Head to Toe

I think I’ve failed to mention here that June broke her ankle again. That actually happened around three weeks ago, at basketball practice. She got knocked over during a scrimmage and re-broke the growth plate of her right fibula, right where she broke it in October. She got a new boot and was getting around okay until her left foot started to bother her. We assumed it was strained from walking with the boot but about a week and a half ago the pain got worse and then she couldn’t walk at all. Beth took her to urgent care and they x-rayed that foot. It wasn’t broken, but she was rendered immobile. 

We took her to the end-of-season Panda party (hosted as usual by Talia’s family) because she begged to go, and we all ended up having a good time. June held court from her chair and when the girls wanted to go outside and run around, we helped her to a bench, where she could sit and watch. I think she might have been giving out clues in some kind of mystery game they invented.

She stayed home from school Monday and Tuesday there was no school because of a weather event. We got three inches of the white stuff. It was the first school cancellation of the year and it was unlikely June would have gone to school that day anyway so I couldn’t be too grouchy about it. It was kind of sad, though, because June was too hurt to go play outside and while I might have been able to convince Noah to take June sledding if she’d been able-bodied, he wasn’t going to do it alone, so everyone just stayed inside. I ghost wrote a blog post on apple cider vinegar and Noah worked on a research paper. (I did make hot chocolate for the kids and brownies that evening because Beth was in the mood, so I was not a completely inadequate winter mother and wife).

Megan came over for a play date and as June was bed-ridden, they decided to play hospital. Soon June’s room was supplied with an EKG graph, an IV line, and other medical accoutrement.

That night right before I got into the shower, June, who was in bed but not asleep, started complaining of dizziness. Beth said she’d come back and check on her in a little bit. When I got out of the shower, June was sobbing. The dizziness had worsened and she was seeing double. When June cried, “I can’t move my hands!” Beth said, “Call 911,” and I did.

Soon there were three paramedics in June’s bedroom. (I wondered later if they noticed the prescient medical décor.) They did a good job calming her down so she stopped hyperventilating and after asking some questions, they carried her out to the ambulance waiting in front of our house. I rode with her to the hospital and Beth and Noah followed in the car. I was grateful it hadn’t happened the night before when the streets were slushy.

We had to wait a little while in the ER, which Beth said was a good sign, that they weren’t taking her right away. Eventually, June got signed in. Beth and I could go with her to the exam room, but Noah had to stay behind. During a lull in all the tests, Beth drove him back home so he could get some sleep.

Over the course of the night, we saw many, many medical professionals and nearly everyone was truly kind, caring, and reassuring. (Over and over we had to say we were both June’s mothers and I thought how not very long ago, this would have been harder than it was for us. We were even in a Catholic hospital and it was a non-issue.)

June had an EKG, a CT scan, and an MRI, plus blood work. Everything was normal and her blood pressure, which had risen into the 140s over the 90s, probably from stress, also returned to normal. So, we knew she didn’t have a skull fracture, blood on her brain, or a brain tumor. (No one said anything about what they were looking for until they knew it wasn’t an issue, which I kind of appreciated, but of course Beth and I were both already thinking brain tumor, and not saying it to each other either.) However, despite all these tests, June still had all the symptoms that brought her to the hospital.

Around four in the morning, they transferred us to Children’s Medical Center, so June could see a pediatric neurologist. I rode in the ambulance again and Beth drove. It was eerie driving along familiar streets in downtown Silver Spring and D.C. in the dead of night. I was surprised how much traffic there was along Georgia Avenue, even though nothing but gas stations was open. The driver was kind of chatty so I asked him if he always worked nights. He said yes. I told him it was only my third time staying up all night and the first two times I was in labor.

All night June had been staying calm, putting up with new and scary tests and getting pricked with needles multiple times. She had an IV of saline at the first hospital and then another one with more saline and migraine medication at the second hospital. But soon after arriving at Children’s, she lost her resilience. She was crying and saying she just wanted it to be over and to go home. (I might have lost my composure earlier in the ordeal than she did.) One difficulty was that the IV fluids made her need to use the bathroom urgently and because she couldn’t walk and she couldn’t go in a bedpan, we had to get her unhooked and take her there in a wheelchair every time and this meant she was often uncomfortable because had to wait until someone could disconnect her IV.

But the second IV drip started to relieve some of her symptoms. She gradually re-gained the ability to move her fingers and toes and her hands warmed up. (They’d been ice cold earlier.)  The pauses between visits from medical professionals started to get longer and around 6:15 June fell asleep on her gurney and slept there most of the morning whenever she wasn’t being examined. Beth and I dozed off in our plastic chairs as well. I slept around forty-five minutes in two pieces.

When we got a diagnosis, it was complications of a migraine. It was a little surprising because although she did have a headache it wasn’t severe and it lasted all night, unlike her normal headaches, which are intense and relatively short-lived. But when June was first diagnosed with migraine-like headaches three years ago they told us the pattern could change around puberty and she is almost eleven.  They gave us a prescription for high-dose ibuprofen and a reference for an outpatient neurological consultation.

June was discharged a little after noon, improved but still a little dizzy and seeing double. The three of us slept all afternoon. When I woke up, I made a kale, potato, and mushroom soup because eating something nourishing seemed appealing.

June still couldn’t walk and I thought she could use another day to recover, so she stayed home Thursday. But I had a long phone conversation with the school nurse about everything that had happened over the past week and secured permission for June to use the health center’s wheelchair, which allowed her to return to school Friday.

I also tried to get her Saturday morning guitar lesson—have I mentioned she’s taking guitar?— moved off site because her music school is on the second floor of a building with no elevator. (They are expanding into a more accessible space eventually but it’s not ready.) We’d had to cancel her lesson the weekend before because of the stairs and I was on a mission to return her life to as close to normal as possible. I failed here, though, because they can’t do lessons outside the building for insurance reasons. So June practiced at home.

We have an appointment with a physical therapist on Monday and an orthopedist on Tuesday. Our neurologist appointment isn’t until May but they said if they get a cancellation they’ll see us earlier. We’re hoping soon June will be better from head to toe.

I’ll give Beth the last word. This is what she said on Facebook, on Wednesday: “I am grateful to have so many well-trained and caring health care professionals within a few miles of our house. I am grateful to have a job with good health insurance so that I didn’t even hesitate to take her to the hospital. I am more committed than ever to fighting to preserve the gains we’ve made in providing affordable health care to people living in the United States and look forward to the day when we make universal health care a reality.”

Before the Storm

I’m always a little baffled when other parents say they can’t wait for the school year to end because they are tired of the getting-off-to-school rush in the mornings. Speaking as a work-at-home mom, a little chaos in the morning seems a small price to pay for a whole day of quiet and calm. My summer weekdays consist either of trying to work with one or both kids home or they start with getting-off-to-camp rush, which unless Noah’s taking June to camp, generally means some kind of public transportation Odyssey that digs into my workday.

However, on the second to last Friday of the school year we did have a particularly memorable morning. In between 5:40 when the alarm went off and 7:25 when Beth drove Noah to school, Beth and I collectively:

  1. Convinced Noah that it was better to print his partially finished History chapter outline and turn it in than to turn in nothing because he was embarrassed not to have finished;
  2. Calmed a panicked June and removed a tick from her stomach;
  3. Spent a long time looking fruitlessly for Noah’s watch;
  4. Found Beth’s lunch on the kitchen counter and ran barefoot into the driveway with it before the car left.

All before I ate breakfast.

It was enough to make me think of two significant upsides to the end of the school year. Soon there would be considerably less homework drama and the alarm wouldn’t be going off so early any more. Whatever chaos unfolds before one or both kids leave for camp will take place a little later, maybe after I’ve eaten breakfast. And now we’re almost there. Noah’s last day of school was Thursday and June’s will be Monday. (If we’d made up all our snow days, hers would have been Tuesday, but I don’t suppose you want to hear me complain about how I got cheated out of day of uninterrupted work, so I will refrain.)

In some ways the end of the school year has seemed anti-climactic. June’s school didn’t have its almost-annual art show, Noah’s not in band so he didn’t have a concert, and he didn’t participate in the 9th grade CAP students’ public presentation of original one-act plays.

This was held at the community center a week and a half ago and I think he would have allowed us to attend, but one of his group members had a schedule conflict so they performed theirs in class instead and he didn’t want me to come to that. Noah was considering going to the showcase anyway, to support his classmates and to be available to be an extra in other groups’ plays—and if he had gone I would have, too—but his homework was crushing that week, with long review packets for his Physics and Spanish final exams and multiple history chapters to outline, so he didn’t go. (We also had to cancel a doctor’s appointment and a drum lesson so he could get through it and even so he ended up having to give up on the History.)

June had a few things going on, however. And there was something sad but important we all needed to do.

Saturday: Mystics Game

Gymnastics, running club, and orchestra all ended in May or the first week of June, but Girl Scouts kept going until last week, and the troop has been busy. They went on a camping trip the first weekend in June which featured kayaking and archery and a zip line and eating a great quantity of S’mores. (June reports she had five.) Beth chaperoned the trip and drove both Megan and Riana to the campground. She and June both came home tired and itchy from poison ivy but happy.

The next weekend, several local Girl Scout troops attended a Mystics Game. It was Star Wars night so before the game there were stadium staff wandering around in costume ready to pose for photos with fans. There was also a hair station where you could get Princess Leia braids.  Megan, Leila, and the troop leader all availed themselves of this service. There were also announcements about the visiting team attempted to “disrupt the Force” and a kids’ dance troop performed in Storm Trooper costume and several fans were picked form the crowd to come onto the court for a costume contest. The man in a Chewbacca costume won.

And speaking of going on the court, just before the game started, Megan’s little sister’s Girl Scout troop got to go out on the court and stand with the players during the National Anthem.

The game was fun. I am not a sports-minded person, but because of June in the past several months I’ve attended a college women’s basketball game at the University of Maryland, a gymnastics exhibition (also at Maryland), and now a professional women’s basketball game. I’m glad she expands my horizons this way, because it’s been a while, more than fifteen years since Beth and I went to a Mystics game (if we ever went—as with our concert-going history, all is blurry. Beth says she doesn’t remember but I think I do and it seems possible.)

During the game, I observed to Beth, “They’re better at this free throw thing.”

“Better than the Pandas?” she clarified. Well, of course. Who else would I mean? Fourth-grade-level play is my basketball standard, even if we occasionally go see high school girls or college women play.

Anyway, the game was close in the first two quarters, with the teams trading the lead back and forth. Both quarters ended with the Mystics just barely ahead. About halfway through the second quarter, June’s troop left for their on-court time. They were going to stand in two lines and give the Mystics high fives as they returned to the court. I swear I could see June smiling from my seat.

When the players are on the court and you’re in the stands it’s hard to tell how tall they are, unless one of the male referees approaches and you notice the players are all taller. But when your ten-year-old daughter and many of her friends are standing right next to them, looking like preschoolers, you realize, these are very, very tall young women. (Yes, professional basketball players are tall—this is the kind of insight you come here to read, right?)

When the girls returned, Beth and I took June and Riana to get ice cream. The lines were really long so we missed most of the third quarter. Something went seriously awry while we were gone. The Mystics got behind and although they made some progress closing the gap during the fourth quarter, they never caught up and lost the game 83-76.

The last three and a half minutes of the game were awful, not from a fan perspective (because I was only mildly invested in the outcome) but it was just too loud and overwhelming. They kept encouraging the fans to make noise and they sure did, yelling and beating these inflatable sticks everyone was issued on entering the Verizon Center.

And when I say the last three and a half minutes, I really mean fifteen or so because they kept stopping the clock for time-outs and foul-related free throws. Meanwhile, I just wanted the game and the screaming to be over. But the rest of the evening was pleasant and June found it quite satisfactory. We even stayed for the whole thing, which we had warned her we might not do if it ran too late. As it was we got home at 9:45, which is pretty late for the likes of us.

Tuesday: Girl Scout Potluck

The next Tuesday was June’s last Girl Scout meeting and there was a potluck. I am often a potluck slacker—hey, someone has to bring the chips and salsa—but this time I cooked. I brought a pan of quinoa with roasted chickpeas and vegetables. It was my friend Nicole’s recipe. Thanks, Nicole! It was a big hit.

Last year there was a dance performance at the potluck, but this year we just ate and then the girls got their badges and cookie-selling prizes. And then, June’s spring extracurricular activities were done.

Thursday: Vigil for Pulse

On Thursday night we all attended a vigil for the victims of the attack on the Pulse night club. This has been hard to talk about with the kids. Beth told Noah the day after and at dinner that night I thought we should tell June in case she heard about it at school and felt scared for us. In fact, as soon as we told her she started to list reasons why it couldn’t happen to Beth and me—we don’t live in Florida, we don’t go to night clubs. I could see her trying to convince herself. It was a heart breaking thing to have to watch. Some of her reasons were kind of spurious, but I didn’t knock them down. How could I?

A white lesbian friend with two black adopted boys posted on Facebook that her seven-year-old son said he wished she wasn’t gay. “My black son is worried about me being killed. I am worried about him being killed,” she noted sadly.

Meanwhile Beth reminisced about the first Pride we ever attended in Cleveland in 1989, how young we were (twenty-two) and how much has changed in the world since then. Thinking of the young people gunned down at the club, she said, “They will never see their dreams realized, they will never wonder at the changes.”

So when we heard there would be a vigil for the victims on Thursday night it felt important to go. We picked Noah up straight from his drum lesson and walked there. I haven’t been to a vigil in a long time but they haven’t changed much. I still know the words to the songs, I know how to shield a candle flame in the wind. It was June’s first one but she said it was about what she expected.

There were speeches and songs and the names of the dead were read. There were a lot of people there we knew and a lot we didn’t know, including a whole Boy Scout troop in uniform. The mayor and a City Council member and other Takoma residents spoke movingly. Afterward we walked through the crowd and hugged our neighbors and friends. It was good to be in a crowd of people who shared our fear and sadness and anger. It helped a little.

Friday: Wax Museum

But life goes on—it has to—and two days later, on the second to last day of school, June’s English/social studies class had a wax museum. Each student had researched a historical figure to represent and came to class in costume and with props. They lined up along a hallway outside their classroom and parents circulated listening to each child give a speech in character.

June was Mozart. She’d tidied up her corpse wig from Halloween by cutting it shorter, weeding out the black hairs in the white and putting it in a ponytail and she wore a white blouse.  From the waist down she was more twenty-first century in red and white striped shorts, but that didn’t show behind her table. In between giving her speech, she played her violin. I could hear it as Noah and I drifted through the crowd, listening to speeches by Frida Kahlo, Mary Cassat, Leonardo da Vinci, Claude Monet, Martin Luther King, Sonia Sotomayor, Jackie Robinson, Jim Thorpe, and other notable personages.

Back in June’s classroom, we watched a presentation of the class’s six-word memoirs. They started with an essay about a memory and then they had to boil it down to roughly six words. June’s was about her performance at Peanut Butter and Jam last winter and she had to coin a word to get hers into six words: It read “Nervexicted, but then music takes over.” It was a fun event. June was pleased that Noah, who had taken his last two exams the day before, was able to come, since he’d missed her orchestra concert.

Right after the wax museum, Beth, Noah and June all piled in the car and drove to West Virginia. Noah’s spending a week of R&R with Beth’s mom and June came along for the ride.

The Weekend Before the Storm

Left to my own devices from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening, I worked several hours, went out to dinner and lunch, finished reading a mystery, mowed the lawn, ran some errands, menu-planned for next week, and blogged. While I was out Saturday afternoon, I ran into another work-at-home mom I know and her greeting to me was, “Are you ready?”

I said yes because what else can you say? Summer is certainly not as hard as it was when the kids were younger (the mom in question has one in middle school, one in elementary school, and a toddler).  And whether I’m ready or not, summer will start when June gets home from school Monday afternoon.

I’m glad that unlike forty-nine of my brothers and sisters, I’ll be there to greet her when she gets off that bus.

Lovely Blossoms: Spring Break Report #1

On the first day of spring break June asked me some questions about her donor for a family history school project and I dug out his file, which I hadn’t looked at in years. I noted he’d taken a personality test and was an extrovert. I don’t think I paid much attention to this at the time we selected him, but it certainly explains a lot. For instance, we were looking at the file soon after June got home from back-to-back play dates, one at Megan’s house and then she and Maggie arranged to meet at the playground. Afterward, completely without irony, she said she hoped she had more to do the next day than she’d had to do that day because there had been too much down time. So it was a good thing we took her on a five and a half hour-excursion to the Tidal Basin the second day of spring break.

June wanted to dress like a cherry blossom for the occasion. She found pink sweatpants, socks, and crocs, but she had no pink shirts, so she settled on a white one, reasoning that some of the blossoms are white. She finished the outfit with a pink headband with white dots. Later on Facebook, Beth’s mom opined June made a “lovely blossom.” I have to agree.

Meanwhile, Beth wore a long-sleeved t-shirt with pictures of actual cherry blossoms she bought during some previous Cherry Blossom Festival. This was good, but Noah and I were in various shades of blue, brown, and gray and completely without floral design. Beth said I looked like a dead, dried up cherry blossom in my gray turtleneck, and June thought this was pretty funny. And actually, I had been feeling kind of like a dried up blossom for at least a week, headachy and easily fatigued.

We left a little before ten, took a bus to the Metro and then stopped at the Starbucks in Union Station for treats. Still in the cherry blossom spirit, June got a Cherry Blossom frappuchino. Beth tasted it and thought it was actually strawberry. I thought it might be raspberry, but I looked it up and she was right. It also had a green tea drizzle, either to evoke the stems or to give it an Asian twist. I decided to get into the spirit, too, and I got a cherry-oat bar and a hot green tea. Soon after I drank the tea, the caffeine chased my headache away and it didn’t come back the next morning as I feared it might.

From Union Station we took a circulator bus to the Tidal Basin. It was raining as we got off the bus and we’d elected not to bring umbrellas, which was seeming like a bad idea at the moment, but it wasn’t raining too hard and it stopped after ten or fifteen minutes so we didn’t get drenched.

We picked just the right day to go. We mainly picked it because Beth had the day off for Good Friday and the crowds would be less than over Easter weekend, but it happened to be the peak bloom day. All the trees were covered with puffy pink and white blooms, the slender saplings and the gnarled old ones. We walked all the way around the Tidal Basin, stopping at the MLK, Jefferson, and FDR memorials, reading the quotes carved in stone.

We lingered at the FDR Memorial the longest, because it’s the most interactive, with the most things to look at and read. I like the MLK memorial, but Beth and I were talking afterward about how they could have made it about the whole civil rights movement in the way the FDR memorial is about the Depression and WWII. From June’s point of view, the FDR memorial is the best because it has big blocks of stone to climb. Unfortunately, she slipped on the wet stone and banged the back of her head so hard it made an audible crack. Beth and I were checking her for signs of concussion the rest of the day but she seems to be okay.

On the way home, we had a late lunch at Union Station. The kids got pasta from Sbarro and I had a spinach Stromboli. Beth got avocado toast from Le Pain Quotidien and then June got candy from the Sugar Factory, and the rest of us got cupcakes from Crumbs. I thought the Cherry Blossom one, with pink frosting and cherry jam inside was the only choice, but they did have a wide selection of Easter-themed cupcakes, with jelly beans or Peeps on top. Noah got a chocolate one with yellow squiggle of frosting meant to evoke a chocolate egg.

By the time we got home it was almost three thirty. Noah and I read To Kill a Mockingbird and June did a phone interview Mom for her family history project and then we went out for pizza and gelato. It was a Good Friday indeed.

The Day that DOMA Died

So we’re almost two weeks into the kids’ summer vacation and a lot has happened.  Beth and the kids went camping, Noah spent a week at YaYa’s, Beth took a business trip to San Jose and June and I were on our own for the better part of a week. She went to drama camp at Round House and after the performance on Friday (the highlight of which was scenes from The Jungle Book), I took her out for pizza and frozen yogurt. Saturday we planted flowers in her garden plot, and went to see Monsters University, which she loved, and I watched her splash in the Silver Spring fountain for an hour and then we came home and made tacos, at her request.

So we had fun, but we did miss Beth and Noah.  When Beth fetched him and brought him home Monday we were all very pleased to be together again. He and June played from late afternoon through the evening without fighting and all the little routine things we did, eating dinner around the same table, listening to Noah read the word from his word-of-the-day calendar while all in the same room and not via video, even going to sleep knowing we were all under the same roof for the first time in ten days, made me happy.

That’s what it’s like to be a family, for us, right now.  Of course the kids’ truce didn’t last. In the past day for example, they’ve had a game-stopping argument about June’s dice-rolling technique while playing Mousetrap and then while June was writing “walnuts” on the shopping list, they got into it about whether the n should be written with or without a serif. But the point is we belong together and we all know it.

Yesterday the Supreme Court weighed in on the legal status our family, and that of the upwards of 71,000 legally married gay couples in the United States.

Is this going to be one of those “where were you when” kind of historical moments?  I think it might. So just in case, I’ll start there.  At ten a.m. yesterday morning I was reading a dystopian, post-apocalyptic YA novel called Rip Tide to Noah. (We share an interest in this genre.) June was at yoga-art camp. Beth, of course, was at work.  I kept glancing at the clock as I read.  We’d started at 9:20 and the plan was to read an hour.  I was trying to decide whether to take a break at 10:00 a.m. to see how the Supreme Court ruled on DOMA, or whether to keep reading. I decided to keep reading. The announcement might come late and I was pretty sure I was going to spend a good bit of June’s half-day camp reading about the decision online no matter which way it went.  Better to finish first.

A few years ago I would have switched on the radio to hear breaking news, now I go to Facebook to see what my friends are posting.  I didn’t even need to scroll to find out DOMA had fallen. Joyous posts and links abounded.  I didn’t see anything on Proposition 8 at first, because that decision had not been announced yet, but soon it was and then it was more joy all around. A high school friend said she had “The Day that DOMA Died” going through her head to the tune of “American Pie.”

It’s been a big year for gay marriage at our house. In November, our state legalized it and Beth and I were married on January 11, a mere ten days after it became legal. (“You didn’t waste any time,” a fellow Marylander who’s getting married to her partner this weekend told me.)  And now this: our marriage will be legally recognized by the federal government.  I will be the beneficiary of Beth’s social security if she predeceases me. We can file federal taxes jointly (which will save us money).  And Beth will no longer be taxed for my health insurance, provided by her employer (this will save us more money).

You might think our straight friends might have gay marriage fatigue by now, but with each legal hurdle cleared over the very eventful past eight months, they seem as excited as our gay and lesbian friends.  They volunteered, attended rallies, stayed up late to watch the election results, and offered congratulations.

The kids’ friends were supportive, too. Both of them had a friend use the same word–“stupid”– to describe the fact that gay marriage wasn’t legal (before it was in Maryland). It was harder for June’s friends (and June herself) to grasp the legal details of it all and what was really at stake.  In fact, last fall June’s friend Talia thought that if the argument was about whether or not gay marriage should be legal, that meant if the vote went the wrong way, Beth and I might be carted off to jail for being illegally married, and she was quite concerned about who would take care of June. Around that same time June was worried that the four of us might not be allowed to live together after the election.

We re-assured her and we thought she understood, but when the DOMA vote came up, she worried all over again that we might all be doing something illegal in living our lives.  And even though we explained that everything would be fine no matter how the election or court decision went, in a way, she and Talia hit on a core truth of the matter – it was about whether our lives are seen as legitimate.  It’s a hard lesson for a seven-year-old to learn, that not everyone looks at her family and sees a family. So that’s another reason the decision is a relief. It will give June a sense of security. I’m sure Talia is glad as well that her straight-ally mom won’t be dragging her any more gay marriage rallies because the speeches are so long and boring.

So, if you gave of your money or your time, can I say how grateful I am for your advocacy, and for the lessons you taught your kids in the process? I am, profoundly.

Later that morning, Noah and I were in the kitchen, making lunch. The radio was tuned to NPR and we were discussing making chocolate chip cookies and half-listening to The Diane Rehm Show, which was of course about the gay marriage decisions. When a puzzled-sounding man called in saying he didn’t understand how everyone was for gay marriage all of a sudden and no one even thinks it’s odd, I stopped talking so Noah could hear.  Living in a liberal enclave, he hardly ever hears anti-gay rhetoric and I thought maybe he should so he can better remember this historical moment. When the caller finished, Noah deadpanned, “I don’t think it’s odd. I’m pretty used to it.”

We did make chocolate chip cookies that afternoon. When I called Beth at work to chat about the decision and share June’s excellent fourth-quarter grades with her (June’s report card had just arrived in the mail), Beth joked we should make the cookies in the shape of equal signs.  I thought that sounded a bit tricky, but then I hit on the idea of arranging the chips into equal signs instead, so we did.  Beth dubbed them Equali-cookies. After dinner we got out some vanilla ice cream and assembled the cookies into ice cream sandwiches, and then we tasted the sweetness of equality.

Head for the Hills

School ended with a half-day on Thursday and Noah and Sasha ushered in their summer vacation with a five and a half hour playdate. It was a double-header, starting at our house immediately after school and moving in the late afternoon to Sasha’s where they swam in his family’s pool.

I was dubious about such a long playdate because Noah and Sasha’s friendship is an intense one. They have a lot in common; they have a lot of fun; they have a lot of arguments. But much to my surprise, they were extremely well behaved. I asked them to play outside during June’s nap so they pretended to be detectives solving a mystery in the yard, then they played snap circuits on the porch. Finally they moved inside and played Build-a-lot (http://www.arcadetown.com/buildalot/game.asp) on the computer. I didn’t hear a single argument. Noah confided to me later that they did argue, “but we did it quietly,” which was fine with me. An argument I don’t hear is one I don’t feel tempted to referee and one that might even help Noah learn to solve his own conflicts.

Friday we spent most of the morning running errands. Because of this, it was three in the afternoon before Noah used up all his television and computer time. Otherwise it surely would have been earlier. It was the first full day of summer vacation and he hasn’t learned to pace himself yet. “Is every day of summer going to be like this?” he whined.

“Like what?” I asked.

“No more tv. No more computer. Nothing to do.”

It was a good question. There will only be five weeks this summer when Noah’s not in day camp and we will be on vacation for two of them. Still, it could be a long three weeks if I don’t get more creative with activities for him and if he doesn’t get more independent about entertaining himself when I’m occupied with June or housework or the several hours of work a week I do for Sara. Still, nothing seems as charged as it did last year when we felt so bad about the rough spring he had that we were anxious for his summer to be perfect. He’s had a good year academically and a decent one socially. A few boring weeks at home won’t be the end of the world. A little boredom could even be a good thing if it spurs him to get out a rut and find new ways to have fun.

We spent all day Saturday and yesterday morning running errands, housecleaning and packing for our trip to Beth’s parents’ house. Beth’s folks haven’t seen the kids since Thanksgiving so a trip to Wheeling was our first priority once school was out. We drove half the distance Sunday afternoon, and then we stopped to camp at Rocky Gap State Park (http://www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/western/rockygap.html). After we settled into our cabin we headed down to Lake Habeeb for a swim. Noah practiced his swimming with Beth while June and I went back and forth between the water and the lakeside playground. June scrambled up a rope ladder until she was higher than my head and I had to hold my arms up to spot her. She swung in a new (to her) kind of bucket swing, the kind that’s open in the front, with a belt to secure her. “It’s broken,” she said at first, then grinned when she realized she would be only semi-enclosed. As she swung, she watched a boy climb up the outside of a tunnel slide with rapt attention; she was no doubt making plans for the future.

Back in the lake, she kept trying to wade too deep into the water until Beth and I settled down sitting in the water a few feet apart with water up to our chests and she amused herself walking back and forth between us.

A girl of eight or nine crawled over to us with just her head out of the water. June stared. The girl asked how old she was and said she was pretty. An older girl and a younger boy trailed her and joined us. The boy, who was about Noah’s age, demanded to know why June was so small if she was two. She didn’t look any bigger than his one-year-old brother. The girls tried to hush him with little success. I said she was small for her age.

After chatting for a while one of the girls asked Beth if she was Noah and June’s aunt. No, their mom, Beth replied. Who was I? Also their mom. The boy was shocked and skeptical. How could we be both be their mothers? Who would we marry? Each other. We’d had a wedding and now we had two kids. But why? Because we love each other. The boy said emphatically that women should not get married. We might kiss! Yuck! The girls starting telling him to be quiet, a bit more vigorously than before and then they started to splash him when he didn’t listen. He ignored them and went on in the same vein. Beth was magnificent, remaining calm and matter of fact throughout, eventually ceasing to offer explanations and just repeating, “Well, that’s your opinion.” I was silent.

Noah, who as far as I knew was listening to his first anti-gay tirade, was quiet for a long time. When the boy said it was impossible for two women to be a couple, he finally piped up, “But me and my sister Juney have two moms,” as if that settled everything. He didn’t sound upset, just a little baffled at the whole exchange. “It’s not the usual thing,” he added as a concession.

As we drove back to the camping cabin, Beth said, “Well, we gave that family something to talk about tonight.” I was struck by the irony that this conversation had occurred on Father’s Day and on the day of the gay pride festival in D.C., and on the eve of the first legal gay weddings in California (http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/state&id=6184802).

Beth and I spent the evening on separate but occasionally intersecting tracks. Beth was trying to coax a fire out the green firewood we’d bought at the camp office. I chased June through the woods, down into the ravine, along the camp road, into neighboring campsites. She was curious and excited and tireless and fast. Really, really fast. I was glad for the chance to catch my breath when she paused at the picnic table to eat. Beth had managed to warm baked bean and veggie hot dogs over the balky fire, but the noodles were a gummy mess because the water never boiled. June ate heartily—two hot dogs and a big pile of beans. Noah, who doesn’t care for hot dogs or beans, and for whom the noodles were intended, ate nothing. The camp store was closed, we’d lost the emergency food I carry in the diaper bag and there was nowhere nearby we could drive to get him a snack. It was late, too, 8:45 by the time we got the kids to bed.

Beth and I sat on top of the picnic table in the gathering dark. “We are never leaving Takoma Park,” she pronounced. Living there, where no one has ever told Noah he can’t have two moms, has helped create his nonchalant attitude toward his unconventional family, though his self-confident temperament no doubt helps, too. And it’s not only homosexuality Noah sees as normal. Several of his friends (Jill, Sadie, Maxine and Ruby to name a few) are mixed-race and he knows Latino kids with white parents and even two white boys with a white mom and a black mom. His idea of family is not restricted to heterosexual couples with kids all biologically related and of the same race. In fact, when I was pregnant with June, he asked me what race I thought she might be. I don’t think he was wondering if the donor was of a different race than me. I think he imagined race was randomly generated. He can be naïve about the world (he is remarkably innocent of sexism) but it’s a healthy naiveté, one that I hope will give him an expansive sense of possibility about his own life when he’s older.

Still, we decided we’d better talk to him about what the boy at the lake said, just in case he had any questions. This morning in the car as we drove to breakfast, I asked if the conversation had bothered him. “Why should it?” he asked. “It was just his opinion, not fact.” I probed a bit more, asking if anyone had said things like that to him before. “Never,” he answered. “No one ever said women shouldn’t marry, but sometimes they ask why I have two moms.”

“What do you say?” Beth asked.

“I say because my two moms married.”

“Well, I guess that’s the answer,” Beth said.

After breakfast, we drove the rest of the way to Beth’s folks’ house. It’s a haven, smaller than Takoma Park, but nurturing and full of love. I can’t and shouldn’t try to protect Noah from everything—from arguments with a good friend, from boredom, from the occasional glimpse of homophobia. In small doses, these are learning experiences he needs. But I was still glad, gladder than usual, to see him bolt out of the car, run to Andrea and John’s front door, and straight into Andrea’s arms, secure in the adoration of the grandmother who couldn’t love him more if he were a blood relative.

Rainbow, Rainbow, Rainbow

I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels–until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!

From “The Fish,” by Elizabeth Bishop
(www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-fish/).

We finally marched in the Pride parade’s family contingent this year, after years of considering and never getting around to it. In June 2001, our first Pride season as parents, we didn’t even manage to watch the parade, even though it passed a mere three blocks from our apartment in the very gay neighborhood between Dupont and Logan Circles in D.C. We tried to go, but Noah was a month old, and getting out of the house was a major undertaking for newbie parents like us. By the time we made it to the corner where we meant to watch, the parade had come and gone. We moved to the suburbs the next May and we didn’t even try to go the next few years, as Pride conflicted with our annual trip to Rehoboth Beach. Noah, who loves pageantry of all kinds, didn’t see a Pride parade until he was four, but when he did, he was favorably impressed with the Mardi Gras beads everyone was wearing and the people throwing candy and the generally festive atmosphere. He even expressed a career goal of being a man who dances on a float in his underpants for a few weeks after the parade. He enjoyed it so much we decided the next year we’d march with Rainbow Families (http://rainbowfamiliesdc.org/). After all, if watching it was fun, marching should be even better. But that year Noah was invited to a birthday party the same day as the parade. We thought we could just make it (even with two-and-a-half-month-old June in tow) but the magician’s act ran late and we ended up not going.

This year when Noah was again invited to a birthday party (for a different boy) on the same day as the Pride parade I experienced a powerful sense of déjà vu. This is just never going to work out, I thought. But Beth pointed out that even though the party was at Sean’s parents’ farm (an hour northwest of Takoma and at least an hour and a half from the parade site) it ended at 3:00 and the parade didn’t start until 6:30. We’d miss some of the stroller/scooter/bike-decorating pizza party that started at 4:00, but it was do-able.

So we all set off for Sean’s parents’ farm, Black Ankle Vineyards (www.blackankle.com/our_story.html), late that morning. The party was a several-hours-long, whole-family affair. The farm was lovely, with lots of room for the kids to run around, cows and chickens for them to visit and a pickup truck to drive them around. Beth and I enjoyed adult conversation (that scarce commodity) with other parents and June had a blast, too. She insisted on playing everywhere Noah had played after the screaming herd of six-year-olds had moved on to their next game. She wanted nothing to do with the tiny inflatable wading pool where Maxine’s one-year-old brother Malachi and Joseph’s seven-month-old sister Isabel splashed. Only the big kids’ pool would do, so I went wading with her. When the big kids played on the Slip ‘n Slide, she watched with interest until they were finished, then she tugged at my hand so she could go toddle up and down its length with Sean’s two-year-old sister Lucy.

We ended up staying until 3:30, a half hour after the party’s official end time, because we didn’t want to miss the piñata and the cake. Once the cardboard and crepe paper Sponge Bob was demolished and its contents disgorged, and the farm-equipment decorated cake was sliced and eaten, I changed June out of her bathing suit and into a clean outfit, denim shorts and a “Let My Parents Marry” t-shirt. Jazmín’s mom Margaret noticed it and said to June very seriously, “I agree!”

We piled into the car and drove to the city. By the time we reached the church, which was serving as the staging area for Rainbow Families, it was 5:30. Beth drove off with June to park the car at the end of the parade route and I took Noah inside. He read aloud with excited recognition the words on the Rainbow Families banner hanging outside the church and the hand-lettered “Love Makes a Family” sign someone was carrying. He remembered both from the Rainbow Families Kids’ Camp he attended one Saturday in April.

In the church basement parents and kids were decorating their wheels and eating. The large room hummed with the energy of scores of exited kids and someone played a rollicking tune on the piano. Noah carefully chose a red crepe paper streamer and a plastic rainbow-colored one to wrap around his scooter. Then we went to eat. I found him a slice of plain pizza, but detecting a few specks of green herbal matter on the gourmet pizza from Alberto’s (our favorite takeout pizza from our urban days), he declared it “not plain.” He dined on potato chips and apple juice instead. I put a cereal bar in my pocket for him to eat later. I thought his scooter was finished, but he told me he wanted to make a sign for it so we headed back to the decorating area and snagged the very last piece of cardboard. Clearly he was paying attention at Kids’ Camp because he knew exactly what to put on such a sign. He instructed me to write, “I Heart My Moms!” and to fill in the heart with rainbow stripes. As a finishing touch, he decided the point of the exclamation point should be heart-shaped. I was torn between trying to get him to do it, since I knew he could, and doing it myself because time was short and people were already drifting out of the church. I took the path of least resistance and lettered the sign myself.

We sat on the grass outside the church, waiting to line up for the parade. As we waited, we spotted Beth and June. I handed Beth a couple slices of pizza. “Alberto’s!” she exclaimed, recognizing the rectangular slices. I’d forgotten to bring any decorating materials for the stroller, but Jack Evans, a D.C. council member, was on hand passing out Mardi Gras beads and I found some scraps of yellow and purple crepe paper lying on the street and soon we were in business.

Rainbow Families was near the front of the parade (in deference to bedtimes) so we got moving pretty quickly after lining up. Once we’d been marching a couple blocks and we came to an area thick with spectators, Noah realized the thunderous applause coming from the curb was for us. He didn’t say anything, but the surprise and wonder of the moment was clear on his face. Suddenly I felt wonder too, a wonder I haven’t felt at Pride in a long time.

Beth and I have been going to Pride since 1988, when we went to Cleveland Pride, not quite a year into our relationship. I was twenty-one and almost as nervous as I was excited to be in a crowd of that unknown quantity, the adult homosexual. Since our baby dyke days, we’ve been to Pride in Iowa City, D.C. New York, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. When Beth worked at HRC (www.hrc.org/), she often had to staff the booths at D.C. and New York Pride and it became almost more business than pleasure for both of us. It’s been a long time since it was anything more emotional than a pleasant afternoon or evening outing, not that different from Takoma Park’s eccentric little Fourth of July parade, an opportunity for the community to gather, celebrate and be a little silly. But when I saw that look in Noah’s eyes, I was momentarily transported to a time when Pride was truly thrilling, when the crowd in its vibrancy, diversity and exuberance could bring tears to my eyes. Victory filled up our little boat and everything was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!

Living in a liberal enclave like Takoma Park, where signs supporting gay marriage dot the lawns of gays and straights alike, and no new acquaintance blinks when I mention Noah and June’s “other mom,” I must have thought I didn’t need the applause of strangers. But strangers or not, they are my people and I think I do need to hear them cheer at least every now and then.

Maybe I would have predicted this reaction if I’d thought more about the actual experience of marching in the parade and less about the logistics of making it happen. I know from my decades of spectatorship that the contingent of parents and kids always gets some of the most enthusiastic and sustained cheers, often second only to PFLAG (www.pflag.org/). So many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community feel estranged from their own families that the sight of kids with their “I love my moms” and “I love my dads” signs and the middle-aged to elderly marchers with their “I love my gay son” and “I love my lesbian daughter” signs always touches the crowd in a profound way. Also, in a community whose children so frequently come into existence after years of planning and saving for adoptions and inseminations, there are a lot of people longing for children who don’t yet have them. As we marched, I thought I saw some wannabe moms pointing and melting at the sight of June, who was obliviously playing with beads and trying to eat the crepe paper on her stroller.

The parade wound its way through our old neighborhood. We showed Noah the street where we lived when he was a baby, the playground where we used to take him, and the office of the non-profit where I worked before going back to grad school. (“You used to work in an office? Like Beth?” he exclaimed. It was apparently a revelation.) By the time we’d reached the Thomas Circle neighborhood, where Beth used to work at HRC, his energy was flagging and Beth was pushing him along on his scooter more and more often. Finally, the parade was over. After few blocks, on our way to the car, I noticed that most of the couples pushing strollers were straight and I felt a little shock of re-entry. At the car, I stripped the stroller of its beads and crepe paper so it would fold up properly.

A man in a car waiting at the light asked in a slightly disgruntled tone if we’d come from “a homosexual march.”

“Yes!” said Beth cheerily and hopped into the car. We divvied up the candy we’d gathered along the route and drove home with its sweetness lingering in our mouths.

I Wish I May, I Wish I Might

About a week ago Noah and June and I were sitting on the front porch enjoying a mild, sunny afternoon. He had just come off the school bus and I was inspecting the contents of his backpack when he said, “Tengo dos mamás y un papá.” He’s in a Spanish immersion program and we occasionally have short conversations in Spanish. This sounded like one I wanted to navigate in English, however.

“Who’s the papá?” I asked.

“The man who gave the…” he paused, searching for the word sperm, couldn’t find it in any language and waved his hand impatiently. “You know,” he concluded.

“The sperm?” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Well, we usually don’t call him a father,” I said. “We call him a donor.”

“Why?”

“Donor means someone who gave something and he gave something, but he isn’t raising you.”

“Oh.” He was quiet for a minute. I thought the conversation might be over, but then Noah was saying he wished he could meet his donor.

I told him that when he was eighteen he could contact the sperm bank and if the donor had kept his contact information current and consented, they could meet. “Would you like to do that?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, brightening considerably. He didn’t seem at all discouraged by the prospect of waiting more than twelve years. Just the prospect of a meeting, however iffy and far in the future, seemed to satisfy him.

What I didn’t tell Noah was that though the sperm bank will not put children in contact with their biological fathers until they are eighteen, finding half-siblings is considerably easier and can be done at any time through an independently-run online registry. The next day in a very short period online, I found a posting from a couple looking for vials of frozen sperm from Noah’s sold-out donor (a strong indication, but not proof they already have a child or children by him) and a whopping seven confirmed half-siblings for June.

I have known about the registry for some time, but I never looked at it since Beth gets prickly at the mere mention of any contact with either the children’s donors or their half-siblings. Sometimes I am baffled by this; sometimes I understand. Drawing attention to the other half of their genetic heritage underscores that she has no part in it. Even though I didn’t register Noah or June on the site, she was initially irritated that I even looked. I wanted to know, though, what information was out there. It might be useful the next time Noah asks me something. Beth and I do agree it will ultimately be up to the children what, if any, contact to initiate. For now, we are following Noah’s lead. If it occurs to him to ask if the donor helped make any other children, we will tell him what we know.

Then yesterday fathers came up again. Noah had stayed home sick after waking up vomiting. After his normal fashion, however, he seemed pretty hale and hearty shortly thereafter. At two o’ clock, there was an assembly, the culmination of spirit week at his school. He hadn’t wanted to miss it, so after lunch I asked if he wanted to go to school just for the assembly and he said yes. The last day of spirit week was “Put on Your Thinking Cap” day so after some careful consideration, he put on his wizard hat. We were walking on the path by the creek, about halfway to school when he said, “Some people in my class think it’s strange to have two mothers.”

“Yeah?” I said. He didn’t expand, so I said. “I bet Jazmín doesn’t since she knows Ari and Lukas and they have two mommies. Sometimes when you’ve never heard of something it seems strange, but then when you do, you get used to the idea.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Did anyone say anything that made you feel bad?”

“No, no-one said you have to have a father. But they said some things about fathers that aren’t true.”

“Like what?”

“Like that fathers have to be strong.”

We were quiet for a little while longer and then he said, “Some people in my class have robots. I want to build a robot. Sean has one, but no-one has one that they built themselves.”

“I suppose we could look for a robot kit for your birthday. Would you like that?” Even as I said it, I wondered if we could find one appropriate for his age. If we didn’t and bought one anyway, Beth would end up doing all the work.

“Yeah.” A little more quiet. “You know, in the two times I left a tooth, I never saw the Tooth Fairy.”

“Well, she’s pretty sneaky.” He went on to announce his plans to try to stay up the next time he lost a tooth and catch a glimpse of the secretive sprite. By then we were crossing the little bridge that goes over the creek and we were in sight of the school. Noah hoped there would be a storyteller at the assembly, like the last time.

Neither of us was really prepared for what followed, however. It was a pep rally, gearing up the older students for the Maryland Schools Assessment they would be taking the next week. I parked June’s stroller next to the back row of folding chairs and we took our seats. It was hot in the room, so Noah removed his wizard hat. His curly, light-brown hair was full of glitter from the brim. Soon the rally started. The school mascot Terry the Tiger made an appearance and let me tell you that tiger knew how to work a room. Children cheered and reached out their hands to shake his as he walked down the aisle. It was as if he were a rock star, or Bill Clinton. The spirit stick was awarded to one of four classes with 100% hat participation, after their teacher’s name was drawn from a hat to break the tie. Teachers danced and performed a rap about the MSA. There was a parody of American Idol in which the contestants (played by fifth-graders) instead of singing, read their BCRs (brief constructed response, or in plain English, short essays) about the nutritional value of strawberries. The judges (played by teachers) then went over the strong and weak points of each essay, while staying in character as Randy, Paula and Simon. Noah, who has never heard of American Idol, was completely lost. I haven’t seen it, but I at least know enough about it to follow the skit. Next, a teacher quizzed students on how to write a three-point BCR (answer the question, supply evidence from the text, and extend your answer). Prizes were awarded for correct answers. Finally, inflatable sticks were passed out. It turns out they make an impressive noise if hundreds of elementary school students bang them on their palms at once while chanting “Go team! Do your best!” Throughout the rally I was in turns amused, inspired and heartbroken by all the hard work the students and teachers were doing and all the ridiculous stress placed on these tests. The stakes are high, especially at a school like Noah’s with its high proportion of poor and immigrant students. I’m not saying the teachers should be going about their preparation a different way. I just know that as we left I felt a little depressed.

As we walked home I thought about the things Noah wants this week: to meet the man who helped make him, to build a robot, to see the Tooth Fairy. Then I thought about all the tests he will have to take in the years to come. I resolved to stop at the playground on the way home and to look for a robot kit.