The Opposite of Terrible

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

Winter Band and Jazz Concert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Sing (and Electoral College March)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

She was sold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Long Run

Election: Tuesday

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

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

Well, now I hope she doesn’t remember.

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

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

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

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

Aftermath: Wednesday to Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5K: Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Break a Leg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Famous People, Postscript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvelous Melon Pie

Ingredients List

Crust

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

Filling

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

3 egg yolks
3 T water
1 T butter

Topping

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

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

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

Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving

Famous People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Voice Lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acting class 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update on Noah and band:  

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

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

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

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

 

The Fiddle and the Drum

Last Week of July: Band Camp and Tinkering Camp

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

“The Fiddle and the Drum” by Joni Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talia: “But that’s the point.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Week of August: Orchestra Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.