When We Grow Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before the Storm

I’m always a little baffled when other parents say they can’t wait for the school year to end because they are tired of the getting-off-to-school rush in the mornings. Speaking as a work-at-home mom, a little chaos in the morning seems a small price to pay for a whole day of quiet and calm. My summer weekdays consist either of trying to work with one or both kids home or they start with getting-off-to-camp rush, which unless Noah’s taking June to camp, generally means some kind of public transportation Odyssey that digs into my workday.

However, on the second to last Friday of the school year we did have a particularly memorable morning. In between 5:40 when the alarm went off and 7:25 when Beth drove Noah to school, Beth and I collectively:

  1. Convinced Noah that it was better to print his partially finished History chapter outline and turn it in than to turn in nothing because he was embarrassed not to have finished;
  2. Calmed a panicked June and removed a tick from her stomach;
  3. Spent a long time looking fruitlessly for Noah’s watch;
  4. Found Beth’s lunch on the kitchen counter and ran barefoot into the driveway with it before the car left.

All before I ate breakfast.

It was enough to make me think of two significant upsides to the end of the school year. Soon there would be considerably less homework drama and the alarm wouldn’t be going off so early any more. Whatever chaos unfolds before one or both kids leave for camp will take place a little later, maybe after I’ve eaten breakfast. And now we’re almost there. Noah’s last day of school was Thursday and June’s will be Monday. (If we’d made up all our snow days, hers would have been Tuesday, but I don’t suppose you want to hear me complain about how I got cheated out of day of uninterrupted work, so I will refrain.)

In some ways the end of the school year has seemed anti-climactic. June’s school didn’t have its almost-annual art show, Noah’s not in band so he didn’t have a concert, and he didn’t participate in the 9th grade CAP students’ public presentation of original one-act plays.

This was held at the community center a week and a half ago and I think he would have allowed us to attend, but one of his group members had a schedule conflict so they performed theirs in class instead and he didn’t want me to come to that. Noah was considering going to the showcase anyway, to support his classmates and to be available to be an extra in other groups’ plays—and if he had gone I would have, too—but his homework was crushing that week, with long review packets for his Physics and Spanish final exams and multiple history chapters to outline, so he didn’t go. (We also had to cancel a doctor’s appointment and a drum lesson so he could get through it and even so he ended up having to give up on the History.)

June had a few things going on, however. And there was something sad but important we all needed to do.

Saturday: Mystics Game

Gymnastics, running club, and orchestra all ended in May or the first week of June, but Girl Scouts kept going until last week, and the troop has been busy. They went on a camping trip the first weekend in June which featured kayaking and archery and a zip line and eating a great quantity of S’mores. (June reports she had five.) Beth chaperoned the trip and drove both Megan and Riana to the campground. She and June both came home tired and itchy from poison ivy but happy.

The next weekend, several local Girl Scout troops attended a Mystics Game. It was Star Wars night so before the game there were stadium staff wandering around in costume ready to pose for photos with fans. There was also a hair station where you could get Princess Leia braids.  Megan, Leila, and the troop leader all availed themselves of this service. There were also announcements about the visiting team attempted to “disrupt the Force” and a kids’ dance troop performed in Storm Trooper costume and several fans were picked form the crowd to come onto the court for a costume contest. The man in a Chewbacca costume won.

And speaking of going on the court, just before the game started, Megan’s little sister’s Girl Scout troop got to go out on the court and stand with the players during the National Anthem.

The game was fun. I am not a sports-minded person, but because of June in the past several months I’ve attended a college women’s basketball game at the University of Maryland, a gymnastics exhibition (also at Maryland), and now a professional women’s basketball game. I’m glad she expands my horizons this way, because it’s been a while, more than fifteen years since Beth and I went to a Mystics game (if we ever went—as with our concert-going history, all is blurry. Beth says she doesn’t remember but I think I do and it seems possible.)

During the game, I observed to Beth, “They’re better at this free throw thing.”

“Better than the Pandas?” she clarified. Well, of course. Who else would I mean? Fourth-grade-level play is my basketball standard, even if we occasionally go see high school girls or college women play.

Anyway, the game was close in the first two quarters, with the teams trading the lead back and forth. Both quarters ended with the Mystics just barely ahead. About halfway through the second quarter, June’s troop left for their on-court time. They were going to stand in two lines and give the Mystics high fives as they returned to the court. I swear I could see June smiling from my seat.

When the players are on the court and you’re in the stands it’s hard to tell how tall they are, unless one of the male referees approaches and you notice the players are all taller. But when your ten-year-old daughter and many of her friends are standing right next to them, looking like preschoolers, you realize, these are very, very tall young women. (Yes, professional basketball players are tall—this is the kind of insight you come here to read, right?)

When the girls returned, Beth and I took June and Riana to get ice cream. The lines were really long so we missed most of the third quarter. Something went seriously awry while we were gone. The Mystics got behind and although they made some progress closing the gap during the fourth quarter, they never caught up and lost the game 83-76.

The last three and a half minutes of the game were awful, not from a fan perspective (because I was only mildly invested in the outcome) but it was just too loud and overwhelming. They kept encouraging the fans to make noise and they sure did, yelling and beating these inflatable sticks everyone was issued on entering the Verizon Center.

And when I say the last three and a half minutes, I really mean fifteen or so because they kept stopping the clock for time-outs and foul-related free throws. Meanwhile, I just wanted the game and the screaming to be over. But the rest of the evening was pleasant and June found it quite satisfactory. We even stayed for the whole thing, which we had warned her we might not do if it ran too late. As it was we got home at 9:45, which is pretty late for the likes of us.

Tuesday: Girl Scout Potluck

The next Tuesday was June’s last Girl Scout meeting and there was a potluck. I am often a potluck slacker—hey, someone has to bring the chips and salsa—but this time I cooked. I brought a pan of quinoa with roasted chickpeas and vegetables. It was my friend Nicole’s recipe. Thanks, Nicole! It was a big hit.

Last year there was a dance performance at the potluck, but this year we just ate and then the girls got their badges and cookie-selling prizes. And then, June’s spring extracurricular activities were done.

Thursday: Vigil for Pulse

On Thursday night we all attended a vigil for the victims of the attack on the Pulse night club. This has been hard to talk about with the kids. Beth told Noah the day after and at dinner that night I thought we should tell June in case she heard about it at school and felt scared for us. In fact, as soon as we told her she started to list reasons why it couldn’t happen to Beth and me—we don’t live in Florida, we don’t go to night clubs. I could see her trying to convince herself. It was a heart breaking thing to have to watch. Some of her reasons were kind of spurious, but I didn’t knock them down. How could I?

A white lesbian friend with two black adopted boys posted on Facebook that her seven-year-old son said he wished she wasn’t gay. “My black son is worried about me being killed. I am worried about him being killed,” she noted sadly.

Meanwhile Beth reminisced about the first Pride we ever attended in Cleveland in 1989, how young we were (twenty-two) and how much has changed in the world since then. Thinking of the young people gunned down at the club, she said, “They will never see their dreams realized, they will never wonder at the changes.”

So when we heard there would be a vigil for the victims on Thursday night it felt important to go. We picked Noah up straight from his drum lesson and walked there. I haven’t been to a vigil in a long time but they haven’t changed much. I still know the words to the songs, I know how to shield a candle flame in the wind. It was June’s first one but she said it was about what she expected.

There were speeches and songs and the names of the dead were read. There were a lot of people there we knew and a lot we didn’t know, including a whole Boy Scout troop in uniform. The mayor and a City Council member and other Takoma residents spoke movingly. Afterward we walked through the crowd and hugged our neighbors and friends. It was good to be in a crowd of people who shared our fear and sadness and anger. It helped a little.

Friday: Wax Museum

But life goes on—it has to—and two days later, on the second to last day of school, June’s English/social studies class had a wax museum. Each student had researched a historical figure to represent and came to class in costume and with props. They lined up along a hallway outside their classroom and parents circulated listening to each child give a speech in character.

June was Mozart. She’d tidied up her corpse wig from Halloween by cutting it shorter, weeding out the black hairs in the white and putting it in a ponytail and she wore a white blouse.  From the waist down she was more twenty-first century in red and white striped shorts, but that didn’t show behind her table. In between giving her speech, she played her violin. I could hear it as Noah and I drifted through the crowd, listening to speeches by Frida Kahlo, Mary Cassat, Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet, Martin Luther King, Sonia Sotomayor, Jackie Robinson, Jim Thorpe, and other notable personages.

Back in June’s classroom, we watched a presentation of the class’s six-word memoirs. They started with an essay about a memory and then they had to boil it down to roughly six words. June’s was about her performance at Peanut Butter and Jam last winter and she had to coin a word to get hers into six words: It read “Nervexicted, but then music takes over.” It was a fun event. June was pleased that Noah, who had taken his last two exams the day before, was able to come, since he’d missed her orchestra concert.

Right after the wax museum, Beth, Noah and June all piled in the car and drove to West Virginia. Noah’s spending a week of R&R with Beth’s mom and June came along for the ride.

The Weekend Before the Storm

Left to my own devices from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, I worked several hours, went out to dinner and lunch, finished reading a mystery, mowed the lawn, ran some errands, menu-planned for next week, and blogged. While I was out Saturday afternoon, I ran into another work-at-home mom I know and her greeting to me was, “Are you ready?”

I said yes because what else can you say? Summer is certainly not as hard as it was when the kids were younger (the mom in question has one in middle school, one in elementary school, and a toddler).  And whether I’m ready or not, summer will start when June gets home from school Monday afternoon.

I’m glad that unlike forty-nine of my brothers and sisters, I’ll be there to greet her when she gets off that bus.

The Band is Playing

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

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

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

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

Saturday: A Prairie Home Companion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday: Our Musical Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Girls on the Run

Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash
As we fell into the sun
And the first one said to the second one there
I hope you’re having fun

From “Band on the Run,” by Paul and Linda McCartney

At dinner last night, the night before the Girls on the Run Montgomery County 5K, June asked me if I was excited. Beth nodded her head subtly to prompt me, but I told the truth instead. I told June I was a little nervous, because I was planning to walk it instead of run it and even though I’d been told by one of the coaches that a lot of people do that, I was afraid I’d be the only one and I’d come in dead last.

June said she’d give me a dollar if I did. I asked what I’d get if I didn’t come in last, figuring it should be better than a dollar, but she said nothing, because she knew I wasn’t going to come in last.

June had been training since early March, running before school on Tuesdays and after school on Thursdays with the Girls on the Run chapter at her school. I hadn’t trained at all, because running’s not my thing and a three-mile walk isn’t beyond my capabilities. I was a little self-conscious, though, because a lot of parents I knew were running with their kids, and I needed to find June an alternate adult running buddy who could keep up with her, as all the girls are supposed to have a grown-up with them at all times. Her buddy ended up being Zoë’s grandmother, who’s currently in training for a half marathon. “Her whole family is into running,” June told me. Indeed, Zoë’s grandfather ran with her and her mom was one of the coaches and her older brother only skipped the race because he had a viola lesson.

We needed to be at the race site by eight in the morning, so Beth set her alarm for six-thirty so we could be out of the house by seven-thirty. June had requested a special pre-run breakfast of muffins, so we’d procured those the day before. I made a fried egg and a couple slices of veggie bacon to go with mine.

It was in the 50s and raining, well misting really, because why wouldn’t it be? It’s rained almost every day this month. It feels sometimes like we’ve been cheated out of May, which is one of the nicest months in the D.C. area most years. June and I both put long-sleeved shirts on under our race t-shirts and wore leggings (an article of clothing I normally reserve for wearing under skirts or to bed on cold winter nights). Once we were dressed Beth said we were “two girls on the run.”

We drove to the staging area for the race, a mall parking lot, and waited. The race wasn’t until nine, but they wanted everyone there early. There was a D.J. playing music and leading the assembled crowd in stretches. There were stations where you could buy merchandise and get your face painted or temporary dye for your hair. June didn’t need hair dye, though because she had just cashed in her birthday gift certificate for a new dye job the day before, after two months of waiting and wondering when she should use it. Beth had worried it might run in the rain, but I think June considered the satisfying possibility of showing up on race day with a new haircut and a quarter of her hair dyed in deep blue, purple, and fuchsia and decided this was the day. Indeed, there were a lot of exclamations about it, especially from Zoë who patted it and told her it looked pretty.

Of the thirteen third-to-fifth grade girls on June’s team, four were friends of June’s—Zoë, Evie, Claire, and Norma, plus Keira, a fifth grader who used to wait at June’s bus stop before she moved to a different part of town. Norma was wearing a jacket with the face of a Pokémon character on the hood, including ears. (It looked warm and I was wishing I had a jacket—with or without ears—as we waited in the rain and I started to get chilled.)  But in the vast crowd (there were over five thousand runners and who knows how many spectators) there were a lot of other girls we know who go to different elementary schools—preschool classmates, Girl Scout troop members, etc. Some of them we saw, others I only found out were there later, from their parents’ Facebook pictures.

The crowd was divided into three sections—purple, pink, and green—and the runners started in shifts. We were in the pink group, the middle one, so we started second. Walkers were instructed to stay on the right and I did. Right before we reached the starting line at 9:05, June gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek and she took off with Zoë’s grandmother.

It was a road race and the route wound around the mall and an office park, ending where it began, under a big inflatable arch. The runners separated from the walkers pretty quickly. As a result, I spent most of the race with walkers and reluctant runners, whose coaches—especially toward the end—had to keep wheedling them to run, against their tired protests.  “Why do you want to run so much?” one girl snapped irritably at her coach and another one swore she was never doing Girls on the Run again and was reminded by one of her teammates that she can’t do it again because she was in fifth grade. (There is a middle school program but it’s new and relatively small compared to the more established elementary school program.) I can only suppose that given the enthusiasm of June’s teammates, they weren’t saying anything like that to their coaches. I did see June once during the race as we travelled in opposite directions on opposite sides of a median. She waved at me happily and yelled, “Hi, Mommy!”

June says she alternated between jogging and walking but sprinted the last few hundred yards when the finish line was in sight. I alternated between walking briskly and walking at my normal pace. It was good to be moving, probably better than waiting at the sidelines like Beth, because once we got going I wasn’t cold any more, though it started to rain a little harder and I was getting pretty damp. I stopped at the water table and considered using a porta-potty along the route but decided against it because there was a line and I didn’t have to go that badly.

I checked my time when I crossed the finish line—it was 10:04, which means I’d finished it under an hour. I wasn’t last, though it was a close thing. I heard the announcer saying the last runners were coming down the last hill before the straightaway while I was in one of the porta-potties at the finish line. I collected a bottle of water and a strawberry cereal bar and went to find June’s team, who were all there except one girl. Beth estimated June did the race in about forty minutes, about halfway between the first finisher, a middle school girl who finished in twenty minutes and the walkers who brought up the rear. This would be a personal best for June, who had completed a couple practice runs in about fifty minutes. The last runner from June’s team arrived and the girls got pictures taken with their medals and the race was over.

Rather than wait in traffic while every other family in the county with a third-to-fifth grade girl exited the parking garage, we went into the mall and got mochas and hot tea at Peet’s.

“Did you have fun?” I asked June.

“Yes. Did you?” I said.

“Yes,” I answered truthfully.

“Maybe I’ll do it next year,” Beth said. I’d be happy to have her company as a third girl on the run.

Three Days in May

I. Cinco de Mayo

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

Here is my first Facebook post from that day:

May 5, 10:59 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my second Facebook post of the day:

May 5, 8:31 p.m.

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

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

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

II. Mother’s Day

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

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

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

III: 49

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

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

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

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

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

Red Letter Days

Friday

June had a highly satisfactory weekend. Friday afternoon just before five I took her to the basketball hoop down the block to shoot baskets. I told her I was only going to stay for ten minutes or so but she was welcome to stay longer by herself. Back home, when I realized she’d been gone over an hour, I went looking for her. It was going to be dark soon and she needed to change clothes for her school’s Latin Dance.

When I got to the hoop, I found her kneeling on the ground with a neighbor girl building a fairy apartment building in between the roots of a big tree using of pieces of bark, twigs, and pebbles. There was even furniture in the rooms. This was a major social coup for June. Olivia is a fifth grader who rides the bus home with June in the afternoon but who doesn’t wait at the bus stop in the morning. As a result, I’ve never met her parents.

They’ve been wanting to play together for a while, but whenever I went over to her house with June—to introduce myself and make sure it was okay for June to be there—Olivia wasn’t there or wasn’t free. And whenever they arranged for Olivia to come to our house she wouldn’t show. So I was starting to think she wasn’t interested but didn’t know how to tell June. But June reports Olivia heard her shooting baskets and came out to play so apparently it was a logistical problem.

We walked home and June got changed into a long red velour dress she bought with her own money at a thrift store a few months ago. (It’s the same dress she wore on Christmas.) I had no real idea how much of a dress-up occasion the dance was, so I offered no sartorial advice, which June probably appreciated. She selected a pair of white tights, a white cardigan, and her shiny black bejeweled shoes to go with it. When Beth got home she gave her some money to spend and June tucked it into a silver and gold clutch I think she got as a hand-me-down from Beth’s mom. And she was ready for her first school dance.

June and two of her friends had been making plans to go to this dance at school but apparently Evie and Zoë didn’t share these plans with their folks because when I contacted their moms to see if they could take June, they both said their daughters weren’t going. Almost ten seems to be an awkward age in terms of making plans. June and her friends often want to do it themselves but can’t quite get the plans off the ground without adult involvement.

The reason I was trying to palm June off on someone else was that neither Beth nor I was interested in attending the dance and we weren’t sure if you were allowed to drop your kid off and leave. I contacted the mother of another one of her friends, who was the main organizer and she said people do, so that’s what we did. I think being left at the dance without a parent might have made it even more exciting for June.

When Beth brought her home a little after eight, June ran into the house yelling, “Mommy! I won all the prizes I tried to get in the raffle!” She was carrying a big stack of boxes full of Monster High paraphernalia: four dolls in varying sizes, a cup with a lid and a straw, and a DVD. One of the dolls levitates by means of a magnet in her head. Take a close look—she’s hanging under the big purple ball: http://shop.mattel.com/product/index.jsp?productId=65561156

Beth had bought her some raffle tickets but when she had money leftover after buying herself pizza and a cupcake (plus brownies to bring home for Beth, Noah, and me), she bought a lot more. Every prize she won she did so by putting in more than half the tickets in play. Beth hadn’t really intended for her to do this but she hadn’t told her not to either. “Well, it’s for a good cause,” she said ruefully. The dance was a fundraiser for fourth grade field trips.

In addition to eating and winning prizes, June danced with her friends and her teacher and generally had a good time.

Saturday

As exciting as Friday was, Saturday was possibly even more so. In addition to a gymnastics class in the morning, the last game of the basketball season and the team party were that afternoon. After the second to last game of the season, June told me, “We can’t have a losing season now. If we lose the next game it will be a tie season and if we win, it will be a winning season.” The Pandas won that game by a big margin—16-5 and they were playing the same team, the Lady Terps, so I thought they had a pretty good chance of winning, but you never know.

At half time, the Pandas were leading 6-0. It looked so lopsided Beth was relieved when the other team finally got a basket in the third quarter. “It’s sad to be shut out,” she said. The Terps’ playing the week before had indicated the team wasn’t as experienced as the Pandas. Their defense in particular wasn’t very good. It seemed like there were organizational problem, too. A lot of the players didn’t have jerseys. And there weren’t as many parents in the bleachers cheering for them. This was a little uncomfortable and eventually some of the Panda parents started clapping for both teams.

But the Terps were better this week defensively and in the second half their offense clicked together (mainly due to the efforts of one really good player), more baskets followed, and by the middle of the fourth quarter the game was tied 8-8. And then they scored another point in a free throw and the Pandas were losing 9-8.

There was thirty seconds left in the game. I said to Beth, “They can’t make a basket in thirty seconds.”

“Yes, they can,” she said. And they did.

As you can see in the middle picture, Megan was pretty stoked as they lined up for the postgame handshake. All the Pandas were. One of the Terps crossed her arms over her chest and refused to participate and least one other player walked through with her arms at her sides. They’d done the same thing the week before. The Pandas had discussed it and were offended at this show of poor sportsmanship and exasperated to see it repeated. The players in the next game were already waiting so the Pandas hurried out of the gym to the hall for a quick team meeting—which Mike does after each game to offer praise and suggestions for improvement.

All he said at first once he had them all gathered around was “Wow…” Then he went on to say how proud of them he was for “digging deep” and coming from behind. At a recent game, when the Pandas were way ahead Mike called a time out with a minute left in the game to talk to them about their next move and all the parents, even his wife, laughed. But Mike’s central lesson for the Pandas is that it’s never too late for a learning opportunity and you are never too far ahead or too far behind to stop trying your best. He takes them all seriously as athletes and that’s why June loves playing on his team. There’s almost nothing that’s as important to her as being taken seriously.

While they were posing for a team photo I went to the bathroom. I thought I heard a girl crying in one of the stalls, but when a Terp player came out, she looked okay so I thought I must have imagined it. As we walked to the parking lot, however, I realized I wasn’t. Half the Terps were crying, one saying she was quitting basketball and another trying to dissuade her. In five seasons of basketball I’d never seen a team so distraught at losing at game, not even when they were five years old. I later learned the Terps lost every game this season. It must have been very hard to lose this one in the last thirty seconds. It made me glad for Mike again, because last year when the Pandas lost every game, he kept them buoyed and they left their last game happy and ready for the end-of-season party.

We had a party this year, too. It was graciously hosted by Talia’s dad. There was food and the Pandas ran around the back yard and there was a trophy ceremony in which Mike took each girl aside to tell her what he appreciated about her playing while the others chanted her name. (This keeps his remarks private.) It was a lovely way to mark the end of the season.

Because this is June we’re talking about, she’s moving right on to the next thing. This morning before school she had her first Girls on the Run practice. This is a running club at her school (and other area elementary schools). In late May she’ll be running a 5K. Parents are invited to participate. I told her I might walk it because while I can’t always keep up with her whirlwind pace, I like to be where my girl is.

Wintry Mix

If you live in the mid-Atlantic region, or anywhere in the country where the temperature hovers right around freezing for much of the winter, you’re familiar with wintry mix, precipitation that switches back and forth between rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow. We had a whole day of that on Tuesday. I think we had all four kinds of precipitation over the course of the day. Because we were right on the rain-snow line, forecasts for the day varied wildly. We might get ten inches of snow! Or nothing! There ended up being a dusting of snow in the morning that melted by noon with no more accumulation, even though it kept snowing (and sleeting and raining) throughout the day. The afternoon snow squalls, while pretty, didn’t stick.

This post will be wintry mix as well, a mélange of four things that happened over the course of the last week and a half.

I. Thursday to Saturday: Visit with Uncle Johnny

Beth’s brother Johnny, who lives in Seattle, was swinging through the East Coast on a trip that would include New York City, the DC area, Wheeling, WV, and Kentucky. He arrived in DC from New York on Thursday night. Beth met him for dinner after work and they had dinner at a teahouse in the city. Friday she worked a half-day and then they went to the Building Museum before meeting me for lunch at District Taco. (I was already in the city because I had a dentist appointment to get a temporary crown applied.)

From there we went to the Portrait Gallery, where we took in paintings, drawings, sculptures and, in the most interesting interpretation of “portrait,” a short animated film, set to John Lennon’s song “O Yoko.” The film was continuously playing on a small screen mounted on the wall between two paintings. I heard a guard confess it was driving him crazy listening to it all day. I liked it, but I didn’t have to listen to it any longer than I wanted to, so I saw his point. We made sure to show Johnny the portrait of John Brown, which is now a favorite of ours because when June was in preschool she was fascinated with it and always insisted on coming to see it whenever we came to the portrait gallery. (She has no memory of this now, but we are still charmed.)

I peeled off early, leaving Beth and Johnny at the museum, because I wanted to be home when June got home. She had left her violin at school two days running and I wanted her to be able to practice for her upcoming orchestra concert over the weekend, so I’d told her if she forgot again, we’d be heading to school to get it, getting a custodian to unlock the classroom door if need be. It didn’t come to that, as she remembered to bring the violin home. Perhaps this was because I got down on my knees on the wet pavement of her bus stop that morning and begged her to bring it home. That’s the kind of maternal behavior a nine year old will strive to prevent from occurring again.

So Johnny got to listen to June practice the violin when he and Beth arrived at the house, and then he wanted to see Noah’s drum kit, and Noah practiced, too. (I had them do it sequentially to spare Johnny the experience of listening to both at once.) We went out for pizza in Silver Spring and left Johnny at his hotel.

Saturday Beth and June went to meet him so June could swim in the hotel pool, but it was closed until ten and June had gymnastics in College Park at eleven, so they hung out in his room instead and June watched the Disney channel. After watching June’s gymnastics class and eating lunch with her in the University food court, they all returned home just long enough for June to change into her basketball clothes and to pick me up so we could go to the Pandas’ game.

Going into this game, the Pandas had lost a game and won two. It was a remarkable turnaround for a team that lost every game last season. “It’s like they just realized how to play basketball,” another parent said to me. Well, they didn’t forget, winning the game 8-4, against the Warriors, a team I remember beating them twice last year. The Pandas’ offense was apparently not as strong as in the game we’d missed the week before but their defense was great and they caught a lot of rebounds and that was enough to do the trick. It’s so fun to watch them win and Johnny was a good fan, cheering and taking a lot of pictures.

June still wanted to swim in the hotel pool, even after gymnastics and basketball, so we left her there with Johnny and headed home until it was time for dinner. Noah had been working all day but he took a break to go out for Burmese with us. Johnny had never had Burmese before and enjoyed it. He came home with us for a little while and then we said goodbye because he was leaving for Wheeling early the next morning. It was a nice visit, but too short. June had hoped to take Johnny ice-skating and shoot baskets with him at the hoop near the end of our block. But there’s always next time. 

II. Tuesday: Two-Hour Delay

Monday night, considering the forecast and the fact that he had a long history reading on WWII with two dozen questions due Wednesday and only about a third done, Noah said, “I need a snow day.”

“You don’t always get what you need,” I responded, thinking one of us wasn’t going to get that, though at the moment I didn’t know who it was.

But there was a two-hour delay, which was a nice compromise, long enough for Noah to get make some progress on the assignment and for June to practice her violin, make a card for Megan (whose grandmother just died) and for the two of us to take a walk to Starbucks where she had a slice of lemon pound cake and I sipped a green tea latte while I read to her. “That was nice,” she said as we headed for home shortly before her bus was due. And it was.

III. Thursday: Band and Orchestra Concert

The band and orchestra concert delayed during the snow week finally happened on Thursday and it was worth the wait. As Beth came in the door around 5:45, I was exhorting June to change into her concert clothes and find her music. This must have sounded pretty familiar from all Noah’s years of concerts.

I’d laid out a variety of white tops and dark bottoms on my bed so June could mix and match. She chose a white cardigan and a black pleated skirt, with black leggings. But she hadn’t changed out of the socks she’d been wearing that day—they were turquoise with pink hearts.

“What socks are you going to wear to the concert?” I asked, thinking surely not those.

“I am wearing socks,” June said, matter-of-factly.

We looked at each other silently. I almost opened my mouth and said you can’t wear those socks to an orchestra concert, but then I decided why not and said if her dress shoes fit over them it was fine. They did.

June was sure her sheet music was tucked into her music book, but when she looked, she couldn’t find it. So we left without it, telling her she’d have to share with someone.

When we got to the school gym, scores of young musicians and their families were milling around, finding their seats and tuning their instruments. There are one hundred and sixty kids in the band and orchestra, so you can imagine how many people were in the room. And while most kids at the concert were in white and black concert garb, a number of them were in street clothes, so I guess colored socks weren’t really a big deal. And they were packed together pretty tightly so sharing music wasn’t either.

It was a while before the concert got started, so there was time for socializing. We waved from our seats at parents of June’s classmates and fifth-graders we know from the bus stop and elsewhere. The mother of a fifth grade trumpet player came over to ask about the Communication Arts Program at Noah’s high school because her eighth grade daughter just got into it.

After a fanfare by the advanced brass, the whole orchestra played a medley of fiddle tunes. June had a duet with the first violin from the advanced string ensemble. This was originally going to be a solo, because no one but June volunteered, but then the first violin changed her mind. June was a little peeved about this, but I’m pretty sure she’ll get a solo in a concert some day if she sticks with it. I got a little teary while the two girls played. It happens to me at least once at every concert.

Although that was the highlight for us, it was just the beginning of the concert. The beginning band played a series of songs meant to evoke different parts of the country (this part of the program was called “Road Trip”) and the orchestra did a series of songs representing different animals from the Chesapeake Bay, as well as the water and wind.

There were movie themes, from Jurassic Park and Star Wars, which was preceded by two boys acting out the “I am your father, Luke” scene and there was an audience sing-along to “Hey Jude” and later we all stood to do the chicken dance with accompaniment from the advanced clarinets. (“I wasn’t told I would have to dance,” Noah commented afterward, but dance he did.) A girl who attended June’s preschool in the class one year ahead of her played her own original composition on the flute. The advanced clarinets and flutes played “Silent Night,” which seemed little out of place in February, and because there’s a little-known law that at least half of all elementary and middle school band and orchestra concerts should feature a jazz tune during which the musicians don sunglasses, they did that, too.

At one point, the bridge popped out of June’s violin but she ran over to the director between songs and he fixed it for her.

It was a fun evening. I am really in awe of elementary school music band and orchestra teachers. Imagine if your job was to teach a few hundred mostly inexperienced nine-to-eleven-year-old musicians from two different schools enough music to pull off two concerts at each school every year. Because he also works the elementary school where Noah attended fourth and fifth grade, Mr. G was Noah’s first band teacher, too, and he does a wonderful job.

IV. Friday to Sunday: Valentines’ Day Weekend

Friday morning, about twenty minutes before June’s bus was due, she decided she wanted valentines for her class. This happened after weeks of insisting that no, she didn’t want to buy or make any valentines this year. She just wanted to give a few friends some big Hershey’s kisses privately. I never thought June would lose interest in class valentines exchanges at a younger age than Noah did, but apparently she had.

Her last-minute change of heart was partly motivated by the fact that she wanted to bring the candy to school and couldn’t unless she had something for everyone. So I found a bunch of printable valentines online and she selected a page with cartoon animals and robots she liked. Then I printed them and she cut them out and signed them. She thought she had a class list but she couldn’t find it so she left them unaddressed, saying “They will know who they are for because they will be on their desks.” I couldn’t argue with that. Three minutes before we needed to leave for the bus, the valentines were sealed in a plastic bag tucked into her backpack. Sometimes I feel like I’ve really got this elementary school mom thing down.

That afternoon Megan came over. We’d been planning to take both girls on a field trip to a high school girls’ basketball game, an annual tradition for the Pandas, but snow was predicted so the game was cancelled and we decided to switch plans to a play date. June gave Megan a big chocolate kiss and Megan gave June a card with a drawing of bees that says, “We were meant to bee,” with a chocolate kiss taped to it. While they were playing, I swiped a conversation heart from the stash of candy June brought home from school and I broke my temporary crown on it. Karma, I suppose.

On Saturday, Noah wanted to make something heart-shaped for dinner. I was thinking grilled cheese sandwiches we could cut into hearts but he had more ambitious plans: heart-shaped slices of lasagna. So we made spinach lasagna and used a cookie cutter to cut four little hearts out of it. (The rest we ate in more traditional slices.)

On Valentines Day proper, Beth made heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast and we all exchanged gifts, mostly chocolate and books, but I also got a Starbucks gift card.

The kids have Monday off for Presidents’ Day and we’re supposed to get more wintry mix Monday through Tuesday—snow, freezing rain, and rain, with an ice storm thrown in for good measure. I guess that’s how we know it’s winter here.

Jammin’

The kids went back to school Monday and I admit that even after Noah told me there was an official announcement on the school district web site to this effect, I kept checking it to make sure they weren’t going to take it back. I’m just a little paranoid now. But they did go back and then yesterday the groundhog didn’t see his shadow, which was cheering, as I am all for an early spring.

But before the kids stepped on their buses and I went back to my empty house to enjoy my normal workday routine, we had a very musical weekend. Both kids had a public performance. To my amusement, June played violin at something called a jam and Noah played drums at something called a recital.

Saturday Afternoon: Peanut Butter and Jam

Saturday June performed with Becky, her old preschool music teacher, and the Takoma Ensemble string quintet in a program for children seven and under. It’s part of a series called Peanut Butter and Jam. The theme of this performance was feelings. We dropped June off at the community center for a dress rehearsal a couple hours before the show. (Or rather Beth dropped her off. I was already there, having stood in line an hour and fifteen minutes to register June for drama camp next summer. Early in-person registrants got a hefty discount that day, so it was worth it.) June had rehearsed a couple times previously with Becky but this was the first time all the performers would be together.

When Beth, Noah and I arrived at show time, we took our seats. Most of the audience was in seats, but there was a kind of toddler and preschooler mosh pit right in front of the stage.

We saw a lot of people we know, most with younger kids: the toddler brother of a boy from June’s school bus stop, a preschool classmate of June’s who was there with his younger sister, the two little girls who live down the block and whom June helped watch last week. But we were especially happy to see June’s best friend Megan and her dad. June had missed a Pandas’ game due to the dress rehearsal and Megan reported they’d won “by a lot of points” and that she’d scored a basket. (I later found out from the coach that they won 23-8! Since they won their last game as well, the Pandas are now, surprisingly, having a winning season.)

The show started with Becky talking about the snow and how it caused many people to have feelings—happy, angry, and sad. I could relate to that. Then she sang a couple songs with the audience. During “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” June entered from backstage, looking sad and singing, “If you’re sad and you know it, drag your feet.” Then for the bulk of the program she and Becky then discussed various feelings, with the string quintet playing or Becky singing music that demonstrate those feelings.

At once point when Becky asked her what she does to feel good, June said she plays the violin and then she played “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Her right pinky was still in a splint, but it didn’t seem to affect her playing. If you’ve ever seen June act, you won’t be surprised to hear she was very expressive and enjoyed hamming it up with Becky. The cowered together during the scary music (a Vivaldi piece meant to evoke a thunderstorm) and scowled and stomped during the angry music (Shostakovich). Finally, the musicians introduced their instruments—violin, viola, cello, and bass and then Becky sang a few more songs with the audience and it was over.

After the show there was a reception and we stayed and June ate snacks (fruit and sunflower butter sandwiches, in deference to possible allergies) and we talked with people we knew and a few we didn’t, a few of whom came up to congratulate June.

Sunday Afternoon: Winter Recital

The next day the music school recital was being held in three shifts, at 4:00, 5:00, and 6:00. Noah was playing in the middle performance. He and his drum teacher had composed a partly improvisational piece called “Percussion Duo.” They’d been working on it for a few weeks and Noah even came in for an extra lesson that the teacher gave him free of charge. They also had to go to a jury, or audition, for the school administrators a couple weeks before the recital.

I was glad about this because Noah gets very nervous at auditions and his last two haven’t gone very well. The music school juries aren’t as competitive as the honors band and jazz band auditions, so I thought it would be a good way to re-build his confidence for the next one he has, whenever that is. This one went fine. If you’re judged not ready you can come back for a second jury, but he passed the first one.

Before the recital I went swimming (at the pool! Which was open!) and then to the library and when I’d finished there I realized I was actually closer to the music school than home and if I walked home it would just be time to get in the car and go, so I called Beth and told her I’d meet everyone at the recital. So naturally, I was forced to go wait at the bakery and have a cup of tea and a slice of marble cake and read the Sunday Arts and Style section of the Post, which I happened to have in my backpack. (I have been spending far too much time at that bakery, or more precisely eating too much there, but it had been a very hard week.)

At ten of five I left the bakery and I saw Beth and June in the car driving around looking for parking. Noah was already in the building. I went in and saved three folding chairs in the rapidly filling room and watched as Noah and his teacher Jason set up the drum kit. Noah looked very serious and avoided eye contact with me as he went up and down the aisle.

On the program Noah was second to last out of sixteen performers. They generally order them from less to more experienced musicians. The school’s students range from preschoolers to teenagers, but they skew young, so I wasn’t surprised to see him so close to the end.

The drum kit was right in front of the piano and there were chairs for the musicians and audience almost right up to it so I wondered where the violinists would stand and where they would put the guitarists’ chairs. I like the music school front room. It’s warm and sunny, with three windows facing the street and the walls are painted in nice shades of blue and cream. Nonetheless, it’s a small space for these events and I’ve often thought they should rent a larger space for recitals.

Then the office manager answered my questions by announcing they were changing the order of performances to have Noah and Jason go first, after which they’d disassemble the drums to make room for the other performers. Compared to the rest of the performers, Noah and Jason were dressed casually—Noah in his trademark sweater vest over a tie-dyed t-shirt and Jason in a black short-sleeved button down. Later Noah asked why we didn’t tell him to dress up. The answer was he’d been to enough music recitals of June’s that I thought he’d remember what people generally wear and he could make his own decision. Besides, he’s a drummer, and his teacher wasn’t really dressed up either.

Noah and Jason took their seats at the drums. Jason warned the audience it might get loud and said, by way of explanation and to some laughter, “There’s not much we can do about that. It’s drums.” They began to play. Noah continued to look very serious as he played. They sounded good to me and I liked their composition, but I can never tell when he’s going to be satisfied with a performance and when he won’t.

The rest of the kids played, a couple in duets with their teachers. The next three performers after Noah were pianists and then there was a violinist who plays in the advanced strings ensemble at June’s school with her. A girl played “Ode to Joy” on the guitar, alongside her teacher. I’d never heard that song on guitar and it sounded a lot different, in an interesting way. Because the winter recital is often in December a few kids had prepared holiday music—we heard “Greensleeves,” “The Dreidel Song,” and “Jingle Bells.” In a music school recital first, one of the guitarists went electric and played The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me Now,” which was fun. The recital ended with a very skilled teenage violinist who played a Bach concerto.

After the recital, we asked Noah how he thought it went. Okay, he said. He didn’t have a list of errors he’d made as he sometimes does, but he didn’t seem buoyed as he is at other times by a good performance. I was glad he did it, both to practice composing and to stay in the habit of public performance.

This duo of musical events was actually supposed to be a trio, ushered in last Wednesday by June’s first full-length elementary school orchestra concert but the concert was postponed due to the snow. It’s been rescheduled for next week, so we’ll be in the audience again soon. It’s one of my favorite places to be. I love to listen to my kids play.

Gay Marriages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For the next exciting installment,” he said.

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

The Music is So Delightful

The Holiday Sing at June’s school was the subject of unexpected controversy this year. First the times for the performances changed and parents who had taken time off work were inconvenienced. There was quite the hullabaloo about it on the PTA listerv. You wouldn’t believe it, unless you’ve ever read a PTA listerv, in which case it was just about what you’d expect. After some discontent about the schedule change and how the event is publicized in general, it eventually turned into a critique, by a kindergarten parent, about the whole format of the Holiday Sing, in which fourth and fifth-graders in orchestra, band, and chorus perform and kids in the younger grades participate in a sing-along.

I think what it comes down to, for some parents anyway, was a desire for it to be more like the elementary school holiday concerts of our youth, with every kid in the school up on risers and singing for parents. But June’s school has nine hundred students. That’s just not going to work. Even as it is, they have to do the Holiday Sing over the course of two days, in three shifts, one for an audience of kindergartens and first graders, one for the second and third grade and one for fourth and fifth grade students who aren’t taking instrumental music or chorus. I think the pre-K gets split in half, as some attend school in the morning and some in the afternoon.

In my opinion, it’s actually a pretty elegant solution. There are advantages to having only the students who’ve shown enough interest in music to join band, orchestra, or chorus perform. (I will discreetly let you imagine what these are.) In fact, it’s not even the whole band and orchestra that play. Just fifth graders, advanced fourth graders, and a few beginning fourth graders who play needed instruments. Yet with the sing-along component, everyone gets to participate, even if the kids are sitting on the floor, facing the stage so their parents sitting on folding chairs at the back of the room can only see the backs of their heads (and sometimes their hands if the song has hand motions).

Anyway, being a veteran elementary school parent, I knew what to expect from the Holiday Sing. And it was a big deal for June this year because after years of anticipation, she was finally old enough to be on stage. And she’d be there over and over because she’s in orchestra and chorus. The chorus started practicing the Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa songs back in September. The orchestra songs, “Skaters’ Waltz” and “Sleigh Ride” were merely wintry, rather than holiday-themed because they are going to perform them again at their full-length concert in late January.

June was excited in the days leading up to the concert. The weekend we were in Rehoboth Beth took her to the outlets and bought her an outfit to wear—a white cowl-necked sweater, a black pleated skirt, black tights with rhinestones, and shiny black shoes, with costume jewels on the toes. I had suggested making do with a white cardigan, navy skirt, and navy leggings she already owned but I was apparently missing the point of the concert dress code—new clothes. (She did wear the other outfit on the second day she performed because she didn’t want to go to school in the same outfit two days in a row, another thing I failed to understand.) As a final touch, she donned a Santa hat, as did a few other musicians and singers.

June also had a preference for which performance she wanted us to attend. The chorus was singing different songs at different shifts and they were only doing her favorite song, “Little Saint Nick,” at the fourth and fifth grade show, on Thursday afternoon. Thursday was a tricky day for Beth, as there was a board meeting she needed prepare for, and there was also a press conference to announce her union was endorsing Bernie Sanders. She said she’d do her best to come, but she couldn’t promise.

I didn’t know if she was coming until I got a text from her twenty-five minutes before I left the house, saying she was leaving her office. I met her inside the school. She’d saved a seat in the front row. So we sat and watched the kids take their places. We’ve been to a lot of elementary and middle school band concerts since Noah started to play percussion five years ago, so all the group kids in the black and white dress clothes milling around up on stage was a familiar sight, but there were a couple of differences. For one, because Noah switched elementary schools after third grade, he never played at this school’s Holiday Sing. More importantly, though, for the first time, the kid up on stage with an instrument was June.

“She’s growing up,” I whispered to Beth, and then we both cried a little.

The band and orchestra alternated songs. The brass instruments played first. We knew two of the trumpet players and one of the saxophonists from June’s bus stop. (One was probably wearing a hand-me-down band shirt of Noah’s.) The orchestra had two songs and the second one in particular “Sleigh Ride” sounded really good. June looked very serious as she played.

After the instrumental music was over, the chorus sang three songs alone (“Winter Wonderland,” “The Eight Days of Hanukkah,” and “Blitzen’s Boogie”) and then nine more with audience participation. June may have liked “Little Saint Nick” best but the kids in the audience went crazy for “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” They always do. There was also quite a commotion when it was announced any teacher who wanted to wear reindeer antlers during the sing-along could. All the kids were clamoring for their teachers to go get some and a few of them did.

There are always at least a couple songs in Spanish (or Ladino) because of the large Spanish-speaking population at June’s school and its Spanish immersion program. This year it was “Ocho Kandelikas” and “Dale Dale Dale.” Another of the Hanukkah songs was in Hebrew and one of the Kwanzaa songs was partially in Swahili, so it was all quite international.

The program was over in about forty-five minutes. Then June went to an abbreviated gym class (in her dress clothes) and Beth and I headed home. On the way out, Beth snapped a picture of a bulletin board promoting the Holiday Sing. It said, “The weather outside is frightful, but music is so delightful.” We haven’t had much wintry weather yet this year—the day of the Holiday Sing it was in the fifties and raining, but watching our kids play and sing is always delightful. That never changes.