Acting Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Room of One’s Own

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While She Was Gone

Trip 1, Beth and June: Thursday to Wednesday

Beth had two back-to-back work trips the first two weeks of August. Except for one night at home, she was gone for ten days.  June was gone most of that time, too, because Beth took her with her when she left for the first trip (the CWA convention in Pittsburgh) and dropped her off in Wheeling with her mom for a week of what the kids call Camp YaYa. She hung out with various relatives, ate cupcakes with Beth’s aunt Carole to celebrate her eightieth birthday, went swimming three times, saw a production of Godspell and The Emoji Movie, and spent the night in a treehouse cabin with YaYa. Noah’s been visiting YaYa for a week every summer since he was about June’s age or a little younger, so she was glad to finally get her turn.

At home, Noah and I were left to our own devices. He was at drama camp during the day the last three days June was gone, but we found time to finish the first book in the Dark Tower series, start the second one, and watch Psycho and The Birds. I didn’t cook anything much more demanding than pasta or frozen foods for dinner (except one night when I made a big vegetable stir-fry) and I got a lot of work and a little reading of my own done. It was nice to have both the one-on-one time with him and some time alone.

I started thinking about our fall garden, as a lot of our summer plants are dying prematurely this year and I didn’t want the garden to be over in mid-August. I planted carrot seeds in an unused plot, cilantro in a couple pots, and cauliflower, chard, and lettuce seeds in a starter tray because those seeds were a little old and I wasn’t sure what would come up. When I have a better sense of what’s going to germinate and survive the seedling phase, I may buy some starts to fill in the gaps. So far, there’s cilantro and carrot tops coming up and I see several promising-looking chard seedlings.

Since I had time sit on the porch a little while every morning, I also enjoyed what we already have in the yard. The resurrection lilies bloomed right on time the first week of August. They’re all done now. One morning during a delightfully cool spell, while I was sitting on the porch, wearing long sleeves and socks and drinking hot tea, I noticed a hummingbird sipping from the flowers on the volunteer trumpet vine that’s taking over our side fence. And as I was looking in that direction, I further noticed that the black cherry tree I planted in the side yard nine years ago was bearing fruit for the first time. (This is about on schedule apparently. They start to produce fruit when they’re ten years old and it was a sapling when I planted it.) The fruit is tiny and bitter, so I’ll leave it for the birds, but I’m glad the tree is healthy and developing as it should, especially since we have a couple of ailing silver maples in the front yard that may need to come down, which makes me very sad.

Intermission: Wedensday

Wednesday afternoon, Beth returned with June. I was happy to have everyone under one roof, if only for night, so I made a summery feast–yellow squash and corn soup, blueberry muffins with frozen berries we’d picked last month at the berry farm, and slices of one of the last garden cucumbers, and peaches from the farmers’ market. Beth left for Netroots Nation in Atlanta early the next morning, before I was even awake. Having seen her for a few hours made me miss her sharply, more than I had during the six and a half days she’d just been gone. But this was a shorter trip. She’d be returning late Saturday night.

Trip 2, Beth: Thursday to Saturday

I worked Thursday and June helped me clean the bathroom and make dinner (blueberry pancakes with more of the frozen blueberries). Friday I took off work. I was intending to take June to the library and the Long Branch pool, as I haven’t been to an outdoor pool all summer. But when I looked up the hours, I found it’s closed on Fridays and the Piney Branch indoor pool where I swim laps every Sunday is only open early in the morning and late afternoons and evenings on weekdays. This might have worked most days, but late afternoon was out because Noah had a drama camp demonstration we were planning to attend.

It was already shaping up to be a challenging day. I’d woken with a mysterious itchy rash on my right arm. Then while I was making a run to the Co-Op for milk, I lost my SmarTrip and my phone gave me an ominous warning about a virus I thought was probably fake but just to be safe I decided to power it down and leave it off until Beth got home and could look at it. Nothing seemed to be going according to plan.

So, I thought about it and made a new plan. June had been wanting to go on a picnic for a while so I suggested that. She was right on it, making pasta salad and sugar cookies while I was running my errands. I suggested something with protein might be a good idea, so we also took some veggie turkey slices, and I threw some fruit into the bag as well. The sky was looking threatening, but we packed umbrellas and headed out for the playground. We ate at the picnic table and then June waded in the creek. She didn’t want to swing or use any of the equipment, which made me think about how my kids have been coming to this playground since we moved to Takoma when Noah was a year old, but now our playground days are close to over.

Back at home, June helped me clean the kitchen, without complaint. Before he left for camp that morning, Noah had mowed the back lawn, also without complaint. It made me reflect that kids growing up is not all bad.

The trip to Round House Theatre was nerve-wracking because the first of the two buses we needed to take was twenty minutes late and for most of the trip I was sure we’d miss the second one and possibly Noah’s presentation. But we just barely caught it and we arrived ten minutes early. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt the weariness I often feel after stress settle over me.

The topic of the camp was theater design and for a week the campers focused on a play that Round House is producing this fall, working on sketches of costumes for characters, brainstorming props, experimenting with lights, painting scenery, and designing background sound. Individually and in groups, they gave presentations on each of these topics. Noah and two other boys presented on the sounds they would use in a specific scene in the play. This was Noah’s third time in the theater design camp and he presented on sound the last time around, too. I guess he’s specializing. He brought home some blueprints he made, the cue sheet for his sound plan, and some faux marble tile he’d painted. It was all very interesting and Noah said the camp put him in the mood to see a play sometime soon, so I hope we do.

I would have liked to stop in Silver Spring for dinner where we switched buses, but Megan was supposed to sleep over, so we needed to get home. We arrived at home to find a phone message letting us know she was sick and couldn’t come after all. June took it hard because the sleepover had been planned for a while and Megan’s family was about to leave for a three-week trip so it couldn’t be re-scheduled any time soon. It was seven when we got home and I ordered a pizza which didn’t come until past eight o’clock. We were all hungry and tired it was a discouraging end to the day, but we tried to salvage it with a game of Sleeping Queens before June went to bed.

Saturday was my rash was no better and now June had it too on her leg. The day was better, though. I took her to the library and the indoor pool because it looked like rain, although it didn’t until evening. We’ll go to the outdoor pool eventually. There’s still three weeks of summer break left. I was also glad Beth was coming home, though thunderstorms in D.C. delayed her flight.

We were messaging a lot all through that day and since she was at Netroots, it sometimes turned to politics: “All the sessions have been interesting but it feels a little precious to be talking about messaging when armed white supremacists are marching in the streets to protect symbols of the Confederacy,” she wrote.  It made me remember when she was at Netroots two years ago and the big drama was a blowup between Black Lives Matter activists, Martin O’Malley, and Bernie Sanders. That seems like it happened in a different country. We have slid so far backwards, so fast, it’s frightening. Except that’s not exactly it. People haven’t suddenly gotten more racist, they have gotten more willing to show it. In any case, it was a good reminder that Beth was doing important work on her travels, however uncertain the results.

First Day Home

But I am glad she’s home (as of 12:15 a.m. Sunday), because I miss her when she’s gone. And even though she was probably exhausted, the first day she was back she went grocery shopping and then we went to the Montgomery County Fair to look at farm animals, eat unhealthy food, play carnival games, and go on rides. The whole time we were there I was struck by the diversity of the crowd and our county—blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos, women in headscarves and others in the garb of Orthodox Jews. I told Beth that night as we were dropping into bed, a little past our bedtime, that everyone wants to eat fried dough and go on rides that take us high into the sky. “Those are culturally universal values,” she joked.

Meanwhile all four of us are planning to go to a rally in support immigrants (specifically the Dreamers) tomorrow morning in front of the White House because there’s important work to do at home, too.

We Know the Way

Girl Scout Camp

About a week ago, Beth and I drove out to Southern Maryland to pick June up from Girl Scout sleepaway camp, where she’d been making calzones and mac-and-cheese in an outdoor cooking-themed program. Of course, she also swam in the pool, kayaked in the pond, did archery, and spray-dyed a t-shirt. (It’s like tie-dying but with no knots and a spray bottle of dye.) She also learned a lot of songs and ghost stories we’ve been hearing since she got back.

One of the most exciting things that happened to June at Camp Winona was that after two years of being put in the lowest swimming group and confined to the shallow end of the pool, she was placed in the highest of the three groups and allowed in the deep end. She’d been plotting about this for years. She tried taking swimming lessons in the spring of fourth grade in hopes of getting in a better group, but to no avail. This year she decided she was going to swim breast stroke during the test because she had a theory it impressed the camp staff when anyone did this and they automatically put them in a higher group. The only flaw in the plan was that she doesn’t know how to do the breast stroke. But when I saw a picture of her in the daily photos the camp releases playing with a pool noodle right next to the tile on the pool wall that said “7 feet, 10 inches,” I thought her plan might have worked. It turns out breast stroke wasn’t an option this year, so we’re not sure what happened, but we were happy because it was important to her and, as always, I admire her persistence and strategic thinking.

Choir Camp

June had a day to relax before it was time for her next camp. Choir camp orientation was Sunday afternoon. In addition to a couple of information sessions, the campers had their first practice and parents were invited to observe, so I tagged along. The choir director had them do some posture and breathing exercises and then some vocal warmups before he introduced them to their five songs.

Three of the songs had a water theme: “Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie,” “The Quiet Sea,” and “We Know the Way,” from Moana. This song is partly in English and partly in Samoan. They also sang a sixteenth-century French song, “Je Ne Fus Jamais Si Aise” and “In My Life.” When the director asked how many people had heard of the Beatles song, only about half the kids’ hands went up and June’s was not among them. I’ve noticed over the years that band, orchestra, and choir concerts are an excellent way for kids to learn the music of their parents’ and grandparents’ day.

They started practicing. Beth said she found it very interesting how the director stripped the songs down into little pieces to start working on them in different combinations—only sopranos for one bit, altos for another, sopranos and baritones together—rather than having everyone sing together as they would eventually. Also, they didn’t sing the French words on the first day, just the words “one” and “two” in place of them so they didn’t have to struggle with unfamiliar pronunciations and the music at the same time. He did give them some pointers on diction for the English songs, though.

There were about fifty kids in the choir, aged ten to fifteen, plus a handful of sixteen and seventeen-year-old junior counsellors who sing with them. Campers seemed to skew a little to the older side of the range, though, especially the boys. I wondered if it takes a while to own being the kind of boy who wants to go to choir camp. (The choir was about eighty percent female.)

The last thing that happened, back in the auditorium once the choir campers were reunited with the orchestra campers, was a raffle. They have these every day at all the music camps. The prizes range from t-shirts from previous years to Six Flags tickets. One tradition is to raffle off a cardboard box every day. This stands for the right to sit in the box seats of the auditorium during the next day’s post-lunch concert.

When I picked June up from camp on Monday she seemed cheerful. She’d painted in her art elective and played theater games in her drama elective. There had been an all-female barbershop quartet at the post-lunch concert. She was wearing her t-shirt from orchestra camp last year because it was summer youth music camps alumni day. (All the days had themes. One day they wore funny hats and glasses; another day they were supposed to dress in the colors of the Maryland flag.) Best of all, the chorus teacher had singled her out while the sopranos were practicing, saying people should sing the piece as she was, “lightly” and he also praised her pitch.

This was a relief because June had worried a little before camp started if she really had enough experience because a year of school chorus is required to register for this camp and she didn’t precisely have a year of school chorus experience. She was in chorus in fourth grade until it disbanded without explanation right after the Holiday Sing in December. But I thought a third of a school year of chorus, plus several months of private voice lessons in fifth grade, plus musical drama camp every summer since she was five had to be the equivalent of at least a year of chorus so I’d checked the box that said one year on the online form.

On Wednesday, she reported that after trying out for it, she’d been put into a small group that would come to the front of the stage and sing part of “Bring A Little Water, Sylvie.” Also, her drama class had selected a scene from Aladdin to perform for the rest of the campers on Friday afternoon before the concert and they had started to work on the choreography. Auditions were the next day and she planned to try out for the genie. (She didn’t get the part, but it was just as well because her foot started bothering her, for no discernible reason on Thursday evening and by Friday she was on crutches—luckily, we have a lot of orthopedic equipment in the house after all her injuries last year.)

Friday I made my way to the University of Maryland on two buses through torrential downpours. I’d been worried if I got drenched I’d be chilly in the air-conditioned concert hall, so I wore a long raincoat and rain boots and carried and umbrella, and I managed to arrive fairly dry, also forty-five minutes before the doors were supposed to open, but when I’m taking public transportation, I like to be on the safe side. I’d been arriving thirty to forty minutes early all week and enjoying the down-time to read a novel or the newspaper or to keep listening to the podcasts I listened to on the bus. This was the first time all week I wasn’t the first one in the music building’s cavernous lobby. At least a dozen people were already waiting when I got there and settled in with the Washington Post’s Health and Science section.

When the doors opened, I got a seat near the front in a place I thought would be good for taking pictures. And it would have been if they hadn’t rolled out a grand piano right into our sightline in between the orchestra and choir concerts, or if June hadn’t been seated because of the crutches.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The orchestra was divided into two groups, one for students entering fifth to seventh grade and one for those entering eighth to tenth grade. I spied two of June’s friends, both cellists, on stage in the younger group. One was from her Girl Scout troop and the other attended her elementary school one year ahead of her and played in the string ensemble with her when they were in fourth and fifth grade. I think it might have been seeing Ingrid, who’d played with June when she was in a well-run school orchestra, and the fact that two-thirds of the kids on stage had just finished fourth or fifth grade that made me angry all over again about how unambitious the instrumental music program at her elementary school was last year, but I pushed that thought from my mind.  

Anyway, the word “unambitious” cannot be applied to any summer music camp at UMCP. The performances are always very impressive and they would be even if the kids had more than six days to practice the music. The younger orchestra group had five pieces. In a medley of Japanese folk music, one of the melodies struck me as very familiar. Later Beth said it was “Sakura, Sakura,” which we’ve heard at more than one concert. June played it in orchestra in fourth grade and it was a favorite of hers. The last song, “Red Pepper,” was a lively tune fitting of that name.

The older orchestra played four pieces. The first two were pretty— “Strip the Willow” had a folksy fiddle sound—but it was the last two “Lullaby to the Moon,” and “Sansaneon,” that really impressed me. I’m not a musician so I often feel I don’t have the language to adequately describe the music at all these concerts I go to because of my very musical kids. I’ll just say the complexity and precision and beauty of it was uplifting.

The choir was on next. They started with the French song, this time with the actual words. It seemed to have come together quite nicely since we heard their first practice on Sunday. All the songs had. When they started “Bring a Little Water, Sylvie” June and five other sopranos and altos stepped in front of the choir and finally we could see her. We could hear her, too. I wasn’t expecting to be able to pick her voice out, but I could, and that was exciting.

I think “In My Life” sounded the most different in its choral arrangement, even more so than “Bring a Little Water, Sylvie.” (I’m fond of the Leadbelly version of that song.) On the car ride home June asked Beth which one she liked better, the Beatles’ or choir camp’ and Beth had to say the Beatles, even though the choir camp version was good. “But I didn’t sing in that one,” June commented.

The last of the choir’s five songs was “We Know the Way,” from Moana. This was the one with the most instrumentation. Most of the songs had accompaniment—flutes most predominantly in the old French song and the grand piano for “In My Life,” but this song started with people blowing conch shells from the balconies and a strong drumbeat.

It seemed fitting as the final song of the concert because it’s about mastery. (It’s from the part of the movie when Moana discovers the disused boats, learns her people used to be sea voyagers, and determines they will be again.) Mastery is a lot of what music camp is about. Getting large groups of talented kids to work together play or sing complicated music and get it up to concert quality in a very short period of time. I’ve been to a lot of these concerts—Noah was in band camp for four years and June’s been to orchestra camp one year and choir camp one year. Still, this aspect of it never fails to impress me.

It was a lovely concert and a wonderful way to end a week of political ups and down which included the confusing and upsetting announcement about transgender troops, discouraging words from the Justice Department about its current thinking on employment discrimination against gay and lesbians, the President’s appalling comments in front of crowds of Boy Scouts and police, the alarming debut of the new White House communications director, the resignation of Reince Priebus, and the President’s continued sadistic treatment of his own Attorney General, and finally, mercifully, the defeat of the Republicans’ latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  Am I forgetting anything? I probably am.

Consequently, it was a busy week for Beth at work. On Wednesday, she messaged me that she’d be late getting home, “because I am at this rally saving health care.” And it worked!

My point is not exactly that the kids in the summer youth music camps at UMCP spent their week more profitably than the President and his administration, although they did. And it’s not that this experience of working together to make something beautiful will help them work effectively with others in the future, although it may. My point is more modest, just that cooperation to make something worthwhile is still possible, in the arts and even in politics. And it always will be, if we can find the way.

Thanks to Beth and everyone else who rallied, and wrote and called their Senators, and worked behind the scenes to preserve Americans’ access to health care this week.

Culminations

School’s out, or it will be in a couple hours. When the kids get home from school, Beth’s driving them to Wheeling where Noah will spend a week with Beth’s mom and Beth and June will visit for a day before returning home.

In the last few weeks of school June attended the safety patrol picnic and the fifth-grade picnic. The first one was the bigger deal as it took place at the Montgomery County fairgrounds, which they had to themselves that day. They ate their lunch in the empty livestock barns and they got to ride carnival rides and there were free popsicles. The fifth-grade picnic was in a playground near school, and they had pizza, and chips, and candy and an ice cream truck dispensing free treats. June got a lime popsicle there. Come to think of it, there were popsicles at the instrumental music party the week after their concert, too (though June missed that, being home sick that day). Popsicles are clearly the common denominator for spring celebrations at her school.

Even with all these festivities, it didn’t feel quite as busy as the end of the school year often is, maybe because there was no art show or field day at June’s school this year, the carnival was held on a date we couldn’t attend, her Girl Scout troop’s annual potluck was cancelled at the last minute and without explanation—not a big surprise as the troop is organizationally challenged—and June had to drop out of her music school recital. Her hand and arm injuries this spring prevented her from learning the song she’d hoped to play on the guitar. This was a disappointment for all of us.

CAP Hollywood

As for Noah, his big end-of-school event was CAP Hollywood, a showing of fifteen short student-made films with an accompanying award ceremony, which was held the second to last week of school. Noah was nominated for Best Editing and his group’s film was up for several more awards—Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Score, and Best Picture. It seemed like a good bet they’d win something.

We all got dressed up and had an early dinner at Noodles and Company before the show. I’m pretty sure that’s where Hollywood stars dine before the Oscars, right? There was a Hollywood sign made of light bulbs and a red (construction paper) carpet for photos in the lobby, but Noah declined to have his taken.

Before the tenth-grade films started, they announced the winners of a twelfth-grade competition and showed their entry, a one-minute ad for Black CAP, a student-run advocacy organization that recruits and mentors African-American middle school students who are interested in applying to the Communications Arts Program. (The CAP student body is only 7.5 percent African-American, while Noah’s school is 27 percent African-American, so there’s clearly a disparity there.)

Then the main event began. The films were the culmination of a months-long project for CAP sophomores. First students had to come up with ideas for a short story in their English class and a feature story in their journalism class. After completing the first few steps of each project, they were assigned to complete either the fictional story or the journalistic one. Noah wrote a science fiction story that was an homage to Ray Bradbury’s “The Earthmen” (from The Martian Chronicles). After all the stories were written, fifteen were chosen to be filmed by groups of five students each. Noah’s story wasn’t chosen. Maybe that was just as well as it took place in a rocket and on the surface of Mars and would have been hard to film.

Noah’s group made a film called “The Pool Hall.” It was about a college student who has a recurring dream in which he returns to a pool hall in different decades, always meeting the same young woman. They filmed it at the local VFW hall, among other locations. There were thirteen other fictional films and just one documentary on the program. Common themes across the fictional films were murder and the discovery of long-lost siblings. They were all well done and it was an entertaining night.

“The Pool Hall” won for Best Supporting Actress and Best Score. Noah didn’t win the editing award, but you know what they say: It’s an honor to be nominated. June was surprised and possibly a little disgruntled when a CAP student’s younger brother who’d acted in one of the films won Best Supporting Actor. She didn’t think you could win if you weren’t in CAP and it’s possible she was wondering why she had not been tapped to act in Noah’s film. (Because there were no preteen roles would be the short answer.) Best Picture went to the only documentary, which was about an artist who paints portraits of people with scars to tell their stories of trauma and healing.

It was already twenty minutes past June’s bedtime when we left, but a celebration seemed in order so we went out for frozen yogurt.

Equality March for Pride and Unity

In between CAP Hollywood and fifth-grade promotion, on Sunday morning, Beth, June, and I marched in the Equality March for Pride and Unity. We weren’t sure what to expect because although we’d heard last winter that there was going to be an LGBTQ march in June, we hadn’t heard much about it since then. Publicity was almost non-existent and it didn’t seem to have as clear an agenda as other historical gay marches, or other big marches of the Trump presidency. I even suggested at one point that we skip it and go to the Pride parade instead. That was held the day before, on Saturday, a day which wasn’t predicted to be as oppressively hot. But Beth said, “No, we should do the political thing” and I agreed.

We gathered in front of the AFL-CIO building because we were marching with a labor contingent. When it was time to start moving, we lined up on I street and then there was a long wait in the hot sun to get going. But once we did there were a lot of signs to read and people in costume to watch.

“I know it’s not polite to stare, but a lot of people here are dressed interesting,” June observed. It was true. There was a man in a light blue Care Bear costume, who was earnestly telling a reporter from BuzzFeed, “People keep telling me I must be dying [in the heat], but I am living. Fully living.” There was a woman dressed up as the zebra from Fruit Stripe gum (for the rainbow stripes I’m guessing). The sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were there, too, as you’d expect.

Many signs commemorated the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting last year. There were also some classics (“If God hates gays, why are we so cute?”) and new ones:

Cuz
Only
Very
Fragile
Egoes
Fear
Equality

Beth’s favorite sign was of a fish-shaped group of rainbow-colored fish about to swallow an orange fish with Trump hair.

The message on June’s sign: “I have girl crushes and boy crushes. So what?” was prettily adorned with rainbow stripes, and it was news to us. Like her “Another Girl Scout Against Trump” sign at the women’s march, it caused a lot of people to ask if they could take her picture.

It was a bigger crowd than we expected; a story in the Post said it was over 200,000, but that seems high to me. In any case, it was nothing like the big marches of 1987, 1993, and 2000. It felt more like a Pride parade, without the floats, and without spectators on the sidelines. We all had fun. I always forget how much I like being in a big crowd of gay people until I am. I think the last time was when we went to Pride with the kids ten years ago and I had the exact same thought then.

Toward the end of the march, Beth spotted three friends from the years she worked at HRC in the 1990s and early 2000s and there were hugs all around. Back in the day, we were good friends with Don, Stephen, and Patrick. (Don and Stephen, who’ve been together thirty-six years, may be the only gay couple among our friends who’ve been together longer than we have.) Sadly, we’ve drifted apart over the years, but it was a real treat to see them. They admired my old-school t-shirt from the ’93 March. In a Facebook discussion after the march with the designer of the shirt, another old friend of Beth’s, I said, “I wanted a shirt that said, ‘I’ve been marching since before you whippersnappers were born.’ Because I have.”

I can’t say this march was the culmination of any specific political achievement, nor does it seem like we’re on the verge of one right now, but you never know. We talked as we marched and afterward about how if you had told me in 1993 we’d be marching again in 2017, married and (theoretically) able to serve openly in the military, but without the basic protections from employment discrimination we were marching for twenty-four years ago—the goal we thought was the low-hanging fruit at the time—I’d have thought you were crazy. History takes unexpected turns sometimes. I probably would not have been surprised that it would take this long for trans issues to come to the forefront of the movement. We and our kids live in interesting times, in good and bad ways, but progress for LGBT folks, however incomplete, is one of the good things.

Fifth-Grade Promotion

June came home on Wednesday with a card from her morning teacher, Mr. S, who had written a note for each kid in his class. It ended, “Your ability to capture an idea and express your thoughts are way beyond your years. I believe your insights will help make you a great actor and interpreter of songs. As they say—Break a leg (oh, you already did).”

Promotion was that evening and Noah had no homework (Monday being the last night of the school year he was up late doing any and Tuesday’s pre-calculus worksheet being the last assignment of all), so we had a relatively relaxed afternoon before it was time to make our way to California Tortilla for an early dinner and then go back to the high school auditorium to watch the fifth grade be promoted.

The auditorium was decorated with blue and white balloons and a painted sign on the podium that said “2017.” At each fifth grader’s seat was a creature made of blue and white yarn with googly eyes and a mortar board, a souvenir from the PTA. We sat near the families of two of June’s best friends (Zoë and Evie) and her new friend Edwin.

The program started with the Pledge of Allegiance in English and Spanish and with “words of encouragement” from the principal of the middle school most of June’s class will attend, and “words of wisdom” from current middle school students. Because June’s school is majority Latino and because of the Spanish immersion program, school events are always bilingual, usually with the aid of translators. The middle school students self-translated, however, giving their speeches first in English and then in Spanish and they sounded equally at home in both languages, which impressed me.

Even though June’s going to the middle school this principal and students represented, I felt it wasn’t quite right to tell the students that instead of tigers, they were now jaguars, because some of them will be eagles (at the humanities magnet) or devils (at the math and science magnet) and it seemed to me those kids’ achievements should be recognized, too.

After all the speeches, we were forty-five minutes into the program, which was supposed to last an hour, but none of us really believed that anyway, so we weren’t surprised or antsy. Six classes worth of kids walked across the stage next, to collect their promotion certificates, and shake the teachers’ hands or hug them. At least one kid in each class had a bouquet for the classroom teachers.

What most struck me watching the fifth-graders walk by was what a great variety of sizes eleven and almost eleven year olds come in. Also, most of them were very dressed up and snazzy-looking. June had on a short black dress. When she brought it home from the thrift store, I was surprised because I was expecting something spring-like, either in white or a pastel color. When I said, “It’s black,” June replied, “It’s not just black, Mommy, it has rhinestones and fake fur.” And it did. As she crossed the stage, she was limping a little because the multicolor flats she got to go with it gave her blisters.

The final part of the program was a video slide show divided into three sections: Past, Present, and Future. The past was photographs from kindergarten to fourth grade, including one of June playing Mozart in the wax museum last spring. The present was the kids holding white boards that answered various questions such as what was your best moment of elementary school, what will you miss, etc. June’s class had to answer the question “What’s the best thing?” about their school. Her answer was the book fair. Friends, teachers, field trips, and recess were popular responses.

For the future, they’d all had their pictures taken dressed as what they wanted to be when they grew up. June had gone to school that day dressed in skinny jeans, a rhinestone-studded t-shirt and carrying her (old, broken) guitar and a microphone. They were photographed in small groups, often though not always, with people who gave the same answer. Beth observed that if they all realize their career goals, there will be no shortage of doctors, veterinarians, and athletes in the future. Software designers and chefs were also well represented.

The last part of the video was the six fifth-grade teachers performing a song that was half rap and half to the tune of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” The chorus went, “It’s time for middle school/You better follow the golden rule/Be sure that you never act the fool/Because it’s time for middle school.” June said it was embarrassing, but the teachers seemed to be having a good time and embarrassing preteens is one of the duties of the adults in their lives.

After promotion, we met up with Zoë and Evie’s families for ice cream at Cold Stone in Silver Spring. The line was long and slow and it was very late but I tried to relax and enjoy the moment as a part of these girls’ pasts slipped away and they moved toward their futures.

Sixteen Springs and Sixteen Summers

Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels through the town
And they tell him,
Take your time, it won’t be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down

Joni Mitchell, “The Circle Game”

The Saturday before Noah turned sixteen Beth and I participated in the Climate March. It was an exceptionally hot day for late April and I know climate’s not weather and it’s that kind of logic that makes people bring snowballs into Congress during debates about environmental legislation, but still… It seemed as if Mother Nature was making a point.

I didn’t take pictures, but Beth got some before I arrived. She had to be there early for work, so I met her there after taking June to her guitar lesson and then taking the guitar June dropped and broke at the bus stop to our local instrument shop to see if it could be repaired. Mike Kepka, the videographer Noah assisted at the Women’s March, also took some (his are the black and whites). For part of the time, we were marching near Mike and his family so we saw some of the same things.

It was a visually interesting march. People were dressed as polar bears and lobsters (“cooked by climate”) and carrots (“I carrot about climate change”) and a cow, to promote vegetarianism. There was also a big inflatable cow. I didn’t get close enough to see if there were explanatory signs for that one, but I did hear a woman on her cell phone giving someone directions by saying she was behind the cow, which for some reason struck both me and Beth as funny. There also was a big light blue bird made with sheets draped over a frame and smaller white birds on wires that seemed to fly over the crowd. At first I thought these were kites. These may have just been celebrations of nature. Whatever the reason, they were lovely.

People carried signs with statistics about climate change with citations carefully printed on the bottom. There were a lot of signs with pictures of the Earth with captions like “I’m with Her” or “There’s No Planet B.” I liked those.

The kids opted not to come with us. Noah was swamped with work and June’s getting choosy about what marches she attends.  She says she’d like to go to the LGBT one in June, so I hope the three of us or maybe even all four of us can go to that one. We have to pick and choose, too.  We skipped the Science March the weekend prior because two weekends of marching in a row seemed like a lot, and Beth’s union had a contingent in the Climate March, making it an easy choice. The turnout was good, maybe as high as 200,000, and people were spirited.

Truth be told, I was feeling more dutiful than inspired, but that’s okay. Duty’s important. It’s what will get us through the next three years and nine months when we get tired of writing letters and making phone calls and taking to the streets. I will admit I’ve slowed down since January and February, but I haven’t stopped. I’m determined not to stop.

When the march reached the White House, Beth and I peeled off rather than follow it to the Washington Monument. We stopped for a bathroom break at a public restroom in a park and to drink some much needed cool drinks and to rest our sore feet at Pret A Manger, and then headed home.

Noah and I usually cook dinner on Saturday nights but I was tired from marching and wanted to go out. I thought Thai would be nice. We used to have a tradition of going out for Thai the night before Noah’s birthday because Beth and I had Thai the night before he was born, but as schedules have gotten more complicated, it’s morphed into Thai sometime near Noah’s birthday. And in recent years Noah has decided he’s not crazy about Thai, so we left him at home working on a paper about the relationship of democracy and political satire while Beth, June, and I went out to celebrate his birth without him. I didn’t feel good about this, but he wasn’t in the mood to go out and it didn’t seem right to force him to come either.

He turned sixteen four days later. Cartwheels haven’t turned to car wheels yet, but Beth’s been investigating driving schools so he can learn to drive this summer. It was a low-key birthday, as his birthdays often are. I marked it by posting seventeen pictures of him on Facebook, one each from the spring or summer of every year from 2001 to 2017, (to keep the seasons in line with Mitchell’s lyrics, and to help me narrow my choices). He said his band class sang “Happy Birthday” to him. The teacher keeps track of all his musicians’ birthdays and does this for everyone, which I think is a nice touch. Otherwise it was a normal school day.

Noah requested a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, so Beth made it the night before. Dinner was egg noodles with broccoli, tofu, and Parmesan cheese, also at his request. He opened presents between dinner and cake. We got him a charger he doesn’t have to share, which should cut down on family friction, and a set of extra soft jersey sheets in light blue because the flannel sheets we got him for Christmas were an unexpected hit. There were also several iTunes cards from various relatives, totaling and impressive sum of money, a pair of green and white striped summer pajamas, and two Ursula LeGuin books, because Noah and I are reading the Earthsea Cycle.

Did you know this series didn’t stop with the trilogy LeGuin wrote in the sixties and seventies? I didn’t until we started reading it and I looked it up and was surprised to find there are now three more, written between 1990 and 2002, plus a recent short story, for now only available electronically. We checked the fourth book out of the library last month and I bought the fifth and sixth ones. If you love the old Earthsea books, these are very different in tone, but still interesting and fun. (I also bought a copy of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger because the Dark Tower series is next up for us and I don’t seem to have a copy, even though I have the rest of the series. I didn’t wrap it, though, because it’s not his to keep. I want a complete set.)

The day after his birthday, Noah took his first AP test, in Government. When we first found out the exam was the day after his birthday we felt sorry for him, but it turned out to be fortuitous. He’s been studying hard for it for a long time and didn’t feel the need to cram on his birthday. It also meant he had a half day of school on Thursday because kids who took the exam were excused from afternoon classes. We started Tales from Earthsea before June got home from school and he didn’t do any school work for the rest of the day. The next day he had a field trip to the Newseum, and only had to attend one class, so he got an extended post-birthday break. (One down note: He was surprised and indignant to see they were selling MAGA caps in the gift shop of a museum dedicated to the first amendment.)

On Saturday we went out again, this time with him, to his favorite Italian restaurant in Silver Spring. I tried to convince him to try the new Italian place in Takoma Park, but he said he’d prefer to “stick with what we know,” which is a very Noah sentiment. He got baked ziti, which is his favorite dish there. And Beth and I also chose our favorites—eggplant parmesan for Beth, spinach ravioli for me. June branched out, trying the minestrone and the mushroom ravioli. And with that, Noah’s birthday celebration was over.

I would care about climate change, and care deeply, even if I didn’t have kids. Kids aren’t the only motivator for activism, but they are a powerful one. After all, my kids have to live on this planet longer than I do. I want it to be habitable when they’ve each gone around the circle sixteen times, sixty times, and beyond.

You Lose Some

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop, from “One Art”

Over the course of twenty-four hours, June’s team finished near the bottom of the GeoBowl competition, her basketball team lost a game, and she was waitlisted at her top choice of middle schools. But she wasn’t at all discouraged by the first two and only a little by the last. I’m not either. Here’s why.

GeoBowl

Beth and I both quit work early on Friday afternoon to attend the GeoBowl, the annual geography contest at June’s school. June didn’t make her class’s team last year, so it was the first time I’d been to one in a couple years. Beth swung by the house on her way from work to pick me up and drive to June’s school.

The way the GeoBowl works is all the third to fifth graders in the school get a packet of geography facts about that year’s region(s) to study in September and then there’s a team from each English/social studies class, consisting of the six kids who did best on a quiz given in November. (I volunteered to help grade these.) Teams are announced in December and then they study and compete at the GeoBowl in February. This year the theme was the Americas and Africa.

We arrived early so we helped set up folding chairs at the back of the multi-purpose room, where the floor was freshly mopped and slippery after the last lunch shift of the day. They were a judge short so Beth volunteered, even though usually parents don’t judge their own kid’s grade. Soon the fifth grade came filing in. Six teams went up to the stage and their classmates sat on the floor in front of the stage to watch.

Two of the teams wore team shirts. Da Beasts were in red t-shirts, as were the Pirates of the Caribbean, who also wore red bandanas on their heads. June’s team, the Golden Globes, had made a last-minute attempt to get everyone to wear blue or purple (not, puzzlingly, gold), but most of them forgot.

The GeoBowl is often extremely competitive. When Noah was in third grade, his team finished last, only three points behind the winning team. When June was in third grade, it went into three tie-breaker rounds and in the end, they had to declare a tie so the next grade could take the stage.

This one started with a question for every team about capitals of countries. Each team got their question correct. June was her team’s spokesperson in the oral rounds so she came to the microphone to give the capital of Madagascar (Antananarivo).

Soon after, the scores began to diverge. For most of the contest, Da Beasts and the Pirates of the Caribbean were neck and neck, with the Smarties close behind. When there was a round of questions about bodies of water and June’s team was asked what’s the deepest lake in Canada, I knew they’d get it right because June was her team’s designated Canada expert and I’d been quizzing her so I knew she knew the answer. (It’s the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories.)

They missed a question about the location of the Galapagos Islands, guessing it was off the coast of Mexico and after that they missed some more—they could only name four or five of the seven capitals of Central American countries—and then they were out of contention because top three teams were getting everything right or close to it.

The high point-value questions are saved for the whiteboard round in which all the teams answer the same questions and hold up whiteboard with the answer. The very last one– worth seven of the total twenty-five points for the whole GeoBowl—was “What seven Canadian provinces border the United States?” June’s face lit up. She knew that one! Her team provided the correct answer. The M.C. drew out the suspense by having the top-scoring teams give their answers last and pointing out, after Da Beasts had submitted their correct answer, that if the Pirates of the Caribbean got all seven right they would win the GeoBowl and if they got six right it would go to a tie-breaker. They knew the answer and won, with Da Beasts just one point behind, and the Smarties two points behind them. June’s team tied for fourth place.

As always, it was fun to watch. I love it when there’s a team (or more than one team) that gets every question right. It’s inspiring to see kids who’ve studied hard and know their stuff, even if it’s not your kid’s team. And because the Golden Globes got all their questions pertaining to Canada correct, June was stoked when it was over and quite gracious about congratulating her friends on the winning team.

This is what Beth had to say on Facebook: “Love the GeoBowl. Our country is strengthened by our public schools and the terrific teachers, staff, parents and students who invest their time each day building our future.” I think that about sums it up.

Panda Game

On Saturday afternoon, June played two quarters in her basketball game, up from one quarter in the last one. She was a little reluctant—not having played much this season seems to have made her unusually skittish about getting in the game—so I was glad she did it.

It was quite a game, too. The teams seemed evenly matched for most of the first quarter and then the orange team (I never caught their name) hit their stride and scored two baskets in the last forty seconds, bringing the score to 8-4. And almost as soon as the second quarter started they scored again. I think they were ahead for the rest of the game after that, but the Pandas didn’t give up and they didn’t lose heart. They played hard, scored a few more times, and in the end lost 16-11. This wasn’t one of those times when the shots just kept bouncing off the rim and it just seemed like bad luck that they lost. The other team was highly skilled. They were fast and several of their players were excellent shots. Considering how good the other team was, the final score was quite respectable.

It was also nice that the coach’s daughter scored two of the Pandas’ five baskets because she’d had a hard morning, finding out she’d been rejected at one middle school magnet and waitlisted at another while her older brother got into a high school magnet. No other Pandas had received their letters, so a ripple of anxiety went through the bleachers as parents realized their kids’ letters might be at home in the mailbox right then. We discussed it quietly, while watching the game and writing our postcards to elected officials. This seems to be a Panda parent tradition now. At Beth’s suggestion, a few of us wrote to both our senators urging them to vote against Andy Puzder for Secretary of Labor.

Waitlisted

So, we got home and the letter from the humanities magnet was there, in a thin envelope. June asked if she could take it to her room and open it. She was in there so long Beth and I were sure it was a rejection and that she didn’t want to tell us. But it seems she was just studying the letter, because eventually she came out and told us she was waitlisted. She had memorized all the statistics in it—how many kids are on the waitlist, how many are accepted in the average year, etc. She seemed upbeat about it. “At least I still have a chance,” she said.

And at thirty-three to fifty percent it’s a considerably better chance than she had of getting in outright, as the acceptance rate at the humanities magnet is less than twenty percent. I started messaging and emailing the parents of friends of hers who had applied to the same magnet. Four were rejected, two more—including her BFF Megan—were waitlisted, and one was admitted. I think June’s both glad to have a chance of going to the same middle school as her best friend after two years of separation while Megan’s been at the Highly Gifted Center and proud of the achievement of even being still under consideration at a competitive program, but also realistic about her chances.

Meanwhile, June’s second-best friend is going to our home middle school where June will go if she doesn’t get into the magnet. If she goes there she’ll stay in Spanish immersion, which is a good thing, and you can take guitar there as an elective which interests her because she’s about to start guitar lessons. So, I’m confident she’ll land on her feet at either school and I think she is, too. She says if she doesn’t get into the humanities magnet she will be only “moderately disappointed.”

Sanctuary Meeting

Shortly after we got home, Beth left to go to a teach-in about Takoma Park’s status as a sanctuary city. I stayed home to make some lunch for Noah so he’d eat something (he didn’t seem willing to tear himself away from his homework) and then I followed her. While I was waiting for the bus, she texted me that it was standing room only in the community center auditorium and they were sending people to overflow rooms. I arrived about twenty minutes into the meeting and slipped in the back. They were still letting people in, but it was packed. There were people sitting in the aisles and standing behind the seats.

When I got there Maryland Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez was speaking. (I’d missed the poem by Takoma Park’s poet laureate. What? Your small town doesn’t have a poet laureate?) The speeches were interspersed with musicians. Basically, the meeting, which lasted over two hours, covered the history of Takoma Park’s status as a sanctuary city (one of the first) and then elected officials, community activists, and the police chief took questions about what to expect in terms of federal funding cuts, now that sanctuary cities are under attack. It seems to me the answer is no one really knows.

Being there, though, and hearing people speak about the stakes for undocumented immigrants in our community made the question of what middle school my relatively privileged fifth grader will attend seem a smaller concern than it had earlier in the day. I know for instance that she’ll be going to one and won’t be deported. A couple days later I donated to CASA de Maryland, because they do a lot of good organizing that’s needed more than ever now.

DeVos and Sessions Nominations

Beth was planning to go to the DeVos nomination protest after work on Monday, but she had to come home and pick up our Girl Scout cookie order. A lot of people we knew were there, though, and a couple of them were close enough to Elizabeth Warren to get pictures. (That’s a celebrity citing in our neck of the woods.) A sixth-grade girl we know was there with her mother, holding signs that said, “There Are No Grizzly Bears in My School” and “DeVos Gets an F.”

Nonetheless, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education on Tuesday and unlike all the little personal setbacks that didn’t rattle me this week, I took this politcal loss hard. I knew her confirmation was the most likely outcome, but she was so unqualified and so corrupt and it was so close, a fifty-fifty vote with the Vice President breaking the tie. It was just heart-breaking and it plunged me into despair because she seemed like the only nomination we really had a chance to defeat. Sure enough, Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General on Wednesday and Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services today. I hadn’t been holding out any hope there, but it didn’t cheer me up any.

I asked Beth at dinner on Wednesday if she thought the left has had any real practical victories in the past few weeks, not just morale-boosters like half a million people marching. Getting the travel ban stayed, she said without hesitation. But that’s not settled, I said. It will be going back and forth in court for a while until it gets to the Supreme Court and who knows what will happen then. Yes, but it got people who were detained in airports out and gave others time to complete planned travel to the U.S., she said. That is something, I agreed. We have to appreciate the victories, even if the defeats outnumber them. At least in the short run, they undoubtedly will. But just yesterday, the stay was upheld, which was very good news indeed.

I know it’s a marathon and not a sprint, so when I get tired and discouraged, as I inevitably will, I’ll pick myself up again. What other choice do we have? Like Elizabeth Warren, we will persist.

We Can Be That Girl

The first week of the Trump administration was sickening. No, really. June, Beth, and I all came down with a stomach virus. June stayed home Monday and Tuesday, went to school Wednesday and came right back home after only an hour a half. It was bad timing because I’d gotten sick the night before and had to drag myself out of bed to go get her. That same day Beth came home from work early, quite sick, and after that I didn’t even bother making June go to school Thursday, even though she probably could have gone. She also missed two basketball practices and a Girl Scout meeting. Beth said being too sick to follow the news from Wednesday afternoon until Thursday was kind of perverse relief.

I worked a couple hours each day (being the least incapacitated of the three of us) and cooked dinner for whoever was in any shape to eat, though on Thursday, reading “Cabbage and Noodles” on the white board, I decided no-one’s digestive system was up for cabbage, except Noah’s (he never got sick) and I didn’t make it.

By Thursday night, everyone was well enough to sit up at the same time and Noah didn’t have any homework because the next day was a teacher grading day, so we watched the fifth episode of Series of Unfortunate Events. (Over the course of the weekend, we watched the last three, so now we have to wait impatiently until they make more.)

June played in her first Pandas’ game of the season on Saturday afternoon. She missed the first two because her ankle was still weak and the third one because we were at the women’s march. She was tired from her recent illness so she only played a quarter, but she played up to her usual level and did a good job keeping the ball away from opposing players. The Pandas won, 10-6. They were ahead or tied for most of the game and they were just on fire in the last quarter, taking shot after shot at the basket and getting most of the rebounds. Megan scored three of the five Panda baskets. She also brought cupcakes with white and teal frosting (the Pandas wear teal shirts this year) and plastic basketballs stuck in the frosting, so everyone lingered in the mid-county community center lobby longer than usual after the game, eating cupcakes and talking.

During the game, the parents had shown a different kind of team spirit, writing postcards to our elected representatives with postcards, pens, stamps, and addresses provided by the coach’s wife. It was hard to decided what to write about, but the Mexican border wall and the Muslim ban were front of mind, so I went with that.

Noah had almost no homework because it was the weekend between semesters so he and I were planning to make a vegetable lasagna and a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting, but shortly after we got home from the game he fell asleep and slept for three hours. I was afraid to wake him, thinking he might be sick, but at 6:30 he woke disoriented and disappointed that it was too late to make the lasagna. Everyone fixed themselves something quick for dinner and he and June went ahead and made the cake.

Sunday afternoon Beth and I went to the White House to protest the refugee and Muslim travel bans. I didn’t decide whether I was going until the last minute. I had to skip my weekly swim to do it. And so there would be something for dinner after the rally and June’s voice recital, Beth, Noah, and I worked that morning in shifts on the lasagna we didn’t make the night before. (Beth grated cheese, Noah and I grated, diced, and sautéed vegetables and then Beth assembled it.)

The kids stayed home (though Noah considered coming with us). The timing unnerved me because the rally lasted from one to three and June’s recital was at four-thirty. We decided we’d just stay for the first half. Beth bought poster board while she was out grocery shopping and we painted our signs. Hers said, “Stop playing politics with immigrant and refugee lives” and mine said, “America is better than this.” I thought they complemented each other, plus I can re-use mine at future rallies.

This was a more or less spontaneous rally and tens of thousands of people came, so we weren’t sure if Metro would be overwhelmed, but it wasn’t too bad, though definitely more crowded at Metro Center than on a normal Sunday afternoon. If there was a stage or speakers, we never saw it or heard them.

The chain link fencing they put up to block off Pennsylvania Avenue during Inauguration is still up (maybe they’re not planning to remove it, given all the protests), so the crowd was on Pennsylvania Ave and in Lafayette Square and the surrounding streets. We were kind of cut off from each other, which meant competing chants kept starting and drowning each other out. “No hate! No fear! Refugees are welcome here!” was the most popular one, though. Beth seemed to particularly like, “We won’t go away! Welcome to your ninth day!” It seemed like a good way to pledge ourselves to oppose him every step of the way, not to let this be easy for him because it’s certainly not easy for us.

We left the rally around two, stopped at La Mano for coffee, and we were home in plenty of time for the recital. It started like they all do, with the youngest children, those who need reminders about where to stand when they play the violin and whose feet don’t touch the floor when they sit on the piano bench. The beginning students played songs like “Lightly Row” and “Twinkle, Twinkle.” Then a mother-daughter pair played a Beatles song (“And I Love Her”) on the guitar, followed by another guitarist who June knows from drama camp who played “Worried Man Blues” and “Au Claire de la Lune.”

June went on about halfway through the program. The teacher who was announcing all the students spoke enthusiastically about how June had written her own song. It surprised me a little because June’s played her own violin compositions at previous recitals and Noah and his teacher played a drum duet they wrote at his recital last winter and no-one’s ever mentioned it before. But I was glad for her because she likes to be recognized like that.

Then just as she was ready to sing, someone realized her accompaniment wasn’t set up, so the next child on the program, a pianist, played “A Little Night Music” while they set up the laptop with the recording of June’s voice teacher playing her song on the piano. (The teacher was unable to come to the recital and play it in person.) Poor June, I thought. She’d probably gotten herself all psyched up to sing and then she had to wait.

When it was finally her turn, I knew she was nervous, but she wasn’t showing it, unless you noticed her grip on the microphone stand. She smiled and sang:

If you ever need a friend who has a shoulder to cry on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I can be that girl if you need it

If you ever need a friend who has a warm bed to lie on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I will be that girl when you need it

I’ve been thinking ‘bout how we used to hang out
And I was wondering if you wanna start over again
Over again
I’ve been thinking ‘bout our old lemonade stands
All the things we said
We called ourselves potatoes…potatoes

If you ever need a friend who has a shoulder to cry on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I can be that girl if you need it

If you ever need a friend who has a warm bed to lie on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I will be that girl when you need it

I’ve been noticing you glancing over at me
Maybe thinking ‘bout how we used to sing

If you ever need a friend who has a shoulder to cry on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I can be that girl if you need it

If you ever need a friend who has a warm bed to lie on
I’m that girl
Yeah, I will be that girl when you need it

Here’s the video. You knew there would be a video, right? It’s about two minutes long.

There was a satisfying amount of applause and then June’s school friend Toby played a jazzy song on the piano. He and June haven’t had the same recital slot for a while so I was pleased to see how good he’s gotten. A few kids later there was the only other vocalist, who sang a song from Moana. She was a big hit, too. The last three students were teenage pianists, who were all quite talented.

As we were filing out of the room, the director of the school pulled me aside and asked if June would like to do an encore performance at the 5:30 recital. At first I said no because it had been a long day, but then I thought I should leave it up to her so I found her in the back room where the performers were getting cookies and juice and she said yes.Beth and Noah went home, but I settled in to watch another recital.

This time I got a better seat in the front row. As I looked over the program I noticed that there were a few repeats from the 4:30 program, namely the Moana girl and the last three pianists. I didn’t know they did that. June’s never been asked to perform more than once, either ahead of time or spontaneously.

So, there was another recital with more adorable tiny children, more elementary and middle school kids starting to show mastery of their instruments and a few very accomplished teens, the ones from the first program as well as a slender teenage boy who sang “Amazing Grace” in what I was expecting would be a tenor but in what turned out to be a booming baritone voice. (I imagined his mother in the audience remembering his little boy voice and marveling.)

After both performances, people kept stopping June to praise her. One woman said she’d cried during her song. “Why would she do that?” June asked us later.

Beth ventured that it might be that in these times the idea of someone being a good friend, a welcoming person offering a shoulder and shelter could be especially moving. It’s a good reminder we can all be that girl, that boy, that man, or that woman.

And the next day Beth was at the Supreme Court after work, protesting again.

This is What Democracy Looks Like

Monday: MLK Day

The Monday before the inauguration was MLK day. Our traditional service project for this day is to participate in a creek cleanup. We choose this activity a long time ago because it’s easy for little kids to participate, or if they choose not to participate, to run around in the woods while the adults fish beer cans and trash out of the creek and off its banks.

It’s been a few years since I’ve participated. Two years ago, I was miserably sick with strep throat on MLK day and a year ago I don’t remember what happened but I know I didn’t go—maybe Noah had too much work and I stayed home to supervise. But this year everyone was well and community service seemed too important to waive because of homework. Beth and I wondered, independently of each other, if a creek cleanup was enough given the circumstances. My first thought for an alternative activity was volunteering at a food bank, but you have to be thirteen and June’s only ten, and the environment is dear to my heart, so we stuck with the creek cleanup.

All the creek cleanups I’ve done over the years have been along Long Branch creek somewhere between our house and June’s school, but this one was a bit farther away, in between the Long Branch community center and library. The strip of woods that surrounds the creek is wider there so instead of working in the creek and very close to it, we had a bigger area to cover. The amount of litter was greater, too. In under two hours the four of us filled five garbage bags full of recycling and two with trash.

It does seem like a worthwhile activity when you’re confronted with the trash-strewn woods and then you and a bunch of strangers get to work and after a couple hours, large swaths of it are cleared. But as Beth pointed out, it just points to bigger social problems, because someone might have been sleeping on those two mattresses other volunteers dragged out to the community center parking lot. This is not an uncommon find and I always wonder if we should just leave them be. Not to mention that well over half of what we were picking up was empty beer cans and bottles, probably not the leavings of social drinkers.

So, feeling simultaneously like we’d accomplished something with our morning and that we hadn’t, we went to La Mano and got lattes and steamers and headed home, where Noah immediately took a bath to get the smell of stale beer off himself.

Friday: Inauguration Day

Beth and the kids only had three days of work and school the next week because they were off Friday for the inauguration, not that we had any intention of going, or watching it on television or turning on the radio any time between the hours of eleven and four. I also observed a Facebook blackout during those five hours. (Beth decided to watch the Obamas get on their plane and fly away and it made her cry.)

We decided the best thing we could do with the day would be to binge-watch A Series of Unfortunate Events, as the first eight episodes were released on Netflix on Friday the thirteenth. I made (vegetarian) pasta puttanesca and chocolate pudding for dinner the night before, a meal the children make for Count Olaf and his theater troupe in the first book. We are hard core fans of this series, and the audiobooks, especially the ones Tim Curry narrates. We even bought a new, modern-sized television to watch it. This was an event.

I would have liked to be watching at the exact moment Trump was taking the oath of office, but Noah had a classmate coming over at noon so they could finish a documentary they were making on Edward Snowden for their media class (and submitting to a student documentary contest run by C-SPAN), so we had to stop shortly before then. Starting Thursday night and continuing Friday morning and evening, we watched the first four forty-five minute episodes, which I realize might not constitute a binge for some people but for us it does.

If you love these books, you will probably love the show, which captures their quirky essence much better than the movie. If you haven’t read them, start there. I have to say, though, I was identifying with the three Baudelaire children, with their house burned down, the people who were supposed to be looking out for them dead or missing and suddenly in the care of someone who does not wish them well. So, maybe it was not as escapist an activity as planned. Still, the Baudelaires and resourceful, brave, and loyal to each other. That counts for something.

After lunch, June and I made peanut-butter chocolate chip cookies while listening to the Indigo Girls, I read several Shirley Jackson essays, and then I took her to a voice lesson. She’s got a recital next weekend so she and the teacher worked on diction, expression, and other performance considerations. After the lesson, June had her jury for the recital and she passed it. I could tell she was nervous because she was clutching the front of her pants with both hands, but from her face you would have never known it.

On the way home, we swung by Roscoe’s to pick up pizza and an arugula-beet salad, which we ate at home, not really wanting to interact with other people than necessary on this bleak day. Once Noah had put the finishing touches on his movie and had submitted it to C-SPAN, we watched one last episode of the Series of Unfortunate Events, and went to bed so we could all be rested for the big event of the weekend.

Saturday: Women’s March

Beth and Noah were out the door by seven. Beth was supposed to show up at her office to greet the busloads of CWA members arriving at her office and Noah was going to assist Mike, the CWA photographer who was filming the march. I was proud of Noah for going because he absolutely hates crowds, but he knew was important. It helped that he had a task to focus on and that he got to use some cool photographic equipment like a 360-degree camera and a steady cam. He even endured holding hands with strangers during a CWA sing-along, but I missed that as it happened before June and I got there. This must have been horrifying for him. 

June and I left about an hour later, right after she made her “Another Girl Scout Against Trump” sign. It was a last-minute job, but if you look carefully you’ll see she printed out and taped the Girl Scout insignia to it. She chose this message because she was appalled to hear some Girl Scouts marched in the inauguration parade. She also decided to wear her Girl Scout vest over her hoodie.

While we were at the bus stop in front of our house, a stranger pulled over and asked if we’d like a ride to the Metro. I thought about it and decided it was a day to trust women, so I said yes. She told us she had a disability that made marching hard so she was shuttling friends to the Metro and seeing June’s sign, she figured that’s where we were headed. As we approached the Metro I could see steady streams of people on foot, many in pink hats, all walking toward the stop. June looked surprised and excited to be seeing crowds already, in our little town. The trains were crammed, but we got on the first one we saw because people packed themselves in tighter to make room for us.  We were right next to a group of women scientists in their lab coats.

We arrived at CWA headquarters shortly before nine. There was a mini-rally on the sidewalk in front it, which repeated every time new busses arrived, meaning we heard some of the speeches and chants twice. In between we went inside and sampled fruit and an egg and bagel sandwich at the breakfast buffet for members who’d been on buses since the wee hours of the morning. They’d come from states as far away as North Carolina, but the ones who arrived while we were there were from New York and New Jersey.

We set off to march with the second group, but we got separated from them almost immediately in the chaos on the mall. We were much too far away from the stage to hear the rally program or even to catch more than glimpses of the Jumbotron blocks away. So, we turned our attention to the crowd. We drifted through it to people-watch and read signs.

Some of the most popular signs were “Girls Just Want to Have Fun-damental Rights” and “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and various feline-themed signs. I also saw a lot of “Love is Love is Love” and “Black Lives Matter” signs and portraits of Trump in the style of Obama’s iconic Hope posters, except they either say “Nope” or “Grope” and there were also a lot that said “Make America Think Again.” The next day over dinner we discussed how making fun of Trump’s physical appearance (hair, skin, small hands) was a slippery slope, even though he himself treats people that way. (It was our “When they go low, we go high” moment.) But we all thought “Super Callous Fragile Ego, Trump You Are Atrocious” was fair game.

I thought this one summed up things pretty well: “There Are So Many Things Wrong with Trump I Can’t Fit Them on This Sign.” June’s sign was popular as well. All day people were taking her picture and many former and current Girl Scouts wanted to pose with her. (Beth tweeted her picture to the Girl Scouts.) I learned later people left drifts of signs in front of the Trump Hotel and lined the White House fence with them and when the fence was completely obscured, they tossed more over the fence. I wish we’d seen that and done it, too.

By eleven-thirty, the mall was completely packed, I was feeling a little claustrophobic and needed to use the bathroom badly. The march wasn’t even supposed to start for an hour and a half, so we started looking for porta-potties, I found a bank of them but the lines were several dozen people deep behind each one, so Beth suggested we walk back to her office and re-group. We got back there around noon, used the facilities, and stayed over an hour, mixing with more members who’d arrived. We split one of the box lunches that had appeared on the buffet table between the three of us, to supplement the hard-boiled eggs and trail mix we were carrying. Beth ate the veggie wrap, I ate the apple, and June had the potato chips.

Back at the mall, we hung back a bit to avoid getting trapped in the mass of pink-hatted humanity crammed onto it. It was unclear how we’d know when it was time to march because no one within blocks of us could hear anything, but eventually people started walking down the length of the mall. Beth noted the crowd wasn’t going along the official march route. Later we learned there were too many people to fit on the official route. It was already filled from end to end by the time the march was supposed to start so people spilled out into nearby streets and reached the White House by various routes, like water pouring into all available channels.

Our tributary went by the Trump Hotel and a small pro-Trump counter rally. The crowd took a break from chanting “Black Lives Matter!” “Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like. This Is What Democracy Looks Like!” “Hands Too Small, Can’t Build a Wall,” and “We Need a Leader, Not a Creepy Tweeter!” etc. to chant “Shame” at them.

We also were going along the Inauguration parade route for a while and the stands were still there. They were quickly packed with people who wanted to watch the march go by. Workers who had been taking one of the stands down before the march arrived stood by and watched. One of them was standing on a truck full of stand parts, grinning and laughing.

Considering how chaotic the march was, the police response was restrained. There was not a single arrest. I realize this was probably because while diverse, the march was still majority white. A group of half a million people of color marching on the street without a permit might not have been so tolerantly received. However, once we were almost to the White House the police started throwing up metal barriers in the street to keep the marchers away from it. Some verbal communication would have been appreciated here because it looked like people might get trapped between the fence that was already blocking access to the White House and the new barriers. We had to look lively to get back on the other side ourselves before the line of barriers was complete.

At this point, we turned around and walked back to Beth’s office again. Mike and Noah were already on the Metro, so we got in the car and drove home, tired, footsore and joyful. June kept commenting on the fact that neither Beth nor I had been to a big march until we were in college. She seemed happy to have reached this milestone earlier than we did.  But she’s living in more dire times.

Of course, I would have rather taken my ten-year-old daughter to the inauguration of the first woman president. That’s what I fully expected to do and I’d been looking forward to it. Beth and Noah went to Obama’s first inauguration when he was seven and it was a great experience for him. But this was excellent experience for her, too, if the point is learning about democracy.

Today, two days after the march, Beth and Noah went to work and school. I was home working, too, but also tending to June who had been felled by a stomach bug Sunday night, and was staying home from school. It was a chilly, rainy day, but I was still warmed by the thought of half a million people all returning to their regular routines, but possibly taking a short break to write their Senators and representatives, as I did.

The Opposite of Terrible

It’s time for school concerts. Noah played in the winter band and jazz concert a couple weeks ago, and June’s school’s holiday sing was Monday.

Winter Band and Jazz Concert

Noah was a nervous wreck in the car on the way to the band concert. He’s been playing drums for six years and he’s not usually too worked up before concerts, but he’s in an advanced band in which he was placed because of a schedule conflict and he’s got a bit of an imposter complex about it. He said he thought the fact that he was so nervous would make it more likely he’d make mistakes.

I thought he might be right, but I told him even if he did make a mistake he’d be the one most likely to hear it, that all the sound the audience is taking in making it hard to hear individual errors. He wasn’t having it.

Noah took private lessons instead of playing in the band last year so this was our first high school band concert. At his school, they split the orchestra, band, and chorus concerts into three different nights. I thought this meant the concert might be shorter than a middle school concert. But there are five different bands at his high school, not counting the marching band, which I don’t think plays at concerts. Noah had attended the orchestra concert the week before and had gotten back later than I expected, so I wasn’t expecting a short night. A glance at the program confirmed that would be the case again.

June was with us, even though it would surely keep her up past her bedtime, because we don’t have a sitter any more now that Eleanor’s in college and we so seldom need one I never invested the time in finding a replacement. If June had her way I would have found her a ride to and from her school’s Reading Night, someone who would drop her off at our empty house when it was over. But even though she’s been staying home alone for years we didn’t feel quite right about having her alone in the house at night, so we made her come. She probably would have been excited about being out late if it wasn’t for the fact that she was missing something she wanted to do. But she was mature and didn’t complain too much. It might have helped that we bought her a brownie at the bake sale and I read to her from Cricket while they were setting the stage between groups.

Another way the concert was different from a middle school concert was the fact that we were in comfortable auditorium seats, the band was up on stage, and there were colored lights behind them that changed from blue to green to red. It was nicely done.

The Jazz Combo played first. This group consisted of two saxophonists, a pianist, a bass player, and a percussionist. Because it was such a small and talented group, there were plenty of opportunities for solos. My favorite piece was probably “Black Orpheus,” but they were all good.

As would happen with each band that followed, the teacher introduced members of the band who were in the school’s music honor society and those who had made the county honors bands, the all State bands, the All Eastern Bands, and the Honors Band of America. There were a lot of names to announce. The musicians at Noah’s school are an accomplished bunch.

Next up was the Jazz Ensemble. They had vocalists, a boy and a girl, for three of their five numbers, which interested June. I think she might have been imagining herself up on stage with a microphone and a big band backing her six or seven years hence.

Then the concert band played a few songs. One was one of those high concept band pieces with which you’re probably familiar if you’ve ever had a kid in band. It was called “The Great Locomotive Chase.” It was inspired by a Union raid on the railroad tracks in Georgia during the Civil War, and featured instruments that sounded like a train whistle and other sound effects. That was fun. June was starting to fade, though, and she alternated between leaning against me and Beth. I was tired, too, as I’d been up late keeping Noah on task the night before as he wrote an alternative ending to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

Symphonic Band (the intermediate band) was next. Noah’s going to play in this band next semester. It’s hard to fit in band with as many required classes as the CAP kids have, so this year they’ve just let him play whenever his schedule allowed, which we appreciate. Many kids in CAP just drop music and I’m glad he hasn’t had to do that, even though he had to skip a year.

At last, it was time for the Wind Ensemble, or the advanced band. I don’t know why they call it the Wind Ensemble when it’s not just wind instruments, but there you have it. Noah had told us what he was playing in each song ahead of time. We like to know because it’s usually impossible to see the percussionists all the way in the back. He’d also told me weeks ago he didn’t have any difficult parts, so I was surprised to hear the snare drum as the most prominent percussion sound in their first piece, “Matador.” This is a very fast song and he sounded fantastic, very precise. Beth and I exchanged happy, relieved looks over June, who muttered, “He probably made three little mistakes he’ll go on and on about.”

Noah played timpani in “Amazing Grace,” a smaller part, but I’m always glad whenever he gets some timpani experience because they didn’t have one at his middle school and it’s been an audition bane for him because of that. He played the bass drum and woodblocks capably in “Hebrides Suite” and the concert was over.

As we walked back to the car I asked him how he thought it went and he said, “okay” and later, “not terrible.” This for him nearly amounts to self-promotion. But he’s right. It wasn’t terrible. It was the opposite of terrible. I’m happy he held his own with challenging music and I hope he’ll be comfortable in Symphonic Band next semester. It was clear from the concert he doesn’t belong in the non-audition concert band, which was his first choice (because he hates to audition). But whatever band he plays in, I always enjoy hearing him perform.

Holiday Sing (and Electoral College March)

June sang and played violin at her school’s Holiday Sing once last Friday and twice on Monday. Last year she was in the chorus, but there was no chorus this year, so the whole fourth and fifth grade sang instead, preparing in their regular music class. The band and orchestra played, too.

June is having the opposite problem Noah’s having with music this year, and I think it’s a worse problem to have. Mr. G’s replacement isn’t as skilled at assessing the students’ skill and experience levels and coming up with appropriate lessons for everyone. This was Mr. G’s superpower.  Mr. B is basically treating them all like raw beginners. June says the fifth graders who just started to play last year are incredulous at how easy the music is and she’s been playing for almost three and a half years. Not surprisingly, there’s no advanced string ensemble this year.

So, we’d been considering having June drop out of orchestra after the January concert, but then we found out there wasn’t going to be a January concert this year so the timing is less clear. It’s hard to see the point of pulling her out of her science and Spanish class once a week if she’s not learning anything. But before we take that step, I wanted to address my concerns with Mr. B first. He did offer to give June some harder music and meet with her after school on Mondays, which was generous of him. But the first piece he gave her was “Frere Jacques,” so we still have the same underlying problem.

Meanwhile, to keep from losing ground, June’s been practicing songs from orchestra camp and last year’s orchestra selections, and she’s using online tutorials to learn new songs. She and Beth have also been practicing Christmas songs together in preparation for a joint performance for Beth’s mom at Christmas, which they are both enjoying. The obvious solution is to put her back into private lessons, but between Scouts, basketball, and voice lessons, she has enough on her plate without adding another item to her weekly calendar.

This year the Holiday Sing was the same day the Electoral College met. I’d noticed this coincidence ahead of time and I thought it might mar my enjoyment of the event. Sure enough, I was melancholy as I walked to June’s school.

Just two days earlier I’d taken another long walk, from the Washington Monument to the White House, as part of a rally and march to ask the electors to vote their conscience.

I told June I was going to a rally to ask the electors to vote their conscience and asked if she’d like to make me a poster. She considered. “Is it okay if it has glitter glue and sparkles?” 

“Yes.”

She was sold.

I told Noah where I was going and he said, “Why do you think that will work?”

“I don’t,” I said.
“Then why are you going?”
“Because sometimes you have to try even when it seems hopeless. That’s what we learn from Frodo and Sam, right?”
He gave me a half-skeptical, half-sad smile.

The march started at the Washington Monument and proceeded to the White House. Even though we’d had an ice storm that morning the day had warmed up considerably. The late afternoon light was a lovely pale gold. I wore my coat unbuttoned and even got a little overheated as I tried to keep up with the marchers, who on average were probably about twenty years younger than me and pretty well spread out in the street. The march was spirited, but sparse, as these things go. The signs were about all sorts of lefty issues, relevant I suppose because they were all issues affected by the election, but I would have preferred a narrower focus on our appeal to the electors.  At the end we were standing by the reviewing stands for the inaugural parade, which are under construction. This seemed to point out how little we could really do about it.

But when I got home, Beth had made a lasagna and Noah had made enough progress on his pre-calculus so we could read the last chapter of Return of the King after dinner. I felt I’d done what I could and it was comforting to be back home.

At June’s school before the Holiday Sing, I sat in a row of a few other mothers of June’s friends. The mom next to me and I discussed how neither of us was sad to be leaving elementary school behind at the end of the year and the state of instrumental music at the school. She seemed to agree with my assessment but I could tell from a look of mild surprise on her face, that I am considerably more worked up about this than she is. This had been happening to me every time I talk to someone about instrumental music. I guess I need to tone it down.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when the band started to play “Jingle Bells” because they didn’t sound half bad, if a little morose because the tempo was so slow.  Their Hanukkah selection, “My Dreidel” was fine, too. I started to wonder if the orchestra would sound better than anticipated, once all the different instruments were playing at once, as opposed to June’s simple, repetitive piece of it that I’d been hearing at home. Sometimes that does happen. But when they played, it sounded more like an exercise for beginners than a song played by kids with over a year’s experience playing together. I was also having disgruntled thoughts about watching children fiddle while Rome burned.

Luckily, the singing part of the Holiday Sing was next. In this performance, the fifth grade sang a few songs alone and then there was a sing-along with the fourth-grade audience. Half the fifth grade (all that can fit) got up on risers and sang a traditional Puerto Rican Christmas song, followed by a spirited rendition of “Let it Snow.” There was a pause while the two halves of the fifth grade traded places and sang their songs.

I was sitting in exactly the wrong place to see June. The music teacher was blocking my view of her. But the teacher was swaying and the longer the concert went on the more pronounced her swaying became, so I could sometimes see brief flashes of my daughter. This was somewhat amusing.

They sang two songs alone and then it was time for an eight-song Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/Christmas sing-along set. Many of the songs were familiar from years past. There’s a Hanukkah song I’ve always liked called “In the Window,” and “Ocho Candelitas.” They shook things up a bit with the Christmas songs. No “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Feliz Navidad,” which are perennial favorites. Among the new songs was “Mele Kalikimaka.” I’d like to think this Hawaiian-themed song might have been a tribute to our outgoing President, but who knows? At any rate, they don’t change the songs much and in my ten years of attending this concert I don’t think they ever sang it before. And then, my last Holiday Sing was over.

That night, doing the dishes, I was trying not to think about what had happened that day, that out of 306 electors who were supposed to vote for Trump, only two had the decency and temerity to consider his appalling words and actions and say no. I wasn’t expecting a different outcome—really I wasn’t—but if it had been even a dozen of them, I might have felt a little better about humanity.

As I pushed these thoughts away, I found myself humming that pretty Hanukkah song, so familiar from years of Holiday Sings. I’ve never heard it anywhere else. The experience of hearing children on the verge of their winter break, singing songs of joy for all these years has also been the opposite of terrible. Maybe I will miss it after all.

Postscript: Beth went to a march about a week ago as well, against the Muslim registry, and President Obama recently took steps to make that registry less likely. We are not powerless.