Rainbow Ribbons

Yonder come my lady
Rainbow ribbons in her hair
Six white horses and a carriage
She’s returning from the fair

From “Cyprus Avenue,” by Van Morrison 

We went to Pride last weekend, which we hadn’t done in eleven years. The last time we went I wrote about how I’d gotten a little jaded about Pride over the years but how marching in the parade with the kids made me see it through my six-year-old son’s eyes and brought some of the wonder back to it. This time I saw it through my twelve-year-old non-binary child’s eyes.

DC Pride has two components, the parade and the festival. The last time we went we marched in the parade but this time we went to the festival instead, partly because we had plans on Saturday. It was a jam-packed and very social weekend for North. Saturday afternoon we went to see West Side Story, because North knew some of the actors in it. We had an extra ticket because Noah was too overwhelmed with homework to use his, so North invited their friend Leila, who’s a big fan of Romeo and Juliet (and came to see North in it last month). This was a lot of fun. I like that play and it was a good production. After we dropped Leila off at her house, we took North straight to Evie’s house for a Harry Potter-themed birthday sleepover. When Evie’s dad opened the door in a cape, I remembered costumes were encouraged and even though North had located a robe and a tie ahead of time, they had neglected to bring them to the party. I offered to go home and get the costume, but they declined. Shortly after we got home, we took Noah out for Italian and then ice cream.

Saturday morning after Beth went grocery shopping and North got home from Evie’s, we picked Megan up and headed into the city. North was so excited they wanted to be there as close to the noon starting time as possible, so Beth and North skipped church that morning. North predicted we’d see a lot of people headed for Pride on the Metro. We were the only obvious ones at the Takoma stop and on the red line (we had two rainbow flags and an HRC flag between us) but there was a pack of teenage girls with rainbow glitter on their faces and rainbow ribbons in their hair once we got onto the green line.

North was wearing their Rainbow Alliance t-shirt—after long consideration of which of their three LGBT-themed shirts to wear, they decided it was likely to be the most unique. I was wearing a shirt from the 1993 March on Washington with the HRCF torch. That’s HRC’s old name and logo, you whippersnappers. (Also, get off my lawn.) I was going for an old-school “I was gay before it was cool” look, I told Beth. Beth wasn’t wearing anything identifiably gay. “You aren’t very rainbow,” I told her.

But we took care of that in short order. Before we even arrived at the festival, we received some free Mardi Gras beads and as the day went on we acquired free rainbow stickers and rainbow sweatbands. Someone also handed Megan a package of condoms. “What are these?” she asked us. Beth told her and I gently took them from her. After a few minutes elapsed, she said quietly, “Oh, I remember what those are for.”

Even though there were a lot of freebies, not everything was free. Over the course of a few hours, we bought and ate vegan shrimp and macaroni and cheese, an enormous dish of butterfly potatoes even the four of us couldn’t finish, shaved ice, ice cream, and funnel cake. Beth also bought North a big trans flag, from the many different kinds of flags on offer. We didn’t know what they all meant and spent some time guessing, “I think that one’s bisexual,” etc. If you’d like a guide to LGBT flags, you can find one here.  By the way, I guessed right about the bisexual one (out loud) and the asexual one (silently). I know you’re impressed with how hip and up-to-date I am.

Actually, Pride made both Beth and me feel a little old because it’s so different than it used to be. All through the nineties, we used to attend the festival when it fit (with room to spare) on the athletic field of a D.C. middle school. We always saw a lot of people we knew there, working at the booths or strolling around, and it had a festive, community feeling to it, sort of like the Fourth of July parade or the Folk Festival in Takoma Park. Now Pride stretches over several city blocks and the only people we saw that we knew there were, in kind of a funny twist, Leila’s family. It seems a little more impersonal now and a lot more corporate. Beth made herself feel better about this by stopping at the American Airlines booth where you were encouraged to write messages and leaving a pro-union message. (CWA represents the ticket agents at American.)

North wasn’t having any cynical thoughts, though. As I watched them sitting on a curb, eating a root beer shaved ice, wrapped in their flag like a cape and looking really happy, I thought about what a big year it’s been for them, being in middle school, acting in three shows, trying on a new identity. “This isn’t a sight I would have imagined a year ago,” I said to Beth. As surprising as North’s coming out as non-binary was (and continues to be for me), it’s now an important part of the story of their life.

So perhaps it was fitting that in between eating festival food, and people watching, and playing cornhole, and petting cats at the humane society adoption truck, we visited the booth of the sperm bank we used to begin that life. I wondered how many other parents of donor kids brought them by, maybe a lot, but the staff seemed pleased and proclaimed North “beautiful.” Of course, I agree, and I always will, no matter what flag they fly.

In Fair Verona, Where We Lay Our Scene

Star-Cross’d: Tech Week

 Romeo and Julian just finished its three-day run. Opening night was Friday and then there were two shows each on Saturday and Sunday. Between tech week and the performances, North was getting to bed at least two hours past bedtime every day but one for a solid week and Beth and I were up past bedtime almost all week, too. I was reminded how during tech week for School of Rock in December, I was thinking we would never ever do this again. (And then after the run was over, I realized North had loved it so much that we had to do it again, though we did skip the March shows.)

North slept later than usual most mornings and napped one afternoon before rehearsal, but they weren’t late to school even once, even though I said I’d be fine with that. They were headachy in the afternoons twice, which I thought could be related to sleep deprivation, but they fended it off with painkiller, hydration, and rest and it never turned into a full-blown migraine. (North has gotten pretty good at detecting and preventing incipient migraines this year.)

One rainy morning I found them sitting on the porch steps waiting for the school bus (it stops right in front of our house, so sometimes when it rains North waits on the porch instead of at the stop). They were eating tortilla chips. “Is that all you’ve had to eat?” I asked and they nodded tiredly.

I went back inside thinking if they couldn’t be well rested, they could at least be better nourished, so I brought them a mug of water and some strawberries for starters and then went inside to see if I could melt some cheddar cheese over leftover kidney beans (a concoction North especially likes) before the bus came. I got the cheese melted to the exact consistency they like but when I brought it outside, North and the school bus were gone.

North took the Ride-On bus to rehearsal by themselves all week. (Last fall I went with them on the bus to School of Rock rehearsals because it dark in the late afternoons back then.) On Monday, after a month and a half of doing this, they had a bad experience. They were harassed by two older boys on the bus, which was the first time anything like that has happened to them. It didn’t escalate, but it was scary, both for them and for us.

Beth and I gave advice—sit close to the driver or to an adult woman—but it sucks to have tell your twelve-year-old how to minimize the chance of being a target of men and boys. I was a couple years older than that before I was ever harassed, so I wasn’t really expecting it so soon, but the only positive thing about it was that thanks to #MeToo, we’ve had these conversations already, more than once, and North knows it’s one of the hazards of existing in public space as a person who’s not a cis boy or man. There was no rehearsal the next day and on Wednesday I offered to go with them on the bus in case the same boys were there, but North said no, so with some trepidation I let them go alone and they didn’t see those boys for the rest of the week.

It reminded me of something else that happened to them for the first time this month. They helped organize their school’s Day of Silence for LGBT+ issues. Because they weren’t speaking and had the cards explaining why, some kids in the hall asked if they were in “the faggot group.” I wasn’t called that (or more often “dyke”) by passers-by until I was twenty. Sometimes it seems the world is getting worse, even when I know that in this case, it’s just a case of kids being out earlier, which is happening precisely because the world is getting better.

And speaking of Rainbow Alliance, while also getting back to the play—I think this is a post about the play—on Thursday, they stayed after school for a Rainbow Alliance meeting. I knew getting home on a bus, eating dinner, and getting on another bus to rehearsal would be tight, but we’d successfully managed this maneuver a couple times earlier this year so I thought it would be okay.

Well, North had the worst combination of bus luck. The 12 they needed to take from school to home was late. We’d been texting so I knew and I’d packed dinner for them to take to the theater. They just needed to get home, grab it and go. They got home just in the nick of time, with knees scraped and bleeding from running and falling on the way from the 12 stop to our house. I cleaned them quickly and because I was talking to them, I accompanied them to the 17 stop so we could continue the conversation. We were turned toward each other and not looking at the street when the bus, several minutes early, sped by the stop without stopping, because no one had stepped to the curb. (More than one line stops there, so you have to signal to the driver.)

North, who had been stressed for almost an hour about catching this bus, burst into tears. I hugged them and told them to come inside and have some of the tomato-rice soup I’d made earlier than I usually make dinner so they could have a hot meal before rehearsal.  I thought they might as well as there was no chance of them getting there on time now. They ate—both the soup and the cold supper I’d packed—I did a more thorough job cleaning and bandaging their knees, emailed the theater director to say North would be late, and then I sent them back outside, ten minutes before the next 17 was due and instructed them not to take their eyes off the street.

I watched them get on it from inside the house and almost immediately after that, I got a text from Beth who wanted to know if I was at the meeting at North’s school about the trip to Madrid the seventh and eighth-graders in the Spanish immersion program will go on next year. I wasn’t there and neither was she. Despite putting it on both our electronic and paper calendars, we’d both forgotten about it. Meanwhile, it was one of those nights it was clear from the time he got home that there was no way Noah could finish his homework (and he didn’t, but he was only thirty pages of reading short when he went to bed). It was just one of those star-crossed days. 

Performance: The Two (And a Half) Hours’ Traffic of Our Stage

On Friday, North, fed and freshly showered, caught their bus for their five p.m. call time. I was relieved their departure went smoothly so they wouldn’t arrive rattled. Beth got home around six-twenty and Beth, Noah, and I went out for pre-show pizza in Silver Spring, picking up a bouquet of yellow roses and speckled lilies on the way.

North had mentioned they kept missing their cues in rehearsal, which I thought was strange, as it’s not a problem they’ve had in other plays, but it was still happening as late as the last rehearsal on Thursday night. I was thinking about this nervously as we took our seats in the theater. I needn’t have. They missed no cues, they knew their lines, they were comically expressive as the Capulet’s servant, Peter. North has pointed out to us (and to their English teacher during a class discussion of Romeo and Juliet) that it’s Peter, who in inviting Romeo to the party where he meets Juliet, sets the whole play into motion. “Without him, there’s no play,” North says authoritatively.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a modern-dress, gender-blind production. Both leads were played by trans boys. The language of the play was unaltered, except for gendered language, so both Romeo and Julian call each other, “my lord,” etc. They also made the two leads a bit older, both in their late teens instead of thirteen and sixteen. But the plot is the same, which calls attention to all the gendered assumptions in it. Why, for instance, is Romeo free to wander around Verona with his friends, stay out all night, and get into brawls while Julian can leave his house only to go to confession, has no friends, and is being married off against his will? Free-range parenting versus helicopter parenting?

The play was also slightly abbreviated, the comic relief scene after Julian’s fake death in the fourth act is cut (too bad for North because Peter figures prominently in it) as is almost all of the fifth act after Julian’s real death. Even so, the play lasted two hours and forty minutes, including intermission, not the two hours the prologue promises, so I can’t really complain about the cuts. It was quite a late night already.

Over the weekend, Beth and I both tried to catch up on our sleep. Beth, who gets up earlier than me on weekdays and was run ragged from picking North up from late-night Tech Week rehearsals and the shows, slept late on Saturday and then took a long nap Saturday afternoon. I took a nap Saturday, too. No one felt up to cooking, so we used a gift certificate Beth had for the Cheesecake Factory on Saturday and we got Burmese takeout on Sunday. We did manage to summon the energy for mowing and other yard work, because it’s May and it’s been rainy and everything’s growing like crazy.

North was at the theater from 11:30 in the morning to 11:00 p.m. on Saturday and until 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, so we barely saw them. But in the little sliver of time we did, we heard that on Saturday night, North’s friends Leila and Morgan and Leila’s mom came to see the show. North is always excited to have friends in the audience so they were happy to see them afterward. When Beth picked them up that night, she let North linger long enough to get a root beer float at the concession stand because she’d given them money to get one between shows but the actors weren’t allowed to visit the stand until after the second show. This was also a consolation prize because some of the actors were going out to a diner for pancakes after the show and North wanted to go, but this proposal (going out at eleven o’clock at night with mostly older kids and possibly no adults—that part was never clear) was met with a hard no.

When North came home after the Sunday shows, they said the closing night audience was the best audience of all five. They laughed at more of the jokes and clapped harder. In fact, North said there was applause when they exited the stage after their biggest scene in the first act and because it wasn’t the end of the scene, they surmised, “They were clapping for me.” I was glad to hear the show ended on an positive note.

On Monday I was meeting Beth in the city for event (her office reserved a theater for a showing of the documentary RBG) so I left shortly after the kids got home from school. Before I went, I asked North how they felt about the show being over and they said it was sad, but they were glad to have a free afternoon. That’s kind of a novelty and before you know it, it will be summer and North will be rehearsing for My Fair Lady.

Have Your Cake and Eat it, Too

Thursday: Pre-birthday

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

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

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

Friday: 51/3 = 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday: Birthday, Belated

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

Sunday: Mother’s Day

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

Monday to Thursday

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

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

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

When April Has Showered Sweetly With His Rains

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday: Earth Day Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday: State Band Festival and Favorite Poem Night

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

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

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

Wednesday: Book Club

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

Wednesday and Thursday: Canterbury Tales

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday: Montgomery County Youth Media Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids

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

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

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

Saturday: Bye, Bye Birdie

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

Monday: Band Festival

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

Tuesday: Walkout and Field Trip

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

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

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

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

Thursday: Day of Service

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

Friday: Chorus Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday: Little Mermaid, Sweet Charity, and Karaoke

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

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

Monday: Acting Class Showcase

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

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

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

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

Why We Sing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how the song ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Strange Halloween

Before Halloween

As I mentioned earlier, North went on the MCPS sixth-grade outdoor education field trip this week. They left on Monday morning and returned Wednesday afternoon. In some ways, this trip seemed less momentous than when Noah went on it because when he went it was the first time he’d been away from home and not in the care of relatives. I didn’t blog about it because he told us almost nothing about whatever happened on that trip. Really, it was something like, “we saw a snake and a turtle.” But I do remember missing him sharply, even though he was away less than three days. North on the other hand has been to sleepaway camp the past three summers, so I was used to the separation and didn’t faze me. But in other ways it was more complicated than Noah’s Outdoor Ed experience because the kids’ sleeping quarters were segregated by gender and this was distressing to North.

I should say here that the school has been pretty accommodating of North’s new gender identity. They are permitted to use the unisex restroom in the nurse’s office and the counsellor has briefed all their teachers on their preferred name and pronouns. Most of the teachers (with one exception) are on board and most of the kids who know have taken it in stride (again with one exception). But it took a while to figure out how we’d handle the housing problem.

North didn’t want to sleep in the girls’ area and they didn’t want to be all alone in a separate room and those were the choices on offer, either that or come home both nights. Coming home wasn’t an ideal solution because Outdoor Ed is supposed to be a team-building exercise for the class and breaking it up into three pieces would compromise that. Plus, Beth would have to drive forty-five minutes to Rockville to fetch them Monday night and then forty-five minutes back home and then do it all over Tuesday morning, Tuesday evening, and Wednesday morning. But if North chose the separate room, Beth would have to miss work, so she could act as a chaperone because they weren’t allowed to be alone overnight. This wasn’t ideal either, but that’s what North chose. I have to admit I asked if they could consider sleeping in the girls’ area just to simplify things. After all, only a few months ago they were quite happily attending Girl Scout sleep-away camp. They were not open to the idea, to say the least.

Beth drove North to school Monday morning. In the rush, they forgot the bag lunch they were supposed to bring so Beth gave them the apple slices and crackers from her lunch—North didn’t want the garlic cheese curds. When I found the forgotten lunch on the couch, it made me a little sad to see the plain brown bag.  I decorated every elementary school field trip lunch bag, covering them with stickers, and even though I didn’t think I’d keep doing it in middle school (for one thing North’s making their own lunch now). I hadn’t even thought about how I wasn’t doing it until that moment. Always with the growing up…

Anyway, I learned from Beth that when they arrived at school kids were piling their luggage up into two piles—boys’ and girls’. So rather than just dropping North off as planned, Beth parked the car and found the sixth-grade team leader to find out where North should leave their luggage. He said in either pile was fine—North was on both lists. But this is the whole point for North. They don’t want to choose, so Mr. O took their luggage with him.

Beth went from the middle school to work, came home, raved over the dinner of butternut squash fritters, apple slices, and vegetarian sausage I’d made (maybe because all she had for lunch was cheese curds and she was very hungry), and then she drove out to the environmental education facility, where she’d stay until Wednesday morning. (The kids would be there until Wednesday afternoon.)

Monday evening I kept thinking of how my time alone with Noah could be fun—we could read Stephen King, watch scary movies, put the finishing touches on the Halloween decorations—if only he didn’t have so much homework. Instead, on Monday he did a calculus packet, finished a biology lab report, and read and answered questions on a chapter of his biology textbook. I told him he should go trick-or-treating Tuesday no matter what his homework load, and he agreed.

Halloween

But he didn’t get a lot of homework on Tuesday and when he got home from school on Halloween, he got the electric things and the fog machine working, then read an essay about the role of joy in various ancient religious traditions for his World History class. Because he finished shortly before dinner time, we even snuck in a little Wizard and Glass. It was only fifteen minutes, but I’d hoped to read with him while Beth and North were out of town, so it made me happy.

Meanwhile, I got occasional updates from Beth—they were learning about watersheds and had done a Predator/Prey simulation. North was a carnivore and Beth was a habitat-destroying developer. “Not cast to type,” was her comment. Later she said they were going to see a presentation by someone called Reptile Man, who I assumed was a man who spoke about and displayed reptiles and not a half-reptile, half-man mutant. But you never know, it was Halloween. (Later there was photographic evidence of Reptile Man’s giant albino python.) The kids also watched a little of Ghosthunters on Icy Trails, but they didn’t have time to finish it. (This was one of my pet peeves at a kid. I hated it when we’d see just part of a movie in school.)

Noah set out to trick or treat around seven, and I listened to my new Halloween playlist almost twice through, read Austerlitz, looked at Facebook photos of all your kids in their adorable or gruesome Halloween costumes, and occasionally gave out candy, from the time the first trick or treater, a teenage boy in some sort of mod get up, arrived at 6:40 during “Werewolves of London” until the last two, a chef and a detective, arrived at 8:30 during the second playing of “Vampire Girl.” We didn’t get too many kids, probably less than a dozen. I kept thinking I heard people on the porch but usually it was just the fog machine switching itself on and off.

Noah came home and reported that among the people who gave him candy were a former employee of Equifax and someone who works for the federal government and is investigating Equifax. They both appreciated his costume. Noah and I blew out the candles and unplugged all the electronic things around 9:10, but I left the porch light on another fifteen minutes or so, just in case someone else came. It was a strange Halloween, without Beth and North, and I didn’t feel quite finished.

Day of the Dead

Beth dropped by the house the next morning, after Noah had left for school. She said everyone did a lot of walking outside and the kids made masks and the teachers were in costume. The theme was fantasy football so they were dressed partly in football jerseys but with wardrobe elements fantasy characters would wear. It was a nod to Halloween, I guess.

That afternoon I went to North’s school to pick them up. We went to the nurse’s office to get the vitamins and Lactaid they’d taken to Outdoor Ed and while we were there we had to iron out a detail about permission for North to use the nurse’s bathroom. We handled the vitamin pickup first and during this discussion the nurses kept referring to North as “he,” even though the name we’d written on the bottle was “June,” as we still use that name for official business. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard someone take North for a boy since they got their hair cut short and started wearing more boyish clothes, but it still startles me. I let it go until we got the vitamins back, then I explained the situation with North’s gender identity and the bathroom to both nurses. They seemed open to the idea and then seemed to recall they’d heard something about a kid needing to use the nurse’s restroom, but they hadn’t been introduced to North. It’s a big school and sometimes communication isn’t seamless.

As we approached the bus stop, we saw a 12 pulling away. I knew it would be twenty minutes before the next one, but I didn’t really mind. I knew I was more likely to hear details about Outdoor Ed while we were in transit than once we got home, and I did. North cut their arm falling in the creek while taking water samples, they enjoyed the confidence exercise (a sort of obstacle course), there was a campfire. The predator/prey exercise was fun. They saw many snakes, not just the python. The food was okay, but not great. The vegetarians had cheese dippers, which they describe as an inferior sort of mozzarella stick with the tomato sauce on the inside, way too many times. All in all, they seemed happy with the experience and eager to get home and see how much candy I’d saved for them. I asked if they’d like to light the jack-o-lanterns one last time that evening, since it was still Day of the Dead, and they said yes.

I made a pumpkin-apple cake with a cinnamon-pecan glaze to celebrate everyone being home together and Noah wanted to know if we could have cake every time we were all at dinner together. North made dessert, too, little sugar skulls molded of a powdered sugar-and-water paste, and with that little gesture, our strange Halloween was over.

I’m North

Guest blog post

Hi! I’m North. But you might know me as June from other blogs. That’s my old name. I’ll be North today. I like cats, and most every animal except for dogs. My favorite color is aquamarine, (specific, right?) my favorite food is olives, and my favorite animal is deer. Sounds like a pretty average kid, right? Well in some aspects, you are right. I’m in middle school, hate gym class, and love lunch (no, seriously. I’m in love.). But there’s one thing about me that isn’t ordinary. You probably already know it. I’m transgender. There, just officially came out on the internet. No going back from that.

Ok, let’s get something straight. When I say transgender, I probably don’t mean what you think I mean. I was assigned female at birth, which I am not. But, if I had been assigned male at birth, they would have been equally wrong. I’m genderfluid, which means on any given day, I could feel anywhere on, or off the gender spectrum. I could fell more feminine, masculine, in the middle, or genderless! There are countless ways I could feel on any given day. But no matter how I feel, always refer to me in the third person using they/them pronouns. If you don’t know what those are, look them up! I’m sure there are countless people on the internet who can explain it better than me. But the simple version is, that they are used to refer to a person not female, nor male. You can also always use these if you aren’t sure. Remember, it’s always ok to ask somebody about their pronouns. Just pull them away for a second, and ask. A lot of transgender people feel good when you ask them their pronouns. It indicates a sense of respect for that person. So, if you aren’t sure, just ask.

Ok, I’m going to tell you some things that you probably should, and shouldn’t do around transgender individuals. Keep in mind that I am just one of the many, many, transgender individuals out there, and I do not speak for everyone. These are just some generalizations that I believe most transgender people do or do not like.

Let’s start on the positives, things that most trans people like: Asking their pronouns. This indicates that you don’t want to offend this person by referring to them in the wrong way. Letting them pass. If you know your friend is trans, they are meeting new people, and think they’re doing a really great job at passing, let them pass. Let people think they were born that way, even if you know they weren’t.

Now, what most trans people don’t like: Dead naming. If somebody goes by a different name than their birth name, that name probably doesn’t make them feel good, so just don’t say it.

Using the wrong pronouns. If you knew them before, and mess up occasionally, that’s okay, but just try to use the right pronouns.

Well, I gotta go now. You might see me again, I don’t know. Well, Goodbye, Aloha, Ciao, Hasta luego, See ya!

Happy National Coming Out Day!

Acting Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Room of One’s Own

The week before school started, June went to the middle school three times—on Monday morning to help teachers set up their classrooms and earn student service learning hours, on Thursday morning for a half-day sixth grade orientation, and late Thursday afternoon for the sixth-grade picnic. I was grateful for these activities both to keep June occupied and to make the school a more familiar place. Aside from our visit to Hershey Park, June had been kind of bored the last few weeks of break, at least until three friends came over in four days at the very end.

And as of the beginning of Labor Day weekend, we’d done none of the three water-related activities I’d told June we would do in the last three weeks before school started. We’d been thwarted trying to go to the nearest outdoor pool because of its limited schedule and my inability to remember it’s closed on Fridays. Three Fridays in a row I thought, “We should go to Long Branch Pool today.” Fortunately, the last two times I remembered why we couldn’t just a moment later and didn’t raise anyone’s hopes by mentioning it. Eventually I gave up on going, though it made me a little sad never to have gone to an outdoor pool this summer. (To clarify, June’s been many times—at camp, with YaYa in West Virginia, and with friends, but I never did.)

I set the Friday before Labor Day aside for a creek walk, an end-of-summer tradition the kids and I have. It consists of taking a walk down the middle of Long Branch (or sometimes Sligo) Creek. But Friday it was freakishly cold for the first day of September, in the sixties and overcast. Noah and I outvoted June and decided to put it off for later in the weekend when it would be warmer.

Back in early August I took June to see Kubo and the Two Strings at the one-dollar second run movies, but a sprained ankle prevented the usual post-summer movie trip to the Silver Spring fountain so I said we’d have a do-over movie-and-fountain date later in the summer. We invited a friend to see Leap on Saturday, with a visit to the fountain afterward. And it was just as cold that day and raining to boot. I would have let the kids go in the fountain if they wanted to, but Norma thought it was too chilly. June would have gone in, but it was fenced off as it often is on rainy days. So that activity was out, too.

Saturday night June was complaining of a sore throat and running a fever. On Sunday morning, there was no improvement it was off to urgent care so they could rule out strep throat. We normally wouldn’t go so soon but we didn’t want anything to scotch the first day of middle school on Tuesday. The rapid strep test came back negative, but June was lethargic and we decided to wait another day on the creek walk.

On Monday, Beth made pancakes for breakfast, as she often does on holiday weekends. June felt better, so shortly after breakfast, the kids and I headed for the creek, where we waded for over an hour and saw many little fish, three crawfish, and great quantity of spider webs. It’s been unseasonably cool for the past couple weeks and the water was surprisingly cold when we first stepped in and Noah was grumbling about it, but soon he was cheerfully throwing rocks and splashing June. When I said something about “if we do this next year” he insisted we have to do it, so I guess he had a good time after all. And I fulfilled one promise.

We always go out for ice cream the last night of the kids’ summer break and this year was no exception. (Well, Noah might say it was because June, being the one to start a new school, chose the venue and we got frozen yogurt, which he pointed out, is not ice cream.) It occurred to me if we went somewhere in downtown Silver Spring we could make one last-ditch attempt at playing in the fountain, but when I said it could only be for fifteen minutes or so, June didn’t think it was worth giving up the privilege of choosing where we got our frozen treats.

While all this was going on, Beth had been toiling during her evenings and weekends moving June out of the kids’ shared room into my office, which I’m sacrificing so the kids can each have some space of their own. This has been huge project, involving a lot of moving things around and assembling new furniture. Noah helped Beth put the new Ikea loft bed together and he showed some aptitude for it. (He has the right temperament—patient and calm.) Beth’s goal was to get June sleeping in the new room by Labor Day weekend and not only is the bed finished but a lot of clothes and belongings are in there, too. But I’ll hold off on pictures until the room is finished and decorated.

It was really June who wanted and advocated for the room switch. When we decided to do it, we offered Noah the office but he said he preferred to stay put, so June also scored the bigger room. My desk is in the living room now, which isn’t ideal, but in theory, when Noah goes to college I’ll get my space back. I think I want it for the same reason June does. It makes a difference to have a room of one’s own. But right now, at eleven, June needs it more than I do. And Beth did everything she could to make it easier for me, including buying me a new desk with drawer space. (My old desk was more like a small table.)

It’s a time of a lot of changes, beyond June starting middle school and getting a new room and new short haircut. Their decision a couple weeks ago to go by gender-neutral pronouns was surprising, and it’s been hard to remember to use them, though I’m trying. They also have a new name, North, which Beth is using sometimes, but so far, I can’t bring myself to say it, though I did write it on a school form in the preferred name space. Names are important to me, almost a hobby. I read and comment on a baby-naming blog even though I haven’t had a baby to name in quite some time. In fact, the only thing I regret about not having more kids is that we only got to name two people. The names we did choose are full of family history. For a while June was considering using their middle name (and I suggested their initials—J.D.—but I don’t think that was ever under serious consideration). I think it would be easier for me if the new name was somehow connected to the name we gave them. But maybe that’s the point, the difference.

Both kids went back to school on Tuesday, a week later than usual because the governor changed the Maryland school calendar to promote late season business in Ocean City. Now we have only two snow days built in even though the old number—four—was frequently inadequate, which is the main reason I opposed this move. It’s becoming rare to have an actual 180-day school year and this will make it harder.

But maybe you wanted to hear about the kids’ first day and not about my beef with the governor? I’d tell you, but neither of the kids told me much. I spied on June’s bus stop from the porch (the stop is right in front of our house), noting that about half the kids there are seventh or eighth graders who used to wait at June’s elementary school bus stop. I saw June talking to a seventh-grader, who used to walk to school with June when the two of them were in fourth and fifth grade, and another girl I don’t know. June wore sneakers for gym, intending to leave them in their gym locker and change into crocs for the rest of the day, but they lost the crocs somehow. Noah didn’t get into band yet again, because of schedule conflicts, but he’ll be in the intermediate band second semester, so that’s something. June had almost no homework; Noah had homework in three subjects. He’s working for the school television channel this year and the first broadcast is Monday. I think this will be fun for him.

I worked only fifteen minutes Tuesday because I had an orthopedic appointment for the knee I injured last summer, then I stayed in the city for a pro-DACA rally. It was bigger than the one I attended last month, and angrier, because it was held the day the President announced the program was being rescinded. I was moved almost to tears by the speakers, who were young, brave, hopeful, and fired up. They are just the kind of people we need in this country right now and I hope their organizing is successful. If you’d like to help, Beth’s running a fundraiser for CASA on her Facebook page.

I got home around 2:40, hot and exhausted, because the day was warm and a little muggy and June had insomnia the night before, which meant Beth, June, and I were all up until almost midnight and then Beth’s alarm went off at 5:40.

I had forty minutes before June’s bus was due. I could have exercised or cleaned or worked, but instead I put a glass of ice water on my bedside table, turned the ceiling fan onto its highest setting, fell into bed, and slept briefly. There’s a whole year ahead of us and I think I’m going to need to be rested for it.