Of Pumpkins and Presidents

We live pretty near the Maryland/Virginia border but we don’t go to Virginia often. We’re more often in the District, where Beth works and where our doctors and dentists are. However, in the past week, we’ve visited our sister state twice, or at least June and I have.

1. Pumpkins

Late last Saturday afternoon we drove forty-five minutes to Potomac Vegetable Farm, our traditional source for jack-o-lantern pumpkins. There are certainly closer places we could get pumpkins or pumpkin farms with more bells and whistles in terms of activities, festivals, etc. But we started going to Potomac Vegetable Farm before the kids were born because the family of a friend of ours from college ran it, and now it’s a sacred tradition. We’ve only missed one year when we all had a stomach bug.

On the way there I noticed Northern Virginia is Clinton/Kaine country, if yard signs are any indication. And that’s good, because unlike reliably blue Maryland, Virginia is a swing state, or it often is, in a normal year. (It went for Obama twice, but Bush twice before that.) It’s looking pretty safe for Clinton at the moment.

Noah was working on the script and storyboard of his dystopian trailer before we left and it was hard to pull him away from it, but I’m glad he agreed to come because it turned into a pretty fun family outing. We picked out some decorative gourds and our jack-o-lanterns—I opted to go with a white pumpkin this year—took the traditional pumpkin farm photo of the kids, and stocked up on cider and fall produce. I got beets, squash, a sweet potato, and some late cherry tomatoes to cook with and Beth got a couple green tomatoes, which would supplement our garden tomatoes when she made her signature fried green tomatoes for dinner on Sunday.

From the farm, we headed to Sunflower, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant we’ve never tried before and which we all enjoyed. If you go, I recommend the fake shrimp. I also appreciated the owners’ commitment to sunflowers in the décor. There were real sunflowers growing outside the restaurant (dead now of course, but I’m sure it was pretty when they were in bloom) and sunflowers decorations everywhere you look inside.

As we finished our meal, we discussed dessert options. June’s been wanting to try bubble tea for a while now and Beth looked on her phone and found a (mostly) Asian dessert place nearby that carried it. June got mango and I got coconut and Beth and Noah went for chocolate cake and raspberry cheesecake respectively. As we drove home, sipping our sweet drinks and listening to Halloween music and catching glimpses of the enormous full moon that kept popping in and out of view, I felt deeply content. Over the next week, whenever I glimpsed the little pumpkin and yellow and green gourd on my desk, it kept reminding me of that pleasant day.

2. Presidents

Almost a week later, on Friday, I chaperoned a fifth grade field trip to Mount Vernon. I signed up because the last field trip I went on to Saint Mary’s City last spring was fun. But as happened last time, I didn’t really expect to be chosen because there are often more parents who want to chaperone trips than there are slots. But when June came home the next day with a form about a new online training about child abuse and neglect all school volunteers have to complete and I asked if I could wait to see if I was chosen before I did it, she said, “Oh, you’re in.”

So I did the training, and it was kind of annoying, because near the end I lost all my progress due to a computer glitch and then I had to start over. But I persevered and Friday morning found me at June’s school.

We almost didn’t go on the trip because on Wednesday at recess June twisted her ankle and on Thursday morning she still couldn’t put any weight on it, but she really wanted to go so we decided to give it a try.

We got a ride to school with Megan’s mom, who was dropping off her younger daughter. The buses left the school at 9:40 and crossed the Maryland/Virginia border about twenty minutes later. It was a pretty drive. The leaves are just starting to change and we passed the Washington Monument, National Airport, and drove through charming Old Town Alexandria with all its colonial architecture. I noticed some water birds in the Potomac. And then about 10:35 we arrived at Mount Vernon. As we disembarked from the bus, Zoë noticed the Clinton button on my backpack and said, “I like your button.”

Chaperones were allowed to wander with their groups until our tour of the mansion at 11:30. I was sharing a group of eight girls with the father of one of June’s friends, but it soon became clear June couldn’t keep up on her crutches, so I told him I was going to peel off with her so we could go at her pace. We made our way slowly toward the mansion, stopping to rest on benches and to read short bits of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows while her classmates went to explore the farm and gardens.

June was a trooper with the crutches, but she was getting tired and red-faced, so when we got to the mansion, I left her with her math teacher—I couldn’t find my co-chaperone or her social studies teacher—to go see if I could get a loaner wheelchair. In retrospect, I should have done this at the entrance, where they have more wheelchairs, but we were still trying to keep up with the group then and there was no time to stop and ask. They only had an adult size wheelchair at the mansion. The wheels were too far apart for June to comfortably maneuver it by herself but all we needed was some respite from walking for her and I could push her.

She rode in the wheelchair through the line to get into the mansion and then we stowed it outside because she wanted to go up to the second floor. During their reading about George Washington and his family she got especially interested in his step-granddaughter Nelly and she wanted to see her room, so she hopped up the stairs while I held the crutches.

There were a lot of school groups visiting that day (or maybe every day) and so they really hustle you through the house, but you can explore the out buildings at your leisure. We peeked into the smokehouse, the stables and carriage house, the storehouse, the clerk’s office, and the paint storage cellar. They used a lot of paint at Mount Vernon because even though the mansion looks like it’s made of stone, it’s really made of wood carved to look like masonry and painted with paint mixed with fine sand, to give it the glitter of mica in stone. Anyway, it needed frequent repainting. We got shooed away from the ice house because we’d gotten too close to a private tour group, so we never saw inside it.

Reading the signs, I noticed they almost never used the word “slave.” Instead it would say “enslaved gardeners,” “enslaved cooks,” “the enslaved population,” etc. It made me reflect on how this shifts the concept from slavery as a state which is continually forced on a person rather than a slave being something he or she inherently is.

I asked June what else she wanted to see and she said the Washingtons’ tomb so I pushed the wheelchair carefully down a pebbly hill to see George and Martha’s white marble sarcophaguses housed a big brick tomb that also houses the remains of other relatives as well. I would have liked to go see the slave memorial and the wharf but I was afraid of going even further downhill with the wheelchair. I learned later from the Mount Vernon website we were only fifty yards from the slave memorial at the time, but I didn’t know that, just what direction the signs said to go. It was hard pushing the chair back up the hill so when a passerby asked if he could help I accepted his offer. Thanks, stranger!

We peeked into a vegetable garden and an orchard on our way back to the museum but we didn’t go into them, as there were stairs. At the museum we toured exhibits about Washington’s childhood, the French and Indian War, and the Revolutionary War. It was nice to have a flat surface for the wheelchair. We didn’t have time to see the 4-D movie we later heard June’s classmates extol, but maybe we’ll go back some day.

We returned the wheelchair and re-joined June’s classmates for a late picnic lunch on the lawn near the driveway. As we ate the sky clouded over, the temperature dropped dramatically, a terrific wind kicked up, blowing leaves everywhere, and it started to sprinkle rain. By the time we were gathered to wait for the buses, it was raining in earnest. I helped June into her raincoat and urged her to go slowly on the wet pavement. (She’d fallen twice on wet restroom floors in the museum.)

We ran into traffic on the way home and there was a lot of water on the road the bus pushed up in sheets and the drive that took less than an hour getting there two hours and fifteen minutes getting back. We were an hour and twenty minutes late returning to school and the whole fifth grade missed their school buses. (Something similar happened on the way home from St. Mary’s last spring so I wasn’t surprised.) I’d been hoping to put June on her school bus and walk home by myself, but we got a ride with another chaperone. Thanks, Mindy!

During the bus ride, I asked June if she was glad she went and she said, “Yes. Are you?” I said I was glad to have gone and also to have been there to help her get around. “I wouldn’t have gone without you,” she said, leaning against me and resting her head on my shoulder. She was so tuckered out she actually fell asleep for fifteen minutes or so.

I have a piece of paper on which I jotted down these words, a quote from Washington, which were painted on the wall in the museum: “That the Government, though not absolutely perfect, is one of the best in the world, I have little doubt.”

Our democracy was far from perfect then, as I’m sure the enslaved population and many of the women would have attested, and it’s still far from perfect, but it’s gradually getting closer to fulfilling its promise and I think it’s quite a lot better than near-apocalyptic vision of one of the Presidential candidates. It was moving to visit the home of our first President near the end of the second term of our first African-American President and on the eve, I hope, of the first term of our first female President. It makes me wonder what other almost unimaginable changes will take place in my children’s lifetimes.

Head Girl and Head Boy

After we got home from Cedar Point, the kids had a week and a half before school started. I didn’t manage to get June very many play dates and a lot of the time she was bouncing around the house bored, when she wasn’t spending too much time playing games or watching television on the computer. She and Beth went shopping for school supplies and when Beth would only buy half her composition books with fancy covers—as a compromise because the floral ones were more expensive than the ones with the traditional black and white speckled covers—she set to work decorating the rest of the books with blue and purple sparkly tape until none of the offensively plain covers showed.

June also weeded, helped me make dinner one night and made it by herself another night, took laundry off the line for me, earned some money feeding the neighbors’ cat while they were on vacation, and made a batch of cinnamon cookies. On the last Friday of summer vacation, she was so bored she started making drinks out of ingredients she found in the kitchen and making me taste them. The salted caramel drink was quite salty, but there was a sour drink that was more palatable. I can’t remember what she put in that one, but it involved lime juice and maybe chocolate syrup.

Noah pruned some bushes, mowed the lawn twice, vacuumed twice, read a book on patterns of civic participation in American politics and made a grid with the thesis of each chapter, evidence and an evaluation of the evidence. This was his last assignment of the summer and he finished it Friday morning.

Both kids had a lot of appointments the last week—doctor, dentist, orthodontist. According to the doctor, Noah shrank a half inch over the past year. We’d noticed his growth had slowed in the past year, after a steady three-year growth spurt, but I doubt he’s really shorter than he was when he was fourteen. Maybe he’s slumping more, or maybe he’s had a more recent haircut.

We did manage to do some things that were more fun than getting poked and prodded by medical professionals. The second to last weekend we went to the Montgomery County Fair. In the goat barn we serendipitously ran into Megan’s family and so the girls got to pet rabbits, brave the haunted house, and fly through the air on the swings together. I rode the swings, too, behind my kids, and Megan and her sister. Fiona had her arms up in the air most of the time. She looked so joyous it was infectious.

The last Thursday before school started I took the kids on a creek walk, a late summer tradition of ours. It was nice to see Noah splashing in the water and enjoying himself after working so hard on his civics the past week. We saw many fish and crawfish and raccoon prints in the mud, and spider webs spanning the creek. June even found a turtle shell. It would have been just about perfect if I hadn’t lost my footing in the creek, fallen, and hit my kneecap hard on a rock. Two days later when I still couldn’t bend my knee, Beth took me to urgent care to make sure the kneecap wasn’t broken. It wasn’t. After another two days of wearing an ace bandage, taking prescription strength ibuprofen for the swelling, and icing it a few times a day, it’s a little better.

There was an Open House at June’s school on Friday afternoon, so I took June to meet her teachers. Mrs. F, her math teacher, seemed friendly and enthusiastic and all of June’s friends are in this class. She was disappointed to find she only has one friend in her English/social studies class. We didn’t find out who was in her Spanish/science class because she has the same teacher she had last year, Señora Y, and she didn’t feel the need to trek out to the portables to see her, as she knows what to expect from her.

June did, however, take the opportunity to introduce herself to the new instrumental music teacher and to tell him the sad story of how her parents were making her choose between Girl Scouts and orchestra. She failed to mention she’s also in the running club and taking an acting class and private voice lessons this fall. He diplomatically said he hoped to see her in orchestra.

June slept over at Megan’s house on Friday night and stayed there until early Saturday afternoon because we were longer at the urgent care than we thought we’d be. After resting a little, June and I went to see Pete’s Dragon, and then all four of us went out to dinner in Silver Spring, as no one was interested in cooking.

Sunday morning Noah asked me if there was anything he had to do and I said we were going out for our traditional last-night-of-summer-break ice cream in the evening and that at some point before then I’d like to read some in The Two Towers. He seemed pleased with that answer. We read in the morning while Beth and June were grocery shopping. We’ve gotten to a very satisfying part of the book. We’d left off the day before in the middle of the chapter in which the Ents are introduced (because I needed to leave for the movie) so we finished that and read the next one, in which it’s revealed Gandalf didn’t die when he fell into the abyss in Moria in the previous book.

After lunch, Noah was pacing around, seemingly at loose ends, so I suggested he go play his drums and he said, “That’s a good idea” and he went to do it. I listened to the fast and complex rhythms emerging from the basement with admiration, as I often do, and I hoped that he’d be in band this year. (Last year he had a schedule conflict.)

Before dinner, I was filling out forms I got at the Open House at June’s school and consulting with her on her first day outfit, which caused her to comment later, “I don’t get Mommy. How does Mommy think? Not colorfully obviously.” She settled on the pink and blue dress Beth’s mom got her for high tea at the beach at the beginning of the summer.

Before we left for ice cream, the kids carried yard waste bags from the back yard to the front curb where they joined bags of weeds and overgrown vines from our side yard fence that Beth had pruned earlier in the day. Beth glanced at her work. “It’s not perfect, but it’s progress,” she said.

Noah wanted to know if she was talking about him and June. No, she said, she didn’t expect them to be perfect, but she expected them to always be trying to make progress, and doing their best.

“This year is going to be terrible,” Noah muttered.

“This year is going to be awesome!” June exclaimed.

Noah was referring to the fact that tenth grade in the Communications Arts Program (CAP) is supposed to be the most challenging year. I reminded him that everyone who’s been through the Humanities magnet at his middle school and CAP says the hardest year in middle school—seventh grade—is actually worse than tenth (relative to the students’ ability at the time, one presumes).

“You’ve got this,” I said.

On the way home, Noah glanced at his phone and noticed his Edline account (where assignments and grades are posted) had been re-activated so he checked his schedule to see if he was in band and he was. We all cheered and were happy for about thirty seconds and then Beth said, “Wait…Symphonic Band?” Symphonic Band is an audition-only band and he hadn’t auditioned. He’d requested the non-audition Concert Band, because he hates to audition. So it looked like there had been some kind of administrative snafu.

In the morning, Noah was ready on time. Beth took his picture at the gate and we watched as he walked off to the high school bus stop at seven a.m. An hour and twenty minutes later, and after much fussing over lunch preparations (she’s making her own lunch this year) I took June’s picture. We crossed the street to her bus stop where the parents made arrangements for June and another girl to walk to school most days. Naomi is in fourth grade and the only other kid left at our shrinking bus stop. Today June and Naomi took the bus, though, because they were both weighed down with school supplies. Naomi’s dad is going to walk with them the first couple days because she and her folks are all a little nervous. June continues to usher her peers into the exciting world of walking around in the world without adults.

Around seven hours later, June got home, saying, “I have something to show you.” It was a safety patrol belt. She didn’t know if she was going to be on the safety patrol until today and she had her heart set on it. Her assignment will be to take Head Start preschoolers from their classroom to the bus room.

She said Mrs. F, the math teacher, randomly breaks out in various foreign accents in class, but she favors the Russian accent. She had homework, to write a letter to Mr. S, her English/social studies teacher, introducing herself. “It’s good to be back to school,” she said.

Noah was home about fifteen minutes after June. He was pretty sure he was in the wrong band. In fact, he thought it wasn’t Concert Band or Symphonic Band but the Advanced Ensemble, which is definitely out of his league. So he’s going to fill out a schedule change request form at school tomorrow and I wrote his advisor, because I don’t expect resolving this to be easy or straightforward. I wrote on Facebook I wouldn’t mind Gandalf swooping in and fixing it for him. And while he’s at it, if he wanted to fix the air conditioning at Noah’s school, that would be nice, too.

At dinner, I asked June if being on the safety patrol was like being a prefect in the Harry Potter books. Yes, she said with satisfaction and then noted that while most kids on the patrol wear silver badges, about ten each month get gold ones, and that’s like being Head Boy or Head Girl, though not quite as good because there’s not just one.

“You’re my Head Girl,” I told her, and turning to Noah, I said, “And you’re my Head Boy.”

They will always be my Head Girl and Boy, whether this year is terrible, awesome, or somewhere in between.

The Band is Playing

It’s Saturday and the band is playing
Honey, could we ask for more?

Prairie Home Companion theme song, adapted from “Tishomingo Blues,” by Spencer Williams

This is the story of two goodbye shows. The first was given by someone you’ve probably heard of—Garrison Keillor is retiring as the host of Prairie Home Companion this summer and Beth bought tickets to his last show at in the Washington, D.C. area as a birthday present to me. The show was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

The other man you probably haven’t heard of unless you had the very good fortune to have a child in an elementary school instrumental program at June’s school or the school where Noah attended fourth and fifth grade. His name is Mr. G, and next year instead of splitting his time between the two schools, he will teach at just one, so June will have a new orchestra teacher in fifth grade. Mr. G’s last concert at June’s school was Wednesday.

Saturday: A Prairie Home Companion

Prairie Home Companion has been on the air since 1974, with a brief interruption in the late eighties and early nineties. I must have started listening to it around the time it came back on the air in 1992; that’s when I got hooked on public radio. When I was in grad school in the mid to late nineties, I’d often knock off studying or grading around six p.m. on Saturdays and then I’d clean the apartment for an hour or two while listening to it. Back then, rather than being near the end of my Saturday nights, its eight o’clock ending time might be when Beth and I left to go out to a movie or something. We used to do that kind of thing a lot in our younger days. Anyway, it’s how I used to transition from work to play in the middle of the weekend.

Nowadays I’m more likely to listen to it while I’m cooking dinner with Noah—his night to help me is Saturday—though sometimes we listen to music of his choice instead. I rarely listen to a show all the way through any more, but I still enjoy it and find it something about it deeply comforting. Keillor, a tall, bespectacled almost seventy-four-year-old man who loves words and stories, has a deep singing voice, a sometimes dry wit and liberal politics, often reminds me of my Dad, who would be a year younger than Keillor if he were still alive. That’s part of the appeal, no doubt.

When Prairie Home Companion travels it comes to about a half dozen venues regularly. One of those is Wolf Trap, in Vienna, Virginia, which is just a stone’s throw from where we live, but despite this, we’d never gone to see the show. I’d never suggested it because it’s not really Beth’s thing, but when I heard Keillor was retiring I told her I’d like to go, so she bought tickets. By the time I asked, the seats under the roof were sold out, but I didn’t mind sitting of the lawn. You can picnic and if the weather’s nice it’s quite pleasant. We’ve probably seen more shows at Wolf Trap on the lawn than under the roof.

Speaking of shows we’ve seen there…Wolf Trap is a place we used to go a lot more often pre-kids than we do now and while Beth and I were on the lawn waiting for the show to start we made the amusing discovery that our lists of shows we remember seeing there have surprisingly little overlap. We’re both sure we saw performances of Beauty and the Beast and West Side Story there and probably the McGonagall sisters. But she doesn’t remember seeing a Buddy Holly tribute act I thought we saw there and she insists we’ve seen David Sedaris at one of the smaller, indoor theaters on the property and I thought surely I’d remember that because I really like him. We both think we might have seen the Indigo Girls there, but we’re not entirely certain. What has happened to our youth? I mean I know we’re not in our twenties or thirties anymore but shouldn’t we be able to at least remember that time? What are we going to reminisce about when we’re eighty?

I guess it’s a good thing I started blogging. At least there’s a record of our forties.

Anyway, back to the show. We got to the parking lot around 4:35 and walked to the lawn where we set up our blanket. We had to walk around a while to find a spot as the lawn was already packed but we found a place we could squeeze in with a good view of the stage. (The pictures were actually taken by our neighbor Chris, who was also at the show. They were on the opposite side of the lawn, so you can imagine us just to the side of the footbridge in the background of the picture.)

The show was very much as I expected. There was old-timey music including a Civil War song, a jazz band, a Guy Noir sketch, some Trump-related political satire, a parody of a Dylan song (“Don’t Think Twice”), and of course, the Lake Woebegon monologue. The only unexpected parts were the fifteen minutes before taping began when Keillor wandered through the audience, even up on the lawn, engaging in a sing-along with the audience. It being Memorial Day weekend, he started with a medley of patriotic songs, but soon it was Elvis Presley and the Beatles. (There was more singing with the audience after the taping ended as well.) I have to admit I was just a bit star-struck when he passed within fifty yards of us and then when he got back on stage and sang his opening song, “It’s Saturday, the band is playing/Honey, could we ask for more?” I felt a little thrill to actually be there.

About a half hour into the show, we dug into the picnic Beth packed for us, Havarti cheese, crackers, watermelon, a vegetable slaw, couscous salad, and chocolate chip cookies. The day had been hot—I thought he must have been very warm in that suit—but it cooled slowly as we sat on the grass and watched the golden evening light travel slowly down the backdrop of a gray frame house behind Keillor on the stage.

Soon it was over and we headed back to the parking lot, where, as Keillor had predicted from the stage, there was a terrible traffic jam. We sat in the car for over forty minutes before we could move at all. I guess that’s why some people left immediately after the monologue. Even so, we were home by 9:45, late for us to be out, but not too late.

Prairie Home Companion will still be on the air after Keillor retires. He’s handing it over to a new host, Chris Thile, next fall. Thile was actually at the show we saw, singing and playing mandolin. I look forward to seeing in what new direction he takes the show, but I know I will always miss Garrison Keillor.

Wednesday: Our Musical Garden

Three nights later June had her last concert with Mr. G. Let me tell you a little about him before I write about the concert. He’s the kind of teacher who show up for everything, and I mean everything. Any time we were at June’s school whether it was for Reading Night or STEM night or any other kind of night, there was Mr. G. I heard from parents of kids who went to one of the middle schools that June’s school feeds into that he would go to their band and orchestra concerts to see his former students play. When a friend of June’s who acts professionally was in a show, Mr. G was in the audience. He’s that kind of teacher.

You might think if you were in charge of instrumental music at two large and growing elementary schools—there are one hundred thirty kids in band and orchestra at June’s school alone—and the school district told you they wanted you to teach at just one, you might breathe a sigh of relief, but Mr. G said no, he’d prefer to stay at both schools.  He wasn’t allowed to, though, so this was our farewell concert with him.

As always, June put a lot of thought into what to wear. She needed a new top, as she wore sweaters to both the Holiday Sing and the Winter Concert earlier this year, and after an unusually cool May, warm and humid weather is here. She and Beth went to the thrift store the weekend before the concert to look for a “plain white blouse,” or that’s what I told them to do. Beth told me ahead of time, she doubted they’d be coming home with anything plain. What June chose was a lacy, knee-length, short-sleeved dress. She paired it with black capris and finished the outfit with music note socks and shiny black Mary Janes.

There was none of the usual rush to find sheet music because she’d left it at school during the rehearsal earlier that day. We all would have liked Noah to come, but he was sunk deep in homework (and would end up staying up late that night trying to finish a research project for Physics).

We made our way to the gym, took our seats in front of the orchestra, and looked at the program while the musicians warmed up. The theme of the concert was “Our Musical Garden” and many of the kids were wearing leis. At first we thought it was just the fifth graders but then we noticed some of the fourth graders had them, too.

I noticed that along with his trademark vest, Mr. G wore a tie with musical notes which reminded me of June’s socks and that reminded me that just before June’s birthday when she was having her music-themed party and I was looking everywhere for music note pajamas with no success, it was Mr. G who found some for her online. She wore those not only at the party but once or twice a week after that until the weather got too warm for them.

June had her lessons this year with a group of four other string players who had at least two years’ experience at the beginning of the school year. She was the least experienced of the group, having started violin the summer before second grade. They’ve been working on an arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” all year and it was the first song in the concert. She was gratified to finally play it for an audience.

Between the string quintet, the advanced orchestra, the combined orchestra, and the combined band and orchestra, June played twelve pieces of music. My favorite was “Sakura, Sakura” a Japanese piece meant to evoke cherry blossoms, but the Can-Can is always fun, especially as they play it faster and faster.

The concert was quite eclectic. There was classical music by Dvorák and Handel, folk songs, jazz, blues, music from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings. The fifth grade clarinets played “Kum-Bah-Yah” and the fifth grade trumpets played “Eight Days a Week.”

Here’s the string quintet playing Handel’s “Gavotte,” taken by mom of one of June’s friends.

In between the songs, a few students read original poems about their band and orchestra experiences.  Zoë’s was a limerick that started, “There once was a jolly old fellow/who even taught me to play the cello.” (That one was my favorite.) They ended the concert with “Ode to Joy,” which seemed appropriate to me because Mr. G brings so much joy to everything he does. When I asked June what she liked about him, she said, “He makes music fun.”

So thank you, Garrison Keillor and Mr. G. Thanks for the music and the fun. We really couldn’t have asked for more.

The Accidental Chaperone

I was surprised on Monday afternoon when June brought home the sheet of paper indicating I was a chaperone alternate for the field trip to the living history museum in St. Mary’s City the next day. I’d checked off the chaperone box when I filled out her permission slip—Beth and I agreed one of us would go but we hadn’t worked out which one of us. And then I got an email saying there were more people who wanted to chaperone than slots and it was a busy week for Beth because CWA is on strike at Verizon, so it seemed just as well.

However, the email said you could show up at school and see if there were any last minute openings, but I wasn’t planning to do that. In general, I prefer to know how my day is going to unfold well in advance. The fourth grade will be taking another field trip to the Chesapeake Bay later in the school year and we’d have priority for that trip if we sat this one out.

But then the paper June brought home Monday seemed to indicate they actually wanted people to come to school and see if there was space, so I decided I’d pack a lunch and bring the $10 admission fee with me when I dropped her off at school, just in case. June really wanted one of us to come and I thought I should make an attempt, though I didn’t expect anything to come of it. I had work, but no deadlines until the following week, so it was possible for me to go.

The time students were supposed to arrive was stated in different communications to be, variously, 7:30, 7:40, or 7:45. We aimed for the middle and got there just before 7:40. We saw June’s English/Social Studies teacher in the hall on our way to the cafeteria where the kids were gathering, and she said she thought there would be room on the buses because three fourth graders have recently transferred to other schools. And then the teacher with the clipboard taking chaperones’ names and cell phone numbers and collecting money said in addition one fourth grader was absent, so he also thought I could go.

I texted Beth “Looks like I’m going on this trip,” so she’d know where I was.

Knowing my aversion to spontaneity, she texted back, “You are a very good mom.”

So I settled in to wait with June and her friends in the cafeteria. The buses didn’t arrive on time, so we didn’t actually get underway until almost 8:30. The five fourth grade classes were split across three charter buses and there was a little confusion about where everyone should sit, so I wasn’t convinced that I was really going on this field trip until the bus was in motion and I was still on board.

The kids were excited to be on a bus with plush seats, a bathroom, and best of all, several television screens. June and I sat in the last row of seats, just opposite the bathroom, with her friends Zoë and Evie in the row in front of us.

Shortly after we got underway The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe started playing. June and I read the Chronicles of Narnia last summer and fall and at first she seemed excited to see it, even though she was lukewarm about the books. But the sound was not turned up very high, so her attention wandered. I don’t think I could have followed if I wasn’t familiar with the story—but having read the series over and over as a kid and once aloud to each of my kids, and having seen this adaptation about five years ago—I am very familiar. I can’t read on moving vehicles without getting sick and I was wary of putting on my headphones and thus missing any announcements or instructions so the diversion was welcome. June went back and forth between watching the movie, reading a Dork Diaries book, talking and playing hangman with Zoë and Evie and looking out the window.

We arrived at the St. Mary’s historic site around 10:30. It had been raining when we left and I’d been hoping it would clear up while we were on the bus, but it was still gray and drizzly when we got there. In case you or one of your kids hasn’t been a fourth grader in Maryland, St. Mary’s City was the first English settlement in the state and it was also the first capital of Maryland. All the fourth graders in our county study its history and culture for much of the year and then visit it in the spring.

We started with the Yaocomaco Indian village. There were several houses made of bent saplings and grass, with beds and household tools inside. The guide pointed out a woven shelter in the garden area where boys had to sit with a basket of rocks to throw at garden pests. I asked June if she’d like that chore this summer and she said no. There were no actors in the Yaocomaco village, but apparently current members of the Piscataway tribe do occasionally act out scenes there.

From there we moved to a tobacco plantation where we met an indentured servant who was making mint tea in the kitchen of the planters’ house. She explained you could tell her master was prosperous because he had a two-story house with glass windows and a wooden floor. The guide took us out to the garden, which wasn’t planted yet but explained that all food and medicine would come from the garden, as it was “the CVS of the seventeenth century.” We saw some livestock around the house, mostly cows and chickens, though I caught a glimpse of a pig in the woods.

Our next stop was the town itself where we visited a tobacco barn, a general store (“the Walmart of the seventeenth century”), and a print shop (“the Staples of the seventeenth century”). At each stop we met actors playing the parts of a farmer, another indentured servant, a storekeeper, and a printer. I asked June as we walked from one building to another if there were any slaves in St. Mary’s. It was a tobacco farming community so I thought there must have been. June was well informed on the point, “Not until the eighteenth century,” she told me.

As we moved from building to building, a few kids were picked as volunteers to shape an axe blade, to use the counting board to calculate a shoppers’ bill, or to ink the letters on the printing press. At the inn, our guide picked kids and told stories about reasons why they were staying at the inn—to appear in court was a popular one—and then had them lie down on the bed. Evie was being tried for witchcraft and she could be heard later in the day declaring, “I’m a witch!” with some enthusiasm.

When it was Zoë’s turn the guide was telling a story about a man travelling to meet his girlfriend who would soon arrive by ship. After she’d referred to Zoë, who has short hair, as “he” and “Joey” a few times, I started to wonder if I should correct her. I was standing close enough to lean in and whisper. But I wasn’t sure if Zoë would appreciate that or find it more embarrassing. While I was equivocating, the kids started to giggle, and when they did the guide shushed them and said to Zoë, “You’re a good sport, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am a good sport,” Zoë said. “I’m also a girl and my name is Zoë.” Her tone was just right, not disrespectful, but self-assured. I could not have pulled that off in fourth grade.

We took a break then to have lunch in the bus because it was still raining and we watched a little more of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as we ate. I hadn’t eaten much breakfast, thinking I was just dropping June off at school, so I was pretty hungry by that point. My apple and container of vanilla Greek yogurt didn’t seem quite sufficient, but it was what I had. Worse still, the pint of bottled water June and I were sharing was definitely not enough for a whole day. I’d thought there would be water fountains somewhere, but there were no water fountains in the seventeenth century.

Our last stop was the Dove, a recreation of one of the boats that brought supplies to the colonists and carried tobacco back to England. June was most excited to see this as they had studied the boat. After touring the boat itself we went to various stations on the dock where a block and tackle and different navigational tools were demonstrated.

At the very last station, the guide asked for anyone who hadn’t volunteered yet, and June, who’d patiently raised her hand at every station and two other girls who were also never picked seemed about to get their turns. The artifact was a “honey bucket” to carry human waste to be thrown overboard. The guide explained its use but never asked the volunteers to do anything (though at this station I’m not sure anyone would want to demonstrate). When the group was dismissed, one of the girls lost her temper, asking, “Why did you ask for volunteers?” but there was no answer. June was a bit put out, too, but she didn’t let it spoil her mood.

We all trooped back to the bus. We’d been running a half hour late ever since we left the school and then around forty-five minutes into the ride one of the buses overheated and ours stopped, too, in order to stick together. We were stopped about twenty minutes, so we were almost an hour late returning to school. There was another movie to watch, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. By the end of the day the bathroom on the bus was starting to smell like a honey bucket. I was sorry to be sitting so near it and I was also getting dehydrated and headachy and I was hungry, too.

We went into June’s school to fill our water bottle before walking the mile home, but I couldn’t shake the headache, so instead of making black bean and spinach tacos for dinner as I’d planned, I just heated up a vegetarian hot dog for June (she got herself some strawberries), ate some cottage cheese straight out the container, told Noah to make himself something for dinner, took a painkiller and went to lie down for a while.

Eventually I felt well enough to read a chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to June on the porch while we waited for her ride to her Girl Scout meeting, but the family who usually drives her to Girl Scouts forgot so she missed the meeting.

This seemed par for the course as it had been a day of the unexpected, both good and bad, but I was glad to have spent part of it in the seventeenth century with my favorite lass.

Wonder: Spring Break Report #3

Friday morning I was reminding June to get dressed so we could go to the Wonder exhibit at the Renwick Gallery. “If you don’t, everyone there will wonder why that girl is in her pajamas,” I told her. She was gracious enough to laugh at my joke. She usually does.

The Renwick was closed for two years for renovations to the building and when they re-opened in November, they celebrated with nine installations created specifically to showcase the building. I’ve been seeing people’s pictures of the exhibit for months and we finally got around to going on Friday, toward the end of the kids’ spring break.

Noah elected to stay home, but we invited Megan, and she was enthusiastic. We picked her up at her house at 9:30, drove to the Metro stop, took a train into the city and walked to the gallery. The first installation we saw was made of index cards set at different angles and piled into what looked like stalagmites or canyon rock formations. It was very cool, but the girls didn’t stay long in that room because they could see the rainbow in the next room and were drawn to it. From the pictures I’d seen online I thought this was made of projected light, but it’s actually colored threads.

The next room, filled with giant nests made of bent saplings, with doors to walk in and windows to look out, was also popular. The girls wanted to go back to that one once we had seen everything so they could go into more of them and pretend to be birds.

Some of the artists took the mission of fitting into the space literally. One artist took a mold of a living tree that was the same age as the Renwick building (about one hundred fifty years) and the rebuilt its exact shape with tiny cedar blocks that Megan said looked like Jenga blocks. The tree was hollow and laid on its side, suspended so you could stand by the roots and look into its interior. Another artist used the one hundred foot-long grand salon as the setting to explore the hundred foot-long waves of the 2011 Japanese tsunami by recreating the shape of the energy waves it produced in net-like fabric. This hung from the ceiling with different colors of light projected on it. The space was carpeted so a lot of people, including June and Megan, lay on the floor to look at it. They said they’d like to share a huge bedroom like that, with two beds.

Maya Lin took local inspiration in the Chesapeake Bay, creating a map of the bay and its tributaries in blue-green marbles on the floor, walls, and ceiling of a smaller room. There was also a room with large bugs all over the walls in decorative patterns, a maze made of strips of old tires woven into walls, and a group of rods studded with white LED lights twinkling in never-repeating patterns hanging above a staircase, like a chandelier. The gallery is going to keep this one permanently.

The text at the beginning of the exhibit said the art was meant to inspire awe and when we’d been through it the girls agreed it was “awesome,” so I guess it worked.

We visited the gift shop because Megan had some money burning a hole in her pocket and wanted a souvenir, but it turned out it was “the most expensive gift shop ever!” and both girls had to be satisfied with the free exhibit brochures. Megan was generous enough to leave some cash in the donation box and she thanked us twice for taking her.

After we left the museum we walked by the White House, because it was close, and then to Farragut Square, where we patronized the food trucks that line up there and ate on benches in the park, where red tulips are in bloom. The girls got pizza and tater tots and Beth and I got a mushroom sushi roll, edamame, and seaweed salad. There was a FroZenYo around the corner, so we got frozen yogurt, too.

We took Megan to our house to continue the play date. I’d originally said we’d keep her until three, but we extended it until four because as I told Megan’s mom, “They don’t seem to be tired of each other.” They rarely are. I am quite fond of Megan myself, in the special way you are of your children’s best friends. Friendship is a wonder, too, and it’s rewarding to see how it unfolds in your child’s life.

There was a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote on the wall of the exhibit that I think applies:

“Man is surprised to find that things near are not less beautiful and wondrous than things remote.” I think ten-year-old girls might find that to be true, as well.

Lovely Blossoms: Spring Break Report #1

On the first day of spring break June asked me some questions about her donor for a family history school project and I dug out his file, which I hadn’t looked at in years. I noted he’d taken a personality test and was an extrovert. I don’t think I paid much attention to this at the time we selected him, but it certainly explains a lot. For instance, we were looking at the file soon after June got home from back-to-back play dates, one at Megan’s house and then she and Maggie arranged to meet at the playground. Afterward, completely without irony, she said she hoped she had more to do the next day than she’d had to do that day because there had been too much down time. So it was a good thing we took her on a five and a half hour-excursion to the Tidal Basin the second day of spring break.

June wanted to dress like a cherry blossom for the occasion. She found pink sweatpants, socks, and crocs, but she had no pink shirts, so she settled on a white one, reasoning that some of the blossoms are white. She finished the outfit with a pink headband with white dots. Later on Facebook, Beth’s mom opined June made a “lovely blossom.” I have to agree.

Meanwhile, Beth wore a long-sleeved t-shirt with pictures of actual cherry blossoms she bought during some previous Cherry Blossom Festival. This was good, but Noah and I were in various shades of blue, brown, and gray and completely without floral design. Beth said I looked like a dead, dried up cherry blossom in my gray turtleneck, and June thought this was pretty funny. And actually, I had been feeling kind of like a dried up blossom for at least a week, headachy and easily fatigued.

We left a little before ten, took a bus to the Metro and then stopped at the Starbucks in Union Station for treats. Still in the cherry blossom spirit, June got a Cherry Blossom frappuchino. Beth tasted it and thought it was actually strawberry. I thought it might be raspberry, but I looked it up and she was right. It also had a green tea drizzle, either to evoke the stems or to give it an Asian twist. I decided to get into the spirit, too, and I got a cherry-oat bar and a hot green tea. Soon after I drank the tea, the caffeine chased my headache away and it didn’t come back the next morning as I feared it might.

From Union Station we took a circulator bus to the Tidal Basin. It was raining as we got off the bus and we’d elected not to bring umbrellas, which was seeming like a bad idea at the moment, but it wasn’t raining too hard and it stopped after ten or fifteen minutes so we didn’t get drenched.

We picked just the right day to go. We mainly picked it because Beth had the day off for Good Friday and the crowds would be less than over Easter weekend, but it happened to be the peak bloom day. All the trees were covered with puffy pink and white blooms, the slender saplings and the gnarled old ones. We walked all the way around the Tidal Basin, stopping at the MLK, Jefferson, and FDR memorials, reading the quotes carved in stone.

We lingered at the FDR Memorial the longest, because it’s the most interactive, with the most things to look at and read. I like the MLK memorial, but Beth and I were talking afterward about how they could have made it about the whole civil rights movement in the way the FDR memorial is about the Depression and WWII. From June’s point of view, the FDR memorial is the best because it has big blocks of stone to climb. Unfortunately, she slipped on the wet stone and banged the back of her head so hard it made an audible crack. Beth and I were checking her for signs of concussion the rest of the day but she seems to be okay.

On the way home, we had a late lunch at Union Station. The kids got pasta from Sbarro and I had a spinach Stromboli. Beth got avocado toast from Le Pain Quotidien and then June got candy from the Sugar Factory, and the rest of us got cupcakes from Crumbs. I thought the Cherry Blossom one, with pink frosting and cherry jam inside was the only choice, but they did have a wide selection of Easter-themed cupcakes, with jelly beans or Peeps on top. Noah got a chocolate one with yellow squiggle of frosting meant to evoke a chocolate egg.

By the time we got home it was almost three thirty. Noah and I read To Kill a Mockingbird and June did a phone interview Mom for her family history project and then we went out for pizza and gelato. It was a Good Friday indeed.

Octopus’s Garden

Many of you were nice enough to ask how Noah’s jazz band audition went. Sadly, although he spent a good deal of Labor Day weekend practicing the audition music and had a coaching session with a friend of ours who plays the drums, he didn’t get into the jazz band. He’s considering taking private lessons this fall and auditioning again for second semester. We’ll see. Meanwhile, June has a lot going on musically. She has a new violin teacher and she’s joined the orchestra and chorus at school.

June’s on her third teacher in a little over two years at her music school. The first one moved to Virginia Beach and the second one ended up finding her commute from Baltimore too time consuming. June was very fond of Robin and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her, so that was sad. She’s had three lessons now with Elise and she’s stricter and sterner than Robin, so it’s been an adjustment. She also made June re-learn a song from the Suzuki I book even though June’s recently started Suzuki II, which did not go over well with June. But June has always liked teachers and coaches who take their work and hers seriously and hold her to a high standard, so I think once she’s used to her, they will get along fine.

Instrumental music and chorus start in fourth grade. June had a hard time deciding whether she wanted to stick with violin at school, start a new instrument, join the chorus, or do some combination of these things. She didn’t want to be stuck playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” with beginners but we assured her that the instrumental music teacher is an old hand at teaching students who enter with different levels of experience. Mr. G is actually Noah’s old elementary school band teacher (he travels between the two schools). Beth made some enquiries, and sure enough, she found out students with two or more years experience would be taught in a separate strings ensemble and then June was sold.

There are only five students in the ensemble (she’s the least experienced of the five), compared with sixty beginning violin students in her grade. She brought home a lot of sheet music after her first lesson and none of it was “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” For some reason, they are learning “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s hard to identify the song from her part, though I do hear strains of it, so I’m curious to see how it will come together when the whole group plays. Their first concert is in January. I haven’t been to an elementary school band and orchestra concert in several years, but that’s back in my life now.

June’s had one chorus practice so far. Because the chorus only meets every other week, they’ve already started practicing songs for their first appearance, at this year’s Holiday Sing. So far these include “Eight Days of Hanukkah” and “Blitzen’s Boogie.” I have a soft spot for the Holiday Sing at June’s school so I’m looking forward to seeing her on the stage in December.

Sunday we attended the Takoma Park Folk Festival, which we do almost every year. We went despite the fact that Noah had an unfinished take-home assignment for Physics and he was in the middle of his summary of Stagecoach, which he watched earlier in the weekend for English, or maybe it was History. (His program is interdisciplinary and sometimes it can be hard to remember which assignments are for which classes.)

I was torn and considered leaving it up to him whether or not to come with us or just saying, let’s go and see if he objected. We said let’s go. He didn’t object. It’s a goal of ours for his homework not to completely rule our family life this year and this was a test case, I suppose. Besides, he was stuck with the Physics and the Stagecoach summary wasn’t due the next day or even the next week. It just seemed like a good idea to write it while it was still fresh in his mind. (We’d decided to watch it this weekend because June was at a slumber party Saturday night and Beth and I like to watch more grown-up movies than she’d enjoy with Noah when she’s out of the house.)

We got to the festival a little after two and had time to see four bands before it closed at six. This was a nice stretch of time to spend listening to music outdoors on a gorgeous mid-September afternoon. We started at the 7th Heaven stage, listening to Leticia VanSant and the Bonafides, an “Americana indie folk band” followed by Jelly Roll Mortals, which from the name you might expect to be jazzy, but instead was an “acoustic electric eclectic” band, according to the festival program. I enjoyed both, but the second one more because their sound system was better set up and it was easier to hear the lyrics. Being a word-oriented person, this is important to me.

We sat for a while with June’s preschool and Girl Scout friend Riana and her family. They had just been to the thrift store so Riana was in a flamenco dress and one of her younger sisters wore a princess dress. All day I kept seeing or stopping to talk to people we knew, from the time we were on the sidewalk approaching the festival and talked to a family whose two girls have been to day camp with June and who go to her music school until we were leaving and I spied a boy who’s in second grade at her school and also plays piano at her music school. Takoma Park is a smallish town and rather musical one, too, so people turn out for this sort of thing.

After two sets at the 7th Heaven stage, we switched to the Grassy Nook, which features children’s music and musicians under the age of twenty-five. June’s favorite babysitter, Eleanor, was playing there with her band, Bucky’s Fatal Mistake, in the final time slot of the day. The penultimate set was kids from the Takoma Groove Camp, which I’ve often suggested Noah try, though he’s never taken me up on it. (And I’ve never pushed too hard because it’s expensive, even for an area where expensive day camps are the norm.) I was curious to see what kind of musicians attend the camp and what they can produce.

When we got there another kids’ group was finishing up. One of their last songs was a cover of “Octopus’s Garden.” A few kids stood at the sides of the stage and blew bubbles for effect as they sang:

I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden in the shade
He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been
In his octopus’s garden in the shade

I’d ask my friends to come and see
An octopus’s garden with me
I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden in the shade

And…

We would shout and swim about
The coral that lies beneath the waves
(Lies beneath the ocean waves)
Oh what joy for every girl and boy
Knowing they’re happy and they’re safe
(Happy and they’re safe)

While we waited for the Takoma Groove kids to go on and early in their set, June entertained herself at the carnival the Boy Scouts run nearby. I gave her five dollars to spend and with it she walked on the rope bridge, got a panda painted on her cheek and played a fishing game.

The first girl to perform sang three original songs of the folky singer-songwriter type. She was really good and I think she might be the younger sister of a girl who used to be a counselor at June’s musical drama camp years ago. The next group was a band, but I didn’t get to see them because June needed to go to the bathroom and I thought while we were up we might as well get food so we wouldn’t miss any of Eleanor’s set.

We came back to the Grassy Nook with lemonade, a mango smoothie, and two vegetable-rice dishes (fried rice and a tasty curry) to share, and waited for Bucky’s Fatal Mistake to start. They advertised themselves as “folk meets rock” but they were heavier on the rock side. It was a mix of covers (including the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”) and originals. Eleanor played bass guitar and sang one number. It was fun to see her and her friends rock out on stage. June wanted to go up and talk to her afterward, but she was shy about doing it when Eleanor was with the rest of the band. She managed to say hi, and then Beth chatted a bit with Eleanor and her mom, Becky, who had been co-managing the stage all day.

Next we bought ice cream, frozen custard, and Italian ice to eat as we walked down the hill to the bus stop, happy with our afternoon. Music does so many things for us. It lets us in, knows where we’ve been, gives us somewhere to invite our friends, and gives us joy, every girl and boy.

And back home, with a rested mind and some assistance from Beth, Noah finished the Physics.

Not Every Sunday, Not Every Monday

Friday & Saturday

A friend of mine posted on Facebook recently that she was down and wanted to some suggestions for what people do to feel better.  A lot of people, including me, suggested getting outside. I thought of this on Sunday, when I spent most of the afternoon outside. I needed it, as I’ve also been down for a while. Part of it was having a mild cold and part of it was missing Noah while he was away in New York for a week on a school trip, although even together neither of those factors really accounted for the depth my funk. I did notice after the fact that while he was away that I used a lot “dis” words in my Facebook status updates—“discombobulated,” “disquieting,” “disrupted.”

But then he came home and we were all very happy to see him. We went out for celebratory pizza at gelato at Mama Lucia’s Friday night, and he and June spent part of Saturday afternoon and evening working on a movie they’ve been making together and digging into the big box of Pop Rocks he bought at FAO Schwartz. The Supreme Court decision that allowed friends of mine to get married in Virginia and Colorado this week was also cheering.

Sunday

Sunday we had a day of family togetherness planned. June’s music school had a booth at a little street fair in the morning and they asked her to come play her violin in front of the booth. She did this once at the farmers’ market last spring (4/12/14) and was happy to do it again.  Noah stayed home to finish up some work before our afternoon outings, but Beth and I were there to see her play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “Ode to Joy,” and two of her own compositions to a small audience and applause.  Afterward we stopped at a crepe truck and had a snack because we were going to have a late lunch.

Next we drove out to Northern Virginia, where we got cider, spaghetti squash, pumpkins and decorative gourds at Potomac Vegetable Farms. The kids and I picked two gourds each. Mine—a little orange and green speckled pumpkin and a white one—are on my desk. The rest are on the porch and the dining room table. Beth said she had “zero decorative gourd needs,” so no gourds for her.

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park on the Maryland side of Great Falls was our next stop. Last week Beth’s cousin Sean biked from Wheeling to Washington, D.C. and his mother, Beth’s aunt Carole was driving out with Beth’s mom to pick him up and bring him back to Wheeling, so we all agreed to meet up at the park for a picnic. We arrived around the same time as YaYa and Carole, a little before two. Sean was not expected until four, so we had our picnic without him near the canal. As always when members of Beth’s family are together, a lot of food was exchanged. We went home with our leftovers plus a bag of pistachios, some pretzels and three kinds of cookies. YaYa and Carole took with them their leftovers, a jug of cider, and a box of flax seed crackers.

After we ate we took a walk along the towpath and on footbridges and boardwalks over the Potomac River and on an island in the middle of the river. It was good, restorative even, to be walking around outside with family in a beautiful place. The kids had fun, too.  They both enjoyed throwing pebbles and acorns into the canal and Noah liked inspecting the locks and June found a sycamore tree that was hollow for at least ten feet up. It reminded me of the hollow tree in one of the Pippi Longstocking books.  Unfortunately, Sean got lost on the way to the park and around five we had to leave without having gotten to see him, but it was still a very nice afternoon, and not something we do every Sunday.

Monday

The next day was Columbus Day. I used to love Columbus Day. I always said it was my favorite minor holiday, its celebration of imperialism and genocide notwithstanding. Why? Beth has it off work and the kids don’t have it off school so it gave us a built-in date day every second Monday in October. When June was in preschool, we’d visit Noah’s elementary school because the schools all have Open Houses on this day, which is convenient for so many DC-area parents who work either for the federal government or for non-profits that follow the government’s holiday schedule. But even with June in school only a few hours, we always seemed to have enough time to have lunch out while she was at school and watch a Netflix movie while she napped.

But once June started elementary school, we had two schools to visit and we’d generally go to one in the morning and the other one in the afternoon. It was still pleasant and we still found time to eat lunch out, but it wasn’t quite the luxurious day it had once been.

So all this is to say that it wasn’t as disappointing as it would have been a few years ago when June announced Monday morning that she was sick to her stomach and didn’t want to go to school. I have to admit I did think sadly of the lost opportunity to have lunch alone with Beth before I tried to sort out who would go to which school when.

As a first step, we decided I would go to June’s morning class and Beth would stay home with June. June has math and science in the morning in Spanish and I speak Spanish and Beth doesn’t so that decision was easy enough.

I wanted to see this class, as opposed to June’s afternoon class, for two reasons. One was that since Noah’s been in middle school we always go to visit his Media Production class since it’s consistently his favorite and he has it during sixth period this year. But the more important reason is that June feels intimidated by Señorita Y.  Señorita Y has a reputation for being strict, but June usually does fine with strict teachers (and lenient teachers, and all teachers basically). It’s to the point where she won’t turn in forms and she failed to turn in her summer math packet because she was afraid to approach her, and as a result she isn’t eligible to go a party this week for all the kids who finished it and I had to wade through a lot of red tape to order to school pictures on the phone after they’d been taken. I wrote Señorita Y a note and asked her to tell June she can talk to her whenever she needs to, which she did.  I’m not sure if this talk will help matters or not, but I wanted to see what her class is like, even without June in it.

The lesson was on multiplication. They were discussing the commutative property when I arrived. Later they used a matrix to figure out 9 x 9 and various kinds of diagrams on the white board and in their notebooks to figure out other problems. They also had plastic tiles to arrange in row and columns. The lesson seemed well thought out and the kids were engaged, but I did see Señorita Y get cross on a few occasions, when a child was too slow to answer or asked a question that had already been asked and answered. She’s not a particularly patient or friendly teacher, but June’s doing well in her class, according to the mid-quarter progress report we received and some teachers (and bosses) are just like that. Learning how to deal with gruff authority might be what June needs to learn from her as much as multiplication strategies. I’m taking a wait-and-see approach before doing anything else about it.

When I came home, June was feeling better and she was ready for lunch. After she ate two bowls of lentil soup, an apple, and a pear, and asked for a cookie, I informed her that if she was well enough for a cookie, she was well enough to go to school for her afternoon class. She went back to her room to listen to a book on tape and to think about this and after the first cassette of Ramona the Pest was over, she decided she would eat the cookie and go to school. I gave it to her, feeling a bit like I was bribing her because it allowed me to go with Beth to Noah’s school, which was what I wanted to do.

We took June to her school and drove to Noah’s. We were going to his sixth and seventh period classes and then taking him home.  Driving him, we’d get home a half hour before the school bus and he needed an early start on his homework because he was going to a high school Open House for a math and science magnet that night.  I didn’t know whether I was going or not because I didn’t have a babysitter yet and while we leave June alone in the daytime for short periods and both kids alone at night, we don’t yet leave June alone at night.

In Media, the kids discussed how the interviews with their documentary subjects in New York had gone, as it was their first day back in class after the trip. After that, the teacher gave instructions for transcribing the interviews and set them to work writing thank you notes to their chaperones and interview subjects.  This was not too exciting to watch and the next period was not much more dynamic.

In science, they are designing green houses, each in a different ecosystem.  (Noah’s house is in Antarctica. I imagine heating it will be his biggest challenge.) The project itself sounds interesting but what they actually did in class was go to the computer lab and do research, so there wasn’t much instruction to watch in this class either.

That night Beth and Noah went to the Open House and I stayed home with June, as I had failed to find a last-minute sitter. This is the second time this has happened this month. I really need to find a back up sitter.  Anyway, Beth said the session was interesting and informative. Noah didn’t have much to say but I’m hoping after he goes to the humanities magnet session tomorrow he will be able to make some comparisons.  We had been leaning against having him apply to any high school magnets because seventh grade was so brutal, but eighth really has been better, at least so far, so we are considering the idea again.

It wasn’t an ideal Columbus Day. I would have liked some alone time with Beth, especially as she’s leaving on a five-day trip Friday morning, and I was sorry to miss the magnet Open House. I’ve missed two of these now and I am feeling out of the loop. But I think I have a better sense of June’s morning class and it’s always nice to see Noah in his school environment, even if the lesson plans were not particularly scintillating. That’s not something I get every Monday either.