Fifty

During all the awful tumult of the post-election fallout, a good thing happened. Beth turned fifty. Her birthday usually comes right before Thanksgiving and this year it was the day before. Because of that, it often seems to usher in the holiday season for our family and Tuesday afternoon, as I was out getting a birthday card for her, I felt my heart lighten a little. We still have a lot to celebrate.

When Beth and I started dating, I had just turned twenty a couple months earlier and she was several months shy of twenty-one. We’ve spent our twenties, thirties, and forties together and now we’re embarking on our fifties. It’s a comforting thought, that we’re in this together, come what may.

Beth took her birthday off so we could cook and prepare for our Thanksgiving trip to the beach. (We’re renting a house in Rehoboth from Thursday to Sunday.) The kids had a half-day, so in the morning I took Beth out to La Mano and we got coffee and split a cranberry-orange scone. There were no seats available so we walked up to downtown Takoma and sat at the table outside Dolci Gelato, which wasn’t open yet, so it didn’t feel like we were squatting. It was a pretty day and the morning sun was warm enough so we didn’t feel cold.

From there we went to the hardware store, because Beth knows how to party on her birthday. No, seriously, it was birthday-related. ACE sent her a $10 coupon for her birthday and she bought twenty leaf bags with it. Then we drove to the library so I could return a book and get another one, but I forgot it doesn’t open until noon on Wednesdays, so we came home and puttered around the house. I worked a little and did laundry. Beth made cranberry sauce and mushroom gravy.

June got home around one and started to set up her gift for Beth—fifty origami cups she’d made over the last couple days, each with candy inside (miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups, Hershey’s kisses, or espresso caramels) arranged on the living room floor into the shape of the numerals 5 and 0. I’d told Beth ahead of time June’s gift was “showy and sweet” and Beth replied, “Just like June.”

It took longer to set this up than either June or I anticipated. We’d tested it on the living room carpet the day before to see if the cups would stand up when weighted down with candy and the our test cup did, but it turned out fifty of them were more of a challenge and they kept falling over. They were all shaped just a little differently and different kinds of candies weighed them differently as well. The Reese’s cups worked better than the kisses or the caramels. June also wanted them to touch each other, which she thought would help them support each other and I thought would lead to domino-like toppling. We were both right at different points in the endeavor. She ended up making the five, I made the zero, and since we had cups left over, she made an exclamation point.  Noah observed that depending on where you stood to view it, it could look like 50!, 105, or 501. Beth told June it was “magical.”

All Beth’s presents from us were food. I guess, given the circumstances, we all gravitated toward comfort food. Noah got her a set of dessert sauces—bittersweet chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, sea salt caramel, and dark chocolate sea salt. I got her two boxes of fancy crackers, two hunks of cheeses we’d never tried (Piave Vecchie and dry Jack), two baking mixes (brownies and molten chocolate cake), apple cider syrup, and pumpkin pancake and waffle mix.

After Beth opened her presents, I made brandied sweet potatoes and while they were in the oven, we headed back to the library and then to the grocery store to get a prescription. Noah was just finishing drumming when we got home, so I read most of Act Three of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to both kids. They’re not often free at the same time, so reading this play has been slow going, but we’re all enjoying it.

Next I made Beth’s requested birthday dinner—breaded baked tofu sticks with curried tartar sauce, egg noodles, and homemade applesauce. For dessert, I made a chocolate cake with coffee frosting. I put it in the oven just before we sat down to dinner. About five minutes before it was supposed to come out of the oven, I realized I didn’t smell cake. Turns out I’d turned off the oven when I took the sweet potatoes out and I never turned it back on when I put the cake in. Luckily, it only needed to bake a half hour and by cooling it on the porch, I was able to get it frosted so we could all eat cake and ice cream before June’s bedtime.

A few days ago, I told Beth I was thinking of not doing a Christmas card this year. It just seemed like a lot of work and it was hard to imagine putting a smiling picture of us on the front of it or writing a cheerful letter about what we’ve been up to this past year. The annual card means more to me than to her, so I thought she might go along with the idea of taking a pass. Instead she looked surprised.

I said I wasn’t sure if it was just post-election depression and if I’d regret it later if we skipped a year. She asked if I’d thought it was too much work last year. I said no, so clearly it was post-election depression, but that the part I wasn’t sure about was whether I’d regret it or not. She gently suggested we take some pictures at the beach “just in case.” We discussed the possibility of sending a card with no letter, of taking a more pensive looking picture, of putting some political message on the card.

I’m still not sure what we’re going to do, but I think she handled it just right. If she’d said that we should do the card, I might have said it was pointless and started crying. If she’d said sure, let’s skip it this year, I probably would have cried, too, because that would mean it really was pointless. We’ve had our share of rough patches and misunderstandings over the years, but sometimes she knows just how to handle me. I guess twenty-nine years of experience comes in handy there. I’m lucky to have her in my life and I’m happy she’s been on Earth for fifty years.

I’ll close with this excerpt from Springsteen’s “All That Heaven Will Allow,” which Beth put on a mix tape she made for me when we were much, much younger.

Rain and storm and dark skies
Well now they don’t mean a thing
If you got a girl that loves you
And who wants to wear your ring
So c’mon mister trouble
We’ll make it through you somehow
We’ll fill this house with all the love
All that heaven will allow

Happy fiftieth birthday, sweetheart. I love you in good times and bad.

When We Grow Up

Three and half weeks ago, while we were still at the beach, I received the sound files and lyrics for the songs June needed to learn for her musical drama camp production of Matilda. But she was too busy having fun to practice much while we were on vacation. As tryouts were the first day of camp (a few days after our return), the day we left I urged her to listen to the songs in the car and sing along “for as long as you can stand it.” Little did I imagine she’d sing for nearly the whole drive home. She put a lot of heart into it, especially certain lines like, “If you’re little you can do a lot./You mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you.” I think she identified.

But there were other lines that resonated with me during the two weeks she was at camp and I was hearing a lot of them. Here’s a bit of “When I Grow Up,” I particularly like: “When I grow up/ I will be strong enough to carry all/the heavy things you have to haul/ around with you when you’re a grown-up.” There have been a lot of those things lately, haven’t there? Multiple high-profile police shootings, both police on civilians and vice versa, a terrorist attack in Nice and another one in Kabul, an attempted coup in Turkey and the Turkish government’s response to it, the shooting in Munich, and the truly alarming spectacle of the Republican National Convention.

I had more personal worries as well. It may seem small in light of national and international events, but our cat Matthew has lost weight and he passed some bloody stool and I went on the Internet and found it could be anything from constipation to cancer, and so for a while I was very worried about him. We took him to the vet twice and they palpated his belly, and took blood the first time and urine the second time. Everything came back normal, but one of the times I was at the vet’s office there was a father with two girls there collecting the body of their cat, who had been put to sleep during exploratory surgery for cancer, so it felt like a near miss indeed. And we’re still not sure what’s caused his symptoms, so I have some lingering unease, even though he’s acting normally.

Meanwhile, while June was at drama camp, Noah was home most of the time doing his summer school computer science assignments, as well as summer homework for pre-calculus and English, and helping me with housework and yardwork.

This year we let June walk to and from drama camp. She did this with another day camp nearer to the house last year, but this represented an expansion of her roaming range and it also involved crossing a slightly busier street than she’s ever crossed before. I took her to camp the first day because I needed to turn in a form, but that afternoon she came home red, sweaty, and proud of herself. About half the time, I ended up taking her on the bus in the mornings, but most afternoons she came home alone, sometimes buying herself a snack at a convenience store on the way.

Auditions were on the first day and for the first time in six summers of attending musical drama camp, June tried out for the main character. She had a reason for not doing this before. The camp director divides the main role up between various actors to spread the acting out more evenly across the group. Nonetheless, June prefers to own her role. But there wasn’t anyone except Matilda she really wanted to be, besides possibly Lavender, Matilda’s best friend. She found out on the second day she got the part. In fact, twelve of the twenty kids in her age group were playing Matilda. (In addition, there was a chorus of nine younger kids who sang along with June’s group but didn’t play individual parts. In the video, they’re the ones in the vests.)

The last few days of drama camp Beth was away for a several days at Netroots Nation in St. Louis. This conference was inconveniently timed because she wasn’t available to drive Noah to his summer school computer science midterm in Gaithersburg, she missed our twenty-ninth dating anniversary, and worst of all, she would miss Matilda.

Noah successfully took a cab to his midterm, which inexplicably turned out to be a mid-class review session and not the test they were told they would have. Then he found his way home on public transportation on an unfamiliar route (bus to train to bus). Even though he was irritated that there was no test and felt like the whole thing was a waste of half a Saturday, I thought it was a good life skills experience. As a kid with a non-driving parent, he’s had to be pretty self-sufficient about getting around, but the cab was a new twist.

As for the anniversary, Beth and I exchanged gifts after she got home, a couple days after she got home actually because she was pretty busy. Before she left on her trip, she told me she’d had a good idea for me and forgotten it, so I asked if she’d been planning to get my Birkenstocks resoled because they need it and she’s done that before. No, it wasn’t that, she said, while Noah stage-whispered, “Go with it.” She took his advice and gave me a card with before and after pictures of Birkenstock soles tucked inside. I got her some wind chimes she’d admired. My aunt Peggy got us some at the beach as well, so now we have two new sets on the porch.

On the day of the performance, we met June’s best friend Megan in the auditorium. She was going to watch the show and come home with us for an extended play date, which would start at our house and then switch to Megan’s house for a sleepover. Noah set up his video camera on his tripod and I reminded Megan, who kept up a pretty constant running commentary during the Frozen performance last year that she had to keep quiet because unlike last year, we were all sitting together and she was near the camera. Megan promised she would and she was true to her word. She whispered everything she had to say.

The first song was “Miracle,” in which a group of spoiled children sing “My mummy says I’m a miracle” and other expressions of parental overindulgence, to be contrasted with Matilda’s sadly singing, “My mummy says I’m a lousy little worm/My daddy says I’m a bore.” The kids were in different costumes, a ballerina and a soldier are called for in the lyrics, but for some reason June wore a dog costume. She was not able to offer much of an explanation for this, but I think it must have been meant to indicate a child whose whims are humored. The choreography in this number was more complicated and ambitious than they’ve tackled in previous years. In some of the other pieces they used parts of the Broadway choreography, but this was the camp director’s invention.

June had her solo in the first lines of the next song, “Naughty.” The camp director, Gretchen, complimented her after the show for “setting the tone” well in this song. Here’s a clip of the first two songs of the show.

For the rest of the show she was singing along with the group, with an occasional line of dialogue. June especially liked the part where they rode scooters up and down the aisles of the theater. The show was well done, as usual. This year the girl who really stole the show was one of the director’s daughters, who was playing Miss Trunchbull, the evil headmistress. Lottie really nailed that role.

This camp is always a highlight of June’s summer, but the kids’ artistic endeavors were not over. The next week Noah volunteered at a day camp at the kids’ old preschool and he filmed and edited a zombie movie there, with the campers as actors. It was unscripted and pretty much consisted of him filming their play. He played it for them on the last day and it was a hit. This is a link to the camp director Lesley’s blog post about the whole zombie experience. The movie is included in two parts.

That same week June was away at Girl Scout camp and the theme of her program was “Artistas,”so she came home with a lot of art, including a tie-dyed t-shirt, a lot of ceramics, and a bracelet she made for Megan.

It was her second year at sleep-away camp and it was considerably easier to drop her off and drive away, both for her and for us. I did miss her while she was gone, though, and I was happy to pick her up on Friday. We drove to camp straight from the settlement of our newly refinanced mortgage to beat the rush hour traffic and settled down to wait for pickup time in a nearby Starbucks. On the drive down through Southern Maryland, I noted a lot of flags at half-mast, and wondered if they were all down for the same reason and if so what it was—there are so many possibilities—and also observed the predominance of Trump yard signs with unease. (My friend Onika later informed me the flags were lowered for the police officers in Baton Rouge, there’s an official website you can check.)

We were there at five on the dot, and when they called June out of the dining hall where the girls were waiting, she barreled out to give us hugs. Her hair had been French-braided by a counselor, no mean feat given how short it is, and even better, the counselor managed to do it so that most of the faded blue and pink left in her hair from having it dyed two months ago was is contained in one of the braids. It was a cool effect.

On the drive home and at dinner—we stopped at Pizza Hut and then Rita’s for Italian ice and frozen custard—she told us about camp: she’d been canoeing and had done archery once each, they did an art project and swam every day. She’d been in the lowest swim group for the second year in a row, despite having taken swim lessons this spring to avoid this fate. She mostly liked the food, and tried Apple Jacks for the first time ever, but the vegetarian lasagna was worse than last year—it had eggplant instead of noodles! (Beth surmised it was doing double duty as the gluten-free option.) She learned the camp is inhabited by mermairies, mermaid/fairy hybrids who grant wishes. She made a wish (to find her missing swim bottoms) and it came true. She thought she might have spotted a mermairy’s head in the pond while canoeing. One of her best camp friends lives in Silver Spring and she got her phone number so they can have a play date. She missed us but she didn’t get homesick.

All in all, June was very happy with her camp experience and we are happy to have her back. Even if she’s grown up enough to spend a week away from us without much worry or fuss, it’s still good to have her home.

Three Days in May

I. Cinco de Mayo

If Noah’s birthday was the day we needed everything to go like clockwork and it did, two days later, things were a bit rougher around the edges.

Here is my first Facebook post from that day:

May 5, 10:59 a.m.

Steph found June’s sneakers under the dining room table on the morning of the day she’s supposed to be running a practice 5K after school. Questions about whether or not she has time to take the shoes to school (probably) and whether this would constitute helicopter parenting (quite possibly) are swirling around in her head.

Interestingly enough, all the people who offered an opinion on whether I should take the sneakers or not were women over seventy, all of whom are grandmothers (Beth’s mom and two of her aunts, plus a friend of my mom’s). They all thought I should do it. Presumably, no one currently raising kids wanted to tell me what to do for fear of seeming to label me as too involved or not involved enough, depending on what I chose to do.

I did take the sneakers (after having emailed the coach to find out if June would be allowed to run in crocs and finding out the answer was no). While I was at her school I picked up her violin so she wouldn’t have to leave it by the side of the middle school track where her team was practicing. I left the sneakers at in the main office with a note inside one of them letting her know I had the violin.

The note was because they couldn’t page June to come down and get her sneakers right away because the fourth grade was on another field trip—this one to the Chesapeake Bay where they would wade in the water, touch crabs, and try to catch eels in nets. I’d volunteered to be a chaperone on this trip as well, but I didn’t expect to be picked so soon after the St. Mary’s trip and I wasn’t. The funny thing is that before St. Mary’s I hadn’t chaperoned a field trip since June was in preschool when I went with her class to the Portrait Gallery. (Beth went to Air and Space with her class when she was in second grade.) I’d always think I didn’t have time and maybe I’d do the next one. But then I started thinking about how they don’t ask for chaperones for middle school field trips and June has only a little over a year of elementary school left. There aren’t very many next ones left.

One of the reasons I had time to make the trip to June’s school on Thursday was that I’d front-loaded my work that week in hopes of going to the Interdisciplinary presentation at Noah’s school on Friday. This is something the CAP students do once a quarter. They have an intensive week-long experience with one of their teachers, spending half the school day in that class, during which they do some kind of hands-on learning based on a historical period. This week was the 1960s to 80s and Noah was in drama class, so he was in a skit that took place in the 80s. I really don’t know much more about it than that because he didn’t want us to come and we didn’t. He hasn’t wanted us to come to any of the Interdisciplinary presentations. This breaks my heart a little, as I loved see him perform at this kind of thing when he was in the Humanities magnet in middle school and he used to want us to come, not so long ago. I almost went anyway and I was struggling with the decision for much of the day Thursday because this is the last quarter and it was my last chance to see a ninth-grade Interdisciplinary presentation.

So, faced with decisions about how to mother, or specifically how much to hover around the kids, I did what I thought June would want and what I knew Noah wanted. What kids want isn’t always what they need or the right thing to do, but often it’s a decent tie-breaker. June actually seemed to take it for granted that I delivered the sneakers. Beth had to nudge her to say “thank you” that evening. Also, it was a good thing I got the violin because the note got lost somewhere in the shuffle and she forgot to get the violin and came home apologizing for leaving it at school.

Here’s my second Facebook post of the day:

May 5, 8:31 p.m.

Steph now realizes the sneakers were just the warning shot across the bow of this day. Since then Steph has passed a foggy, unfocused day in which she had opportunity to think “what happened to the last 45 minutes?” more than once; June came home without her backpack and coat; Noah missed his bus to drum lesson, walked a couple blocks to a less familiar bus route, took it going the wrong way and missed his lesson; and Beth came home and mentioned she’d accidentally bought a birthday card for her mother instead of a Mother’s Day card. Possibly the whole family should just go to bed right now.

I don’t really want to say much more about this, other than it was stressful exchanging phone calls and texts with Noah while he was lost because both the home phone and my cell were experiencing some kind of problem which made it hard for me to hear what he was saying. His voice was garbled and going in and out. I managed to give him a little guidance, but for the most part he figured out where he was and how to get home on his own, with the help of maps on his phone.

As a result of making this series of calls, and spending some time helping June come up with strategies for adding and subtracting fractions after she got home at nearly 5:30, I had to scrap my dinner plans for a baked nacho casserole and made nachos in the microwave or canned soup for everyone, depending on their preferences. And that was our Cinco de Mayo.

II. Mother’s Day

Three days later Mother’s Day started with breakfast in bed, courtesy of June. She was in our room at seven on the dot (the earliest she’s allowed to come in) with strawberry toaster pastries, fruit salad, and orange juice. Once Noah was up (about an hour later), we opened our cards and presents—Beth got a stack of dark chocolate bars from June and a gift certificate from our local bookstore from Noah. I got three bars of soap from June (lavender-vanilla, gardenia-orange, and jasmine-lemon) and an umbrella from Noah. (I recently lost mine, so of course it rained every day for over two weeks, breaking a record set in the 1970s.) June made us a joint card with a heart that says “Beth + Mommy = Awesome.” Noah made us two cards, with photographs of us on the front and nice pencil illustrations of our presents inside. Mine shows not just an an umbrella but the actual five-day forecast chart from the newspaper, calling for, you guessed it, more rain.

Mother’s Day gave me yet another opportunity to reflect on the kids’ relative independence, though this time it was June who was edging toward it. She bought her present for me in a store alone for the first time, the weekend before.  Now it was with cash I gave her and I was standing right outside the store, but she was proud of herself nonetheless. And she must have charmed the cashier because she emerged with her purchase in a pink bag with multicolored ribbons while my gift to my own mother had been handed over in a plain brown paper bag. June also knew just what she wanted for Beth so we took care of it all in one outing. I don’t know what process led to Noah getting his gift to me, but it took more prodding on my part than I’d like for him to finally decide what he was going to get Beth and to actually get it. In the end, though, he came through with good gifts for both of us.

The rest of the day unfolded like a normal Sunday in May. Beth and June went grocery shopping. There’s usually a photo booth at the Grant Street Market on Mothers’ Day where Beth and June have a tradition of taking a photo with some kind of prop, but it wasn’t there this year so they had to make do with a selfie, using a carnation they found on the street. I swam laps and went to the library. I read to both kids (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to June, Fellowship of the Ring to Noah) and continued to help June with her fractions. Beth mowed the back yard, did some gardening, and made dinner—veggie hot dogs and burgers, fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, grilled eggplant and asparagus—which we ate in the back yard. For dessert we had frozen treats from the ice cream truck. I’d been thinking of making strawberry shortcake, but I’m waiting for local strawberries to peak and there weren’t any at the farmers’ market after two weeks of good but not great berries.

III: 49

I turned forty-nine the following Wednesday. I had lunch with my friend Becky, at Kin Da, a Thai and sushi restaurant. Because we are both in our late forties, there was a moment when we were both searching all our pockets and bags for our reading glasses and wondering how we’d read the menu if neither of us found them. Luckily, we both did and she ordered soup and sushi and I got drunken noodles with tofu. I’d intended to get a Thai iced tea because I really like it but I rarely get one because I usually don’t want the caffeine at dinner. It was a rainy, chilly day, though, so hot green tea seemed more appealing once I was there. Becky’s daughter Eleanor is a high school senior, so we talked a lot about high school, and Becky, understandably, was feeling bittersweet about it all. She said I might find her weeping on a bench in downtown Takoma some time three months hence and I said if I did I’d sit down next to her wordlessly and just be with her.

Because it was a weeknight and Noah had a history chapter to read and outline, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to go out to dinner, but he finished in time and we went, but only after some grumpiness about my restaurant choice—Austin Grill, where I often like to go on my birthday. I like the strawberry lemonade and the enchiladas and sitting outside on a warm night. Well, it wasn’t a warm night—our run of cold, wet weather continues apace—but I still associate it with my birthday.  When we got to Silver Spring, however, we found it was closed.

So we looked at the menu at A.G. Kitchen, a Latin American fusion restaurant, which is in the same plaza. Seeing us perusing the menu someone came out and offered us a sample of the guacamole. We decided to give it a try. Once seated, we helped the kids select dishes they might like (beans and rice, green beans, and fries for June; asparagus and a big spinach empanada for Noah). Beth and I split another spinach empanada and we each got an order of wild mushroom mini tacos. Everything was very good—I think we may go back there.

Everyone ate their food without complaint, and everyone gave me presents. Beth got me tickets to see Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap. I asked because Garrison Keillor is retiring this summer and it’s my last chance to go, and I’ve literally been meaning to go to one of his shows for decades. I think it will be fun. Noah got me a gift certificate for the same bookstore where he got Beth’s Mother’s Day present. And June made me a homemade gift certificate good for my choice of various activities with her. I’m supposed to choose three, so I think I’m going to watch a movie with her, take her swimming, and have her help me in the garden.

At home, we ate the ice cream cake we bought the weekend before and our annual series of early-to-mid May birthdays and holidays was a wrap.

Fifteen

Noah’s birthday was on Tuesday and Tuesdays are so busy we had to make a plan two days ahead of time to determine when the four of us would all be home and awake at the same time in order for him to open his presents and eat cake.

We settled on before school for the presents if he could be ready before his usual leaving time of seven. June has before-school running club practice on Tuesdays but she leaves for that at 7:20 so it wasn’t really a factor, or it wouldn’t have been if she hadn’t also needed to squeeze a fifteen-minute violin practice in before the running club meeting. The next day was Bike-to-School Day and she wanted to participate so she needed to take her violin to school on Tuesday and leave it in the music room for her Wednesday lesson and I didn’t want her missing practice two days in row. (She would also be unable to bring the violin home on Wednesday because she’d be biking home as well, so it wouldn’t get home until Thursday.)

Beth’s been working long hours for the past few weeks because of the Verizon strike so there was only a slim chance of her getting home by the time June would leave for Girl Scouts at 6:20, so cake would have to wait until June got back from Scouts, even though that would probably keep her up past her 8:30 bed time.

On the big day Noah was ready by 6:50 so we gathered while he opened his cards and presents: a new phone case, an Amazon gift card, a couple t-shirts, the last two novels from the Chaos Walking trilogy, and a subscription to the Zingerman’s Bread-of-the-Month Club. Noah is a big fan of bread in general and this catalog in particular. (The first loaf, a mix of wheat, rye, and cornmeal came the next day and it was really good.) He seemed happy with everything and headed off to school. And June managed to get her violin practice done before her ride to running club came. Everything was going according to plan.

When Noah got home from school there was a birthday card and check from my mom that had arrived in that day’s mail. (She was surprised it came on time because she and my stepfather are on a long tour of Western national parks and she’d had trouble finding a mailbox and had mailed it only the day before, from Utah). To our surprise and amusement, it was the exact same card Beth’s mom got for him. Over the course of the day both grandmothers also called with birthday greetings. He didn’t have much homework so he was able to have an unhurried conversation with each of them and to play his drums. He’s been playing a lot recently, which I like to hear because when he does I know he’s doing something he enjoys.

Noah had asked if we could go to Noodles and Company for his birthday dinner—because if there’s a food he likes more than bread it’s pasta—but time didn’t permit, so we told him we’d go over the weekend. In the meanwhile, I tried to recreate the dish he often gets—egg noodles with marinated tofu, broccoli, matchstick carrots, and grated Parmesan. I even did some online research about the Noodles and Company marinade. Of course, the official recipe is not available, but people have made guesses and posted them. I also found a message board with someone purporting to have worked at Noodles and Company, who provided the main ingredients (soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar) but not the proportions. I did my best with the information I had.

The tofu wasn’t exactly right, everyone agreed, but I did my best and Noah gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for making me Noodles and Company.” We were eating when Beth got home. She actually arrived before June’s ride to Scouts came, but only by five minutes and she hadn’t frosted the cake yet, so we waited for June to come home before we ate it.

Then the girl in the Girls Scouts carpool Beth usually takes home didn’t go to the meeting that night, so Beth and June were home earlier than expected and we didn’t have to rush through the cake and ice cream. The cake was one of Beth’s specialties—strawberry cake with strawberry frosting and we had a couple pints of Ben and Jerry’s to go with it. We sang “Happy Birthday” to him, loudly and enthusiastically.

Noah’s birthday was the day of the Indiana primary and that night Ted Cruz dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, essentially handing it over to Donald Trump then and there, rather than waiting for the inevitable. After June had gone to bed, Noah and I discussed the race briefly. He, like so many Americans, is alarmed by the turn it has taken. I tried to reassure him that Clinton’s going to win the general, but he said, rather emphatically for my even-keeled son, “But how do you know that?” I don’t, of course. I wished his birthday could have ended on a better note.

But we weren’t quite finished celebrating it. We went out to zPizza and Cold Stone on Friday night and we’re going out for Noodles and Company tonight, both at Noah’s request. While we were at Cold Stone last night, I checked out their ice cream cakes and picked one out for my own birthday next week. It seemed like the efficient thing to do and I’ve had that red velvet-strawberry ice cream cake before and it’s good.

When I learned shortly before Noah’s birthday that there was a Taylor Swift song called “Fifteen,” I looked up the lyrics, wondering if there would be anything applicable. There wasn’t much actually. It’s about starting high school and he did that eight months ago and it’s about falling in love and if he’s done that, he hasn’t mentioned it to us.

But the line, “This is life before you know who you’re gonna be,” jumped out at me. I wondered how true it is. When I think of myself at that age, I see a lot of who I am now. I was a bookish, shy fifteen year old then and I’m a bookish, shy (almost) forty-nine year old now. I fell in love with a girl for the first time the spring I was fifteen and now I’m married to the second girl I fell for (just five years later).

So how much will Noah change over the years? Some, no doubt, maybe a lot; some people do change a lot from the teen years to adulthood, so I guess it’s true we don’t know who he’s going to be yet. But I’m pretty sure that the man he grows into will appreciate bread and pizza and pasta and making music. And I don’t think he’ll be voting for Donald Trump, if he ever runs for President again.

The Best Birthday Ever

June’s ten now. We are all in the double digits, at least until Beth turns one hundred in November 2066. We’ve been making this joke for a few weeks now and it still amuses us.

Friday: Pre-Party

Friday after school June and I set to work finalizing the schedule of activities for her birthday party the following day and decorating. Mostly this consisted of filling goody bags with noisemakers and sticking foam stickers in the shapes of instruments, microphones, and musical notes to the windows in the living and dining room. She’d already painted the staff with a missing note for the Pin The Note on the Staff Game, and our living room had been festooned since the previous weekend with helium balloons—one that said “Rock Star,” one with a picture of a guitar and one that plays “Good times! These are such good times! Leave your care behind! These are such good times!” when you tap it.  We decided to hold off blowing up the black non-helium balloons with white musical notes until the next day so the cats wouldn’t pop them. (Matthew had already popped the first one she’d blown up when she wanted to see what they looked like.) The theme of the party was, you guessed it, music.

Saturday to Sunday: The Party

It was a slumber party, her third one, and it started late Saturday afternoon. I felt a little more relaxed about it than I did the previous two years, like we’ve got this down now and we know how to do it.  On Saturday morning we gave her some early presents. We have a slumber party tradition that I buy her pajamas related to the party theme. I had the hardest time finding pajamas with either violins or musical notes on them, so I reached out to a few music teachers I know and her orchestra teacher knew of a web site that had just what I wanted. I gave June the pajamas along with a few music-themed shirts (two from us and one from Beth’s mom). She chose the yellow t-shirt with the heart, peace sign, and violin to wear to the party on Saturday and the one with Olivia the pig singing to wear on Sunday.

Megan came over a half hour early because June she needed some one-on-one time with her BFF before the big event. She “never” sees her alone any more, she said, only at basketball and Girl Scouts. I relayed this to Megan’s mom, who says she’s been getting a lot of “never” and “always” from Megan recently. She speculated it was a ten-year-old thing. Megan’s been ten for four months now, so her mom would know.

The rest of the guests arrived between five and five fifteen. They came bearing their band and orchestra instruments because they all play one and the party started with a jam session featuring two violins, a viola, a cello, two clarinets, and a saxophone. Everyone played at least one song alone and then they played some together. Because most kids start instrumental music in the fourth grade, the guests are all relative beginners on their instruments so we heard a lot of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” but Maggie performed “Happy Birthday” for June on the saxophone and Evie played one of their winter concert pieces on her viola.

After each girl played everyone else chanted her name. I was happy to see this brought a little smile to the face of her shyest guest, the one who periodically needed to retreat a little from the crowd before re-joining the fun. Being an introvert myself, I understand how it is in loud, chaotic environments.

And it turns out a music-themed party is loud, or this one was. June had six guests, two more than last year, so that could have been a factor, too, but over the course of the party there was a lot of playing and singing and in between there was non-stop chatter. Before the party June had brought up some instruments from the bin in the basement and throughout the festivities people picked up the guitar, the accordion, the toy piano, and the penny whistle and played them. Maggie kept asking if she could take the accordion home and June kept saying no.

After they’d finished their jam session, we had pizza. (I was impressed that no one had to be told to put her instrument in its case—they all just did it on their own.) Claire’s mom was still with us because she’d gotten a flat tire and was waiting for a tow truck, after trying unsuccessfully to change it herself. The jack wasn’t up to the job. She chatted with the adults and helped serve fruit punch until the truck came and she was able to leave.

Next June opened her presents. She got great gifts—a set of glow-in-the-dark stars, a book of fiddle music, a stuffed cat, an Amazon gift certificate, multiple kits—one for felting, one for making a nightlight out of crystals and one for making wind chimes—and two gift certificates for the local nail salon, which put together were more than enough for a mani-pedi. Zoë and Claire seemed as surprised as June was that they got her the same thing.

After presents we served the cake—shaped like a music note—and ice cream, and the girls changed into their pajamas to watch a movie, The Sound of Music, or part of it—that movie is really long. We projected the movie onto a sheet hung in the living room for a big screen experience. Most of the girls liked it, though it was a bit slow for Megan’s taste. They sang along with the songs they knew and June and Maggie reminisced about being in a summer camp production of songs from the musical when they were five, or mostly Maggie did because June doesn’t really remember it very well. There was a lot of lively commentary during the movie and a general consensus that Maria should not have kissed Captain Von Trapp. Sample feedback: “No, you’re making a terrible mistake. You’re like twenty and he’s like fifty nine.” I kind of agreed with them on that point, truth be told. Maria’s only a few years older than his oldest daughter. And speaking of Liesl, when the girls were all singing, “I am sixteen, going on seventeen,” it suddenly seemed they really would be some day, and not in the distant future either.

When it came to the Intermission, we paused the film for the night, and shortly afterward Norma’s mom came to pick her up since she wasn’t staying the night, and the rest of the guests got settled into their sleeping bags to tell ghost stories. I told them they should stop talking and go to sleep at ten, and I came out once shortly after ten to remind them, but I could hear the quiet murmur of voices for a while after that. Since it wasn’t enough to keep me awake, I decided to let them be. June says she thinks she was up until midnight.

Beth and I rolled out of bed around seven and started toasting bagels and slicing strawberries for breakfast. Everyone was awake, although Megan seemed to be trying to go back to sleep. She got up to eat, though.  Beth and I ate in the living room, listening to the girls’ breakfast conversation, which centered around Donald Trump (they don’t like him because he’s mean) and a girl at Maggie’s school who looks just like a vampire, pale skin, black hair and even long canines. All the boys like her because she cast a spell on them. Her brother looks like a vampire, too, but not their parents, so the kids may be adopted.

We watched the rest of the movie, with me offering running commentary on what was going on politically because there was some confusion about that and then Noah ran a karaoke session for them. They warmed up with “Let it Go,” and then sang a bunch of pop songs I didn’t know until they got to Katy Perry’s “Roar.” You can’t live with June without knowing this song. In fact, she’s got the chorus printed out and taped to the wall of her bedroom.

Next we moved them out to the porch to Pin the Note on the Staff and smash the piñata. These are birthday party games June loves and does every year. The guests asked me to judge who had pinned his or her note most exactly in the blank space intended for it and I pointed to one. “That’s mine!” Claire cried. Claire also knocked the piñata down (she was third in line, so only June, Maggie, and Claire got a turn.) It didn’t break, so I wondered momentarily if we should hang it back up, but the girls and Noah all descended on it and started emptying it through the hole used to fill it. Then Noah grabbed one side of the note and ripped it off and the thing was history.

We finished the last scheduled activity with twenty minutes to spare before parents were expected. It was a cold, gray day despite being the Spring Equinox, but given the choice between more karaoke inside and running around the back yard, they chose the back yard. That seems to be how all birthday parties end, at least in my experience.

Sunday: Post Party

June asked if she could get her mani-pedi that very day and Beth launched into an explanation of how Spring Break would be better because there would be more time and then interrupted herself to say, “But you want your friends to see it, don’t you?” and June said yes, and Beth said maybe and sure enough, that afternoon, Beth took June to get her finger and toenails painted dark purple that afternoon.

June spent a lot of the rest of the afternoon felting. Do you even know what this is? I’d never heard of it, but it involves shaping differently colored balls of wool by poking them with a needle. “It’s like magic,” June said. And it is. Over the course of a couple days, she made a hedgehog, a rabbit, a dog, a bird, a little person and a ball that’s dense enough to bounce.

June’s birthday was still three days off, but at dinner Beth mentioned she was almost into the double digits. “Until you turn one hundred,” June said.

“Will you visit me when I’m one hundred?” Beth asked.

June said she would if her busy schedule as a pop singer allowed. Beth pointed out she’d be sixty then and maybe not touring any more but I said Dolly Parton’s in her seventies and touring and Willie Nelson is in his eighties and touring so you never know. Maybe she should be a country star instead.

Tuesday: Class Party

Monday passed without anything particularly festive happening, though June did wear the last of her early birthday presents—a long-sleeved t-shirt with a violin made of butterflies.

June’s Science/Spanish class was supposed to have a party on Wednesday, the last day before Spring Break, and coincidentally, June’s birthday. The teacher had agreed she could bring some kind of trinkets to the party, since it was her birthday, and she settled on the leftover instrument and musical notes stickers. June was pleased to have hijacked the party into being partly hers because none of her teachers do birthday parties this year. But then Señora Y learned a number of kids would be out on Wednesday and she moved the party to Tuesday, and June ended up having to share it with a boy who had his birthday the previous Saturday and who was also going to bring party favors. She was slightly put out on both counts, but she brought the stickers anyway.

When she got home she reported Señora Y forgot the treats for the party and left her class with another teacher while she went off to get cookies. So the party was short and not only did June not get a chance to distribute her stickers in the confusion, but she also she forgot to go to her violin lesson.

Wednesday: Double Digits At Last

June requested cheese grits for breakfast on the morning of her birthday, because she likes them and I don’t often make them unless I’m also in the mood for them because they tend to get the pot messy. It was good strategic thinking on her part. I made them.

While June was at school I wrapped presents and made strawberry frosting for the cupcakes Beth had made with the leftover birthday cake batter before the party. We’d saved them for her actual birthday.

We planned for June to open presents in the narrow slice of time between dinner and when I needed to leave for book club. But when Beth got home at 6:40, I told her we had a problem. June was fast asleep. I’d found her in bed five minutes earlier when I’d called her for dinner, and I had no idea how long she’d been asleep. Usually when June falls asleep in the late afternoon or early evening it means she’s getting a migraine, so I was reluctant to wake her. It was the wrong weather for a migraine, though. She most often gets them when the temperature is dropping and it was a warm day.

June woke on her own at 6:45 and said she had a headache but not a really bad one yet. She wasn’t hungry for the birthday dinner she’d requested (nachos with pinto beans). I gave her some painkiller and asked if she wanted to try to go back to sleep or open presents. Open presents, she said, but she was pretty unenthusiastic unwrapping clothes I’d thought she would like. She did smile when she opened two books How to Fight A Dragon’s Fury (How to Train Your Dragon #12) and the second book in the Dork Diaries series. She’s been wanting to read both of these for a while and they’re never at the library. She also got some fabric for making doll clothes, an iTunes gift card, a membership at Animal Jam and a gift certificate to get her hair dyed again. This will be the third time since school started and it’s her last big gift-giving occasion until next Christmas so she’s going to save it for a while. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had it done right before sleep-away camp, if she can wait that long.

The big surprise was an aquarium with two new snails. June brought two snails (Moonlight and Sunlight) and a mosquito fish (Peppermint) home from school in a soda-bottle habitat some time last fall, after a science project (and a long successful, campaign to wear down Beth’s and my resistance). Peppermint died in December and Sunlight some time after that, and June was concerned Moonlight was lonely so she lobbied hard for a new snail and bigger digs for the snails. There’s a color-changing light in the aquarium and a sculpture of a turtle they can climb if they get tired of climbing the walls and the plants. She named the new snails Lollipop and Emerald. She’s very happy with them.

June was well enough to take a birthday phone call from my mom right after opening presents and when I got home from book club, she was in bed but still awake. I guessed from that her nap had been pretty long. Beth said she’d perked up after I left and had eaten most of her dinner, though she opted to save the cupcakes for when everyone could eat them together. She also took phone calls from Beth’s mom and Megan. “It was the best birthday ever,” she’d told Beth, headache and all.

I came into her room to say goodnight and she asked me to climb up to the top bunk to lay down with her. She speculated that she was still awake because she didn’t want her birthday to be over. Then she said maybe it would be her birthday until eleven a.m. the next day because that would be ten years and twenty-four hours after she was born and Noah said she’d previously said it would be her birthday starting at midnight on Wednesday so she couldn’t have it both ways. Eventually, she fell asleep.

And tonight we ate the cupcakes.

Gay Marriages

When I was pregnant with June, shortly after we found out she was a girl, I bought this refrigerator magnet. I liked imagining the little girl as her, asking the same question. But of course gay marriages are a lot like straight marriages: some happy, some unhappy, some in between.

Beth and I had an anniversary on Monday. This one felt a little different, not because it was the twenty-fourth anniversary of our commitment ceremony or the third anniversary of our legal wedding, but because it was the first one since the Supreme Court ruling last summer that legalized gay marriage in the states that did not yet have it. I was happy to be celebrating knowing that everyone in the U.S. finally has the right to be doing the same.

But because it fell on a Monday, we did some of our celebrating the weekend before. We went out to a movie and had dinner at an Indian restaurant in Bethesda on Saturday night. But before that we attended the first Pandas game of the season. And what a game it was. Regular readers may remember that June’s basketball team went all last season without a single win. This year their coach started practices in November, rather than December, so I was curious to see if it would help the team I was starting to think of as the Bad News Panda Bears.

They were playing the Spiders. Late in the second quarter, the Pandas were down 8-2 and I thought it was all over. But they scored twice at the very beginning of the third quarter and then there was more scoring on both sides. For a while the Pandas were actually winning and then for a long time they were tied 12-12 and in the bleachers I could hear three separate conversations about whether they let games end in ties at the fourth-grade level or whether the game would go into overtime. One grandmother said, “I’d be happy with a tie.” I think all the Panda fans would have been. But we didn’t get to find out about the overtime policy of the Montgomery County basketball league because in the last 30 seconds the Spiders scored and the Pandas lost the game 14-12.

That was an agonizing moment, but five minutes later I was finding a lot of reasons for optimism. I lost track of everyone who scored baskets, but at least four girls did, meaning the team is not relying on one star player. Plus Megan did a great job guarding the opposing team’s best player, June took a shot at the basket which she never did until last season, and our newest player showed a lot of hustle in getting and keeping the ball and took a quite a few shots at the basket. Even some of the weaker players were looking better in their control of the ball. So I’m looking forward to more exciting games over the rest of January and February and maybe even some wins.

We brought June home and shortly afterward left for our date. We went to a late afternoon show of Carol. We saw it at the Landmark, which has the quirk of assigned seating. They show you what’s left on a screen when you buy your tickets and you choose. Beth and I got the last two seats in the theater, which were in the front row and not next to each other, which was kind of sad. But even so, we enjoyed the film.

Beth and I read The Price of Salt, the 1952 novel on which the movie is based, some time in the 90s but neither of us remembered the lesbian classic very well. Despite this, I’m pretty sure it reads differently to me now than it would have then. In my twenties I would have been rooting for the lesbian couple without reservation, but as the character embroiled in a nasty divorce and custody dispute continually risked her access to her child, I found myself thinking things like, “What are you doing? Think of your daughter! You barely know this woman.” But it was very well written and acted and beautifully shot. Overall, it left me deeply grateful to live in a time and a place where I don’t have to choose between romantic and maternal love.

We were thinking of going to Jaleo for dinner, but there was a forty-minute wait there and long waits at the next two restaurants we tried, but eventually we found an Indian restaurant that could seat us. We got a very tasty appetizer of potatoes, chickpeas, and chutney in tiny crispy shells, grilled paneer, a black lentil curry, and roti. We get Indian a lot, but it was nice to try a new restaurant and new dishes.

We wrapped up the evening sitting on a bench outside Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar, sipping thick Italian dark chocolate and looking at the strings of white lights wrapped around the trees all down the street. It was a nice winter evening–chilly enough for hot chocolate but not too frigid to sit outside. I found myself wondering why we don’t go out more often now that we don’t even need to get a sitter.

Two days later was our actual anniversary. I made kale, potato, and red bean soup for dinner because it’s a favorite of Beth’s and mine and I also made a cake I make every year, using the recipe from our commitment ceremony cake. It’s a spice cake, with a lemon glaze. This year I decided to dye the frosting blue but I used too much food coloring paste and instead of the light to medium blue I was envisioning, it was a deep, midnight blue. I finished it with red, cinnamon-flavored sprinkles. The frosting turned everyone’s tongue and teeth blue and Noah’s lips were dark blue, too. He looked like he was wearing some kind of Goth lipstick, which I suppose was appropriate, as it was the day after David Bowie died.

Beth and I exchanged presents between dinner and dessert. One of the advantages of having an anniversary just two and a half weeks after Christmas is that we can consult each other’s Christmas lists and buy something the other one didn’t get. This year there were a lot of items left on Beth’s list and I almost went with a book, but I changed my mind at the last minute and got her a waffle maker instead. She seemed really pleased with it so I was glad I did. She got me Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams, which I’d nearly impatiently bought for myself between Christmas and our anniversary, but we have an implicit understanding not to do that, so I didn’t.

The rest of the week unfurled like a fairly normal week. On Tuesday night Beth and I went to STEM night at June’s school and watched her present the poster on her experiment “Where Does Ice Melt Best?” (Spoiler: in hot water.) On Wednesday I went to basketball practice with June and I thought the Pandas seemed pretty pumped after their near non-defeat on Saturday.

“See you at the game,” I said to Megan’s dad as he dropped us off after practice.

“For the next exciting installment,” he said.

I do look forward to the next week and month and year and all the installments of our married life, whatever ups and downs it may bring us. And this weekend we’ve decided to go to the movies again.

Getting It Done

The Weekend Before

Friday afternoon around five June and I got on a bus to go to downtown Takoma and get a birthday present and card for Beth. I already had a present but not a card and June had a card but no present, so we each needed something. We left Noah at home to practice his drums with the plan that we’d call him from the Co-op to let him know what the selection of fancy chocolate bars was like, so he could pick a few. He’d given me $15, which was all the cash he had on hand, and told me to buy as many as I could with that.

We went to the Co-op first and after conferring with Noah on the phone I bought five bars—dark chocolate with orange peel, dark chocolate with raspberry, dark chocolate with caramel and sea salt, plain dark chocolate, and milk chocolate with coffee beans. June asked if she could have a muffin and I bought that, too, along with a orange-cranberry chocolate bar for myself because I’d been looking at chocolate bars so long I wanted one for myself.

The next stop was Capital City Cheesecake, for liquid sustenance for June and me. I needed a latté and she needed a juice box. She finished the muffin she’d started to eat on the walk there while I read her a chapter from A Horse and His Boy.

At Tabletop, we made pretty short work of the gift and card buying. June considered many items, but in the end she chose a glass votive candleholder shaped like a turkey because we don’t have any Thanksgiving decorations and it’s Beth’s favorite holiday. She also got a penguin-shaped hot/cold pack, which she thought Beth might use on aches and pains. I got a card with a drawing of bookshelves, since I’d gotten her a book, The Gay Revolution.

It was close to six by the time we finished and we always have pizza on Friday nights so I decided to pick some up from Pizza Movers, which is just down the block. I ordered two pizzas and an order of mozzarella sticks and while we waited for them to make it June and I sat in the window seat and read another chapter of A Horse and His Boy. It was in this chapter that the dwarf Thornbut is introduced. June was considerably entertained by this name and kept muttering, “Thornbut” under her breath and giggling. We like to keep it classy.

The next morning, Saturday morning around 9:30, I was sitting across the dining room table from Beth. Noah and I had just come inside from raking leaves out of the driveway to the curb for the leaf truck and then we’d gone over his homework goals for the weekend and he’d left, presumably to start his Algebra II take-home test. Beth was absorbed in her work laptop. I reminded her she’d said she wanted to talk about strategy for the weekend, basically who was doing what and when.

On her list was picking up her own birthday cake from Cold Stone when she went ice-skating with June on Sunday afternoon. She’d been undecided for a while whether she wanted a homemade cake or a store-bought one and she’d settled on buying an ice cream cake, so it made sense for her to get it when she was going to Silver Spring anyway, rather than having me schlep out there on the bus. But still, it seemed wrong somehow. I’ve always baked or bought her a cake.

“Sometimes it’s nice to feel taken care of on my birthday, but this weekend it’s just about getting it done,” she said. She was embroiled in an ongoing work crisis and she already knew she’d be working most of the weekend and worse yet, Thanksgiving weekend. She wanted to “allocate the family time budget” wisely.

So she bought her own cake, leaving me free to supervise Noah’s homework (my main task on any given weekend), read with both kids, read nine chapters of Daniel Deronda for book club, go swimming, make dinner on Saturday, and clean the bathroom. She worked, grocery shopped, took June skating, and made dinner on Sunday.

The B-Day

When Beth got home from work on Monday, there was a stack of wrapped presents at her place at the table. I’d wrapped them all, as Noah was busy writing a paper comparing philanthropy, self-reliance, and fate in Walden and Maggie, A Girl of the Streets. Meanwhile, June had a play date with Megan that afternoon and ended up in a rush to finish her own homework as well.

I’d actually forgotten Megan was coming over until she arrived, bearing a bag of outgrown shoes for June. Lest she feel put out by the fact that no one seemed to be expecting her, I told her it was “a pleasant surprise.”

Megan, who’s good-natured as a rule, said, “I’m a pleasant surprise!” and liking the sound of it, said it again.

The girls played, and at the very end of the play date, watched a bit of Cupcake Wars, which is June’s new obsession. This meant I needed to explain to both girls what absinthe is, because it was a required ingredient in one round. That was fun.

Megan’s mom came to pick her up and June did her homework and practiced her violin while I finished up dinner. Beth had requested tofu sticks (think homemade vegetarian fish sticks) and French fries. I was running late with dinner because the tofu needs to marinate in a salt-and-pepper brine for two hours and I’d forgotten to do that until about an hour later than I usually would. But dinner was almost ready when Beth got home. It was lucky in this instance that the kids and I usually eat before Beth gets home because she gets home on the late side most nights. The result was dinner wasn’t late for her at all.

After dinner, Beth opened her cards and presents appreciatively, admiring the glass turkey and said we needed some Thanksgiving decorations. She said she’d use the hot/cold pack on her foot, which has been bothering her all fall. She said the chocolate bars would keep her well supplied with squares of dark chocolate to eat every day after lunch. She flipped through the index of the book immediately, looking for people she knows. She worked at the Human Rights Campaign from 1992 to 1999, so she knows a lot of movers and shakers in the LGBT rights movement. Then she jokingly looked for herself, but she wasn’t there.

“You’re more of a behind the scenes person,” I said.

“I am a behind the scenes person,” she agreed.

We put the numeral four and nine candles in the chocolate-and-salted-caramel ice cream cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to her and Beth’s birthday celebration was over. Noah and I were up late that night as he worked on the Thoreau/Crane paper and I read his drafts and made suggestions. In the morning, Noah and Beth were up early doing the same thing.

Here’s to another year, Beth. You’re the person behind so much of what makes our family work. You get it done. Next year, though, I’ll take care of the cake.

Totally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.