Equally So

In Sickness and in Health

Eight days before we got married, Beth drove me to an urgent care so we could find out if I had bronchitis.  We’d all been sick with various illnesses since Christmas and we’d had to cancel our annual New Year’s Day get-together with my friend Joyce and her family a few days earlier. We knew Beth’s brother Johnny and his wife Abby had become sick after we’d parted and Johnny’s illness and mine were following a very similar trajectory—bad cough, body aches, fever, chills, night sweats, dizziness and fatigue with seeming recovery followed by a worsening of symptoms.  He’d called the previous evening to let us know he’d been diagnosed with bronchitis.  I had it, too. That was no surprise.

The next day, Friday, June, who was the only one of us not currently at least a little sick, woke with a fever, and said her whole body hurt.  So she stayed home from school and she missed the first basketball practice of the season and the team field trip to watch a high school girls’ basketball game, and then on Saturday she was still sick and missed a gymnastics class, and the second basketball practice of the season.

It was just after New Year’s so it was a short work and school week—Wednesday to Friday—but for us it was even shorter.  I worked less than an hour, and Beth worked from home Thursday and Friday so she could tend to June and me. And all this time, she was pretty sick herself.  (Noah, whose Christmas cold had dwindled to a persistent cough was the healthiest among us and the only one to follow his normal schedule all three days of the abbreviated week.) Independently of each other, both Beth and Noah commented that this was the sickness part of “in sickness and in health.”

One bright spot in the week was that practice started for Honors Band. We’re car-pooling with Sasha’s family and it’s a half-hour drive there and back so the boys will have a chance to connect every week, which is great because they haven’t been at the same school since third grade, but they are still good friends. On Thursday, Noah got home from band practice after his bedtime, with his homework uncompleted, and sure he couldn’t go to sleep because his head was “so full of music.” And there in a nutshell are our worries about Honors Band and the reason we let him do it.

Gradually everyone got better and went back to work and school.  Monday morning I took a walk on slightly wobbly legs. I got winded easily and it seemed as if someone had lengthened all the blocks in the neighborhood while I was sick but it was good to get out of the house because other than the trip to the urgent care, I’d been cooped up inside for a week.

We had a busy week ahead of us. Noah had another Honors Band practice on Tuesday evening and a regular band concert on Thursday. More often than not this week he went to bed without finishing his homework. Wednesday evening I broke a temporary crown on a piece of hazelnut brittle. (I know, I know, I shouldn’t have been eating it or at least not chewing it on that side of my mouth but I’ve had so much drama with that molar this fall and winter I’ve gotten used to my makeshift tooth and I forgot to be careful.) I panicked a bit wondering how I was going to fit a dental appointment into a busy day of work and wedding preparations, but they couldn’t take me until next Tuesday so that took care of that.

Thursday was a pleasant day. I worked a little, rewriting a catalog page for a bone health product, but mostly I did wedding-related chores, I picked up June’s bouquet from the florist, I made playlists of music to play during the ceremony (one without words for during and one with words for eating cake afterward), and I baked the cake. Before I left to get the flowers, another bouquet was delivered from the same florist and it was similar enough to what we ordered (orange and white roses instead of red and white roses) that I was confused about why the flowers were coming to the house until I noticed there was a card from two of Beth’s co-workers and that clarified things.

Cards and checks and presents had been arriving for a few days, but it wasn’t until I smelled the cake baking that it felt as if the wedding was really imminent. The recipe is the one we used for the cake at our commitment ceremony and I’ve been making it on our anniversary eve since then. It’s a spice cake with a lemon glaze.  Both kids commented on the smell when they came home from school. June said, “I remember what that cake tastes like now that I smell it.” And Noah suggested we all have a slice right then and there, but I told him he had to wait.  As often as we’ve eaten that cake, we’ve waited for this particular one a long time, twenty-one years.  There was only one day left to wait.

June and I frosted the cake and I made dinner and around 6:15 we left for Noah’s band concert.  It was a little different from elementary school band concerts—the orchestra and band are smaller and the choir performs with them.  Everyone sounds a little more polished and the concert itself was shorter.  So short I think we may even take June to the spring concert instead of leaving her at home with a sitter. I think she’d probably enjoy it.  On the way home we stopped at the grocery store because I’d decided the cake really did need colored sugar on top after all.

Happy Wedding Day

The wedding was at nine in the morning on Friday.  We got up around seven—June crawled into bed with us saying “Happy Wedding Day!”— so we had two hours to eat breakfast, get dressed and do a little last minute cleaning. We were married by a friend of Beth’s who used to be the Executive Director of Equality Maryland when Beth did volunteer website work there. The ceremony was very simple. Dan gave a speech and then we all spoke in turn about what being part of our family meant to us. After each person spoke, he or she lit a different colored candle. Beth was purple, I was blue, Noah was green, and June was yellow.  Beth gave some family history and I spoke about family traditions.  Noah read two dictionary definitions of the word family: “A group of individuals living under one roof” and “The basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children.” He pointed out we meet both definitions and declared, “We are a perfect example of a family, and equally so before today.”

Then June read her piece: “Being in the family is love, care, generousity and kindness. I always know I am in the family and have alot of love for it.”

Once we all held a lit candle we used them to light a rainbow-striped unity candle. Then we exchanged vows and rings and Dan pronounced us married.  He took pictures of us inside and outside and signed the necessary papers.  We sent him off with a commemorative lollipop with a personalized label with our names and the date and two winter-bare trees growing together.  Then we listened the second playlist, a short selection of songs we’d played at our commitment ceremony and we ate cake and drank juice with heart-shaped ice cubes made from a mold my sister got us for Christmas.

Beth took the kids to school (June first so Noah could make an attempt to finish his math homework—he got about halfway through it I think) and then she worked a little while I curled up with the Odyssey and then hit the exercise bike.  We went out to lunch at Takoma Bistro where Beth had a goat cheese tart and salad and I had a lentil quesadilla and then we spent the rest of the afternoon together.  Both kids were home by 3:30 and June watched television while I read The Fire Chronicle to Noah. Then we left Noah to practice percussion while Beth and I accompanied June to basketball practice. During the first part of practice there was a long time while the girls were shooting baskets and even though there were several moms there with whom I was trying to converse, especially Megan and Kerry, I tried to keep my eyes on June the whole time because last season in all her games and practices June made one basket and I missed it because I was looking away. I didn’t want that to happen again. This time she came close over and over—once the ball bounced off the rim—but it never went through the net.  It will sometime soon, I think.

We came home to find Noah had just started practicing two minutes earlier and he was truly unable to account for the past hour and a half. All he knew was he’d been looking for his music and he’d gone to the bathroom.  We readjusted our plans to go out for pizza because I didn’t want him doing his entire practice after June had gone to bed.  Instead Beth and June went to get pizza to bring home and I stayed with him.  We ate the pizza and Noah eventually finished his percussion.

And so ends our first day of wedded life.  Tomorrow June has gymnastics and another basketball practice. Noah will do homework and practice percussion again. We will go and get our portrait taken in our wedding clothes late in the afternoon, but otherwise it will be an ordinary Saturday for a suburban married couple with kids, because as Noah said, “We are a perfect example of a family, and equally so before today.”

Let’s Say Happy

We are big Halloween decorators and moderate Christmas decorators, but we have no Thanksgiving home décor. June took it upon herself to fill that gap this year. She cut out a paper turkey, colored it with crayons and hung it on our front gate, and taped paper tables and cornucopias to the front door and porch pillars. But her Thanksgiving masterpiece was the banner she painted for the porch. Between two turkeys, it reads, “Happy thanksgiving Happy thanksgiving let’s say Happy.”

“I can’t wait for Thanksgiving,” she kept saying in the days leading up to the holiday. We were going to my mom and stepfather’s house and while the nine people there would not be quite the crowd they had last Christmas (“Occupy Christmas” 12/29/11), it was going to be hopping with Mom and Jim, our family, my sister Sara, my cousin Emily and her son Josiah, who’s June’s age. June enjoys these family gatherings. And Beth’s birthday was the day after Thanksgiving so there was plenty to celebrate.

We arrived at Mom and Jim’s house around noon on Thanksgiving, after a three-hour drive. Emily and Josiah came shortly after we did and we took the three kids, who had all spent the morning cooped up either in a car or a train, for a walk down to the creek. They ran around and hung from exposed tree roots at the creek’s edge and clambered on the big rocks. Soon it turned into a game that had something to do with a battle between the Mongolian and New Hampshire armies (June’s been on a Mulan kick recently, which accounts for the first army). Then Noah decided he wanted to script and film the story and Josiah, who is sometimes camera-shy, didn’t want to be filmed, and drifted away to climb some rocks.  As we were leaving, Noah was making plans to return with multiple cameras to film a leaf floating down the creek from different angles. It was supposed to illustrate the king’s speech about not sinking into hardship like a stone but floating over it, like a stick or a leaf.

Back at the house, I showed the kids how to make turkey centerpieces for the kids’ table out of apples, toothpicks, raisins, and green olives. Josiah chose to put just a few raisins on each tail feather, for a spare, minimalist look that let the different colors of the toothpicks show, while Noah packed his raisins on densely and placed the toothpicks very close together to create a solid fan of raisins. June’s design was somewhere in the middle.

Shortly before dinner, June seemed to be flagging. We thought it might be the excitement of the day plus the Dramamine she’d taken for the car ride, but after taking only a few bites of Mom’s delicious stuffing, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and cranberry sauce, she said she didn’t feel well and wanted to go to bed. Between 5:30 and 7:30 we put her to bed three times because she would decide she felt better, get up, eat a little, feel worse and go back to bed. When it was time for desert she declared that because she’d been sick she was only going to have one dessert and not two.  (There was pumpkin pie and apple-cranberry crisp.)   She ended up eating her whole dinner and dessert and going to bed for the last time only a little before her normal bed time. She did feel warm so we gave her some Tylenol and hoped for the best.

She did seem to get a good night’s sleep, but when she woke shortly before 7:00, she was still ill, worse in fact, and she threw up almost right away. She was lethargic and feverish all morning, though she was finished throwing up by 8:00 a.m. I stayed in bed with her most of the morning, reading to her or reading my own magazine (Brain, Child) while she slept. Beth had been planning to go picket at Wal-Mart to show support for the strikers. She was unsure if she should go with June sick, but I told her to go ahead because it was important to her and there were plenty of adults in the house if I needed back up (and in fact I did call Emily to come sit with June after I cleaned up from the final vomiting incident).

Beth returned late in the morning, by which point June was somewhat improved. I’d finally gotten some more Tylenol into her (she’d been too sick to keep in down earlier in the morning) and she’d stopped sobbing from the pain of her headache.

Beth and Noah took a walk to CVS to get more Tylenol for June and then he accompanied Beth on a birthday lunch at the Regency Café.  (She and I had been thinking of going out together but we didn’t want to leave June without either mother so Noah pinch-hit for me.)  By 1:00 pm., June wanted to get up, get dressed and eat something.  I made her a piece of toast. She only ate half of it, but it seemed to perk her up considerably. She wanted to play with Josiah, who had been sad to be shooed away from her sick room earlier in the day, but he was on the verge of leaving with Mom, Sara and Emily to visit a museum of medical oddities.  I think June would have been game to go, too, if we’d let her, but it was just too soon to chance it, everyone agreed.

Instead, Beth, Noah and I took her back to the creek to finish filming their movie. It was a lovely day, sunny and warm. We shuffled through the yellow and brown leaves on the ground and admired the tiny, lacy red leaves still on the Japanese maples. Even Noah, who is often so in his own head he fails to notice his surroundings, had commented on these leaves the day before.

We had pizza for dinner and an ice cream cake from Cold Stone. I’d ordered it about a week before and then called to change the flavor when Beth saw the Holly Jolly Peppermint Cake advertised in the Sunday circulars the weekend before her birthday and said it looked good. When Mom and Sara were a half hour late coming back with the cake, I told myself they were probably just stuck in Black Friday traffic but I was secretly worried something had gone wrong with the cake. Things often seem to go wrong around Beth’s birthday, a gallbladder attack and a family lice infestation, being two of the more notable examples (“Giving Thanks: Food, Water, and Love” 11/23/07 & “A Lousy Birthday” 11/23/11.)

Nothing was wrong with the cake. It was delicious—red velvet cake layers alternating with dark chocolate peppermint ice cream topped with chocolate ganache and crushed candy canes and holly leaves made of chocolate. Beth seemed pleased with her gifts—a box of pastries from Zingerman’s, a box of Godiva chocolates, a DVD of episodes of the Carol Burnett Show (a childhood favorite of hers) and several books. And she really loved the cake.

June asked to go to bed early again. She felt slightly warm but by the next morning she’d made a complete recovery. One thing Beth wanted to do on her birthday that we didn’t get to do because of June’s illness, was to go to the Tyler Arboretum, which we’d visited two years earlier  (“Everything We Have” 11/29/10).  It’s full of tree houses and whimsical cabins on the ground and play spaces made of natural materials (like logs and tree stumps) and less natural big fiberglass frogs.  On Saturday morning we headed out there with Emily and Josiah. It was much colder than the day before but we still had fun wandering down the paths, finding the tree houses and climbing up into them. There was a cabin built to the exact dimensions of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond with a bookcase filled with children’s books.  Josiah’s favorite was a tree full of wind chimes that also had a circular bench around it and ropes you could pull to ring cowbells. Let’s just say that melodious tree got a lot noisier when our party arrived and started pulling on those ropes.

We didn’t see all the tree houses—not even in two visits have we seen them all—but it was cold and everyone was getting hungry for lunch, so we left a little before noon.

Emily and Josiah left for New York that afternoon and the visit started to wind down from there.  Sara and I went out for coffee, Noah started working on long-delayed homework, and we had a spaghetti dinner with leftover birthday cake and apple-cranberry crisp.  After June went to bed we watched a documentary about Machu Picchu, which Mom and Jim will visit this winter, fulfilling a long-time dream of my mother’s.

But before June went to bed, we played a round of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Cat.  (Mom and June made the cat and the tails earlier in the day.)  Then Mom had everyone go around and say what our favorite parts of the weekend had been.  A lot of people said the tree houses. Thanksgiving dinner and Beth’s birthday celebration were also mentioned.

When I was getting June ready for bed she wanted to hear the flip side. What was the worst part of the weekend? Her getting sick, of course, but I told her I was also sad about Mom and Jim moving to Oregon in January (they finally sold their house) and it being our last holiday in the house where they’ve lived the past twenty years. The kids and I may come for a couple days after Christmas, but we’re spending Christmas in Wheeling and even if we weren’t, Mom and Jim would be too busy packing to host another holiday. Mom is in fact very stressed about everything she has to do between now and mid-January when they close on the house, so Sara may be coming out after New Year’s to help them wrap up the loose ends.

On the drive home from the arboretum, I was struck by how perfectly the Philadelphia suburbs resemble themselves, all those gray stone walls and houses, those winding little creeks, that autumnal sky spitting little flurries of snow. I’d lived in four states by the time I was five and a half years old, and though we stuck to the Philadelphia area after that, we still moved around a lot, albeit in a smaller radius.  I used to say because of those frequent moves that I wasn’t really from anywhere.  But once I was an adult and I settled into another place, first in and then near the city where I’ve lived for over twenty years, I finally knew that even though I’ve lived in the Washington metropolitan area the longest, I am not from Washington, I have roots elsewhere.  It’s making me sad at the moment, because I won’t have much reason to visit Philadelphia any more, but Beth did point out to me that I am not exiled from it.  And having roots is good thing, a grounding thing.

So, let’s say happy.

Silver and Gold

A few days before the twenty-fifth anniversary of our first date I told Beth, “I made a horrible mistake with your presents.”

“Did you get someone else’s name engraved on them?” Beth asked.

“Not that bad,” I admitted.

It was at the bookstore in Rehoboth where I was looking for an anniversary card that I realized my mistake.  I’d picked gifts on a gold theme—a gold West Virginia University t-shirt, yellow or golden foods from a gourmet catalog (virgin olive oil, sun-dried garlic spread, artisan cheddar cheese, dulce de leche sauce, and tupelo honey).  Then I made a play list called “25 Songs for 25 Years.”  The last three songs had the word “gold” or “golden” in the titles.  I was about to pluck the card with the golden Buddha off the rack, thinking it was the perfect card to tie everything together, when I saw another card below it with the word “LOVE” in silver letters and I remembered… twenty-five isn’t the golden anniversary, that’s fifty.  Twenty-five is silver.  I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach but except for the play list, it was too late to change anything.  Everything was ordered and we were getting home from the beach the day before our anniversary.

The gifts weren’t bad in themselves. Beth is a loyal West Virginian and also a big fan of good olive oil, cheese and garlic.  If I’d made selections without regard to color, however, there would have been some chocolate among the sweets.  The tupelo honey was a sentimental pick because early in our relationship, I left a cassette tape of Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey on the dashboard of a hot car and it warped. Beth unscrewed it to extract the loop of tape and enclosed it in a new case.  The tape played as good as new and it was around then I started to think she might be a keeper.

So I put “Tupelo Honey” (along with “I Love You More than Cheese”– a song from one of the kids’ CDs) on the play list.  When we got home from the beach I edited the gold songs out of the play list. I’d hoped to replace them with at least one song with silver in the title, but I all I could find in our music library was Christmas music (“Silver Bells, “Silver and Gold,” etc.) plus a song that was too downbeat to include, so I abandoned the silver theme all together.  I felt bad about the whole mix-up as I’ve been giving anniversary gifts based on the traditional materials every since our fourth anniversary when I did years one to four all together and then proposed. If you know me, you know I do like ceremony and tradition.

Beth praised me for being flexible and not sending everything back, but I have not actually let go as much as she thinks I have. I’m thinking of shifting the whole time line four and a half years forward and having a silver do-over on the twenty-fifth anniversary of our commitment ceremony.  They are supposed to be wedding anniversary presents anyway. I kind of jumped the gun when I got started. Meanwhile, I wrote on the card she should consider these presents a down payment on her fiftieth anniversary presents.

Interestingly, though I’m usually the one giving traditional anniversary gifts, Beth had considered getting me something made of silver.  But as neither of us is much for jewelry or expensive decorative items, she abandoned the idea.  (I’d gone through a similar thought process with gold before buying the gifts I did.) Instead she got me a very cool photograph that has been transferred to paint and canvas.  It’s of the Rehoboth boardwalk covered in snow. There’s a single woman with an umbrella walking toward the beach.  She said it reminded her of me, heading to the beach in all conditions. Except for spots of dark blue and orange in the woman’s clothes, her umbrella and the iconic Dolles candy store sign, the image is all whites and silvery grays and blue-grays— the snow, the overcast sky, the roofs and trim on the buildings. The frame is gray, too.

We had no particular plans for the day, other than exchanging gifts and the usual post-vacation laundry, grocery shopping, etc. The timing of the anniversary, coming right after a trip, was less than ideal.  We’d considered going away for a weekend later in the summer or even the fall, but plans never got off the ground.  Then I remembered that blueberry season was close to over and we had not gone berry picking yet this summer. I ran the idea past Beth and we decided it could be a fun family outing.

So that afternoon after a lunch consisting largely of farmers’ market produce, including my first really perfect peach of the summer, we headed out for the blueberry and blackberry fields at Butler’s Orchard (http://www.butlersorchard.com/).  The web site warned of “sparse” blueberries, but we found all we needed and they were perfectly ripe—big, powdery blue and tasty. The blackberries were big, too, and dark, and sweet-tart and juicy.  It was nice to be outside, even on a hot day. We went to the flower field and cut fresh flowers for two bouquets (each of the children made one) and we stopped by the farm store for cookies, caramel corn, pasta and strawberry-lemonade slushies.

That evening, Beth made barbequed tofu and fried okra for dinner, which Noah proclaimed “iconic and exemplary.”  June thought we ought to have an anniversary party so we played Sleeping Queens on the porch while a light rain fell. It was a nice end to a very pleasant summer day.

Neither of the kids had camp the week that followed, so I kept them busy with chores.  June helped me clean some grimy fans so we could put them in the kitchen and study windows and she picked up toys. Noah vacuumed and weeded.  I worked in the garden pulling up the first tomato plant to succumb to early blight and pruning the rest, and transplanting broccoli seedlings from pots into the garden.  Both kids worked on their summer math packets (June finished hers and Noah has only a page left of his).  June had three play dates and Noah had a drum lesson.  I took June to story time at the Co-op and both kids to the library where June participated in Spanish Circle time and we checked out a huge pile of books.  I worked two afternoons while a babysitter watched the kids.

This morning we took a creek walk and in addition to the usual water bugs and little fish, we saw a small painted turtle, a young buck deer and a raccoon print in the mud.  The kids were in their bathing suits and there were pools big enough for them to swim so we paused often along the way.  I sat on rocks and logs watching them and soaking my feet in the water.

This afternoon I got some really strange news. Someone from a new reality television show found my blog and tracked down Beth, calling her at work to ask if we’d like to be featured.  I think the last thing either of us would want is someone following us around with cameras all the time, but it’s nice someone thought we were interesting enough to be on television.  Twenty-five years into this romance, we’ve had our ups and downs but we’ve made a life, not a perfect life but a good one.  I hope there’s another twenty-five years, and that when that anniversary rolls around, I get the presents right.

45, or Where We Are Now

Friday: The Birthday

The night before my birthday Beth said, “Tomorrow you’ll be as old as me.” I disagreed, saying I was always five and a half months younger.  “How old am I?” she said, and then answered herself, “Forty-five.  How old are you now? Forty-four.  How old will you be tomorrow? Forty-five. Same age.”

It reminded me of the month and a half between my sister’s birthday and mine when she used to insist we were only three years apart instead of four.  She’d even go so far as to introduce us to new people putting stress on our ages.  “I’m ten,” she’d say, “And she’s thirteen.” I would itch to correct her but stay silent for fear of sounding petty by adding “almost fourteen.”

Now I’m long past wanting credit for being almost any age.  But I don’t mind forty-five too much.  It’s where I am now and it’s not a bad place.

Last year thanks to a fortuitously timed play date I had six hours to myself on my birthday (“More Than Cheese” 5/12/11).  I can remember how luxurious that felt and I marvel it was only a year ago because now I have six hours and forty minutes to myself five days a week. It fills up faster than I would have imagined a year ago, even though I only work about half that time. I exercise more, clean more and read more than I did back then. (And I spend more time on Facebook.) When June asked me recently if I’m sad while she’s at school because I am all alone, I said, no because I know she’s coming home soon. And it’s true, I am not sad. It was very easy to get used to this schedule and even to take it for granted.  Summer will be kicking that complacency out of me soon enough, but I’m trying not to think about that.

To make my birthday stand out this year, I decided I would front-load my work this week and finish by Thursday. I opened presents before everyone left for school and work—bath salts from June and from Beth and Noah the exact three books I wanted: Are You My Mother?, Pym and The Wind in the Keyhole.

Beth and I had a lunch date so I left for her office around 10:50.  I arrived early so I had time to get a latte and read Les Misérables at Firehook bakery. I am this close (twenty-three pages!) to finishing this twelve hundred plus page behemoth I started back in February and just in time as the book club meeting by which I need to complete it is on Wednesday. Lunch was Thai.  We often go out for Thai around Noah’s birthday because it was the last meal I ate before I gave birth to him, but this year we were too busy and he’s decided he doesn’t like Thai food anymore so we didn’t go.  Just thinking about it had put me in the mood for Thai iced tea, though, so I decided I’d make that my birthday lunch.  Beth and I had a pleasant meal. We talked about the kids and politics.  President Obama certainly gave us a nice topic of conversation when he came out in support of gay marriage the other day.

On the way back to the Metro we discussed our frustrations involving Mother’s Day shopping with Noah. We were having the exact same experience.  He was rejecting all suggestions proffered by one mother for the other, but coming up with no ideas of his own. June’s more likely to have a wealth of ideas, many of them completely inappropriate, but that’s an easier situation to manage, we agreed.

Back at home I rode the exercise bike and read more Les Misérables before the kids got home.  At dinnertime we all met up at Roscoe’s and we had a plate of marinated olives and two kinds of pizza (funghi and margherita) on the patio. While we were eating we saw one of June’s basketball teammates and a former preschool classmate, either stroll by the restaurant or come in to eat with their folks. Then on the bus home, we chatted with a dad I know from June’s bus stop. That’s the kind of town Takoma Park is.  At home we had the chocolate cake with fresh strawberry frosting Beth had made at my request and my birthday celebration was over.  But Mother’s day was yet to come.

Saturday and Sunday: Mother’s Day Weekend

As of Saturday at 2:45 p.m, the children’s Mother’s Day shopping was only 25% complete. June, with Beth’s help, had selected a Mother’s Day present for me and that was it.  I got on a bus with both kids and headed for the little cluster of shops that makes up downtown Takoma.  We went into Now and Then first and got to work.  I kept suggesting soap to both kids because I knew we’d use it and they even had heart-shaped soap, which I thought June would like, but she was drawn to large, decorative objects, just what we don’t need in our small, cluttered house.  (Later Beth and I discovered she tried to get me to buy some of the exact same things for Beth that Beth had refused to buy for me.) I almost consented to the large, expensive metal flower on a pole for the garden, but only if the kids would agree to go in on it, and Noah had no interest. Finally, June honed in on some brightly colored ceramic dipping bowls in the shapes of different fruits and vegetables.  I agreed she could get two and suggested the eggplant, since Beth loves eggplant, but June wanted the strawberry and the pumpkin so we bought those, along with a mug that read “You Rock” (Noah’s choice for Beth—“because she does”) and a card.

Then June and I left Noah in the store with a twenty-dollar bill I was lending him to buy my gift and June and I went to wait for him at Takoma Bistro, where we got coffee, juice and a fruit tart. In less time than I thought it would take, Noah was back, quite pleased with himself for having shopped alone, and wanting to know if he could use the change to buy himself a pastry.  He got a chocolate diamond, and soon we were back at the bus stop. I was so happy to have the shopping successfully completed, that I didn’t even mind much when June dropped the bag and broke the strawberry bowl and we had to go back and get a new one.  We didn’t even miss our bus.

Mother’s Day did not turn out as expected, however.  The plan was for Beth to grocery shop in the morning while I cleaned house and then for us all to do something together outside, maybe take a walk along a trail or something.  But I woke up Sunday morning feeling dizzy and sick to my stomach and spent most of the day in bed. And that’s where we opened presents.  June’s gift to me was a cookbook of bean recipes and Noah got me the eggplant dipping bowl and soap I’d been urging the kids to buy for Beth.

In the afternoon Beth took the kids to Wheaton Regional Park while I stayed home and slept and read.  Over the course of the day I read three Washington Post magazines that had been accumulating on my bedside table and almost half of Are You My Mother?  So, the day was not completely unpleasant, though I was sorry to miss the outing, which had been my idea in the first place.  Beth and the kids had a picnic dinner of hotdogs, potato salad, broccoli slaw and corn on the cob in the backyard.  I ate some watermelon in bed as an experiment and then came out to join them and ate a little potato salad.

At one point in the early afternoon, noting how any strong smell was upsetting my stomach, I told Beth it felt a little like morning sickness.  “Well, it had better not be,” she said,  “Or we’d have a situation.”

Several situations, I corrected.  I suppose the absence of pregnancy scares in one’s mid-forties is one of the benefits of lesbianism.  As much as I treasure the memories of pregnancy and my kids’ infant and toddler years, it’s not an experience I want to repeat at this point in my life. I like where we are now, with both kids in school and increasingly independent.  June is reading well enough that I often find myself wondering what she’s up to and then I go find her with her nose in a book, often a chapter book. And starting next week, Noah is going to take on a new chore. He will be cooking dinner, or helping me cook on Saturdays. Seeing them grow into these older, capable kids is a treat that I get to experience every day and that can’t be lost by being sick on the second Sunday in May.

Up to Eleven

Nigel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty: I don’t know.

Nigel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

From This is Spinal Tap

Wednesday and Thursday: Up to Eleven

The last night Noah was ten years old, we were busy with birthday preparations.  June had wanted to get him a book for his birthday and an attempt to find a suitable one at a local toy store earlier in the week had failed, so we needed to make an online purchase. I’d been dithering and hadn’t bought anything but the immediacy of the deadline focused my mind. I picked three titles and slightly after June’s bedtime she crawled into my lap as I sat at the computer and I showed her pictures of the covers and gave her a brief summary of each one.  “I’m going to stay up?” she said at first, and then, “I can’t believe you’re telling me about scary, big-kid books.” She was delighted, as if I was letting her in on a big secret by telling her that Something Upstairs is “about a boy who makes friends with a ghost.” That was the book she picked, incidentally.  So I printed out an image of the cover for her to give him in the morning and we were set.

Beth and Noah were making a batch of homemade chocolate chip ice cream for his party on Saturday—our ice cream maker produces fairly small batches and Noah wanted three so they were getting an early start.  They’d already made frosting for his school party the night before. (Noah and a classmate who shares his birthday had hatched a plan for her to bring in cookies and him to bring in frosting and have a frost-your-own-cookie party at school.) Beth helped Noah with his math while the ice cream churned. After he went to bed, I finished wrapping presents and listened to him toss and turn for longer than usual. It’s hard to fall asleep when you’re teetering on the verge of eleven.

Meanwhile, Beth retreated to the basement where she set to work assembling his drum set, his big present.  The drums are second-hand and when Beth got them out of the boxes she discovered several components were missing—the cymbals, the bass drum foot pedal and the snare drum stand.  The previous drummer had cut a hole in the drumhead of the bass drum and adorned it with stickers including one of a scantily clad woman posing with a gas pump nozzle.  Still, it was a real drum kit. I thought he’d like it.

We had Noah open his presents that morning before school.  He got two games from Grandmom and Pop, two t-shirts (the numeral eleven shirt and one from my sister with the symbol for pi, made up of the numerals of pi), a pair of summer pajamas, and a half a dozen books (including June’s promise of a book to come).  He wanted to linger, reading the backs of books, inspecting the numbers of the pi shirt, but Beth was concerned about getting out the door on time and she kept saying, “Next present!” and handing them to June to give to him.  When the presents were all unwrapped Beth said she thought there was something else she’d left in the basement, and we all trooped down there.  She pulled the old bed sheets off the drums and for a moment all Noah could say was “Whoa! Whoa!”

June hopped up on the stool, or “throne” as it’s called, and started to play the drums with her hands like bongo drums while Beth explained how she was writing to the store to see what had become of the missing parts and told him we could get the drumhead replaced unless he liked the sound of the cut one (some drummers do cut them intentionally, which is no doubt what happened to this one). Beth told June to give Noah a turn on his own drums and he ran upstairs to get his sticks and then started to play the drums, looking quite serious as he did so.

As it turned out, Beth and Noah didn’t have time to walk to his bus stop so they were waiting to catch a Ride-On when I came back from June’s bus stop. “Do you have the frosting?” I asked and he dashed back into the house.

That afternoon Noah considered practicing on the new drums but decided the missing snare drum stand would not allow him to practice his snare part for the upcoming band concert well enough so he used his old set-up in the study instead.  He brought the throne upstairs to sit on, though.

He didn’t have much homework, so after he finished it and practiced percussion, he had time to experiment with dying baking soda red before dinner.  Why did he need red baking soda, you might ask?  Noah had another mystery party, his third consecutive one.  He keeps doing it over and over again because although his guests have fun and he seems to be having fun as well, when the parties are over he always stews about how it didn’t go precisely as he planned so he keeps trying to get it exactly right.

This year he decided on several key changes.  He would have a smaller guest list—just four boys— and he’d assign them characters instead of having it be more of a free-for-all scavenger hunt.  He had two detectives, a cartographer and a villain.  Sasha was the villain, and as such, Noah thought he ought to help devise the story and the clues, so last weekend he invited him over to work on it.  While Sasha was uncharacteristically hesitant and deferential (I think he was unsure what Noah wanted from him), I see his influence.  Noah has stuck to theft as the crime in his mysteries to date, but this one’s a murder mystery.  The red powder was for a trail of bloody flour to be left on the sidewalk. (The murder victims were all bakers.)

I made Noah a birthday dinner of egg noodles with broccoli, carrots, butter and Parmesan cheese.  Afterward we had fancy pastries from Takoma Bistro since there wouldn’t be cake until his party. Noah chose the chocolate Napoleon of the four pastries I’d selected while the kids were at school. Beth brought YaYa’s present home from work, where it had been shipped.  It’s a Perplexus ball, a 3-D marble maze enclosed in a clear plastic sphere.

After June was in bed, Beth and Noah worked on another batch of ice cream for the party, and experimented with audio effects for the party. In between Beth talked to someone from the music store about getting the missing pieces of the kit shipped to us and Noah did a math worksheet he thought he’d left at school and discovered fifteen minutes before bedtime. And then he climbed into bed, wearing his “Rock Legend” pajamas ten minutes after bedtime on his first night as an eleven year old.

“Did you have a good birthday?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said earnestly, but then he added that it didn’t have the same “jibe” as it used to, though.  “Probably because I’ve done it ten times before.”  So I said a fond goodnight to my jaded tween and left his bedroom.

Saturday and Sunday: That Extra Push off the Cliff

The party was not until five in the afternoon because we needed to accommodate a baseball game and weekend full of Boy Scout activities for all his guests to be able to attend.  This gave us plenty of time to clean the house and work on party preparations.  I cleaned the dining room, living room, and study and swept and mopped the front porch and mowed part of the lawn. Noah vacuumed and helped me move the porch furniture onto the lawn in preparation for cleaning the porch floor.  Beth cleaned the bathroom, took June to Kung Fu and the library, ran errands (many of them party-related) and made the cake.  It was simple, as Noah’s birthday cakes go, a rectangular cake with white frosting, decorative black stripes down the sides and thirteen red dots on top, meant to evoke drops of blood. (There were thirteen murder victims—a baker’s dozen, get it?)

Noah kept saying he didn’t feel very stressed about the party.  A little more stress earlier in the day might not have been a bad thing because at 4:55 he was completely unprepared.  He’d staggered the guests’ arrival times so he could have time to give them individual instructions, but when the twins arrived, he wasn’t ready for them and they had to play by themselves in the yard and wait for him. When Elias got there Noah had only just started to brief one twin and the other was still waiting.  Fortunately, Sasha didn’t need any instructions as he’d written most of the clues and knew what was going on.  He was sent to wait in the bathroom to be found.  It’s a good thing Beth cleaned it because the party unfolded largely outside and that was the only room where anyone spent any time. In fact, Sasha spent a good deal of the party waiting in the bathroom. I felt sorry for him, but he had co-written the clues that were giving everyone so much trouble, and Noah keeps a lot of books and magazines in there and there were even burning candles for atmosphere, so I hope it wasn’t too boring for him.  At any rate, he didn’t complain.  He’s a good friend.

Outside, thing were not unfolding as seamlessly as Noah had hoped.  At his two previous mystery parties, there had been problems locating the clues—they went missing, or were discovered out of order or by the wrong team one year when there were teams.  Noah managed to avoid that kind of logistical problem this year. He’d even done a dry run with Beth on Friday evening to help everything proceed smoothly.  This year the problem seemed to be that the guests couldn’t figure out the clues. And once they got discouraged, only David was really giving it his all.  Richard was more interested in playing the slingshot he’d been issued and spraying Noah with the garden hose. Noah was visibly frustrated and not as polite as he could have been. He gave them hints that helped move the search along, but he wasn’t gracious about it and a on a few occasions he berated his guests. I think being flustered and rushed at the beginning of the party made it hard for him to keep his composure. He’d also scraped his knee and shin badly when he fell down on the sidewalk right before the party and he was in too much of rush to let me clean it.

Finally, and with a good deal of help, the detectives found the murderer, and the party improved from there. Over pizza and cake and ice cream, Noah and Sasha squabbled, in a good-natured way, over whose fault the difficult clues were (Noah had added some false leads without Sasha knowing it).  The other guests pitched in with suggestions for next year, implying that they expect him to throw a mystery party again and that they intend to come to it, so clearly wasn’t a complete disaster.  When the boys were finished eating some of them started playing baseball with a plastic bat and an inflatable Tinkerbell ball, and some of them played a game on Beth’s iPad until their parents came for them.

After the party, Noah opened his presents—a Titanic-themed Wii game, a set of night goggles, a hatch-your-own alien kit, and Lego model of the Eiffel Tower.  We discussed whether it was time to start celebrating his birthdays in a different way—a movie or dinner with a close friend or two perhaps?  We almost took this direction this year, but in the end he’d wanted another shot at the mystery party.

This morning, still thinking about next year, he admitted he wanted to let go of the mystery idea, but he couldn’t seem to do it. I told him how mysteries are inherently chaotic, how many real crimes go unsolved and others are solved only through coincidence and dumb luck.  The only really controlled mystery is a mystery story because the author is in control, I said.  And then I suggested he write a mystery story over the summer if he wanted to have that experience.  June piped up that they should do it together and now, so before breakfast they wrote a page of their mystery story. I don’t know if needing to compromise with a co-author will present him with the same challenges he’s been facing with improvisational actors, but so far it seems to be going well.  I hope it helps him move through this, because there are good ways to go over the cliff, and not so good ones.

Cherry Blossom Baby, Postscript

Noah has called it to my attention that I did not pay him sufficient tribute for his technological assistance at June’s birthday party.

Here are copies of the signs he designed for the areas of the house in which the two games were played:

catinhat

ratatat

And here is a movie he shot of the event:

I regret any inconvenience this lack of attribution may have caused.

Cherry Blossom Baby

On Thursday morning I put June on the school bus with the instructions, “Have a good last day of school as a five year old,” and she flashed me a brilliant smile.

June is six now.  She was born right before the cherries bloomed on the Tidal Basin. She was six weeks early, and developed a bad case of jaundice so she had to stay at the hospital three days after I was released.  I hated being separated from her, even for those three days. We were constantly shuttling back and forth between the hospital and home, with bottles of pumped milk in tow.

The hospital was just around the corner from the Tidal Basin so one day either on the way to the hospital or on the way home, we made a drive-by visit. Beth dropped me and Noah and YaYa off to walk around a bit while she circled in the car (parking is often impossible when the cherries are in bloom).  We were just a little too early, but we found a couple of blooming trees for a quick photo-op and then we hopped back in the car.

The trees bloomed in earnest soon after and I wanted to go back, but once we got June home, she had to be wrapped in a phototherapy blanket round the clock, allowed out only to nurse, and we just couldn’t make it. Even though we didn’t take her that first year, I still associate the cherry blossoms with the surprising, chaotic days after her birth. We call her our cherry blossom baby, just as Noah is our iris baby.

At 6:35 a.m. on Friday the phone rang.  I wondered if it was a wrong number or an early-rising relative wishing June a happy birthday.  Instead it was Baskin-Robbins, seeking advice of the frosting color of the ice-cream cake we’d ordered for June’s party. The whole cake-buying experience was bizarre.  June had fallen in love with this cake because it had real half-sized ice cream cones on top but Beth had customer service challenges placing and picking up the order and in the end we got a cake that said “Happy June Birthday” instead of “Happy Birthday, June.”  So, just a word of warning if you’re local and you don’t like receiving business calls before dawn or scrambled messages in icing–consider another vendor.

After Beth confirmed that pink frosting was fine, we all went to the living room where June’s wrapped presents were arrayed around her new two-wheeler.  “A bike,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I like the bike.” Then she tore into the other presents.  We got her a cat-themed math game, Rat-a-Tat Cat, partly because her party theme was cats and partly because it looked fun.  Noah got her a bell for her bike and a pair of headphones (she uses headphones to watch television or play on the computer while he’s doing homework and he thought she’d like her own pair). Everything else was clothes.  My aunt Peggy sent Hello Kitty pants, we got her a Hello Kitty t-shirt, a numeral six t-shirt and other summer clothes and pajamas. There were clothes from YaYa, too, including a pair of ladybug rain boots.  It was only after all the presents were opened that June really focused on the bike and decided she wanted to ride it right then.  I told her she needed to eat breakfast and get dressed and ready for school first.  In the end, she had about five minutes practice in the driveway before I put her, clad in her number six t-shirt and new leggings, on the school bus.  “Have a good day, six year old,” I told her. Again, she grinned at me.

When she got off the bus, she was holding a cardboard crown.  Her teacher does not allow birthday treats to be sent in from home, but birthday celebrants get a crown and everyone sings “Feliz cumpleaños” to them.  I’m used to more elaborate school celebrations, both at preschool and in elementary school, but June seemed satisfied.  She wanted to practice riding her bike again–she’d do it three times before the day was out and she got a little better every time.  (By Saturday morning she could pedal up a slight incline and her turns were impeccable.) She said she thought we could take the training wheels off. I counseled her to wait.

My mom arrived for a weekend visit around 4:15, and there were more presents to open.  A pair of summer pajamas with cats on them had arrived during the day (“The cat’s pajamas” I told Beth—how could I resist that joke?), as had a rubber bracelet from Auntie Sara.  It has holes in it and it has letters you can fit into the holes to spell words.  It came bearing the words Junie Dell. (Dell is June’s middle name, and mine, too. I used to call her Junie Dell when she was a baby.  It was one of those baby nicknames that didn’t stick except with Sara, but I like that Sara has a special nickname for her.)  The next day, June changed the words to “I love you.”  Mom brought all kinds of presents—a giant wooden Pinocchio marionette, a tiny vase with a purple ceramic cat attached to it, a paint-your-own tea set kit, and of course, clothes.  June selected the belt from one outfit and decided to wear it with the other outfit (a hot pink t-shirt and leggings to go under a blue sundress with pink flowers) at her party the next day.

I gave June an early bath because we were going out for pizza at Roscoe’s and I wasn’t sure what time we’d be home. It was a warm evening so we sat on the patio, eating wild mushroom crostini, marinated olives (I let June go over her olive quota for the day), salad and pizza.  They were out of gelato because their freezer was broken, so we headed over to Capital City Cheesecake for cheesecake and cannoli.  When we got home, it was June’s bedtime and her big day was over.

But the next day was probably just as exciting because it was her birthday party.  We spent the morning and early afternoon running birthday errands, cleaning the house, assembling gift bags and getting the porch ready for the pin-the-tail-on-the-cat game and the piñata. I’d originally envisioned these as front and back yard games, but rain was predicted, and sure enough it started drizzling around 11:30. Beth and June went out to pick up the “Happy June Birthday” cake and to buy yellow roses and six balloons in varying designs. One has a cat wearing a birthday hat and sunglasses.  Another is the exact Dora balloon June got for her birthday last year. When you tap it, Dora sings “Happy Birthday” in English and Spanish. The sound of the song was still etched deeply into my brain, and Beth’s, too, so she set some strict ground rules about under what circumstances one might tap the balloon to hear the pint-sized bilingual songstress go at it.

The party was at 3:00 and her friends arrived between 2:50 and 3:15.  Maggie, who is June’s only friend who attended both her preschool and her elementary school, made introductions, while the girls selected instruments from the bin and there was an impromptu concert (most of June’s parties seem to start this way).  Once everyone had arrived, we gathered the guests onto the carpet to listen as Mom read them a story The Leprechaun Under the Bed. June remembered Mom reading at her party last year and wanted her to do it again. I’d suggested The Cat in the Hat, but she knew as soon as we checked this book out of the library and read it the first time that it was the one she wanted read at her party. (Spoiler: the leprechaun turns into a cat at the end of the story.)

Next we moved out to the porch for pin-the-tail-on-the-cat.  Last spring June attended a classmate’s birthday party that had classic games as the theme–pin-the-tail-on-the donkey, sack races, etc, and it occurred to me that though you don’t see kids play them much any more, these games are classics for a reason. It was a really fun party.  So I tucked that idea away in the back of my mind, and when June came up with the cat theme for her party I was all ready with pin-the-tail-on-the-cat. June was all over it, especially since she could make the cat and the tails herself.  One by one, I blindfolded the guests and gently spun them around six times each and let them go, sometimes with a subtle correction if they left my hands going in the wrong direction.  The kids laughed hysterically as the tails went onto the cat’s face or the air above its body.  A couple of them got the tail on or pretty close to the cat’s rump—I think Talia’s was the best placed.

Back inside, it was time for games.  We had two and let the girls divide into groups and choose which one they wanted to play.  The first one was The Cat in the Hat, I Can Do That.  In this game, you lay cards together to form instructions for a task to perform with props from the story and you get points if you complete it. June got this game for Christmas and was more interested in playing her new game and most of her guests followed her lead, but I supervised a game between Talia and Megan and then started another round with Talia, when Megan had lost interest and Talia wanted to keep playing.  Beth says she wished she’d thought to get a picture of me trying to wriggle my way under a low foam arch, while balancing the fishbowl in one hand.

Mom and Noah had played Rat-a-Tat Cat with June earlier the in day so they could get the hang of the rules, and Emelia already knew them because she had the same game at home, so the card game went smoothly. Beth said they all seemed to get the hang of it pretty quickly and enjoyed it.  When the games were over, we set everyone up with paper and crayons and asked them to draw cats, as a souvenir.  Some of them drew the Cat in the Hat, others drew Hello Kitty and others went with non-branded felines.  Keller divided her paper into three sections and did one of each.

We had cake next.  The kids thought “Happy June Birthday” was hilarious, an improvement on “Happy Birthday June” really, and as Beth divvied up the little cones they were agreeable about not all getting their first choices in ice cream (each cone was a different flavor).  As we ate cake, Mom sat on the couch with Morgan’s mom and baby brother and got acquainted with her, finding out she went to Oberlin—Beth’s and my alma mater. She even lived in Noah Hall, the dorm where Beth and I met, and after which we named Noah.

I gathered up the goody bags so the guests could stash their piñata booty in them and we headed back out to the porch to smash it.  All the kids had at least two turns.  When a hole opened but no candy fell out, Megan tried to tilt the piñata (or maybe enlarge the hole) by poking her stick in the hole.  It was Noah who finally sent the candy cascading to the floor with some mighty whacks.  Morgan’s mom commented that older brothers have their uses.

June wanted to know if we could have some music while we waited for parents to come collect the guests.  When Beth put on Blue Moo, June asked Talia quite formally, “Talia, will you dance with me?” and Talia did. They danced joyfully around the living room as June’s birthday party wound down to a close. It was cute to watch, especially since I am so very fond of Talia, whom I’ve known since she was not quite two.

After the guests left, June opened her presents–a book, three stuffed animals (including a cat of course), a mermaid magnet set, and a Lego café kit.  June wanted to assemble the café right away, but we went out for Indian first, and then she set to work on it. It was hard to tear her away to go to bed. She finished it the next afternoon, following all thirty-three diagrams–less than twenty-four hours after receiving it, and impressing Mom with her small motor skills and her tenacity.

The final adventure of June’s birthday weekend was an expedition to the cherry blossoms and the new MLK memorial.  The peak bloom period is short and notoriously difficult to predict.  Mom has never caught it, though she often visits us around June’s birthday.  For awhile the predicted four-day peak period spanned the weekend and we thought luck was with us, but then a few eighty-plus-degree days accelerated the blooming and the peak period moved back, ending Friday.  I thought if we went Friday it would be too hard to get back by bedtime, and going on Saturday before the party would make for a stressfully jam-packed day, so we waited until Sunday.

Now I will say that given the choice between a few days before the peak period and a few days after I would choose after every time. There are drifts of petals on the ground and blizzards of them in the air with every breeze; there are petals in muddy puddles and on the rippling water of the Tidal Basin, and there are damp petals stuck to every horizontal and vertical surface.  In its way, it’s almost as magic as the classic picture postcard puffy pink and white blooms.  It looks like confetti strewn on the street after a particularly wild party.  So in a way it was a fitting end to June’s birthday celebration, an after party of sorts. She got to christen her new boots in the puddles, eat hot edamame from a stand, admire the trees (solemnly telling us “all trees are beautiful”), run through the paths between the tulip beds at the Floral Library, take pictures with Beth’s phone, joke with her brother, give her grandmother countless hugs, hold hands with everyone and seize the joy and the beauty of the moment and of being six.

Queer, Queer Fun

On Wednesday morning, the morning of the twentieth anniversary of our commitment ceremony, June crawled into bed with us at 6:40 a.m.  We all dozed a bit longer and around 7:00 Beth got out of bed and was walking around my side of the bed on her way out of the bedroom when I put my arms up for a hug.  The cue reminded her. “Happy anniversary,” she said.

The kids went to school and Beth went to work and the day unfolded like a normal weekday.  I read a few chapters of Catch-22, which I’m reading for my book club, and I exercised and cleaned the refrigerator.  I worked on a set of instructions for growing hydroponic green beans, cucumbers and lettuce.  I found out I’d landed a job writing three grants for a group of D.C. public charter schools. Okay, that last part was not so routine.  I haven’t written a grant since 1994, when I worked for Project Vote, so I greeted this development with a mix of excitement and trepidation.  But I can’t even start until I attend a series of meetings with school officials in early February so I can put it out my mind for now.

That morning Beth posted a picture of the two of us at our commitment ceremony on Facebook, along with a copy of a newspaper story from the Philadelphia Gay News, about how our commitment ceremony announcement in the Philadelphia Inquirer was the first one ever for a gay or lesbian couple.  (At the time my father was the managing editor of the Inquirer. He did not participate in the discussions about whether to publish the announcement but I imagine the fact that I was his daughter must have been a factor in people’s minds.  If nepotism did help break down the door for other people behind us, I have no problem with that.)

One of the things I love about Facebook is all the positive feedback you get on milestone posts.  All day long the congratulations poured in on both posts.  It made me cheerful every time I checked it and gave the day a festive feel, even if I was at home alone, writing or doing chores for much of it.

Shortly after June got home I started cooking dinner.  I wanted to get an early start on the eggplant-bulgur casserole because I was also making a cake, the spice cake with lemon glaze I make almost every year on our anniversary. It was our wedding cake.  June helped pour the ingredients in the bowl, mix the batter, consulted with me on what shade of pink to dye the glaze (it was a very deep pink, almost red) and helped spread the glaze on the cake.

While we ate dinner, we listened to one of the three mix tapes we made for our ceremony.  (Our ceremony was a very low-budget, DIY affair so we provided our own music.) I haven’t attempted the play the tapes in years and I wasn’t even sure if the one I’d selected would still play or if it would be warped, but it sounded fine after two decades (or almost two decades- a notation on the case indicated we’d re-made it in 1994. I don’t remember why).  It was the one we played last, the most upbeat one.  It starts with Prince’s “Let Pretend We’re Married” and the Eurhythmics “Would I Lie to You?” and goes on in that vein.  It’s a fun tape and I only had to rush to the tape player to turn down the volume once so the kids would miss some not quite age-appropriate lyrics.

The music, familiar and yet from such a different time in our lives, and the photo of Beth with her early 90s trademark flattop really took me back. Sometimes it seems like it hasn’t been that long since we were in our mid-twenties and childless and new to living in the big city, and sometimes it seems like another life entirely.

After dinner and before cake, we exchanged gifts. Beth got me Stephen King’s latest—11/22/63— and I got her a gift certificate for Giovanni’s Room, a gay bookstore in Philadelphia.  And why would I get her such a thing when we live in suburban Maryland?  We had a kid-free weekend in Philly ahead of us, that’s why.

We drove everyone up to Mom and Jim’s house on Saturday afternoon after June’s basketball game, dropped the kids off and enjoyed two nights and one day to ourselves in the City of Brotherly Love.  We had two very nice dinners at the Kyber Pass Pub and Cuba Libre. If you go to the first, the vegetarian meats (BBQ and fried chicken Po Boys) and the fried vegetables (okra and sweet potato fries) are very good. If you go to the second, you must order the buñuelos con espinaca. We visited Reading Terminal Market and had lunch there.  I got a vegetarian cheesesteak at a stand where the service was so bad it crossed over from aggravating to comic, but the cheesesteak was not half bad once I finally got it. We browsed at Giovanni’s Room and came out with a few books. We spent a lot of time in our hotel room and in a local coffee shop reading. We saw a non-animated, R-rated movie, the lesbian coming-of-age film The Pariah, which was well acted and a good story, though there were some odd things going on with the camera work, probably meant to indicate the protagonist’s emotional state.  Our room had a gas fireplace and a Jacuzzi and we employed them both.

We walked a lot on Sunday and made some serendipitous discoveries, stumbling upon the President’s House where the first two Presidents lived while the Capitol moved to Washington. The building is no longer there, but they have rebuilt parts of it, with low brick walls to show where walls went and some chimneys and doorways recreated.  You can also look down into the ground to see the actual excavated foundations through glass.  There is a lot of information posted on signs about the house and its inhabitants, including the nine slaves who lived there. It seemed a fitting place to visit during MLK weekend and we would have lingered longer and read more if it had not been so very cold (in the twenties most of the day and quite windy).

We also found the block where I lived from the ages of five and half to almost nine, quite by accident, and from there I remembered how to walk to my elementary school a few blocks away, so we did.  I don’t think I’ve seen it since 1976 but other than new playground equipment (and what I believe to be an addition) the soaring one-hundred-year-old red brick building looks just as I remember it.  It was odd, but not unpleasant to be walking around our old neighborhood on Sunday, because it was the second anniversary of my father’s death. As we walked along the blocks where he must have walked so many times, I imagined him in his thirties walking with a little-girl version of me, maybe headed to the playground, maybe going for ice cream or to peek inside antique stores.

On Monday morning we picked up the kids and heard all about their trip to the Franklin Institute. June loved the giant heart and veins you can tour (what kid doesn’t?) and the movie they saw in the planetarium about black holes and Noah liked the city that changed colors depending on environmental choices the citizens made.  June left Mom and Jim’s house laden with necklaces, a jewelry box and a wicker doll high chair.  (Mom is downsizing in preparation for her move).  On our way out of the Philadelphia area, we made one last stop, for soft pretzels, and then we were homeward bound, arriving mid-afternoon, in time for undone homework and weekend chores.  Our anniversary celebration was over.

But I still have one song from the commitment ceremony tape running through my head. It’s “The Queer Song,” by Two Nice Girls.  It makes me think how much has changed, not just over the past twenty years, but maybe the past thirty.  The speaker is re-assuring her love interest, who is still insecure in her sexual identity:

I’m gonna take you to queer bars
I’m gonna drive you in queer cars
You’re gonna meet all my queer friends
Our queer, queer fun it never ends
We’re gonna have a happy life
Both of us are gonna be the wife
I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be
It’s queer queer fun for you and me

(If you don’t know this song, it’s worth knowing that it’s sung partially to the tune of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.”)  I have to reach far back into my life to remember a time when the idea of my own happiness being possible would have produced a subversive, defiant thrill, but I do remember.  I do.  I would not say my life is a never-ending parade of queer, queer fun—it has as many disappointments and sorrows as anyone else’s—but there is happiness in it, too.

As the Presidential election will no doubt remind me on a more regular basis than I’d like, my family’s happiness is still a hard pill for some people to swallow. That’s why this was a commitment ceremony anniversary and not a wedding anniversary we just celebrated. I have faith we’ll get there, maybe soon. Gay marriage will be on the table again in Maryland this year, as it was last year and a few years before that. I try not to get my hopes up.  I do want to be legally married for both symbolic and practical reasons, but on the deepest level, both of us already are the wife and we have been since that mid-January afternoon when we were twenty-four and twenty-five and stood before our friends and family and dared to imagine living a happy life together.

A Lousy Birthday

Beth’s birthday is always the week of Thanksgiving, usually before the holiday. She often says she likes this because it seems to usher in the holiday season. The timing has a potential downside, though, of swallowing or overshadowing her birthday. I was determined that wouldn’t happen this year. The kids and I did our birthday shopping early just in case my first plan didn’t work. We were in good shape, even with a few crazy days before Beth’s birthday, but then things got even crazier.

To pick up where we left off, wasn’t I just telling you a story about how I was asked to bring June home from school early on a day when I had nothing urgent to do I and didn’t do it? Oh, the irony. Tuesday of last week I’d started work on a project that was much more difficult than I anticipated. By Thursday I was wondering how I was going to make the deadline, which was the day before Thanksgiving and co-incidentally Beth’s birthday. So of course in the wee hours of Friday morning, without any previous sign of illness, June woke up vomiting. Obviously, she’d need to stay home from school.

I did squeeze in several hours of work in between snuggling with her in bed, reading book after book to her and playing game after game of Chutes and Ladders, but it set me back. I told Beth I’d need to work over the weekend. I had a very productive day on Saturday until I started to feel queasy at the computer in the late afternoon. I’ll spare you the details but I spent the rest of the day and most of the following morning in bed. Noah fell sick a few hours after I did and he actually seemed worse off. I could hear him moaning in his bunk off and on all night. He slept most of the next afternoon. By that time I was recovered and back to work, probably running on adrenaline since I’d slept so poorly the night before. I was really glad I’d taken the kids to get Beth’s gifts the previous weekend because there was no time this weekend when all three of us would have been up for an outing at the same time and I don’t know when we would have managed to shop for her.

But luckily we’d already taken care of this errand. Beth had asked for some reusable cloth produce bags so I decided to buy two at the Co-op and let the kids fill them up with treats for her. I have to say it was possibly the most satisfying buying-gifts-for-other-people experience I’ve had with the kids. They accepted guidance readily but had enough of their own ideas that it didn’t feel like me making all the decisions and paying for it to boot and then saying, perversely, that the presents were from the kids, yet at the same time we didn’t buy anything completely random and inappropriate either. They each picked three items. Four out of the six contained chocolate (chocolate-covered pretzels, a dark chocolate bar, a black and white cookie and a box of chocolate toaster pastries). This is about the right ratio of chocolate to non-chocolate gifts to buy for Beth, I think. We also picked up a wedge of Brie and some rosemary crackers. I had renewed Beth’s subscription of Brain, Child (http://www.brainchildmag.com/) weeks earlier so her birthday gifts were in the bag, so to speak. Potential crisis averted.

By Monday everyone was well enough for school and work and it seemed like we were back on track. Except Tuesday morning, Noah was feeling poorly again and he stayed home. I worked and read him a few chapters of The Emerald Atlas and then around noon, heeding a nagging inner voice, I made a phone call to June’s school. June had been complaining about her head itching since mid-October. Lice had occurred to me immediately and I knew Lesley does lice checks periodically at preschool so after school on the very first day June mentioned the itching, I took her over to the Purple School for a visit and an impromptu lice check. Lesley didn’t see anything. I checked it off my mental list of possibilities and then for weeks we wondered why June’s head was itching/ We stopped using her detangling spray and considered trying all new hair care products. Finally, I started to think we should get her checked again, just in case.

You know where this is going, right? I must have taken June to Lesley before the lice really got settled in her hair because the nurse pulled June out of class to check her and called me back at 12:45 with the news that she did indeed have lice and I needed to come get her immediately. So, I brought her home and that was the end of the school week for both kids.

Later that afternoon, we had 504 meeting for Noah with the disappointing outcome that he did not qualify for any accommodations under his ADHD-NOS diagnosis but that might under his dysgrahpia diagnosis, but that will require input from an occupational therapist and possibly yet another meeting (our third this fall) to determine. I think we might have been more upset by this if not for the lice.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was a blur of activity. There was bedding to wash in hot water and dry at the highest setting, brushes and combs to soak in rubbing alcohol, and hair to rub with smelly lice-killing shampoo and then comb out with the nit pick. We spent hours on the kids’ hair but sometime during Noah’s, which surprisingly turned out to be much worse than June’s, we started to think we might need the services of a professional. I found a few companies online, made some calls, conferred with Beth and made an appointment.

So the next morning the kids stayed home from school and Beth stayed home from work and at nine a.m., a professional nit-picker walked in our door. Beth said making sure we were all properly deloused was her birthday present to herself. We all had our hair combed and picked (and we all did have lice, in varying degrees). It took about three hours for her to do all four of us. She said Noah was in the worst shape and had probably had them longest. Since he never itched (no-one did except June) who knows how many months he was walking around with lice? I don’t like to think about it.

I did four more loads of hot water laundry, and made Beth’s birthday cake (with some help from June) and some brandied sweet potatoes to take to YaYa’s for Thanksgiving. Beth made vegetarian stuffing and gravy. All day we ate well. Beth shared her chocolate toaster pastries at breakfast and her Brie and crackers at lunch. In the afternoon she ran some errands and got herself a free birthday cupcake at Cake Love (to save for later). For diner we got Burmese takeout and then ate cake and ice cream. The can of pink frosting I was using for accents turned out to be almost empty and created more of a graffiti paint splatter effect than the roses June and I were originally going for, but I liked it.

It was that kind of birthday, not what we expected, but with its own sweetness. We did get an extra day all together before the holiday weekend, so I hope it was lousy only in the most literal sense of the word.

A Half Older

It’s just that time of year when we push ourselves ahead,
We push ourselves ahead.

From “The End of the Summer” by Dar Williams

Sunday: A Different Ball Game

On a cool, cloudy afternoon, the third Sunday in September, Beth, June and I stood on the playing field of the same middle school that hosts the folk festival. This time we weren’t there to hear a bluegrass band, however. We were there for June’s first-ever soccer scrimmage. She played soccer the fall she was three and a half and again the spring she was four, but she’d lost interest and skipped a year before deciding to give it another try. Kindergarten soccer is different than preschool soccer. There are games against other teams, like in t-ball, and this appealed to June. Also, she wants another medal to hang from the beams of the lower bunk bed.

Four or five of June’s preschool classmates are playing on a Saturday morning team but she wanted to do ballet this fall, too, and that conflicted with that team’s practice time, so we signed her up for a Sunday team. I think I was more disappointed about her not being on a team with friends than she was. It felt like all her friends being in the other kindergarten class all over again, like a missed opportunity. It’s sad to see them go their separate ways, knowing how easy it is for kids to drift apart and forget each other. Noah barely remembers any of his preschool classmates who didn’t go to elementary school with him.

But June was not indulging in any melancholy thoughts on the soccer field. She was happy and excited and ready to play. It took a while for us to locate the maroon team, but once we did the coach handed out their t-shirts and sat them down in a circle to talk about what was going to happen and then got them doing drills right away.

Beth and I watched from the sidelines. When the coach said they were going to play sharks and minnows, Beth said, “I hope she’s not still afraid of this.” June hated sharks and minnows in preschool soccer. The sight of the coach and other players pretending to be menacing sharks was just too much for her. This is how it works: All the players have a soccer ball they dribble around the field. The coach, who’s the original shark, tries to take their balls. Once a player’s ball is taken from him or her, the player becomes a shark too and goes after other kids’ balls, until all balls are out of play and everyone is a shark. June showed no signs of ever having been afraid of this game, but she did forget the rules. When a fellow player kicked her ball away from her, she said indignantly, “That’s mine!” and the coach had to come over and explain the game to her again. Once she understood she was right out there trying to kick other kids’ balls away from them.

For the next drill, the coach balanced a soccer ball on a cone and arranged the players in a circle around it. They were to kick their balls at it all at once and try to knock it down. On the first try no-one’s ball went anywhere near the cone, but on the second try one of the taller boys knocked it down. He knew it was his ball that did it, too, because he pumped his fist in the air.

After almost an hour of practice, it was time for the game. June’s team divided and half their players went over to play another team while half of the yellow team came over to our part of the field. The yellow Cheetahs looked a little more organized than our team. They had appeared to be well into practice before our team had even assembled and they had their names and numbers written in marker on the backs of their shirts. The coach was also more intent on diving them into offensive and defensive lines that ours was. “They’re going to get slaughtered,” I predicted to Beth.

But they didn’t. The Maroon Pumas won the match, 3-1. This was mainly because of the boy who knocked the soccer ball off the cone during practice. This kid has moves. He scored two out of the three goals, and made a few good saves when they ball was near our team’s goal, too. (There are no goalies at this level.)

Considering she was the second smallest kid on her team and has had no soccer instruction in the past year and a half, June did great. She had no fear of getting into the mix, ran after the ball, and usually remembered which direction to kick it when she got the chance. (This is a big issue with five and six-year-old players. At halftime our coach’s whole message was which direction to kick the ball.) She even kept control of the ball and moved it toward the right goal for at least five yards at one point.

Beth kept yelling, “Go, Junie!” whenever June had the ball and then said to me, “I really shouldn’t be so into this.” I was quieter but I was keeping score in my head. Even though I thought I’d keep score at June’s t-ball games, I never did. I don’t think anyone did. Because every player swung until he or she got a hit and the inning ended after everyone had a turn, and fielding was such that almost everyone advanced a base whenever anyone hit the ball, scores were high and kind of meaningless. This was a different ball game, however. And I saw in a way I never really had before why soccer is the game of choice for elementary-school age kids all over suburban America as well as much of the world. There aren’t as many rules to master and five-year-olds can play something more closely resembling the real thing. Play was unpredictable and fun to watch.

By the end of the game, June was flagging. She’d been running around for an hour and half and she was ready to be done. Every time play slowed or stopped, she plopped down on the grass and started to pick blades of it. She’d jump up every time the ball started to move again, though. When the game was over she was excited. “We scored a goal!” she said. I informed her they’d scored three. She was surprised. She’d missed that. She’d heard the other team cheering when they scored and thought maybe the Yellow Cheetahs had won. No, I told her, her team won. Even when she thought they’d lost, she was pleased with her performance, “It was like my brain just remembered—this is how you play soccer!” she said, all smiles.

Friday: The Half-Birthday Girl

June climbed into our bed at 6:50 on Friday morning. “It’s Friday!” she announced. She’d been looking forward to a classmate’s birthday party that afternoon all week. It felt funny, thinking about sending her to this party because I barely know the girl, having met her once at the Open House but I know she and June have been playing together and sitting with each other on the bus. June’s never been on a play date or to a party at the house of a kid I don’t know, but I guess there’s a lot of that in her future now that she’s in a big public elementary school and not a small co-operative preschool. I learned last weekend when we were all having pizza at Sasha’s house that June’s new friend lives next door to Sasha’s family. Somehow this made it a little easier to think about leaving her there.

“It’s also your half-birthday,” Beth reminded June and told her she’d picked up the cupcakes at the grocery store the night before, while June was in bed. June had selected them ahead of time. They were patriotic, with red and blue sprinkles on white frosting and topped with plastic flags and statutes of Liberty. They were in the frozen section so they might have been left over from September 11. (Would anyone buy or sell patriotic cupcakes for September 11? I’m really not sure, but I don’t want to think they’re left over from the Fourth of July.)

June wanted to go see them immediately. She thought she remembered there was only one with a flag. “And do you know who gets it when there’s only one?” she asked.

“The half-birthday girl,” Beth surmised, correctly.

Then June realized it was also the first day of fall. “I’ve waited so long for this day,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

Because after fall comes winter and then spring, she answered, and she can go sledding in winter and her real birthday is in the spring. “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow,” Beth sang. June is always looking several months ahead, wanting whatever it is that comes next. She is good at beginnings, pushing herself into new things. She loves kindergarten and gets on the bus each morning without a backward glance, even as I linger to watch her walk up the steps.

It was an odd afternoon and evening. A power line went down near our house and the power went out three times, staying out for all but an hour between 2:30 and 8:30. Later I joked on Facebook that the alternation between light and dark was an equinox-themed performance art piece by the power company. Our street was blocked off, too, so June’s bus was forty minutes late. I thought she’d be rattled because she was the last time the bus was (much less) late but she seemed to shrug it off. She now knows the bus is sometimes late. When she got home we had to hurry to the party, taking the long way because our most direct route was blocked to pedestrians as well as traffic.

She did balk a little at being left at Keller’s house. There was only one other guest she knew; the rest were Keller’s preschool friends. So I stayed until she felt comfortable and then left her with the rest of the cape and tiara-wearing five and six year olds. (It was a She-Ra themed party.) There was no power at Keller’s house either. I approved of her parents’ spirit of adventure in continuing with the party.

After I fetched June there was just enough time to heat up dinner from cans (luckily we have a gas stove) and to eat her half-birthday cupcakes before I put her to bed. She fell asleep by the light of the camping lantern in the hall, soon after commenting, “I’m a half older now.”

Saturday: Tiny Dancer

On the sidewalk outside the dance studio, June had a flash of nerves. Beth scooped her up into her arms and reminded her she often felt a little nervous before starting something new but it usually passed quickly. I wondered if it was just too many new things and too many new people in a short period of time. June’s friend Gabriella (a.k.a the Ground Beetle) is enrolled in the ballet class but was spending the weekend with her grandparents so she had to miss the first session.

“How old are you?” The receptionist wanted to know, as we were checking June in and ordering her ballet uniform.

“Five and a half,” June answered, after a pause.

The receptionist wanted to know why she had to think about it and we explained she had only been five and a half for a day.

Soon after this exchange, Talia (whom I will always secretly think of as the Mallard Duck) and her father and brother walked in the door. I knew her mom was thinking of signing her up for this ballet class but I hadn’t wanted to get June’s hopes up so I had not mentioned it to her. June was delighted. “I wasn’t expecting to see you here!” she exclaimed. And like that, all nervousness was gone.

Parents watched the lesson through a large window in the studio wall. We could see but not hear, so we had to guess what the teacher might be asking them as they sat in a circle and raised their hands in different combinations. Beth said it was like watching a silent movie, and Talia’s dad, Tom, laughed. We watched as the eight girls, mostly in pale pink or black leotards stood in a circle holding hands and standing on their toes and as they stood with their feet flat on the ground and bent their knees deeply. They walked in a line, watching themselves in the mirrored wall and mimicking the movements of the teacher. They practiced at the barre. June stood for an astonishingly long time on the toes of one foot with her other leg extended behind her. She only quit after her leg started to tremble visibly. A couple of the girls had trouble paying attention and wandered around the room instead, but June was all focus, sometimes smiling, but more often looking dead serious.

At one point I thought I heard the music to the Mexican Hat Dance but I wasn’t sure if it was coming from June’s studio or one of the other rooms. The two-to-four year old class was practicing nearby. June told me later they danced to a song from The Lion King and to “Penny Lane,” one of the few Beatles songs she can identify. When class was over, the girls got their hands stamped and then lined up to take a running leap toward the door.

June was not as elated as she was after the soccer game, but she was quietly satisfied. As we were on our way out, the receptionist asked her how it went and she gave her a thumbs up. “So you’ll be back next week?” she asked.

“Yeah,” June said in a matter-of-fact voice.

And she will be back, back to school, back to soccer, back to ballet. It should all be routine now that she’s gotten the last of the beginnings under her belt. After all, it’s just that time of year and she’s a half older.