Have Your Cake and Eat it, Too

Thursday: Pre-birthday

“I’ve never been to any part of this hospital other than the emergency room and neurology,” North noted on Thursday morning as we were walking through the corridors of Children’s National Hospital. It was true, we were in a different part of the hospital than the one where we go for the specialist we see about North’s migraines. We had an intake appointment with a doctor, a social worker, and some other staff members in the Gender Development Program. We were there all morning, filling out forms and talking to people. We’re getting into their system now in case we ever need their services. We also signed up to get on the email list for two support groups we may attend, one for trans and non-binary kids and one for their parents. We have a follow-up appointment scheduled for July.

After the appointment was over we dropped North off at school and Beth and I went out for a pre-birthday lunch at Arepas Pues in Silver Spring. It was very good. Beth says she is going to be craving the cilantro sauce that came with the tequeños (fried cheese sticks) because cilantro has that effect on her. Arepas Pues is next to Smoothie King and I remembered I had a frequent buyer card in my wallet I hadn’t used in years because I am not actually a frequent buyer at Smoothie King. But the card was full because I used to be a frequent buyer, back when both kids used to go to drama camp in Silver Spring every spring break and summer and we’d often go get smoothies after camp.

Well, when I tried to redeem the card for a free smoothie, the cashier looked at it like she’d never seen such a thing, then called another employee over, then talked to someone on the phone and the upshot was there was no free smoothie for me. I was mildly annoyed because even though they clearly don’t use these stamp cards any more (they have an app now) the card had no expiration date. It would have been pretty easy to give me a smoothie, but I didn’t make a fuss because I’ve been a young person working retail and I didn’t want to be that customer.

Friday: 51/3 = 17

The next day was my birthday. Fifty-one is kind of an anti-climactic birthday, but it’s pleasing to me that now that Noah is seventeen and I’m fifty-one I’ve been a parent exactly one-third of my life. The day was pretty ordinary, at least until the evening. I sat on the porch and read a short story from this collection as well as the first few pages of Romeo and Juliet because I want to brush up on the play before I see it next weekend (North has a small part as a servant in the Capulet house). Then I finished ghost-writing a blog post on GMOs, exercised, and cleaned the kitchen. I had nice talks with both my sister and my mom on the phone.

When North got home from school I reminded them Beth was going to pick them up in a half hour for an appointment to get their braces off (the first phase is finished now and they have two years’ reprieve before the second phase) and then I left to go to Starbucks to redeem my birthday reward. Here I had better luck and successfully obtained a free iced strawberry-green tea and a couple cake pops.

When I got home North was gone but Noah was home, so we read Wolves of the Calla for almost an hour. We’ve been reading this book since January and we are tantalizingly close to the end, but I knew he’d be studying for AP exams all weekend and it was unlikely we’ll get to it again until next weekend. Then he practiced his bells and drums and Beth and North got back from the orthodontist with no braces and a new retainer and we all piled in the car to go to Highwood Theater.

It was Fine Arts Night, which is part preview for the two shows they have in production (Romeo and Julian and West Side Story) and part open mike night for the kids acting in these or previous Highwood shows. We had to drop North off for rehearsal at 6:30 but the event didn’t start until 8:00, so North while ate at home (a small pizza Beth picked up for them on the way home from the orthodontist), the rest of us had my birthday dinner of wood-fire oven baked pizza with eggplant and mushrooms and Greek salad on the patio of Pacci’s on a near perfect spring evening. We skipped dessert because we were going to have a red velvet-strawberry ice cream cake after the show.

The scenes from Romeo and Julian were the play prologue, the fight scene, and the balcony scene. The play was cast gender-blind and will be performed in modern clothes. Both leads are played by trans boys. I’m looking forward to seeing the whole thing on Friday. The kids in West Side Story did the scene in which Tony is convinced to come to the dance and the scene in which Maria sings, “I Feel Pretty.” Chances are we’ll go to that show, too, although North’s not in it. We pretty much go to all Highwood shows now because North always has friends in them.

Because kids come back to act in this student-based theater season after season, they get to know each other and they’re bonded. During the open mike part of the show, every single kid got thunderous applause from the other kids and many of them were enveloped in huge group hugs after they sang.  That’s what happened to North after they sang their original song “Guess What?” Beth said later it made her happy that North has found their people. Here’s how the song starts:

Guest what?
I’m not like anybody else
And guess what?
Maybe sometimes I mess it up myself
But guess what?
Maybe someday I’m going to be
Something you could never even see

‘Cause it’s not in my light hair
Not in my blue eyes
Not in my fair skin
Not in my freckles
Not in my big feet
Or the way I hold my tongue
But in the way I sing
And have always sung
‘Cause music takes the bad parts out of everything
And somehow kind of picks and chooses for me
And I love it oh so much
When I need it, it’s my crutch
Music’s always there
For me.

The show was diverse with teens singing songs from musicals, an adorable boy of eight or nine singing “Movin’ Right Along,” from The Muppet Movie, a girl about the same age singing “Octopus’s Garden” and accompanying herself on the ukulele, and a band of high school students that focused on classic rock (Pink Floyd, Toto, and Talking Heads). The teenage girl who sang “Hold the Line,” really rocked it.

The show was a lot of fun, but it was also long, about two hours instead of the one hour we were expecting. I was thinking I might rather delay my cake and presents until the next day (as Noah had the week before) rather than rushing through them at the end of a long day. I still wanted to pick up the cake, though, because Cold Stone was right around the corner, and it seemed silly to go make Beth go back to Silver Spring the next day.

Well, Cold Stone is open after ten on a Friday night, but thinking back to my own days as a Baskin Robbins employee one summer in college, I might have realized this isn’t the best time to pick up a cake. The staff was busy and unprepared for what I assumed would be a simple transaction. (I was in the store alone while Beth and the kids waited in the car.) I thought just giving them Beth’s last name would be enough but apparently there were a lot of cakes in the back and they didn’t have names on them. And because I hadn’t ordered the cake I didn’t know what size it was or if she’d ordered lettering. I said it might say, “Happy Birthday, Steph,” thinking that might narrow things down, but there was no such cake. (I later learned it just said “Happy Birthday.”) Employees kept coming to talk to me and wandering off and then new ones would come. Eventually Beth texted me the receipt and I thought that would help but it didn’t. Finally, they just took a cake from the display freezer and wrote “Happy B-day, Steph” on it right there and then and I was free to leave. It was ten-thirty by the time we got home and everyone went to bed, with no cake.

Saturday: Birthday, Belated

We had the cake after lunch the next day, after I organized a campaign to get everyone to finish their lunches by 12:15 (because North had to leave for rehearsal at 12:45). I opened my presents—an umbrella, headphones, a promise to get my Birkenstocks resoled and to buy Stephen King’s new book The Outsider when it comes out later this month. Earlier I’d received a Starbucks card from my mom and a card telling me Beth’s mom had a tree planted in my name in a national forest. I was very happy with the gifts. Beth’s card said “Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too,” which I thought was funny given the trouble we’d had with the cake.

Sunday: Mother’s Day

The next day was Mother’s Day so there were more gifts. Beth got a pink carnation at the supermarket, where they were giving them away to moms. The kids got Beth some treats—a dark chocolate bar and a bag of chocolate wafer cookies. I got another Starbucks card from Noah and a little herb garden in a pot from North. It has oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and nasturtiums. It was a thoughtful gift, as I’d been saying I thought I’d focus the garden on herbs and flowers this year because I’m tired of squirrels, rabbits, and deer eating our vegetables and melons. I already had basil, chives, cilantro, and parsley in various stages, so this makes a nice assortment. (And because I can’t stop myself sometimes, I do have some lettuce plants in the ground already and cucumber seeds planted in starter pots. And when North brought kale seeds home from church on Mother’s Day, I planted some of those, too, though I’m saving most of them for a fall crop.)

Monday to Thursday

We’re near the end of a busy week for both kids. Noah took four AP exams—in Biology, Calculus BC, English Language and Composition, and World History. He just took the last one this morning. It’s tech week for Romeo and Julian, which means North has had rehearsal until ten o’clock on Monday, Wednesday, and tonight and then the show runs from Friday to Sunday, three evening shows and two matinees.

North also got to go to a ceremony at school honoring kids who were on the honor roll and/or got straight As third quarter. It was their first time getting straight As so that was exciting. And then they were nominated by their chorus teacher to join the Tri-M Music Honor Society and that was even more exciting. Finally, after an article in the school magazine in which North was interviewed about why separating boys and girls in gym class was problematic for non-binary kids, their gym teacher started having them do their pacer tests all together. North is proud to have made a difference. And we’re proud, too.

Life seems full these days, in a good way. I’m appreciating this more keenly because early spring—from early March to mid-April or so—was a hard, out-of-sorts time for me. Now it’s better. It’s like I have my cake and I’m eating it, too.

Edge of Seventeen

Not His Birthday 

As we walked into Roscoe’s on Friday evening, Beth offered to sing “Happy Birthday” to Noah in the restaurant and he declined adamantly, adding, “It’s not my birthday.” It was in fact the day after his birthday. He’d had a band concert on the actual day so we’d decided to go out for pizza, have cake and ice cream at home and open presents on Friday instead, when we’d have more time and be more relaxed. So repeatedly over the next few days when he’d ask for something, like for someone who was in the kitchen to bring him a fork, we’d say, “Why? It’s not your birthday.”

His Birthday

There was some festivity on the day of his birth, however. He opened his presents from Beth’s mom when he got home from school on Thursday because she was going to fly to Ireland the next day and we knew she’d call, so Beth wanted him to be able to thank her when she did. She got him some Amazon gift cards, a t-shirt from Oglebay Park, and some Cow Tales caramels and M&Ms. I also had him open one of his presents from us, a loaf of bread from Zingerman’s, his favorite online food catalog, because I needed it for dinner. I gave it to him with a birthday hat on it, with little curls of ribbon hanging from the elastic chin strap. Never say I skimp on presentation.

I needed the bread to make garlic bread. When I asked Noah want he wanted for dinner on his birthday, he said lasagna and then surprised me by upping the ante and asking if we could have pasta every night from Monday to Thursday; he knew we were going out for pizza on Friday. He doesn’t ask for much, so I said yes. Monday I prepared fresh spinach fettucine with asparagus and a lemon-cream sauce; Tuesday I made lo mein; Wednesday I lowered the bar a bit and served the kids macaroni and cheese from a box with broccoli while I had something else (Beth was working late and ate at work); but on Thursday I rallied and made homemade lasagna with garlic bread (which is one of the best ways to show Noah you love him).

We had to eat the lasagna on the early side because we needed to leave at six for concert, which started at 6:30. There are five bands at Noah’s school—the Jazz Combo, the Jazz Ensemble, the Concert Band, the Symphonic Band, and the Wind Ensemble. Noah plays percussion in the Wind Ensemble, which you might think was an ensemble of wind instruments from, you know, the name, but it’s actually just the advanced band. I’ve often wondered if there’s some history behind the nomenclature, but I’ve never heard an explanation.  Noah also pinch hits for the Concert Band and the Symphonic Band when they need extra percussionists. At festival this year he played in all three bands and at this concert he was playing in the Symphonic Band as well as the Wind Ensemble. In the past when this has happened he’s had advance notice and the chance to practice with the other bands, but this time he was going to be sight reading a piece for Symphonic Band. He didn’t seem too nervous about this and I remembered how jittery he was before his first high school band concert just last year.

Once we were seated, I scanned the program. Each of the five bands had three songs, except the Jazz Ensemble, which had six. This was going to be a long concert. I wouldn’t have minded, as I enjoy my kids’ performances, but Noah still had two homework assignments left and one of them was a one-a-half page paper on Hurricane Katrina, which he hadn’t even researched yet. I tried to put it out my mind and listen to the music.

After both jazz bands had played, the jazz band director recognized all the seniors, speaking a little about each one and noting where they were all going to college and their intended majors. I am finding this ritual more interesting as my own musician gets closer to being a senior. It will be him in that lineup next spring, if the powers that control scheduling let him into band. (He’s only been in band three of his six semesters in high school because of conflicts with required classes.)

In the break between the Jazz Ensemble and the Concert Band, North and I went out to the lobby to use the restrooms and to patronize the bake sale. Either we missed the announcement to go back or there was none and we missed half the concert band’s set, re-entering the auditorium in the middle of their second song, and waiting to go back to our seats until that song was over. I was a little abashed and glad Noah wasn’t playing with that band.

When the Symphonic Band was setting up we were excited to see Noah standing next to a gong, as that’s an unusual instrument but it turned out this was the piece he’s never practiced and he missed his cue and never played it. He did play the suspended cymbals, though.

Finally it was time for the Wind Ensemble. The band director noted the ensemble had advanced to state festival this year and got top marks there. Then they played their three festival pieces—“The Liberty Bell March,” which you might recognize if you are familiar with the Monty Python theme song; an excerpt from “Appalachian Spring,” (the part based on the Shaker song “Simple Gifts”); and “Children’s March.” Noah played crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, triangle, xylophone, and chimes. In the last song he was playing three different instruments and running around a lot from one station to another. (In the photo you can see him in the back holding the crash cymbals.) Afterward, Noah said the band had made some mistakes, but “percussion sounded pretty good.” For Noah, this represents a high level of satisfaction. And for the record, I didn’t hear the mistakes. I never do, except sometimes in elementary school concerts.

It was almost ten when we got home and Noah was too tired to start a research paper, so he did the other assignment and went to bed, I’m not sure when because it was after Beth and I had gone to bed.

Not His Birthday

The next day, after we got home from pizza, we sang “Happy Birthday” to him in the privacy of our own house, ate Beth’s homemade chocolate cake with strawberry frosting (a common birthday request from both Noah and me) and ice cream and then he opened presents. He got a gift card to 7-11(for $17) because he often stops there on the way home from school, a book in a series we’re reading, more food from Zingerman’s (chocolate-caramel shortbread cookies, two kind of imported Italian pasta, Piave Vecchie cheese, which is supposed to taste like a cross of Parmesan and Gruyère—his favorite cheeses), a wireless charger, a headphone splitter, and a wallet.

The next day a check from my mom arrived and we completed our last birthday-related ritual, going out for Thai food. My last meal before going into labor with Noah was Thai food, so we often go out for Thai near his birthday.

Noah is seventeen years and three days old today. I am increasingly aware of how short our time with him still at home is. Why do you think that is? Could it be those college tours? And I’m also mindful of how much I will miss him when this boy on the edge of seventeen crosses over to eighteen and his adult life. But I’m proud of him, as a student, a musician, and increasingly, as an active citizen. I’ll be sad to see him go but I’m also eager to see what kind of man my boy will be.

When April Has Showered Sweetly With His Rains

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur 
Of which vertú engendred is the flour… 

Oh, let’s just do this in modern English, shall we?

When April has showered sweetly with his rains…
When the West wind has breathed so sweetly…
Through every grove and field…
When shoots and flowers…
Have broken through the earth…
When the sun shines…
And the birds sing…
This is when good folks to Canterbury go

The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted by Lindsay Price

April may have been when good folks went to Canterbury, but for us it’s when it starts to seem there’s another artistic event every day. Here’s what we did over the past week: North sang with the church youth choir during the Earth Day service, Noah’s band competed in the state band festival, North and I read poems at a poetry reading at the public library, I attended my book club, North acted in two performances of the school play, and three short films Noah helped make were screened at a film festival for high school and middle school filmmakers at the American Film Institute.

Sunday: Earth Day Service

There’s a children’s choir and a youth choir at church and when North expressed interest in singing with one of them, they were inexplicably put in the youth choir, even though the children’s choir goes through eighth grade and the rest of the kids in the youth choir are all in high school. As the children’s choir is bigger and seems better organized, I asked if they’d rather switch but they said they like the music in youth choir better, so we’re letting it be.

It was a very musical service. The two choirs performed “This Pretty Planet” together as the gathering music at the beginning of the service. The younger kids were in white tops, dark pants or skirts and kerchiefs made of green felt to which they’d attached cutouts of lady bugs, flowers, etc. The older kids were in street clothes. They sang the song in a round. It goes like this:

This pretty planet spinning through space,
Your garden, your harbor, 
Your holy place,
Golden sun going down,
Gentle blue giant spin us around.
All through the night, safe ’til the morning light.

During the offertory the children’s choir sang two more songs alone and then for the commencement music the youth choir sang another song “The Oneness of Everything.” It’s a long song, but here’s how it starts:

Far beyond the grasp of hands, or light to meet the eye,
Past the reaches of the mind
There find the key to nature’s harmony
In an architecture so entwined.
Like the birds, whose patterns grace the sky
And carry all who join in love, expanding,
The message of peace will rise in flight
Taking the weight of the world upon its wings,
With the oneness of everything.

Considering they practiced just once (right before the service) they sounded pretty good.

And speaking of music, one of the several hymns the congregation sang together, “Mother Earth, Beloved Garden,” was written by someone I knew in college. (We were in a housing and dining co-op together and I had a class with her girlfriend.) I wouldn’t have even noticed if Beth hadn’t pointed to her name in the hymnal, but I was pleased to see it.

Tuesday: State Band Festival and Favorite Poem Night

At festival earlier this spring, one of the three bands Noah played in got straight superiors so they advanced to the state level, which was held at Towson University on Tuesday. Noah managed to leave the house in his band clothes and they got top marks again for their performance pieces and their sight reading. They played a Sousa march, a piece by Copland, and song called “Children’s March.” Noah played crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, triangle, and bells. He seemed pleased with their scores in a muted, Noah sort of way.

That evening, North and I read at Favorite Poem night at the public library. It’s the third year in a row I’ve done this—and North’s first year—but I considered doing it for years before I did. The problem was I took the name a little too literally and it was hard to commit to any one poem as being my favorite. Finally, two years ago I decided one of my favorites would be good enough and read Emily Dickinson’s “One Need Not Be a Chamber to Be Haunted.” And then last year I had just read a Pablo Neruda poem, “The Wide Ocean,” at my stepfather’s memorial service, so I read that one again at the library. As I was trying to decide what to read this year, I thought I could do the two poems my father chose to have read at his memorial service eight years ago, as those are meaningful to me, if not exactly favorites. So, I read an excerpt from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” and Raymond Carver’s “Late Fragment.”

North read “Pronoun,” which is the first poem of in Freakboy, a novel-in-verse about three characters with different gender identities and expressions. There were a couple other kids at the reading, including one North knew from acting class. He did a very dramatic recitation of an e.e. cummings poem he had by heart. I think he stole the show, but another memorable moment occurred when the last reader was reading “Casey at the Bat” off his phone, not realizing it was truncated. Left without the last couple stanzas (right after the second strike), he looked at the crowd and said, “Well, you know how it ends, right?” and a good chunk of the audience chanted back, “There is no joy in Mudville—Mighty Casey has struck out!” much to North’s surprise. Later I explained, “Well, it’s a famous poem,” and they wanted to know, “Is it an old people poem?”

Wednesday: Book Club

Wednesday my book club had its fourth and final meeting on Kristin Lavransdatter, a three-volume, 1125-page novel set in fourteenth-century Norway following the life of a woman from early childhood to death. I struggled to finish the book by the last meeting but I managed it, just barely, because I’d invested so much time in it over the past couple months I couldn’t bear for there to be any spoilers. And I won’t give you any, in case you intend to read it, which you should if you like historical novels with sweeping, multigenerational plots and intimate psychological portraits.

Wednesday and Thursday: Canterbury Tales

The spring play at North’s school was The Canterbury Tales and it opened Wednesday and closed Thursday. The kids have been in rehearsal for months, having auditioned and received their scripts shortly before winter break. For the last several weeks, North’s been in rehearsals for two plays at once, as Romeo and Julian rehearsals at Highwood Theater overlapped with this play. It worked because all the school play rehearsals were after school and all the Highwood ones were either in the evening or on weekends, but it still made for some busy days. One recent Saturday North had a costume fitting for one play in the morning and a rehearsal for the other in the afternoon.

Beth got involved with the play, too, helping sew costumes on two Saturdays and designing the programs. The director had the idea to have Beth re-write all the kids’ bios using gender-neutral pronouns as a show of support for North. It was well-intentioned, but North, Beth, and I all thought using pronouns other than what the kids preferred wasn’t quite the right thing to do. After all North doesn’t like it when that happens to them—so I suggested writing the bios in the first person with no gendered pronouns at all and that’s what Beth did.

Beth and I attended the play on Thursday. In case you’re wondering what a middle school production of The Canterbury Tales would be like, the answer is: in modern English, mostly in prose, cut down to seven tales, and only mildly bawdy (although bawdy enough to surprise some parents).

The play was performed in the band room, which is an amphitheater-style room so the actors were in the front and the audience was on folding chairs around and above them. It was very well done: the costumes looked great, almost all the kids projected, and even though a lot of them had never acted before, there wasn’t much stumbling over lines and the actors portrayed their characters convincingly and with humor. North’s friend Zoë was one of the novices, and she did a great job playing the knight in the Wife of Bath’s tale. She seems to be a natural.

North played the Pardoner, one of the pilgrims, so they were on stage in the opening scene, in all the scenes between the tales and they narrated their own tale. It was a good one, featuring the black-cloaked figure of Death, who touched people on the shoulders causing them to act in ways that set their own deaths into motion and then stalked away cackling. In the intercalary scenes North’s character was a comic figure, with a lot of good one-liners. If you’re looking for them in the picture, they’re second from the left—in between the church choir performance and the play they dyed their hair purple. Also, the crutch isn’t a prop– they fell over a chair and twisted their ankle a couple days before the first performance.

Saturday: Montgomery County Youth Media Festival

Saturday morning we went to the American Film Institute to see the Montgomery County Youth Media Festival. Noah and his collaborators submitted three short films and they were all accepted, which is impressive considering the festival as a whole had about a one-third acceptance rate. All Noah’s films were made with other members of the production team at Blair Network Communications, the television station at Noah’s school.

Of Noah’s three films, the two in the documentary category were short bits profiling school events, one held by of the Free Minds Book club, which was facilitating correspondence between incarcerated kids and Blair students, and another by the Japanese club, which was teaching students to make rice balls and raising money for world hunger. The film in the narrative category was the longest one (and Noah’s favorite). It was a PSA about not being late to class. It featured the school mascot, the Blazer, and his fictional nemesis (invented for this film), the Reverse Blazer, who attempts to make a kid late to class by plucking him out of the hall and causing him to teleport to the athletic field. The Blazer then appears and pursues the Reverse Blazer, but the Reverse Blazer escapes, so as the Blazer explains everyone must be diligent about being on time for class because the Reverse Blazer is still out there. This film got a lot of laughs from the audience, which is also what happened when it aired on BNC.

Noah’s school dominated the documentary category with nine of the thirteen finalists; this isn’t that surprising because Blair houses the Communications Arts Program and filmmaking is central to the curriculum. The narrative film category was more balanced, with The Blazer being the only entry from Blair. I also noticed about a third of the middle school films were from Noah’s middle school, which also has a communications magnet.

The winner in the documentary category was a film about refugees in Paris, made by one of Noah’s classmates. A horror film won the narrative category. My interpretation of it was that it was about hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation in three kids in a college (or maybe boarding school) dorm. There was a lot of impressive film making but I have to say Noah’s peers seem to be a morose bunch (either that or the judges who picked the finalists are). It seemed every other film was about death or mental illness. At first I was surprised, not that kids would make films on these topics but that so many of them would and then I remembered being a teenager and I wasn’t so surprised any more.

I would have liked to stay for the whole festival but it was five hours and we did have other things to do that day so we left during the break between high school and middle school films and went out to lunch at Noodles and Company and then got bubble tea (for North) and ice cream for the rest of us before heading home.

It’s been a busy but fun week with our young artists. And we have a bit of a breather before our next two performances, which will be Noah’s band concert on Thursday and Romeo and Julian in mid-May.

Kids

Kids!
You can talk and talk till your face is blue!
Kids!
But they still just do what they want to do!

From “Kids” by Lee Adams (Bye, Bye Birdie)

In the space of ten days, the kids have: seen three plays, played and sang in music festivals (both with a solo), walked out of school to protest gun violence, gone on two field trips, participated in a day of service, sung karaoke and performed in an acting class showcase. On hearing about just one of these days, Beth’s mom said, “North’s a busy bee.” Here’s how it all went down:

Saturday: Bye, Bye Birdie

The theater where North did School of Rock last fall had two shows running on consecutive weekends this month, Bye, Bye Birdie and Sweet Charity. North wanted to go because they had friends in each show so we did. We saw Bye, Bye Birdie first. It was a fun show and nice to see so many kids from School of Rock perform again. I got a root beer float from the concession stand during intermission because it seemed appropriate for the time period. And speaking of the time period, when the show was over I had to explain to North what it meant to get pinned. They looked at me skeptically and said, “People don’t do that anymore, do they?” As we left the theater and walked down the staircase toward a corridor lined with actors waiting to greet the audience, several kids yelled North’s name. They all seemed happy to see each other.

Monday: Band Festival

Noah played in a band festival and just as at North’s chorus concert earlier this month, there was an issue with his band clothes. The problem was he forgot to wear them and he arrived at school in street clothes. Beth saved his bacon by running the band clothes to school for him. He forgot to ask for a belt so she didn’t take one and his concert pants wouldn’t stay up, so he wore the fleece pants he’d worn to school, which luckily, were black. Because of a percussionist shortage, Noah played not only with his own band but his school’s two other bands. He had to learn a timpani part with one day’s notice for one of them. (Having no timpani at home, he practiced it on his bells.) The ensemble (his regular band) got straight superiors and will advance to the state festival, which is always gratifying for him. I’m proud of his flexibility and hard work.

Tuesday: Walkout and Field Trip

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the seventeen-minute walkouts all across the country last Tuesday to commemorate the one month anniversary of the Parkland shootings. The kids at Noah’s school decided to have theirs in front of the White House (and then the Capitol) so he was out of school nearly the whole day, rather than just seventeen minutes. Nancy Pelosi, John Lewis, Bernie Sanders, and our senator (Chris Van Hollen) and representative (Jamie Raskin) and the representative from Parkland, Florida and another one from the Sandy Hook area spoke to the assembled kids. Noah said the sound system was better than at the last walkout and he could hear the speeches. A kid we know who’s a senior at Noah’s school got to shake John Lewis’s hand.

Most of Noah’s teachers let their classes know there wouldn’t be anything happening that day, just in case they should happen to find themselves elsewhere, say, in front of the White House. I know it was not as easy for students in less accommodating schools and in more conservative parts of the country. But in schools in big cities and small towns all over the country, they did it anyway. Beth, who has a more politically diverse group of Facebook friends than I do, said she was surprised how much support these student protests are getting from all quarters. She says it’s like the NRA is the Wizard of Oz and the kids have pulled away the curtain. I hope so.

I like Randy Rainbow’s take on the protests as well. The song, perfectly enough, is a parody of “Kids” from Bye, Bye Birdie. I couldn’t place it at first, but finally I realized why it sounded familiar.

Meanwhile, at North’s school there was a walkout to the athletic field, but the whole sixth grade was on a previously scheduled field trip to see Hidden Figures at AFI. About ten of them, including North, walked out of the movie for seventeen minutes.

Thursday: Day of Service

On Thursday, there was a Day of Service for the kids in the Communications Arts Program at Noah’s school. He volunteered at Community Forklift, a group that collects and redistributes tools and architectural salvage to provide the community with affordable home improvement supplies and reduce construction waste. He says he carried a lot of doors around the warehouse.

Friday: Chorus Festival

Friday was North’s turn for festival. After many years of hearing about Noah going, they were very excited. And after all the trouble we’d had with concert clothes, they had their clothes out two days in advance. So you won’t be surprised to hear when they put on their pants the morning of the festival, they discovered the snap was broken. We looked all over for safety pins but could only find some small ones that weren’t strong enough for the stretchy material of the pants. I texted the chorus teacher who said it was okay to wear their shirt untucked and as the pants were staying up without the snap, they went with that look. The only other option was black capris leggings and it would have been hard to tuck a shirt into those, too.

I’d volunteered to chaperone the trip, so I showed up at the chorus room at eight a.m. while North was checking in with their first period teacher. As the kids started showing up, the room began to buzz with young people in high spirits. Then some of the kids noticed the flurries outside and this nearly caused them to lose their minds. The chorus teacher had to shout to make his directions heard. He sent me outside to see if the buses had arrived while the seventh and eighth grade chorus practiced a song. The buses had arrived and soon we were boarding them. There was only one other chaperone and she and the teacher rode with the seventh and eighth graders so I was the only adult other than the bus driver on the sixth-grade bus. Let’s just say they weren’t saving their voices for the competition.

Once we were at the high school where the festival took place, we sat in the audience and watched choruses from other middle schools perform. Each chorus sang three songs and then one of the four judges would come on stage and critique the performance and ask them to sing certain lines again. Then the chorus would exit the stage, go to another room and do a sight reading test for a fifth judge.

We saw a lot of schools and I’m not a musician so it would be hard for me to say that one school was better than another. They all sounded pretty good to me. I was interested in the way different schools organized their choruses. Some schools sang all together, others were divided by grade (this is how North’s school does it), others into a boys’ chorus and a girls’ chorus, at least one had an advanced subgroup sing after the main group. The dress codes were different, too. Black and white was the most common color scheme, but there was a red and black school, a blue and black one and a burgundy and black one. Some co-ed choruses had different dress codes for boys and girls. I thought about what a headache that would be for North and other non-binary kids and I was glad in their chorus all genders sing together and everyone wears white tops and black bottoms.

The sixth-grade chorus went relatively early in the proceedings, but after we’d had a chance to see a few others schools go. None of those schools had a soloist so I was wondering if the onstage judge would give North individualized feedback in front of a whole auditorium of people and if that would be nerve-wracking for them. Anyway, their solo went well, by which I mean they sounded good and their pants didn’t fall down during it. They were singing in Hebrew and later I asked if they knew what the words meant and they said, “No idea.” When the judge came onstage he asked for an extra round of applause for the soloist, but all the critique was for the chorus as a whole, which I think was just about the best outcome for them, public recognition without public criticism.

We watched some more schools and after we’d been there a few hours, a kid from another chorus fainted onstage, falling straight onto his face. It was during the critique portion of the proceedings and once he’d come to and had some water and was able to stand, his whole chorus exited without finishing.

Shortly afterward the seventh and eighth grade chorus from North’s school performed. And then one of their singers got woozy and had to leave the stage but he didn’t actually lose consciousness so the show went on. (North later speculated it was because the stage lights were so hot.) Because the other chaperone went to sit with the sick boy and the chorus teacher went to the seventh and eighth grade sight reading, I was left in charge of the twenty-some sixth-graders, who were supposed to leave the auditorium and wait in the lobby near the doors so once the seventh and eighth-graders came out, we could all board the buses.

It was a long wait—at least fifteen minutes—and the kids were very wound up. I decided early on the most control I would try exert was to keep kids from exiting the building and to break up roughhousing (both of which I needed to do multiple times). When they started to rock a vending machine because a treat had gotten stuck, I just let them, though I didn’t feel good about it.

Finally the teacher and the other chorus came out and we got back on the buses for a ride that was even louder than the ride to the festival and included a few kids loudly singing music with rather alarming lyrics. I was glad North had asked to borrow my earbuds and was listening to something else. Before we left, the teacher came on the bus to tell them their scores—straight excellent ratings for their performance and a superior for the sight reading. You need straight superiors to advance to the state festival so that’s it for chorus field trips until the Music in the Parks festival in the late spring when they’ll go to Hershey Park.

Saturday: Little Mermaid, Sweet Charity, and Karaoke

A friend of North’s who goes to a different school invited them to see a production of The Little Mermaid at her school. North knew three of the actors, from school and drama camp, including the one playing Ariel, so that was nice. We were going to see Sweet Charity later that same day and we had an extra ticket because Noah was swamped with work so we picked North and Leila up after the first play and took both kids out to lunch and then to the second play. I’d been iffy about seeing Sweet Charity because the subject matter is somewhat adult and it ended up being even more risqué than I’d imagined a middle and high school production would be so I was a bit nervous the whole time I was watching it, wondering what was going to happen next. It wasn’t a disaster, but I did feel the need to apologize to Leila’s mom afterward, even though Leila liked it and did not appear to be traumatized. I do have a reputation as the strict mom to uphold. 

We dropped Leila off but then while I was messaging her mom about the play, she asked if North would like to go do karaoke with Leila and her dad at a local church, so I hurriedly fed North and Beth drove them over to the church. There was a big crowd apparently, and North never got a chance to sing, but they enjoyed watching. Leila’s mom said “Roar,” was performed five times.

Monday: Acting Class Showcase

North’s been taking an acting class at the rec center this winter. The last meeting was Monday and there was a showcase for friends and family. I showed up fifteen minutes before the audience was supposed to arrive to deliver North’s costume—a pair of pajamas—and ducked back out to wait for the audience to be admitted. While I was rummaging through their pajama drawer I realized the green and gray striped ones were in Slytherin colors, which was perfect because North was playing Scorpius from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

They started with some acting warm-up games and then the scenes began. It was an eclectic mix: The Parent Trap, The Dead Poets’ Society, City of Ember, Anne of Green Gables, The Gilmore Girls, and Waiting for Godot. North’s scene from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was the one in which Scorpius is convincing Albus to destroy the time turner. North was very expressive and did a good job inhabiting the role. There was a lot of good acting on display. Other than North’s scene, I think I liked the one from The Gilmore Girls the best, even though I never watched that show. The actors were fantastic and the emotional stakes were clearly established.

After each scene the teacher, Gretchen, had the actors repeat some part of the scene with the lights up brighter so parents could take pictures. Then when all the scenes were over, the kids discussed some of the acting techniques they’d learned in the class and how they applied them. They finished up with an improv game in which the players have to repurpose a prop. Members of the audience were invited to join. I didn’t, but Zoë, who’d come to see North perform, did. She’ll be in the school play with North next month and I think she might be interested in taking this class some time.

If she does and North’s in it again, I will be happy to be in the audience. I love watching my kids and other people’s kids do just what they want to do, on stage, in front of the White House and wherever else they happen to be. If there’s a bright spot in these troubled times, they are it.

Why We Sing

“Where’s my dress shirt?” North was yelling from their room, fifteen minutes before we needed to leave for the Honors Chorus concert. I yelled back that it was hanging up in their closet, on the far right side. No, it wasn’t, they insisted. I went in to check. No white shirt.

The dress code requirements had been lengthy and quite specific, so the idea of North not having a white shirt—the most basic concert requirement—was alarming. The shirt in question was an old band shirt of Noah’s, but I knew we’d given away all his white band shirts in bigger sizes to family we know with a younger musician back when North was wearing more feminine white blouses or sweaters to concerts and I didn’t think they’d ever wear those shirts. (Ironically, around the time I gave up on the idea of a potential tomboy phase making Noah’s hand-me-downs useful and started giving his clothes away he was wearing the very size North mostly wears now. I’ve often wished for those clothes back.) I told North to search the cluttered closet floor with the flashlight on their cell phone while I went to fetch my own white button-down, in a women’s plus size that would surely come to North’s knees, for them to try.

But before I returned with it, North found the shirt, in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the closet. It was wrinkled, but that wouldn’t show from a distance. That it was a white button-down shirt or blouse would and that was the important thing. North gathered up their music and the dinner of finger foods (apple and cucumber slices, carrot sticks, and slices of American cheese and vegetarian turkey) I’d made so they could eat in the car. After we dropped them off at an upcounty high school for the dress rehearsal, we switched the music in the car from shuffling songs from The Greatest Showman (North’s current musical obsession) to songs from Hamilton and drove to the hot pot restaurant where Beth, Noah, and I were going to have dinner.

Have you ever been to restaurant like this? There are burners set into the tables and they bring you your choice of broth to set on it. Then you order raw ingredients to cook in your broth. You can also pluck plates of noodles, vegetables, tofu, seafood, etc. from a conveyor belt that runs between the tables. It was fun but surprisingly pricy, especially for vegetarians because it’s price fixe and we weren’t eating any of the ingredients that usually cost the most. Also, we didn’t see the condiment table until we left and on seeing it Beth was thinking her soup would have been better with garlic. Beth is a big fan of garlic.

We drove back to the high school and found seats in the auditorium. Soon one hundred and twenty singers from forty different middle schools were filing onto the risers (look to the far left for North– for once they’re not the one on crutches) and various teachers and administrators were talking about the Honors Chorus and the program. It was mentioned several times by various speakers that the kids only got to have six of the eight scheduled rehearsals because of weather-related cancellations (one was the “wet pavement day” I wrote about two posts ago).

The chorus sang seven songs, all about joy or peace. I’m wondering if the chorus director has been feeling a little depressed and needed some uplifting. The first three songs were in foreign languages—Xhosa, Latin, and Hebrew. The Xhosa song, “Kwangena Thina Bo,” was described in the program as a celebratory folk song from South Africa. A translation was provided: “When we sing, people rejoice, dance and ululate, because of our music.” The kids stepped down off the risers and did a stamping dance while they sang. (It was the first of several times they all moved into different positions—a process that went very smoothly considering they only learned the changes at the dress rehearsal that very night). The Latin song was “Deo Dicamus Gratias.” As you can guess from the name if you know Latin or a Romance language, it was a song of thanks to God. The Hebrew song, “Ma Navu” was translated thusly: “How beautiful are upon the mountains/The feet of the messenger of good tidings/of salvation and peace.”

For the next two songs, the chorus was split up into tenors, basses and baritones, who sang “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and then sopranos and altos, who sang a medley of two camp meeting songs, “Rise, Oh Fathers” and “No Time.” North said in the car on the way home that they thought soprano/alto harmonies are usually more interesting than harmonies in the lower registers. (It’s one of the reasons they like being a soprano, I think.) I don’t know enough about choral music to say if that observation is true in general, but it was true of these two songs. Or maybe I was biased because my kid was singing in the soprano/alto group, but I thought the kids sounded great on that one.

The whole chorus reunited to sing a very pretty African-American spiritual “Oh! What a Beautiful City,” and “Why We Sing.” During this last number, all the chorus teachers from the students’ home schools who were present in the audience were invited up on the stage to sing with the chorus.  The lyrics were printed in the program.

Here’s how the song ends:

Music builds a bridge, it can tear down a wall.
Music is a language that can speak to one and all.

This is why we sing, why we lift our voice,
Why we stand as one in harmony.
This is why we sing, why we lift our voice,
Take my hand and sing with me.

And then, in less than an hour, the concert was over. It’s standard at this point for the chorus director or an administrator to make a plea for arts funding in the schools and that’s what happened, but I thought this time the pitch was particularly passionate and focused on giving all students in the county equal access. It made me think about how they didn’t have a chorus or hold auditions for the county’s elementary honors chorus at North’s overcrowded, cash-strapped school last year so North didn’t get to try out or participate. (There was also a paragraph in the program about overemphasis on standardized tests squeezing out arts education, so clearly the director is serious about these issues.)

We left the auditorium had to wait a puzzlingly long time in the hallway for the kids to emerge. It turned out they were having a brief backstage after-concert party with a karaoke machine.

On the way home, North, who’d been quiet on the drive to the concert, was chatty. They told us about a PowerPoint presentation they and two other students from Rainbow Alliance (their school’s Gay-Straight Union) are going to make at a teachers’ meeting explaining how students are sometimes divided by gender in class, most often but not only in gym class and how this creates problems for non-binary students. Then once we were almost home, North mentioned how they’d managed to solve a problem they’d been having with an in-class group science project, making a diorama of the habitat of the black-footed ferret. The others kids weren’t pulling their weight and North was worried they wouldn’t finish on time if the other kids didn’t pitch in, so they organized the whole group and assigned everyone tasks. They said it mostly worked.

One thing we can always count on is this child lifting their voice, whether to build a bridge or tear down a wall, on stage, at school, or anywhere else.

Things Happen

Let’s make a list of all the things the world has put you through
Let’s raise a glass to all the people you’re not speaking to
I don’t know what else you wanted me to say to you
Things happen, that’s all they ever do

From “Things Happen,” by Dawes

California dreamin’ (California dreamin’)
On such a winter’s day

From “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas

I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter’s night with you

From “Song for a Winter’s Night” by Gordon Lightfoot 

Such a Winter’s Day: Wednesday

“Snow day!” The kids were hugging each other and dancing around while I grimly unloaded the dishwasher a little after seven on Wednesday morning.

“It’s not a snow day,” I said. “It’s a wet sidewalk day.”

That’s really all it was. There wasn’t even any ice. At least on Monday when we’d had a two-hour delay there was a little ice here and there on the sidewalk. I was a good sport about that delay. I was in a good mood because I’d managed to get North registered for the musical drama camp at the recreation center. It’s gotten very popular in recent years and it can sell out almost instantly. I was online one minute after registration started and in the twelve minutes it took me to register for Into the Woods, Peter Pan sold out. North had hoped to do both, but I felt lucky enough getting them into their first choice because camp registration in our area is nearly as crazy-making as the snow day determination process. We took advantage of the delay to walk to Starbucks on the not-so-treacherous sidewalks and got some celebratory tea, getting home just in time for North to board their bus at nine-forty.

On Wednesday, if I were a more selfless person, I could have been happy about the day off because Noah certainly needed it. Second semester was only a week and a half old but it had been a brutal week and a half. He’d just been constantly slammed with work, even more than usual. He had a thousand-word essay about social media due Wednesday he couldn’t even start until nine Tuesday night because of other assignments. Even though he stayed up late, a two-hour delay probably wouldn’t have allowed him to finish. He asked me if that made me feel differently about the prospect of a snow day and I was honest with him, saying it didn’t. If you’ve been reading here a while or if we’re friends of Facebook, you know I am not completely rational on the subject of snow days, especially when we’ve gone over the limit, which we now have.

I’ve also noticed that Facebook discussions of snow days among Montgomery County parents have a depressing similarity. 1) Someone (sometimes me) complains. 2) Friends chime in in agreement about the absurdity of cancelling school for some wet cement or a dusting of snow or whatever it is. 3) Eventually someone says something about conditions upcounty, which as my friend Megan once noted, must be a land of frozen tundra inhabited mostly by reindeer. 4) Then someone (sometimes me) wonders why we can’t divide the district into different zones so we don’t have to cancel every time there’s a snowflake upcounty. If it’s me, I note this is how my school district did it when I was a kid. 5) Then someone says something about magnet programs bussing kids from one part of the county to another and I start feeling hopeless about people’s inability to agree on practical solutions for not just this but any kind of problem in any context and then I fantasize about unfollowing people who annoy me and usually don’t.

I watched all this unfold exactly as it always does on Monday when a friend of mine who complains much less than I do about school cancellations finally lost it. She’s got a preschooler and those two-hour delays we have almost every week mean morning preschool is cancelled. After reading that conversation and considering how it doesn’t actually make me feel any better, I decided I’d just go silent on Wednesday if there was a snow day. But I didn’t quite manage it because I’d posted the night before about the suspense of waiting and when and out-of-town friend said she hoped the weather wasn’t too bad, I answered that it was just rain and the conversation went from steps 1 to 3. With some effort, I refrained from saying anything about 4, which stopped us from getting to 5, so I guess that’s progress.

So…back to Wednesday morning. I’d heard the song “Things Happen” a few days earlier and it got me thinking about how my martyred feelings about snow days are all out of proportion, and possibly annoying to those around me, so I tried to imagine the frustrated speaker of the song quoted above telling me, “things happen” to see if that could help me snap out of it. It didn’t really, but it did help me think about whether there was anything within my power that could make the day better.

I decided to get out of the house so I could have at least a little of the solitude I’m used to having every weekday. I thought this would make it less likely I’d snap at the kids, who’d done nothing to deserve it. We needed milk anyway, so at 7:25, a time at which I’m often still in bed, I was dressed and standing at the bus stop. I got to the co-op before it opened and I settled myself at a table at the bakery across the street with a cup of Earl Gray tea, a cherry turnover, and the front section of the Post. When I’d finished it I went to the co-op, got the milk and some apples and tangerines because we were running low on fruit and I’m often ghost writing blog posts about how fruit and vegetables will improve your mood and who knows, it might be true. As extra insurance, I got some dark chocolate, too.

Soon after I got home and started working, North told me they were going to bake something and I could choose what it would be “so you’ll feel better.” I suggested oatmeal cookies.  North’s concern for me didn’t extend far enough to include raisins or walnuts in half the cookies as I requested but they were very good nonetheless.

So I worked and Noah worked and a friend of North’s came over in the late morning and stayed most of the day. The two of them walked up to the 7-11 in the rain and came back with coke and Cheetos and fruit cocktail and then made quesadillas. Olivia said it was “a feast.” Then they disappeared into North’s room for hours and watched television. It was something with a laugh track I could hear from my desk in the corner of the living room. I had nothing to say about the nutritional value of the lunch or the intellectual quality of the entertainment. As Noah noted earlier in the day, “Steph has given up.”

I hadn’t completely, though. I was hoping the day off might mean Noah could practice his bells or we could read Wolves of the Calla and that would put in a little fun in the day for both of us, but his homework swelled to take up all the available time, as so often happens. When he finished his paper, he started on the calculus homework due the next day and it took him until bedtime. When I went to bed that night I was just relieved the day was over and I fell asleep almost at once, which rarely happens.

Songs for Two Winter’s Nights: Friday and Saturday

But the next day Noah had only one short assignment for Spanish, so he did play his bells and on Friday we read Wolves of the Calla for almost an hour. It was a good chapter, too, the one in which Mia is introduced. At ten of six, he and I left for the winter coffeehouse at North’s middle school because North was going to perform a song with Zoë. They’d chosen to sing Frère Jacques in a round in French, English, and Spanish, the three official languages of their school (which houses both a Spanish and French immersion program).

The coffeehouse was held in the band room, which has amphitheater seating. There were chairs on all the levels.  In front of the chairs, there were little tables with glasses filled with beads for decoration and to make it look a bit like a café—there was also a painting of an outdoor café hanging from the whiteboard at the front of the room. This was kind of funny given that no food or drink was allowed in the room, but there were free refreshments, including actual coffee, on offer in the hallway during intermission.

For a couple hours kids played classical and folk tunes on the violin and sang songs by Adele, Christina Aguilera, and Cyndi Lauper as well as one from The Greatest Showman. There was a beginners’ rock band and an accomplished jazz combo. A seventh-grader I’ve known since he and North were toddlers waiting with their parents at their older brothers’ elementary school bus stop did a fantastic job playing a song called “Riley’s Rhapsody” on the keyboard. Nearly every kid who performed was very talented. It was a nice evening. Zoë left with us and we went out for pizza at Pete’s in Silver Spring, then home, where everyone got to bed at least an hour after his, her, or their bedtime.

The next night we were out even later, attending Sankofa, a celebration of Black History Month at Noah’s school. The framing device was a tour group going through the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Actors dressed as statues of people featured in the museum would be wheeled out on platforms and then they’d step off the platform and speak. As the visitors moved through the museum, there were music, dance, and poetry performances. There were hundreds of kids in the cast and the display of talent  and the thought and creativity that went into the script was just astounding.

As enjoyable as these performances were, I can’t say I was completely relaxed about two consecutive late nights because other than snow days, bedtime is one of my biggest hang ups. I’m getting better about it, though, as evidenced by the fact that I agreed to these plans.

And as you know, things happen. That’s all they ever do.

They’re in the Band (and the Chorus)

Overture

North’s play, School of Rock, is in the middle of its run right now and the past couple weeks have been intense. We’ve all been at the theater a lot, though no one more than North, of course. There were some pre-show events earlier this month—a combination talent show/preview of scenes from the show and a cocktail hour for parents of the actors which also featured a preview of more of the songs.

As opening night approached, rehearsals got closer together and ran longer.  During tech week, or the week before the show opened, there were three school-night rehearsals that ran until ten p.m. For context, North’s regular school night bedtime is eight-thirty. (We are an early-to-bed and early-to-rise family. Even Beth and I are generally abed by ten at the latest.) But we did know what we were getting into when we signed North up for the play, so we can’t complain too much. Okay, we can and have, but I won’t right now.

As a result of this unusual schedule, we learned North can sleep until eight a.m., which I don’t think has ever happened in their whole life, but it did a few times after these late nights (though not consistently). We let them sleep as late as they could and they went to school about an hour late two days during Tech Week. They also missed the whole day Monday for reasons completely unrelated to the play.  They got a very big, deep splinter in their foot Sunday night, which Beth couldn’t completely remove, and they couldn’t walk on it.

North didn’t sleep well that night and didn’t want to do anything but rest Monday morning, so they slept on and off all morning and I worked and after lunch I took them to urgent care, where a doctor removed the splinter with a scalpel after numbing their foot. Then I took them to Starbucks nearby where they had a restorative cup of mint tea and we made a pit stop at home so they could grab something to eat, pack their theater bag, and head to rehearsal. We were on six buses that day over the course of five and a half hours.

Act I: Chorus Concert

Tuesday there was no rehearsal but there was an orchestra and chorus concert. Beth’s mom and her aunt Carole came from Wheeling for a four-day visit to see the concert and the opening night of the play on Friday. Unfortunately, Noah was swamped with homework that night (he had a history test the next day and he hadn’t finished reading the chapter) so he couldn’t go to the concert. We were all disappointed about that.

The concert was at the high school because North’s school has no auditorium. Noah’s middle school didn’t either but they had their concerts in the cafeteria or gym and everyone sat on folding chairs. This new arrangement was much more comfortable and the acoustics were better, too.

The orchestra was on first. They started with the “William Tell Overture” and played several songs, ending with an arrangement of the “Hallelujah Chorus.” One of the nice things about having musical kids and attending a lot of concerts is that the musicians get better as they get older and the difference between this orchestra and North’s elementary school orchestra was pronounced.

The a capella club sang a few numbers next, including Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and Katy Perry’s “Roar.” I guess the idea was to appeal to both parents and kids. They also did “Só Danço Samba,” which was fun to hear, although it bothered me that there was instrumental accompaniment in this song. Singing without instruments is what a cappella means, after all. (Beth thinks I am being pedantic here.) All three singing groups had at least one song in another language. It was all very international, which makes sense since the word “International” is part of the name of the school.

After intermission, the sixth-grade chorus came on. North was using a cane to walk (after having been on crutches at school—due to their troubles last year we have a wide variety of orthopedic devices at the ready) so the chorus director had them sit in a chair in front of the risers. Beth was worried it would hurt their projection, but they projected just fine. I swear I could pick their voice out not only when they sang with the smaller sixth-grade group, but also when sixth-grade and advanced choruses (about eighty kids total) sang together.

The sixth-graders started with “Sing a Jubilant Song” and they did sound jubilant. Next was “De Colores,” which having had two kids in an elementary school Spanish immersion program is very familiar to us, in a nice, nostalgic way. “Dansi Na Kuimba” (“Dance and Sing” in Swahili) was next and they ended with “Peaceful Silent Night.” This song is “Silent Night” with some additional lyrics woven into it.

The advanced chorus sang a few songs next and then the two choruses sang together along with a several fifth-graders from the elementary school that shares a building with North’s middle school. (The new chorus teacher is cultivating ties with this conveniently located feeder school.) My favorite of the joint songs was “Carol of the Bells.” It was very complicated and intricate and they sounded great. They ended with “America the Beautiful.”

Intermission

Wednesday North went to school on time, still using the cane, because their foot was still sore. Beth and I both worried it wouldn’t be better by Friday night when they had to stand (and jump) onstage, but there was nothing to do about it. North had another rehearsal that night, I went to book club (where we discussed Janet Lewis’s The Wife of Martin Guerre) while YaYa, Carole, Beth, and Noah went out for Lebanese. After the history test, Noah had surprisingly little homework the rest of the week and was able to socialize with his grandmother and great aunt. Ironically, North saw very little of them because they were in school or rehearsal pretty much all the time they weren’t performing. This caused a little jealousy, even though (or perhaps because) North was the principal reason for the visit.

Thursday North was walking unassisted. Beth took the day off work and went with her mom and Carole into the city where they went to see an exhibit about Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party at the Phillips Gallery and took in the Christmas decorations at Union Station. That evening all the adults and Noah went out for tapas and then to see Lady Bird (which you should see if you haven’t yet). Seeing a movie on a weeknight is highly unusual for us but Beth had to be up late to get North from rehearsal anyway so we made a night of it.

Friday I took the day off, too, and joined Beth, YaYa and Carole on a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It opened over a year ago but we hadn’t been yet—we were hoping eventually the crowds would diminish, but it’s still a pretty hot ticket. It’s free, but you need to get timed tickets either months ahead of time or very early on the morning of the day you want to go. Beth secured these by getting online at 6:30 a.m.

We had eleven a.m. tickets and needed to get back by mid-afternoon, so we didn’t have time to take in the whole museum. It’s divided into a history section and a culture section. I was the slowest in our party, only making it to 1968 in the history section before we needed to meet up for a late lunch in the café, and even so, I missed some parts of that (such as the whole room with Emmett Till’s coffin).

I was prepared for the child-sized shackles, or as prepared as you can be. What really did me in was a white cotton sack a woman had given her nine-year-old daughter when the child was sold away from her. At the time, it contained pecans and a lock of the mother’s hair. The bag was handed down through the generations and in the early twentieth century one of the child’s descendants embroidered the story on the bag. On the wall, all around the bag’s glass case were many published descriptions of people to be sold at auction—name, age, special skills and any physical defects, which really drove in the point that the nine-year-old girl sold away from her mother was one of countless others torn from their families. I think it might have been heartening to visit the culture section, after all that, but even the music I could hear drifting from other rooms—Billie Holiday, Sweet Honey in the Rock—lifted the spirit.

Act II: School of Rock

North’s call time was 5 p.m., which left the rest of us with three hours to kill before the show. We had leisurely dinner at Pacci’s, which is just around the corner from the theater. Standing in line, I saw parents with bouquets and remembered much to my chagrin that last summer when North was the beast in Beauty and the Beast at drama camp, I’d resolved to get them flowers at their next performance. Oh well.

Entering the little black box theater, we were alarmed to see a sign that said the running time of the show was two hours, forty-five minutes. This was going to be an even later night than we’d realized. We got settled into seats in the last and highest row, which offered a good view. The beginning of the show establishes the main character Dewey’s tribulations, both musical (he’s been thrown out of his band) and personal (he owes his roommates for the rent and is in danger of being thrown out of his apartment) so the early scenes are all between the adult characters, who are played by seventh to twelfth graders. Patty, one of Dewey’s roommates and his best friend’s girlfriend, is played by North’s friend Anna from drama camp. (Anna played Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast last summer for those of you who watched the video.) When she came onstage in a power suit Beth exclaimed, “Anna looks like a grownup!” And she did, even though she’s only fifteen months older than North.

The fifth-grade students at the swanky private school where Dewey ends up working as a substitute teacher are played by second to sixth graders. North is playing Billy, an effeminate boy who hides his copies of Vogue behind a Sports Illustrated while at home with his football-loving father. When Dewey organizes the class into a band, Billy is their costume designer.

The first song the kids sing is their school’s alma mater, and as at the chorus concert I could pick out North’s voice. One thing they have learned from seven years of musical drama camp is how to project. Some of their other numbers were “You’re in the Band,” in which Billy is assigned to design costumes and gives a little leap of joy and “If Only You Would Listen” in which four students, including Billy, are shown with parents who misunderstand them and they all sing about it. North had a solo in this song and was very plaintive.

The whole cast was great and we all enjoyed the show. Beth (who did theater tech in high school) was impressed with improvements in lighting technology since her day. Andrea loved the red sparkly cap Billy wore in the final scene and at breakfast the next morning she pressed North to explain what the phrase “stick it to the man” meant to them.

After the show the actors stood near the doors in costume to greet the exiting audience. After that, the concessions booth was still selling treats and North wanted ice cream but like all the other parents I heard, I pointed out it was quite late—something like 11:15—and we needed to get home and go to bed. (North wishes it to be known that some parents did let their kids eat ice cream at that late hour.)

The next morning, we all slept in (for us anyway—we were all up between 7:45 and 8:30) and then we met YaYa and Carole at the restaurant of the hotel where they were staying in Silver Spring and ate a hearty breakfast as the first snow of the year fell outside. Shortly after, YaYa and Carole hit the road.

North performed again on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. She had friends in the audience of both those shows. We’re in a three-day no-rehearsal, no-show lull right now. There will be a brush-up rehearsal Thursday night and then four more shows from Friday to Sunday. Beth and I will be attending the closing night performance, maybe with flowers if I get my act together.

You may not be surprised to learn there are more performances in our near future. North will be singing in the Montgomery County Honors chorus this winter. They were the only sixth grader from their school selected to participate. (It took a lot of self-restraint not to brag about that on Facebook but I am slipping it in here.) That concert is in early March. North is also going to try out for the spring play, Romeo and Juliet, at their school. If they get a part, it will be their first experience with Shakespeare, but possibly not their last because for North, all the world’s a stage.

Update, 12/13: Read a review of the show here: http://www.theatrebloom.com/2017/12/school-rock-students-theatre-highwood-theatre/

 

Acting Out

North’s going to be in production of the musical School of Rock this December. It’s part of an educational program at a theater in Silver Spring for kids from second to twelfth grade. They really wanted to be in a play and the process of auditioning seemed daunting, especially given the fact that I don’t drive, which limits my ability to get them around the D.C. metro area to go to a lot of different auditions. So, this seemed like a good compromise. You just register and it’s first-come, first-served.

They’ve had three rehearsals so far. After the second one they’d been cast in their first-choice role, Billy. If you have only a hazy memory of the characters, he’s the kid who designs the costumes for the band, and the one in the “You’re Tacky and I Hate You” meme you so often see on Facebook. North likes that’s he’s somewhat gender creative and that he has a solo. (The kid roles in the play are more developed than in the film, I hear.) After the third rehearsal, they were tickled to bring home an official script on loan from the current Broadway production.

In the spirit of preparation, we watched the first half of the movie on Friday night. I don’t usually let North watch PG-13 movies. This might have been their first (if they haven’t seen any at a friend’s house). At any rate, it was the first authorized one, but since the play’s not that different from the movie, I thought that particular horse was already out of the barn. The scene where Summer confronts Dewey about groupies wasn’t exactly comfortable for me to watch with them, though.

Because there are two to three rehearsals most weeks from now through December (and then six to eight performances), we told North they’d need to cut some of their regular extracurricular activities, and much to my surprise, they decided to ditch them all—violin, guitar, Girl Scouts, acting class, running club, and even basketball, which doesn’t even overlap much with the play, as practices start in late November and games not until early January. Most of these activities they’ve been doing for years, so I guess they just want a clean slate for middle school. They did try to get into a cooking club at school but it turned out you were supposed to register beforehand and it had filled by the first meeting. They’re also considering attending an LGBT support group at school.

Last Saturday’s rehearsal conflicted with the March for Racial Justice, which Beth and I had been planning to attend. The theater schedules rehearsals around people’s conflicts (the ones you declare by a deadline) as much as possible, but not every conflict can be accommodated, so we had to decide whether to skip the rehearsal, skip the march, task Noah with getting North there, or teach them the route on public transportation. It’s our goal for them to be able to get themselves to weekday evening rehearsals eventually, but I was thinking I’d do it with them at least a couple times first because it’s not in a part of Silver Spring we go to on the bus often. And we didn’t really want to cut into Noah’s homework time, either, so Beth suggested we skip the march and go to the evening vigil at the MLK memorial instead and I agreed.

We left the house around five, shortly after Beth brought North home from rehearsal. It was just Beth and I, as the kids were not interested in protesting anything, or as North put it earlier in the week, “chanting things no one will hear.” It does feel that way sometimes, but it also feels like we’ve got to do something, and I don’t have much faith in petitions, I only have so much money to give, and the elected officials in our deep blue county and medium blue state can generally be counted on to do the right thing without our writing or calling and pleading with them to do it. So, I write and call them occasionally, write moderate-sized checks more often, and I keep marching and showing up for rallies. And I guess North’s feelings about protest vary, too, because at dinner Monday night they asked with interest if there were any marches coming up.

Metro was single-tracking on the blue, orange, and red lines, which happened to be the exact lines we’d need to get to the Mall. Parking’s out of the question, there, though, so we allowed ourselves almost two hours to get to the vigil, which was supposed to start at sundown (6:51 according to my phone’s weather app).

We had good luck with the trains and arrived on the Mall around 5:45, so we decided to take advantage of the restrooms and food trucks near the Washington Monument. We walked down the long line of food trucks, looking for vegetarian options. The first one we saw falafel, also the second, third, fourth, and fifth. In fact, the only other choice was a veggie burrito, and Beth wasn’t in the mood for either, so she decided to eat at home later, but I got some falafel and humus. By 6:15, we were walking toward the MLK memorial.

It was a pretty evening, with the clouds touched with pink and the water of the Tidal Basin rippling and silver. When we got to the memorial around 6:35, there was no evidence of a vigil, but it was still light and there was no precise official starting time so we walked around and looked at the MLK quotes carved on the back wall and then settled in on bench.

Eventually some organizers, mostly white women, showed up and started laying down posters of black girls and women who have been victims of violence or organized against it on the ground. They were unrolling a long canvas with a painted message when some park rangers came over. I guess they didn’t have a permit because soon they were picking up the posters and the canvas. There was some discussion about the food they’d brought as well, a bag of apples and some granola bars to distribute to anyone breaking their Yom Kippur fast. I think the fact that the march had inadvertently been scheduled on Yom Kippur and the ensuing criticism was probably the reason for the sunset vigil in the first place. But it never really got off the ground. We waited until 7:25, by which point it was full dark, but there were never speeches or candles, or anything very vigil-like, only a small knot of people (ten at the most) standing together, and dwarfed by a school group (mostly teenage girls and adults about the right age to be the parents or teachers of teenage girls, so I’m assuming it was a school group).

It was a disappointing outcome, but not all bad. The MLK monument is always a moving place. We watched all kinds of people—an elderly black woman on a younger woman’s arm, a middle-aged black couple, white teenagers—snap pictures in front of the statue of MLK. Plus, the Tidal Basin with the monuments all lit up is beautiful at night—there’s a reason it’s a classic D.C. date spot. It could have even felt like a date, as Beth and I were there without the kids. But it didn’t really. I was feeling melancholy and Beth seemed subdued as well. It just wasn’t the evening for activism or acting romantic, I guess.

But there’s always tomorrow. When North asked what we could do for National Coming Out Day, I wasn’t sure. Beth and I don’t really have anyone left to come out to, but I asked North if they’d like to write a guest post about being non-binary and they said yes. Stay tuned.

While She Was Gone

Trip 1, Beth and June: Thursday to Wednesday

Beth had two back-to-back work trips the first two weeks of August. Except for one night at home, she was gone for ten days.  June was gone most of that time, too, because Beth took her with her when she left for the first trip (the CWA convention in Pittsburgh) and dropped her off in Wheeling with her mom for a week of what the kids call Camp YaYa. She hung out with various relatives, ate cupcakes with Beth’s aunt Carole to celebrate her eightieth birthday, went swimming three times, saw a production of Godspell and The Emoji Movie, and spent the night in a treehouse cabin with YaYa. Noah’s been visiting YaYa for a week every summer since he was about June’s age or a little younger, so she was glad to finally get her turn.

At home, Noah and I were left to our own devices. He was at drama camp during the day the last three days June was gone, but we found time to finish the first book in the Dark Tower series, start the second one, and watch Psycho and The Birds. I didn’t cook anything much more demanding than pasta or frozen foods for dinner (except one night when I made a big vegetable stir-fry) and I got a lot of work and a little reading of my own done. It was nice to have both the one-on-one time with him and some time alone.

I started thinking about our fall garden, as a lot of our summer plants are dying prematurely this year and I didn’t want the garden to be over in mid-August. I planted carrot seeds in an unused plot, cilantro in a couple pots, and cauliflower, chard, and lettuce seeds in a starter tray because those seeds were a little old and I wasn’t sure what would come up. When I have a better sense of what’s going to germinate and survive the seedling phase, I may buy some starts to fill in the gaps. So far, there’s cilantro and carrot tops coming up and I see several promising-looking chard seedlings.

Since I had time sit on the porch a little while every morning, I also enjoyed what we already have in the yard. The resurrection lilies bloomed right on time the first week of August. They’re all done now. One morning during a delightfully cool spell, while I was sitting on the porch, wearing long sleeves and socks and drinking hot tea, I noticed a hummingbird sipping from the flowers on the volunteer trumpet vine that’s taking over our side fence. And as I was looking in that direction, I further noticed that the black cherry tree I planted in the side yard nine years ago was bearing fruit for the first time. (This is about on schedule apparently. They start to produce fruit when they’re ten years old and it was a sapling when I planted it.) The fruit is tiny and bitter, so I’ll leave it for the birds, but I’m glad the tree is healthy and developing as it should, especially since we have a couple of ailing silver maples in the front yard that may need to come down, which makes me very sad.

Intermission: Wedensday

Wednesday afternoon, Beth returned with June. I was happy to have everyone under one roof, if only for night, so I made a summery feast–yellow squash and corn soup, blueberry muffins with frozen berries we’d picked last month at the berry farm, and slices of one of the last garden cucumbers, and peaches from the farmers’ market. Beth left for Netroots Nation in Atlanta early the next morning, before I was even awake. Having seen her for a few hours made me miss her sharply, more than I had during the six and a half days she’d just been gone. But this was a shorter trip. She’d be returning late Saturday night.

Trip 2, Beth: Thursday to Saturday

I worked Thursday and June helped me clean the bathroom and make dinner (blueberry pancakes with more of the frozen blueberries). Friday I took off work. I was intending to take June to the library and the Long Branch pool, as I haven’t been to an outdoor pool all summer. But when I looked up the hours, I found it’s closed on Fridays and the Piney Branch indoor pool where I swim laps every Sunday is only open early in the morning and late afternoons and evenings on weekdays. This might have worked most days, but late afternoon was out because Noah had a drama camp demonstration we were planning to attend.

It was already shaping up to be a challenging day. I’d woken with a mysterious itchy rash on my right arm. Then while I was making a run to the Co-Op for milk, I lost my SmarTrip and my phone gave me an ominous warning about a virus I thought was probably fake but just to be safe I decided to power it down and leave it off until Beth got home and could look at it. Nothing seemed to be going according to plan.

So, I thought about it and made a new plan. June had been wanting to go on a picnic for a while so I suggested that. She was right on it, making pasta salad and sugar cookies while I was running my errands. I suggested something with protein might be a good idea, so we also took some veggie turkey slices, and I threw some fruit into the bag as well. The sky was looking threatening, but we packed umbrellas and headed out for the playground. We ate at the picnic table and then June waded in the creek. She didn’t want to swing or use any of the equipment, which made me think about how my kids have been coming to this playground since we moved to Takoma when Noah was a year old, but now our playground days are close to over.

Back at home, June helped me clean the kitchen, without complaint. Before he left for camp that morning, Noah had mowed the back lawn, also without complaint. It made me reflect that kids growing up is not all bad.

The trip to Round House Theatre was nerve-wracking because the first of the two buses we needed to take was twenty minutes late and for most of the trip I was sure we’d miss the second one and possibly Noah’s presentation. But we just barely caught it and we arrived ten minutes early. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt the weariness I often feel after stress settle over me.

The topic of the camp was theater design and for a week the campers focused on a play that Round House is producing this fall, working on sketches of costumes for characters, brainstorming props, experimenting with lights, painting scenery, and designing background sound. Individually and in groups, they gave presentations on each of these topics. Noah and two other boys presented on the sounds they would use in a specific scene in the play. This was Noah’s third time in the theater design camp and he presented on sound the last time around, too. I guess he’s specializing. He brought home some blueprints he made, the cue sheet for his sound plan, and some faux marble tile he’d painted. It was all very interesting and Noah said the camp put him in the mood to see a play sometime soon, so I hope we do.

I would have liked to stop in Silver Spring for dinner where we switched buses, but Megan was supposed to sleep over, so we needed to get home. We arrived at home to find a phone message letting us know she was sick and couldn’t come after all. June took it hard because the sleepover had been planned for a while and Megan’s family was about to leave for a three-week trip so it couldn’t be re-scheduled any time soon. It was seven when we got home and I ordered a pizza which didn’t come until past eight o’clock. We were all hungry and tired it was a discouraging end to the day, but we tried to salvage it with a game of Sleeping Queens before June went to bed.

Saturday was my rash was no better and now June had it too on her leg. The day was better, though. I took her to the library and the indoor pool because it looked like rain, although it didn’t until evening. We’ll go to the outdoor pool eventually. There’s still three weeks of summer break left. I was also glad Beth was coming home, though thunderstorms in D.C. delayed her flight.

We were messaging a lot all through that day and since she was at Netroots, it sometimes turned to politics: “All the sessions have been interesting but it feels a little precious to be talking about messaging when armed white supremacists are marching in the streets to protect symbols of the Confederacy,” she wrote.  It made me remember when she was at Netroots two years ago and the big drama was a blowup between Black Lives Matter activists, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders. That seems like it happened in a different country. We have slid so far backwards, so fast, it’s frightening. Except that’s not exactly it. People haven’t suddenly gotten more racist, they have gotten more willing to show it. In any case, it was a good reminder that Beth was doing important work on her travels, however uncertain the results.

First Day Home

But I am glad she’s home (as of 12:15 a.m. Sunday), because I miss her when she’s gone. And even though she was probably exhausted, the first day she was back she went grocery shopping and then we went to the Montgomery County Fair to look at farm animals, eat unhealthy food, play carnival games, and go on rides. The whole time we were there I was struck by the diversity of the crowd and our county—blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos, women in headscarves and others in the garb of Orthodox Jews. I told Beth that night as we were dropping into bed, a little past our bedtime, that everyone wants to eat fried dough and go on rides that take us high into the sky. “Those are culturally universal values,” she joked.

Meanwhile all four of us are planning to go to a rally in support immigrants (specifically the Dreamers) tomorrow morning in front of the White House because there’s important work to do at home, too.

We Know the Way

Girl Scout Camp

About a week ago, Beth and I drove out to Southern Maryland to pick June up from Girl Scout sleepaway camp, where she’d been making calzones and mac-and-cheese in an outdoor cooking-themed program. Of course, she also swam in the pool, kayaked in the pond, did archery, and spray-dyed a t-shirt. (It’s like tie-dying but with no knots and a spray bottle of dye.) She also learned a lot of songs and ghost stories we’ve been hearing since she got back.

One of the most exciting things that happened to June at Camp Winona was that after two years of being put in the lowest swimming group and confined to the shallow end of the pool, she was placed in the highest of the three groups and allowed in the deep end. She’d been plotting about this for years. She tried taking swimming lessons in the spring of fourth grade in hopes of getting in a better group, but to no avail. This year she decided she was going to swim breast stroke during the test because she had a theory it impressed the camp staff when anyone did this and they automatically put them in a higher group. The only flaw in the plan was that she doesn’t know how to do the breast stroke. But when I saw a picture of her in the daily photos the camp releases playing with a pool noodle right next to the tile on the pool wall that said “7 feet, 10 inches,” I thought her plan might have worked. It turns out breast stroke wasn’t an option this year, so we’re not sure what happened, but we were happy because it was important to her and, as always, I admire her persistence and strategic thinking.

Choir Camp

June had a day to relax before it was time for her next camp. Choir camp orientation was Sunday afternoon. In addition to a couple of information sessions, the campers had their first practice and parents were invited to observe, so I tagged along. The choir director had them do some posture and breathing exercises and then some vocal warmups before he introduced them to their five songs.

Three of the songs had a water theme: “Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie,” “The Quiet Sea,” and “We Know the Way,” from Moana. This song is partly in English and partly in Samoan. They also sang a sixteenth-century French song, “Je Ne Fus Jamais Si Aise” and “In My Life.” When the director asked how many people had heard of the Beatles song, only about half the kids’ hands went up and June’s was not among them. I’ve noticed over the years that band, orchestra, and choir concerts are an excellent way for kids to learn the music of their parents’ and grandparents’ day.

They started practicing. Beth said she found it very interesting how the director stripped the songs down into little pieces to start working on them in different combinations—only sopranos for one bit, altos for another, sopranos and baritones together—rather than having everyone sing together as they would eventually. Also, they didn’t sing the French words on the first day, just the words “one” and “two” in place of them so they didn’t have to struggle with unfamiliar pronunciations and the music at the same time. He did give them some pointers on diction for the English songs, though.

There were about fifty kids in the choir, aged ten to fifteen, plus a handful of sixteen and seventeen-year-old junior counsellors who sing with them. Campers seemed to skew a little to the older side of the range, though, especially the boys. I wondered if it takes a while to own being the kind of boy who wants to go to choir camp. (The choir was about eighty percent female.)

The last thing that happened, back in the auditorium once the choir campers were reunited with the orchestra campers, was a raffle. They have these every day at all the music camps. The prizes range from t-shirts from previous years to Six Flags tickets. One tradition is to raffle off a cardboard box every day. This stands for the right to sit in the box seats of the auditorium during the next day’s post-lunch concert.

When I picked June up from camp on Monday she seemed cheerful. She’d painted in her art elective and played theater games in her drama elective. There had been an all-female barbershop quartet at the post-lunch concert. She was wearing her t-shirt from orchestra camp last year because it was summer youth music camps alumni day. (All the days had themes. One day they wore funny hats and glasses; another day they were supposed to dress in the colors of the Maryland flag.) Best of all, the chorus teacher had singled her out while the sopranos were practicing, saying people should sing the piece as she was, “lightly” and he also praised her pitch.

This was a relief because June had worried a little before camp started if she really had enough experience because a year of school chorus is required to register for this camp and she didn’t precisely have a year of school chorus experience. She was in chorus in fourth grade until it disbanded without explanation right after the Holiday Sing in December. But I thought a third of a school year of chorus, plus several months of private voice lessons in fifth grade, plus musical drama camp every summer since she was five had to be the equivalent of at least a year of chorus so I’d checked the box that said one year on the online form.

On Wednesday, she reported that after trying out for it, she’d been put into a small group that would come to the front of the stage and sing part of “Bring A Little Water, Sylvie.” Also, her drama class had selected a scene from Aladdin to perform for the rest of the campers on Friday afternoon before the concert and they had started to work on the choreography. Auditions were the next day and she planned to try out for the genie. (She didn’t get the part, but it was just as well because her foot started bothering her, for no discernible reason on Thursday evening and by Friday she was on crutches—luckily, we have a lot of orthopedic equipment in the house after all her injuries last year.)

Friday I made my way to the University of Maryland on two buses through torrential downpours. I’d been worried if I got drenched I’d be chilly in the air-conditioned concert hall, so I wore a long raincoat and rain boots and carried and umbrella, and I managed to arrive fairly dry, also forty-five minutes before the doors were supposed to open, but when I’m taking public transportation, I like to be on the safe side. I’d been arriving thirty to forty minutes early all week and enjoying the down-time to read a novel or the newspaper or to keep listening to the podcasts I listened to on the bus. This was the first time all week I wasn’t the first one in the music building’s cavernous lobby. At least a dozen people were already waiting when I got there and settled in with the Washington Post’s Health and Science section.

When the doors opened, I got a seat near the front in a place I thought would be good for taking pictures. And it would have been if they hadn’t rolled out a grand piano right into our sightline in between the orchestra and choir concerts, or if June hadn’t been seated because of the crutches.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The orchestra was divided into two groups, one for students entering fifth to seventh grade and one for those entering eighth to tenth grade. I spied two of June’s friends, both cellists, on stage in the younger group. One was from her Girl Scout troop and the other attended her elementary school one year ahead of her and played in the string ensemble with her when they were in fourth and fifth grade. I think it might have been seeing Ingrid, who’d played with June when she was in a well-run school orchestra, and the fact that two-thirds of the kids on stage had just finished fourth or fifth grade that made me angry all over again about how unambitious the instrumental music program at her elementary school was last year, but I pushed that thought from my mind.  

Anyway, the word “unambitious” cannot be applied to any summer music camp at UMCP. The performances are always very impressive and they would be even if the kids had more than six days to practice the music. The younger orchestra group had five pieces. In a medley of Japanese folk music, one of the melodies struck me as very familiar. Later Beth said it was “Sakura, Sakura,” which we’ve heard at more than one concert. June played it in orchestra in fourth grade and it was a favorite of hers. The last song, “Red Pepper,” was a lively tune fitting of that name.

The older orchestra played four pieces. The first two were pretty— “Strip the Willow” had a folksy fiddle sound—but it was the last two “Lullaby to the Moon,” and “Sansaneon,” that really impressed me. I’m not a musician so I often feel I don’t have the language to adequately describe the music at all these concerts I go to because of my very musical kids. I’ll just say the complexity and precision and beauty of it was uplifting.

The choir was on next. They started with the French song, this time with the actual words. It seemed to have come together quite nicely since we heard their first practice on Sunday. All the songs had. When they started “Bring a Little Water, Sylvie” June and five other sopranos and altos stepped in front of the choir and finally we could see her. We could hear her, too. I wasn’t expecting to be able to pick her voice out, but I could, and that was exciting.

I think “In My Life” sounded the most different in its choral arrangement, even more so than “Bring a Little Water, Sylvie.” (I’m fond of the Leadbelly version of that song.) On the car ride home June asked Beth which one she liked better, the Beatles’ or choir camp’ and Beth had to say the Beatles, even though the choir camp version was good. “But I didn’t sing in that one,” June commented.

The last of the choir’s five songs was “We Know the Way,” from Moana. This was the one with the most instrumentation. Most of the songs had accompaniment—flutes most predominantly in the old French song and the grand piano for “In My Life,” but this song started with people blowing conch shells from the balconies and a strong drumbeat.

It seemed fitting as the final song of the concert because it’s about mastery. (It’s from the part of the movie when Moana discovers the disused boats, learns her people used to be sea voyagers, and determines they will be again.) Mastery is a lot of what music camp is about. Getting large groups of talented kids to work together play or sing complicated music and get it up to concert quality in a very short period of time. I’ve been to a lot of these concerts—Noah was in band camp for four years and June’s been to orchestra camp one year and choir camp one year. Still, this aspect of it never fails to impress me.

It was a lovely concert and a wonderful way to end a week of political ups and down which included the confusing and upsetting announcement about transgender troops, discouraging words from the Justice Department about its current thinking on employment discrimination against gay and lesbians, the President’s appalling comments in front of crowds of Boy Scouts and police, the alarming debut of the new White House communications director, the resignation of Reince Priebus, and the President’s continued sadistic treatment of his own Attorney General, and finally, mercifully, the defeat of the Republicans’ latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  Am I forgetting anything? I probably am.

Consequently, it was a busy week for Beth at work. On Wednesday, she messaged me that she’d be late getting home, “because I am at this rally saving health care.” And it worked!

My point is not exactly that the kids in the summer youth music camps at UMCP spent their week more profitably than the President and his administration, although they did. And it’s not that this experience of working together to make something beautiful will help them work effectively with others in the future, although it may. My point is more modest, just that cooperation to make something worthwhile is still possible, in the arts and even in politics. And it always will be, if we can find the way.

Thanks to Beth and everyone else who rallied, and wrote and called their Senators, and worked behind the scenes to preserve Americans’ access to health care this week.