Getting It Done

The Weekend Before

Friday afternoon around five June and I got on a bus to go to downtown Takoma and get a birthday present and card for Beth. I already had a present but not a card and June had a card but no present, so we each needed something. We left Noah at home to practice his drums with the plan that we’d call him from the Co-op to let him know what the selection of fancy chocolate bars was like, so he could pick a few. He’d given me $15, which was all the cash he had on hand, and told me to buy as many as I could with that.

We went to the Co-op first and after conferring with Noah on the phone I bought five bars—dark chocolate with orange peel, dark chocolate with raspberry, dark chocolate with caramel and sea salt, plain dark chocolate, and milk chocolate with coffee beans. June asked if she could have a muffin and I bought that, too, along with a orange-cranberry chocolate bar for myself because I’d been looking at chocolate bars so long I wanted one for myself.

The next stop was Capital City Cheesecake, for liquid sustenance for June and me. I needed a latté and she needed a juice box. She finished the muffin she’d started to eat on the walk there while I read her a chapter from A Horse and His Boy.

At Tabletop, we made pretty short work of the gift and card buying. June considered many items, but in the end she chose a glass votive candleholder shaped like a turkey because we don’t have any Thanksgiving decorations and it’s Beth’s favorite holiday. She also got a penguin-shaped hot/cold pack, which she thought Beth might use on aches and pains. I got a card with a drawing of bookshelves, since I’d gotten her a book, The Gay Revolution.

It was close to six by the time we finished and we always have pizza on Friday nights so I decided to pick some up from Pizza Movers, which is just down the block. I ordered two pizzas and an order of mozzarella sticks and while we waited for them to make it June and I sat in the window seat and read another chapter of A Horse and His Boy. It was in this chapter that the dwarf Thornbut is introduced. June was considerably entertained by this name and kept muttering, “Thornbut” under her breath and giggling. We like to keep it classy.

The next morning, Saturday morning around 9:30, I was sitting across the dining room table from Beth. Noah and I had just come inside from raking leaves out of the driveway to the curb for the leaf truck and then we’d gone over his homework goals for the weekend and he’d left, presumably to start his Algebra II take-home test. Beth was absorbed in her work laptop. I reminded her she’d said she wanted to talk about strategy for the weekend, basically who was doing what and when.

On her list was picking up her own birthday cake from Cold Stone when she went ice-skating with June on Sunday afternoon. She’d been undecided for a while whether she wanted a homemade cake or a store-bought one and she’d settled on buying an ice cream cake, so it made sense for her to get it when she was going to Silver Spring anyway, rather than having me schlep out there on the bus. But still, it seemed wrong somehow. I’ve always baked or bought her a cake.

“Sometimes it’s nice to feel taken care of on my birthday, but this weekend it’s just about getting it done,” she said. She was embroiled in an ongoing work crisis and she already knew she’d be working most of the weekend and worse yet, Thanksgiving weekend. She wanted to “allocate the family time budget” wisely.

So she bought her own cake, leaving me free to supervise Noah’s homework (my main task on any given weekend), read with both kids, read nine chapters of Daniel Deronda for book club, go swimming, make dinner on Saturday, and clean the bathroom. She worked, grocery shopped, took June skating, and made dinner on Sunday.

The B-Day

When Beth got home from work on Monday, there was a stack of wrapped presents at her place at the table. I’d wrapped them all, as Noah was busy writing a paper comparing philanthropy, self-reliance, and fate in Walden and Maggie, A Girl of the Streets. Meanwhile, June had a play date with Megan that afternoon and ended up in a rush to finish her own homework as well.

I’d actually forgotten Megan was coming over until she arrived, bearing a bag of outgrown shoes for June. Lest she feel put out by the fact that no one seemed to be expecting her, I told her it was “a pleasant surprise.”

Megan, who’s good-natured as a rule, said, “I’m a pleasant surprise!” and liking the sound of it, said it again.

The girls played, and at the very end of the play date, watched a bit of Cupcake Wars, which is June’s new obsession. This meant I needed to explain to both girls what absinthe is, because it was a required ingredient in one round. That was fun.

Megan’s mom came to pick her up and June did her homework and practiced her violin while I finished up dinner. Beth had requested tofu sticks (think homemade vegetarian fish sticks) and French fries. I was running late with dinner because the tofu needs to marinate in a salt-and-pepper brine for two hours and I’d forgotten to do that until about an hour later than I usually would. But dinner was almost ready when Beth got home. It was lucky in this instance that the kids and I usually eat before Beth gets home because she gets home on the late side most nights. The result was dinner wasn’t late for her at all.

After dinner, Beth opened her cards and presents appreciatively, admiring the glass turkey and said we needed some Thanksgiving decorations. She said she’d use the hot/cold pack on her foot, which has been bothering her all fall. She said the chocolate bars would keep her well supplied with squares of dark chocolate to eat every day after lunch. She flipped through the index of the book immediately, looking for people she knows. She worked at the Human Rights Campaign from 1992 to 1999, so she knows a lot of movers and shakers in the LGBT rights movement. Then she jokingly looked for herself, but she wasn’t there.

“You’re more of a behind the scenes person,” I said.

“I am a behind the scenes person,” she agreed.

We put the numeral four and nine candles in the chocolate-and-salted-caramel ice cream cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to her and Beth’s birthday celebration was over. Noah and I were up late that night as he worked on the Thoreau/Crane paper and I read his drafts and made suggestions. In the morning, Noah and Beth were up early doing the same thing.

Here’s to another year, Beth. You’re the person behind so much of what makes our family work. You get it done. Next year, though, I’ll take care of the cake.

The King and Queens of Halloween

Early Saturday afternoon, after gymnastics and a quick lunch, June was in the bathroom applying her corpse makeup. She was already in her corpse clothes, a long-sleeved black t-shirt and jeans from the thrift store she’d distressed the weekend before. Most of the holes were in the front of the clothes, though, and I was looking at her from the back. As a result, when I first saw her (without focusing on her gruesome-looking face), it felt as if I was catching a glimpse of June in high school or college, in her black top, skinny jeans, and ankle boots, putting the finishing touches on her makeup. This was a disconcerting vision, but Halloween is all about being unsettled, isn’t it?

I was actually kind of unsettled for the three weeks leading up to Halloween. It was for a happy reason. My sister was in China, picking up her newly adopted daughter and her business was temporarily closed. I had some small work projects to do and I picked up a big outside editing job so I had work, but not as much as usual and I was continually uncertain as to how I should be divvying up my time and spent a lot of time fretting about it, which made the extra free time feel less like leisure.

Worse still, very few of the big housework projects I had in mind, other than the usual cooking, cleaning and laundry, actually happened. I dealt with a drawer full of papers and cleaned most of the fridge, but I didn’t even finish that. I did read more than usual. I read an Agatha Christie mystery and Stephen King novel I somehow missed when it came out (Blaze). I got about of a third of the way through Daniel Deronda (which my book club is reading this fall) and I spent the last two hours of my furlough before June got home from school on Friday finishing Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which seemed like an appropriate thing to do the day before Halloween.

Speaking of Halloween—this is a post about Halloween, so I suppose I should get back to Halloween—as I was watching June in the bathroom, we were all getting ready to leave for the Halloween parade. Noah’s Fiji Water bottle costume was so big we needed to go in shifts. Beth drove June and me to the Co-op parking lot where some carnival games were in progress and then she went back home for Noah.

June entered a contest to guess how many plastic spiders were in a jar and then she won a tiny checkers set with cardboard pieces in the shapes of pumpkins by throwing a football into a net with holes. Mostly, though, we wandered around, looking for people we knew. We found Keira, a fifth-grader from June’s school, who always has great costumes. This year she was a contortionist. She achieved this by covering her own legs with drapery and having fake legs bent over her shoulders. Then we met Grace (the witch from Wicked) and Lottie (Mozart), who in real life are two sisters June knows from years of drama camp. Lottie said, “June, I can’t look at your face. You are freaking me out.” I think this was exactly the reaction June had for been going for when she and Beth covered her face with peeling latex flesh and bloody wounds. It might have been especially satisfying because Lottie is two years older than June.

One of the parade officials announced the parade would start in fifteen minutes, which made me nervous because Beth and Noah hadn’t arrived yet and I didn’t want him to miss the judging. His water bottle costume was beautifully executed and he’d been working on it for several days, unlike last Halloween when he basically threw together his (still impressive) calculator costume in less than a day. Indulge me and take a close look at the details—the QTY line at the bottom of the front is one of my favorite parts, as is the whole back panel.

I caught sight of Noah shortly after the announcement. Shuffling along in the big blue box that covered most of his body, he was hard to miss. I directed him to the section of the street where teen and adults were supposed to stand. Luckily, it was right next to the nine-to-twelve area. Beth was parking the car, so she didn’t arrive until later, just in time to adjust the straps that attached June’s coffin to her back. Noah was having trouble keeping his lid on his head, so I was staying near him to balance it as needed.

Noah scoped out the competition and decided the motorized cupcake was the only real threat for Most Original. At first I thought it was a wheelchair costume, but when I looked more carefully at the wheels, they didn’t look like wheelchair wheels, so it might have been constructed over an ATV. In any case, the cupcake-on-wheels was getting a lot of attention. There was a zombie with a zombie dog, but I figured she was probably shooting for Scariest. A judge did complement Noah on his costume as she passed through the area and later a teenage girl ran up to him and said, “Fiji Water, I love you!”

“Do you think she’s a fan of Fiji Water or is she in love with you?” I asked him and he gave me an irritated look. (What’s the point of parenting a teen if you don’t embarrass him every now and then?)

There were photographers circulating, both journalists from the Takoma Voice and regular parade-goers. Both kids had their picture taken multiple times and June was interviewed. But the judges took June’s name and not Noah’s. In our experience, having a judge take your name doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily won (June’s was taken last year for instance and she didn’t win that year) but Noah’s never won without having had his name taken, and he’s won Most Original in his age group three times. I held out a sliver of hope, though, because I do remember a few times a winner being announced by costume only. It doesn’t happen often, though. Trust me, we are pretty close observers of the ways of this contest. It’s serious business to our kids. June’s been gunning for Scariest for a few years and so far, she had never won.

I don’t know if it was a desire to win that made her insistent on the gory makeup, or if it’s a developmental stage. At the a Halloween party at her friend Claire’s house the weekend before Halloween, Claire was a “psycho clown” and June’s friend Zoë was a “zombie triathlete” so maybe they are all just ready for scarier costumes. This does seem to happen at an earlier age than when I was a kid, though. And even as a fan of things scary, I’m not sure that acceleration is a good thing. The only thing I did to put the brakes on it, though, was not to offer to buy her a little wooden axe at the Takoma Park street festival two weeks ago. I saw it, thought it would be perfect for her costume, then wondered what I’d say if she asked for it. As I was thinking it over, she picked up a dagger from the same stand and pretended to fence with it, but then she just put it back and didn’t ask for either weapon and I didn’t suggest we buy them. I think having a weapon stuck in her mid-section would have been over the line for me…this year anyway.

Soon the judging was over and the parade started moving. We’d find out who won at the end of the route. Noah’s costume proved cumbersome to walk in, so sometimes he’d hike it up higher, which made walking easier but seeing impossible. I held his hand, which stuck out through a slot in the side of the box and told him when to slow down or stop to avoid trampling small children. When he got tired of not being able to see, he’d lower the costume again and walk more slowly. After a while he gave me the lid and I wore it on my head. I told him we were a group costume now. He was the bottle and I was the lid.

Once we got to the end of the route, the Grandsons, Jr. were playing. In between numbers, Rec Center employees announced the winners of the contest, starting with the four-and-unders. June and I went in search of a bathroom because we knew there would be at least one song between age groups and we both had to go.

We got back in time to hear the winners for the five-to-eight group. I have to say this particular set of judging was mystifying. A girl dressed as Hermione won Scariest. Hermione is many fine things, but scary is not one of them. A girl dressed as Katniss won Funniest. Again, Katniss is many fine things, but funny isn’t what comes to mind. Now we never saw Katniss so I allowed maybe it was a joke costume, maybe a cat with a bow and arrow or something. But then a Rubik’s cube won Most Original and I gave up any hope of things making sense for the poor five-to-eight year olds, one of whom was wearing a Montgomery County basketball league t-shirt and had half a basketball on her head, her face painted to resemble the rest of the ball, and was walking around with her head in a hoop with a backboard behind her. Clearly this child was robbed. But that’s how it goes sometimes.

We could only hope for better judging in the nine-to-twelve group. Scariest was announced first and it was June! They mangled her last name, but she didn’t care. She’d finally won! Beth looked relieved and said, “Thank God.” June’s been more gracious in recent years about Noah’s string of wins than she was when they were five and ten, but she’s seen him win several times and never won herself and they have at least the normal allotment of sibling rivalry, so she really wanted it. It helps that they’re never in the same age group and thus not in direct competition with each other, but still…

June went up to collect her bag of prizes (candy, pencils, a $10 gift certificate for Rec Department programs we can use for drama camp, etc.) A boy dressed as a ninja in a mechanized contraption along with dummies of the villain from Scream and a mummy with all three of them hooked up to each other to move in unison won Funniest and a girl in a shower stall won Most Original.

More songs, more waiting… Finally, they announced the teen and adult results. Scariest was predictably the zombie with zombie dog. Funniest went to the cupcake, which I thought might leave an opening for Noah to win Most Original after all. But it went to the lamppost from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. None of us had even seen said lamppost, which was odd because the teen and adult area was not as crowded as some of the kids’ groups where it would be easy to miss someone.

Noah was disappointed, as were Beth and I for him, but he took it okay. He’s generally a pretty easy-going kid. I hope this doesn’t sound like favoritism because I don’t think it is, but I seem to feel his disappointments more keenly because of that. He’s the one who doesn’t ask for as much, so I want him to have those things he does want. But you win some and you lose some. That’s life. We all know that. And he takes satisfaction and pride in crafting his costumes for their own sake, even if he also likes the outside validation. (He ended up getting some of that by tweeting a picture of his costume to Fiji Water. They re-tweeted it and by the time he went to bed he had more than a dozen shares or re-tweets or something. I don’t really understand Twitter.)

We waited to see who won the group competition, out of curiosity, and because June’s friend Marisa’s family always enters that and they’ve had some spectacular costumes over the years. This year they were the “Atoms Family” according to a sign they carried. They were all in black clothes, with hula-hoops orbiting their bodies at various angles. They won Most Original. We exchanged congratulations with them, and headed home to 1) make some adjustments to Noah’s costume (trimming it for easier walking and making a chin strap for the lid), 2) watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, 3) put the finishing touches (spotlights, fog machines, etc.) on our yard display and 4) to eat a supper of butternut squash ravioli and broccoli.

The kids left for trick-or-treating around 6:45. Last year they went with friends, but this year they decided to go together, which I thought was sweet. I stood on the porch watching the corpse and the water bottle go around the corner while I stayed behind to greet a few dozen trick-or-treaters. The first one came while we were still watching Charlie Brown. She was a tiny Princess Leia who was too shy to say either “Trick or Treat” or “thank you,” despite her father’s gentle reminders.

“I love what you’ve done with the place,” the dad said, gesturing to the skeleton and zombie emerging from the ground and all the ghosts, skeletons, etc., hanging from the trees and porch.

The kids were home and trading candy with each other by just after eight. Based on their walk around the neighborhood, Noah reported we were still “the king and queens of Halloween decoration.” Of some of our neighbors he said, “It’s like they don’t even take it seriously.”

The kids had today off school and June spent the day going from makeup violin lesson to first play date to second play date. When the second mom brought her home, she surveyed our yard and said, “You went all out.”

We go all out. We take it seriously. Don’t you worry about that.

Octopus’s Garden

Many of you were nice enough to ask how Noah’s jazz band audition went. Sadly, although he spent a good deal of Labor Day weekend practicing the audition music and had a coaching session with a friend of ours who plays the drums, he didn’t get into the jazz band. He’s considering taking private lessons this fall and auditioning again for second semester. We’ll see. Meanwhile, June has a lot going on musically. She has a new violin teacher and she’s joined the orchestra and chorus at school.

June’s on her third teacher in a little over two years at her music school. The first one moved to Virginia Beach and the second one ended up finding her commute from Baltimore too time consuming. June was very fond of Robin and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her, so that was sad. She’s had three lessons now with Elise and she’s stricter and sterner than Robin, so it’s been an adjustment. She also made June re-learn a song from the Suzuki I book even though June’s recently started Suzuki II, which did not go over well with June. But June has always liked teachers and coaches who take their work and hers seriously and hold her to a high standard, so I think once she’s used to her, they will get along fine.

Instrumental music and chorus start in fourth grade. June had a hard time deciding whether she wanted to stick with violin at school, start a new instrument, join the chorus, or do some combination of these things. She didn’t want to be stuck playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” with beginners but we assured her that the instrumental music teacher is an old hand at teaching students who enter with different levels of experience. Mr. G is actually Noah’s old elementary school band teacher (he travels between the two schools). Beth made some enquiries, and sure enough, she found out students with two or more years experience would be taught in a separate strings ensemble and then June was sold.

There are only five students in the ensemble (she’s the least experienced of the five), compared with sixty beginning violin students in her grade. She brought home a lot of sheet music after her first lesson and none of it was “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” For some reason, they are learning “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s hard to identify the song from her part, though I do hear strains of it, so I’m curious to see how it will come together when the whole group plays. Their first concert is in January. I haven’t been to an elementary school band and orchestra concert in several years, but that’s back in my life now.

June’s had one chorus practice so far. Because the chorus only meets every other week, they’ve already started practicing songs for their first appearance, at this year’s Holiday Sing. So far these include “Eight Days of Hanukkah” and “Blitzen’s Boogie.” I have a soft spot for the Holiday Sing at June’s school so I’m looking forward to seeing her on the stage in December.

Sunday we attended the Takoma Park Folk Festival, which we do almost every year. We went despite the fact that Noah had an unfinished take-home assignment for Physics and he was in the middle of his summary of Stagecoach, which he watched earlier in the weekend for English, or maybe it was History. (His program is interdisciplinary and sometimes it can be hard to remember which assignments are for which classes.)

I was torn and considered leaving it up to him whether or not to come with us or just saying, let’s go and see if he objected. We said let’s go. He didn’t object. It’s a goal of ours for his homework not to completely rule our family life this year and this was a test case, I suppose. Besides, he was stuck with the Physics and the Stagecoach summary wasn’t due the next day or even the next week. It just seemed like a good idea to write it while it was still fresh in his mind. (We’d decided to watch it this weekend because June was at a slumber party Saturday night and Beth and I like to watch more grown-up movies than she’d enjoy with Noah when she’s out of the house.)

We got to the festival a little after two and had time to see four bands before it closed at six. This was a nice stretch of time to spend listening to music outdoors on a gorgeous mid-September afternoon. We started at the 7th Heaven stage, listening to Leticia VanSant and the Bonafides, an “Americana indie folk band” followed by Jelly Roll Mortals, which from the name you might expect to be jazzy, but instead was an “acoustic electric eclectic” band, according to the festival program. I enjoyed both, but the second one more because their sound system was better set up and it was easier to hear the lyrics. Being a word-oriented person, this is important to me.

We sat for a while with June’s preschool and Girl Scout friend Riana and her family. They had just been to the thrift store so Riana was in a flamenco dress and one of her younger sisters wore a princess dress. All day I kept seeing or stopping to talk to people we knew, from the time we were on the sidewalk approaching the festival and talked to a family whose two girls have been to day camp with June and who go to her music school until we were leaving and I spied a boy who’s in second grade at her school and also plays piano at her music school. Takoma Park is a smallish town and rather musical one, too, so people turn out for this sort of thing.

After two sets at the 7th Heaven stage, we switched to the Grassy Nook, which features children’s music and musicians under the age of twenty-five. June’s favorite babysitter, Eleanor, was playing there with her band, Bucky’s Fatal Mistake, in the final time slot of the day. The penultimate set was kids from the Takoma Groove Camp, which I’ve often suggested Noah try, though he’s never taken me up on it. (And I’ve never pushed too hard because it’s expensive, even for an area where expensive day camps are the norm.) I was curious to see what kind of musicians attend the camp and what they can produce.

When we got there another kids’ group was finishing up. One of their last songs was a cover of “Octopus’s Garden.” A few kids stood at the sides of the stage and blew bubbles for effect as they sang:

I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden in the shade
He’d let us in, knows where we’ve been
In his octopus’s garden in the shade

I’d ask my friends to come and see
An octopus’s garden with me
I’d like to be under the sea
In an octopus’s garden in the shade

And…

We would shout and swim about
The coral that lies beneath the waves
(Lies beneath the ocean waves)
Oh what joy for every girl and boy
Knowing they’re happy and they’re safe
(Happy and they’re safe)

While we waited for the Takoma Groove kids to go on and early in their set, June entertained herself at the carnival the Boy Scouts run nearby. I gave her five dollars to spend and with it she walked on the rope bridge, got a panda painted on her cheek and played a fishing game.

The first girl to perform sang three original songs of the folky singer-songwriter type. She was really good and I think she might be the younger sister of a girl who used to be a counselor at June’s musical drama camp years ago. The next group was a band, but I didn’t get to see them because June needed to go to the bathroom and I thought while we were up we might as well get food so we wouldn’t miss any of Eleanor’s set.

We came back to the Grassy Nook with lemonade, a mango smoothie, and two vegetable-rice dishes (fried rice and a tasty curry) to share, and waited for Bucky’s Fatal Mistake to start. They advertised themselves as “folk meets rock” but they were heavier on the rock side. It was a mix of covers (including the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”) and originals. Eleanor played bass guitar and sang one number. It was fun to see her and her friends rock out on stage. June wanted to go up and talk to her afterward, but she was shy about doing it when Eleanor was with the rest of the band. She managed to say hi, and then Beth chatted a bit with Eleanor and her mom, Becky, who had been co-managing the stage all day.

Next we bought ice cream, frozen custard, and Italian ice to eat as we walked down the hill to the bus stop, happy with our afternoon. Music does so many things for us. It lets us in, knows where we’ve been, gives us somewhere to invite our friends, and gives us joy, every girl and boy.

And back home, with a rested mind and some assistance from Beth, Noah finished the Physics.

Summer’s End

1. Before Hershey

It was a long summer break, eleven weeks instead of the normal ten; this was because Labor Day falls late this year and our schools always start a week before Labor Day. Despite this, about two weeks ago I told Beth I wasn’t as impatient for the beginning of the school year as I usually am by mid-August. She predicted being at home with both kids who had no camp for two weeks might take care of that.

The first Monday morning it looked as if it certainly would. The kids argued ceaselessly. Then I took June to go see Shaun the Sheep (Noah declined to come) after lunch and came home and made a cake and the separation, the outing, and the sugar seemed to cheer everyone. The cake was an un-birthday cake, because it wasn’t anyone’s birthday, or rather it was the exact midpoint between my and Beth’s birthdays, which is the longest stretch we have without one. The cake was chocolate chip, with chocolate frosting, and it was delicious. And I feel I should note that after that first wretched morning, the kids’ fighting died down to a bearable level. Some days they hardly fought at all.

The next day we met with an educational psychologist who had evaluated Noah earlier in the summer. We are trying to get a 504 plan for his ADHD. We tried four years ago and were denied, but it seemed like time to give it another go, as he’s starting high school this year. We’re also going to talk to a psychiatrist about what medications might be useful for him. The last two years have just been too much, for him and for the whole family, so we’re hoping to find a way he can be challenged but not overwhelmed by school. It will be a while before all the pieces are in place, but we’ve made a start and I feel good about that. His diagnosis has been bumped up from ADHD-NOS (basically ADHD-lite) to ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive, so that might help.

The kids hung out in the waiting room during most of the two-hour meeting (Noah was called in at the very end). We would have left June at home except Beth had taken the afternoon off so we could go see Inside Out after the meeting. The movie was fun and we went out for Burmese afterward.

In the interest of getting some work done, I scheduled overlapping play dates for June the next day, with one girl from 9:30 to 2:00 and with another from 1:00 to 5:00. During the morning, June and her friend were playing with dolls and blocks and singing some pop song I didn’t know. As I worked in the next room, it felt like I was listening to them snap back and forth between being little girls and tweens. They are right on the brink. When the second friend arrived, the all acted out scenes from Inside Out. June was delighted to finally have seen the big kid-movie of the summer and to be able to talk about it with her friends. We are sometimes a little slow to provide her with these experiences. (It came out months ago, I think.)

We continued to march forward with appointments for the kids. Thursday they went to the dentist and Friday to the pediatrician. The previous weekend they both got their hair cut. It was June’s second hair cut of the summer. She had eight inches taken off right before Girl Scout camp, just in time to be brushing it herself, but she decided she wanted it even shorter and to have about a quarter of it dyed blue, purple, and magenta. It’s her new look for starting fourth grade. She is well satisfied with it.

We were a long time at the pediatrician’s office and we were near Dupont Circle, where Beth and I lived from our mid-twenties to our mid-thirties, so we decided to have dinner at Pizza Paradiso, an old favorite of ours. A few things have changed in the interim. The restaurant moved a block down P St; I now need reading glasses to read the menu; and instead of a baby, Beth and I have a teenager who is five inches taller than me and daughter who is looking older with her multicolored hair. The Genovese (potato-pesto) pizza is just as delicious as it ever was, however.

My big accomplishment of the week, or so I thought at the time, was to get Noah’s schedule re-arranged so he could take band. I’d been communicating for weeks with the director of the music department, the CAP (Communications Arts Program) director, his counselor and an assistant principal, trying to find out where the conflict was in his schedule and if it could be changed. The kids were at the dentist with Beth when I found out so I called both Beth and Noah. When Noah got home, he gave me a big hug and said, “I’m in band!”

The weekend was uneventful. I indulged Noah by agreeing to make lemon bars with him and he indulged me by agreeing to listen to Willie Nelson while we did it.

The next Monday, I took the kids on a creek walk, which is something we do every summer. But because neither of them had asked all summer, I started to wonder if they’d outgrown this activity. I needn’t have worried. The kids splashed each other and we found a huge crawfish, deer prints in the mud, and many spider webs. We stood under our own street in the tunnel where the bridge goes over the creek and listened to the cars rumble above us and then we clambered out, with wet bathing suits and wet and sandy crocs to walk home.

2. Hershey: The Sweetest Place on Earth

Tuesday and Wednesday we took an impromptu get-away to Hershey Park. (I know they spell as one word, but I just can’t do it, so I won’t.) Beth had recently found out she had more vacation time than she thought and she needed to use it by year’s end or lose it, so off we went. We had just been to the county fair a week and a half earlier but summer would be over soon, so we seized the day.

The funny thing about this was that when I suggested to Noah he might want to go a little further in his summer homework than he’d planned the weekend before “in case something comes up” he looked at me and said, “Are we going to Hershey Park?” So much for being sneaky.

Noah had an orthodontist appointment in the morning, so we all went there first, and then we hit the road. We arrived at the park around lunchtime, had lunch and hit the rides.

Over the course of the two days we were there June was about as likely as Noah to want to go on rides that made everyone else say “No!” But the difference was when it was Noah, we’d say, “Go for it” but when it was June we’d look at each other and decide who was going, or make her skip it. So she never got to ride the biggest log flume and had to settle for a smaller one.

But she did get to ride the Laff Trakk, which is new this year. It’s an enclosed coaster in a big metal building. There are glow-in-the-dark decorations with a funhouse theme and black light. The cars spin around and go backward about half the time, which is why I wouldn’t ride it. I can’t even ride backward on the Metro. It wasn’t really Beth’s cup of tea either but since Noah wasn’t interested and Beth thought she could get through the ride without vomiting, she went with June. I told her later it was nice of her to go and she said, “Yes, it was,” especially considering there was a forty-five minute wait.

The Wild Mouse, pictured above, became a family favorite this year. It’s a little coaster with a lot of sharp turns but no big drops. We rode that one twice. Believe it or not I was making a worse face the first time.

In the late afternoon we hit the water park where June and did the Whirlwind, one of the bigger water slides. It dumps you into a big sideways funnel at the end and you go whirling all around the sides. (Thus the name.) It was fun but I wasn’t up to lugging a cumbersome double-seated tube up several flights of stairs to do it again so we stuck to smaller slides after that.

After the water park, we rode the Ferris wheel, went through the simulated chocolate factory tour at Chocolate World (both kids absolutely love this for some reason—I think it’s the singing cows), had a late dinner and went back to our hotel. As we were standing at the reception desk to check in, June whispered to me in a stricken voice, “Mommy, I forgot Muffin.” Muffin is June’s stuffed monkey and bosom buddy. He always comes with her when she sleeps away from home.

I pointed out it was lucky she had another monkey. June won Banana Monkey, as she named her, at a whack-a-snake game that very day. She’s no Muffin, but it turned out she was a decent pinch hitter. June had no trouble going to sleep.

In the morning we had some time before the park opened so we went to Hershey Gardens, a botanical garden near the park, which I highly recommend if you’re ever in Hershey and feeling over-stimulated. We enjoyed the rose gardens and the metal sculptures of insects and other animals. We probably spent the most time in the butterfly house and the children’s garden, where we found this cool musical space:

Back at the park, we went straight for the Great Bear, Noah’s favorite coaster because June had gotten to do her top choice ride the day before. The Great Bear is full of crazy twists and inversions. The cars start out hanging below the track but several times you are upside-down on top of the track. If you look up its description, you see a lot of words like “helix” and “corkscrew.” Needless to say, he rode that one alone, as the three of us stood on the ground below and tried to glimpse his green crocs flying through the air high above us. (I was the only one who saw them.) He says it’s so fast there’s no time to be scared but I will have to take his word for it because I am never trying it.

But the kids and I did the sooperdooperLooper and we all rode the Coal Cracker and the Trail Blazer—all of these are tamer rides, even if the sooperdooperLooper does go upside down once. Next I wanted to ride a wooden coaster, because I’ve always loved these best.

After some consideration, Noah and I chose the Comet. I almost gave up when I saw the line, but we decided to stay. Then as we were getting buckled in I almost wished we had given up because as I get older the fear to fun ratio of amusement park rides is definitely shifting and I was thinking, “I am too old for this!” It ended up being perfect, though, just scary enough. I probably would have gotten right back in line if it hadn’t been a half hour wait.

Before we left the park, June got a lock of her hair wrapped in multicolored threads to complete her back-to-school look. It cost her about a month’s allowance.

We stopped at Chocolate World to buy some treats to take home and then around four we started the drive home. The kids still had a few days of break left, but in some way it felt as if we left summer behind when we drove out of that parking lot.

Wings

Wednesday to Friday: Perching

The Wednesday before her birthday, June had a friend over and they were talking about how their older brothers have more homework than they do. David’s brother attends the Highly Gifted Center, where Noah went for fourth and fifth grade.

“I might go there,” June said.

“I’m waiting, too,” David sighed.

It’s been a long wait to find out whether or not June (and most of her friends) got into the HGC, since we applied in November, but we found out the next day that she did not. A few of her friends did get in, including her very best friend Megan, and some more friends are wait-listed. June has taken this hard and we’re sad, too, because I’m familiar with the program and I think it would have been a good fit for June’s learning style.

We got the letter on a Thursday and Beth was working late that night. I decided to take June for a walk down to the creek after dinner because the crocuses have finally bloomed and it’s her favorite place when they’re in bloom. We swung by the 7-11 on the way and I bought her some Starbursts, which she loves. She ate them while we sat in the gathering dark on a tree stump surrounded by tiny purple flowers. She leaned against me and we were quiet together.

Mostly she hasn’t wanted to talk about it, but shortly before her party, she asked me tearfully if I could contact her guests’ parents and ask everyone not to talk about the HGC at the party. I didn’t think censoring her friends was a viable, long-term strategy but I thought just for the duration of the party she deserved a break, so I did. Among her four guests, two were admitted, one was wait-listed and the other I wasn’t even sure if she’d applied, but in either case we hadn’t heard anything about her status. The only child whose mother I didn’t contact was the wait-listed girl because she’s very reserved and I just didn’t think she was likely to talk about it.

Luckily, June’s parties always involve decoration so over the next couple days June and I cheered ourselves up making her Pin-the-Wing-on-the-Bat game and by hanging decorations on the porch (a big crepe-paper-and-cardboard parrot we bought this year and some bats from our Halloween collection) and inside the house, where we strung leftover butterflies from her forest party two years ago and more bats from a fishing line between the living and dining rooms. On Friday evening, Beth went to buy balloons, including a bee-shaped one that said, “Happy Bee Day.” The theme of the party, if you hadn’t guessed by now, was wings.

Saturday Morning and Afternoon: Flying Up

June’s Girl Scout troop held their bridging ceremony for Brownies who are flying up to Juniors at Hillwood Estates, Gardens, and Museum. The estate belonged to Marjorie Merriweather Post, an heir to the Post cereal fortune and an art collector. It now serves as a museum of her collection, which specializes in Russian imperial art and nineteenth-century French decorative art. The reason they celebrate it there is because there’s a nice little bridge that goes over a fishpond in the Japanese gardens.

The last time I was at Hillwood, coincidentally, was the day I found out I was pregnant with June. Beth’s mom was visiting and we all took Noah to an event for gay families. He enjoyed using the put-put course on the grounds and jumping from rock to rock in the fish pond and I remember being filled with secret happiness. It seemed fitting to be back at the very same pond, so close to her birthday.

The ceremony consisted of the troop leader talking about the difference between Brownies and Juniors and everyone walking over the bridge and receiving a green ribbon and a wing-shaped patch for flying up from Brownies. There was also hand holding and singing and cake.

The wings patch was a fun coincidence because of June’s party theme. Suddenly I was seeing wings all over the estate. An angel statue in front of the mansion, cupid statues and geese in a frieze over a fountain, metal eagles on slate roofs and flag poles.

We had a lot of time to kill after the bridging because June and I were staying for a tour of the mansion and a craft inspired by the decorative items inside. (Beth went home to work on party preparation, including frosting the tiered cake and decorating it with candy butterflies.) There was a worksheet about flowers for the girls to do. They had to find five flowers in bloom on the grounds or in the greenhouse and speculate about why flowers are scented, etc., but June was finished by 11:20 and the tour didn’t start until 2:30. We went to the visitor’s center and read and ate the lunch we’d packed, but that didn’t take long because I had not brought enough reading material.

A couple other families we’ve known since June was in preschool were also hanging around the grounds and they had decided to explore the mansion on their own, in advance of the official tour, so we joined them for that and then the girls played on the grounds until it was time for the tour. We went through the mansion again, this time with a guide to explain it all to us. The craft activity was to decorate a box with jewel stickers and ribbon and other materials. Beth came back for us at four and we drove home.

Saturday Evening to Sunday: Soaring and Roosting

June invited Megan to come over early to help with the final preparations for the party. She arrived a little after five, resplendent in a phoenix costume and they filled goody bags with butterfly pencils, dragon tattoos, plane whistles, bat-shaped clappers, and fairy charms. Then they tested out the craft for the party, making an angel charm bracelet, which turned out to be trickier than I thought it would be, so I was glad they rehearsed it and there was time for Beth to give them a hand.

At six, the rest of the guests started arriving. Maggie was a bat and Zoë was Maleficent. Marisa came without a costume. Her mom explained she wanted to be Daedalus, but she ran out of time to make a costume. “We have Daedalus wings,” I said, which surprised Marisa’s mom for a second until she correctly surmised, “From Greek Fest?” The sixth-graders in the humanities magnet, which Marisa’ older sister also attends, do a big unit on Greek myths, that includes skits. Noah had been Daedalus two years ago and the wings were still in the basement. I brought them up but they were dusty and a little worse for the wear and Marisa politely declined them.

We fed the guests right away, setting the table with leftover thematically appropriate napkins from various birthday parties (ladybugs from her first birthday, butterflies from her fifth, and owls from her seventh).

Sometime while the girls were eating pizza or cake, they started talking about whether they got into the HGC and who else they knew did or didn’t. At first Maggie looked startled to be asked, and perhaps remembering her instructions, mumbled her answer but then nearly everyone was talking about it animatedly. I had told June that she should ask people not to talk about it if it came up at the party and eventually she did. There was silence for a moment until someone said she had “just one more question,” and to my surprise and relief, Marisa piped up and firmly said, “She said she didn’t want to talk about it.” And that was that.

Next June opened her presents. Some were wing-related, a fairy coloring book from Megan and a stuffed penguin from Maggie. She also got watercolor colored pencils, a Mandala sand painting kit, a magnet kit, and a big book of Mad Libs.

The girls then settled into their sleeping bags to watch Hercules, which we projected onto a sheet in the living room. June said it was related to the party theme because Hercules spends a lot of the movie riding around on a Pegasus.

The movie was over a little before nine and I told them they could talk quietly until ten. They changed into pajamas (June wore the new tropical bird pjs I gave her as an early birthday present) and then they played a game called “I Confess.” It involves someone making a confession and anyone who has also done what was confessed gets a point. I think the object of the game is to have a high score and not a low one, but it wasn’t entirely clear. I eavesdropped for a while but I have nothing salacious to report. I think they may be a little young for this game.

They weren’t too noisy after ten, though I did hear some talking. I think everyone was asleep by ten-thirty, and even better, they all slept until around 6:45. They watched an episode of Magic School Bus on air pressure and then we fed them bagels, cream cheese, and fruit salad for breakfast.

Someone suggested they all put their costumes back on and soon they were constructing a story line that involved an angel, a bat, a phoenix, and Maleficent and played at that until they got bored and we shepherded them to the dining room table where they assembled the angel charm bracelets. Megan was the best at it so she was helping everyone else and finished her own last. I slipped a couple extra kits into her goody bag, figuring she might like to teach her sister how to do it.

Next they went out to the porch for Pin-the-Wing-on-the-Bat and the piñata. June’s big on pinning games. Over the past few years her guests have pinned tails on a cat, legs on a spider, and rings on Saturn. She always paints the target herself and the game is always a hit, as is the piñata. Who wouldn’t want to whack a crepe-paper-and-cardboard butterfly until it disgorges candy?

By the time they finished these activities it was 9:05 a.m. and the party wasn’t over until 10. They decided to watch another Magic School Bus episode, this one on bats, and then they went to play outside until the parents arrived.

Beth took June to get a manicure in the afternoon and that evening we went out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant that happened to be having fundraiser that featured the jazz band from a local middle school (not Noah’s). As a result, we saw a couple families we know but haven’t seen for a while with sixth-to-eighth graders, most of whom I would not have recognized if they were not accompanied by their parents. It was a bit of a poignant reminder of how quickly kids grow and also suggested to me that our nine year old will be an adolescent some day in the not too distant future. And as if we needed any more tempus fugit reminders, one of these families was of Noah’s best buddy from preschool, a boy he does not even remember but at whose house he slept the night I went into labor with June. As with our return to Hillwood, it seemed fitting to spy this family precisely nine years later. The boy, who was always the tall lanky type, looks older than Noah now, at least sixteen if I didn’t know him and had to guess. There’s something manly about the bone structure of his face.

Monday: The Bee Day

June’s actual birthday was Monday. She went to school with some leftover temporary tattoos of knights to distribute to her afternoon class. (She’d given away the dragons from a knights-and-dragons set at her party.) Beth came home early to take her to California Tortilla for dinner at her request. I stayed home to keep an eye on Noah, who not only had a large project due the next day, but also came home with news of three separate overdue assignments of which he’d lost track and which he hoped to complete before the quarter ended on Thursday. I felt bad not going to June’s birthday dinner, but we’d been out celebrating the night before and then we’d left Noah at home alone to work so I decided to split the difference and stay.

After Beth and June got home, we ate leftover birthday cake and she opened her family presents. She got a lot of clothes and books, an iTunes gift certificate, and a promise of a shopping spree at a second hand clothes store, another promised shopping trip from YaYa and a pewter fairy perched on a crystal ball from my mom. The next day more gifts arrived, a coloring book with complicated interwoven animal and plant designs from my mom, and a birdhouse with suction cups you can attach to window and can lift a panel to see inside, from my sister.

June’s birthday week has come and gone, though the multicolored parrot still hangs on our porch and June confided in me yesterday that it’s still exciting to be nine. A friend of mine told me recently, “I am so confident in June’s ability to kick ass at life in the short and long terms.” I am, too. She’s smart, imaginative, and resilient. Her wings are strong. I can’t wait to see where they take her in the next nine years.

That’s Love

Friday: Before Valentine’s Day

On Friday morning Beth got up at 5:45, as she does every weekday morning. It’s her job to get Noah out the door and mine to get June out the door and I have the easier job by far. June requires much less oversight to stay on task and she doesn’t have to be at the bus stop, which is right across the street from our house, until 8:15. I am not even sure what time Noah is supposed to leave as the actual time of his leaving varies so dramatically. Sometimes he walks to the school bus stop, which is about a mile away. More often he takes a public bus to the school bus stop or when he’s really running late or trying to finish some undone homework, Beth drives him to school. I guess they leave around seven a.m. on average, but sometimes it’s as early as 6:45 or as late as 7:30.

The difference on Friday was that after driving Noah to school, Beth headed out to the grocery store to buy a bouquet of blue flowers for June to take to school for Valentines Day. She wanted one flower for her morning teacher, one for her afternoon teacher, one for her morning bus driver and one for her afternoon bus driver. I’m not sure why she specified blue, but Beth said there were a lot of artificially colored flowers there and she thought she could find blue ones. I was expecting dyed flowers, but the flowers she bought were actually white with some blue tinting spray-painted onto them.

There were flowers left over once June had extracted four so I put the rest in a vase on the dining room table. For the rest of the day whenever I saw them I thought about how Beth was shepherding Noah through his morning routine or fetching flowers for June for two and a half hours before she even left for a full day’s work. I posted about it on Facebook and one my friends commented, “That’s love.”

June left for school with her freakish flowers and with lollipops for all her classmates. This might have been the first year she didn’t make any homemade valentines. I know last year it was mostly store-bought. And that’s basically what she brought home, candy and store-bought valentines, with a couple simple red construction paper hearts, nothing like the elaborate creations she used to make and receive in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. It made me a little sad, but I guess that’s part of growing up. In two or three years, she’ll be too old for valentines at all (except maybe for family)…until she isn’t again.

Saturday: Valentine’s Day

Saturday morning Noah was not ready to exchange Valentines yet, as he was still working on our cards, so we left for June’s basketball game, agreeing to do it when we came home.

The Pandas lost their fifth straight game, actually getting shut out for the first time this season. The score was 8-0. It’s hard to explain that they are not playing as badly as it might sound like they are. Put as simply as possible, they prevent a lot (but not all) of the opposing teams’ balls from going into the basket, and they take a lot of shots at the basket, but for the most part they just don’t go in. Sometimes the shots are wild, but maddeningly often they bounce off the rim.

June’s actually having a pretty good season. She’s gotten a lot more aggressive on the court. She steals the ball and takes shots at the basket much more often than she did in previous seasons, though she’s never gotten a basket in a game. (She gets them in practice all the time.) In this game she took a ball to the face, which caused her to bite her tongue so hard it bled. She sat out the rest of the quarter but when she came back into the game, she played just as hard as she had previously. That’s heart.

Back home, candy was exchanged, as well as cards. June also received sidewalk chalk and glitter glue, which she put to almost immediate use. “I was almost out of glitter glue,” she said appreciatively. Noah got a t-shirt with Roscoe the rooster, the unofficial mascot of Takoma. I got a Starbucks gift card and my favorite hazelnut-Ceylon tea (special ordered from the tea shop in Rehoboth) and Beth got a gift certificate for two movie tickets. Everyone was happy.

That evening Beth and I headed out to the movies. It was snowing when we left and icy roads were predicted but we decided to go anyway. We saw Birdman, which I really liked, especially the uncertainty about what’s real and what’s not and the way it used point of view. When we emerged from the theater, the roads were indeed a mess. We could see cars spinning their wheels and Beth said she thought maybe we should leave the car in the parking garage and take a bus home. But after we waited fifteen minutes at a bus stop that usually has a stream of buses arriving and only one came in all that time (and not the route we needed), she decided to chance the drive home. There was a bus stuck just a block from the bus stop and getting stranded if a bus had to offload halfway home didn’t seem appealing either.

Beth had to think a lot about the best route home, assessing each intersection and what looked safest and changing course several times. We ended up on Sligo Creek Parkway, where traffic was slow, but moving. There wasn’t a lot of snow on the ground but the winds were so high it was blowing all over and all the tree trunks and signs were coated with snow. Close to Maple Avenue, we saw a car in the creek. I should clarify here that in this part of the country we don’t call any body of water that would be deep enough to sink a car a creek. Those are rivers. The creek in question was probably about a foot deep and the car nearly spanned it. The headlights were on and there was a woman, or maybe a teenager standing on the bank. I called 911 to report it and the dispatcher thanked me but said someone else had already called about it.

When we got to the hospital near our house, the roads were very well cleared and we got up the hill of the hospital campus with no trouble. Beth decided to park the car there as our street might be messier and we were close enough to walk home. We picked our way through the icy parking lots and sidewalks as the snow swirled around us, passing a few people trying to push a car along our street. I wished I’d worn a warmer jacket. Beth wished she wasn’t wearing crocs.

We got home an hour after we set out on a trip that usually takes ten or fifteen minutes, but as we lay in bed listening the wind whipping around the house and rattling the windows and the sound of snowplows scraping the roads, I felt lucky to be warm and safe and that Beth got us home. That’s gratitude.

Sunday to Tuesday: After Valentine’s Day

Monday was President’s Day so it was supposed to be a long weekend and then Tuesday was a snow day so the weekend just went on and on… Knowing this was likely to happen, I worked a little every day from Sunday to Tuesday, trying to stay more or less on schedule.

Sunday morning Noah and June watched a movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, together. They hardly ever do this anymore and I was touched by the sibling togetherness, even if they did have an argument about how long to pause the movie for a breakfast break. (Later I found out they’d also been working on a movie they started filming last fall while we’d been out the night before.) They went out briefly to play in the snow that same morning, but it ended badly with June crying because Noah had dumped snow on her face and then he was grumpy because she left him alone after begging him to come out and play with her. But he made it up to her by coming in and making her cocoa.

Later Sunday morning Beth and June went grocery shopping and then Beth and I took her to the pool that afternoon, but Monday, everyone but me stayed home all day. I took a walk to Starbucks, but it was bitterly cold and no one wanted to come with me. June was antsy and bored, but it led her to write a murder mystery, so I guess it was a productive boredom. I asked if the parents on the cover are sad because they are psychic and know in advance they are going to die and leave their child an orphan but apparently, they are in heaven, looking down sadly at their orphan child. June found the photo by googling “sad parents.”

We ate a lot of comfort food over the course of the weekend. Beth made spinach lasagna and garlic bread Sunday night and pancakes and fruit salad Monday morning. I made braised cabbage and carrots, with mashed potatoes and fake Italian sausage on Monday night and fake beef and cremini stew on Tuesday night.

Tuesday I was a little grouchy about the snow day. I just wanted the kids to go to school and leave me in my quiet house and the morning was challenging. I was trying to work and the kids were bickering and June kept interrupting me to tell me she was still bored. But she had a friend over for most of the afternoon and things got better. They played outside and built a platform out of blocks where Playmobil people enacted some kind of drama and they wrote more stories. June was working on a sequel to “Another Orphan Made” and Maggie started a series called Horror Hilarious, which I am assuming is some kind of horror-comedy hybrid.

We walked Maggie most of the way home (her mom met us on the way) and it did me good to get out into the bright, sparkly day. It is always pretty down by the creek when it has snowed. Earlier in the day I had cheered myself by buying spring clothes for June and looking beach houses to rent for our summer vacation in late June. I found one I really liked, close to the beach, beautiful, and a workable arrangement of bedrooms for all the relatives we’re inviting. It was pricy, though.

When we got home, I saw Beth had answered my email about the various houses with the following message, “Let’s rent the one you love.” That’s love for sure.

Team Players

Hawks and Jaguars

Thursday evening in the car on the way home from basketball practice, June and Megan were chattering about the GeoBowl, which would be held the next day. Both of them were competing in it: June’s team was the GeoHawks; Megan’s was the GeoJaguars. Megan’s younger sister, who was out of sorts, said she was glad they were on different teams. Why, they wanted to know. Because it was time they stopped being friends and started being enemies, she said.

“We’re not enemies because we’re on different teams!” Megan exclaimed, and then added stoutly, “I’ll be glad if June’s team wins.” June chimed in she’d be happy if Megan’s team won, too. They’ve been best friends since kindergarten and it would take more than a geography contest to come between them.

June had been studying for Geobowl since September. The way it works is that packets of information are distributed about a month into the school year to every student in the third, fourth and fifth grade. Then the kids fill in the blanks on the packets, which are corrected and returned to them. Then they take a qualifying quiz in November, and the top seven kids in each class comprise that class’s team. This year’s theme was Europe and Asia.

I volunteered to help grade the quizzes the week of Thanksgiving. A bunch of moms, plus a grandmother and an older sibling came over to the organizer’s house, ate popcorn and drank wine and soda while we graded. I did a big chunk of the fourth grade and then double-checked someone else’s work on a third grade class. No one graded her own child’s class, but people were discreetly informing other parents of their kids’ scores as we went along. As it turned out, there was a strong correlation between your mother volunteering to grade the GeoBowl quiz and a high score on the quiz. I suppose that’s not surprising.

Nevertheless, I didn’t actually expect June to do as well as she did, because her studying had been sporadic until the night and morning before the quiz, when she crammed for about an hour. Anyway, as a result of the grading party, I knew weeks before June did that she would be in the GeoBowl (and to some extent which of her friends would be), but I didn’t think I should tell her until it was official. Then one afternoon in December she came running off the bus, yelling that she was on a GeoBowl team.

There were two before school practices for all participants in January and June’s team had a couple weekend practices and also stayed in the classroom at recess or lunch a few times. They also put a lot of thought into their team name, slogan, and t-shirt design. June was an early proponent of the slogan, “Eat Our Feathers,” but in the end they went with “We Fly with Knowledge.” I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed about that. The logo was of a hawk flying with the Earth in its talons. Beth helped June find the clip art she needed and then she made the transfers and ironed them onto the shirts.

The morning of the Geobowl I quizzed June, picking about forty questions at random from the packet. She got all but three right, so I thought she was in pretty good shape. Beth and I arrived at the school cafeteria shortly before nine a.m. Almost all of June’s friends were on the stage, with one team or another and the audience was full of parents we knew. Most the teams had t-shirts, but in the case of the Mind Avatars, each member was in a different kind of costume. Some of the GeoRockers wore sunglasses and bandanas around their heads in addition to their t-shirts and one of the Wise Wizards had a wizard hat.

The competition started with two rounds of questions about capitals. None of the six teams missed a question. A couple rounds later the scores were still very close. Four teams, including the GeoHawks and the GeoJaugars, still had perfect scores and the other two teams were only a point behind each. The master of ceremonies, who was the father of one of June’s friends, looking very dashing in a tux, had been making jokes throughout the event, but at this point he got serious and said it was anyone’s game. It turned out this wasn’t true because at the end of the regular questions, the GeoJaguars and the Wise Wizards still had perfect scores. The GeoHawks lost to these two teams by one point because when asked to name nine of the ten largest counties in Asia by land mass, they included one incorrect answer: Iraq, which should have been Iran. At that point it went to tie-breakers and when after three more questions the GeoJaguars and the Wise Wizards still had perfect scores, it was declared a tie so the fourth grade could take the stage.

June didn’t seem disappointed to have lost and was happy for Megan, as promised. Beth had volunteered to serve as a judge for the fourth grade so she stayed and I left. We knew a lot of kids in this one (at least four fourth-graders from June’s bus stop were in it) and I would have stayed to watch, but I had not gotten ahead enough in work to do it. I heard it was a nail-biter, too.

Pandas and Blazers

About an hour and a half after June got home from school, we left for Megan’s house because there was even more excitement left in the day. June’s basketball team takes a field trip to a girls’ high school basketball game once a season, for inspiration. It’s always a fun outing and this year, because the game was in the late afternoon instead of the evening, we were going out for pizza afterward. We were picking up Megan and bringing her with us.

The game was at the high school Noah will attend next year. We’ve known he’ll go there for a while because it’s our home school and he selected it as his first choice. What we didn’t know was whether he would be in the general school population, in the math and science magnet or the Communication Arts Program, as he’d applied to both. We found out about a week ago he got into CAP, which was his first choice. He wanted to be in it because he’s enjoyed the Media classes he’s been taking in the Humanities magnet in middle school. (He didn’t get into the math and science magnet but since that was his second choice, he didn’t care.) I didn’t really understand how much he wanted to get into CAP until the day he did. He tends to play his cards close to his vest.

Beth took him to an information session on Thursday night while June and I were at basketball practice, but this was the first time I’d been to this high school since he got into CAP, so it felt different somehow, to be there, and suddenly a lot more real that Noah will be in high school next year.

The Pandas wore their team shirts to the game and were greeted on the loudspeaker. Right before the game started they joined the cheerleaders in two lines through which the high school players ran as they came onto the court.

I’ve been to a four Blazers’ games now so there weren’t too many surprises but it is still notable when one’s main experience of basketball is elementary school games, how much faster the high school game is, and how skilled the players are at passing to each other. They don’t seem to need to look for each other at all. They just throw and, magically, someone’s there to catch the ball. It’s not quite like this with third graders. It wasn’t the Blazers’ finest night, they lost 55-37, but the Pandas have lost all four of their games so far this season, too, so maybe it was heartening to see more skilled players lose big. The cheerleaders and the pom squad, which performed at halftime, were also the subject of much discussion.

I heard one Panda’s younger sister and another one’s younger brother have very similar conversations with their mothers about the Blazers’ mascot painted on the wall. It’s a devil, wearing a cape. The team used to be called the Devils, and while the name got changed a while back, the visual representation of the mascot did not. Both children stared at it and asked, “Is that a good guy or a bad guy?” The combination of the horns and the cape was confusing, I think. Finally the little girl decided, “It’s a devil superhero.”

After the game, we took over the dining room of Zpizza in Silver Spring, and consumed five pizzas and a few salads, despite the fact that the Pandas had been running back and forth from the gym to the concession stand all through the game. (June got Cheetos and root beer and knew better than to ask if she could go again.) The kids sat at one table and the adults at another, and we chatted about work and other things until the girls were getting antsy at their table and starting to wander around the restaurant and it seemed like a good idea to leave.

It was late, but June wanted to get ice cream, and it had been such a big day I decided to say yes. Megan and June sat at their own table and ate their ice cream, while Beth and I sat at a table across the room and watched them. Sometimes they are on different teams and sometimes they are on the same team but since they were in kindergarten, they’ve been a team of two. They both have other friends, of course, and you never know which childhood friendships will last and which will fade away, but when I think of them in high school, I imagine June’s sweet, loyal, big-hearted best friend still at her side.