topics. Noah and two other boys presented on the sounds they would use in a specific scene in the play. This was Noah’s third time in the theater design camp and he presented on sound the last time around, too. I guess he’s specializing. He brought home some blueprints he made, the cue sheet for his sound plan, and some faux marble tile he’d painted. It was all very interesting and Noah said the camp put him in the mood to see a play sometime soon, so I hope we do.

I would have liked to stop in Silver Spring for dinner where we switched buses, but Megan was supposed to sleep over, so we needed to get home. We arrived at home to find a phone message letting us know she was sick and couldn’t come after all. June took it hard because the sleepover had been planned for a while and Megan’s family was about to leave for a three-week trip so it couldn’t be re-scheduled any time soon. It was seven when we got home and I ordered a pizza which didn’t come until past eight o’clock. We were all hungry and tired it was a discouraging end to the day, but we tried to salvage it with a game of Sleeping Queens before June went to bed.

Saturday was my rash was no better and now June had it too on her leg. The day was better, though. I took her to the library and the indoor pool because it looked like rain, although it didn’t until evening. We’ll go to the outdoor pool eventually. There’s still three weeks of summer break left. I was also glad Beth was coming home, though thunderstorms in D.C. delayed her flight.

We were messaging a lot all through that day and since she was at Netroots, it sometimes turned to politics: “All the sessions have been interesting but it feels a little precious to be talking about messaging when armed white supremacists are marching in the streets to protect symbols of the Confederacy,” she wrote.  It made me remember when she was at Netroots two years ago and the big drama was a blowup between Black Lives Matter activists, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders. That seems like it happened in a different country. We have slid so far backwards, so fast, it’s frightening. Except that’s not exactly it. People haven’t suddenly gotten more racist, they have gotten more willing to show it. In any case, it was a good reminder that Beth was doing important work on her travels, however uncertain the results.

First Day Home

But I am glad she’s home (as of 12:15 a.m. Sunday), because I miss her when she’s gone. And even though she was probably exhausted, the first day she was back she went grocery shopping and then we went to the Montgomery County Fair to look at farm animals, eat unhealthy food, play carnival games, and go on rides. The whole time we were there I was struck by the diversity of the crowd and our county—blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos, women in headscarves and others in the garb of Orthodox Jews. I told Beth that night as we were dropping into bed, a little past our bedtime, that everyone wants to eat fried dough and go on rides that take us high into the sky. “Those are culturally universal values,” she joked.

Meanwhile all four of us are planning to go to a rally in support immigrants (specifically the Dreamers) tomorrow morning in front of the White House because there’s important work to do at home, too.

We Know the Way

Girl Scout Camp

About a week ago, Beth and I drove out to Southern Maryland to pick June up from Girl Scout sleepaway camp, where she’d been making calzones and mac-and-cheese in an outdoor cooking-themed program. Of course, she also swam in the pool, kayaked in the pond, did archery, and spray-dyed a t-shirt. (It’s like tie-dying but with no knots and a spray bottle of dye.) She also learned a lot of songs and ghost stories we’ve been hearing since she got back.

One of the most exciting things that happened to June at Camp Winona was that after two years of being put in the lowest swimming group and confined to the shallow end of the pool, she was placed in the highest of the three groups and allowed in the deep end. She’d been plotting about this for years. She tried taking swimming lessons in the spring of fourth grade in hopes of getting in a better group, but to no avail. This year she decided she was going to swim breast stroke during the test because she had a theory it impressed the camp staff when anyone did this and they automatically put them in a higher group. The only flaw in the plan was that she doesn’t know how to do the breast stroke. But when I saw a picture of her in the daily photos the camp releases playing with a pool noodle right next to the tile on the pool wall that said “7 feet, 10 inches,” I thought her plan might have worked. It turns out breast stroke wasn’t an option this year, so we’re not sure what happened, but we were happy because it was important to her and, as always, I admire her persistence and strategic thinking.

Choir Camp

June had a day to relax before it was time for her next camp. Choir camp orientation was Sunday afternoon. In addition to a couple of information sessions, the campers had their first practice and parents were invited to observe, so I tagged along. The choir director had them do some posture and breathing exercises and then some vocal warmups before he introduced them to their five songs.

Three of the songs had a water theme: “Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie,” “The Quiet Sea,” and “We Know the Way,” from Moana. This song is partly in English and partly in Samoan. They also sang a sixteenth-century French song, “Je Ne Fus Jamais Si Aise” and “In My Life.” When the director asked how many people had heard of the Beatles song, only about half the kids’ hands went up and June’s was not among them. I’ve noticed over the years that band, orchestra, and choir concerts are an excellent way for kids to learn the music of their parents’ and grandparents’ day.

They started practicing. Beth said she found it very interesting how the director stripped the songs down into little pieces to start working on them in different combinations—only sopranos for one bit, altos for another, sopranos and baritones together—rather than having everyone sing together as they would eventually. Also, they didn’t sing the French words on the first day, just the words “one” and “two” in place of them so they didn’t have to struggle with unfamiliar pronunciations and the music at the same time. He did give them some pointers on diction for the English songs, though.

There were about fifty kids in the choir, aged ten to fifteen, plus a handful of sixteen and seventeen-year-old junior counsellors who sing with them. Campers seemed to skew a little to the older side of the range, though, especially the boys. I wondered if it takes a while to own being the kind of boy who wants to go to choir camp. (The choir was about eighty percent female.)

The last thing that happened, back in the auditorium once the choir campers were reunited with the orchestra campers, was a raffle. They have these every day at all the music camps. The prizes range from t-shirts from previous years to Six Flags tickets. One tradition is to raffle off a cardboard box every day. This stands for the right to sit in the box seats of the auditorium during the next day’s post-lunch concert.

When I picked June up from camp on Monday she seemed cheerful. She’d painted in her art elective and played theater games in her drama elective. There had been an all-female barbershop quartet at the post-lunch concert. She was wearing her t-shirt from orchestra camp last year because it was summer youth music camps alumni day. (All the days had themes. One day they wore funny hats and glasses; another day they were supposed to dress in the colors of the Maryland flag.) Best of all, the chorus teacher had singled her out while the sopranos were practicing, saying people should sing the piece as she was, “lightly” and he also praised her pitch.

This was a relief because June had worried a little before camp started if she really had enough experience because a year of school chorus is required to register for this camp and she didn’t precisely have a year of school chorus experience. She was in chorus in fourth grade until it disbanded without explanation right after the Holiday Sing in December. But I thought a third of a school year of chorus, plus several months of private voice lessons in fifth grade, plus musical drama camp every summer since she was five had to be the equivalent of at least a year of chorus so I’d checked the box that said one year on the online form.

On Wednesday, she reported that after trying out for it, she’d been put into a small group that would come to the front of the stage and sing part of “Bring A Little Water, Sylvie.” Also, her drama class had selected a scene from Aladdin to perform for the rest of the campers on Friday afternoon before the concert and they had started to work on the choreography. Auditions were the next day and she planned to try out for the genie. (She didn’t get the part, but it was just as well because her foot started bothering her, for no discernible reason on Thursday evening and by Friday she was on crutches—luckily, we have a lot of orthopedic equipment in the house after all her injuries last year.)

Friday I made my way to the University of Maryland on two buses through torrential downpours. I’d been worried if I got drenched I’d be chilly in the air-conditioned concert hall, so I wore a long raincoat and rain boots and carried and umbrella, and I managed to arrive fairly dry, also forty-five minutes before the doors were supposed to open, but when I’m taking public transportation, I like to be on the safe side. I’d been arriving thirty to forty minutes early all week and enjoying the down-time to read a novel or the newspaper or to keep listening to the podcasts I listened to on the bus. This was the first time all week I wasn’t the first one in the music building’s cavernous lobby. At least a dozen people were already waiting when I got there and settled in with the Washington Post’s Health and Science section.

When the doors opened, I got a seat near the front in a place I thought would be good for taking pictures. And it would have been if they hadn’t rolled out a grand piano right into our sightline in between the orchestra and choir concerts, or if June hadn’t been seated because of the crutches.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The orchestra was divided into two groups, one for students entering fifth to seventh grade and one for those entering eighth to tenth grade. I spied two of June’s friends, both cellists, on stage in the younger group. One was from her Girl Scout troop and the other attended her elementary school one year ahead of her and played in the string ensemble with her when they were in fourth and fifth grade. I think it might have been seeing Ingrid, who’d played with June when she was in a well-run school orchestra, and the fact that two-thirds of the kids on stage had just finished fourth or fifth grade that made me angry all over again about how unambitious the instrumental music program at her elementary school was last year, but I pushed that thought from my mind.  

Anyway, the word “unambitious” cannot be applied to any summer music camp at UMCP. The performances are always very impressive and they would be even if the kids had more than six days to practice the music. The younger orchestra group had five pieces. In a medley of Japanese folk music, one of the melodies struck me as very familiar. Later Beth said it was “Sakura, Sakura,” which we’ve heard at more than one concert. June played it in orchestra in fourth grade and it was a favorite of hers. The last song, “Red Pepper,” was a lively tune fitting of that name.

The older orchestra played four pieces. The first two were pretty— “Strip the Willow” had a folksy fiddle sound—but it was the last two “Lullaby to the Moon,” and “Sansaneon,” that really impressed me. I’m not a musician so I often feel I don’t have the language to adequately describe the music at all these concerts I go to because of my very musical kids. I’ll just say the complexity and precision and beauty of it was uplifting.

The choir was on next. They started with the French song, this time with the actual words. It seemed to have come together quite nicely since we heard their first practice on Sunday. All the songs had. When they started “Bring a Little Water, Sylvie” June and five other sopranos and altos stepped in front of the choir and finally we could see her. We could hear her, too. I wasn’t expecting to be able to pick her voice out, but I could, and that was exciting.

I think “In My Life” sounded the most different in its choral arrangement, even more so than “Bring a Little Water, Sylvie.” (I’m fond of the Leadbelly version of that song.) On the car ride home June asked Beth which one she liked better, the Beatles’ or choir camp’ and Beth had to say the Beatles, even though the choir camp version was good. “But I didn’t sing in that one,” June commented.

The last of the choir’s five songs was “We Know the Way,” from Moana. This was the one with the most instrumentation. Most of the songs had accompaniment—flutes most predominantly in the old French song and the grand piano for “In My Life,” but this song started with people blowing conch shells from the balconies and a strong drumbeat.

It seemed fitting as the final song of the concert because it’s about mastery. (It’s from the part of the movie when Moana discovers the disused boats, learns her people used to be sea voyagers, and determines they will be again.) Mastery is a lot of what music camp is about. Getting large groups of talented kids to work together play or sing complicated music and get it up to concert quality in a very short period of time. I’ve been to a lot of these concerts—Noah was in band camp for four years and June’s been to orchestra camp one year and choir camp one year. Still, this aspect of it never fails to impress me.

It was a lovely concert and a wonderful way to end a week of political ups and down which included the confusing and upsetting announcement about transgender troops, discouraging words from the Justice Department about its current thinking on employment discrimination against gay and lesbians, the President’s appalling comments in front of crowds of Boy Scouts and police, the alarming debut of the new White House communications director, the resignation of Reince Priebus, and the President’s continued sadistic treatment of his own Attorney General, and finally, mercifully, the defeat of the Republicans’ latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  Am I forgetting anything? I probably am.

Consequently, it was a busy week for Beth at work. On Wednesday, she messaged me that she’d be late getting home, “because I am at this rally saving health care.” And it worked!

My point is not exactly that the kids in the summer youth music camps at UMCP spent their week more profitably than the President and his administration, although they did. And it’s not that this experience of working together to make something beautiful will help them work effectively with others in the future, although it may. My point is more modest, just that cooperation to make something worthwhile is still possible, in the arts and even in politics. And it always will be, if we can find the way.

Thanks to Beth and everyone else who rallied, and wrote and called their Senators, and worked behind the scenes to preserve Americans’ access to health care this week.

Tale as Old as Time

For two weeks after we got back from the beach, June was at musical drama camp. This is one of her favorite camps—it’s tied with Girl Scout sleepaway camp—and the one she’s been attending longest. She’s been going since she was five, making Beauty and the Beast her seventh show.

Ever since we learned which show they’d be doing, June had been saying she wanted to be the Beast. I was skeptical, remembering the year when she was seven and wanted an adult role in Oliver! (Nancy, I think) and how Gretchen, the camp director, thought a taller girl would be better. Surely, she’d want one of the older girls, one of the thirteen or fourteen year olds, to play the Beast. 

But then I remembered how surprised we were when June was nine and wanted to play Olaf in Frozen because she seemed like such a perfect Anna. And that ended up being her best part ever. In fact, she was so good in that comic role, Beth and I were both encouraging her to try out for Mrs. Potts, or Chip, or Lumière. Well, you know where this is going, right?  She tried out for the Beast and Gaston (her second choice), and she was cast as the Beast.

This is the first summer June’s been allowed to ride the bus by herself so took the bus in the mornings and alternated between walking home with her friend Maggie or taking the bus in the afternoons. I only picked her up once and that was because she was having a play date with another camper who wasn’t allowed to be out and about without an adult. I arrived twenty minutes early and I got to watch them rehearse the scene in which the Beast discusses how to win Belle with various members of his household staff and ends up giving her a book.

Maggie, who went to preschool with June and is one of her oldest friends, was playing Lumière and there was a teenage girl who went to the same preschool (in Noah’s class) acting as an assistant director. Another cast member, playing Cogsworth, also went to the school, one class ahead of June. As I sat in the auditorium watching them all, I just kept thinking of how they were when they were little and how nice it was to be able to see them all grow up. I moved a lot as a child and it’s been important to me to give my kids a childhood in one place.

Two days later it was show time. Noah and I met Beth in the community center, outside the auditorium door.  There was a big crowd and as I noticed a few parents with bouquets I thought what I often think—that we should really get June flowers one year.

There had been a dress rehearsal earlier in the day with campers from another community center camp serving as the audience and that ran late, so that set them back and the doors opened a bit late. Noah quickly got the camera set up and discovered it was missing the plate that stabilizes it. Hoping for the best, he started it when the show started.

I knew June was going to be a suitable Beast from her first scene. She growled and yelled and was as fierce and ill-tempered as you could hope a Beast to be. Maggie’s dad, who is also June’s basketball coach, said June “brought the Beast.” She did indeed.

There were a lot of stand-out performances. To mention just a few, Gretchen’s older daughter Lottie was spot-on as Mrs. Potts, her younger daughter Grace played Le Fou with broad physical humor, Maggie’s Lumière had good chemistry with Anna’s exemplary Cogsworth, and the girl playing Babette had a perfect delivery of one of the show’s funnier lines.

Beast: I’ve never felt this way about anyone. I want to do something for her, but what?Cogsworth: Well, there’s the usual things. Flowers. Chocolates.
Babette: Promises you don’t intend to keep.

There was also a group of younger kids in a separate camp Gretchen runs during the second week of rehearsals, who played village children and flatware (most effectively in the battle scene).

One thing I liked about this show was that it really seemed like an abbreviated version of the story and not just a selection of scenes. Gretchen accomplished this by making it longer (almost an hour) and by having a narrator describe some of the omitted scenes. I also liked the choreography in the village scene and in “Be Our Guest.” And June’s death/transformation scene was comic. The girl playing Belle in this scene (there were four of them) tried to block her from view as they both rapidly stripped off June’s headpiece and paws and then June appeared transformed.

After the show, June heard a few families making plans to meet up for pizza that evening at Roscoe’s. We had already decided to go there, too, and we decided to go a little earlier than planned so June could meet up with her friends.  Well, it turned into a regular cast party, with nearly all the actors and their families there, probably forty people all told, and we didn’t even make reservations. The staff was a little flustered but they gave us a room to ourselves. They pushed tables together so the actors could sit together, though a few of the older ones elected to sit at an adult table. It was quite a spirited gathering, as you can imagine with more than a dozen dramatically-inclined nine- to fourteen-year-old girls. There was also singing. That goes without saying, right? A lot of people went straight from Roscoe’s to Dolce Gelato, and then, finally, the big day was over.

The next day, Saturday, was the thirtieth anniversary of Beth’s and my first date. We started the celebration by going out for breakfast at Takoma Beverage Company. I highly recommend the iced mocha and rosemary-apricot bars there. At breakfast, we opened presents—Beth got two books for me The Night Ocean and In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe, and I’d written in her card we had dinner reservations at her favorite restaurant in D.C.

From there we went down the block to go reading glasses shopping for me. This is how you know we’re fifty now and no longer twenty. Beth helped me pick out some new frames, black with a slight cat’s eye shape and then we went back to the house to pick up the kids for our yearly berry-picking trip to Butler’s Orchard. The day was hot but not oppressively so (we were enjoying a several-day break between heat waves) and it was just a lovely day to be outside picking berries, visiting the farm animals, watching June go down the big slide, and browsing in the farm stand where we bought fruit, vegetables, pasta, and treats.

We were home just long enough for me to put a tray of blueberries and one of blackberries into the chest freezer, read with both kids, and then change clothes to go out to dinner in the city with Beth.

Dinner was fun. Jaleo is a tapas restaurant so we got five things to share—gazpacho, a sampler plate of Spanish cheeses, sautéed spinach, the salt-crusted potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce Beth loves there best (and has learned to make herself) and a white bean salad. She got chocolate custard for dessert and I got almond nougat ice cream. As we walked back to the Metro, the air had cooled to a near perfect summer evening temperature. It was beautiful. The whole day was beautiful. I felt lucky to have spent it partly alone with the girl I fell in love with thirty years ago, and partly with the kids who made us a family.

When we saw the new Beauty and the Beast movie back in April, we gave June a long lecture about the dangers of its message about love. It’s not a good idea to get into or stay in a relationship hoping to change someone who’s cruel to you, we told her. Sometime during the two weeks of Beauty and the Beast rehearsals, I asked her if the camp director had talked to them about that. I thought she might because I remember her talking about Miss Hannigan’s poor life choices when they did Annie the year June was six. June said no. So, I gave her an abbreviated version of the lecture from three months earlier, which she endured with quiet resignation.

It’s harder sometimes to know what to tell a girl on the cusp of adolescence about how love should feel rather than how it shouldn’t. No-one’s life is a happily-ever-after fairy tale and everyone’s love story is different and unpredictable. But I hope some day both kids find themselves in their own tale as old as time and that it’s just what they need, if not just what they imagined.

Sea Dreams

He stakes all his silver
On a promise to be free
Mermaids live in colonies
All his sea dreams come to me

From “Dawntreader,” by Joni Mitchell

Saturday 

For the first time in nearly two decades of extended family vacations in Rehoboth, we arrived before check-in time. This must have been satisfying for Beth because she comes from a family of early arrivers and I come from a family of late arrivers and in general, when you mix these groups the late arrivers prevail.

But we managed to leave the house earlier than planned and there was surprisingly little traffic on the Bay Bridge, so even with a lunch stop our family of four plus Beth’s mom Andrea arrived in Rehoboth at 2:15. We had some time to kill before we could get into the house at three. I went to the beach and put my feet in the water while everyone else went into town for cool drinks.

Eventually we settled into the house and Beth went out for starter groceries and the West Coast contingent—my mother, sister Sara, and four-year-old niece Lan-Lan—all of whom had just spent two days in Philadelphia visiting with old friends—arrived and we socialized and Noah and I made a dinner of burgers, hot dogs, corn, fruit salad, and potato salad.

Sara tried to keep Lan-Lan from adjusting completely to East Coast time so the girls had the same bedtime much of the week (until biology eventually took over). After they were in bed and Beth and Noah were settled in front of an episode of Dr. Who, Mom and I walked down to the beach and I got my feet wet again. 

Sunday

June and Andrea went for an early morning walk and were back before the late risers were awake. Much of the morning was occupied with menu planning and grocery list making and grocery shopping. June played with Lan-Lan much of the morning while Beth, Noah, and Andrea started a thousand-piece lighthouse puzzle. I made the girls lunch and took them to the beach so Sara could work. The whole week was something of a busman’s holiday for her—she’s self-employed and this often happens.

The weather at the beach was perfect—low eighties, sunny, and not too humid, with cumulus and cirrus clouds scattered across a deep blue sky. We were there four hours and for most of that time, June was swimming in the ocean by herself while I stayed on shore with Lan-Lan, who was alternating between jumping happily in the surf and digging in the sand.

She was talking the whole time, sometimes to me, but often to herself, saying the waves were “awesome” and reassuring herself, “Okay, Lan-Lan, okay,” when the water got rough.  Most of what she said, she said over and over, but this exchange took place just once:

“I love this ocean.”

“I do, too.”

“It fun. It always fun.”

Lan-Lan’s main construction project was to build a hole so big “there’s no sand left” and I was kept busy filling her pail with water to fill the hole. At one point, she befriended a teenage girl who was digging her own hole and she started to help. The girl’s friend came by and seeing Lan-Lan dig with her hand and her foot said, “That’s impressive.” For a moment, I didn’t know what she was talking about. Lan-Lan was digging. Kids dig at the beach. Then I remembered she has just one arm and it is novel to see her do thing with her foot until you get used to it. (I saw her use her foot to press down on a knife she was using to slice cheese later in the week.)

We left the beach at 5:30, all three of us somewhat reluctant to go, but it was getting on dinnertime. No one had chosen this day to cook for the group, so some people cooked for themselves and others ordered takeout and we all ate a makeshift meal together.

I might have been wrong about the weather being perfect. A few more clouds might have helped. Despite being conscientious about re-applying sunblock, June’s face, neck, shoulders and back were badly burned and my shoulders burned, too. June’s ear, now exposed by her brand new asymmetrical hair cut was the worst casualty. Fortunately, Lan-Lan didn’t burn at all.

Monday

We decided to keep June off the beach entirely for a day, to buy her a rash guard to go over her suit, and enforce a no sleeveless tops rule for the rest of the week, to give her burned areas a chance to heal. That made Funland an appealing choice for Monday afternoon. Lan-Lan spent the morning at Kids’ Cottage, a drop-in daycare so Sara could work. When Lan-Lan got home, Mom, Sara, and I took all three kids. (I’d offered to take them by myself so Sara could get more work done but she said, “I don’t want to miss this.”)

I must admit I was hoping Lan-Lan would spend more time in the little kids’ rides because all week I was feeling a little nostalgic for when my kids were her age (especially when I’d see her in June’s hand-me-down pajamas or shorts or when I’d read Where the Wild Things Are to her). But Lan-Lan is more of a daredevil than either of my kids were at four and after a trip on the sedate airplanes, she wanted to go on faster rides. The race cars were a big hit—she did these three times and she also tried the little Ferris wheel, the helicopters, and the Freefall, which my kids didn’t ride until they were ten and six, respectively. She looked a little nervous on it but said she liked it. Next, she wanted to go on the swinging Viking boat. This was also scary, more so than the Freefall, and June had to put her arm around her when it got to be too much.

Both Sara and I thought the netted climbing structure would be a good way to calm down after all those exciting rides. There are two entrances—one for little kids and one for big kids. Lan-Lan did the little kid course while June did the big kid course. But then we discovered Lan-Lan was in the height overlap so she went through the big kid course, too, but she got stuck at the top, twenty or thirty feet above the ground, couldn’t figure out the way down, and started to cry, so we sent June in after her. Lan-Lan found her way down before June reached her but she was shaken up, so we tried the swings as the final ride. That helped some, but Sara says she was still upset in the car.

Noah, June, and I walked home, stopping at Candy Kitchen, and then taking the scenic route along the beach. We were walking along the waterline for twenty minutes and no one got soaking wet. That never happens with preschoolers. There are advantages to having older kids, even if I sometimes miss my little ones.

Mom was making a black bean-sweet potato stew when we got home, so I helped her finish it while we listened to a fifties music Pandora station. After dinner, Lan-Lan had her first taste of fudge—Sara is strict about sugar—and it was a hit. Often when Lan-Lan was allowed a small treat later in the week, she chose the strawberry fudge (we had four flavors in the house).

Tuesday

Andrea, Beth, the kids and I went out to get bagels and crepes on the boardwalk Tuesday morning. While we were there June and I ducked into a shop and got June a peach-colored rash guard that coordinated with her suit, so she could swim that afternoon. When we met back up with Andrea, Beth, and Noah we learned the cook at the crepe stand had undercooked the eggs in Beth’s crepe and then did the same to Andrea’s, so they got a refund and went elsewhere. My crepe and Noah’s were safe, being fruit-based, so we ate them. Noah finished before I did and he went with Beth and Andrea to get a second breakfast. Once they were gone, I heard another customer complaining about uncooked eggs.  I thought the employee should just start telling people she was out of eggs until someone could retrain her.

Late that morning, Mom took June to get pedicures and lunch at a Mexican restaurant. They both came home with dark purple toenails, in slightly different shades.

In the afternoon, we drifted down to the beach in groups. Andrea stayed behind to make dinner. Beth, Noah, and I got to the beach first and we all went into the water, which was very calm and in Noah’s rather vocal opinion, too cold, but he stayed in a half hour until he and Beth returned to the sand and I stayed a little longer, first alone, then with June when Mom, Sara, June, and Lan-Lan arrived.

Sara and Lan-Lan dug a complicated set of pools with connecting canals and I helped a little. I reminded me of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem I used to recite to June when she was little and dug at the beach:

When I was down beside the sea
A wooden spade they gave to me
To dig the sandy shore.
Our holes were empty like a cup.
In every hole the sea came up
Till it could come no more.

We’d all left the beach by six, then we showered and devoured a whole pan of Andrea’s spinach lasagna as well as half of another pan of the gluten-free version she made for Sara.

After dinner, Noah and June settled in with a bowl of popcorn and an episode of Dr. Who, while Beth and I left for a dessert date. We rode our bikes into town in the twilight and got a milkshake for her and a whoopie pie for me and ate on the boardwalk. It was short, but it felt romantic. Then bringing home a brownie and a cookie for our mothers, we biked home and stayed up late talking with Andrea, Mom, and Sara on the screened porch. Sara marveled that we’d left our kids to put themselves to bed, trying to see her own future in this. 

Wednesday

The next morning Mom and Andrea went to see an art exhibit and a historic property while Beth and Sara took all three kids to Jungle Jim’s water park. I did not attend, as going to water parks at the beach is against my religion. (In fact, it’s one of the only tenets.) Instead I biked into town and picked up a book I’d ordered from Browse About and then hung out on the boardwalk for a while until it was time to meet Mom for lunch at a boardwalk restaurant.

I went to the beach in the late afternoon, alone because Andrea was taking June to high tea at a hotel, Sara was working, Lan-Lan was at Kids’ Cottage, Beth was cooking, and Mom and Noah felt like relaxing at the house. The day was beautiful again—we had an almost unbroken string of beautiful days. It was in the high seventies and sunny. The sea was calm and I was starting to worry I wouldn’t get to swim in waves this week.

That evening Beth served her signature beach meal—gazpacho, salt-crusted potatoes with cilantro sauce and fancy cheeses. Then Beth and I made another dessert run, this one more hurried because we wanted to get June her cinnamon bears before bedtime, though we ended up letting her stay up past bedtime anyway, because she and Grandmom were deep in conversation. Meanwhile, Beth, Andrea, and Noah worked on the nearly completed puzzle.

Thursday

Sara had been working all week and Thursday morning I finally broke down and asked if I could help with anything, but she said no because what was left was editing my work from the previous week and a project for a new client and it would take too long to bring me up to speed for that.

Noah and June played with Lan-Lan a long time that morning, pretending to be a family of performing octopi (they hummed different songs) and making cards for Sara and me with stickers. I was still trying to keep out of the sun until mid-afternoon, so once the kids were finished playing with Lan-Lan, we read the books we’d been reading all week, New Lands from the Chronicles of Egg with June and The Other Wind, the last book in Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea cycle with Noah. We finished it that day.

Sara did manage to get to the beach in the late afternoon. She came with Lan-Lan, who had spent a few hours at Kids’ Cottage, and Grandmom and June, who had been resting at the house. Andrea came down just a little before they did. Beth had been reading on the beach and I’d been swimming around an hour in better waves. They were still smaller than I like and a bit closer together, but it was a good swim. When June got to the beach we swam some more, but eventually I left her alone in the water and sat in Sara’s beach tent with Sara, where we sheltered from the sun and blowing sand and let Lan-Lan bury our feet in the sand. Then she’d pour water on them. Once when she did this, my big toe was exposed.

“Oh no!” I said, “A toe came out.”

“That’s just how life goes,” Lan-Lan told me.

While thus engaged, I realized I no longer watch June every minute when she’s in the water alone (though I think Beth does). She’s gotten to be a pretty strong ocean swimmer. Everyone noticed how confident and comfortable she seemed in the water.

Sara made eggplant parmesan that night and then we went to the boardwalk for dessert. We split up and there was a mix-up with June’s mermaid shake. It comes with a cloud of cotton candy and Swedish fish and a strip of rainbow-striped candy on top and I’m not even going to tell you how much it cost because it’s a ridiculous amount to pay for a milkshake. Anyway, Beth and Mom both bought one not realizing the other was doing the same. We’d told June we were going to buy her shake when she left the house in Sara’s rental car with Mom, so Beth was irritated.

While June and I were on the beach, leaving the rest of the party on the boardwalk, I told June she should probably apologize to Beth because she was supposed to pass the message on to Grandmom about not buying the expensive shake. She told me she already had and offered to pay for the extra shake out of her allowance. I told her that was very mature of her, even though Beth said she didn’t have to do that. Sometimes kids grow up when you aren’t expecting it.

Friday

Friday Sara didn’t work and she went to rent a bike so we could go on a bike ride on the Gordon’s Pond trail in Cape Henlopen State Park. While she was doing that I took the kids to Browse-About because Mom had given Noah some money to buy a book. He selected The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, a YA horror novel. I’ve read some of the author’s middle grade books with both kids, but this one looks considerably darker. June wanted to tag along and when she found there’s a new book in the Serafina series she wanted it, so I bought it for her. It was a hot day, the first real hot one since we’d been at the beach so we got smoothies for the walk home.

Beth, Sara, and I set out for our bike ride shortly after lunch, with Lan-Lan riding on the child seat of Sara’s bike. This was a new experience for Lan-Lan and she was enthusiastic about it. We biked about an hour, most of it through a pretty salt marsh full of water birds, including a few egrets, which are Sara’s favorite bird. Lan-Lan didn’t like the smell of the mud, but Sara said it reminded her of catching salamanders in puddles near the lake in the Berkshires where we vacationed as kids.

When we got to the ocean, we were hot and ready to get wet. The waves were about the same as they had been the day before during my first swim, but the second time I went in they’d gotten bigger and spaced out and I had the best swim of the week, including two waves I sailed up and over, dropping down the other side after just a moment with the top half of my body airborne.

Lan-Lan was getting hungry and Sara had forgotten snacks, so she approached a mom with a large group of kids and asked if she had anything and she came back with a feast of goldfish, cheese sticks, and watermelon. That’s something I could never do, but it’s the kind of thing that often works for Sara.

Meanwhile, Beth spied a water ice truck parked up near the jetty and she and I snuck off to get a sugary treat Lan-Lan wasn’t allowed. I could have been smoother, though, as I came back with vivid blue stains on my shirt, arm, teeth, and lips.

“Why your mouth blue?” Lan-Lan wanted to know. I told her I drank something that made it blue and that seemed to satisfy her.

On the ride home, Lan-Lan fell asleep. She’d been up past her bedtime on the boardwalk the night before and she was tuckered out.

But we still had a big night ahead of us. We were going out to dinner—Mom and Sara split off and went to a seafood place while the rest of us went out for pizza and Stromboli and gelato at Grotto. Lan-Lan was beside herself about the pizza, the gelato, and the balloon they give kids as you leave. It was a completely satisfactory dining experience in her opinion.

From there, Beth, Andrea and Noah went home and I took the girls to Funland where we met up with Mom. June and I were going to the Haunted Mansion and Mom was going to take Lan-Lan to revisit some of her favorite rides while Sara read a magazine on the boardwalk. While we were in the Haunted Mansion, our car went out on the balcony and we got a glimpse of the boardwalk and the ocean. This only happens once in a blue moon and I always hope it will. June didn’t even know it was a possibility as it’s never happened in the three previous times she’s been on this ride.

After the mansion, June went on the Graviton and the Free Fall, and we found Grandmom and Lan-Lan. June and Lan-Lan went on the teacups together, which Lan-Lan loved, though they scared Noah when he was in preschool. She was laughing the whole time. Based on her other favorites, I think fast but low to the ground is what she likes right now. Everything that spooked her went too high.

Everyone else drove home, but I decided to walk because the night was so lovely. The sky was still pinkish orange from the sunset and the wet sand was silvery and reflective.

Saturday

Saturday was the usual rush of cleaning out the fridge and packing the cars and saying goodbye. We had to return the keys by ten, so we left before Mom, Sara, and Lan-Lan were out of the house and on their way to Philadelphia where they’d fly to Oregon the next day. We were planning to linger in Rehoboth a few hours. Beth, Andrea, and June went to town to get henna tattoos for June—a treble clef on her hand and a moon and stars just above her ankle.

Noah and I went to the beach and I was pleased that he came in with me again for fifteen minutes or so. Then he went to relax on the towel while I swam for another fifteen minutes. I had only changed into my swim bottoms and a t-shirt at the house, thinking I might just wade, or we’d walk up to the boardwalk and change in the restrooms there, but I had developed some painful blisters on my toes and breaking up the walk was appealing and once I was in the water, so was diving under the waves, so I just did it in my clothes.

Around eleven we started walking toward our meeting place on the boardwalk. We got lunch at a crepe stand, ran some errands, and drove out of town, around two-thirty. We stopped at home furnishing store where Mom had pointed out some birdcages she liked to June (Mom collects them) because June thought they would be a good birthday present for her, but it turned out they were store decorations and not for sale.

Around quarter to five, we got to the Bay Bridge, where the sky got suddenly ominous. Then as we reached the middle of the bridge, it was just like driving into a high-domed cave. The clouds were that defined, and they had clearly visible projections like stalactites hanging from the bottom. Once we were completely under the cloud cover, it began to pour rain, which lasted for just a few minutes before petering out to light rain and pale gray skies.

On one side was vacation; on the other was the rest of the summer with all its chaos and camps and performances, and music lessons, and driving school, and whatever else awaits us in the next nine weeks.

Culminations

School’s out, or it will be in a couple hours. When the kids get home from school, Beth’s driving them to Wheeling where Noah will spend a week with Beth’s mom and Beth and June will visit for a day before returning home.

In the last few weeks of school June attended the safety patrol picnic and the fifth-grade picnic. The first one was the bigger deal as it took place at the Montgomery County fairgrounds, which they had to themselves that day. They ate their lunch in the empty livestock barns and they got to ride carnival rides and there were free popsicles. The fifth-grade picnic was in a playground near school, and they had pizza, and chips, and candy and an ice cream truck dispensing free treats. June got a lime popsicle there. Come to think of it, there were popsicles at the instrumental music party the week after their concert, too (though June missed that, being home sick that day). Popsicles are clearly the common denominator for spring celebrations at her school.

Even with all these festivities, it didn’t feel quite as busy as the end of the school year often is, maybe because there was no art show or field day at June’s school this year, the carnival was held on a date we couldn’t attend, her Girl Scout troop’s annual potluck was cancelled at the last minute and without explanation—not a big surprise as the troop is organizationally challenged—and June had to drop out of her music school recital. Her hand and arm injuries this spring prevented her from learning the song she’d hoped to play on the guitar. This was a disappointment for all of us.

CAP Hollywood

As for Noah, his big end-of-school event was CAP Hollywood, a showing of fifteen short student-made films with an accompanying award ceremony, which was held the second to last week of school. Noah was nominated for Best Editing and his group’s film was up for several more awards—Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Score, and Best Picture. It seemed like a good bet they’d win something.

We all got dressed up and had an early dinner at Noodles and Company before the show. I’m pretty sure that’s where Hollywood stars dine before the Oscars, right? There was a Hollywood sign made of light bulbs and a red (construction paper) carpet for photos in the lobby, but Noah declined to have his taken.

Before the tenth-grade films started, they announced the winners of a twelfth-grade competition and showed their entry, a one-minute ad for Black CAP, a student-run advocacy organization that recruits and mentors African-American middle school students who are interested in applying to the Communications Arts Program. (The CAP student body is only 7.5 percent African-American, while Noah’s school is 27 percent African-American, so there’s clearly a disparity there.)

Then the main event began. The films were the culmination of a months-long project for CAP sophomores. First students had to come up with ideas for a short story in their English class and a feature story in their journalism class. After completing the first few steps of each project, they were assigned to complete either the fictional story or the journalistic one. Noah wrote a science fiction story that was an homage to Ray Bradbury’s “The Earthmen” (from The Martian Chronicles). After all the stories were written, fifteen were chosen to be filmed by groups of five students each. Noah’s story wasn’t chosen. Maybe that was just as well as it took place in a rocket and on the surface of Mars and would have been hard to film.

Noah’s group made a film called “The Pool Hall.” It was about a college student who has a recurring dream in which he returns to a pool hall in different decades, always meeting the same young woman. They filmed it at the local VFW hall, among other locations. There were thirteen other fictional films and just one documentary on the program. Common themes across the fictional films were murder and the discovery of long-lost siblings. They were all well done and it was an entertaining night.

“The Pool Hall” won for Best Supporting Actress and Best Score. Noah didn’t win the editing award, but you know what they say: It’s an honor to be nominated. June was surprised and possibly a little disgruntled when a CAP student’s younger brother who’d acted in one of the films won Best Supporting Actor. She didn’t think you could win if you weren’t in CAP and it’s possible she was wondering why she had not been tapped to act in Noah’s film. (Because there were no preteen roles would be the short answer.) Best Picture went to the only documentary, which was about an artist who paints portraits of people with scars to tell their stories of trauma and healing.

It was already twenty minutes past June’s bedtime when we left, but a celebration seemed in order so we went out for frozen yogurt.

Equality March for Pride and Unity

In between CAP Hollywood and fifth-grade promotion, on Sunday morning, Beth, June, and I marched in the Equality March for Pride and Unity. We weren’t sure what to expect because although we’d heard last winter that there was going to be an LGBTQ march in June, we hadn’t heard much about it since then. Publicity was almost non-existent and it didn’t seem to have as clear an agenda as other historical gay marches, or other big marches of the Trump presidency. I even suggested at one point that we skip it and go to the Pride parade instead. That was held the day before, on Saturday, a day which wasn’t predicted to be as oppressively hot. But Beth said, “No, we should do the political thing” and I agreed.

We gathered in front of the AFL-CIO building because we were marching with a labor contingent. When it was time to start moving, we lined up on I street and then there was a long wait in the hot sun to get going. But once we did there were a lot of signs to read and people in costume to watch.

“I know it’s not polite to stare, but a lot of people here are dressed interesting,” June observed. It was true. There was a man in a light blue Care Bear costume, who was earnestly telling a reporter from BuzzFeed, “People keep telling me I must be dying [in the heat], but I am living. Fully living.” There was a woman dressed up as the zebra from Fruit Stripe gum (for the rainbow stripes I’m guessing). The sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were there, too, as you’d expect.

Many signs commemorated the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting last year. There were also some classics (“If God hates gays, why are we so cute?”) and new ones:

Cuz
Only
Very
Fragile
Egoes
Fear
Equality

Beth’s favorite sign was of a fish-shaped group of rainbow-colored fish about to swallow an orange fish with Trump hair.

The message on June’s sign: “I have girl crushes and boy crushes. So what?” was prettily adorned with rainbow stripes, and it was news to us. Like her “Another Girl Scout Against Trump” sign at the women’s march, it caused a lot of people to ask if they could take her picture.

It was a bigger crowd than we expected; a story in the Post said it was over 200,000, but that seems high to me. In any case, it was nothing like the big marches of 1987, 1993, and 2000. It felt more like a Pride parade, without the floats, and without spectators on the sidelines. We all had fun. I always forget how much I like being in a big crowd of gay people until I am. I think the last time was when we went to Pride with the kids ten years ago and I had the exact same thought then.

Toward the end of the march, Beth spotted three friends from the years she worked at HRC in the 1990s and early 2000s and there were hugs all around. Back in the day, we were good friends with Don, Stephen, and Patrick. (Don and Stephen, who’ve been together thirty-six years, may be the only gay couple among our friends who’ve been together longer than we have.) Sadly, we’ve drifted apart over the years, but it was a real treat to see them. They admired my old-school t-shirt from the ’93 March. In a Facebook discussion after the march with the designer of the shirt, another old friend of Beth’s, I said, “I wanted a shirt that said, ‘I’ve been marching since before you whippersnappers were born.’ Because I have.”

I can’t say this march was the culmination of any specific political achievement, nor does it seem like we’re on the verge of one right now, but you never know. We talked as we marched and afterward about how if you had told me in 1993 we’d be marching again in 2017, married and (theoretically) able to serve openly in the military, but without the basic protections from employment discrimination we were marching for twenty-four years ago—the goal we thought was the low-hanging fruit at the time—I’d have thought you were crazy. History takes unexpected turns sometimes. I probably would not have been surprised that it would take this long for trans issues to come to the forefront of the movement. We and our kids live in interesting times, in good and bad ways, but progress for LGBT folks, however incomplete, is one of the good things.

Fifth-Grade Promotion

June came home on Wednesday with a card from her morning teacher, Mr. S, who had written a note for each kid in his class. It ended, “Your ability to capture an idea and express your thoughts are way beyond your years. I believe your insights will help make you a great actor and interpreter of songs. As they say—Break a leg (oh, you already did).”

Promotion was that evening and Noah had no homework (Monday being the last night of the school year he was up late doing any and Tuesday’s pre-calculus worksheet being the last assignment of all), so we had a relatively relaxed afternoon before it was time to make our way to California Tortilla for an early dinner and then go back to the high school auditorium to watch the fifth grade be promoted.

The auditorium was decorated with blue and white balloons and a painted sign on the podium that said “2017.” At each fifth grader’s seat was a creature made of blue and white yarn with googly eyes and a mortar board, a souvenir from the PTA. We sat near the families of two of June’s best friends (Zoë and Evie) and her new friend Edwin.

The program started with the Pledge of Allegiance in English and Spanish and with “words of encouragement” from the principal of the middle school most of June’s class will attend, and “words of wisdom” from current middle school students. Because June’s school is majority Latino and because of the Spanish immersion program, school events are always bilingual, usually with the aid of translators. The middle school students self-translated, however, giving their speeches first in English and then in Spanish and they sounded equally at home in both languages, which impressed me.

Even though June’s going to the middle school this principal and students represented, I felt it wasn’t quite right to tell the students that instead of tigers, they were now jaguars, because some of them will be eagles (at the humanities magnet) or devils (at the math and science magnet) and it seemed to me those kids’ achievements should be recognized, too.

After all the speeches, we were forty-five minutes into the program, which was supposed to last an hour, but none of us really believed that anyway, so we weren’t surprised or antsy. Six classes worth of kids walked across the stage next, to collect their promotion certificates, and shake the teachers’ hands or hug them. At least one kid in each class had a bouquet for the classroom teachers.

What most struck me watching the fifth-graders walk by was what a great variety of sizes eleven and almost eleven year olds come in. Also, most of them were very dressed up and snazzy-looking. June had on a short black dress. When she brought it home from the thrift store, I was surprised because I was expecting something spring-like, either in white or a pastel color. When I said, “It’s black,” June replied, “It’s not just black, Mommy, it has rhinestones and fake fur.” And it did. As she crossed the stage, she was limping a little because the multicolor flats she got to go with it gave her blisters.

The final part of the program was a video slide show divided into three sections: Past, Present, and Future. The past was photographs from kindergarten to fourth grade, including one of June playing Mozart in the wax museum last spring. The present was the kids holding white boards that answered various questions such as what was your best moment of elementary school, what will you miss, etc. June’s class had to answer the question “What’s the best thing?” about their school. Her answer was the book fair. Friends, teachers, field trips, and recess were popular responses.

For the future, they’d all had their pictures taken dressed as what they wanted to be when they grew up. June had gone to school that day dressed in skinny jeans, a rhinestone-studded t-shirt and carrying her (old, broken) guitar and a microphone. They were photographed in small groups, often though not always, with people who gave the same answer. Beth observed that if they all realize their career goals, there will be no shortage of doctors, veterinarians, and athletes in the future. Software designers and chefs were also well represented.

The last part of the video was the six fifth-grade teachers performing a song that was half rap and half to the tune of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” The chorus went, “It’s time for middle school/You better follow the golden rule/Be sure that you never act the fool/Because it’s time for middle school.” June said it was embarrassing, but the teachers seemed to be having a good time and embarrassing preteens is one of the duties of the adults in their lives.

After promotion, we met up with Zoë and Evie’s families for ice cream at Cold Stone in Silver Spring. The line was long and slow and it was very late but I tried to relax and enjoy the moment as a part of these girls’ pasts slipped away and they moved toward their futures.

Welcome to New York

Saturday

The train pulled out of Union Station at 11:30 a.m. on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and by the time we got to the next station at New Carrollton, rain was streaking across the windows. I hoped it would be a passing squall or we’d travel past it because we were planning a busy twenty-six-hour trip to New York City—a belated birthday present for June— and for a lot of that time we’d be outside on a boat, in a horse-drawn carriage, or walking from place to place. I needn’t have worried. The rain cleared quickly and we didn’t see another drop until we were on another train, heading south the next day.

We passed the train ride reading books and magazines, listening to music and podcasts and playing games on the IPad. June talked me into buying her a Gatorade and the world’s most expensive Twix bar ($3!) at the café car. June must have noticed me leaning forward a little in my seat to see Boathouse Row and the zoo and the Philadelphia Museum of Art as we passed through my home town.

“What are you looking at?” she asked.

“Philadelphia,” I said a little sadly, because I haven’t been there in several years, since my mom moved to Oregon.

We got off the train around 3:45 and walked to our hotel. Beth had reserved a room with two queen beds but for some reason we’d been upgraded to two separate rooms with a king bed apiece. The kids don’t like to sleep in the same bed, so Beth was rooming with June and I was with Noah.

Once we were settled into the rooms, we walked to pub on 47th street in Hell’s Kitchen, where Beth’s high school friend Michelle, an actor and singer, was singing. We caught the last few songs of her set, including a syncopated version of “Breakfast in America” and “Blue Bayou.”

When her act was over, she came over to our table, where June was drinking a virgin mojito and Noah had a soda. Michelle hadn’t seen Noah since he was three and she’d never met June, so they got acquainted and she and Beth started to catch up about family and friends from home, a conversation that unspooled throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening. While June was in the bathroom, Michelle asked why she was walking with a cane, and we filled her in on June’s year of injuries—some of which I haven’t even chronicled here. Did I mention the dislocated finger? Or the elbow injury? I don’t think so, but if you looked carefully at the picture on Noah’s birthday blog post, you may have noticed June’s arm was in a sling.

As if to drive all this home, on a subsequent visit to the restroom (the Gatorade June drank on the train was a very big one), Michelle was the first witness to a new injury as she crossed paths with a tearful June who had just slammed her fingers in the restroom door. Michelle fetched some ice from the bartender and we proceeded from the pub to a drug store for painkiller. For much of the evening, I was carrying the ice in a plastic baggie and leaving a trail of water drops everywhere I went.

Next up was dinner. June wanted New York pizza and Michelle had a restaurant in mind, but we were in the theater district and it was around five so there was a long line of theater goers who wanted an early dinner and the greeter predicted an hour wait. We left, found a promising hole in the wall with no line, but by this time June had to go to the bathroom again and they didn’t have one, so we found a Starbucks, used the facilities there and stopped at the next pizza place. Fortunately, they weren’t in short supply. This one had a sign saying the restroom was out of order, and as we were trying to decide whether June could stay long enough to get some pizza and eat it, the proprietor said we could use the bathroom after all. (The toilet didn’t flush but it looked like this state of affairs was a very recent development, so we made do.)  We got two kinds of greasy pizza, vegetable Stromboli, garlic knots, and mozzarella sticks. It was very satisfying. Thanks for your intrepid pizza-finding skills, Michelle!

From there we walked to the water, because we were taking a sunset cruise on the Hudson and East rivers. We saw the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges, the Empire State Building lit up in red, white, and blue for Memorial Day and many other sights.

June, Michelle, and Beth were out on the deck most of the time, while Noah and I stayed inside. The view was good from there and I could hear the narration better. When we were at the Statue of Liberty, the tour guide read Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus”— you know, the one with the lines: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” He read the whole thing and I was glad of it because I’ve always been fond of that poem and it seems particularly relevant now.

Near the end of the cruise, I joined June out on the deck and Beth and Michelle went inside. I asked June if she was cold in her thin cotton dress (because I was cold in a turtleneck) and she said no. We said goodnight to Michelle at her subway stop and walked back to the hotel, where we crashed, well past everyone’s bedtime.

Sunday

We had breakfast at a hotel restaurant several blocks away. We’d picked it because June wanted pancakes and they were on the menu, but we’d missed the detail that they were on the weekday breakfast menu and not the weekend brunch menu. She chose doughnuts instead and didn’t like them because they were more like cream puffs filled with cannoli cream. There were three of the offending pastries and Beth, Noah, and I took care of eating them for her, while Beth gave June half her berry-covered waffles and everyone was happy. (I had a mushroom omelet and a salad.) Noah had to write a restaurant review for his journalism class and he’d decided to review this one so we kept giving him suggestions about what to say about it.

June’s next agenda item was a carriage ride in Central Park. Noah asked if he could go back to the hotel instead and we let him, because he seemed to need some alone time. Beth gave him directions on how to get to the Broadway theater where we were going to see a show and we decided to trust he’d find his way there.

When you approach Central Park on foot you are accosted by dozens of people with laminated cards explaining why their carriage ride is the best, but we found a driver who wasn’t too aggressive with the upsell and settled in for a pleasant ride through the park. Beth and June got a soft pretzel and Belgian waffles in the park but I was too full from breakfast, so I skipped lunch. We walked to the theater, where we arrived just in time for the show. Noah was waiting for us, having managed to get himself lunch and find the theater. Beth commented on Facebook, “This raising the kids to be independent adults thing is moving along quite nicely.”

The play was fun. I’d expected June to choose Cats, as it’s the only show currently on Broadway her musical drama camp has tackled and I thought she might like to see a professional sing her solo from “Memory,” but she went with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory instead. I guess that’s not surprising as both kids were quite fond of the book when they were younger.

I liked the set for the first act, which mainly takes place in the Buckets’ tumble-down house, with the bed the four grandparents share elevated high above the rest of the house and tilted slightly forward, which gives you a good view of the actors and makes it seem like it might collapse at any moment. The second act sets, in the factory, were kind of minimalist for what’s supposed to be a place of exuberant wonders. The best one was the meadow made of candy where Augustus Gloop falls into the lake, but it takes up a surprisingly small portion of the stage.

And speaking of Augustus, I thought the German stereotypes in his portrayal went overboard and this ethnic and racial stereotyping was evident in most of the kid characters (who, except Charlie were all played by adults). There were some clever updates, with Mike Teavee being a hacker obsessed with all screens and not just television, and Violet Beauregard being a social media celebrity.

The Oompa Loompas were imaginatively portrayed by kneeling actors with puppet bodies hanging from their heads. Their colonialist back story is still in there, but you have to lay the blame for that on Road Dahl. I also liked the spooky squirrels in the nut room. They’re huge and have red eyes. It’s a ballet scene so Beth thought they were supposed to evoke the Rat King from the Nutcracker. As for the acting, the boy who played Charlie was good—and I liked the way the script made him a more well-rounded character than in the book. (It’s always bothered me that Charlie inherits the factory merely for not misbehaving, but this production gives him more motivation.) Ms. Teavee was also more well developed than in the book and I liked her character. The actor who played Willy Wonka was fine, but he wasn’t Gene Wilder. That’s all I have to say about that.

Overall, we enjoyed the show and we also got some overpriced candy during intermission because how could you not?

We had a little time to kill before the train, so we window shopped a bit. June had already gotten a smiley face fidget spinner as her one promised souvenir but she wanted to buy another one with her own money. She tried on a baseball hat that said New York in rhinestones and looked at a lot of New York magnets, but she went with a pocket watch she found in a warren of booths near the theater. Once she’d made her purchase, we walked to Penn Station, bought some food to eat on the train and said goodbye to New York until our next visit.

Spring Things

I can tell the school year is winding down because in the space of a little over a week Noah had a band concert, June’s Girl Scout troop went on their annual camping trip, her running club participated in a 5K, and she played in an orchestra concert and went on a field trip to Baltimore. These are the things that happen when spring is about to give way to summer.

Thursday: High School Band and Jazz Concert

In the week and a half before the band and jazz concert, Noah practiced for a total of five minutes and then only because I suggested that he run through his bell piece one night just before bedtime. The reason for this is that he’d been absolutely swamped with work (he had two research papers in progress at the same time until he turned one in last week) and we were at the beach the weekend before the concert. He generally practices around three hours every weekend and often not at all for the rest of the week. Because of this I was half-glad there was an after-school practice the day of the concert. (The half of me that wasn’t glad was thinking about the paper outline and pre-calculus packet he had due the day after the concert.)

He got home around 4:15 and had less than an hour to work before he needed to change into his band clothes and eat dinner. He got about three-quarters of the way through the pre-calculus. I made a last-minute attempt to convince June to come with us, but she remembered how long the winter concert was and begged off.

We dropped Noah off at school a half hour before concert time and swung by Starbucks for cold drinks to fortify us for the concert. We did this because Beth knew the band booster organization was lying in wait for parents. We donate to the band and Beth might be giving them some computer help, but we weren’t in the mood to hear the boosters’ spiel, so we came in just before concert time.

Six different groups were scheduled to play at the concert—the Jazz Combo, the Jazz Ensemble, the Concert Band, the Symphonic Band, and the Wind Ensemble, plus there was a guest appearance of part of the orchestra. Noah was playing with Symphonic Band, and the Wind Ensemble. If you’re thinking, wait, I thought Noah was a percussionist, he is. The Wind Ensemble does not consist, as you might think, solely, or even mostly of wind instruments. I don’t know why it’s called that. No one knows why.

The concert was lovely. There are many talented musicians at Noah’s school and many dedicated music teachers. At various points in the concert students were recognized for their participation in honors bands, all state bands, etc. The seniors in each band were also called to the front of the stage so the band teachers could say where they were going to college. Several were intending to major in music, but engineering was the most popular choice. (This lead to a discussion of right brain skills in the car on the way home. Noah says many of the kids in the bands are also in the math/science magnet. There are more of them than Communications Arts Program kids like him.)

We watched Noah play bells, marimba, and chimes with the Symphonic Band. He sounded especially good on the marimba during Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue in B-Flat Major” and it was fun to watch him play a set of chimes taller than he is in “Among the Clouds.” (Though he was standing behind it, so technically we weren’t watching him but only a sliver of his face between the chimes, and the mallets at the very top of the chimes, seeming to move on their own.) He sent Beth a text noting the song was not “in” the clouds, but “among” them. This was a Sean Spicer joke. (He recently chose that hiding in/among the bushes episode when he had to draw a political cartoon for his journalism class.) With the Wind Ensemble, he played claves, woodblock, cabasa, and he had a triangle solo in “A Longford Legend.”

The very last piece of the concert was played by a group of students selected from the various bands and orchestras. By the time they started, we’d been at the concert for three hours and the auditorium, which was comfortable at the beginning of the concert, was getting quite warm, so I was restless. I asked, a little grumpily, why members of the orchestra had to play a song when they had their own concert just two days earlier. Then the band teacher announced that the selection, from Wagner’s “Lohengrin” was a surprise for his wife, because they had it played at their wedding last fall, so I felt somewhat churlish. Still, three hours and ten minutes is a very long concert when everyone has homework and chores left to do and alarms that go off at times that start with five.

Weekend: Camping Trip and 5K

The next day Beth and June left for the Girl Scout camping trip. Noah and I were on our own from late Friday afternoon until early Sunday afternoon. He didn’t have as much homework as usual, so when he wasn’t working on what he did have, we went out for pizza and gelato, read a couple stories from Tales of Earthsea and watched Harold and Maude. It was a very pleasant weekend.

When Beth and June got home, June was limping. It turns out that in between tie-dying pillowcases, making candles, kayaking, and eating massive quantities of s’mores she’d twisted her ankle. It’s not the same one she broke twice this year and it seems to be just a mild sprain, though almost a week later, she’s still limping. And sadly, it kept her from walking the 5K Sunday morning. She wanted to support her team, though, so she and Beth stuck to their plan of leaving the camping trip early and they went to see the runners off and wait for them to come back. (Beth was glad that by cutting out early they missed doing archery because it turns out a lot people got ticks on the archery range.) June’s friend Evie was the first back from her school’s team. That was no surprise. There are a couple of girls on the team who are serious runners and she’s one of them. 

Tuesday: Elementary School Band and Orchestra Concert

Noah didn’t have any urgent homework on Tuesday night but because June didn’t go to his concert, I didn’t insist he go to hers. He considered it, but ended up staying home.

“I’ve heard terrible things about the conductor,” he said. He was referring to the fact that I’ve been dissatisfied with the new instrumental music teacher at June’s school. Now it would have been hard for anyone to fill Mr. G’s shoes, but it’s not an exaggeration to say the year was a total loss for June on the violin. She learned nothing.

There was no winter concert and what I heard from the orchestra at the Holiday Sing was not promising—though the band was a little better—so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, not completely sure. Let’s say I was trying to keep an open mind.

It’s a small thing, but I think the fact that the musicians’ names were not on the program was emblematic of the larger problem. I never got the sense the teacher recognized June as an individual, with musical strengths and weaknesses, so he never used her talent and experience to build the orchestra and he never helped her stretch herself.

I can’t bring myself to critique a group of nine to eleven-year-old, mostly beginning musicians too harshly, especially as none of what happened was their fault, so these are the positive things I can say:

The advanced band sounded not half bad on their medley of Queen songs, though I do find it amusing how often young musicians are compelled to play the popular music of their parents’ youth. This seems true across elementary and middle school bands. There was some nice stagecraft, as when a fifth-grade percussionist ran up to the stage in a shark costume during “Shark Attack!” and the whole advanced orchestra threw silvery banners into the air at the end of “Silly String.”  This was June’s favorite song to play. The advanced orchestra sounded better than the beginning orchestra. And the concert was short. Clocking in at just over an hour, it was the shortest school concert I’ve ever attended.

Friday: Field Trip

The fifth grade went on a field trip to the Maryland Science Center on Friday. It was their last field trip of the year, and of elementary school. As I affixed stickers to her brown bag lunch, as I have done for every field trip since kindergarten, I started to feel nostalgic, whereas I hadn’t at all at the concert. Sometimes it’s the little things.

Beth chaperoned the trip and when the two of them came home, surprising me by arriving almost an hour before I expected them, June was laden with gift shop toys and she was wearing a t-shirt with all her classmates’ signatures printed on it. She’d seen a planetarium show, gone into a wind tunnel, lain on a bed of nails, experimented with pulleys, watched a model of tornado, and seen a very large blue crab in a tank (half as big as my head, she informed me).

There are three weeks left in the school year and then I’ll be the mother of two secondary school students. That makes the end of this school year seem a little more momentous than most, but I’m ready, and I think June is, too.

On Turning Fifty

Before my birthday

I got the AARP card in the mail about a week before I turned fifty. Even though a few of my friends have already turned fifty and mentioned that this happens, I was still surprised. I don’t mind turning fifty, but it does take you aback.

Ten years ago, I wrote about turning forty with flashbacks to my tenth, twentieth, and thirtieth birthdays thrown in for fun. To sum up the last two milestone birthdays: When I turned thirty I was mired in the endless, early stage of dissertation writing and not sure if I was going to make it through my Ph.D. program, and when I turned forty I’d recently come to the decision to quit looking for academic work, after a decade spent finishing the degree, then working at non-tenure track jobs or none, while chasing after the brass ring of a tenure track job. I described myself as “somewhat adrift” and uncertain what would come next. But I was an at-home mom to a one year old and six year old, so I was plenty busy and had some time to think about a plan.

But instead of planning a new career, I just sort of fell into the work I do now. That summer I started doing a couple hours of research a week for my sister’s free-lance writing business because she had a big project and she needed some help. After another year or so I was ghost-writing the occasional article for a natural foods newsletter for her. When June started kindergarten, we made it a regular part-time job. Will I still be working with Sara when I turn sixty? Your guess is as good as mine.

The weekend before my birthday Beth and I went to see Fun Home, a musical adapted from Allison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir of the same name. I’d asked for tickets as a birthday present, because I am a fan of Bechdel’s work in general and this book in particular. Part of it even takes place at Oberlin as Bechdel attended Oberlin, graduating in 1981, seven years before Beth and eight years before me. And while the scenes depicting a young lesbian coming out at our small liberal arts college during roughly the same historical period I did were certainly familiar, the childhood scenes were, too.  Like Bechdel, I also lived in a small town in Pennsylvania in a Victorian house my unhappily married parents were restoring. There were differences, too, of course. The two main ones being my father wasn’t a closeted gay man and he did not die by suicide. Also, we only lived in that town for four and half years, not my whole childhood, so we weren’t rooted there. But I still consider that period from the end of third grade to the middle of eighth grade to be the heart of my childhood and it had outsize importance to me. Anyway, the play was well written and well acted and we enjoyed it.

The evening before my birthday I spent pleasantly sequestered in my room, reading with Noah or looking at my phone, under orders not to come out while everyone was wrapping presents and signing cards and the smell of a chocolate cake baking wafted into the room.

The Big 5-0

The day itself was a normal work day. In the morning, I cleaned the bathroom and then I ghost wrote a blog post about pregnant women’s intake of omega-3 fatty acids. I did take myself out for a late lunch at Republic, where I had a Brie, arugula, apricot, and pistachio sandwich. From there I walked to Capital City Cheesecake where I ran into the children’s librarian from our public library. She greeted me my name, even though it’s been quite a while since June and I were regulars at her Circle Time for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. I told her it was my fiftieth birthday and she said, “That’s a big one,” in the exact same tone she uses when someone is turning three and she’s about to lead the room in a round of “Happy Birthday.”  (And if that sounds like it was patronizing, it wasn’t at all. She’s not one to talk down to kids.) I got a latte and free mini chocolate mousse there because it was my birthday. (I would not have known free treats were on offer if Karen hadn’t told me while we were in line). Then I headed back home to exercise and wait for Beth and the kids to come home.

Beth and June came home around the same time (which early for Beth and late for June) because Beth cut out after a meeting and June had been walking a practice 5K with her running club. (She’s not confident enough on her recently healed feet to run yet.) It was a cold, wet day and she was soaked through, so I hustled her off to a warm bath while Beth went out to pick up dinner, which was Mexican take out at my request.

I opened my presents after dinner. Noah got me two graphic novels by Margaret Atwood I didn’t even know existed, so that was a nice surprise. And June got me a gift certificate to Starbucks, a purple tie-dyed beach towel, and a home-made gift certificate for the Tea and Spice Exchange in Rehoboth because my big present, from Beth, was a weekend in Rehoboth.

I knew there was a surprise planned for this weekend because Beth told me not to schedule anything and we had to cancel some plans as well. I was thinking a trip to Rehoboth was likely but I didn’t know for sure until I was working at the computer on the morning of my birthday and a notification about our hotel reservations flashed across the screen. I resolved not to tell anyone I knew and even rehearsed what I’d say when I opened the card to make it sound as if I was just learning the news.

“Hooray! That’s what I hoped it would be,” I said, which was true.

I didn’t fool Beth for a second. “You knew,” she said, so I told her about the notification.

I’d eaten a late lunch and a big dinner so I wanted to wait on the cake. I read Deadweather and Sunrise to June and then we had cake and ice cream. It was a chocolate cake with strawberry frosting, which is the cake I most often request for my birthday—you would, too, if you ever tried Beth’s chocolate cake with strawberry frosting—and Neapolitan ice cream.

Friday

The next day was our beach trip. We hit the road around 4:45 in the afternoon. It was raining on and off, sometimes pretty hard, so between the rain and rush hour traffic and a stop for dinner (at a pizza place near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge where June got a sorbet served in a frozen, hollowed out lemon for dessert) it was around 9:15 by the time we checked into our hotel. June and I slipped down to the beach for a quick visit and we all went to bed around ten.

Saturday

We went out for breakfast at Victoria’s, a restaurant in a boardwalk hotel June likes for its fancy Victorian décor and I like for the ocean view. The food’s not bad either. Beth and I both got the blueberry banana blintzes. The day was cold and rainy so we decided I’d hole up in the hotel room and read with Noah in hopes it would clear up later. Meanwhile Beth and June went to the hotel pool. We had lunch at Grandpa Mac where three out of four of us got mac and cheese with various add-ins. (I went with spinach.)

In the early afternoon, I took a walk on the beach. It had stopped raining but it was still chilly and overcast. As I walked, I was feeling pensive about turning fifty. I saw several teenage girls who seemed to be playing volleyball without a net. They were all in identical black capri leggings, which made me think they were in uniform under their various hoodies and windbreakers. Then I saw an older man in a tweed jacket and a ball cap who was probably doing tai chi. I thought life is like that. Sometimes you’re just reacting to other people’s moves, knowing what general direction you want to move the ball, but unsure if you’re getting over the goal or not because you can’t see it. And sometimes it’s being on your own, making what may look like crazy moves even as they have an underlying purpose and grace.

Beth and June had gone to Funland, so I headed over there to meet them. I got nostalgic walking past the little kid rides, but then I remembered I’ll have a chance to see my niece ride them this summer, which was a cheering thought.

June had almost used up her ride tickets and was moving on to the games. We left with two new stuffed animals (a llama she named Lorenzo and a tiny sea turtle she named Flo) to add to the little Japanese cat (Sakura) she bought earlier in the day at Candy Kitchen. We swung by the tea and spice shop where I got three kinds of tea, vanilla sugar, and a new infuser. Then we got some free Earl Gray crème tea they were giving away for Mother’s Day. I’m not sure if they were giving it to all women or just those with kids in tow.

Back at the hotel where Noah was doing pre-calc, I took June back to the pool. We read for a little while, but it was too loud to keep going, so we gave up.  She got in the water, I stayed poolside and we tossed a ball back and forth. Then Beth came down and I went up to the room to read with Noah. By dinnertime, we were three-fourths of the way through the 120-page reading he had to do in The Sympathizer, a novel about espionage within the Vietnamese-American community shortly after the Vietnam war. It’s good, but intense, so I would have preferred it in smaller doses.

We had dinner at Grotto. I was supposed to pick all the restaurants because it was my birthday weekend, but there would have been an uprising if we hadn’t gone to Grotto and to tell the truth, a trip to Rehoboth would have felt strange without it.

While June was in the bath, I made a quick visit to the beach. It wasn’t raining but it was still cold and windy. The waves were big and full of foam, which the boardwalk lights gave a yellowish cast, like the whites in old photographs. The foam gathered on the sand, only to be half blown away before the next wave could wipe the remnants off the wet sand.

Mother’s Day

Sunday morning was sunny and sparkly, so June and I took a pre-breakfast walk down on the beach. We saw volleyball nets all lined up om the beach, as if for a tournament and someone setting up mile markers for a race on the boardwalk.

We’d wondered if everywhere would be mobbed for Mother’s Day, but we got to Egg by eight and there was only a twenty-minute wait, so we took a walk by the canal. I recommend the peanut butter French toast, (though if you’re there in the fall or winter, the pumpkin pecan French toast is even better). Noah’s lemon curd crepes looked pretty good, too.

We returned to the hotel where Noah and I sat on the balcony and knocked off another chapter of The Sympathizer, while occasionally looking up to enjoy the ocean view. Beth and June made their third visit to the pool. After we checked out of the hotel, Noah went to work in the lounge of another hotel, Beth and June went to a coffee shop and I walked down the boardwalk, where I saw a man playing the pan pipes and a group of mostly middle aged and older folks—a church group perhaps—gathered by one of the gazebos singing “Kumbaya.” I heard someone say they saw dolphins but I couldn’t spy any.

We all met up and gathered food from various establishments to eat on the boardwalk and then June and I went to put our feet in the water before leaving. (She did it in boots, I did it barefoot as it had gotten surprisingly warm.) While we were on the beach we did see a few dolphins. Then we drove home to unpack, grocery shop, and open our Mother’s Day presents- a Busboys and Poets gift certificate for Beth and a black umbrella with clouds on the underside for me. (I’d just left my umbrella on a bus the week before.)

Though my birthday weekend is over, I am not quite finished with celebration. I’m having dinner out with several friends, but not for a few weeks because June’s Girl Scout is going camping next weekend and over Memorial Day weekend, we’re going to New York City to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Broadway, which was one of June’s birthday presents. Fifty is getting off to a busy start.