You Lose Some

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop, from “One Art”

Over the course of twenty-four hours, June’s team finished near the bottom of the GeoBowl competition, her basketball team lost a game, and she was waitlisted at her top choice of middle schools. But she wasn’t at all discouraged by the first two and only a little by the last. I’m not either. Here’s why.

GeoBowl

Beth and I both quit work early on Friday afternoon to attend the GeoBowl, the annual geography contest at June’s school. June didn’t make her class’s team last year, so it was the first time I’d been to one in a couple years. Beth swung by the house on her way from work to pick me up and drive to June’s school.

The way the GeoBowl works is all the third to fifth graders in the school get a packet of geography facts about that year’s region(s) to study in September and then there’s a team from each English/social studies class, consisting of the six kids who did best on a quiz given in November. (I volunteered to help grade these.) Teams are announced in December and then they study and compete at the GeoBowl in February. This year the theme was the Americas and Africa.

We arrived early so we helped set up folding chairs at the back of the multi-purpose room, where the floor was freshly mopped and slippery after the last lunch shift of the day. They were a judge short so Beth volunteered, even though usually parents don’t judge their own kid’s grade. Soon the fifth grade came filing in. Six teams went up to the stage and their classmates sat on the floor in front of the stage to watch.

Two of the teams wore team shirts. Da Beasts were in red t-shirts, as were the Pirates of the Caribbean, who also wore red bandanas on their heads. June’s team, the Golden Globes, had made a last-minute attempt to get everyone to wear blue or purple (not, puzzlingly, gold), but most of them forgot.

The GeoBowl is often extremely competitive. When Noah was in third grade, his team finished last, only three points behind the winning team. When June was in third grade, it went into three tie-breaker rounds and in the end, they had to declare a tie so the next grade could take the stage.

This one started with a question for every team about capitals of countries. Each team got their question correct. June was her team’s spokesperson in the oral rounds so she came to the microphone to give the capital of Madagascar (Antananarivo).

Soon after, the scores began to diverge. For most of the contest, Da Beasts and the Pirates of the Caribbean were neck and neck, with the Smarties close behind. When there was a round of questions about bodies of water and June’s team was asked what’s the deepest lake in Canada, I knew they’d get it right because June was her team’s designated Canada expert and I’d been quizzing her so I knew she knew the answer. (It’s the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories.)

They missed a question about the location of the Galapagos Islands, guessing it was off the coast of Mexico and after that they missed some more—they could only name four or five of the seven capitals of Central American countries—and then they were out of contention because top three teams were getting everything right or close to it.

The high point-value questions are saved for the whiteboard round in which all the teams answer the same questions and hold up whiteboard with the answer. The very last one– worth seven of the total twenty-five points for the whole GeoBowl—was “What seven Canadian provinces border the United States?” June’s face lit up. She knew that one! Her team provided the correct answer. The M.C. drew out the suspense by having the top-scoring teams give their answers last and pointing out, after Da Beasts had submitted their correct answer, that if the Pirates of the Caribbean got all seven right they would win the GeoBowl and if they got six right it would go to a tie-breaker. They knew the answer and won, with Da Beasts just one point behind, and the Smarties two points behind them. June’s team tied for fourth place.

As always, it was fun to watch. I love it when there’s a team (or more than one team) that gets every question right. It’s inspiring to see kids who’ve studied hard and know their stuff, even if it’s not your kid’s team. And because the Golden Globes got all their questions pertaining to Canada correct, June was stoked when it was over and quite gracious about congratulating her friends on the winning team.

This is what Beth had to say on Facebook: “Love the GeoBowl. Our country is strengthened by our public schools and the terrific teachers, staff, parents and students who invest their time each day building our future.” I think that about sums it up.

Panda Game

On Saturday afternoon, June played two quarters in her basketball game, up from one quarter in the last one. She was a little reluctant—not having played much this season seems to have made her unusually skittish about getting in the game—so I was glad she did it.

It was quite a game, too. The teams seemed evenly matched for most of the first quarter and then the orange team (I never caught their name) hit their stride and scored two baskets in the last forty seconds, bringing the score to 8-4. And almost as soon as the second quarter started they scored again. I think they were ahead for the rest of the game after that, but the Pandas didn’t give up and they didn’t lose heart. They played hard, scored a few more times, and in the end lost 16-11. This wasn’t one of those times when the shots just kept bouncing off the rim and it just seemed like bad luck that they lost. The other team was highly skilled. They were fast and several of their players were excellent shots. Considering how good the other team was, the final score was quite respectable.

It was also nice that the coach’s daughter scored two of the Pandas’ five baskets because she’d had a hard morning, finding out she’d been rejected at one middle school magnet and waitlisted at another while her older brother got into a high school magnet. No other Pandas had received their letters, so a ripple of anxiety went through the bleachers as parents realized their kids’ letters might be at home in the mailbox right then. We discussed it quietly, while watching the game and writing our postcards to elected officials. This seems to be a Panda parent tradition now. At Beth’s suggestion, a few of us wrote to both our senators urging them to vote against Andy Puzder for Secretary of Labor.

Waitlisted

So, we got home and the letter from the humanities magnet was there, in a thin envelope. June asked if she could take it to her room and open it. She was in there so long Beth and I were sure it was a rejection and that she didn’t want to tell us. But it seems she was just studying the letter, because eventually she came out and told us she was waitlisted. She had memorized all the statistics in it—how many kids are on the waitlist, how many are accepted in the average year, etc. She seemed upbeat about it. “At least I still have a chance,” she said.

And at thirty-three to fifty percent it’s a considerably better chance than she had of getting in outright, as the acceptance rate at the humanities magnet is less than twenty percent. I started messaging and emailing the parents of friends of hers who had applied to the same magnet. Four were rejected, two more—including her BFF Megan—were waitlisted, and one was admitted. I think June’s both glad to have a chance of going to the same middle school as her best friend after two years of separation while Megan’s been at the Highly Gifted Center and proud of the achievement of even being still under consideration at a competitive program, but also realistic about her chances.

Meanwhile, June’s second-best friend is going to our home middle school where June will go if she doesn’t get into the magnet. If she goes there she’ll stay in Spanish immersion, which is a good thing, and you can take guitar there as an elective which interests her because she’s about to start guitar lessons. So, I’m confident she’ll land on her feet at either school and I think she is, too. She says if she doesn’t get into the humanities magnet she will be only “moderately disappointed.”

Sanctuary Meeting

Shortly after we got home, Beth left to go to a teach-in about Takoma Park’s status as a sanctuary city. I stayed home to make some lunch for Noah so he’d eat something (he didn’t seem willing to tear himself away from his homework) and then I followed her. While I was waiting for the bus, she texted me that it was standing room only in the community center auditorium and they were sending people to overflow rooms. I arrived about twenty minutes into the meeting and slipped in the back. They were still letting people in, but it was packed. There were people sitting in the aisles and standing behind the seats.

When I got there Maryland Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez was speaking. (I’d missed the poem by Takoma Park’s poet laureate. What? Your small town doesn’t have a poet laureate?) The speeches were interspersed with musicians. Basically, the meeting, which lasted over two hours, covered the history of Takoma Park’s status as a sanctuary city (one of the first) and then elected officials, community activists, and the police chief took questions about what to expect in terms of federal funding cuts, now that sanctuary cities are under attack. It seems to me the answer is no one really knows.

Being there, though, and hearing people speak about the stakes for undocumented immigrants in our community made the question of what middle school my relatively privileged fifth grader will attend seem a smaller concern than it had earlier in the day. I know for instance that she’ll be going to one and won’t be deported. A couple days later I donated to CASA de Maryland, because they do a lot of good organizing that’s needed more than ever now.

DeVos and Sessions Nominations

Beth was planning to go to the DeVos nomination protest after work on Monday, but she had to come home and pick up our Girl Scout cookie order. A lot of people we knew were there, though, and a couple of them were close enough to Elizabeth Warren to get pictures. (That’s a celebrity citing in our neck of the woods.) A sixth-grade girl we know was there with her mother, holding signs that said, “There Are No Grizzly Bears in My School” and “DeVos Gets an F.”

Nonetheless, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education on Tuesday and unlike all the little personal setbacks that didn’t rattle me this week, I took this politcal loss hard. I knew her confirmation was the most likely outcome, but she was so unqualified and so corrupt and it was so close, a fifty-fifty vote with the Vice President breaking the tie. It was just heart-breaking and it plunged me into despair because she seemed like the only nomination we really had a chance to defeat. Sure enough, Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General on Wednesday and Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services today. I hadn’t been holding out any hope there, but it didn’t cheer me up any.

I asked Beth at dinner on Wednesday if she thought the left has had any real practical victories in the past few weeks, not just morale-boosters like half a million people marching. Getting the travel ban stayed, she said without hesitation. But that’s not settled, I said. It will be going back and forth in court for a while until it gets to the Supreme Court and who knows what will happen then. Yes, but it got people who were detained in airports out and gave others time to complete planned travel to the U.S., she said. That is something, I agreed. We have to appreciate the victories, even if the defeats outnumber them. At least in the short run, they undoubtedly will. But just yesterday, the stay was upheld, which was very good news indeed.

I know it’s a marathon and not a sprint, so when I get tired and discouraged, as I inevitably will, I’ll pick myself up again. What other choice do we have? Like Elizabeth Warren, we will persist.

We Can Be That Girl

The first week of the Trump administration was sickening. No, really. June, Beth, and I all came down with a stomach virus. June stayed home Monday and Tuesday, went to school Wednesday and came right back home after only an hour a half. It was bad timing because I’d gotten sick the night before and had to drag myself out of bed to go get her. That same day Beth came home from work early, quite sick, and after that I didn’t even bother making June go to school Thursday, even though she probably could have gone. She also missed two basketball practices and a Girl Scout meeting. Beth said being too sick to follow the news from Wednesday afternoon until Thursday was kind of perverse relief.

I worked a couple hours each day (being the least incapacitated of the three of us) and cooked dinner for whoever was in any shape to eat, though on Thursday, reading “Cabbage and Noodles” on the white board, I decided no-one’s digestive system was up for cabbage, except Noah’s (he never got sick) and I didn’t make it.

By Thursday night, everyone was well enough to sit up at the same time and Noah didn’t have any homework because the next day was a teacher grading day, so we watched the fifth episode of Series of Unfortunate Events. (Over the course of the weekend, we watched the last three, so now we have to wait impatiently until they make more.)

June played in her first Pandas’ game of the season on Saturday afternoon. She missed the first two because her ankle was still weak and the third one because we were at the women’s march. She was tired from her recent illness so she only played a quarter, but she played up to her usual level and did a good job keeping the ball away from opposing players. The Pandas won, 10-6. They were ahead or tied for most of the game and they were just on fire in the last quarter, taking shot after shot at the basket and getting most of the rebounds. Megan scored three of the five Panda baskets. She also brought cupcakes with white and teal frosting (the Pandas wear teal shirts this year) and plastic basketballs stuck in the frosting, so everyone lingered in the mid-county community center lobby longer than usual after the game, eating cupcakes and talking.

During the game, the parents had shown a different kind of team spirit, writing postcards to our elected representatives with postcards, pens, stamps, and addresses provided by the coach’s wife. It was hard to decided what to write about, but the Mexican border wall and the Muslim ban were front of mind, so I went with that.

Noah had almost no homework because it was the weekend between semesters so he and I were planning to make a vegetable lasagna and a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, but shortly after we got home from the game he fell asleep and slept for three hours. I was afraid to wake him, thinking he might be sick, but at 6:30 he woke disoriented and disappointed that it was too late to make the lasagna. Everyone fixed themselves something quick for dinner and he and June went ahead and made the cake.

Sunday afternoon Beth and I went to the White House to protest the refugee and Muslim travel bans. I didn’t decide whether I was going until the last minute. I had to skip my weekly swim to do it. And so there would be something for dinner after the rally and June’s voice recital, Beth, Noah, and I worked that morning in shifts on the lasagna we didn’t make the night before. (Beth grated cheese, Noah and I grated, diced, and sautéed vegetables and then Beth assembled it.)

The kids stayed home (though Noah considered coming with us). The timing unnerved me because the rally lasted from one to three and June’s recital was at four-thirty. We decided we’d just stay for the first half. Beth bought poster board while she was out grocery shopping and we painted our signs. Hers said, “Stop playing politics with immigrant and refugee lives” and mine said, “America is better than this.” I thought they complemented each other, plus I can re-use mine at future rallies.

This was a more or less spontaneous rally and tens of thousands of people came, so we weren’t sure if Metro would be overwhelmed, but it wasn’t too bad, though definitely more crowded at Metro Center than on a normal Sunday afternoon. If there was a stage or speakers, we never saw it or heard them.

The chain link fencing they put up to block off Pennsylvania Avenue during Inauguration is still up (maybe they’re not planning to remove it, given all the protests), so the crowd was on Pennsylvania Ave and in Lafayette Square and the surrounding streets. We were kind of cut off from each other, which meant competing chants kept starting and drowning each other out. “No hate! No fear! Refugees are welcome here!” was the most popular one, though. Beth seemed to particularly like, “We won’t go away! Welcome to your ninth day!” It seemed like a good way to pledge ourselves to oppose him every step of the way, not to let this be easy for him because it’s certainly not easy for us.

We left the rally around two, stopped at La Mano for coffee, and we were home in plenty of time for the recital. It started like they all do, with the youngest children, those who need reminders about where to stand when they play the violin and whose feet don’t touch the floor when they sit on the piano bench. The beginning students played songs like “Lightly Row” and “Twinkle, Twinkle.” Then a mother-daughter pair played a Beatles song (“And I Love Her”) on the guitar, followed by another guitarist who June knows from drama camp who played “Worried Man Blues” and “Au Claire de la Lune.”

June went on about halfway through the program. The teacher who was announcing all the students spoke enthusiastically about how June had written her own song. It surprised me a little because June’s played her own violin compositions at previous recitals and Noah and his teacher played a drum duet they wrote at his recital last winter and no-one’s ever mentioned it before. But I was glad for her because she likes to be recognized like that.

Then just as she was ready to sing, someone realized her accompaniment wasn’t set up, so the next child on the program, a pianist, played “A Little Night Music” while they set up the laptop with the recording of June’s voice teacher playing her song on the piano. (The teacher was unable to come to the recital and play it in person.) Poor June, I thought. She’d probably gotten herself all psyched up to sing and then she had to wait.

When it was finally her turn, I knew she was nervous, but she wasn’t showing it, unless you noticed her grip on the microphone stand. She smiled and sang:

If you ever need a friend who has a shoulder to cry on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I can be that girl if you need it

If you ever need a friend who has a warm bed to lie on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I will be that girl when you need it

I’ve been thinking ‘bout how we used to hang out
And I was wondering if you wanna start over again
Over again
I’ve been thinking ‘bout our old lemonade stands
All the things we said
We called ourselves potatoes…potatoes

If you ever need a friend who has a shoulder to cry on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I can be that girl if you need it

If you ever need a friend who has a warm bed to lie on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I will be that girl when you need it

I’ve been noticing you glancing over at me
Maybe thinking ‘bout how we used to sing

If you ever need a friend who has a shoulder to cry on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I can be that girl if you need it

If you ever need a friend who has a warm bed to lie on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I will be that girl when you need it

Here’s the video. You knew there would be a video, right? It’s about two minutes long.

There was a satisfying amount of applause and then June’s school friend Toby played a jazzy song on the piano. He and June haven’t had the same recital slot for a while so I was pleased to see how good he’s gotten. A few kids later there was the only other vocalist, who sang a song from Moana. She was a big hit, too. The last three students were teenage pianists, who were all quite talented.

As we were filing out of the room, the director of the school pulled me aside and asked if June would like to do an encore performance at the 5:30 recital. At first I said no because it had been a long day, but then I thought I should leave it up to her so I found her in the back room where the performers were getting cookies and juice and she said yes.Beth and Noah went home, but I settled in to watch another recital.

This time I got a better seat in the front row. As I looked over the program I noticed that there were a few repeats from the 4:30 program, namely the Moana girl and the last three pianists. I didn’t know they did that. June’s never been asked to perform more than once, either ahead of time or spontaneously.

So, there was another recital with more adorable tiny children, more elementary and middle school kids starting to show mastery of their instruments and a few very accomplished teens, the ones from the first program as well as a slender teenage boy who sang “Amazing Grace” in what I was expecting would be a tenor but in what turned out to be a booming baritone voice. (I imagined his mother in the audience remembering his little boy voice and marveling.)

After both performances, people kept stopping June to praise her. One woman said she’d cried during her song. “Why would she do that?” June asked us later.

Beth ventured that it might be that in these times the idea of someone being a good friend, a welcoming person offering a shoulder and shelter could be especially moving. It’s a good reminder we can all be that girl, that boy, that man, or that woman.

And the next day Beth was at the Supreme Court after work, protesting again.

This is What Democracy Looks Like

Monday: MLK Day

The Monday before the inauguration was MLK day. Our traditional service project for this day is to participate in a creek cleanup. We choose this activity a long time ago because it’s easy for little kids to participate, or if they choose not to participate, to run around in the woods while the adults fish beer cans and trash out of the creek and off its banks.

It’s been a few years since I’ve participated. Two years ago, I was miserably sick with strep throat on MLK day and a year ago I don’t remember what happened but I know I didn’t go—maybe Noah had too much work and I stayed home to supervise. But this year everyone was well and community service seemed too important to waive because of homework. Beth and I wondered, independently of each other, if a creek cleanup was enough given the circumstances. My first thought for an alternative activity was volunteering at a food bank, but you have to be thirteen and June’s only ten, and the environment is dear to my heart, so we stuck with the creek cleanup.

All the creek cleanups I’ve done over the years have been along Long Branch creek somewhere between our house and June’s school, but this one was a bit farther away, in between the Long Branch community center and library. The strip of woods that surrounds the creek is wider there so instead of working in the creek and very close to it, we had a bigger area to cover. The amount of litter was greater, too. In under two hours the four of us filled five garbage bags full of recycling and two with trash.

It does seem like a worthwhile activity when you’re confronted with the trash-strewn woods and then you and a bunch of strangers get to work and after a couple hours, large swaths of it are cleared. But as Beth pointed out, it just points to bigger social problems, because someone might have been sleeping on those two mattresses other volunteers dragged out to the community center parking lot. This is not an uncommon find and I always wonder if we should just leave them be. Not to mention that well over half of what we were picking up was empty beer cans and bottles, probably not the leavings of social drinkers.

So, feeling simultaneously like we’d accomplished something with our morning and that we hadn’t, we went to La Mano and got lattes and steamers and headed home, where Noah immediately took a bath to get the smell of stale beer off himself.

Friday: Inauguration Day

Beth and the kids only had three days of work and school the next week because they were off Friday for the inauguration, not that we had any intention of going, or watching it on television or turning on the radio any time between the hours of eleven and four. I also observed a Facebook blackout during those five hours. (Beth decided to watch the Obamas get on their plane and fly away and it made her cry.)

We decided the best thing we could do with the day would be to binge-watch A Series of Unfortunate Events, as the first eight episodes were released on Netflix on Friday the thirteenth. I made (vegetarian) pasta puttanesca and chocolate pudding for dinner the night before, a meal the children make for Count Olaf and his theater troupe in the first book. We are hard core fans of this series, and the audiobooks, especially the ones Tim Curry narrates. We even bought a new, modern-sized television to watch it. This was an event.

I would have liked to be watching at the exact moment Trump was taking the oath of office, but Noah had a classmate coming over at noon so they could finish a documentary they were making on Edward Snowden for their media class (and submitting to a student documentary contest run by C-SPAN), so we had to stop shortly before then. Starting Thursday night and continuing Friday morning and evening, we watched the first four forty-five minute episodes, which I realize might not constitute a binge for some people but for us it does.

If you love these books, you will probably love the show, which captures their quirky essence much better than the movie. If you haven’t read them, start there. I have to say, though, I was identifying with the three Baudelaire children, with their house burned down, the people who were supposed to be looking out for them dead or missing and suddenly in the care of someone who does not wish them well. So, maybe it was not as escapist an activity as planned. Still, the Baudelaires and resourceful, brave, and loyal to each other. That counts for something.

After lunch, June and I made peanut-butter chocolate chip cookies while listening to the Indigo Girls, I read several Shirley Jackson essays, and then I took her to a voice lesson. She’s got a recital next weekend so she and the teacher worked on diction, expression, and other performance considerations. After the lesson, June had her jury for the recital and she passed it. I could tell she was nervous because she was clutching the front of her pants with both hands, but from her face you would have never known it.

On the way home, we swung by Roscoe’s to pick up pizza and an arugula-beet salad, which we ate at home, not really wanting to interact with other people than necessary on this bleak day. Once Noah had put the finishing touches on his movie and had submitted it to C-SPAN, we watched one last episode of the Series of Unfortunate Events, and went to bed so we could all be rested for the big event of the weekend.

Saturday: Women’s March

Beth and Noah were out the door by seven. Beth was supposed to show up at her office to greet the busloads of CWA members arriving at her office and Noah was going to assist Mike, the CWA photographer who was filming the march. I was proud of Noah for going because he absolutely hates crowds, but he knew was important. It helped that he had a task to focus on and that he got to use some cool photographic equipment like a 360-degree camera and a steady cam. He even endured holding hands with strangers during a CWA sing-along, but I missed that as it happened before June and I got there. This must have been horrifying for him. 

June and I left about an hour later, right after she made her “Another Girl Scout Against Trump” sign. It was a last-minute job, but if you look carefully you’ll see she printed out and taped the Girl Scout insignia to it. She chose this message because she was appalled to hear some Girl Scouts marched in the inauguration parade. She also decided to wear her Girl Scout vest over her hoodie.

While we were at the bus stop in front of our house, a stranger pulled over and asked if we’d like a ride to the Metro. I thought about it and decided it was a day to trust women, so I said yes. She told us she had a disability that made marching hard so she was shuttling friends to the Metro and seeing June’s sign, she figured that’s where we were headed. As we approached the Metro I could see steady streams of people on foot, many in pink hats, all walking toward the stop. June looked surprised and excited to be seeing crowds already, in our little town. The trains were crammed, but we got on the first one we saw because people packed themselves in tighter to make room for us.  We were right next to a group of women scientists in their lab coats.

We arrived at CWA headquarters shortly before nine. There was a mini-rally on the sidewalk in front it, which repeated every time new busses arrived, meaning we heard some of the speeches and chants twice. In between we went inside and sampled fruit and an egg and bagel sandwich at the breakfast buffet for members who’d been on buses since the wee hours of the morning. They’d come from states as far away as North Carolina, but the ones who arrived while we were there were from New York and New Jersey.

We set off to march with the second group, but we got separated from them almost immediately in the chaos on the mall. We were much too far away from the stage to hear the rally program or even to catch more than glimpses of the Jumbotron blocks away. So, we turned our attention to the crowd. We drifted through it to people-watch and read signs.

Some of the most popular signs were “Girls Just Want to Have Fun-damental Rights” and “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and various feline-themed signs. I also saw a lot of “Love is Love is Love” and “Black Lives Matter” signs and portraits of Trump in the style of Obama’s iconic Hope posters, except they either say “Nope” or “Grope” and there were also a lot that said “Make America Think Again.” The next day over dinner we discussed how making fun of Trump’s physical appearance (hair, skin, small hands) was a slippery slope, even though he himself treats people that way. (It was our “When they go low, we go high” moment.) But we all thought “Super Callous Fragile Ego, Trump You Are Atrocious” was fair game.

I thought this one summed up things pretty well: “There Are So Many Things Wrong with Trump I Can’t Fit Them on This Sign.” June’s sign was popular as well. All day people were taking her picture and many former and current Girl Scouts wanted to pose with her. (Beth tweeted her picture to the Girl Scouts.) I learned later people left drifts of signs in front of the Trump Hotel and lined the White House fence with them and when the fence was completely obscured, they tossed more over the fence. I wish we’d seen that and done it, too.

By eleven-thirty, the mall was completely packed, I was feeling a little claustrophobic and needed to use the bathroom badly. The march wasn’t even supposed to start for an hour and a half, so we started looking for porta-potties, I found a bank of them but the lines were several dozen people deep behind each one, so Beth suggested we walk back to her office and re-group. We got back there around noon, used the facilities, and stayed over an hour, mixing with more members who’d arrived. We split one of the box lunches that had appeared on the buffet table between the three of us, to supplement the hard-boiled eggs and trail mix we were carrying. Beth ate the veggie wrap, I ate the apple, and June had the potato chips.

Back at the mall, we hung back a bit to avoid getting trapped in the mass of pink-hatted humanity crammed onto it. It was unclear how we’d know when it was time to march because no one within blocks of us could hear anything, but eventually people started walking down the length of the mall. Beth noted the crowd wasn’t going along the official march route. Later we learned there were too many people to fit on the official route. It was already filled from end to end by the time the march was supposed to start so people spilled out into nearby streets and reached the White House by various routes, like water pouring into all available channels.

Our tributary went by the Trump Hotel and a small pro-Trump counter rally. The crowd took a break from chanting “Black Lives Matter!” “Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like. This Is What Democracy Looks Like!” “Hands Too Small, Can’t Build a Wall,” and “We Need a Leader, Not a Creepy Tweeter!” etc. to chant “Shame” at them.

We also were going along the Inauguration parade route for a while and the stands were still there. They were quickly packed with people who wanted to watch the march go by. Workers who had been taking one of the stands down before the march arrived stood by and watched. One of them was standing on a truck full of stand parts, grinning and laughing.

Considering how chaotic the march was, the police response was restrained. There was not a single arrest. I realize this was probably because while diverse, the march was still majority white. A group of half a million people of color marching on the street without a permit might not have been so tolerantly received. However, once we were almost to the White House the police started throwing up metal barriers in the street to keep the marchers away from it. Some verbal communication would have been appreciated here because it looked like people might get trapped between the fence that was already blocking access to the White House and the new barriers. We had to look lively to get back on the other side ourselves before the line of barriers was complete.

At this point, we turned around and walked back to Beth’s office again. Mike and Noah were already on the Metro, so we got in the car and drove home, tired, footsore and joyful. June kept commenting on the fact that neither Beth nor I had been to a big march until we were in college. She seemed happy to have reached this milestone earlier than we did.  But she’s living in more dire times.

Of course, I would have rather taken my ten-year-old daughter to the inauguration of the first woman president. That’s what I fully expected to do and I’d been looking forward to it. Beth and Noah went to Obama’s first inauguration when he was seven and it was a great experience for him. But this was excellent experience for her, too, if the point is learning about democracy.

Today, two days after the march, Beth and Noah went to work and school. I was home working, too, but also tending to June who had been felled by a stomach bug Sunday night, and was staying home from school. It was a chilly, rainy day, but I was still warmed by the thought of half a million people all returning to their regular routines, but possibly taking a short break to write their Senators and representatives, as I did.

Silver

Late Saturday morning, Beth came into the bedroom where I was reading Catcher in the Rye to Noah. “I opened an anniversary gift,” she said. It was four days before our anniversary and I knew what had happened. The card that announced I’d donated to Friends of Blackwater must have arrived. Since I’m almost always alone in the house when the mail comes, I’d counted on whisking it away when it arrived, but I didn’t think to check the mailbox before her on Saturday.

Beth read the message in the card saying it was to save “the silver birches and everything else you love at Blackwater.” I’d taken that angle because she’d admired the birch bark on the ground when we were hiking in Blackwater over Christmas and because it was the silver anniversary of our commitment ceremony (as well as the fourth anniversary of our legal wedding). “Mommy likes themes,” Beth observed to Noah.

“Remember the time she got you all those gold gifts?” he said, sounding close to laughter. If you’re a long-time reader with a very good memory, you may recall that on the twenty-fifth anniversary of our first date, thinking twenty-five was the gold anniversary, I got her a bevy of golden-colored gifts. The problem with this is twenty-five is the silver anniversary. Well, I didn’t return all the gifts but I resolved to wait four and a half years and have a do-over on the twenty-fifth anniversary of our commitment ceremony. The amazing thing is that I remembered and carried it out this plan.

“Well, now you know something about the rest of you gifts,” I told her.

Later that day, Beth, June and I attended the first Pandas game of the season. I almost didn’t go because June wasn’t playing. Her recently healed broken ankle had been acting up ever since she jumped from a platform at Seneca Creek State Park on New Year’s Day. Beth, June and I had gone on the First Day Hike. (The hike was otherwise fun.  We saw a beaver dam and swans on the lake and the park provided hot chocolate and S’mores at the end.) I asked her coach whether he thought she should play and he thought it was best to rest it a little while longer.

I always go to June’s basketball games and often to her practices, even though I don’t need to go because she has a standing ride. It still surprises me how much I enjoy watching, given how little interest I have in sports in general. Even knowing June wouldn’t play, I realized still wanted to see the game. I wanted to watch her friends, all these girls who’ve been together for years, some since kindergarten. I wanted to see who had a good game and who’s improved since last year. It’s official. I am a Panda fan. Or maybe I should say “Fanda.” Beth came up with that one, to describe the big stuffed panda June dressed in her team shirt and brought to the game.

We’d had our first real snowfall this year the day of the game. It only amounted to about an inch, but it was falling pretty hard in the late morning and early afternoon. That might have been the reason the games were running late when we got to the community center. We had a long wait and some of the moms started to reminisce about the Pandas’ very first game, mainly about how shocked the girls were when the opposing team knocked the ball out of their hands. They’re not surprised by that any more.

They’re ten and eleven now instead of five and six and they’re used to the game. That was a good thing because it was a somewhat rougher game than usual or maybe the referee was just more apt to call fouls on both sides. The game was constantly interrupted for free throws. In the first quarter the Pandas got a basket and one of those free throws and going into the second quarter they were winning 3-0. I was glad to see them score early because the Pandas only had seven players to the Sharks’ ten so I thought they’d be worn out by the end of the game. That didn’t turn out to be a problem. They weren’t being outrun at the end, but they didn’t score again and the other team did, so they lost 7-3.

Sunday evening Beth said, “You know how I opened one of my gifts early? I think you should have one of yours.”

“To make things even?” I asked.

“No, I think you should have it. It’s Kindred,” she said. Just that day I’d gone to the library to check out Octavia Butler’s time-travel fantasy because it’s my book club’s January book. On finding all the copies were checked out and the second closest library didn’t have an available copy either, I’d purchased one online from a local bookstore that very day. I was able to call Monday morning and cancel the order. Beth and I listened to Kindred together on audiobook on a long-ago car trip, either pre-kids or when Noah was small enough to sleep through it, so it was a sweet gift and I was happy to be able to start reading it Monday morning.

Our anniversary was Wednesday. I read Kindred in the morning (I’m almost halfway through it now) and wrapped gifts and worked on some pamphlets for a line of supplements distributed by physicians. When the kids got home between supervising their homework and making dinner, I also made a spice cake with a lemon glaze. I used the same recipe from the cake we served at our commitment ceremony twenty-five years ago. I make it almost every year on our anniversary. In fact, because we celebrate two anniversaries, one in July to celebrate our first date and one in January to celebrate the commitment ceremony and the legal wedding (held on the same day twenty-one years apart) whenever we have an anniversary, June always asks if it’s “the cake one.”

Beth got home around 6:45, just as June’s ride to basketball practice arrived, so we had to wait to exchange gifts and eat cake until she got home around 8:15. My presents to Beth were wrapped in silver wrapping paper with pictures of birch trees on it. I’d ordered it for this purpose and Beth enthusiastically admired it. I went all out with the silver theme. I got a card with a picture of a silver tree on it, I wrote on the card in silver marker, I put silver sprinkles on the cake and one of her gifts was a silver-colored pillar candle. (The scent was supposed to be “silver birch” but we all agreed it didn’t smell like tree bark, more like laundry June said. And then Noah wanted to know if it was clean laundry or dirty. Clean, she said, exasperated.)  I also got her a copy of Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 because, sadly, a work about the racial strife of a quarter century ago seems more relevant than ever these days.  My second gift from Beth was Margaret Atwood’s Hag Seed, which I’ve been eager to read.

Over the long MLK weekend we’ll go to a high school girls’ basketball game (a Pandas field trip) and another Pandas game in which June’s still not playing, and we’ll probably participate in a creek cleanup, which we do most MLK days. Beth and I also have tentative plans to go to a movie. We’re thinking Hidden Figures. During the last few days of the kids’ winter break we actually went out a did a lot of things. In addition to the previously mentioned hike, we all saw a lovely production of The Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre, and Beth, June and I attended our neighbors’ New Year’s Eve party and Beth and I went to see Fences, which was very well acted. We often get stuck in our routine and it feels good when we go out and do something a little out of the ordinary, as a family and especially as a couple, even if it’s just going to the movies.

Beth and I wrote nearly identical things in our cards: “Here’s to 25 more” and “Here’s to the next 25.”  So, here’s to that, to the comforting rituals we repeat and the little jaunts that break them up.

The Opposite of Terrible

It’s time for school concerts. Noah played in the winter band and jazz concert a couple weeks ago, and June’s school’s holiday sing was Monday.

Winter Band and Jazz Concert

Noah was a nervous wreck in the car on the way to the band concert. He’s been playing drums for six years and he’s not usually too worked up before concerts, but he’s in an advanced band in which he was placed because of a schedule conflict and he’s got a bit of an imposter complex about it. He said he thought the fact that he was so nervous would make it more likely he’d make mistakes.

I thought he might be right, but I told him even if he did make a mistake he’d be the one most likely to hear it, that all the sound the audience is taking in making it hard to hear individual errors. He wasn’t having it.

Noah took private lessons instead of playing in the band last year so this was our first high school band concert. At his school, they split the orchestra, band, and chorus concerts into three different nights. I thought this meant the concert might be shorter than a middle school concert. But there are five different bands at his high school, not counting the marching band, which I don’t think plays at concerts. Noah had attended the orchestra concert the week before and had gotten back later than I expected, so I wasn’t expecting a short night. A glance at the program confirmed that would be the case again.

June was with us, even though it would surely keep her up past her bedtime, because we don’t have a sitter any more now that Eleanor’s in college and we so seldom need one I never invested the time in finding a replacement. If June had her way I would have found her a ride to and from her school’s Reading Night, someone who would drop her off at our empty house when it was over. But even though she’s been staying home alone for years we didn’t feel quite right about having her alone in the house at night, so we made her come. She probably would have been excited about being out late if it wasn’t for the fact that she was missing something she wanted to do. But she was mature and didn’t complain too much. It might have helped that we bought her a brownie at the bake sale and I read to her from Cricket while they were setting the stage between groups.

Another way the concert was different from a middle school concert was the fact that we were in comfortable auditorium seats, the band was up on stage, and there were colored lights behind them that changed from blue to green to red. It was nicely done.

The Jazz Combo played first. This group consisted of two saxophonists, a pianist, a bass player, and a percussionist. Because it was such a small and talented group, there were plenty of opportunities for solos. My favorite piece was probably “Black Orpheus,” but they were all good.

As would happen with each band that followed, the teacher introduced members of the band who were in the school’s music honor society and those who had made the county honors bands, the all State bands, the All Eastern Bands, and the Honors Band of America. There were a lot of names to announce. The musicians at Noah’s school are an accomplished bunch.

Next up was the Jazz Ensemble. They had vocalists, a boy and a girl, for three of their five numbers, which interested June. I think she might have been imagining herself up on stage with a microphone and a big band backing her six or seven years hence.

Then the concert band played a few songs. One was one of those high concept band pieces with which you’re probably familiar if you’ve ever had a kid in band. It was called “The Great Locomotive Chase.” It was inspired by a Union raid on the railroad tracks in Georgia during the Civil War, and featured instruments that sounded like a train whistle and other sound effects. That was fun. June was starting to fade, though, and she alternated between leaning against me and Beth. I was tired, too, as I’d been up late keeping Noah on task the night before as he wrote an alternative ending to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

Symphonic Band (the intermediate band) was next. Noah’s going to play in this band next semester. It’s hard to fit in band with as many required classes as the CAP kids have, so this year they’ve just let him play whenever his schedule allowed, which we appreciate. Many kids in CAP just drop music and I’m glad he hasn’t had to do that, even though he had to skip a year.

At last, it was time for the Wind Ensemble, or the advanced band. I don’t know why they call it the Wind Ensemble when it’s not just wind instruments, but there you have it. Noah had told us what he was playing in each song ahead of time. We like to know because it’s usually impossible to see the percussionists all the way in the back. He’d also told me weeks ago he didn’t have any difficult parts, so I was surprised to hear the snare drum as the most prominent percussion sound in their first piece, “Matador.” This is a very fast song and he sounded fantastic, very precise. Beth and I exchanged happy, relieved looks over June, who muttered, “He probably made three little mistakes he’ll go on and on about.”

Noah played timpani in “Amazing Grace,” a smaller part, but I’m always glad whenever he gets some timpani experience because they didn’t have one at his middle school and it’s been an audition bane for him because of that. He played the bass drum and woodblocks capably in “Hebrides Suite” and the concert was over.

As we walked back to the car I asked him how he thought it went and he said, “okay” and later, “not terrible.” This for him nearly amounts to self-promotion. But he’s right. It wasn’t terrible. It was the opposite of terrible. I’m happy he held his own with challenging music and I hope he’ll be comfortable in Symphonic Band next semester. It was clear from the concert he doesn’t belong in the non-audition concert band, which was his first choice (because he hates to audition). But whatever band he plays in, I always enjoy hearing him perform.

Holiday Sing (and Electoral College March)

June sang and played violin at her school’s Holiday Sing once last Friday and twice on Monday. Last year she was in the chorus, but there was no chorus this year, so the whole fourth and fifth grade sang instead, preparing in their regular music class. The band and orchestra played, too.

June is having the opposite problem Noah’s having with music this year, and I think it’s a worse problem to have. Mr. G’s replacement isn’t as skilled at assessing the students’ skill and experience levels and coming up with appropriate lessons for everyone. This was Mr. G’s superpower.  Mr. B is basically treating them all like raw beginners. June says the fifth graders who just started to play last year are incredulous at how easy the music is and she’s been playing for almost three and a half years. Not surprisingly, there’s no advanced string ensemble this year.

So, we’d been considering having June drop out of orchestra after the January concert, but then we found out there wasn’t going to be a January concert this year so the timing is less clear. It’s hard to see the point of pulling her out of her science and Spanish class once a week if she’s not learning anything. But before we take that step, I wanted to address my concerns with Mr. B first. He did offer to give June some harder music and meet with her after school on Mondays, which was generous of him. But the first piece he gave her was “Frere Jacques,” so we still have the same underlying problem.

Meanwhile, to keep from losing ground, June’s been practicing songs from orchestra camp and last year’s orchestra selections, and she’s using online tutorials to learn new songs. She and Beth have also been practicing Christmas songs together in preparation for a joint performance for Beth’s mom at Christmas, which they are both enjoying. The obvious solution is to put her back into private lessons, but between Scouts, basketball, and voice lessons, she has enough on her plate without adding another item to her weekly calendar.

This year the Holiday Sing was the same day the Electoral College met. I’d noticed this coincidence ahead of time and I thought it might mar my enjoyment of the event. Sure enough, I was melancholy as I walked to June’s school.

Just two days earlier I’d taken another long walk, from the Washington Monument to the White House, as part of a rally and march to ask the electors to vote their conscience.

I told June I was going to a rally to ask the electors to vote their conscience and asked if she’d like to make me a poster. She considered. “Is it okay if it has glitter glue and sparkles?” 

“Yes.”

She was sold.

I told Noah where I was going and he said, “Why do you think that will work?”

“I don’t,” I said.
“Then why are you going?”
“Because sometimes you have to try even when it seems hopeless. That’s what we learn from Frodo and Sam, right?”
He gave me a half-skeptical, half-sad smile.

The march started at the Washington Monument and proceeded to the White House. Even though we’d had an ice storm that morning the day had warmed up considerably. The late afternoon light was a lovely pale gold. I wore my coat unbuttoned and even got a little overheated as I tried to keep up with the marchers, who on average were probably about twenty years younger than me and pretty well spread out in the street. The march was spirited, but sparse, as these things go. The signs were about all sorts of lefty issues, relevant I suppose because they were all issues affected by the election, but I would have preferred a narrower focus on our appeal to the electors.  At the end we were standing by the reviewing stands for the inaugural parade, which are under construction. This seemed to point out how little we could really do about it.

But when I got home, Beth had made a lasagna and Noah had made enough progress on his pre-calculus so we could read the last chapter of Return of the King after dinner. I felt I’d done what I could and it was comforting to be back home.

At June’s school before the Holiday Sing, I sat in a row of a few other mothers of June’s friends. The mom next to me and I discussed how neither of us was sad to be leaving elementary school behind at the end of the year and the state of instrumental music at the school. She seemed to agree with my assessment but I could tell from a look of mild surprise on her face, that I am considerably more worked up about this than she is. This had been happening to me every time I talk to someone about instrumental music. I guess I need to tone it down.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when the band started to play “Jingle Bells” because they didn’t sound half bad, if a little morose because the tempo was so slow.  Their Hanukkah selection, “My Dreidel” was fine, too. I started to wonder if the orchestra would sound better than anticipated, once all the different instruments were playing at once, as opposed to June’s simple, repetitive piece of it that I’d been hearing at home. Sometimes that does happen. But when they played, it sounded more like an exercise for beginners than a song played by kids with over a year’s experience playing together. I was also having disgruntled thoughts about watching children fiddle while Rome burned.

Luckily, the singing part of the Holiday Sing was next. In this performance, the fifth grade sang a few songs alone and then there was a sing-along with the fourth-grade audience. Half the fifth grade (all that can fit) got up on risers and sang a traditional Puerto Rican Christmas song, followed by a spirited rendition of “Let it Snow.” There was a pause while the two halves of the fifth grade traded places and sang their songs.

I was sitting in exactly the wrong place to see June. The music teacher was blocking my view of her. But the teacher was swaying and the longer the concert went on the more pronounced her swaying became, so I could sometimes see brief flashes of my daughter. This was somewhat amusing.

They sang two songs alone and then it was time for an eight-song Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Christmas sing-along set. Many of the songs were familiar from years past. There’s a Hanukkah song I’ve always liked called “In the Window,” and “Ocho Candelitas.” They shook things up a bit with the Christmas songs. No “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Feliz Navidad,” which are perennial favorites. Among the new songs was “Mele Kalikimaka.” I’d like to think this Hawaiian-themed song might have been a tribute to our outgoing President, but who knows? At any rate, they don’t change the songs much and in my ten years of attending this concert I don’t think they ever sang it before. And then, my last Holiday Sing was over.

That night, doing the dishes, I was trying not to think about what had happened that day, that out of 306 electors who were supposed to vote for Trump, only two had the decency and temerity to consider his appalling words and actions and say no. I wasn’t expecting a different outcome—really I wasn’t—but if it had been even a dozen of them, I might have felt a little better about humanity.

As I pushed these thoughts away, I found myself humming that pretty Hanukkah song, so familiar from years of Holiday Sings. I’ve never heard it anywhere else. The experience of hearing children on the verge of their winter break, singing songs of joy for all these years has also been the opposite of terrible. Maybe I will miss it after all.

Postscript: Beth went to a march about a week ago as well, against the Muslim registry, and President Obama recently took steps to make that registry less likely. We are not powerless.

 

The Long Run

Election: Tuesday

June and I went out to lunch on Election Day. I was antsy and didn’t want to stay in the house all day, plus I had a check to deposit and she had to buy a birthday present for Megan, so we made an outing of it that ended with sandwiches and dessert at Capitol City Cheesecake.

I rubbed June’s back fondly as she finished her dessert and said, “This could be a historic day. You might remember this day forever…The election, not the cannoli,” I clarified and she laughed.

Well, now I hope she doesn’t remember.

We put her to bed at 8:30, her normal bedtime, but I was planning to wake her up as soon as Clinton won, to tell her the good news, that a woman was going to be President, and that a madman wasn’t.

Just before results starting coming in, I’d helped Noah hurriedly finish a short essay for his AP Government class by typing as he dictated it to me while pacing around his room and eating a taco—yes, like many of you, we decided to celebrate Taco Tuesday that night. It seemed funny at the time. (Beth also made chocolate chip cookies to commemorate the kerfuffle over Hillary’s comments about staying home and making cookies back in the day.) Noah was eating late because hadn’t come to the dinner table to eat with the rest of us because he wanted to finish his work in time to watch the results.

Beth, Noah, and I spent most of the evening huddled on our bed with the laptop, the iPad, and my phone, watching the results come in and reading our friends’ Facebook commentary. He gets up very early (5:45) so his official school day bedtime is 9:00, although more often than not he’s up later than that doing homework. I’d told him he could stay up until at least 9:30 and then we’d re-evaluate, because I thought it might be over by then.

As you know, it wasn’t over at 9:30. We all watched it unfold as most of you probably did, in stunned horror. By eleven, I was starting to shake. It felt like shivering with cold, but I wasn’t cold. And then I just didn’t want to watch any more. I might have if an end was in sight, but was clear by then it probably wasn’t going to be settled until the middle of the night so Beth and I went to bed and tried to sleep. I wanted to Noah to get some sleep, too, because he had two big assignments due Thursday and he’d need to be in good enough shape to work Wednesday, but he was fiercely insistent about staying up and it felt so huge, so important that we let him take the laptop to bed. He’s not sure what time he fell asleep—it was sometime during the long stretch of time when Trump had 244 electoral votes.

Aftermath: Wednesday to Saturday

I was up almost every hour during the night, checking the electoral vote count on my phone and being sick in the bathroom.  Beth didn’t sleep well either, but she got up before me so she had the job of telling June, who received the news with tears.

She wasn’t the only one crying. I cried on and off all morning. Beth said people were crying on the Metro. Noah said people were crying at school. The CAP kids could go to an optional meeting to process their feelings about the election during their first period. (Noah chose to remain in his Media class because he had some film editing to do and he preferred to keep his mind on that.) His school, which is large and very racially diverse, also had counselors available to speak to students during both lunch periods.

Wednesday was the one day that week I had a full day to work because the kids had Monday off for a teacher planning and grading day, Tuesday off for the election, and June’s school had half-days Thursday and Friday for parent-teacher conferences. But I was in no condition to write anything, so I read instead, catching up on a trade magazine I read for Sara so I can send her links to any relevant articles. It was something to do to keep my mind occupied.

Early in the afternoon I went to bed, fell asleep almost immediately, and slept deeply for an hour. That helped some. So did the long, hard hug Noah gave me when he got home from school. Beth and I often comment, sometimes jokingly, that he’s almost a man now, at fifteen and a half, but I actually felt it when his big, strong arms were around me. I felt a flash of hope, that he and his smart, caring peers might be able, eventually, to set right whatever goes wrong in the next four to eight years. It’s a lot to put on them, and I don’t absolve myself from trying, too, but the thought made me feel a trifle less hopeless.

I muddled through Thursday, working, sweeping the porch, cleaning the bathroom, cooking a green tomato, purple cabbage, and brown rice stew with the last of the garden tomatoes. It was difficult at times to convince myself that any of this was worth doing, but it felt marginally better than crying all day, so I did it.

Friday Beth had the day off work for Veterans’ Day and June was going to Megan’s after school so we had some time alone together, which was welcome. I didn’t work that day, but before Beth and I left on our lunch and movie date, I had a few things to do.

After June got on the school bus I removed the Clinton/Kaine sign from our fence and replaced it with a Black Lives Matter sign. I would have put it up earlier (and left the Clinton sign up longer) but we only had one set of rods. After that, I went through the drawer where I toss appeals from non-profits and decided to give to Planned Parenthood and the Environmental Defense Fund, for starters. I’ll be writing more checks later, but the idea of losing several years of action on climate change is particularly terrifying right now. My next step was to unfollow a couple people on Facebook. I don’t want to unfriend anyone, because my feed is almost entirely liberal as it is, and so many people never hearing each other’s voices might be part of what got us into this mess, but for now, I don’t need to hear any gloating. I’ll start following them again when I feel up to it.

We went for lunch at Eggspectations because there’s a lot of comfort food on the menu there. Beth got a veggie burger and a salad, I got butternut squash soup, and baked brie with apple slices, grapes, and raspberry sauce. We split a piece of pumpkin Smith Island cake. Then we went and saw Moonlight. If you’ve read the reviews and haven’t seen it yet, it’s as good as they say.

It was my first time out of the house since Tuesday. Previously Beth had urged me to go out, because as she said, “the world’s still out there.”

As we drove home, I said, “I guess there’s still good food and art.” And there is.

We picked up June from Megan’s house and brought her home so Noah could take her to her voice lesson while we went to a very positive parent-teacher conference with her English and social studies teacher. It left us thinking he’d write her a good recommendation for the humanities magnet. (She decided not to apply to the math/science magnet after all.) 

We swung by the book fair while we were at June’s school and bought a graphic novel June specifically asked us to buy her. While we were there, a mom who was President of the PTA for a long time told us she was going to work on connecting undocumented families at the school with immigration lawyers.

Late that afternoon, there was a rally at another local elementary school to support Takoma’s Muslim and immigrant population. I wanted to go, but June’ voice lesson conflicted with it, so Beth dropped me off at the rally by myself. It was important to me be there because I remember how comforting it was to go to the rally after the Pulse nightclub killings and how much it meant to me to see so many straight friends and neighbors there. I wanted to that pay that forward.

Here’s an article about the rally. I knew a lot of people there and it was good to see them. Some of the speeches were moving, and I teared up when I saw the kid, around June’s age, holding the hand-lettered sign that said, “We love you. We will fight for you! You are safe,” and two more holding cardboard studded with tiny colored lights to read “Love” and “Hope.” Beth and the kids arrived around 6:20, just as the rally was breaking up and we drove to Silver Spring for pizza and frozen yogurt.

On Saturday morning I had to wake Noah up at nine, after a near-record eleven hours’ sleep. He almost never sleeps this late and I hated to do it, but he had a lot of homework. An hour later he said he felt sick and decided to go back to bed. Eventually, I came into his room and read to him first from his Government textbook and then from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which he’s reading for English. And then he worked on the Works Cited for a group research project and felt well enough to get up and drum.

In the afternoon, June went to Megan’s carnival-themed birthday party, because in addition to good food, and art, there are still kids in the world and they are still getting older. In a few years, these turning-eleven girls will know more about the world than they do now, for good and for ill. It’s up to us to prepare them.

5K: Sunday

This morning, June completed the Girls on the Run 5K, walking the whole way. When we found out her ankle was fractured, we assumed she’d sit out the rest of the season, but she wanted to keep going to practices, at first just to watch, and then once she got the boot she started walking laps while her peers ran. When it came time for the practice 5K on the track at a local middle school, she surprised us again by saying she wanted to do it, and the real 5K, too. She was able to walk the practice 5K in about an hour and suffered no ill effects so we said she could walk the real one, too.

We arrived at the staging area, a mall parking lot, at 7:50 a.m., an hour and ten minutes before race time. It was a chilly morning. There was frost on the windshield of the car when we left and the temperature in Bethesda was just under freezing when we arrived. We visited some of the booths. June got temporary green dye sprayed on her hair at the “Happy Hair Station” and Beth bought her a pink satin cape at a merchandise booth. Then we waited for her teammates to arrive.

Adults who hadn’t seen each other since Tuesday exchanged condolences. Zoë’s mom, who is one of the team coaches, said of the event, “I need some girl power in the worst way.” So I wish I could say the event inspired me and filled me with hope. I was proud of June and her teammates, of course. How could I not be? They rock. But I had not slept well the night before and my mood had cratered again, and the loud music was making the headache I’d arrived with worse. I was glad when the race got underway and the parking lot cleared out.

The last time June did a 5K, I walked the route and Beth waited at the finish line. This time we swapped places. Beth and Megan both walked with June while the rest of the team ran.

I’d agreed to watch the sign and the balloons the girls would use to re-unite in a crowd of seven thousand people. The first runner from June’s school was back in about thirty-five minutes and the next one about ten minutes later. Then the rest of them started drifting back. I figured June would take at least an hour, so I headed to the finish line shortly before then.  After ten minutes or so I saw Megan and June go under the inflatable arch with their arms raised, and Beth walking just behind them. And then I did feel moved.

We went into the mall to use the bathrooms and get some food and hot beverages while we waited for the traffic jam of people trying to leave the race to clear. We ran into one of June’s friends who is now at another school and her mom in Starbucks. Her mom, who works in the civil rights division of the Department of Justice and who had run the race with her daughter, said, “I thought this would make me feel better, but it didn’t.”

I said, “Some things make me feel less bad, but nothing makes me feel good.” I guess less bad is a start, because we have a lot of work to do in the coming years and we can’t lose ourselves in despair. At least we have to try not to let that happen.

One of the things people often say they admire about Hillary Clinton is how she perseveres. I know someone else like that and I’m with her, and all her strong, capable, big-hearted friends, for the long run.

Break a Leg

A week after June fell off the playground equipment and hurt her right ankle, she still was in a lot of pain and couldn’t put any weight on that leg, so Beth took her to see an orthopedist and it turns out it wasn’t a sprain at all–she’d fractured the growth plate of her fibula. It’s apparently a common injury in kids from ten to fifteen years old who are undergoing growth spurts and her feet have been growing very quickly recently. So now she’s in a boot for three weeks and when she gets out of that, she’ll have a brace for another three weeks. She’s still using one of the crutches for balance, but it’s easier for her to get around now that she can put both feet on the ground. We both feel bad about the fact that she was walking around for a week with a fractured ankle.

So…the 5K she was going to run in mid-November is now out of the picture. She’s still going to her running club practice twice a week, to cheer on her team mates. And on Thursday, her first practice with the boot, she walked laps while the other girls ran. I let her basketball coach know that she probably won’t be able to run when practice starts up again in late November. He’s working on some drills she can do without running, because he’s that kind of coach.

The final performance in June’s acting class was Wednesday afternoon, the very day she got the boot. I contacted Gretchen to let her know June would be there, but that she probably wouldn’t be able to change into the bottom half of her costume. She was supposed to be wearing a bathing suit. As soon as she got home from school, we threw her swim top in a bag along with her props and headed out to the elementary school where the class meets on the bus.

Parents weren’t supposed to come into the room until twenty-five minutes into class, so the kids could run through their scenes, but once I’d accompanied June up to the third floor classroom and gotten her situated, Gretchen asked if I’d like to stay and I did. I watched while Gretchen and the members of June’s group hastily re-blocked the scene so June could be sitting down the whole time.

When the rest of the parents came in, the kids demonstrated a couple of acting warm-up games I’d seen on the first day of class–it was the one where they all have to repurpose a prop and the one where they form a human machine by performing repetitive movements while saying one line from their scenes.

The first scene was from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Gretchen’s older daughter Lottie was filling in for a kid who dropped out of the class a few weeks ago. The three actors were all expressive and had a good rapport with each other despite having had less time to work together than the other groups. (Watching them practice this scene over the course of six weeks piqued June’s interest in the play, and we just finished the last novel in the series, so we’re reading the play now.)

The next scene was adapted from a novel called Bad Girls. In it one girl is bullying another and a third who wants to social climb but has some reservations about what it takes. Again the kids all worked well together and did a good job conveying the sometimes conflicting emotions of the scene.

After each scene, Gretchen would talk about acting principles it demonstrated, such as subtext, substitution, objects, or obstacles. In most of the scenes, she had the actors stop and start over if there was a rough spot and then she’d discuss the challenges the actors were facing. It was a like a little acting seminar.

In the June’s scene, the third one, the challenge was the lines. Her group was doing a scene from Foursome, an absurdist play by Ionesco. The lines are so repetitive it can be quite easy to lose your place, whether you’re looking at the script or you’re off book, as June was. They only had to stop once, and they put quite a lot of passion into the scene, which is an argument.

At first, the other two characters are arguing and June’s character is reading a book and sipping a drink and trying to ignore them. Then she intervenes as the voice of reason and gradually gets drawn into the argument and becomes as emotional as the other two.  She was supposed to start sitting while the other two characters argue with each other, and then jump up to join the argument, but in the new blocking, she stayed seated the whole time. It would have been harder to change the movements of the other two characters because they get quite physical with each other.

The final scene was from the film version of Where the Wild Things Are. In this scene, the actors demonstrated their off scene beat, or an imagined pre-scene they use to get into character. Some of the other groups showed theirs, too, but this one was more involved and the two boys played it for laughs.

I always enjoy seeing June perform and this was a fun event. I liked seeing the kids acting as well as seeing some of the process behind it. Gretchen just announced the play for next summer’s musical drama camp will be Beauty and the Beast and June’s already looking forward to that. She thinks she’d like to be the beast.

And speaking of acting, I mentioned a few posts ago that June was in an online commercial for the Alliance for Retired Americans. Well, it turns out it was just her feet. They’re the ones waltzing in pink crocs:

We’re all looking forward to seeing both her feet, without an Ace bandage, a boot or a brace sometime in early December.

Famous People, Postscript

Well, if acting in an online advertisement and winning a small town pie contest count as steps toward fame, June’s getting more famous. In any case, she had quite the weekend.

The commercial consisted of kids doing things associated with older people, waltzing and playing bingo, specifically. I think the gist is that the Alliance for Retired Americans is working to ensure the social safety net for seniors is still intact when today’s kids are retired. I haven’t seen it yet. I’ll post it when we get a copy.

And yes, she won the Takoma Park pie contest, in the Most Unusual category. Her entry was a cantaloupe pie with a whipped cream/cream cheese topping. There were fifty-seven entries and seven categories: Best Apple Pie, Best Peach Pie, Best Other Pie/Sweet, Best Other Pie/Savory, Most Unusual Pie, Best Kid Pie, and Yummy Mess. The judges were local politicians, a food writer, a chef, and a restaurant owner.

June’s entered this contest three or four years running and because last year the judges were very late announcing the winners, I was wandering through the stalls of the farmers’ market looking for a raspberry-yogurt smoothie and I missed the announcement when they made it, five minutes early. June didn’t hear it either and had to run over when Beth was motioning wildly to her. She got there in time to receive her certificate, free farmers’ market hat and tote bag.

Then we got in line to buy slices of pie. The contest is a benefit, the proceeds of which buy vouchers for SNAP recipients to purchase farmers’ market produce, so when you enter, you’ve donated your pie and if you want to taste it, you need to buy a slice. (The contest ended up raising $956 for the SNAP Match Fund.) We bought two slices of June’s pie, a slice of peaches and cream pie, and a slice of apple caramel pie.

Beth told June she was proud of her for going her own way and being original. The contest used to be an apple pie contest but this year they opened it up to any kind of pie using in-season ingredients available at the farmers’ market. When June wanted to make a cantaloupe cream pie, Beth was skeptical about how it would taste. But June held firm and it was actually pretty good. I thought it tasted like a pumpkin pie, but without the spices and sweeter. I said we were also proud of her for not getting discouraged after having entered the contest a few times, without winning.

Then June launched into an earnest explanation of how when you don’t win something, you learn about how to do better and if you keep trying, you’ll eventually win. This has been her experience with the Halloween costume contest and the pie contest, and it seemed like it might be poor parenting to say some people never win, despite their best efforts, so I held my tongue.

If you’d like to try the pie, here’s the recipe, adapted from this one June found online.

Marvelous Melon Pie

Ingredients List

Crust

1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
3 T powdered sugar
8 T butter

Filling

4 c. cubed cantaloupe
1 c. sugar
1/3 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 c. cornstarch
¼ tsp. salt

3 egg yolks
3 T water
1 T butter

Topping

1 c. heavy whipping cream
8 oz Neufchatel
½ c. sugar
1 T milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

  1. Mix flour and powdered sugar together. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press dough into the bottom and up the sides of an 8.75” pie tin.
  2. Bake crust for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  3. Whisk together sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt.
  4. Puree cantaloupe. Cook puree over medium heat. When the puree begins to warm, stir in sugar/flour/cornstarch/salt mixture. Add butter.
  5. Cook and stir until mixture comes to a low boil and begins to thicken. Beat egg yolks and water together in a small bowl. Gradually stir in a small amount of cantaloupe mixture to warm yolks. Pour yolk mixture into cantaloupe and continue cooking for 2 minutes more while stirring continuously.
  6. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Once cooled slightly, pour into pie shell.
  7. With a mixer, beat whipping cream until it forms soft peaks. Set aside.
  8. Cream together Neufchatel cheese and sugar. Beat in milk and vanilla until smooth, then fold in whipped cream until well blended. Spread evenly over cantaloupe in pie tin.

Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving

Famous People

In mid-August, while we were still on vacation, I made a list of all the extracurricular activities June wanted to do this fall and when they met. There were six: her school orchestra, voice lessons, acting class, gymnastics, Girls on the Run (running club), and Girl Scouts. Amazingly, none of them conflicted with each other, so it was up to me to decide how much was too much, in terms of money and running her around, and trying leaving her a least a little down time.

Have you seen this article about getting back into the swing of school and kids’ activities? I must say I identified.

I presented June with the list as we were driving home from West Virginia and asked her to cut it down to four, at least one of which had to be a physical activity. This was agonizing for her. She eliminated gymnastics first, which was a little surprising, since the summer Olympics were still in progress and I thought she might be inspired by the U.S. women’s team’s excellent performance. Not taking gymnastics meant she was definitely doing Girls on the Run, and because that activity was the only one with a looming registration deadline, we left the other decisions for later. For weeks, she was stuck between quitting Girl Scouts or quitting orchestra. She knew for sure she wanted to start two new activities: voice lessons and acting class.

Girl Scouts started the last week of August and she went to the first three meetings, as I’d already signed her up last spring, and orchestra hadn’t started yet. I told her she could decide to stop going if she wanted to switch to orchestra, as we’d only be out $15, but she was leaning toward staying in Scouts.

It made me a little sad to think of her quitting violin after playing for three years and showing some aptitude for it. Because orchestra meets at school and it’s free, it would be an almost effortless extracurricular (like chorus, which we don’t even count as an extracurricular for that reason) if it weren’t for practicing. She’s often reluctant to practice, and she’s had the summer off playing, except for orchestra camp, so I knew getting her back into the habit could involve some nagging and would also have to be squeezed into her busy afternoons and evenings.

On the one hand, I felt guilty for putting limits on her by making her choose between the many, many things that interest her. But on the other hand, when her winter basketball coach contacted us about starting practice early this year and wanted to know what evenings she was free and the answer was “almost none,” I felt bad about that, too, as it seemed to indicate I’d let her get overscheduled.  There’s no winning this game. I am going to feel guilty no matter I do.  But apparently she’s not the only busy fifth grade girl we know because later when the coach got back to us he said there was no night when he could get a quorum, so he scotched the idea of starting practice so far in advance of the season, and I have to admit that was a relief.

I didn’t actually get the starting and ending dates for all her activities until last week and when I did I realized that because orchestra starts late this year, not until the last week of September, that if she attended the four voice lessons we’d already purchased, and then she took a break from those lessons for about a month, the acting class would be over and there would only be one week when she’d only have five activities going at once (which really meant six meetings because GOTR meets twice a week).

I made her this offer before she’d had her first voice lesson and she said she wanted to start the lessons before she decided. I figure if she isn’t willing to swap a month of voice lessons for a whole school year of orchestra she doesn’t really want to play violin anymore and I’ll feel okay about her quitting if that’s what she chooses. We’ll see.

First Voice Lesson

June’s first voice lesson was the second week of school, on the Friday after Labor Day. She’s taking them at the music school where she took violin for two years before she started taking it at school instead and where Noah takes drum lessons in the summers and last year when he wasn’t in band. (More on Noah and band below.)

The music school is on the second floor of a narrow row house and the recital space, office, and three practice rooms, while warm and inviting, are a little cramped. (They are in the process of expanding into another building on the same block.) So I was glad to find her lesson would be in the largest studio, where there’s a window looking out on some trees and a comfy couch over by the drum kit where I could sit, while June and the teacher, Ms. A, stood and sat by the piano.

Ms. A started out by having June sing notes to determine her range. She seemed surprised and impressed by it. Next she asked June what kind of music she liked. Katy Perry and Bach, she said, a combination which gave Ms. A another surprise. Ms. A asked which kind of music she’d prefer to work on, pop or classical. Pop, June said. I added that she’s in a musical theater camp every summer, so that’s another style she enjoys. Ms. A found Katy Perry’s “Firework” and “Quiet” from Matilda on her phone and had June sing along to both.

Between them, they decided to make those her first two songs, starting with the pop tune. Ms. A instructed June to play notes on the keyboard at home and sing along with them, and to watch herself singing in the mirror, as they are going to work on aspects of performance other than purely vocal ones.

June was quite satisfied with the lesson. As we were walking home, she picked up a chunk of concrete from a crumbly place in the sidewalk. “A souvenir of my first voice lesson,” she said. Then she said if she ever became a famous pop singer someone might buy it for a lot of money. “You never know what people will buy from famous people,” she said.

I don’t know if June will ever be famous, but when Beth shared this picture of her on a dock on the Chesapeake Bay while they were on a mother-daughter overnight trip to Southern Maryland last weekend, I joked it should be her first album cover, assuming cover art still exists then. Beth’s mom says it’s “full of feeling” and that seems appropriate for June.

Acting class 

By the third week of school, June’s activities were nearly in full swing, with everything but orchestra having started. Girls on the Run had its first two meetings. Beth is one of the Tuesday morning coaches this year, so she’ll be going with June to the before-school practices. 

Acting class started the next day. The class is at a nearby elementary school and is taught by the director of June’s musical theater camp. June met Gretchen by taking her preschool drama class, when June was three and four years old and has been summer camps with her every year since she was five, so they know each other well. June has a few friends in the class as well, which is nice.

We met Gretchen outside the school at four o’clock, five minutes before the class’s starting time, but we weren’t allowed to enter the building because bus dismissal was running late and the school was supposed to be clear of bus riders before extracurricular classes could start. Gretchen was getting nervous that the students in the class who attend this school and could have already been sent to the room by their teachers might leave when they saw she wasn’t there. Finally, she secured permission to enter before the wayward buses arrived and we found the room and a handful of kids waiting for us.

I won’t normally attend the class—in fact June may walk there herself some days—but I’d brought June to make sure she found her way to the room and so I could pay, and I was curious so I asked if I could stay.

Gretchen started off with an exercise meant to help the kids learn each other’s names. They had to come up with a word that alliterates with their names. June had done this very exercise at GOTR just the day before so she stuck with the name she gave herself there, “Jumpy June.” There were some theater games next. The kids had to describe the sensory experience of eating a sandwich (everyone chose a different kind), come up with new uses for a prop (a plastic basket) and then turn themselves into interlocking parts of a machine. (It was a time machine.)

With a half hour left, Gretchen starting describing and distributing scripts for short scenes the kids will work on in groups of two and three for the rest of the six-week class. She lay them on the carpet so kids could pick them up and browse through them. June gravitated at first to a scene from The Christmas Carol, but no one else was interested in that one. There was a boy who wanted to do a scene from Bridge to Terabithia who was in a similar position and as both of the scenes called for a boy/girl pair, I thought one of them might decide to join the other, but instead June drifted over to a pair of girls who needed one more girl for a scene from Ionesco’s Foursome. The translation (and the all-female casting) was from Gretchen’s master’s thesis. I have to say French absurdist theater was a bit of a surprise, but June says she likes the scene because it’s an argument and she gets to yell. Her group will be performing it at the end of October.

As we were leaving the class, Maggie’s mom offered to drive June home, not only that day, but on an ongoing basis, an offer I readily accepted because it will simplify my Wednesday afternoons.

Speaking of rides, that evening after we were in bed, Beth asked me how June was getting home from her Thursday afternoon GOTR practice, and I realized I hadn’t made arrangements for that. I was already fretting about the fact that Noah had a lot of homework assignments due Friday and he hadn’t used his time well while I was at June’s acting class, plus I’d be away the next evening at Back to School Night at Noah’s school, so I wouldn’t be able to supervise much Thursday night either. I was also feeling guilty that June and I hadn’t managed a whole chapter of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that day because what time I did have between getting home, putting the finishing touches on the dinner I’d made while the kids were at school, and doing the dinner dishes, I spent reading four chapters of 1984 to Noah and quizzing him on the geography of Central America and the Caribbean.

I knew I wouldn’t sleep unless I took care of this first, so I got out of bed to email Zoë’s mom to ask if she could bring June home. This was the arrangement last spring, but I hadn’t touched base with her about it. The fact that I don’t drive often complicates June’s extracurricular schedule. Anyway, I had my answer and June had her ride by the time I woke up the next morning.

Update on Noah and band:  

It took a few emails and most of the first week of school to sort out, but eventually we learned that Noah was not mistakenly put in the band that appeared on his schedule. The non-audition concert band he wanted meets during one of his required CAP classes and the advanced band teacher agreed to let him in without audition, at the request of his guidance counsellor, who remembered he couldn’t get into band last year and felt sorry for him. When Noah first learned what happened, his first instinct was to quit, because he worried he was in over his head, but after some encouraging words from the band teacher and some nudging from us, he decided to stay. I’m proud of him, because he can be self-critical about his playing and the idea of playing with advanced musicians is somewhat stressful for him.

Noah doesn’t seek the spotlight as readily as his sister—who couldn’t believe he wanted to be in a band and he was in a band and was thinking of quitting that band—but he does like to play, and it always makes me happy to hear his drums or his bells, just as I like to see June on stage. I love to watch them perform, famous or not.

Meanwhile, June will have another chance to perform this weekend. Remember when she was in a commercial for the NEA three years ago? On Saturday morning she’s going to participate in the filming of another one for the Alliance of Retired Americans, a lobbying organization for retired members of the AFL-CIO. She may or may not be in the final cut. Wish her luck!

Update (9/17): Because there were only twelve kids at the shoot, they are using footage with all of them.

 

The Fiddle and the Drum

Last Week of July: Band Camp and Tinkering Camp

Oh my friend,
How did you come
To trade the fiddle for the drum?

“The Fiddle and the Drum” by Joni Mitchell

We are done with the camp portion of summer. June was in camp five weeks straight, a week of overnight camp and four weeks of day camp, ending with orchestra camp at the University of Maryland this past week. Noah had only one week of camp this year, band camp the week before June was in orchestra camp, so we’ve had concerts to attend two Fridays in a row. I always enjoy the kids’ musical and dramatic performances, so that was a nice treat.

June’s friend Maggie and her older brother Eli were attending band camp, too, so we carpooled with them the first week. Beth drove the three kids to the University in the morning and Maggie and Eli’s mom drove them home in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, June was at a tinkering camp at her old preschool, learning to whittle a spear, making leaf rubbings, roasting bananas studded with marshmallows and chocolate chips in a campfire, climbing rocks near Sligo Creek, and sledding down hills—did you know you don’t really need snow to sled? It works almost as well on grass.

Most days June walked to and from camp with Megan and her eight-year-old sister Fiona, picking them up on her way, and on Tuesday and Wednesday stopping at their house to play for a couple hours before coming home. (Tink is a half-day camp.) Thursday, they added Talia to their walking party because she was coming home with June. Both Megan’s mom and Talia’s mom both told me their daughters were excited but nervous to walk to or from camp with no adults and that they probably wouldn’t have done it without June. “She’s like a Sherpa,” Beth commented.

Talia’s six-year-old brother Nate was also at Tink, so their mom (also named Megan) took him to the library to pick up some Star Wars books and then they joined us at our house for the second half of the playdate so we could have some adult conversation.

It was a hot, muggy day in a hot, muggy week, so I’d planned the play date around ways to keep cool; I got the sprinkler running in the back yard and made five orange and mango juice popsicles that mornings. But the girls quickly reminded me why I don’t plan what’s going to happen on a play date any more. They wanted to play Animal Jam in one of the hottest rooms of the house, so that’s what they did, though they did pause long enough to fetch popsicles from the freezer and to dash outside and run through the sprinkler for a few minutes. Talia also had an opportunity to beg her mom for one of June’s baby snails, because to our great surprise, her new snails are reproducing. Noah’s counted ten babies, though it can be hard to tell them apart from the gravel, so it’s anyone’s guess. June’s trying to give them away, and her friends are game, but the snails have not been too popular with her friends’ mothers. Sample dialogue:

Adult Megan: “No, because those snails have babies.”

Talia: “But that’s the point.”

As it was actually a little cooler outside our house than in it, Nate sat in the back yard reading his books and playing on Megan’s phone, and we sat out there with him, enjoying the breeze, eating popsicles, and catching up. “How’s your summer?” Megan asked me.  When we were both stay-at-home moms, and then later when I became a part-time work-at-home mom, Megan and I have often commiserated about how hard summer can be. But I had to say it really hasn’t been that bad.

Two of my biggest sources of summer stress—the kids’ bickering when they didn’t have camp and time-consuming camp drop-offs and pickups when they did—have diminished considerably. The kids haven’t been home at the same time any week so far this summer, between Noah visiting YaYa, our beach vacation, and their camps, so we’ll see if the arguing crops up later in August when they are home together for the last week and a half of summer break. Somehow, though, I don’t think it will and the reason actually makes me a little sad. As they’ve gotten older, they interact less. When they’re not trying to do anything together, of course, they don’t fight. I’m hoping it’s a temporary tween/teen thing and when they’re adults they’ll be closer.

The other thing that’s changed is I had to do very little in the way of camp drop-offs and pickups. June’s camps were mostly in Takoma and she could get herself to and from them, though on hotter days I’d sometimes take her on the bus in the morning if she didn’t feel like walking or (at drama camp) had bulky props to deliver.

Megan, who’s now working part-time, too, said registering her kids for the same day camp every week has helped a lot. This is something I’ve rarely managed to do. Not that there’s much opportunity now, as Noah’s aged out of a lot of camps. He would have gone to drama camp at Round House, but their teen program doesn’t run for as many weeks as their camps for younger kids and the only week he wasn’t out of town or at band camp was stage combat and he wasn’t interested. Plus, he’s been pretty busy with his computer science summer school class, so it may be just as well. In fact, the week he was at band camp he couldn’t finish his assignments, even working every evening after camp and the whole weekend, and he had to turn some of them in late.

Noah’s concert was at two p.m. Friday, an hour earlier than it usually is. I had to pick June up from Tink a half hour early so we could get to Maggie’s house. Maggie’s mom Kathryn was not only giving us a ride, their family donated an extra ticket for the concert. Every camper got only two tickets this year because they were in a smaller concert hall.

June was positively mournful as we walked down the brick path away from the brightly painted bungalow where she attended preschool for three years and has been going to camp every summer since then. “This is my last moment as a camper at Tink,” she said dramatically. It was true. The age range is five to ten.

It only got worse in the car on the way to the concert when we learned from Kathryn that the age for volunteers has been raised to fourteen just this year. (Noah’s been volunteering there for SSL credit since he was twelve.) Eli, who’s thirteen, had wanted to volunteer there this summer and had been denied. June was dismayed to learn she has to wait four years to go back, unless there’s a change in either the ages cutoffs for campers or volunteers. They’ve both changed over the years, though, up and down, so you never know.

We met Beth in the lobby and settled down to watch the concert. Maggie was up front playing the saxophone in the fifth and sixth grade band. Among their numbers was “Sakura,” which I know is meant to evoke Japanese cherry blossoms because the orchestra played it at June’s last school concert. It was interesting to hear it played on band instruments. Eli played percussion in the seventh and eighth grade band, but we couldn’t see him too well. The smaller concert hall had another downside, other than scarcity of tickets. There were no risers so it wasn’t possible to see the percussion players most of the time. I know he had a cowbell solo, though. His parents didn’t call out, “More cowbell!” That must have taken some restraint.

I did catch a glimpse of the padded white heads of the mallets moving while Noah played bass drum in the first piece of the ninth and tenth grade set. And I was pretty sure he was the triangle in “Kentucky 1800” because he’d been practicing a triangle part at home and he seemed to be moving slightly whenever I heard the triangle. He also played snare drum, triangle, wind chimes, cymbals, and timpani. Beth and I were happy he got some timpani experience because they didn’t have one at his middle school and he wasn’t in a school band in ninth grade because of schedule conflicts. He later said the song in which he played timpani “The Heart of Madness,” based on two Edgar Allan Poe poems and one story, was his favorite. I liked it, too.

His overall post-concert assessment was “It could have been worse.” He was concerned with some mistakes he’d made on the triangle, which of course I didn’t hear, partly no doubt because I’m not a musician, but more likely because I was mostly hearing the song as a whole and not focusing on the individual pieces.

Even after four years of band camp concerts I’m still amazed at how polished the concerts for all the age groups come off sounding, after only a week of practice. It’s not like a school concert, when they practice for months. But there is some self-selection involved. Noah once said that nearly all the kids who go to band camp are serious about music but not everyone in instrumental music at school is. That’s one of the things he likes about it. He’s modest and has a tendency toward understatement, so “it could have been worse” isn’t as dissatisfied as it might seem. I hope inside he’s proud of himself, because I certainly am.

We went out for celebratory pizza and then Beth, June, and I went to the fiftieth birthday party of our friend Becky, who used to be June’s music teacher in preschool. It was a dance party, and all three of us danced a little. There aren’t many people at whose birthday parties I would dance, especially as tired as I was after staying up two hours past my bed time the night before to listen to Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech at the DNC, but Becky is one of them. We also got a chance to talk with a friend who has a daughter in Noah’s grade and to June’s second grade teacher, and to eat cake. It was a fun evening.

First Week of August: Orchestra Camp

Sunday afternoon we were back in the same concert hall at the University of Maryland, for orchestra camp orientation.  After a brief informational meeting for parents, the kids split up. Beth left to go to a PTSA meeting and I followed the fifth to seventh grade orchestra to watch their first rehearsal.

They got right to work. The teacher seated the violas and cellos by experience level but the violins had to leave the room in groups of four to sight read a piece. This would determine whether they were playing first or second violin. The teacher said she didn’t like to stress the seating hierarchy in the younger group, then she explained at length how she might re-arrange them during the week based on their performance in rehearsals and how it was possible to appeal one’s seating assignment, and I wondered if this was the unstressed version, how cut-throat things were in the eighth to tenth grade group. June looked nervous when it was her turn to leave but she said later it went well. While the violins were going in and out, everyone else got right down to business, learning their concert pieces, with an occasional break for ice-breaking games.

Two of the songs June already knew from her school orchestra and another was “We Will Rock You,” which caused me to wonder to what extent songs at youth musical program concerts are selected for the parents’ entertainment value. What else could account for the disproportional presence of 70s and 80s pop hits at such events?

Campers also received their elective assignments. June had songwriting/composition, a cappella singing, and chorus. Those might have been her top three choices. In any case, she was very pleased. The elective classes are located all over a large, complicated warren of a building so they all had twenty-five minutes to locate all the rooms they’d need to find the next day. This impressed upon me what a grown-up seeming camp this was. I told June it would be good practice for finding her classes in middle school.

Finally, everyone reconvened in the concert hall for more information and for the camp director to raffle off various prizes, such as t-shirt from previous years, fast food coupons, amusement park tickets, a plastic baggie containing two Starburst, a pencil and $5, and an empty cardboard box which symbolized the privilege of sitting in the box seats the next day during the daily concert by guest artists.

Remember how I told my friend Megan this was the year camp transportation was a breeze? Well, I must have jinxed myself because there was a water main break on University Boulevard which snarled traffic for days as they tried to repair it. As you may guess from the name of the street, it goes to the University of Maryland and the bus I needed to take uses it.

We knew about the water main break ahead of time so I left the house at 1:50, and arrived at the stop just after two, thinking that no matter how bad traffic was, I’d still get to June’s camp in time for its 3:30 dismissal. Around three, when I’d been waiting at the stop for an hour, watching traffic crawl by, including several buses for routes other than the one I needed, I started to panic. I called the camp and left a message saying I’d most likely be late. I called the number on the bus stop sign that purports to tell you when the next bus is coming and got a recorded invitation to leave a message. (No one ever returned the call.) I tried to hail a cab, but the only one I saw didn’t stop for me.

After a series of tearful phone calls and texts back and forth with Beth, she got a cab from work and headed in the direction of the University while I walked a few blocks to the next bus stop, just in case the bus was detouring around my stop. There was a big crowd at that bus stop and when a C2 came soon after I arrived, there was some quiet cheering.

I ended up getting there before Beth, but still twenty minutes late. No one from camp had delivered the message to June that I’d be late, but apparently other people got stuck, too, because there were still quite a few kids waiting for pickup when I got there and June wasn’t too worried. We all went to the Student Union and had ice cream, because it seemed necessary after all that stress.

Tuesday they were still working on the road, but there were fewer work vehicles so traffic was better and I arrived more than an hour early. After that I arranged for June to come home with the mother of a sixth-grade girl she knows from her school orchestra.

June enjoyed camp. She made friends, liked her elective classes, and participated in the spirit days, wearing stars and stripes, or wacky clothes, or Maryland colors. She was assigned to play second violin. She had wanted to be first violin and was a little frustrated about already knowing the first violin part to two out of their five songs. She took it pretty well, though, considering she’s used to being a big fish in the small pond of her school orchestra, where she plays in an ensemble for advanced students. Turns out there are a lot more advanced players at orchestra camp.

On Friday afternoon it was concert time. June wore the required uniform of camp t-shirt and khaki shorts, though not without complaint. The shorts, hand-me-downs from Noah, were not exactly her style but nothing khaki would be, so we weren’t buying her shorts or a skirt she’d wear just once.

Beth, Noah, and I all met in the lobby of the concert hall. Noah and I got there almost an hour early, out of caution, and the last of the performances the elective classes were giving for the other campers was in progress. I got excited, thinking I might see June’s a cappella group or chorus class sing, but alas, they’d already gone. Parents aren’t explicitly invited to those mini-concerts, but if I’d known they’d be right out in the lobby for any passerby to see, I would have come earlier to see June and to see Noah’s movie music class perform the week before. Live and learn.

Choir camp and orchestra camp meet the same week, so their concerts are combined. Chorus went first, singing five songs. The chorus director reminded us the students had learned all the music in five days, which really is quite an impressive feat, especially as one of the songs they sang was a Serbian folk song, in Serbian.

The fifth to seventh grade orchestra was next. Their second song was “Ode to Joy,” and I have to admit, I thought, “Again?” when June first told me they’d be playing it because if you’ve been to as many band and orchestra concerts as I have, you’ve heard this one many, many times. But when they played it, I was won over, because it really is a pretty piece of music when it’s played well and they did play it well. The fourth song was June’s favorite, even though she said she missed a few notes in it. It was called “Fiddle and Stomp.” As you might guess, they stomped their feet in between the fiddling. And then they ended with “We Will Rock You,” and they rocked it.

The eighth to tenth grade orchestra was on next and they were just breathtakingly good, especially on “Waltz of the Wicked,” and “Danse Bacchanale,” both of which were complicated and hauntingly beautiful. I remember at Noah’s first band camp concert and being impressed with the older kids because I’d only heard elementary and middle school band concerts up to that point. This was similar. It was obvious a lot of those kids have put a lot of time and effort into their music.

It was a good two weeks of music-making. Noah’s considering being a junior counselor at band camp next summer, and June’s also thinking of returning, but switching to choir camp, so there’s a good chance I’ll be back at the University of Maryland at least once next year, hearing my kids fiddle, drum, or sing