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.

Season of the Witch

This will be a bit of a bait and switch. The first two pictures are from Potomac Vegetable Farms, where we got our pumpkins last weekend (and where we get them every year). I took them because we always take pictures there but I was also thinking I might write a blog post about it. But while a pleasant enough outing, it was uneventful. We weren’t battling a stomach bug. It wasn’t pouring rain and the hatch didn’t pop open letting one of the pumpkins escape. You’ll have to go into my archives if you want to read about any of those pumpkin-related adventures.

I didn’t take any pictures on Wednesday, but it was eventful in a way that the weekend wasn’t. The soundtrack of the day was the evil laugh of the motion and sound-activated zombie in our front yard. The remnants of Hurricane Patricia were drizzling down on us all day and the rain drove the zombie crazy apparently. (Beth thinks it might have been short-circuited.) Whatever the reason, it laughed all day, as I was puttering around the house and editing a manuscript.

Wednesday afternoons and evenings are generally busy because June has a violin lesson at 4:45, or she has up to now. She’s decided being in the strings ensemble at school is enough violin instruction for her and she’s not going to take music lessons once the session is finished. She’s got a double make-up lesson next Monday, but this was her last regular lesson. As we rushed out the door, I was glad of that. It will simplify our Wednesdays, especially when basketball practice starts.

Noah called me while I was turning off the oven where the Brussels sprouts had been roasting to say he’d be home late because he’d missed his bus. I told him we’d be gone when he got home and reminded him to start on the history chapter outline that was due the next day. I regarded the sprouts and decided as they were just shy of done, I’d leave them in the warm oven, thinking it might stay hot long enough to finish them. Then June and I headed out for the bus stop.

On the bus, June said, “Oh man!” I asked what was wrong and she said she’d left the music she’d been practicing right before we left at home. I’d kind of hoped the teacher could bring her lessons to a well-thought out, orderly end, and this wasn’t going to help. But June did have some music with her and that would have to be enough. The teacher seemed ready to work with whatever June had, so I kissed June on the top of her head and decamped for the bakery down the block, where I got a cup of tea and a brownie. I’ve been tempted to do spend June’s lesson there many times but I was afraid of making a habit of it so I resisted. But now that it was the second to last lesson, there was no danger of that, so I went ahead. Also, there’s a nice big table in the center of the shop where I could spread out the pages of the manuscript.

After a crowded bus ride, we got home some time after 5:30. We sat on the porch to read the last few pages of the chapter of The Silver Chair we’d started while waiting for the lesson to start and then we went inside. I checked on Noah and found him working on his outline. I checked on the Brussels sprouts and found them blackened. I guess the oven stayed hot longer than I thought it would. I peeled the outer leaves off one experimentally and found it edible inside. I thought I could salvage the meal, but it would be time-consuming peeling all the sprouts. I got to work assembling the rest of the ingredients for risotto while June started her math homework.

It was not quite 6:30 when June came into the kitchen, looking teary. I wondered if she’d gotten frustrated with her math when she said, “I don’t feel good.” Migraine, I thought, remembering the storm. June’s headaches are often triggered by changes in barometric pressure. I gave her some painkiller and her prescription anti-nausea medicine. She asked if I could read to her, so I abandoned dinner preparations and started another chapter of The Silver Chair while she wept intermittently.

At once point I went to tell Noah dinner would be late and why, and it was then he thought to mention to me that the reason he missed his bus was that he’d had a debilitating headache of his own at school and was in the bathroom being sick at the end of the school day. (Later more details emerged. It was the first time he’d ever taken the Metro bus home from high school and because he had to cross the street to catch it from middle school he automatically did that and got on the wrong bus, getting pretty far from home before getting off and onto the right bus. It’s possible he hadn’t been home long when June and I returned.)

It was not quite seven when Beth got home. She relieved me, keeping June company while I went back to making dinner. It was seven-thirty before it was ready. (The kids and I usually eat between six and six-thirty.) June was feeling a little better but she was still in no shape to eat and Noah, who likes risotto, wasn’t sure he was ready for something with heavy cream and a lot of Parmesan so he had an apple and two pieces of toast. Beth and I ate in shifts, so June wouldn’t be alone. By this time, she was listening to an audiobook and seemed much improved. The crying was all over. I was surprised she hadn’t fallen asleep. She almost always does when she has a migraine. That and the fact that Noah had been ill, too, made me wonder if it was the beginning of a family-wide stomach bug and not a migraine at all. But at the moment both kids were feeling better. June even did some more of her math before going to bed, though she didn’t finish it until the next morning.

While Noah got ready for bed, the songs from the Halloween playlist he was listening to drifted out of the bathroom. I sang along briefly: “You better pick up every stitch/Must be the season of the witch.” It did seem like the kind of evening that might have caused our seventeenth-century counterparts to accuse a neighbor of witchcraft, especially when we went to bed and there was a strange luminance on my bedside table, which turned out to be the glow-in-the-dark spider webs that had arrived in the mail that day–“There were otherworldly cries all day! Our dinner was blackened and our children sickened! An eerie ball glimmered in our bedchamber!”

But the next day was better. The children both felt well and went to school. The zombie was silent. There were no dinner mishaps (other than the fact that both kids turned up their noses at the lentil-rice-cabbage casserole I made). And as a bonus, the repair-person who has visited our house three times over the past month trying to fix the exercise bike finally triumphed. And Noah came home with the news that his drama teacher praised his acting in his All My Sons scene and because he’d finished all his homework in study hall (a rare occurrence) he was able to spend some time working on his Halloween costume and relaxing.

Tomorrow afternoon we’ll be marching in the Takoma Park Halloween parade with June dressed as a corpse and Noah as a bottle of Fiji Water. I’m going to be on the lookout for witches.

What Frozen Things Do in Summer

Musical Drama Camp, Week 1

On our way out of Rehoboth two weeks ago, we stopped at a Crocs outlet to get the kids new Crocs. Noah had outgrown his and June felt she needed more as well, although she has a few pair. She very nearly got some with Olaf the talking snowman from Frozen on them but Beth was concerned that since we were buying big and it takes her a long time to outgrow her shoes that she might find the design too young before she outgrew them. But on the other hand, she was trying out for Olaf at musical drama camp in just two days and it seemed like it could be a good luck omen. In the end, she went for a bee and flower design from the sale bin instead.

June surprised us with her first choice of character. I’d been confident she’d want to be Anna as she is a lot like Anna—a friendly, outgoing younger sibling, often eager for attention, plus in previous years she has rejected any suggestion on the camp director’s part that she play a male role. But she said she thought Olaf was silly and funny and she wanted a funny part. Anna was her second choice. On the first day of camp she tried out for both roles and when she came home on the first day she thought Gretchen’s reaction to her Anna audition had been more positive. She’d arrived in braids that day and she looked the part, plus Gretchen said her voice was better for Anna than for Olaf. But when I dropped her off on Tuesday, Gretchen said, “Hello, Olaf,” and that’s how she found out she got the part.

Musical drama camp was two weeks this year instead of one, though the first week was short because Friday was a federal holiday. It was also the first week of summer in which we were in our most usual summer configuration—Beth at work, June at camp, me working at home, and Noah also at home, doing a little summer homework and house or yard work every day and helping me with camp pick-ups. The kids also had their first music lessons of the summer on Wednesday. As it takes me a while to get into a routine, and that routine changes every week in the summer as camp locations and pick-up and drop-off times differ, I was glad this one lasted two weeks. It was a good way to ease into the controlled chaos of summer.

Fourth of July Weekend

On Friday of the first week of drama camp Beth had the day off work and June had no camp, so we went to the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival on the Mall. June had been singing the songs from Frozen all the time, particularly Olaf’s number “In Summer” to practice, so they were in my head. As we left the Metro and approached the Festival I started singing and June immediately joined me:

Oh, the sky will be blue
And you guys will be there, too
When I finally do
What frozen things do
In summer!

“Not you, too,” Noah groused.

The focus of the Festival was Peru this year. Usually there are a few counties, but they’re tearing up the mall so there was less room than usual and it was a scaled down affair. We had lunch first: vegetable tamales, quinoa and avocado salad, choclo (large-kernelled Peruvian corn), fresh mango and pineapple, cookies with dulce de leche inside, and chocolate and passion fruit gelato. The corn was gummy so no one cared much for it but everything else was good.

We watched a couple musical and dance performances—cumbia and marinera, which is a dance of flirtation, according to the Smithsonian, and the dancers did use the handkerchiefs they carried to hide their faces and make it look as if they were kissing. I asked June if she thought they were really kissing and she shrugged. I always enjoy the music at the Folk Life Festival and we would have stayed at the performance tent longer but the venue was very small and it was hard to get a seat or even find a place to stand where you could see well so we just sampled a little.

In the kids’ tent, we listened to a creation story told first in an indigenous language spoken by a tribe with fewer than one hundred and fifty surviving members. The story was then translated into Spanish and finally English. June attended a workshop for kids by an urban poster artist from Lima and colored her own poster in bright colors. The artist had made a set of posters of Washington landmarks and Beth admired them so later while I was in the marketplace with the kids, Noah selected a postcard in one those designs and asked me to buy it for her. There were stripes of different colors in the background of many of them, reminiscent of a rainbow, so we looked for the Supreme Court, of course. But they didn’t have that, so he went with the capitol building. Earlier in the outing the kids had been bickering a lot and Noah had been complaining about having to come to the festival at all, so I was glad he made that gesture. And then on the way home, June informed Noah, “You may be annoying but you’re not evil,” which is what passes for sibling harmony some days.

Saturday was the Fourth. Our first order of business was the parade. June was marching with a Girl Scout contingent of several local troops and the rest of us were going to watch. But at 9:15 when it was time to leave, it was raining pretty steadily. I asked if she was sure she wanted to do it and she said yes. Beth had ironed three new Brownie badges onto her vest, since it will probably be the last time she wears it, and I’d dug through the bags of hand-me-downs in the basement to find a pair of khaki shorts since the girls were supposed to wear white shirts and khaki pants with their uniform vests or sashes. Noah wasn’t ready so June and I set out into the rain, with Beth and Noah to follow.

When we found the Girl Scouts it was a pretty small group and there were no girls there from June’s troop, which was a disappointment. After we’d been waiting for about fifteen minutes, a man came by with the news that there would be a half-hour rain delay, so we ended up waiting almost an hour in the rain before the parade started. But the rain cleared and the girls lined up to hold the banner and we bid goodbye to June and told her we’d meet her at the end of the parade. We made a stop at Spring Mill Bread Company, the new bakery in town, where we got coffee and pastries.

Then we walked down to the end of the parade route and waited for it to arrive. The parade was not as well attended as it usually is, so we didn’t need to get up from the benches outside the community center in order to see. There was the usual assortment of groups, starting with political candidates, a bagpipe and drum corps and various school and youth groups. There were multiple musical floats—playing everything from steel drums to zydeco, and dancers from different cultures and people walking dogs and people riding horses. They Boy Scouts rode their pinewood derby cars and the Girls Scouts had a fifteen-foot papier mâché statue of Juliette Gordon Low and a wagon covered with dolls in Girl Scout uniforms and that was enough to net them the prize for the best youth group.

Once we saw them arrive, I walked alongside them for the last two blocks of the parade and brought June back to Beth and Noah. We got funnel cake and ice cream—Beth said we were “taking a holiday from nutrition”—and we headed home. (I did pick some lettuce and the first two tomatoes from our garden for veggie BLTs at lunchtime and Beth made veggie hot dogs and fruit salad for dinner so the day was not entirely devoid of nutrition.)

June was very excited about the fireworks that night because she’s never seen them in her own hometown. I’ve always been strict, some might say to the point of being neurotic, about bedtime and as a result Noah never saw any fireworks anywhere until he was eleven. Last year we all saw them in Rehoboth (because there was no way I was going to pass up seeing them on the beach). I figured there was no putting that genie back in the bottle, so we were all planning to go to the Takoma fireworks together this year for the first time. It was made a little less stressful for me by the fact that the Fourth was a Saturday so June wouldn’t have to go to camp and dance and sing all day while sleep-deprived. And then, just before six we found out the fireworks were cancelled, or postponed rather, until Sunday. I was a little surprised because the rain was over, but they were concerned about the mud, I guess.

Neighboring jurisdictions were less cautious, however, so we were now faced with a choice. You can see the D.C. fireworks from the roof of Beth’s office building and her some of colleagues gather there every year, but in fifteen years of working for CWA, Beth’s never done it. She suggested we try it this year. I was hesitant, not sure what traffic getting out the city would be like, but I agreed. Sometimes I make an attempt to act like a normal person even if when I don’t feel like one.

Surprisingly, June resisted this plan. She really wanted to see the postponed fireworks in Takoma and she knew I would not let her stay up hours past her bedtime two nights in a row, but in the end we decided it made more sense to do it on a Saturday than a Sunday. (We also weren’t sure it wouldn’t rain the next day as well. It’s been an exceptionally rainy summer so far.) We had dinner at home and then drove into the city, stopping for microwave popcorn at Walgreens on our way. (The outdoor thermometer there said minus 196 degrees Fahrenheit. It was cool for July in the Washington area, but not that cool.) Once at Beth’s office we popped the corn and then went up to the roof where several of her co-workers and their families were mingling. There were a few elementary school-aged girls with paper and markers and June soon joined them. Noah found himself talking video production with the husband of the new Secretary-Treasurer of the union.

From the roof we could see two other rooftop parties. In one the participants seemed to have coordinated so everyone was wearing red, white, or blue tops. The fireworks started at 9:09, right on time. There were classic explosions, but also some innovations, like smiley faces and rings within rings. During the show June said, “If this is a dream, I hope I don’t wake up.” One advantage to not seeing fireworks until you are eight years old is that even the second year it’s pretty impressive. It lasted about fifteen minutes and then we were folding up our chairs and heading back to the car. Because we were far from the mall, traffic wasn’t bad at all. June, who’d been pretty zoned out in the car if not technically asleep, was in bed by 10:25 and asleep by 10:30 when Noah followed her to bed.

Sunday Beth, June, and I went to an outdoor pool and I made sour cherry sauce with cherries from the farmers’ market. We ate them with blueberries on vanilla ice cream as a belated Fourth of July treat. June wanted to watch fireflies in the yard while we ate, which I thought we could do without keeping her up past her bedtime again, based on the insects’ previous performance, but the darn bugs were tardy so she ended up staying up about twenty minutes past bedtime that night. I am considering this flexibility a demonstration of personal growth.

Musical Drama Camp, Week 2

The next week June went to camp every day again, and Noah and I held down the fort at home. He finished his summer math packet, started reading Into Thin Air, practiced his drums, vacuumed and mowed and weeded, continued to pick June up at camp and ran errands for me as well, picking up ice cream so I could make brownie sundaes and milk when we ran out.

The performance was Friday at 2:15. In addition to Olaf, June had a few small parts, including one she was assigned just the day before the performance. One of the Elsas was sick and she needed to sing her part in “Let It Go.” On the way to camp Friday morning, June was full of nervous energy.

We invited Megan to the performance and Noah and I picked her up at her house. Megan was very chatty on the walk to the community center and asked a lot of questions about which roles June would play and what songs she would sing. “I know why she wanted to be Olaf,” she commented, even though she had not discussed this with June. “She’s small and she’s funny.”

When we arrived at the auditorium, kids from another day camp in the same building who had watched the dress rehearsal were just leaving. We took our seats, splitting up so Noah could set up his tripod in an aisle and so Megan could sit as close to the front as possible. This ended up being fortuitous because Megan kept up quite the running commentary during the show. She was impatient for Olaf’s scenes and seemed to view all the others as impositions to endure. Whenever June was on stage she waved at her, but June kept in character and didn’t acknowledge her until she was in the wings, when she waved back. “So she did see me,” Megan said with satisfaction.

The cast was bigger than usual because Gretchen had two different age groups working on the same performance this year instead of doing two separate shows in separate weeks. So there were twenty-five kids, about evenly split between the two groups. The younger ones served as a chorus of Elsas, Olafs, and snowflakes. They wore white and changed only their hats depending on the scene.

What can I say about the show? It was wonderful. It gets longer and more polished as the core group of actors gets older each year. (The camp director just keeps shifting the age range upward so a lot of the kids come year after year. This is June’s fifth summer doing it.) The set was simple but cool. Boxes were stacked up to form a wall, with three sides painted to create different backdrops. Between scenes, they would flip them over to show the right one.

June played young Elsa in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” Her only line there was “Go away, Anna,” but it was delivered with a good amount of realistic older sibling scorn. She was a servant during the party scene, mopping the floor and sometimes dancing with the mop. She sang in a chorus of Elsas during “Let It Go.” There was only one solo line but a pretty long duet and her projection was great.

Here’s that number:

And then she was Olaf. I didn’t realize how many spoken lines she’d have. She was on stage for probably most of the second half of the show. And here’s her big solo, “In Summer.”

I have to say watching her play Olaf erased all my doubts about whether it was the right part for her. She nailed it, in my objective opinion. Noah even told her later that evening, “You were the best, the best actor,” and he doesn’t offer hollow praise so he must have meant it.

On Saturday morning we went berry picking at Butler’s Orchard and came home with a bounty of blueberries and blackberries. Today I’m making a blueberry kuchen because as I said when we were discussing what to do the berries, I am “contractually obliged” to make one blueberry kuchen every summer. And Beth commented that yes, she was pretty sure it was in our wedding vows. It’s like going to the beach and the Fourth of July parade and drama camp, and later in the summer, band camp and the county fair. These are the things we do in summer.

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.

A Merry Little Christmas

Christmas Eve

We spent Christmas at home again for the second year in a row. The kids’ first day off school was Christmas Eve, so after dentist appointments for both of them, we had lunch at Maggiano’s, a cavernous and ornately decorated Italian restaurant in the city. Then we went to see It’s a Wonderful Life at AFI. Though I didn’t have an opinion beforehand, afterward I wished we’d seen Miracle on 34th Street instead because it would have been easier to for June to follow. Nonetheless, everyone did enjoy the film. Beth and I used to watch It’s a Wonderful Life every year for a stretch from our mid-twenties to our early thirties and possibly not since then. I find it reads differently, more darkly and also more richly, when you’ve reached middle age yourself.

If it had been up to me, we would have just eaten our ample lunch leftovers for dinner and skipped cooking because I had a lot of wrapping and other last minute Christmas chores, but June had specifically requested chili, cornbread, and homemade applesauce for Christmas Eve dinner and she wanted to stick with that plan, so we did. After dinner we watched Christmas is Here Again, put June to bed, and I got to work.

Christmas

The kids were awake and whispering well before six, when they were allowed to get out of bed and open their stockings. When Beth asked June later what she’d been thinking about while she waited, she said she wondered what Santa had written in his thank you note for the gingerbread cookie and carrot we left him, so I was glad I’d remembered to ask Beth to write one while I wrapped presents and stuffed stockings.

Beth and I rolled out of bed at 6:45 and we commenced the present opening, without making the kids wait for us to eat breakfast, though I did make some peppermint tea for myself. June had proposed a new method of opening gifts. In my family everyone opens gifts one at a time, in a youngest-to-oldest rotation, but Beth’s family has everyone opening gifts at the same time. Having only done Christmas as a foursome once before, we have no set protocol. June wanted to take turns but to have everyone open all of his or her gifts in one turn. Beth tested June’s dedication to this idea by asking if she’d be willing to do it oldest to youngest and to everyone’s surprise she said yes, so we did it that way. (She must have really wanted to do this because she also let Noah have his choice of Christmas special on Christmas Eve, as a bargaining chip.) I think it might have taken as long to negotiate how we were going to open the gifts—over the course of a couple days—as to actually open them.

I won’t list all the gifts, but there were many books all around and gift certificates. Fancy teas and sweets were also popular. Noah got a pasta machine, a game, new lined Crocs, and a microphone. June got ice skates, a basketball, a doll dress-making kit, a set of CDs with stories about classical composers, and dog and sled set for her American Girl doll. After opening presents, June and I made cranberry-chocolate chip-walnut pancakes from a new cookbook she ordered from Scholastic.

I’d gotten Beth a mix for cheese dip and she wanted to make it for lunch but we didn’t have any cream cheese so I asked if anyone wanted to go for a walk and when no one did (I was pretty sure of this outcome ahead of time), I walked to the grocery store to get some to surprise her. It was pleasant to be outside on a secret errand, listening to Christmas music on my iPod.

I spent a good bit of the afternoon reading to both kids—The Long Winter to June and The Rogue Knight (a Christmas book) to Noah. Then it was time to make Christmas dinner. We had another tofu roast because June liked the one we had at Thanksgiving so well, plus stuffing, sweet potatoes, creamed kale, cranberry sauce, sparkling cranberry-apple juice, and Dutch apple pie—purchased from a fifth grader at June’s bus stop for their class trip fundraiser. (June will be in fifth grade before you know it and what goes around comes around.)

It was an enjoyable day, but it felt too short. I’d hoped to take a nap, or to have a long soak in the bath, or to read one of my Christmas books. It would be three days after Christmas before I even opened one, but then over the course of three days I read all of Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress, and it was worth the wait.

Boxing Day to New Year’s Eve

The day after Christmas we drove to Wheeling for a five-day visit with Beth’s mom and extended family. We stayed at a hotel but June spent the first two nights of our stay at YaYa’s house (she made her breakfast in bed one morning) and Noah spent the next two, so they each got some one-one-one grandmother time.

There were two family gatherings—one night Beth’s cousin Sean made Indian curries for a crowd (June played “Jingle Bells” for everyone that night and we contributed homemade gingerbread cookies) and another night Beth’s mom made spinach lasagna. Beth took June skating and I took her swimming in the hotel pool three times (once for almost two hours). We went to the playground and YaYa took June to church and to see Annie at a theater and watched Maleficent with her at home. Beth and the kids played Noah’s new game and the kids bought books at a local bookstore with gift certificates they got from Beth’s aunt Carole. I spent a lot of time the first couple days we were in Wheeling working on an outside (i.e. not for my sister) editing job, but once that was finished I had more time to read and relax. Noah also worked, doing long packets in preparation for upcoming county exams in geometry and Spanish.

One morning a friend of Beth’s mom took us on a tour of the Victorian mansion-turned-retirement home where she lives so we could see all the Christmas trees and decorations. There were at least a dozen trees, all with different themes. YaYa liked the snowman tree best. It had a snowman head for a topper, mittens coming out of the sides, snowman decorations, and two oversized boots underneath. June liked the angel tree and Noah liked the candy cane tree. (We got samples there.) It’s a really lovely facility, but one odd effect of the tour was that when I read a story in the Atwood collection that takes place in an upscale retirement home, of course I was picturing it taking place there, and as something truly awful happens in the story, that was a bit disturbing.

We also drove through the light display at Oglebay Park. Our old favorites—the candy cane wreath, the twelve days of Christmas, and the jumping horse were there of course, but there were also new displays-one of the tunnels had multi-colored lights that crawled across it and some of the huge evergreens had new lights—blue streaking ones and pretty white and gold ones. When we passed the lights that spell “Joy,” I said, “Look! It says ‘June.’” This is a family joke based on the time June was two and thought every word that started with J was her name, including this very light display.

Noah, who’d had a bad headache in the afternoon and taken a two hour, forty-minute nap, was quiet on the drive, not reading the brochure and playing tour guide as he usually does. Toward the end, he started to feel poorly again. We went back to YaYa’s house and he ate a banana and crawled back to bed. The rest of us ate leftover lasagna and then June and I went up to the bedroom where Noah was resting and I read an Edgar and Ellen book to both of them so he’d have some company.

I’d been reading about a lot of friends and kids of friends who’ve had the flu lately on Facebook, and Beth wasn’t feeling so hot either so I feared the worst, but the next day Noah seemed recovered and Beth, while tired and queasy, at least wasn’t violently ill. This was our last day in Wheeling and it was more low-key than the rest. We mostly hung around YaYa’s house.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day

We drove home the next day, arriving home around 4:30 on New Year’s Eve. We unpacked, did laundry, ate the Christmas Eve lunch leftovers I’d frozen and had a quiet evening at home, unless you count the noise of bickering kids who’ve been so well behaved at their grandmother’s they had a lot of pent-up arguing to do. Everyone was in bed by 9:45.

On New Year’s Day I had coffee with a friend from my grad school/adjunct days. Joyce lives and teaches in Indiana now but her parents live in the area so I often get to see her at Christmastime. We talked about work, kids, and marriage, and I was surprised to see when we checked the time that we’d been talking for two and a half hours. That’s how it is with good friends. It was a lovely way to ring in the New Year.

Thanks to all of you who read this blog in 2014, and Happy New Year!