Octopus’s Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And…

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

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

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

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

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

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

September Fields

You better get up for your mama
You better grab the best of your life
I know you’re ready
To get older
Anyhow
Well all you have to do is wander
Over fields of dark time

Frazey Ford, “September Fields”

Before School: Thursday & Friday

The day after our return from Hershey Park, Noah had a half-day orientation at the high school to run through an abbreviated version of his schedule and meet his teachers. It was the only day that week I worked more than forty minutes. Instead of my original modest goal of ten hours a week for the last two weeks of break, I worked less than twelve hours total. Sara didn’t have much pressing work for me and with the kids home (not to mention our two-day road trip) I wasn’t that motivated to do more. I meant to get a play date for June Thursday but I never got around to it and she kept saying she was bored. I thought there was an upside to this, though. A little boredom right before school starts could be just the thing she needed to get her in the mood for a change. (So I didn’t get one Friday either.)

She was excited when the postcard with her teachers arrived. I asked her if she knew anything about the fourth grade teachers and if there was anyone she wanted to have or to avoid. She said no, she just wanted to know. I’d been hoping for Ms. G for English and social studies because Noah had her in second grade and she was good at keeping him challenged, which has been a concern of ours since we found out last spring that June would be staying at her current school. I didn’t think there was much chance of June getting Ms. G, though, because while the Spanish immersion program where she spends part of her day is small, the rest of the school is quite big, bursting at the seams with over nine hundred students. There are several non-immersion fourth-grade teachers. So I was surprised and very happy to find out she did get Ms. G in the afternoon.

Between having Ms. G and June being in compacted math (they cover the fourth grade curriculum and part of fifth), it was looking as if she might be more challenged than last year. This set my mind at ease somewhat, though I will admit I’m still sad about June not going to the Highly Gifted Center. On some level she is, too. Three of her closest friends are going and it’s never easy to be the one left behind. Shortly before school started she had a dream about touring Megan’s school because she was going to switch to it.

When Noah got home from orientation he said he thought he was in the wrong history class. It seemed to be a regular ninth-grade honors history class, not the CAP version. He’s supposed to take history, English, drama, and photography with his cohort of students in the Communications Arts Program this semester, along with Algebra II, Physics, and Spanish III with the regular school population. I had a sinking feeling when I heard this. I thought it might mean the school counselor who had re-arranged his schedule to fit in band had missed a required class. We were meeting with said counselor the very next day in order to talk about getting him a 504 plan so I told him we’d see about it then.

I read the last chapter and the epilogue of Triangle, the Fire That Changed America to him that afternoon. He’d finished his math packet and his English homework sometime in July but he still had a few chapters left in this book and some essay questions to answer. Over the course of the summer, I read both this book and Into Thin Air (about the 1996 Mount Everest disaster) to him so it would go faster. It’s the home version of a 504 plan. I recommend both books, by the way. They’re gripping if a bit grim to read back to back. But as a bonus, if you read them, you probably won’t have to answer any essay questions about them.

The next morning Beth, Noah, and I went to the high school to meet with his counselor. We explained the possible problem with his schedule and she said she’d look into it. We also went over some of the highlights of the psychologists’ report with her and she said she’d start the paperwork for a 504 application. We’ve been down this road before, so I know it will take a while and the results are not assured, but at least we’ve started.

Back home, I read to June and played a fractions game with her that was the last assignment in her math packet. After lunch we walked to her school for the Open House to meet her teachers. She has a lot of them for elementary school—four, not counting the specials teachers. She has a homeroom teacher, Señor F, whom she only sees from whenever she arrives until school officially starts at nine (twenty minutes tops), then she goes to math with Ms. O, then a Spanish and science class with Señora Y and in the afternoon she has Ms. G for language arts and social studies.

All the switching around in the morning is because of math tracking and because her homeroom is too big so some kids get skimmed off and go to a resource teacher who doesn’t have her own class for Spanish and science. Don’t worry if you didn’t quite follow that. It took me awhile. June was hoping not to have any classes in the trailers this year but she has math, Spanish, and science there.

June also wants to sign up for chorus, so that will mean eventually Wednesdays will be even more complicated. Possibly the craziest thing about her schedule is that she has lunch at 10:15. Yes, you read that right. School goes from 9:00 to 3:25 and she has lunch at 10:15. Because the school is so over-crowded lunch shifts run almost all day.

I spent the rest of the afternoon tying up loose ends of June’s fall extracurricular activities (setting up a time for her violin lessons, trying to find out what week Girl Scouts started) and coaching Noah through one of the essay questions on the Triangle fire when he got stuck.

Last Weekend

Saturday should have been a good day and in many ways it was. Beth and I went to a play, which we don’t do nearly enough. One of June’s long-time musical drama camp compatriots (and daughter of the camp director) had a role in One in the Chamber, which is about the long-term effects of gun violence on a family, years after they lose a son. If you’re local, you can still see it. The last show is tomorrow. Grace was great, as was the rest of the cast. I wasn’t sure the ending was really earned, but that was a script issue and not an acting issue and I won’t go into spoilers here. It was really nice to see a play and the theater is tiny so it’s quite an intimate experience.

While we were in the city, Noah took June to Megan’s house to attend an end-of-summer pool party/slumber party. Megan wanted to see some of her friends she won’t be seeing every day anymore since she’ll be at the HGC.

When we got home, Noah was working on his last Triangle essay (June had finished her reading log earlier in the day). I was glad they both finished their summer homework with a day to spare so there wouldn’t be any last-minute scramble with it on the last day of summer break. When Noah finished, we went for Italian at Vicino (http://vicinoitaliano.com), which is a favorite of Noah’s and then we tried the pastries at a new (to us) coffee shop in Silver Spring.

The only thing that went wrong that day was that Beth got an email from Noah’s counselor, confirming our suspicion that he was in the wrong history class and to get into the right history class, he’d have to drop band. I was sad and frustrated about this because he’d been so happy when he finally got into band the week before.

Sunday evening we took the kids out for ice cream, a night-before-school-starts tradition. But Noah developed a nervous stomachache while we were eating at the Noodles & Company we’d chosen for its proximity to Ben and Jerry’s and he didn’t get any ice cream. Then June ate only a few bites of hers before deciding she wasn’t hungry, so in the end it was really Beth and me who had back-to-school ice cream. We bought a pint to take home so Noah could have some later, though, and he actually felt better and ate some later that evening. June brought her small cup of vanilla ice cream home, too, and ate it over the course of several days, eating just a few bites at a time and putting it back in the freezer. I have never known anyone to make ice cream last like she does.

Back to School: Monday to Friday

The big day came. Noah went to high school. Beth took his traditional first day picture and I came out to the porch to join Beth as we, just a little wistfully, watched him walk to his new bus stop.

June’s picture was a bit harder to get. I’d had a dress in mind I wanted to suggest but she guessed it and pre-emptively said no. She countered with a t-shirt and bike shorts. I thought it looked like what she’s worn almost every day this summer and said she should pick something more special to mark the day. We ended up compromising on a t-shirt and denim skirt but this makes it seem like a much quicker discussion than it actually was. I kept asking myself why I wasn’t giving up, why I cared. Partly it was because Noah let me choose his first day outfits until he was in middle school at which point I said I thought he should probably start choosing himself. He probably would have let me keep right on picking. He really didn’t care one way or the other, but I had it fixed in my mind I’d have some input for the next couple years with June, though why I thought it would be the same with her I have no idea. I have, after all, met my daughter.

I went through with my day—a visit to Starbucks, which I didn’t frequent as much while the kids were home, a little reading, some exercise and housework, and writing an article for a supplement company newsletter. I checked Facebook frequently to see everyone’s first day of school pictures. I love those.

The kids got home around four. CAP kids stay after school for an extra period so he doesn’t get out of school until 3:20 and June’s walking home from school this year, so my workday has gotten a little longer. June’s been looking forward to being allowed to walk home alone for years. Alas, the first day got off to a rough start. The new principal stopped her when he saw her leave unsupervised, even though I’d signed the form allowing her to self-dismiss. She was only allowed to go when a counselor vouched that she was indeed in fourth grade. (This kind of thing is exactly why she hates being small for her age.) But other than that she said she had a good day.

Noah did, too. He’d had half his classes—they operate on a block schedule with each class meeting every other day. I am liking this so far because he can never get homework due the next day. On the first day he had homework assigned in just two classes and he’d done the Physics in study hall. This was gratifying because when he had to drop band we advocated for him not to replace it with another class and to have a study hall instead. He doesn’t need to take eight classes every semester to graduate, even though that’s how many students are routinely assigned.

He used the study hall well all week, doing all his Physics and Algebra homework at school. The history homework was reading and questions on Reconstruction. I was glad he had two nights to do it because it took him a while. He got more questions on the same reading on Wednesday (the next time he had history) that took him two more nights to complete. If the first week is any indication, history will be his most challenging class this year, as it was last year. But he finished his homework every night and went to bed more or less on time. Some nights he even had some free time.

June’s teachers didn’t give any homework the first week. At school she wrote a three-paragraph essay about her summer vacation in Spanish, which was encouraging to me. She really didn’t have to write much last year in any language. They are studying the civil rights movement in Ms. G’s class. June was shocked to hear that when swimming pools were desegregated some people filled them with concrete rather than let whites and blacks swim together. They also did a role-playing exercise in which the taller children were given more classroom rights than the shorter ones and then the shorter kids organized a protest at the teacher’s suggestion. This made a big impression on her, as you might imagine.

She had even more to report about recess than whatever was going on in the classroom. She and Evie and Zoë have formed a sap-collectors club. They scrape sap off the evergreen trees on the playground and they have plans to sell it. They also talk to their classmates about the virtues of sap. There’s going to be sap club party next week, I hear. She has smears of sap she can’t wash off her leg and she seems pretty happy about school.

After some hesitation, Noah decided to try out for Jazz Lab band (the less advanced of two jazz bands) next week. I’m proud of him for trying no matter how it turns out because he gets nervous when he has to audition and in fact he declined a chance to try out for Symphonic Band at the very end of last year when he first found out he couldn’t get into Concert Band (no audition required) this year because of the schedule conflict. He found out about Symphonic Band late and he would have only had two days to practice. This is a similar situation. The class is already in session, but his counselor asked the music director to let him audition anyway, which I appreciate. It would be nice for him to have a regular musical outlet.

Another first week is over. The kids get up for their mamas every morning. We hope they grab the best of their lives and we watch as they get older, every year, every month, every week.

Summer’s End

1. Before Hershey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Hershey: The Sweetest Place on Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle School is Over!

Beth drove Noah out to West Virginia on Friday so he can spend a week of R&R with her mom, because while June still has another half-day of school on Monday, Noah’s last day was Thursday and his promotion was Friday morning. He’s officially a high school student now.

Thursday he had his last exam (geometry) in the morning and then the whole eighth grade went on a riverboat cruise in the afternoon. He didn’t have much to say about it except they could see the Washington Monument from the boat and the food wasn’t very good and there was a dance, in which he did not participate, but it was better than being in school.

Because of the cruise he didn’t get home until around five and when he did he yelled, “Middle school is over!” so many times that he got hoarse.

Before I talk about promotion, though, I want to tell you about the last big event of the year for kids in the Humanities magnet.

F-CON

The first Monday in June Beth and I both took off work to watch the eighth-grade documentaries and multimedia presentations at AFI, a lovely art deco theater in downtown Silver Spring. They do this every year; it’s called F-CON, for final conference. (Many of their big projects have acronyms for names. The best acronym this year was ARMPIT—Antebellum Reform Movement Presentation in Technology. His was a PowerPoint presentation about a mid-nineteenth century labor leader.)

As we approached the theater, we saw they’d actually put his school’s name and F-CON on the marquee along with the other names of all the directors and films playing there. Beth shot a one-minute video of it. F-CON is at the very end.

F-CON was actually the third set of documentaries his class made this year, which was heavy on media projects. In the fall, they spent a week in New York City, interviewing subjects for biographical documentaries. Noah’s group interviewed a composer. In the winter they participated in a documentary contest about current events C-SPAN sponsors. Noah’s group did theirs on the repeal of DOMA and they interviewed Beth and me about how the legislation affected us. Despite the fact that I am in it, I have not seen this film because Noah, who has strong perfectionist tendencies, was not satisfied with the final product and didn’t want to share it. This is often how it goes with him, so I was glad he was basically forced to let us watch this film, which compared the banking panic of 1819 to the financial crisis of 2008.

It was great. All the films, websites, and skits were great. Beth said she kept thinking of little things they could change or include and had to stop and remind herself they are thirteen and fourteen years old. You forget that when you watch their work; it’s that professional. The assignment was to compare an event from the past to one in the present, along the theme of Challenges and Choices. The Salem witch trials and the Sedition Act of 1789 were popular topics. There were also presentations comparing the development of the steam locomotive and the D.C. Metro, as well as the first Transatlantic cable and the Internet. One film compared the Boston Massacre to last summer’s Ferguson protests and another examined themes of Romanticism in rock music.

There were fifteen presentations, lasting from 8:30 to noon. During the lunch break we took Noah out to Noodles and Company and Fro-Zen-Yo, then we went shopping at the AT&T store, where I got a new phone, my first smart phone. Never say I’m not a hip, up-to-date, cutting edge sort of person. (The next day I sent my first text.)

Anyway, back at AFI we watched a retrospective video a committee of eighth graders put together, using pictures and video from their three years of middle school. It was mostly chronological so the first pictures we saw of Noah were of his eleven-year-old self, on the Outdoor Education field trip they took for several days in the fall of sixth grade. He was practically a little boy compared to the big teenager we live with now. We saw more pictures of him and his peers dressed as figures from Greek myths at Greek Fest in sixth grade, doing research at the library at the University of Maryland in seventh grade, and being tourists in New York last fall, as well as pictures of them in the classroom, on stage, and on the soccer field. (It seems a lot of them were in drama club and played girls’ soccer.) I wished Noah, who did submit a bunch of photos, had sent some of the band. Anyway, it was lovely and sentimental and seemed so final that after we left it was hard to adjust to the reality that they still had two weeks of school (including a week of exams) left in their middle school careers.

But those weeks passed. Noah took exams in Spanish II, American History, English, Earth Science, and Geometry. His Media Production class had no exam. Some kids were still doing oral presentations that had been going on for weeks, but his was finished before exam week.

Promotion

On Thursday Beth and I realized neither of us had asked Noah if he’d picked up his promotion tickets. There had been many stern notices from the school about the deadline for doing this and when I called the main office saying I had “a question about promotion tickets” the person I was talking to snapped at me that there were no more tickets available. When I clarified I just wanted to know if a specific student had collected his, she was friendlier. I was relieved to find he had, and thought we really would have been out of luck if he hadn’t.

Noah’s school has no auditorium so promotion was at a nearby high school. After I put June on the school bus we drove out there. We got there fifteen minutes before the doors opened for students. Dressed up teenagers and their parents were milling around, a lot of the girls wobbling in high heels. They let the students in first and then the guests. I was glad to get inside as it was a very hot day.

The jazz band was up on stage playing. The did a lot of the same numbers they did at the concert a few weeks earlier, but also “Summertime,’ which I thought was a nice tune to play for antsy teens on the verge of their summer break.

While we waited for the ceremony to begin Beth read a text from her mom, reminiscing about her own (her mom’s, not Beth’s) junior high school graduation. She even remembered what she wore. Beth said she wasn’t certain if she even had a junior high school graduation and that if she did, she didn’t remember anything about it. I remember the rehearsal for my middle school one, but not the actual promotion because I didn’t go. We’d moved in December of my eighth grade year and I didn’t really feel connected to my new school so I skipped it. At the time my mother’s boyfriend told me I’d regret it. Thirty-four years later, I don’t regret not going because it wouldn’t have been meaningful to me, but that fact itself makes me a little sad. It took me a long time to make friends after that move and it was a painful time in my life.

There were a bunch of kids on stage, who were going to give speeches, sing songs, play an instrument, or step dance (yes, really). I really wasn’t expecting quite so many performances, but it was nice. They alternated between speeches and musical selections. Noah has some very talented classmates. There was a very polished performance of “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and a rather spirited duet of “Lean On Me,” with the audience encouraged to clap to the beat and sing the chorus. There was also a surprise performance of a very popular retired coach, who sang “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” (The school mascot is an eagle.) It turns out he has a lovely baritone voice.

The performances and speeches went on so long I began to wonder if they were substitutes for having the class walk across the stage. Beth must have, too, because when the principal announced she was going to start reading names, Beth expressed surprise, and perhaps a little dismay. There are two hundred eighty five kids in his class, it was ten forty and promotion had already been going on for an hour and ten minutes by that point.

It also happened to be the day the House was voting on Trade Promotion Authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal Beth’s union has been working to defeat for months, and she wanted to be home in time to track the voting, which was supposed to start at eleven. (It was delayed until early afternoon so it didn’t end up happening during promotion. Thank goodness.) Anyway, the principal speed-read her way through the names and it didn’t take long. Then it was over and Noah was a high schooler.

Beth had go to the parking lot to find the band teacher, who had the medal Noah had forgotten to collect at school. They won them in competition, and while it’s the kind of thing Noah often doesn’t care about, he wanted this one. It meant something to him, so Beth went to find Mr. P and I stayed in the lobby waiting for Noah to emerge. Finally I texted him (because I can do that now)—“Where are you?” He answered with an image of a red car, so I joined Beth and Noah at the car.

In all the confusion, we never got a graduation picture. But we did take him out for an early lunch and for frozen yogurt because he asked. Beth asked if ice cream on the road would do—she was taking him to West Virginia later that day—and he said yes, but then he added quietly, “but now would be nicer.” One of the advantages of being a person who doesn’t ask for much is that sometimes, when you do ask, people listen, at least if that person is your mother. Beth agreed. We ran into both the principal of his school and his English teacher at the deli where we ate lunch and his fourth grade teacher at the frozen yogurt place.

Back at home, Beth had some work to do, related to TPP, and they both had to pack so it was almost three by the time they left. They arrived in Wheeling at eight and had pizza and the next morning Noah went swimming at Beth’s aunt Carole’s condo with Beth’s cousin Holly. Beth was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Let Summer Begin,” and for Noah at least, it has.

Party Girl: Or, Speechless No More

A week ago, on a Friday morning, I woke a little after six to June saying, “I can talk! I can talk!” in the hall outside my bedroom. Her voice was a little croaky, higher pitched than it usually is, and quieter but it was definitely talking, not whispering. My sister called two days later to ask for “the story of how June started talking again” and I had to tell her there was no story. I’m not sure what precipitated the return of her voice, but then again I’m not really sure why she stopped talking in the first place.

I had actually started to lose confidence in the Mean Girl theory because things did get better between June and her former friend at school and there was no noticeable change, at least not for over a week. So maybe that was it and maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it just took a week for her to feel relaxed about it.

In any case, she was excited to go to school Friday and I was relieved that she came home that afternoon still talking. That night we attended a carnival at her school and in between eating pupusas and gelato and watching her jump on the moon bounce I talked to her morning teacher who praised June for finding ways to participate during the six weeks when she wasn’t speaking. By Saturday afternoon, June’s voice was more or less back to normal. We’d made an appointment with a voice therapist at Children’s Hospital for next week. We haven’t cancelled it yet, just in case, but I’m hoping we can. It seems what Beth dubbed June’s “silent spring” is over.

Saturday June asked if she could go to the playground by herself. This is a new privilege I’d been on the verge of giving her when she lost her voice but I’d told her I wasn’t comfortable with her walking around alone by herself until she could talk, in case she needed to interact with someone. Her voice was still a little soft and squeaky then, but I said yes, because I thought she could use the positive reinforcement. She went to the playground Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, sometimes for hours. I asked her what she did and she said played and read a book.

The next Tuesday was June’s last Girl Scout meeting of the year. It was near the end of a six-day business trip Beth took to Detroit, so I was a little frazzled and forgot it was a parents-invited potluck until that morning. I decided rather than go out and buy ingredients for something I’d see what we had on hand. I’d been planning to make kale quesadillas for dinner anyway and we had two blocks of cheddar and an unopened package of tortillas. I picked nearly all the kale we had in the garden but once I sautéed it, it had cooked down so much, I decided just to make two quesadillas with kale and save them for home consumption and take a plate of eight plain ones cut into small wedges to the potluck.

When we arrived I noticed June’s the only third grader still wearing a Brownie vest. The timing of the bridging ceremony means the third-graders have been in kind of weird Brownie/Junior limbo since late March. Most of them have switched to Junior vests or sashes but some are evading the problem by not wearing any uniform elements at all. The badges they’re earing are still triangular Brownie badges, not circular Junior badges, though, so they can’t put them on their new uniforms and it’s hard to know what to do with them.

We ate macaroni and cheese and fruit salad and green-dyed devilled eggs and other dishes. Then there was ice cream and a green-frosted cake. I told June that my chocolate ice cream and cake were in Brownie and Junior colors. The eating and chatting went on a good bit longer than I expected. If I’d known, I might have tried to sit closer to the group of adults at the other end of our table.

Finally it was time to watch two groups of third-grade girls, including June, do dance routines they’d worked up for a dancing badge. The dance was the main reason I came to the potluck. I’d considered staying home and supervising Noah’s studying—it was exam week—but I’d been doing a lot of that recently and June wanted me to come so I did. She hadn’t told me much about the routine so I was surprised when the CD started and it was “I’m a Believer,” sadly not the Monkees’ version, but a remake. Still, that earworm is going to last a while. The dance was cute. The second dance routine was to an Irish jig and very well done.

The leader called the girls up next for earned badges and pins and for some reason everyone got slippers, too. Maybe it was an end of the year present from the leader? In any case, June is quite happy with them.

June had a violin lesson on Wednesday. Her teacher, who is quite talkative herself and has been very sympathetic to June’s plight—to the point of whispering in solidarity herself during June’s first voiceless lesson– was very happy to hear her voice again. “When June’s not talking, the world just doesn’t seem right,” she said.

Tuesday was field day. June said it was fun but had nothing else to report about it. While June’s morning class has been plowing ahead with math—they even had a test today, the second to last day of school– by Thursday June’s afternoon teacher seemed to have given up entirely on instruction. They whole third grade had pajama parties in their English classes that day. They wore pajamas to school and brought blankets, stuffed animals, and a book to read. Then they made little nests for themselves and read for an hour. It sounds like my kind of party.

There was another party today, one with a movie and popsicles, which caused Noah to say June was “a party girl.” Elementary school often ends this way, rather than with a flurry of exams. But this year it seemed like there was more than the end of another school year to celebrate. We’re all glad our party girl has her voice back.

Everything Happens at Once

This was my Facebook status on Wednesday: “Steph went to a middle school awards ceremony last night and will go to an elementary school art show tonight and a middle school band concert tomorrow night. It’s the time of year when everything happens at once.”

But before I tell you about all those events… a bit of news about June. She told Beth a week ago that she’s been having trouble at school with a girl who used to be a friend of hers, but with whom she’s clashed on and off for a little over a year. Apparently, the girl has been talking about June behind her back for the past month, which if you’re keeping track, is how long it’s been since June lost her voice.

Beth and I had both been wondering, if the issue was psychological as the ENT concluded, what exactly it was. The most upsetting thing that’s happened to her recently that we knew about was not getting into the Highly Gifted Center, but the timing wasn’t right. We found out about that in mid-March and she didn’t lose her voice until late April. Suddenly everything made more sense.

After talking first with Beth and then with me, June came up with a plan to go see the counselor at school on Tuesday. We hoped that talking to us and then to a professional might help, but Tuesday she came home saying the counselor suggested trying to talk to the girl, and she did and it didn’t go well. In fact, she thought it had only “made things worse.” This was discouraging, to say the least. I kept thinking that in an after school special, after talking to the school counselor, or better yet, while talking to the counselor, her voice would dramatically return. The television of my youth has steered me wrong in so many ways.

Anyway, back to the week’s events…

Tuesday: Middle School Awards Ceremony

When you are invited to the awards ceremony at Noah’s school, you don’t know what award your child has won, just that he or she has won (at least) one. In sixth grade the whole band won an award for advancing to the state-level band festival. In seventh grade, he was recognized for perfect attendance, which was vexing, because he had not in fact had perfect attendance and it’s not very satisfying to win something you haven’t earned (5/30/14). This year the band advanced to the state festival again so I was almost sure that was why he was invited, but you never know, he could have won something else as well.

June had a Girl Scout meeting that night and rather than make her miss it, we sent her with Maggie’s family, with whom we usually carpool. The plan was for Beth to leave in the middle (the music awards are early so she thought she had a good chance to see Noah get his award), pick up Maggie and June and bring Maggie home and June back to the high school where the ceremony was taking place. Then another Scout family put in a plea for a ride home and Beth agreed to take three girls with her.

We arrived, after looking a long time for parking in the crowded high school lot, and listened to a brief orchestra and choir performance. The first two sets of awards were for straight As and perfect attendance. I was relieved Noah was not called up for either of those, as unearned awards two years in a row would be too much to take.

The content areas came next. Art and English were the first two. Right in between them, there was an announcement from the stage that two cars, including a red Ford Focus with an Oberlin College sticker on it, needed to move because they were blocking other vehicles. So Beth had to leave a little earlier than planned, and she missed the Music awards. But, much to my surprise, they did not recognize the whole band, as they had two years earlier. Only about a half dozen students were called and Noah wasn’t among them. (There are eighty kids in the band.)

I scanned the rest of the program, wondering what Noah’s award could be. If he were to win one in a content area I’d guess it would be English, because his teacher seems to appreciate his work, or possibly Media because it’s usually his best subject, but those awards had already happened. It wouldn’t be Physical Education, or Reading and Literature (a sixth grade class), maybe Science or Spanish, definitely not World Studies as he has really struggled with completing his work in American History this semester. Well, it wasn’t science or Spanish and it wasn’t World Studies.

I looked at the next group of awards, Specialty Awards. Nothing seemed likely. He doesn’t play a sport. I couldn’t imagine he’d be recognized as Eagle of the Year, for “respect, responsibility, and relationships.” He hasn’t finished the seventy-five hours of volunteer work they need to graduate from high school. (You get an award for finishing it while in middle school.) And he didn’t win the Geography Bee. I came to the unsettling conclusion that he was mistakenly going to get the Student Service Learning award (he’s only three hours short) or that he would never be called to the stage at all, either because the invitation was a mistake or because they’d missed his name for an award he should have won. I didn’t know which of these three options would be most upsetting.

When they got to the SSL awards, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to hear his name or not (I’d half convinced myself we’d miscounted and maybe he did have seventy-five hours), but I didn’t hear it. After the Geography Bee, there was one last award, called the Presidential Award. It didn’t have any description on the program. Once the teacher at the podium explained it was for eighth graders who have maintained at least a 3.5 GPA for every quarter of middle school (except the last one, of course, which isn’t over), I breathed a sigh of relief. He has had a 3.5 or better every quarter.

Later when I asked Noah what he was thinking he’d win (or if he was worried about winning something mistakenly or winning nothing) when he didn’t win a band award, he just shrugged. I think it’s possible he was he was worried, though, because when he crossed the stage, he had a big smile on his face. Beth and June arrived just about five minutes too late to see it.

Wednesday: Elementary School Art Show

There’s an element of surprise at the art show at June’s school, too. Every student has a piece in it, selected by the art teachers, and the kids don’t know ahead of time which one it will be. We were talking about this at dinner one night shortly before the show and Noah said, “What if it’s your worst piece?” June whispered in an exasperated tone—she can still convey exasperation just fine—that it couldn’t be, because the art teacher picked. Beth said later, this exchange tells you a lot about both kids and how they relate to outside validation.

June came home from school in good spirits. I asked her how her second visit to the school counselor had gone. Better, she said, but she didn’t want to say more, so we left it at that. While I was reading to her on the porch, though, she started to seem downcast and not to be very interested in the book, Something Upstairs, a story about a modern boy being haunted the by the ghost of a murdered slave, which she’d been enjoying previously. I asked if she felt sick, as late afternoon is the time she’s most likely to get a migraine and she said no.

I made applesauce for dinner because in addition to her lost voice, and the coughing, and the tongue pain, she had a new symptom—tooth pain. I’d been making scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes and the like for her for the past few days. (Her cough is almost gone, incidentally, and the tongue and tooth pain as well, thank goodness.) I was surprised when she ate only a little of the applesauce—both the kids love homemade applesauce—and nothing else on her plate. She said she wasn’t hungry. I asked if she was okay and if she still wanted to go to the art show and she said yes.

So we went. And for most of the time we were there, it was a pleasant occasion. Megan came running to greet us when she saw June and immediately took her to see June’s piece, which she had already located. It was a collage of a green guitar with musical notes in the background. (The assignment had been to paint something in response to a musical selection.) Then we looked at Megan’s collage and walked through the rest of the exhibits. We saw a lot of interesting art. June waved at friends and we stopped to talk with adults and we all had a good time. As we were leaving, though, June got a stricken look on her face and then she was sick on the sidewalk right in front of the school. We took her inside, alerted an administrator, and took June to the bathroom to get her clean. At home, she went to bed early at her own request.

I thought she might ask to stay home from school the next day, but she woke up feeling fine, and went about getting ready for school, cheerfully noting she’d remembered her library book and to wear sneakers for gym, so I sent her. And when she came home from school Thursday she was very excited because her favorite babysitter was coming to stay with her during Noah’s concert. June adores Eleanor and as we need sitters less and less as she gets older, having her come over is a treat.

Thursday: Middle School Band Concert

Getting Noah fed, dressed in his band clothes, and out the door was such a scramble that it wasn’t even until Beth and I were entering the cafeteria and finding our seats that I had a chance to reflect on the fact that it was his last band concert of middle school and his last band concert for a while because we recently got his ninth grade schedule in the mail and while he requested band, he couldn’t take it because of a schedule conflict. I felt a surprisingly strong wave of sadness about this as the Jazz Band began to play a Herbie Hancock song and the concert was underway. Eventually I relaxed into the music. They played Sonny Rawlings’ “St. Thomas” next and they were really good. They ended, fittingly, with a B.B. King tribute.

Intermediate band played next, among other songs the theme from The Incredibles and “Happy.” Next up was Advanced Band, which is Noah’s band. They played six songs, the first two with the Intermediate band. These were their festival pieces and the band teacher seemed quite satisfied to announce their success there. Next they played “Kitsune: The Fox Spirits,” which is based on Japanese folk tales. After that song, the band teacher recognized “a masterful mallet solo by Noah Lovelady-Allen.” He’s never had a solo in a concert before so that was a nice way to end his middle school band career.

But it got better. He had a solo in the next piece, too (“Arabian Dances”), still on xylophone, and in the last piece, “Blue Ridge Reel” three of the percussionists came to the front of the stage (most of the time they’re in the back where we can’t see them). Noah played spoons, another boy had a washboard, and a girl played the suspended cymbals. While it wasn’t technically a solo, the band teacher did introduce all the featured percussionists.

“Quite a big night for Noah,” a band mom we know said after the concert, and it was, though every time I mention it he tried to downplay it. After the concert the band teacher was circulating, talking to parents and we went to tell him how much Noah has enjoyed band, and he told us Noah was “a great musician” and that he’d submitted his name for a music award, but that he was told he’d submitted too many and had to cut the list. So that was nice to hear, too. I was still sad about him not being in band next year as we left, but it was a lovely farewell.

Weekend

Memorial Day weekend was busy, too. June had a sleepover with Talia on Friday night. I took the girls to Color Me Mine, a paint-your-own-pottery place and then we met Beth and Noah for dinner, which was zPizza and Fro-Zen-Yo. Although this sleepover was in the works long before we learned of June’s social troubles, I thought it would be nice for June to spend an extended period of time with one of her preschool buddies, one who doesn’t attend her school and is removed from the situation.

Then we invited Megan over on Saturday afternoon and they had fun making a sand painting from a kit June got for her birthday (from Megan, I think). This kept June occupied while Beth and I were cleaning out one side of the basement. (We’re getting a French drain installed so it doesn’t flood every time it rains any more.)

On Monday, Megan’s family took June to their pool, which was having an opening weekend party. I hope the past few days, spent in part with her favorite babysitter, one of her oldest friends, and her very best friend prove restorative for June. More than any award, or piece of art, or song, what we all most want to appreciate now is the sound of her voice.

Something to Celebrate

Sunday: Mother’s Day

On Sunday morning June told me, “The next two days are going to be all about you.” She was referring to the fact that my birthday fell the day after Mother’s Day this year. It wasn’t all about me of course. For one thing I was sharing the celebration on Sunday with Beth, but more than that I knew how I was likely to spend those days. It’s not that it can never be all about you when you’re a parent, but sometimes it can’t and this was one of those times.

June did her best to fete us, though. She made us breakfast in bed (waffles with apple slices and yogurt), delivered just after seven and about a half hour later the kids brought us presents—chocolate for Beth, a bouquet of folded cloth flowers June made at Girl Scouts and my very favorite tea (hazelnut) for me. June also made us a card, cut into the shape of a flower. And we stayed in bed reading the paper until almost nine, which was luxurious.

Beth spent the rest of Sunday morning grocery shopping and attending a street fair with June where they had their picture taken with mustaches, as one does. I spent it sitting next to the computer where Noah was working on the organizer for his overdue essay on the Indian Removal Act, reading first the Washington Post magazine and then Brain, Child and looking up every paragraph or so to say something like, “That looks good. Write another sentence.” His ability to attend to his schoolwork is at low ebb these days and it goes considerably faster if someone watches him do it. This has been consuming a lot of my time recently.

He actually finished the organizer, which he’s been working on since March. We were both really happy about that. It was so detailed I thought the essay would practically write itself, but unfortunately, there just wasn’t any more time to work on it that day. After he had lunch and practiced his orchestra bells, he spent the rest of the afternoon re-writing a scene from As You Like It into different poetic genres.

I thought we had received all our Mother’s Day presents but when Beth and June came home, they’d picked up a bouquet of purple flowers, a cookie that said “Mommy” in frosting and balloon in the shape of an inverted pyramid that said “Happy Mother’s Day.” June also thought they should buy popsicles “for Mother’s Day,” but Beth thought fudgsicles were a better idea since she actually likes those.

After I put away the groceries, I went swimming and to the library, then I came home and read a bit to June. We started new book called Witch Catcher, which is the sort of children’s book that begins with the protagonist moving into a spooky old house left to her family by an eccentric distant relative. I read a lot of those books as a kid and it’s a source of continuing disappointment that no eccentric distant relative has ever left me a spooky old house. (I’d prefer one on a cliff overlooking the sea. That’s the best kind.)

For dinner we had takeout Ethiopian, which Beth had picked up earlier in the day. June had the idea that the kids should re-heat it and dish it out themselves and then they would have made dinner for us in addition to breakfast.

Monday: Birthday, ENT Appointment, Band Festival

“Happy birthday,” June said, bearing a tray with a bowl of Cheerios and a glass of orange juice. It was my second breakfast in bed in a row. She’d broken the first glass and Beth was busy cleaning up the juice and the glass and warning people not to walk in the kitchen in bare feet. She was in rush to get Noah out the door and we weren’t doing presents until the evening so we barely spoke.

June was still coughing, and we had an appointment with an ENT in the afternoon, so I worked a little in the morning and then napped after lunch because June had been up late into the night before with a new symptom, tongue pain. (That one only lasted two days.) Around two June and I set out for the doctor’s office, where we were to meet Beth. We arrived in the city early enough to stop at Starbucks and I used the gift card my Mom had sent for by birthday to buy a S’mores frappuchino, which is about the most decadent thing they have on the menu these days, but it was my birthday. June got a more sensible orange-mango smoothie and popcorn.

I knew the doctor’s appointment was not going to give us the magic answer to June’s troubles as soon as the nurse starting asking us questions about her symptoms and looking surprised at every answer. Then the doctor came in and asked a lot of the same questions and she looked surprised, too. She examined June’s throat by putting a tiny camera on flexible tube up her nose. Based on the appearance of her vocal cords and the way they move when she coughed or tried to speak, she told us it’s not croup or laryngitis, which were her pediatrician’s diagnoses. Her throat is irritated (from the non-stop coughing) but not infected and her vocal cords are not inflamed. Also based on the fact that none of the home remedies or medicines she’s had have stopped the coughing, she told us there was “no organic cause.” She reworded this about a half dozen different ways, each time starting, “To be perfectly honest” in case we were having trouble believing her, I guess, but I wasn’t.

I thought back to June’s sprained wrist in first grade and her sprained knee in second grade (5/9/13 & 9/30/13) and how the pain she perceived took much longer to abate than any medical professional thought it should. It seemed it might be another case of miscommunication between her mind and body. And, of course, if there’s no physical cause, there’s no physical cure. So we left the office, all of us downcast and without a treatment plan.

But, it was still my birthday, so we went through with our plan to go out to dinner. Beth suggested we eat in the city but it was early (around five) and I was pretty full from the frappuchino, so we went back to Takoma so we could eat a little later. June had suggested we hang out in the city and do Mad Libs until we were hungry. I thought how that actually could be fun, sort of an adventure, but Noah was on a band field trip, because they had advanced to state-level festival this year, and we needed to be home to pick him up after dinner.

On the Metro I noticed people giving June alarmed looks, no doubt wondering why we had this violently coughing child on public transportation. I am getting used to this look. We ate at Busboys and Poets again. It’s my fourth time there in the past few weeks, but I haven’t exhausted the menu. I had vegan “crab” cakes with sautéed vegetables and iced green tea.

At dinner I futilely quizzed June about whether anything happened at the Girl Scout camping trip or school that was upsetting her, thinking there might be some emotional upset at the root of this. “Not really” she whispered cheerfully to every inquiry. Then I reminded Beth, “You didn’t say ‘Happy birthday’ to me except on Facebook.”

“I didn’t?” she said, remembering about the spilled orange juice and the broken glass and then she said, “Happy birthday.”

Then, thinking about Facebook, I mentioned some of the nice messages people had left me, my uncle reminiscing about the first time he met me and my friend Joyce who lives in Indiana saying how much she misses me.

“Unlike me, who just said, ‘Happy birthday,’” she said.

I smiled at her, “Well, those people didn’t make me a birthday cake with strawberries in the middle,” I said because she’d made this cake the day before. I’d asked her to make a Neapolitan cake—chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry in any combination. She went with vanilla cake with leftover strawberry frosting from Noah’s cake and fresh strawberries between the layers and chocolate frosting on the top and sides. And they weren’t just any strawberries but the first local strawberries of the season. So I wasn’t really mad at her. It was just that kind of day.

Once we got back home, Beth went to pick up Noah from his band festival dinner. We learned the band was ranked “Superior” and according to the judges was “one of the best” middle school bands in Maryland.

They’d had a celebratory dinner after festival and it turned out the plain pizza ran out before his turn in line and there was nothing left but pepperoni so he hadn’t eaten any. Just the week before he’d gotten food poisoning on a Spanish class field trip to a tapas restaurant (probably from accidentally eating something with meat) so we’re glad he didn’t try just picking off the pepperoni. But this meant he needed dinner. And we were already pressed for time if we wanted to eat cake and get June to bed. Then I remembered something else, “I have to open presents.” I immediately regretted the ungrateful way that sounded but as I said, it was just that kind of a day.

So I melted some cheddar cheese on tortilla chips and gave them to Noah with carrot sticks and chocolate milk. He ate while I opened my presents. Beth got me a frame with space for three pictures and one already inserted. It’s of the kids in the bathtub at the ages of one and a half and six and a half. We have very similar bathtub pictures of me with my sister, her with her brother, and our kids at approximately the same ages. I’d been meaning to display them together since we took the picture (we in fact took it to go with the others) but we had never gotten around to it. Noah’s gift was a pre-ordered copy of Finders Keepers, Stephen King’s new book, which will be out soon. He actually printed the cover design and made a dust jacket, which he put on another hardback book, so he’d have something to wrap. June got me some hot cocoa packets, a cloth shopping bag, a flowerpot, and some Sweet William seeds. She also made a card cut into the shape of a birthday hat.

Next, we had the cake. It was as good as it looked. As I put Noah to bed that night I told him I was proud of the band’s good showing. “I am, too,” he said, which for him is like bragging.

Tuesday to Friday: Back to School

Meanwhile, I’d decided it was time for June to go back to school, as she’d missed more than a week and we had no clear next step medically speaking. I’d been corresponding with the assistant principal for a few days and she was initially skeptical but I eventually convinced her, which required more assertiveness than comes naturally to me. I wanted to get administrative buy-in before I sent my constantly coughing child to school. I didn’t want it to end with her teachers sending her to the nurse and the nurse sending her home. June’s pediatrician had already told us she was not contagious but now the ENT has as well, and I had a note to that effect, so on Tuesday off to school she went.

I decided to ease her in with a half-day. Megan had brought some make-up work to the house that morning, so in the morning June did several math worksheets and then practiced her violin, and around eleven we walked to her school. As we got close she said she felt sick and I told her it was probably nerves and that she’d be okay.

We arrived about a half hour before the class change, so first we visited the main office and checked in there and then I took her to the nurse to explain the situation and I showed the nurse the notes from the ENT. Finally, I took June to her morning class, which was about to dismiss, so we could turn in her work and get that day’s homework. Neither of us was expecting the transaction to be anything but businesslike, but when we opened the door of the trailer, the room erupted in cheers. Kids were yelling, “June! June!” and her teacher came over to give her a hug. We had noticed previously that when she’s very emotional, the coughing slows and she was so overcome, she didn’t cough for almost a minute. I was silently watching the classroom clock.

That night she went to Girl Scouts and she went to school for a full day Wednesday, also complaining of a stomachache right before she got on the bus. I told her it would be like the day before and her nerves would settle and I guess they did because she went to school Thursday and Friday without complaint.

June’s coughing has slowed somewhat. Now it’s down to around two to three times a minute instead of six to twelve, but she’s been plateaued there for a few days and she still can’t speak above a whisper. Beth’s been consulting with June’s pediatrician on the phone and it’s possible we might send her to a voice therapist if her voice does not return, but that’s not a firm plan. I think we’re kind of hoping she’ll just wake up speaking one morning, as the doctors don’t really seem to know what to do. Between Noah’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and mine, we’ve had a lot of family celebrations recently but hearing my daughter speak for the first time in three weeks would really be something to celebrate.

Still Speechless

Monday morning Beth took June to the pediatrician because eight days after returning from the camping trip she still could not speak above a whisper and now she had a barking cough as well. They diagnosed croup, which surprised us both because we thought kids her age couldn’t get it, but apparently they can and the pediatrician said they are seeing a spike in older kids with it recently. They gave her a steroid treatment for the inflammation in her throat and said if it was going to work, it would in several hours. It didn’t. We sent June to school for the afternoon with a new coil-spring notebook for writing down what she wanted to say.

She came home seeming tired and not particularly enthusiastic about going to her violin lesson, but I said I thought she should because her teacher drives from Baltimore and she’d already be on her way. She agreed and I said if she was still feeling worn out on Tuesday she could stay home from school to rest.

She powered through the violin lesson and I told her to forget about her homework. If she was well enough to go to school in the morning she could do it then and I’d write her a note if she didn’t finish it. She did stay home from school on Tuesday. She did her homework and practiced violin and recorder and drank the strawberry smoothie I got her while I was out doing errands. (She didn’t want to come with me.)

She practiced the recorder because the third-grade recorder concert was that evening and she wanted to go. I usually don’t let her participate in after school activities if she’s stayed home from school, but the concert was going to be quite short and it was a one time thing, so I agreed she could go to that but not to her Girl Scout meeting, which partly conflicted with the concert anyway. We did need to swing by it, though, to pick up a Mother’s Day gift she’d made for us the previous week.

The recorder concert featured all the third grade classes playing a song or two each. It sounded about like you’d expect a third-grade recorder concert to sound. There were some familiar songs, like “Hot Cross Buns,” but then something called “Hot Cross Fun,” which started like “Hot Cross Buns,” and then went in a different direction. Megan’s class played something called, “Recorder Rap,” and June’s class did “It’s Raining” and “Old McDonald.” June shared a music stand with her friend Marisa. Megan’s mom Kerry commented she looked “very comfortable on stage.” I assured her she was indeed.

After the concert was over, June started coughing harder than she had been. (I watched the video Kerry took of the concert later to count how many times she coughed in the footage. It was only twice while her group was on stage, once right before a song and once right after.) We wondered if playing had further irritated her throat, but she’d practiced that afternoon longer than she had played on stage with no ill effect. It was puzzling.

Beth saw June’s morning and afternoon teachers standing near each other so she went to let them know why she’d be out of school and that we thought she’d be back Wednesday. We were wrong about that.

Beth dropped Noah and me off at home so he could do a worksheet about the fall of Richmond and the siege of Petersburg (he’s studying the Civil War) and she and June went to her Girl Scout meeting to get the present. When they got home we all sat down to eat Noah’s leftover birthday cake. But June couldn’t eat. Her coughing had gotten much worse. We tried having her swallow a spoonful of honey, put her head in the freezer, and stand in the bathroom with a hot shower running but nothing helped. By this time she was starting to have trouble breathing, so Beth took her to the Emergency Room.

They got seen right away, which Beth said was good and bad because it made her afraid it really was an emergency. They gave June a nebulizer to use and a second steroid treatment and a dose of narcotic cough syrup to help her sleep. It was after eleven when they got home and June was exhausted. She slept in our bed with Beth that night so Beth would know if there was a problem, but there wasn’t any. June fell asleep easily and slept until morning.

Despite being up almost three hours past her bedtime, she was up at her usual time, and she was still coughing almost continuously. Every time we timed her over the next few days she was coughing every five to ten seconds. This leaves her enough time to breathe, but we thought it would be hard for her to concentrate in class and for others to concentrate around her, so she stayed home Wednesday and again on Thursday and today. She’s a little tired—and very bored—and her throat is understandably sore, but she is not otherwise ill.

I read to her every day and did Mad Libs with her (doing all the reading aloud parts myself) and she came on an errand with me to fetch milk at the Co-op and helped me cook dinner twice instead of her usual once a week and also helped me bring laundry in from the clothesline twice. This afternoon I took her to creek to go wading.

Mostly, though, she had to entertain herself, because I was trying to work. Beth bought her a book to read, and an invisible ink activity book, and swimming mermaid doll, who came with us to the creek. June practiced cartwheels and somersaults on the lawn, and unbraided and re-braided her Native American doll’s hair. She wrote and illustrated a little booklet called Poems of Nature. They are mostly rhyming couplets with a rather melancholy tone, e.g. “The raven hides his head in shame/crying to the world in pain” or “Sitting in the shade all day/Watching others go out and play.” I think she is getting tired of staying home from school.

We’re currently waiting for a referral to an ENT and are all anxiously awaiting hearing her talk in a normal voice and go a whole minute without coughing.

Wings

Wednesday to Friday: Perching

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

“I might go there,” June said.

“I’m waiting, too,” David sighed.

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

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

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

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

Saturday Morning and Afternoon: Flying Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Evening to Sunday: Soaring and Roosting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: The Bee Day

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

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

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

Team Players

Hawks and Jaguars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandas and Blazers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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