About Steph

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

The Ocean Life’s For Me

The Week Before the Beach

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

Getting to the Beach: Friday and Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

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

Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday

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

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

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

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

Friday: Court Ruling

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

“Yah!” June said.

“Great,” Noah said.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

Middle School is Over!

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

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

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

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

F-CON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Promotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Party Girl: Or, Speechless No More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything Happens at Once

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

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

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

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

Anyway, back to the week’s events…

Tuesday: Middle School Awards Ceremony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday: Elementary School Art Show

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday: Middle School Band Concert

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

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

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

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

Weekend

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

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

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

Something to Celebrate

Sunday: Mother’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: Birthday, ENT Appointment, Band Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday to Friday: Back to School

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

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

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

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

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

Still Speechless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Enough

Noah turned fourteen on Sunday. I was thinking about that age, how uncomfortable with life I was then and how in other points in history adults fashioned different roles for kids (well, boys) at that awkward age. So I wrote in his birthday card, “You are old enough to be knight’s squire, except you don’t live in medieval England, old enough to be a blacksmith’s apprentice, except you don’t live in colonial times. So you will have to settle for going to high school.”

He didn’t ask for much in the way of presents and he didn’t get a big gift like the drum kit we bought him when he turned eleven or the light and filming equipment we got him last year. He’d asked if we could go away for the weekend, like we did when he turned twelve, and I would have really liked to, but he had gotten very behind in his schoolwork. He had been behind for weeks in fact, since before spring break, despite some progress playing catch-up the previous weekend. So it just didn’t seem feasible.

He does like to eat out, though, so we decided to take him out for dinner three nights in a row, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday we traditionally have pizza so he chose zPizza in Silver Spring and Fro-Zen-Yo. (He couldn’t decide where to have dessert, so he let June choose.)

Saturday it was Noodles & Company and Ben and Jerry’s. Noah’s signed up for online promotions from Noodles & Company and he had a birthday gift certificate. This was fortuitous because we have an on again, off again tradition of eating Thai food on the night before Noah’s birthday. This was because on the night before he was born, Beth and I had dinner on the balcony of a Thai restaurant near our apartment in the city to celebrate my last day of teaching for the semester. (I was expecting to have a few weeks to grade my students’ research papers and get ready for the baby, but the baby had other plans, so I graded some of the papers at the hospital.) At Noodles, Beth and I both ordered Pad Thai with tofu and Beth suggested we eat at the outside tables. These are bit too small for four people, though, so we split up–kids at one table, adults at another. I told Beth we were eating alone, just like fourteen years ago.

Sunday morning the birthday boy seemed grumpy and not that interested in opening his presents. He did, though. He got t-shirts from us and from my mom because few of the ones he wore last summer still fit. We got him one that says “#drums” and one that says “got noodles?” (though the second one didn’t come in the mail until later). My mom got him one with a picture of Shakespeare that says “Will Power” and a pen that’s marked “Mightier than the Sword” and an eraser that says, “Out Damned Spot.” Beth’s mom got him a gift certificate to Politics and Prose and a big bag of Cow Tails caramels (his favorite). We also got him the kind of cord he likes for his phone, one that has an on/off switch for his headphones on it, and June got him a book in a fantasy series he’s reading. That seemed to please him the most and he gave her a genuine sounding “thank you.”

He did some homework in the morning, working on the organizer for a long overdue essay on the Indian Removal Act, but he was complaining of a headache (which in retrospect probably accounted for his bad mood) and by ten-thirty he said he just wanted to go back to bed, so he did. He stayed there until one. I read to him for an hour or so. We finished Mostly Harmless, the fifth and final book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy we’ve been reading since Christmas or maybe it was Thanksgiving. (The fact that Douglas Adams went two books past three and still called it a trilogy tickles Noah). Then we started Crystal Keepers, the book June got for him. It’s a little young for him, but sometimes that’s just what you want. I understand that well.

By this time, his head felt better and he seemed more cheerful. He had lunch and practiced percussion and then worked a little more on the organizer until it was time to go out to dinner yet again. This time it was Vicino in Silver Spring, an old-fashioned Italian restaurant, the kind you probably went to when you were a kid. There was a familiar song from an opera I could almost but not quite place playing when we arrived and the white cloth tablecloths were covered with clear plastic. I was hoping there would be baked ziti and there was. Both Noah and I had that, Beth had Eggplant Parmesan, June had spaghetti with marinara, and we all split an order of fried mozzarella and spinach sautéed with garlic. (We were eating the leftovers for days.)

We headed home for cake and ice cream. At Noah’s request, Beth had made a strawberry cake with strawberry frosting and bought pralines and cream ice cream to go with it. It was delicious, as Beth’s cakes always are. As I was saying goodnight to Noah, I remembered another present I’d bought so long ago I’d forgotten about it. I told him to stay in bed and I’d go get it. It was a pair of blue and white striped summer pajamas from Hanna Andersson. He loves these pajamas so I keep buying them even though he’s in adult sizes now and I always thought I’d stop when he wasn’t in kid sizes anymore. He’s a modest, unassuming kid and he really doesn’t ask for much, so I like to do what I can to make him happy.

I’m glad we’re keeping him for the next four years instead of sending him off to a blacksmith or a knight. I have a feeling those years will go by quickly, so for now, fourteen’s old enough.

Speechless

June’s Girl Scout troop went on a camping trip the last weekend in April. Well, they’ve been going in shifts, but June went that weekend, and Beth went along as a chaperone. While they were gone Noah and I passed a quiet weekend. He made some progress catching up on a backlog of overdue homework and I cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, worked in the garden, went swimming and to the library.

Beth and June returned around lunchtime on Sunday. When I asked June how the trip went she gave me a thumbs up but said nothing. When I jokingly asked if she’d lost the power of speech, she nodded. She’d woken that morning with laryngitis. As a result, I didn’t learn as much about the camping trip as I might have right away, but Beth did her best to fill me in, telling me about the archery and hollow tree so big twelve girls could stand inside and the Maker’s Fair where despite the presence of 3D printer and 3D pens, most of the girls just wanted to make things out of cardboard boxes. Beth also said they cooked most of their meals over fires, so I thought maybe June’s throat had gotten irritated by all the smoke.

June had a violin recital that afternoon. As she felt fine other than her inability to speak, we went. The recital had been divided into three performances because there are too many students to fit all at once in the school’s largest room. There were ten students playing at the 5:30 performance. Eight of them played piano, there was one guitarist, and June was the sole violinist. I was privately amused that the boy playing the guitar was named Dylan. June played seventh. They put the more advanced students at the end so she’s been pleased to see her name appearing later and later in the program with each new recital. It may have also helped that the students at this particular recital seemed to skew a bit young. The oldest performer was probably eleven or twelve and usually there’s a teenager or two.

June composed the piece the played herself. It’s called “Owl in Flight” and it has a haunting, slightly mournful sound, especially at the beginning. When she was first writing it she said she imagined it could be played at a funeral, and she considered my suggestion of “Memory” as a title (or maybe she was just being polite). She played well and got a lot of applause. Here’s a video.

After the students had finished, a guitar teacher played a couple songs, including Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Overs.” He played harmonica and sang as well. I thought the Simon and Garfunkel song was a bit of an odd choice to use as inspiration for a group of mostly elementary school-aged kids. It doesn’t contain anything wildly inappropriate, it’s just unlikely they’d be able to relate to melancholy song about the break up of a long-term relationship.

After the recital we had dinner at Busboys and Poets, which opened in February. It’s a bookstore with a restaurant wrapped around it, if you can visualize that. Anyway, the food is very good and we are very excited to have a real bookstore in Takoma again. The selection is small, but you can special order any book they have at Politics and Prose, and pick it up a day or two later, so it’s almost like having a big bookstore a mile from our house. Beth got vegan coq au vin, and I got a grilled Brie and vegetable panini and the kids got pizza.

It was an inconvenient school week for June not to be able to talk because she had two oral presentations. Her English class was having a publishing party to read the storybooks they’d written to each other and parents and in her Spanish class they were presenting their research projects on contagious diseases. June and Zoë have been collaborating on an informative poster, speech, and skit about pinworm. (The poster has a border of squiggly worms drawn in marker, which I thought was a nice touch. I’d include a picture, but it’s at Zoë’s house.) I wrote a note, asking her teacher if they could go last in hopes that June’s voice would return in time and the teacher agreed.

The publishing party was Wednesday. I was hoping June’s voice would be back by then but it wasn’t, so the teacher read her story for her. It wasn’t quite as festive as June’s second grade teacher’s publishing parties, but Ms. K was admittedly quite a hard act to follow. It was nice to hear June’s story, a tale of friendship drama, read aloud.

I’d like to say it was nice to hear her classmates’ work, too, but most of them read so quietly I was hard pressed to figure out what to write on my comment cards. I strained to hear and managed to find something complimentary to say for most of the kids in her group and when I couldn’t, I wrote about the illustrations. Their storybooks were printed and bound and they came out looking very nice. After the kids had finished reading, Ms. P served them cookies and carrots and the adults left. Only a few parents had come (it was pretty short notice) and June seemed pleased I’d was there.

As for the pinworm presentation, the class has not yet finished with these, so there’s a chance June may still get the opportunity to act the part of the girl who wears her gardening gloves and doesn’t get pinworm in front of her class. I hope so.

It’s been a week now since June lost her voice and now she has a barking cough to go with it so Beth’s going to take her to the doctor this week. I miss hearing her voice. At Noah’s birthday dinner tonight (more about that in a future post), I told her so, and Beth and even Noah chimed in they missed it, too. “I’ve been missing it since I lost it,” June whispered.

She took a little notebook to class with her all week so she could write to make herself understood and at home she’s mostly been whispering, so we still know what’s on her mind. And next Tuesday the whole third grade will be performing a recorder concert before a PTA meeting, so I know she will continue to make herself heard.

Southland in the Springtime: Part III, Williamsburg, VA and Washington, DC

We arrived in Williamsburg on Friday evening after an afternoon of driving in and out of rain. Beth had found us a suite, which meant we weren’t all crowded into the same hotel room, quite the luxury. There was a living room area between the kids and us, so we stood a chance of sleeping past six. We even had a king bed.

There was a kitchen, too, but no time to cook. It took a long time to check in and we wanted somewhere quick to eat so we were happy to find a Noodles & Company nearby. This is one of the kids’ favorite chains and it’s somewhere they’d both get vegetables and protein. We’d opted to visit Busch Gardens on Saturday instead of Friday because of the weather and sure enough we could see the rain coursing down the windows as we ate, but we were lucky to get out of and back into the car during breaks in the storm. We went back to the hotel and everyone went to bed. The kids did let us sleep until around seven. There was a breakfast bar downstairs, so we ate and headed for the park.

If you’re not from the East Coast, Busch Gardens may require a little explanation. It takes the theme in theme park seriously and the theme is Western Europe—specifically the British Isles, Italy, France, and Germany. (There’s also an area devoted to New France, or French Canada. Beth guesses they needed somewhere to put the frontier-themed rides all amusement parks seem to have.) The park is quite pretty. It’s no Cedar Point, of course, as it lacks Lake Erie, but it does have a lot of trees and flowers. Daffodils and tulips were everywhere. And the admirable adherence to the theme means there’s a lot of hokey scenery. Classical architecture and statues in Italy, big beer barrels marked Oktoberfest in Germany. You get the picture. We took a lot of cheesy photos, especially in Italy because my sister has spent of a lot of time there (in the real Italy) and I thought she might get a kick out of it. I liked the little touches—graffiti in Latin on the walls near the food court, fake ironwork on the bathroom stalls in Germany, etc.

No one but June had a strong opinion about what to do first, so after we entered the park, in England, which was strung end to end in Union Jacks, we headed for Germany and the Curse of the DarKastle ride, pausing only to get a dolphin painted on her face. The artist used a stencil and spray paint, which I’d never seen before. I thought $10 was a bit steep for face paint but it really lasted. It was still there three days later when June finally asked me to scrub it off because it was a little smudgy.

When we got to the castle it wasn’t open yet, so after admiring the icicles that hung from it and other details, the kids and I went and rode the swings twice and then it was open. The DarKastle, as you might guess, is Busch Gardens’ version of a haunted house. You wear 3D glasses and the effects are all computer-generated. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer a haunted house with actors or material props and scenery. June, however loved it and wanted to go right back on as soon as we got off, so I took her on again while Beth and Noah waited for us.

Next, after a long line that wound through what looked like a stone passageway in an Irish castle, we rode Europe in the Air, a flight simulator, with views of various icons of Western Europe (Stonehenge, the Coliseum, etc). It’s similar to an IMAX film, except the seats tilt and shake as if you were flying. It made both Beth and me a little ill.

We had lunch in shifts, Beth and Noah and I had crepes in France before Europe in the Air, and then June and Noah had pasta in Italy after it (yes, he did have lunch twice) while Beth and I got gelato.

The kids also rode a ride that looked like a gondola in Italy and that was about all we did, other than buy a t-shirt for Noah (who has outgrown most of his from last year) and ride the sky ride to get from one place to another. We would have liked to try one of the water rides (Escape from Pompeii looks fun) but it wasn’t quite warm enough to get soaked. We also considered riding the sightseeing train that circles the park, but there wasn’t time as we had a long drive back to Maryland and we needed to leave mid-afternoon.

We enjoyed our trip to Busch Gardens but part of day seemed almost long enough. We all agreed it’s not as good an amusement park for us as Cedar Point or Hershey Park. What we all missed was any moderate coasters. There were kiddie rides and big thrill rides, but nothing that fit our niche. I am not the daredevil I was (briefly) in my teens and early twenties, but I do still enjoy a classic roller coaster and there was nothing like that. I thought Noah, who’s a little braver than me, could probably handle Loch Ness Monster, but he took a look at it and said no.

So, we bid adieu to Europe and drove back to Maryland. We almost always go out for Indian when we return home from vacation, so we did that. We weren’t quite finished being tourists, though, because the cherry blossoms were in bloom and we went to see them the next morning.

We were lucky to catch the peak this year, as it only lasts several days, and we’d been gone over a week. It was the latest peak since 1993, according to the National Park Service, occurring about a week past the average date.

It was also a beautiful Sunday morning, in the low seventies and sunny, so we expected crowds, both for the blossoms and for a ten-mile race that was taking place along the Tidal Basin. Our friend Tom (June’s friend Talia’s dad) was running and we looked for him as we watched the race go by, but we didn’t see him. Getting across 15th Street to get from the Metro stop to the blossoms turned out to be quite the challenge, with the race going down it. We waited around ten minutes for a break in the race and were just about to sit down on the curb and eat our picnic breakfast right there when suddenly a bunch of other people who were also waiting to cross the street made a break for it and we all dashed through the middle of the race.

We walked the whole perimeter of the Tidal Basin, something I almost but not quite take for granted now, after years of having kids too little for that hike. Anyway, it was lovely. And June had fun climbing the rocks at the FDR Memorial, as always.

We’ve been home almost a week now and are well into the routine of work and school. The cherry trees along the streets in Takoma Park are well past their peak. We keep seeing the white petals blowing through the air (the other day Noah came home from school with his curls full of them) and little green leaves are replacing the flowers. Our dogwood is budding, the daffodils are almost finished, and there are tulips in our back yard. The flowers and flowering trees of home are sweet reminders of the flowers of the road—at the altar at YaYa’s church on Easter morning and in the gardens of the Biltmore and along the highway in North Carolina and in the plantings of a theme park version of Europe.

Southland in the Springtime: Part II, Nags Head, NC

Tuesday we drove from mountains to ocean. It took almost ten hours, with a stop for lunch. North Carolina is a really long state. Once we descended into the piedmont, some trees had tiny leaves, not just buds, and all along the road there were small purple flowering trees, maybe Eastern redbuds, based on my Googling.

We had lunch at a diner where Beth and I between us had cornbread, a biscuit, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, sweet potato fries, cole slaw, macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter pie. When after a moment of hesitation, I added sweet tea to my order, Beth said I was going for “the full Southern.” It was all very good.

By mid-afternoon the trees were mostly pines and by late afternoon, there was water in ditches all along the road, presumably dug there to drain the swampy land. Then we started crossing broad rivers and sounds on long, narrow bridges with seagulls wheeling overhead and then we were in the Outer Banks.

The house was a classic Outer Banks house on stilts, right on the beach, with an upper and lower deck in the front, plus two landing-type decks in the back. You could walk straight off the front decks onto the beach, which caused June to exclaim over and over, “This house is literally on the beach.” She liked being able to play in the sand whenever she wanted and in fact had started building a sand castle while we were still doing our settling in chores and the next morning right after breakfast, she was at it again.

It was just after seven when we arrived so I needed to feed the kids and get sheets on the beds and make sure June took a bath while Beth made a quick grocery run. But June and I did steal ten minutes between all that to stand with our feet in the waves in the falling dusk. That night we fell asleep with the windows open, listening to the crashing waves.

At 8:45 the next morning, June and I were having a picnic breakfast (cucumber slices for her and an Easter egg for me) on the beach. It was a second breakfast, as we’d eaten the first one on the upper deck, from which we saw both pelicans and dolphins. That was the only time we saw dolphins but there were pelicans flying over the ocean in front of the house all the time. In fact, I started calling the deck Café Pelican because I ate so many meals there and saw so many pelicans, in the hundreds no doubt. Around 9:15 it started to rain—intermittent rain was predicted for the next two days—and we went back to the house.

I put on my raincoat and took a walk to the fishing pier. It was about a half hour walk from the house so it made a good focal point for a stroll. I found a piece of driftwood with large barnacles on it, some pretty shells, and a red, white, and blue crab leg. I pocketed the shells and leg to take back to show June. While I was walking it started to rain harder and I ended up getting pretty wet.

When I got to the pier, I stood under it, sheltering from the rain and watching the waves break around the pilings. When the rain let up, I walked out on the pier. It should have cost $1.50, but for some reason they didn’t charge me. There were little gaps between the boards, so you could see the swirling water far below you, which was a bit unsettling, and the pier itself creaked and swayed ever so slightly in the wind. I was there so soon after the deluge, I had it to myself for a while but eventually some people came to fish.

I went home, changed into dry clothes, and read Return of the Dragon to June on the deck. After lunch, I straightened up the kitchen and made a grocery list for Beth. She went shopping while June and I went to the beach again. It had stopped raining, but a cold fog had rolled in. June was intrigued by my description of the pier and she wanted to see it so we made the whole walk over again. As we approached, she got a little nervous about being so high up and she asked if there was a rail. Once I said there was, she said she’d be fine. She did peer at the ocean between the gaps in the boards and she was a bit horrified people were fishing on a fishing pier. (“I don’t want to see any dead or dying fish!” she said. I advised her not to look in the buckets.) We sat on a bench at the very end of the pier and watched the gentle swells of the water beyond the breakers.

We came home and relaxed the rest of the afternoon, all of us but Noah that is; he was doing homework. That evening he finished a big project for his media class. It’s a website for a fictional pasta company, Noah’s Noodles. It’s basically what he’s been doing with his weekends for the past couple months. Check it out but don’t actually order any noodles. They don’t exist.

It got cold that evening so we had to close all the windows and turn on the heat, after trying to tough it out by wearing sweatshirts and wrapping ourselves in blankets so we could still hear the ocean.

It rained that night and there was a brief but intense downpour in the morning. When it let up a bulldozer started moving sand around in front of the house. It looked like it was making a driveway for a neighboring house. It almost made me wish we had a preschooler to appreciate the show.

Around 9:40 I headed out to the beach with a copy of Anna Karenina, a towel and a thermos of hot tea. There was a chair on the beach not far from the house so I sat there, covering it with the towel and propping an umbrella up over my book during a passing shower. While I was there an enormous flock of migratory birds, black, smaller than gulls and long-necked, flew north just over the water. It took at least ten minutes for them to pass. June came down from the house to watch them and play on the beach while I read.

After lunch we visited Jockey’s Ridge State Park to climb the tallest natural sand dune on the East Coast. We took a nature trail down to the sand, through a small pine wood and back up onto the dune. It was a fun hike, with nice ocean and sound views, and eerie vistas of twisted, windswept trees. June was full of energy and running circles around the rest of us. Noah was moody and alternately saying the park was “fun” and “cool” and then glumly complaining about his lack of progress on a history project. He cut his foot on something in the sand (glass perhaps—June found some nearby) and said it was a metaphor. I said yes, because his progress was impeded but he had not sustained a life-threatening injury. It’s not easy being thirteen going on fourteen, I remember that. We did stop on the way home for ice cream—a banana split for me, brownie sundaes for Noah and Beth, and Heath bar flurry for June. I hoped the combination of fresh air and frozen treats would help raise his spirits.

I went back to the beach to read more Anna Karenina, coming inside when my hands got too cold to turn the pages. June and I made dinner, scrambled eggs with chopped olives meant to represent a shell-strewn beach and a green asparagus sea. (This was all her idea.) After dinner she and I read more of her book on the beach. She wrapped herself in the beach towel to stay warm.

Friday morning—a warm, sunny morning—we packed up the house and dropped off the keys at the realty. Noah and I took a brief walk on the beach while we waited for the dishwasher to finish its cycle. He wanted to go as far as the pier but there wasn’t time. I found a nearly whole conch shell I was going to take back and add to the collection I was leaving on the deck rail for the next people but then I discovered another shell inside and thinking it might contains a tenant, I tossed it back into the sea.

Since it was sunny in Nags Head and storms were predicted in Williamsburg, where we were headed next, we decided to spend the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon at the beach before driving north.

For the next couple hours we split up. Beth took the kids to play miniature golf and they dropped me at a public access beach. There were a lot more people on this beach—either because there was a parking lot or because it wasn’t fifty degrees and raining I’m not sure. Maybe both. Anyway, the weather was lovely, around seventy and sunny, and the waves were big and scenic. I spent two hours reading and napping and taking a walk.

We had lunch at a pizza place on the highway, eating on the patio, and then we drove to the stately red brick Currituck Beach Lighthouse, where we climbed 220 steps to the top and enjoyed the wind and the the beautiful views of sea and sound. “Some day we are going to be too old to do this,” I said to Beth, after we’d descended.

“But that day is not today,” she answered me cheerfully and she was right.

Next installment: Bush Gardens and cherry blossoms.