We Are Headed South: College Tours, Installment #2

Saturday morning I was out of bed by 6:45, which is earlier than I usually am on a week day. The reason was that Beth, Noah, and I were going to an Open House at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, which, despite the name, is not a Catholic school. It’s Maryland’s public honors college, located in St. Mary’s city in Southern Maryland. After visiting two professionally-oriented schools over spring break, we thought a liberal arts college would be a good next step. That it’s close, affordable, and rigorous all make it an appealing school to have in the mix.

It takes about two hours to drive to St. Mary’s, a little less on a Saturday morning if you leave the D.C. suburbs just after 7:30, a little more if you are driving back on a Saturday afternoon and hit a little traffic re-entering said metro area. We got to the campus at 9:30 on the dot, parked, registered, picked up a free t-shirt for Noah, sampled the pastry buffet, and found seats on the bleachers in a gym. The floor space was taken up with tables where more teens and parents sat. Noah commented that each presentation crowd gets bigger and he was a little scared of what it would be like at the next college. (At Champlain an administrator made his pitch to just us and one other family; at Emerson there were maybe fifty people. Here there were probably a few hundred.) I started to explain how this was a special event, not just a tour you can sign up for any day and Beth stopped me because he knew that already—he’d just been joking.

We listened to presentations from administrators and a panel of current students. It was a little more detailed than the presentations at other schools and I liked getting the students’ perspective. From there we went to an information fair where the academic departments had booths under a big tent. It was crazy crowded in the tent, so we just picked up some brochures, one for Theater, Film, and Media Studies and one for the music department. I pointed out it would be easier for him to take music classes here, as neither Emerson nor Champlain has a music department, (though Emerson has an arrangement that allows students to take classes at Berklee College of Music).

We strolled about campus a bit before lunch, taking in the scenery, watching students fencing on a quad, and visiting the book store. I was charmed that it had a selection of musical instruments for sale (guitars, ukuleles, and bongo drums) and a whole aisle of art supplies and that there were a lot of books outside the assigned books section. The campus is quite pretty—red brick buildings, a fair amount of green space, woods, and ponds. It’s right on St. Mary’s river. There’s a boat house with boats you can take out on the water and it’s only about a ten-minute drive from the Chesapeake Bay.

We had tickets to eat lunch in the dining hall so we did. Noah wasn’t pleased that there was no pasta on offer at that particular meal and he didn’t care much for the pizza he got. I didn’t try the pizza but what I got seemed decent for cafeteria food. The dining area is an airy space with a soaring wooden ceiling and a lot of light.

We had a campus tour next. Our attention was attracted to the guide by the person in the Sea Hawk costume dancing around near her. (They are serious about the mascot at this school. At Champlain the guide pointed to a beaver weathervane and told us the beaver was the mascot and at Emerson we never even learned if they have one, but those sea hawks are everywhere.) The guide took us to the boat house, a dorm room, and a lecture hall. The rooms can’t compete with the Victorian mansions at Champlain, but the room we saw had a view of a pond and the lecture hall was fairly small (it only seats about sixty), which I think was the point—even your big intro classes won’t be that big here. The campus is so lovely I kind of wish I’d taken some pictures, particularly down by the boat house, but I didn’t want to be the embarrassing mom, so I didn’t.

The whole visit, as we walked around, I was thinking of one of my best friends, Joyce, who went to college at St. Mary’s. It was strange to think we were walking down paths she’d probably walked countless times as a young woman, long before we met as a graduate student (her) and an adjunct (me) sharing a tiny office with five other grad students and adjuncts at George Washington University. Joyce and I both had babies several years after that. Her daughter Gwen is a year younger than Noah. And now they’re in high school, Noah soon to be in college. It hardly seems real sometimes that we could all be so much older, except when it seems very real indeed.

We were back on the road by 1:40, heading back to weekend homework and chores. It was hard to get Noah to say much about what he thought of the school, but that’s par for the course. He rarely makes snap judgments, he needs time to ponder things. When I pressed him at dinner that night, he said he thought Champlain was still his favorite, though everything’s preliminary at this point.

We’re probably done looking at schools until summer, when we’ll visit Oberlin and maybe some other schools in that area. Oberlin is my alma mater and Beth’s; many of you already know we named Noah for the dorm where we met. If I felt pleasantly sentimental yesterday for Joyce as she was a decade before we even met, just imagine that trip.

Ease on Down the Road

North’s birthday was a week-long affair this year. In lieu of a party, they asked for tickets to see The Wiz at Ford’s Theater with Zoë and to have dinner before the show and a sleepover afterwards. They also had birthday get-togethers with Xavier and Megan the weekends before and after their birthday. And then we went to a somewhat larger gathering, with 800,000 people to protest gun violence.

Pre-Birthday Celebrations: Sunday to Thursday

Xavier and his one of his moms and his grandmother took North out to the lunch buffet at a vegetarian Indian restaurant the Sunday before their birthday. He gave them a rainbow-striped scarf, which might have been a reference to the fact that they both belong to their schools Rainbow Alliance (the gay-straight union). Then they went swimming at the community pool where I do my Sunday afternoon laps. This was a spontaneous development, so I was surprised to see them come in the door to the pool deck while I was doing the kickboard part of my routine.

The weather and the school district gave North an early birthday present of a day off on Wednesday and a two-hour delay on Thursday because we got four and a half inches of the white stuff. North went over to Zoë’s house and they spent Wednesday hand coloring invitations for Zoë’s birthday party, walking to the bakery to get treats, and sledding. North was the only one of us who had any fun that day, as Beth, Noah, and I were holed up in the house working.

Thursday, the day before North’s birthday, I made tacos for dinner, because they love tacos and I don’t make them much anymore because I made them on Election night 2016 and now tacos just make me sad. North thinks this is a ridiculous reaction and maybe it is, but it’s my reaction.

After dinner, Beth and North went to the party store to get the balloons they’d bought earlier inflated with helium. I thought it was kind of funny that despite the fact that North wasn’t having a party, we still ended up with balloons and a piñata. For reason I can’t quite articulate, this reminded me of the year they turned five and asked for a surprise party and then tried to plan exactly what was going to happen at the surprise party.

The Birthday: Friday

On Friday morning I got up earlier than usual and made my newly minted twelve year old a birthday breakfast of cheese grits and an egg. (They usually make their own breakfast so that was part of the treat. Also, they are quite fond of cheese grits.)  They went off to school and came home with Zoë, who admired the balloons, and helped them smash the piñata and dye the frosting for the baked but not yet frosted birthday cake a pretty teal color.

Just before five, I herded Noah, North, and Zoë to the bus stop so we could meet Beth for pizza at Roscoe’s, where North opened cards and presents. Zoë gave them a card she’d circulated around school and gotten a bunch of friends to sign. North was delighted and read the messages—many of which were mysterious in-jokes—aloud.

Zoë’s folks were dropping off her presents for North later, so the gifts were just from us and the grandmothers. North received some money, an Amazon gift card, three novels (A Wish After MidnightEvery Day, and Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), a mug that says, “Warning: I may spontaneously break out in show tunes,” a t-shirt that says “I’m not yelling, I’m projecting” and permission (and funds) to dye all their hair purple. Up to now, they’ve always had to keep at least half of their hair its natural color. This has been my rule since they first started dyeing their hair the summer before fourth grade.  I like their natural golden blonde color and I didn’t like the idea of their whole head being white blond when the purple dye fades. But this is something they’ve wanted a long time and it’s not my hair, so I finally relented.

We took a train into the city, had some pre-show lemonade, café au lait, and pastries. Then we hurried to Ford’s Theater and found our seats. The Wiz was fun (and a sentimental favorite if you happened to be a kid in the late 1970s). Of course a show like this is mostly about the song and dance numbers and these were just what you’d want. I’ve actually been singing “Ease on Down the Road,” to my kids on school mornings when they need a little push to get out the door since they were little. I’m not sure they believed it was a real song other people knew until we saw the show. Anyway, the actress playing Dorothy was full of earnest emotion and a powerful singer, but Zoë and North liked the scarecrow best for his physical humor and comic line delivery. The costumes were sumptuous and the set effectively used projections as well as physical pieces. There were some updates, such as references to Black Panther and the guard at the Emerald City using Siri to open the city gates but overall, it was pretty faithful to the original show.

We got home very late. Metro was single-tracking on the Red Line and while we were waiting at Metro Center  it was announced that the train was coming on the opposite side of the track from where it actually arrived so there was a stampede across the bridge that goes over the tracks. We made it onto the train, which was good because it would have been a twenty-minute wait for the next one. At home, North opened Zoë’s presents—a 3D puzzle, a stress ball, a fidget cube and a big Tootsie Roll—and we all went to bed.

After the Birthday: Saturday and Sunday

Zoë slept over at our house and the next morning different people ate fruit salad, leftover pizza, vegetarian sausage, and birthday cake for breakfast. (Everyone had cake.) Beth and I made signs for the March for Our Lives. Beth mixed up some orange paint and painted “#Enough. End gun violence” on hers. I went with a similar sentiment: “Enough is Enough” on one side and “¡Basta ya!” on the other because I am fired up enough to say it in two languages. Noah affixed a sticker that says “2019” to his shirt. The date represents the year he can vote in state and federal elections. He got it at school and a lot of teens at the march were wearing similar ones.

Dropping Zoë back at her house, we were headed back into the city to attend the March. The name was something of a misnomer because it wasn’t a march so much as a rally; once we found a place to stand we didn’t ease on down Pennsylvania Avenue as much as stand there for several hours, along with masses of other people. The stage was in front of the Capitol and screens were set up along the road at intervals. We were in front of the Archives building, several blocks away, but we were close to a screen and Beth, Noah, and I could see and hear well. North, being shorter than most of the people around us, could only hear.

We were there an hour before the speeches started so we had plenty of time to people watch and read signs. There were many variations on the idea that there should be a background check before you could buy a Republican senator and quite a few said, “The NRA is a terrorist organization.” A girl in front of us had one that said, “Please DO NOT arm my gym teacher.” Kids held signs that said, “Am I next?” and “I am not a target.”

I have to say it was pretty well organized as these things go. Even though it was a huge event, there were enough porta potties and even after it was over, they still had toilet paper. It was also possibly the most moving political rally I have ever attended. I think that’s because all the speakers were young people—kids, teens, and one or two twenty-somethings (including the brother of a teacher killed at Sandy Hook). There was not a politician in the bunch. Several of the Parkland students spoke and their eloquent speeches were interspersed with other heartfelt speeches by young people from all around the country who had lost siblings or other family members to gun violence. There also musical acts. Andra Day opened the program, and Common, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and others all sang.

Even if you weren’t there, you’ve probably seen a lot of the speeches online already, so I won’t try to summarize them all. The eleven year old girl from Alexandria was a big crowd hit, as was Martin Luther King’s nine-year-old granddaughter. They saved Emma González for last. If you haven’t seen her speech, which begins passionately, and ends with a long silence that stands for the six minutes and twenty seconds it took the Parkland shooter to kill his victims, you should. You can see all those speeches here: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-43531391.

North, who’d been up more than two hours past their bedtime the night before and who was using a cane because of a twisted ankle and who couldn’t see the screen, tired of the speeches before the rest of us did, so Beth took them home for a nap. Noah and I stayed until the end.

We lingered in the city for a while the crowds slowly dispersed. Noah wanted pizza and I tried to convince him we should just eat the snacks in my bag but having established a post-protest pizza tradition this year, he was adamant and he stood in line that snaked out the door of a pizza place while I sat wearily on the sidewalk and looked at my friends’ pictures of the march on my phone. While I was waiting for him I saw a big group of kids from Newtown High School go by in matching t-shirts and considered how some of them were young enough to have been fourth and fifth graders at Sandy Hook Elementary five years ago.

Noah came back with the pizza and we ate it, still sitting on the sidewalk. Then since we’d already ruined our dinner it seemed like a good idea to get milkshakes from an ice cream truck. It ended up being a good plan because the Metro wasn’t crammed by the time we got there and we got seats on the train.

We got home around the time Megan was arriving for the second of North’s back-to-back sleepovers. North opened her gift—a Broadway-themed board game—and after an hour or so we went out to dinner. Noah was full from his mid-afternoon lunch and stayed home. I went along but didn’t eat much. At home, we all ate more birthday cake and everyone was in bed by ten o’ clock.

The following morning, I went to church with Beth and North. The religious education leader had put out a call the night before for kids to speak at the service about gun violence. Never one to shy away from a microphone, North jotted down some notes in the time between when Megan left and when we left for church. Here’s the speech. It’s about the experience of sheltering place because of a (false) rumor about a kid with a gun at their school and about the walkout they organized during a field trip. It’s a little over three minutes long.

When the service was over we went to the coffee social afterward and listened to people congratulate North on their speech.

Back at home, we settled in for a day of work, homework, housecleaning, and packing because tomorrow we are easing on down the road again—on a spring break college visit road trip to Burlington, Vermont and Boston to see Champlain College and Emerson College, with a side trip to Cape Cod so North and I can get a beach fix. After all the celebrating, protesting, and traveling, we will all be ready for some R&R.

White Christmas

Solstice

Thursday after school North went to AFI with their new friend Xavier and one of his moms to see A Muppet Christmas Carol and Noah came home still wearing a party hat from a party in his calculus class and no homework due the next day. He was quite chipper—drumming and reading Wizard and Glass ensued. Beth got home late—she was out getting a Christmas tree—but we had enough time to open presents from my mom and sister and eat gingerbread cookies. We were opening some of our presents early so we wouldn’t have to pack them all and I’d made gingerbread dough so we could take it with us to bake at Blackwater Falls State Park, where we were spending Christmas again. When I’d finished the dough, I baked about a dozen cookies for our Solstice celebration—a mix of snowmen, stars, and Christmas trees. After we’d opened the books, essential oils, a narwhal puppet, a cookbook, and spices and other goodies from my mom’s recent trip to Asia, North went to bed. When, later that evening, I found Noah up past his bedtime and told him to go to bed, he seemed genuinely surprised. He felt so unencumbered he’d forgotten it was a school night. (He’d been drumming on things other than his drums all afternoon and evening, which is often how I know he’s happy.)

Rain to Snow

After everyone had finished another day of work and school and errands and packing, we left Saturday morning a little after ten-thirty and drove to Blackwater. It was raining on and off the whole way and the temperature dropped from the high fifties to the high forties. (I know this because we have a new—to us—car we bought just last week and it has a screen on the dashboard that tells you things like that. It also tells you the name and artist of songs when you play music, which is educational for people like me with poor recognition of currently popular artists.)

About twenty minutes into the drive I told Beth it was good it was raining because it would make her happy when it changed to snow. Although the week overall was very cold, it didn’t get cold enough for snow during the drive, though we did see ice in the road cuts and patches of old snow here and there at the higher elevations.

On the way, we sang along with Christmas music and the kids had a spirited discussion about mistletoe and consent. Noah finds the whole concept of mistletoe problematic while North thinks it’s not that hard to ask before you kiss someone and he should just lighten up. Another topic of conversation: are all songs that portray Santa in a sexual or romantic light—e.g. “Santa Baby,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and “I Wish My Mom Would Marry Santa Claus”—automatically creepy? North is a definite yes on this one.

We got to the cabin just before three, where we found YaYa and a pot of delicious homemade vegetable soup, which we enjoyed between putting up and decorating the tree and watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as a light snow fell.

Christmas Eve

We woke to a pretty dusting of snow on the ground and all over the tree branches outside the window and spent a cozy and relaxing day. North and I made hash browns to eat with breakfast. Then the kids and I made gingerbread cookies from the dough and decorated them with colored sugar and dried cranberries. In the afternoon YaYa took North to the pool up at the lodge—they stayed for hours—while Beth and I took a walk down some muddy trails to the partially frozen pond and on from there to the edge of the gorge where we admired the deep slopes of snow-frosted evergreens and the Elakala waterfall on the far side.

When we got back Beth and Noah watched Rogue One while I read. I was trying to finish a book I got last Christmas in time to start a new stack. (I didn’t quite manage it by Christmas but I did finish it while we were there.) I recommend it if a true crime-based, Appalachian Gothic novel that inspired a classic noir film sounds like your thing.

I made kale and potato soup for dinner with North’s help, while singing Christmas music together. I thought we harmonized particularly well on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.” After dinner, we watched Frosty the Snowman and Frosty Returns and just before North went to bed, Noah gave a very dramatic (and slightly menacing) reading of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” for some reason in an English accent.

Christmas Day

Santa’s first gift to Beth was seven inches of fluffy white snow that fell overnight. I’d given North instructions not to get out of bed until six at which point they could look in their stocking, and to be very quiet, as the fireplace was right outside the adults’ rooms. However, it was Noah who was up first, at 6:30, and he decided to wait for North to wake before they opened their stockings together at 7:10. Beth and I were up soon after that, and then YaYa soon after us. 

Everyone gathered around the tree with chocolate and clementines from our stockings to eat while we opened presents. (Did you know they call clementines “Christmas oranges” in Canada? I just found this out this year and now I want to call them that, except I’d feel like a poseur, since I’m not Canadian.) There was a great quantity of books, socks, soap, jam, tea, mugs, pajamas and clothes exchanged in all directions.  Noah’s big present was a new video camera and he also got three bags of pasta, while North got new headphones, an essential oil dispenser, and the promise of a hair dye job. Noah helped set up the oil dispenser and soon North’s room smelled pleasantly of peppermint.

Beth and North made a cranberry cake for breakfast and we ate it spread with lemon curd, along with eggs and veggie bacon. While we were looking out at the snow, I made an idle comment that someone should decorate the tiny evergreen tree in front of our cluster of cabins. Well, North was right on that, choosing several ornaments from our tree and adorning the little one.

While everyone else read, YaYa helped North run through their lines for the school play. It’s not Romeo and Juliet after all, but The Canterbury Tales. North is playing the Pardoner, which seems like a pretty good part, even though they were hoping for the Wife of Bath.

Noah worked on a puzzle of famous book covers he and YaYa had started earlier and everyone else went for a walk. We went back to the gorge overlook, but this time we took a more direct route, walking along the park road instead of the trails, because of the trails were covered with snow and it was quite cold. It was twelve degrees, three with the wind chill, which is about how cold it was most of our stay. Even so, it was good to be outside and moving in the fresh air and peaceful scenery. (Somewhat less peaceful while we were singing “Frosty the Snowman” and North was trying to make snowballs out of the powdery snow and throwing them at trees.) As we did many times during the trip, we saw deer with big fluffy white tails bounding across the road and into the woods.

When we got back to the cabin, Beth and North stayed outside to dig out the cars (Beth) and make a snow angel and a snowman (North). YaYa and I went inside and I made grilled cheese sandwiches and heated up soup for everyone’s lunch.

That evening we watched The Polar Express and most of us watched a Dr. Who Christmas special, which centered around the WWI Christmas truce. I knew that story but I wasn’t sure if it was real, apocryphal, or from a work of fiction. But then my friend Regina posted this on Facebook so now I know. I haven’t watched Dr. Who since the eighties, so I didn’t have the whole backstory, but I could follow well enough. The kids are both fans, especially Noah.

Post-Christmas

We spent three more days at Blackwater. Sadly, after taking the first three days of break off homework, Noah had to start working the day after Christmas—he had considerable homework, some of it due during break. There was a paper revision to submit online the day after Christmas and a history quiz (on two chapters of new reading) to take on New Year’s Eve. And that was just a small part of it. Homework over break is nothing new, but homework due during break is. I blame Governor Hogan, for compressing the school year and making us start a week late, even though the dates of the AP tests didn’t change.

Part of what Noah had to do was read in a four hundred-page book about how high-achieving high school students are overworked. I am finding this bitterly ironic, even though the book’s interesting. (I’m reading it, too.) He was working the rest of the time we were at Blackwater, though he took occasional breaks to work on the puzzle or read with me or go on outings. (Once we were home he worked straight through the last three days.)

The rest of us spent a lot of time reading our new books and we went to the pool two more times. I swam about sixty laps in the tiny pool each time, spending almost as much time turning around as swimming, but it was still good to be in the water and moving. North and I had it to ourselves the first time I was there and most of the second time. The pool was in a very pleasant room with a lot of natural light and windows looking out on snow-covered trees. And there was a hot tub, which Beth, North, and I all enjoyed the last time we were there.

We got three more inches of snow a couple days after Christmas and the kids tried out the park’s sled run. There’s a track that conveys your sled—with you on it—up the hill and then you sled down. They did three rides each, two together and one separately, after much negotiation about that ratio. The adults stood by the bonfire at the bottom of the hill or watched from inside the snack bar, which had a nice view of the hill.

Our last full day we all went out for lunch at an Italian restaurant in Davis, the nearest town. Afterwards Beth and I left everyone at the cabin and ventured slowly and carefully down a series of snow-covered wooden staircases that lead to Blackwater Falls. We’d all seen them the day before from an overview on the other side of the gorge, but they are lovely and close to Beth’s heart, so she wanted to see them up close, even in nine-degree weather. It didn’t feel quite that cold because it was a sunny day and we were exercising, climbing up and down all those stairs. (I did feel my nose hairs freeze, though.)

The falls were half-frozen, with water stained gold from the tannin in the hemlock and spruce trees tumbling over the bulging layers of ice. There were impressive icicles as well, of varying colors, from white to gold to brown, hanging from the rocks near the falls.

Later that day we watched as four well-fed looking deer pawed at the snow in front of the cabin, uncovering grass to eat. Earlier in the week I’d spent a long, fascinating time watching a woodpecker hollowing out a hole in the dead tree branch from the comfort of the cabin’s couch. I couldn’t tell it had just found a particularly tasty cache of bugs of it was making a shelter, but it kept climbing most of the way into the hole it was making, with just its tail sticking out and then getting back outside to make it bigger.

On Thursday, our last day at Blackwater, Beth and YaYa took the ornaments off the tree and dragged it out behind the cabin. North also removed the ornaments from the outside tree and then we all started to pack. As we sat around the table eating YaYa’s homemade cheesecake that night, Beth said, “I don’t want to go home.” I knew how she felt. It’s how I often feel when we leave the beach. But it’s not too soon to start dreaming about next year. On Friday morning as we were checking out, YaYa made reservations for another cabin, for Christmas 2018.

Year’s End

We’ve had a few days at home before work and school resume tomorrow. I’ve been extraordinarily social. On Saturday morning, I had coffee with a close friend from my grad school/adjunct days. Joyce now lives in Indiana but was in Maryland visiting family. I hadn’t seen her in a couple years so it was nice to catch up with each other. That afternoon we drove out to Northern Virginia to visit a high school friend of Beth’s who was having a small get-together with us, her son, nephew, and a co-worker. Heather put out quite a spread, including a homemade apple tart and a cheese pie made with puff pastry. We contributed pizzelles Beth and North made. (Later I made buckeyes and we continued taking sweets to everyone who invited us anywhere.)

On Sunday evening, we went to a New Year’s Eve party at our neighbors’ house, where Beth learned to play a card game called Hand and Foot. I don’t pick up games easily so I watched. I still have no idea how this game works, but everyone seemed to be having fun. Meanwhile North and the other kids jumped on the backyard trampoline in the dark. The kids had glow sticks so it was very pretty to watch from inside, but apparently, it was less harmonious out there because they all came inside with different versions of an argument the adults seemed uninterested in getting to the bottom of.

Back at home, we set the kids up with two bottles of sparkling cider and a wide array of salty snacks so they could welcome in the new year without us, as we preferred to go to bed. It was a big deal for North who had never stayed up until midnight on New Year’s Eve before. It’s possible Noah never has either but he was unimpressed with the television coverage of Times Square. “So we’re going to watch this for two hours?” he said after a few minutes and then it seemed like he might bail and North was upset because they didn’t want to be all alone at midnight, but a compromise was reached and he stayed in the living room along with some electronics to entertain himself. The kids were very quiet and we actually got to sleep before eleven and everyone got the New Year’s Eve they wanted.

On New Year’s Day, North and I met up at the U.S. Botanic Garden with one of my oldest friends, Brian, and his wife Jann who were in town for a wedding.  (I met Brian when I was twelve and he was twenty-four and renting the apartment on the third floor of our house and he used to babysit my sister and me if my mom was out at night or out of town overnight). The gardens are all inside a big greenhouse. We wandered from room to room admiring desert, tropical, Mediterranean, and medicinal plants and then we climbed up on the catwalk to see the plants in the atrium from a higher perspective. There are models of iconic D.C. buildings (the Capitol, Supreme Court, various monuments, etc.) all made of natural materials in the lobby and Brian really got a kick out of these. Finally, we toured the model train display. The tracks go through elaborate landscapes that change from year to year. This year the theme was Roadside Attractions, so there were models of Mount Rushmore and other less well known sights such as the Corn Palace in South Dakota, the world’s largest statue of a pistachio, etc. It was a nice place to stroll and talk for an hour and a half on a bitterly cold day.

Beth picked us up at the Metro and we dropped North off at Xavier’s. His moms invited us to come in and socialize later when we picked them up. They were having another lesbian couple with kids over for dinner. It so happens we know this couple. Their kids went to the same preschool as ours, though in different years. So, we ended our holiday with a brief, impromptu three lesbian couple get-together over tea and cranberry cake.

2017 was not an easy year by any stretch of the imagination and I doubt 2018 will be either, but I hope the combination of nature, family, and friends we enjoyed over the past ten days will help give us the strength to face whatever’s coming our way in the months ahead.

All Around the World

June’s in physical therapy three times a week now, which we hope will eventually get her back on her feet. At her last orthopedist appointment, she was issued a new boot, so now she has one for each foot. The second boot allows her to propel herself on the kneeling scooter we’d been using to push her around to house, when she’s wearing them, that is. (She often takes them off because she finds them uncomfortable.)

Thursday was notable because it was the only morning last week June didn’t have a medical appointment of some kind. It was also her birthday. I found Noah’s old number eleven shirt and asked if she wanted to wear it to school. She did. While I wheeled her out of school that afternoon and asked about her day, she said Zoë showered her with homemade confetti at lunch. She seemed pleased by this.

That evening we had a lemon Bundt cake from the grocery store after dinner (we were saving her birthday cake for her party) and she opened presents—coupons for a weekend trip to New York and a dye job for her hair, a book and a promise of another, headphones, rods for her 3D pen and a lot of clothes. Some were spring or summer clothes, others were related to the international theme of her party. She got a baseball-style shirt with a world map on it, a t-shirt with camel, another with tropical birds, and pajamas with an assortment of Australian animals.

Friday after school, Megan came over to help with party preparations. She and June made the pieces for the Pin-Australia-on-the-Map game by outlining the continent onto tracing paper and then using that as a model to cut out several copies out of construction paper. Then they wrote the name of a party guest on each game piece and decorated them. Next, they printed a world map to tape to a blue balloon and researched international party games. They were hampered in this by the fact that a lot of the games they found required more mobility than June has right now. They settled on Statues, which they decided could stand for Greece, and Pass the Parcel, which is apparently the British name for Hot Potato. From the name, they got the idea to use June’s birthday presents as the parcels. I asked if they wanted to fill the goody bags but June said they could do it before the party, as Megan was coming over an hour early the next day.

After June’s guitar lesson (which was held in a first-floor storefront under the music school to accommodate her injury), Beth and I spent most of Saturday cleaning, decorating, shopping for party food, and baking. I spread the table with the international flag tablecloth and Beth set up the flag centerpiece and hung the flag banner over the living room. Wasn’t Beth’s world map cake a thing of beauty? It was her first time working with fondant. I told her motherhood has revealed hidden talents in her.

Around two-thirty, two and a half hours before party time, we got a phone call from one of the guests who had to cancel. June was upset because this particular girl has a history of no shows, because she’s in sixth grade and now they’re not at the same school they see less of each other, and also because it was now too late to invite someone else. (I’d told her she could have five guests and she’d only have four.)

But she recovered as party time approached. She took a bath and changed into the Indian blouse and skirt Beth found for her at the thrift store. June had requested her guests come in international costume if they had one.

Megan, wearing a beautiful Mexican dress and veil, arrived a little after four. She and June set to work decorating the gift bags with stickers with the names of different countries and stuffing them with pencils and erasers with the flags of different countries, Eiffel Tower and fleur de lis lollipops, globe stress balls, and rubber ducks in international costumes. (I always enjoy this aspect of June’s parties. A few weeks earlier, when it was time to send out invitations she and I went through a desk drawer where we keep free greeting cards from non-profits and picked out a few different designs—an African village scene, the Eiffel Tower, and cherry blossoms to represent Japan—and we taped a sheet with the party information into them and I bought some Chinese New Year stamps to mail them.)

The party guests started to arrive. Naomi wore a lovely Guatemalan skirt with a white blouse. Zoë and Evie took a more casual approach. Zoë’s t-shirt had a wallaby on it and Evie’s said Bahamas. It was a warm day, around 75 degrees, so the guests hung out on the porch talking before they came inside to play Pass the Parcel. As each round ended, June opened the presents. She got a Japanese paper lantern kit and a set of Peruvian worry dolls, among other presents. A couple of the homemade cards featured either a drawing or watercolor of the Earth, which I thought was a nice touch.

The guest were mingling well. I’d wondered if Naomi, who’s in fourth grade, would feel left out but I forgot she’s in Girls on the Run so she knew almost everyone. I also wondered if June chose to invite kids in different grades this year to prevent excessive discussion of who got into what middle school magnet. After she was waitlisted at the humanities magnet, we found out a couple weeks ago that she was not admitted.

While Beth and Noah went to get the pizza, I set up the taco fixings on the dining room table. June’s idea of an international buffet consisted of pizza, tacos, and a pitcher of mango lassi, which Beth made earlier in the day. We ate on Union Jack plates, with Eiffel Tower napkins, and Chinese dragon cups.

After dinner and cake, everyone moved into the living room where we watched Mulan. (Later I wondered if I missed an educational opportunity by not steering June toward an actual foreign film for kids, but as she gets older I leave more and more of the party planning to her.) Anyway, it was a popular choice. The guests were critical of how the girls had to doll themselves up for the matchmaker and of the soldiers’ view of women in the song “A Girl Worth Fighting For” and they cheered when Mulan saved the day in the palace scene.

After the movie, the girls got into their pajamas and played Mafia. They came back to this game in the morning. June’s basketball team played it at the end-of-season party, as well. It’s all the rage in the late elementary school set. When I joked about it being sort of international, since the Mafia originated in Sicily, they all looked at me blankly and June asked, “What is the Mafia?” Turns out no-one knew.

I eavesdropped on their bedtime conversation a bit, as that’s a duty of a mother at a slumber party, I think. The most interesting moment was when they were trying to come up with a definition for the word “pervert.” They decided it meant a peeping Tom.

Soon after that I turned out the lights and left. I’m not sure how late they stayed up. I told them to be quiet by ten and they were more or less quiet by ten-thirty, quiet enough for Beth and me to get to sleep anyway. By 6:40 they were all up, so Beth started toasting bagels and I set the table with cream cheese, butter, and fruit salad and took the girls’ orders for orange juice, milk, or water.

After they played Mafia again and got dressed, we moved out to the porch where Beth had strung up the Chinese dragon piñata and I’d taped a big world map to the house. They all got a couple turns swinging at the piñata until it showered candy, erasers, and temporary tattoos down on them. I was going to help collect candy for my hobbled daughter, but was she was doing a pretty good job crawling around for it herself so I quit.

Next, they played Pin-Australia-on-the-Map. The reason June wanted the guests’ names on their playing pieces was so we could know who got closest to the right location. But this took most of the guesswork out of the game, as June got close on the first try and then everyone felt for the existing cutouts on the map and all the Australias ended up at least partially on top of each other. Nonetheless, Zoë was declared the winner as hers most closely overlapped Australia on the map.

Most of the last forty minutes of party time was spent in trading piñata candy and tchotchkes. Parents started arriving at ten and ten minutes later a profound quiet had settled over the house, the quiet of a house suddenly emptied of tween girls.

“Well, now you’re done turning eleven,” Beth said.

Happy birthday, dear June. Maybe someday your adventures will take you all around the world. But for now, I’d settle for seeing you walk to the school bus stop.

Head Girl and Head Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ve got this,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 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

Girls on the Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you have fun?” I asked June.

“Yes. Did you?” I said.

“Yes,” I answered truthfully.

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

Three Days in May

I. Cinco de Mayo

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

Here is my first Facebook post from that day:

May 5, 10:59 a.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s my second Facebook post of the day:

May 5, 8:31 p.m.

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

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

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

II. Mother’s Day

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

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

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

III: 49

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

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

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

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

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

The Accidental Chaperone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonder: Spring Break Report #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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