Head Girl and Head Boy

After we got home from Cedar Point, the kids had a week and a half before school started. I didn’t manage to get June very many play dates and a lot of the time she was bouncing around the house bored, when she wasn’t spending too much time playing games or watching television on the computer. She and Beth went shopping for school supplies and when Beth would only buy half her composition books with fancy covers—as a compromise because the floral ones were more expensive than the ones with the traditional black and white speckled covers—she set to work decorating the rest of the books with blue and purple sparkly tape until none of the offensively plain covers showed.

June also weeded, helped me make dinner one night and made it by herself another night, took laundry off the line for me, earned some money feeding the neighbors’ cat while they were on vacation, and made a batch of cinnamon cookies. On the last Friday of summer vacation, she was so bored she started making drinks out of ingredients she found in the kitchen and making me taste them. The salted caramel drink was quite salty, but there was a sour drink that was more palatable. I can’t remember what she put in that one, but it involved lime juice and maybe chocolate syrup.

Noah pruned some bushes, mowed the lawn twice, vacuumed twice, read a book on patterns of civic participation in American politics and made a grid with the thesis of each chapter, evidence and an evaluation of the evidence. This was his last assignment of the summer and he finished it Friday morning.

Both kids had a lot of appointments the last week—doctor, dentist, orthodontist. According to the doctor, Noah shrank a half inch over the past year. We’d noticed his growth had slowed in the past year, after a steady three-year growth spurt, but I doubt he’s really shorter than he was when he was fourteen. Maybe he’s slumping more, or maybe he’s had a more recent haircut.

We did manage to do some things that were more fun than getting poked and prodded by medical professionals. The second to last weekend we went to the Montgomery County Fair. In the goat barn we serendipitously ran into Megan’s family and so the girls got to pet rabbits, brave the haunted house, and fly through the air on the swings together. I rode the swings, too, behind my kids, and Megan and her sister. Fiona had her arms up in the air most of the time. She looked so joyous it was infectious.

The last Thursday before school started I took the kids on a creek walk, a late summer tradition of ours. It was nice to see Noah splashing in the water and enjoying himself after working so hard on his civics the past week. We saw many fish and crawfish and raccoon prints in the mud, and spider webs spanning the creek. June even found a turtle shell. It would have been just about perfect if I hadn’t lost my footing in the creek, fallen, and hit my kneecap hard on a rock. Two days later when I still couldn’t bend my knee, Beth took me to urgent care to make sure the kneecap wasn’t broken. It wasn’t. After another two days of wearing an ace bandage, taking prescription strength ibuprofen for the swelling, and icing it a few times a day, it’s a little better.

There was an Open House at June’s school on Friday afternoon, so I took June to meet her teachers. Mrs. F, her math teacher, seemed friendly and enthusiastic and all of June’s friends are in this class. She was disappointed to find she only has one friend in her English/social studies class. We didn’t find out who was in her Spanish/science class because she has the same teacher she had last year, Señora Y, and she didn’t feel the need to trek out to the portables to see her, as she knows what to expect from her.

June did, however, take the opportunity to introduce herself to the new instrumental music teacher and to tell him the sad story of how her parents were making her choose between Girl Scouts and orchestra. She failed to mention she’s also in the running club and taking an acting class and private voice lessons this fall. He diplomatically said he hoped to see her in orchestra.

June slept over at Megan’s house on Friday night and stayed there until early Saturday afternoon because we were longer at the urgent care than we thought we’d be. After resting a little, June and I went to see Pete’s Dragon, and then all four of us went out to dinner in Silver Spring, as no one was interested in cooking.

Sunday morning Noah asked me if there was anything he had to do and I said we were going out for our traditional last-night-of-summer-break ice cream in the evening and that at some point before then I’d like to read some in The Two Towers. He seemed pleased with that answer. We read in the morning while Beth and June were grocery shopping. We’ve gotten to a very satisfying part of the book. We’d left off the day before in the middle of the chapter in which the Ents are introduced (because I needed to leave for the movie) so we finished that and read the next one, in which it’s revealed Gandalf didn’t die when he fell into the abyss in Moria in the previous book.

After lunch, Noah was pacing around, seemingly at loose ends, so I suggested he go play his drums and he said, “That’s a good idea” and he went to do it. I listened to the fast and complex rhythms emerging from the basement with admiration, as I often do, and I hoped that he’d be in band this year. (Last year he had a schedule conflict.)

Before dinner, I was filling out forms I got at the Open House at June’s school and consulting with her on her first day outfit, which caused her to comment later, “I don’t get Mommy. How does Mommy think? Not colorfully obviously.” She settled on the pink and blue dress Beth’s mom got her for high tea at the beach at the beginning of the summer.

Before we left for ice cream, the kids carried yard waste bags from the back yard to the front curb where they joined bags of weeds and overgrown vines from our side yard fence that Beth had pruned earlier in the day. Beth glanced at her work. “It’s not perfect, but it’s progress,” she said.

Noah wanted to know if she was talking about him and June. No, she said, she didn’t expect them to be perfect, but she expected them to always be trying to make progress, and doing their best.

“This year is going to be terrible,” Noah muttered.

“This year is going to be awesome!” June exclaimed.

Noah was referring to the fact that tenth grade in the Communications Arts Program (CAP) is supposed to be the most challenging year. I reminded him that everyone who’s been through the Humanities magnet at his middle school and CAP says the hardest year in middle school—seventh grade—is actually worse than tenth (relative to the students’ ability at the time, one presumes).

“You’ve got this,” I said.

On the way home, Noah glanced at his phone and noticed his Edline account (where assignments and grades are posted) had been re-activated so he checked his schedule to see if he was in band and he was. We all cheered and were happy for about thirty seconds and then Beth said, “Wait…Symphonic Band?” Symphonic Band is an audition-only band and he hadn’t auditioned. He’d requested the non-audition Concert Band, because he hates to audition. So it looked like there had been some kind of administrative snafu.

In the morning, Noah was ready on time. Beth took his picture at the gate and we watched as he walked off to the high school bus stop at seven a.m. An hour and twenty minutes later, and after much fussing over lunch preparations (she’s making her own lunch this year) I took June’s picture. We crossed the street to her bus stop where the parents made arrangements for June and another girl to walk to school most days. Naomi is in fourth grade and the only other kid left at our shrinking bus stop. Today June and Naomi took the bus, though, because they were both weighed down with school supplies. Naomi’s dad is going to walk with them the first couple days because she and her folks are all a little nervous. June continues to usher her peers into the exciting world of walking around in the world without adults.

Around seven hours later, June got home, saying, “I have something to show you.” It was a safety patrol belt. She didn’t know if she was going to be on the safety patrol until today and she had her heart set on it. Her assignment will be to take Head Start preschoolers from their classroom to the bus room.

She said Mrs. F, the math teacher, randomly breaks out in various foreign accents in class, but she favors the Russian accent. She had homework, to write a letter to Mr. S, her English/social studies teacher, introducing herself. “It’s good to be back to school,” she said.

Noah was home about fifteen minutes after June. He was pretty sure he was in the wrong band. In fact, he thought it wasn’t Concert Band or Symphonic Band but the Advanced Ensemble, which is definitely out of his league. So he’s going to fill out a schedule change request form at school tomorrow and I wrote his advisor, because I don’t expect resolving this to be easy or straightforward. I wrote on Facebook I wouldn’t mind Gandalf swooping in and fixing it for him. And while he’s at it, if he wanted to fix the air conditioning at Noah’s school, that would be nice, too.

At dinner, I asked June if being on the safety patrol was like being a prefect in the Harry Potter books. Yes, she said with satisfaction and then noted that while most kids on the patrol wear silver badges, about ten each month get gold ones, and that’s like being Head Boy or Head Girl, though not quite as good because there’s not just one.

“You’re my Head Girl,” I told her, and turning to Noah, I said, “And you’re my Head Boy.”

They will always be my Head Girl and Boy, whether this year is terrible, awesome, or somewhere in between.

Before the Storm

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

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

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

All before I ate breakfast.

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

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

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

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

Saturday: Mystics Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday: Girl Scout Potluck

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

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

Thursday: Vigil for Pulse

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

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

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

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

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

Friday: Wax Museum

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

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

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

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

The Weekend Before the Storm

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

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

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

Three Days in May

I. Cinco de Mayo

If Noah’s birthday was the day we needed everything to go like clockwork and it did, two days later, things were a bit rougher around the edges.

Here is my first Facebook post from that day:

May 5, 10:59 a.m.

Steph found June’s sneakers under the dining room table on the morning of the day she’s supposed to be running a practice 5K after school. Questions about whether or not she has time to take the shoes to school (probably) and whether this would constitute helicopter parenting (quite possibly) are swirling around in her head.

Interestingly enough, all the people who offered an opinion on whether I should take the sneakers or not were women over seventy, all of whom are grandmothers (Beth’s mom and two of her aunts, plus a friend of my mom’s). They all thought I should do it. Presumably, no one currently raising kids wanted to tell me what to do for fear of seeming to label me as too involved or not involved enough, depending on what I chose to do.

I did take the sneakers (after having emailed the coach to find out if June would be allowed to run in crocs and finding out the answer was no). While I was at her school I picked up her violin so she wouldn’t have to leave it by the side of the middle school track where her team was practicing. I left the sneakers at in the main office with a note inside one of them letting her know I had the violin.

The note was because they couldn’t page June to come down and get her sneakers right away because the fourth grade was on another field trip—this one to the Chesapeake Bay where they would wade in the water, touch crabs, and try to catch eels in nets. I’d volunteered to be a chaperone on this trip as well, but I didn’t expect to be picked so soon after the St. Mary’s trip and I wasn’t. The funny thing is that before St. Mary’s I hadn’t chaperoned a field trip since June was in preschool when I went with her class to the Portrait Gallery. (Beth went to Air and Space with her class when she was in second grade.) I’d always think I didn’t have time and maybe I’d do the next one. But then I started thinking about how they don’t ask for chaperones for middle school field trips and June has only a little over a year of elementary school left. There aren’t very many next ones left.

One of the reasons I had time to make the trip to June’s school on Thursday was that I’d front-loaded my work that week in hopes of going to the Interdisciplinary presentation at Noah’s school on Friday. This is something the CAP students do once a quarter. They have an intensive week-long experience with one of their teachers, spending half the school day in that class, during which they do some kind of hands-on learning based on a historical period. This week was the 1960s to 80s and Noah was in drama class, so he was in a skit that took place in the 80s. I really don’t know much more about it than that because he didn’t want us to come and we didn’t. He hasn’t wanted us to come to any of the Interdisciplinary presentations. This breaks my heart a little, as I loved see him perform at this kind of thing when he was in the Humanities magnet in middle school and he used to want us to come, not so long ago. I almost went anyway and I was struggling with the decision for much of the day Thursday because this is the last quarter and it was my last chance to see a ninth-grade Interdisciplinary presentation.

So, faced with decisions about how to mother, or specifically how much to hover around the kids, I did what I thought June would want and what I knew Noah wanted. What kids want isn’t always what they need or the right thing to do, but often it’s a decent tie-breaker. June actually seemed to take it for granted that I delivered the sneakers. Beth had to nudge her to say “thank you” that evening. Also, it was a good thing I got the violin because the note got lost somewhere in the shuffle and she forgot to get the violin and came home apologizing for leaving it at school.

Here’s my second Facebook post of the day:

May 5, 8:31 p.m.

Steph now realizes the sneakers were just the warning shot across the bow of this day. Since then Steph has passed a foggy, unfocused day in which she had opportunity to think “what happened to the last 45 minutes?” more than once; June came home without her backpack and coat; Noah missed his bus to drum lesson, walked a couple blocks to a less familiar bus route, took it going the wrong way and missed his lesson; and Beth came home and mentioned she’d accidentally bought a birthday card for her mother instead of a Mother’s Day card. Possibly the whole family should just go to bed right now.

I don’t really want to say much more about this, other than it was stressful exchanging phone calls and texts with Noah while he was lost because both the home phone and my cell were experiencing some kind of problem which made it hard for me to hear what he was saying. His voice was garbled and going in and out. I managed to give him a little guidance, but for the most part he figured out where he was and how to get home on his own, with the help of maps on his phone.

As a result of making this series of calls, and spending some time helping June come up with strategies for adding and subtracting fractions after she got home at nearly 5:30, I had to scrap my dinner plans for a baked nacho casserole and made nachos in the microwave or canned soup for everyone, depending on their preferences. And that was our Cinco de Mayo.

II. Mother’s Day

Three days later Mother’s Day started with breakfast in bed, courtesy of June. She was in our room at seven on the dot (the earliest she’s allowed to come in) with strawberry toaster pastries, fruit salad, and orange juice. Once Noah was up (about an hour later), we opened our cards and presents—Beth got a stack of dark chocolate bars from June and a gift certificate from our local bookstore from Noah. I got three bars of soap from June (lavender-vanilla, gardenia-orange, and jasmine-lemon) and an umbrella from Noah. (I recently lost mine, so of course it rained every day for over two weeks, breaking a record set in the 1970s.) June made us a joint card with a heart that says “Beth + Mommy = Awesome.” Noah made us two cards, with photographs of us on the front and nice pencil illustrations of our presents inside. Mine shows not just an an umbrella but the actual five-day forecast chart from the newspaper, calling for, you guessed it, more rain.

Mother’s Day gave me yet another opportunity to reflect on the kids’ relative independence, though this time it was June who was edging toward it. She bought her present for me in a store alone for the first time, the weekend before.  Now it was with cash I gave her and I was standing right outside the store, but she was proud of herself nonetheless. And she must have charmed the cashier because she emerged with her purchase in a pink bag with multicolored ribbons while my gift to my own mother had been handed over in a plain brown paper bag. June also knew just what she wanted for Beth so we took care of it all in one outing. I don’t know what process led to Noah getting his gift to me, but it took more prodding on my part than I’d like for him to finally decide what he was going to get Beth and to actually get it. In the end, though, he came through with good gifts for both of us.

The rest of the day unfolded like a normal Sunday in May. Beth and June went grocery shopping. There’s usually a photo booth at the Grant Street Market on Mothers’ Day where Beth and June have a tradition of taking a photo with some kind of prop, but it wasn’t there this year so they had to make do with a selfie, using a carnation they found on the street. I swam laps and went to the library. I read to both kids (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to June, Fellowship of the Ring to Noah) and continued to help June with her fractions. Beth mowed the back yard, did some gardening, and made dinner—veggie hot dogs and burgers, fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, grilled eggplant and asparagus—which we ate in the back yard. For dessert we had frozen treats from the ice cream truck. I’d been thinking of making strawberry shortcake, but I’m waiting for local strawberries to peak and there weren’t any at the farmers’ market after two weeks of good but not great berries.

III: 49

I turned forty-nine the following Wednesday. I had lunch with my friend Becky, at Kin Da, a Thai and sushi restaurant. Because we are both in our late forties, there was a moment when we were both searching all our pockets and bags for our reading glasses and wondering how we’d read the menu if neither of us found them. Luckily, we both did and she ordered soup and sushi and I got drunken noodles with tofu. I’d intended to get a Thai iced tea because I really like it but I rarely get one because I usually don’t want the caffeine at dinner. It was a rainy, chilly day, though, so hot green tea seemed more appealing once I was there. Becky’s daughter Eleanor is a high school senior, so we talked a lot about high school, and Becky, understandably, was feeling bittersweet about it all. She said I might find her weeping on a bench in downtown Takoma some time three months hence and I said if I did I’d sit down next to her wordlessly and just be with her.

Because it was a weeknight and Noah had a history chapter to read and outline, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to go out to dinner, but he finished in time and we went, but only after some grumpiness about my restaurant choice—Austin Grill, where I often like to go on my birthday. I like the strawberry lemonade and the enchiladas and sitting outside on a warm night. Well, it wasn’t a warm night—our run of cold, wet weather continues apace—but I still associate it with my birthday.  When we got to Silver Spring, however, we found it was closed.

So we looked at the menu at A.G. Kitchen, a Latin American fusion restaurant, which is in the same plaza. Seeing us perusing the menu someone came out and offered us a sample of the guacamole. We decided to give it a try. Once seated, we helped the kids select dishes they might like (beans and rice, green beans, and fries for June; asparagus and a big spinach empanada for Noah). Beth and I split another spinach empanada and we each got an order of wild mushroom mini tacos. Everything was very good—I think we may go back there.

Everyone ate their food without complaint, and everyone gave me presents. Beth got me tickets to see Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap. I asked because Garrison Keillor is retiring this summer and it’s my last chance to go, and I’ve literally been meaning to go to one of his shows for decades. I think it will be fun. Noah got me a gift certificate for the same bookstore where he got Beth’s Mother’s Day present. And June made me a homemade gift certificate good for my choice of various activities with her. I’m supposed to choose three, so I think I’m going to watch a movie with her, take her swimming, and have her help me in the garden.

At home, we ate the ice cream cake we bought the weekend before and our annual series of early-to-mid May birthdays and holidays was a wrap.

The Accidental Chaperone

I was surprised on Monday afternoon when June brought home the sheet of paper indicating I was a chaperone alternate for the field trip to the living history museum in St. Mary’s City the next day. I’d checked off the chaperone box when I filled out her permission slip—Beth and I agreed one of us would go but we hadn’t worked out which one of us. And then I got an email saying there were more people who wanted to chaperone than slots and it was a busy week for Beth because CWA is on strike at Verizon, so it seemed just as well.

However, the email said you could show up at school and see if there were any last minute openings, but I wasn’t planning to do that. In general, I prefer to know how my day is going to unfold well in advance. The fourth grade will be taking another field trip to the Chesapeake Bay later in the school year and we’d have priority for that trip if we sat this one out.

But then the paper June brought home Monday seemed to indicate they actually wanted people to come to school and see if there was space, so I decided I’d pack a lunch and bring the $10 admission fee with me when I dropped her off at school, just in case. June really wanted one of us to come and I thought I should make an attempt, though I didn’t expect anything to come of it. I had work, but no deadlines until the following week, so it was possible for me to go.

The time students were supposed to arrive was stated in different communications to be, variously, 7:30, 7:40, or 7:45. We aimed for the middle and got there just before 7:40. We saw June’s English/Social Studies teacher in the hall on our way to the cafeteria where the kids were gathering, and she said she thought there would be room on the buses because three fourth graders have recently transferred to other schools. And then the teacher with the clipboard taking chaperones’ names and cell phone numbers and collecting money said in addition one fourth grader was absent, so he also thought I could go.

I texted Beth “Looks like I’m going on this trip,” so she’d know where I was.

Knowing my aversion to spontaneity, she texted back, “You are a very good mom.”

So I settled in to wait with June and her friends in the cafeteria. The buses didn’t arrive on time, so we didn’t actually get underway until almost 8:30. The five fourth grade classes were split across three charter buses and there was a little confusion about where everyone should sit, so I wasn’t convinced that I was really going on this field trip until the bus was in motion and I was still on board.

The kids were excited to be on a bus with plush seats, a bathroom, and best of all, several television screens. June and I sat in the last row of seats, just opposite the bathroom, with her friends Zoë and Evie in the row in front of us.

Shortly after we got underway The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe started playing. June and I read the Chronicles of Narnia last summer and fall and at first she seemed excited to see it, even though she was lukewarm about the books. But the sound was not turned up very high, so her attention wandered. I don’t think I could have followed if I wasn’t familiar with the story—but having read the series over and over as a kid and once aloud to each of my kids, and having seen this adaptation about five years ago—I am very familiar. I can’t read on moving vehicles without getting sick and I was wary of putting on my headphones and thus missing any announcements or instructions so the diversion was welcome. June went back and forth between watching the movie, reading a Dork Diaries book, talking and playing hangman with Zoë and Evie and looking out the window.

We arrived at the St. Mary’s historic site around 10:30. It had been raining when we left and I’d been hoping it would clear up while we were on the bus, but it was still gray and drizzly when we got there. In case you or one of your kids hasn’t been a fourth grader in Maryland, St. Mary’s City was the first English settlement in the state and it was also the first capital of Maryland. All the fourth graders in our county study its history and culture for much of the year and then visit it in the spring.

We started with the Yaocomaco Indian village. There were several houses made of bent saplings and grass, with beds and household tools inside. The guide pointed out a woven shelter in the garden area where boys had to sit with a basket of rocks to throw at garden pests. I asked June if she’d like that chore this summer and she said no. There were no actors in the Yaocomaco village, but apparently current members of the Piscataway tribe do occasionally act out scenes there.

From there we moved to a tobacco plantation where we met an indentured servant who was making mint tea in the kitchen of the planters’ house. She explained you could tell her master was prosperous because he had a two-story house with glass windows and a wooden floor. The guide took us out to the garden, which wasn’t planted yet but explained that all food and medicine would come from the garden, as it was “the CVS of the seventeenth century.” We saw some livestock around the house, mostly cows and chickens, though I caught a glimpse of a pig in the woods.

Our next stop was the town itself where we visited a tobacco barn, a general store (“the Walmart of the seventeenth century”), and a print shop (“the Staples of the seventeenth century”). At each stop we met actors playing the parts of a farmer, another indentured servant, a storekeeper, and a printer. I asked June as we walked from one building to another if there were any slaves in St. Mary’s. It was a tobacco farming community so I thought there must have been. June was well informed on the point, “Not until the eighteenth century,” she told me.

As we moved from building to building, a few kids were picked as volunteers to shape an axe blade, to use the counting board to calculate a shoppers’ bill, or to ink the letters on the printing press. At the inn, our guide picked kids and told stories about reasons why they were staying at the inn—to appear in court was a popular one—and then had them lie down on the bed. Evie was being tried for witchcraft and she could be heard later in the day declaring, “I’m a witch!” with some enthusiasm.

When it was Zoë’s turn the guide was telling a story about a man travelling to meet his girlfriend who would soon arrive by ship. After she’d referred to Zoë, who has short hair, as “he” and “Joey” a few times, I started to wonder if I should correct her. I was standing close enough to lean in and whisper. But I wasn’t sure if Zoë would appreciate that or find it more embarrassing. While I was equivocating, the kids started to giggle, and when they did the guide shushed them and said to Zoë, “You’re a good sport, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am a good sport,” Zoë said. “I’m also a girl and my name is Zoë.” Her tone was just right, not disrespectful, but self-assured. I could not have pulled that off in fourth grade.

We took a break then to have lunch in the bus because it was still raining and we watched a little more of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as we ate. I hadn’t eaten much breakfast, thinking I was just dropping June off at school, so I was pretty hungry by that point. My apple and container of vanilla Greek yogurt didn’t seem quite sufficient, but it was what I had. Worse still, the pint of bottled water June and I were sharing was definitely not enough for a whole day. I’d thought there would be water fountains somewhere, but there were no water fountains in the seventeenth century.

Our last stop was the Dove, a recreation of one of the boats that brought supplies to the colonists and carried tobacco back to England. June was most excited to see this as they had studied the boat. After touring the boat itself we went to various stations on the dock where a block and tackle and different navigational tools were demonstrated.

At the very last station, the guide asked for anyone who hadn’t volunteered yet, and June, who’d patiently raised her hand at every station and two other girls who were also never picked seemed about to get their turns. The artifact was a “honey bucket” to carry human waste to be thrown overboard. The guide explained its use but never asked the volunteers to do anything (though at this station I’m not sure anyone would want to demonstrate). When the group was dismissed, one of the girls lost her temper, asking, “Why did you ask for volunteers?” but there was no answer. June was a bit put out, too, but she didn’t let it spoil her mood.

We all trooped back to the bus. We’d been running a half hour late ever since we left the school and then around forty-five minutes into the ride one of the buses overheated and ours stopped, too, in order to stick together. We were stopped about twenty minutes, so we were almost an hour late returning to school. There was another movie to watch, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. By the end of the day the bathroom on the bus was starting to smell like a honey bucket. I was sorry to be sitting so near it and I was also getting dehydrated and headachy and I was hungry, too.

We went into June’s school to fill our water bottle before walking the mile home, but I couldn’t shake the headache, so instead of making black bean and spinach tacos for dinner as I’d planned, I just heated up a vegetarian hot dog for June (she got herself some strawberries), ate some cottage cheese straight out the container, told Noah to make himself something for dinner, took a painkiller and went to lie down for a while.

Eventually I felt well enough to read a chapter of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to June on the porch while we waited for her ride to her Girl Scout meeting, but the family who usually drives her to Girl Scouts forgot so she missed the meeting.

This seemed par for the course as it had been a day of the unexpected, both good and bad, but I was glad to have spent part of it in the seventeenth century with my favorite lass.

Hop Year

Four years ago when June was in kindergarten and had just learned to read, I wrote a leap-year themed blog post about how kindergarten is a year of leaps and bounds. I was thinking about writing a similar post about Noah’s first year of high school, but the more I thought about it the less true it seemed. Sure, high school is different from middle school but not different like elementary school is different from preschool. It’s been more if a hop than a leap, really.

Partly this is because he’s been in magnet programs since fourth grade, so he’s used to academic rigor. If anything, the Communications Arts Program (CAP) at his high school is a little easier than the Humanities middle school magnet. In fact, when some of the CAP kids who came from regular middle schools complained about the workload at the beginning of the school year, Noah says the kids who had attended the Humanities magnet at his middle school all burst out laughing.

So he occasionally has a free evening and some weekends he’s not working all day every day. And that’s nice, but he’s still working more than we’d like. The difference seems more attributable to his program being a little easier and not the ADHD medication he’s been taking since November. Some days he works efficiently, but he’s always had those days. And he still has days when his gears run agonizingly slowly.

For example, two weekends ago, by Sunday morning he’d finished all his homework for the weekend except reading some excerpts from the Constitution and then writing a letter to the editor from the point of view of a WWII-era American citizen, arguing for or against Japanese internment camps, using a Constitutional argument. The letter was supposed to be less than a page long. He worked on it from 9 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Most of that time was spent reading and re-reading the relevant sections of the Constitution and trying to decide what arguments to make. Once he’d done that, he wrote the letter pretty quickly.

We’ve been thinking maybe we need to find help from someone with specific expertise in slow processing because even though he has an ADHD diagnosis, his problems may stem more from his processing issues than the ADHD per se. Beth learned (after it had taken place) that the school district recently hosted a lecture about helping kids with slow processing, so she’s going to contact the speaker to see if he can point us in the right direction.

One way his slow processing manifests itself is that he’s a pretty slow reader…and he’s in a humanities-based program with a lot of reading. So I read to him. We read for pleasure at least once a week—we just started a dystopian trilogy called Chaos Walking on Friday afternoon and I often read the books he needs to read for school to him as well.

On Saturday morning we finished Unbroken, which the CAP 9th graders are reading as part of a unit on WWII. It’s interesting but grim if biography and popular history about Japanese prisoner of war camps sounds like your thing. (It also made me wonder if my recent fretting about violence in the media he consumes—I was particularly concerned about the true crime documentary Making a Murderer—is misplaced, just closing the barn door after the horse is long gone.)

There’s a lot about ninth grade that’s going well. He enjoys being part of the small community of CAP students within his vast high school and he knows a lot of them from the middle school Humanities program. He seems engaged in his work and less stressed out than he did in seventh and eighth grade. His teachers have had nice things to say about him when we’ve met. His drama teacher recently told us he is one of her funniest performers and that she enjoys his stage presence and dry wit.

His school operates on a block schedule, which means each class meets every other school day. This translates to longer class periods and fewer transitions, which is good for his learning style. And best of all, he can never get homework that’s due the next day, which makes it easier for him to plan ahead and manage his time.

He’s been making a lot of movies, which he enjoys, even though he can be self-critical of the results. This year so far he’s made several short movies, including a couple autobiographical ones. One was a collection of clips from movies he’s made for fun outside of school with narration about his hopes to work as a video editor some day. Another one was about band and drumming and the role music’s had in his life.

This comes under the heading of perqs for Beth and me, but because he’s often assigned to go to plays or watch movies, we often do this with him. I’ve been to three plays with him this year, most recently a pantomime production of As You Like It. And we’ve watched Stagecoach, Citizen Kane, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (the original 1956 version) together. I enjoyed them all but especially the last one, which was right up my alley. I have a soft spot for mid-twentieth century horror, whether campy or more serious.

But as I mentioned, none of this is that different than middle school, as Noah’s been on a humanities track since sixth grade, but it often feels different because he’s getting older and we know in a few short years he’ll be on his own. Twice in the same night Beth and I were thinking about this. Saturday he and I made a stir-fry together. Cooking with me is his usual Saturday night chore, but I always do the dishes afterward. As I was doing them I was thinking—he really needs to know how to do the dishes before he leaves home. I was doing my family’s dishes twice a week at his age. Later I went on to fold two loads of laundry and said something about how never-ending laundry is and Beth commented that Noah should probably learn to do his own laundry before he goes to college.

As a step toward independence, we’ve made him his own study area in the basement this year, at his request. He got an external monitor for Christmas and he hooks it up to the family laptop, which sits on a card table down there. The basement is unfinished and often chilly, so there’s a space heater down there, too. Because his drums are also there, and he not only works but also watches movies at the little card table, he’s in the basement a lot. The kids share a room, so it’s been a way for him to carve out a space in the house for himself, which at his age, he probably needs.

And as if to emphasize the fact that college is coming, he recently took the PSAT at school. He was initially disappointed in his score but he was thinking it was a percentage of right answers, which he translated into a letter grade in his head. His scores were fine. The math one, in fact, was higher than my math SAT score. And I certainly wasn’t taking physics in ninth grade, being more lopsided academically than he is.

So, there’s my year-to-date report for Noah. Four years from now, maybe I will have a more dramatic account of his next leap year. Or maybe by then he will be writing his own blog and he can tell you himself.

Siberian Train Wreck

When I was in college I ate and most years lived in the student-run co-operative houses at Oberlin. A friend of mine who was a menu-planner at one of the co-op where I lived recently posted a recipe on Facebook for a casserole from those days. It features noodles, canned tomatoes, kidney beans, ground beef, and cheddar. I didn’t recognize the exact recipe but it seemed like the sort of simple, hearty, easy-to-cook-on-a-large-scale fare we ate back then. For some reason it was called Siberian Train Wreck. I decided I’d give it a try, for old time’s sake. It amused me to write the name on the white board, and given the predicted weather and how it was likely to derail the region, it seemed appropriate.

If you live on the East Coast or know someone who does you’re probably aware we had a big storm last weekend. Snowzilla dumped two feet of snow on the Washington area. It snowed from early Friday afternoon into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Friday

The school system panicked and cancelled Friday, which irritated me because if they’d done an early dismissal, the kids would have been home before the first flake fell and even if they’d had a full day of school they would have been home before the roads were messy.

When the first flakes did fly, around one p.m., I was at the food Co-op, picking up a few groceries. I knew it would be crowded but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I found there. There were easily three times as many people as I’d ever seen in the small store and the line snaked halfway around its perimeter. When I saw it, I almost abandoned my oranges, soups, kidney beans, and bag of vegetarian ground beef. But I was on this errand partly to get out of the house and have a little alone time while I still could and I had part of an episode of This American Life I hadn’t listened to yet, so I got into the line. To my surprise it moved pretty quickly and I was out of the store fifteen minutes later. The staff was doing a great job handling the crowd and with one notable exception the customers seemed understanding and in good spirits. (The one who wasn’t was pushing her way past people with her cart. What is the point of acting like that?)

From there I went to Spring Mill Bakery for a cup of Earl Gray and an enormous brownie. Their shelves were almost bare and the woman at the counter kept announcing they were out of bread, though they had baguettes in the oven. I got a table by the window, to watch the snow. I was making an effort to see the beauty of it, which I know is there, but I have been having trouble seeing it for a few years. I have to admit I didn’t quite succeed because I was just full of dread about the storm, or more precisely its aftermath, which was likely to be lengthy and trying. (The last time we had two feet of snow was when Noah was in third grade and June in preschool and a few days later there was another foot of snow and school was cancelled for almost two weeks straight.)

An inch of snow is just about the right amount for me. I know this because we got an inch two days before the big storm and even though the roads became impassable and I had to walk home from book club and there was a two-hour delay the next morning, it was kind of fun, walking home in the snow in a group of fellow book clubbers and taking June down to the creek for a walk the next morning.

It was a fluffy, sparkly snow, quite pretty, and I let June venture out onto the ice of the half-frozen creek further than seemed 100% safe because I’ve been trying to encourage her to get back into the habit of playing outside and I thought she’s only going to do it if I let it be fun. And what’s more fun than a little danger?

I didn’t stay at the bakery long because I needed to go get June from Megan’s house They had a five-hour play date that day—it started at our house and then moved to Megan’s house during the gap between my press release deadline and Megan’s mom’s conference call.

June and I got back home around 2:40, twenty minutes before the blizzard warning took effect. Beth had come home early and Noah, who had been home all day, was studying his lines for a scene from Romeo and Juliet his drama class is going to perform whenever they go back to school. So everyone was present and accounted for.

We passed a quiet afternoon and evening. We live on a busy road so it’s notable when traffic stops but by evening it was only plows, police, and emergency vehicles in the deepening snow.

Derailed: One day of school

Saturday

We woke to thunder and eighteen inches of snow on the ground and more coming down hard, but we decided we’d better start shoveling so it wouldn’t be impossible when it did stop. We have a corner lot and a big back yard so we have a lot of shoveling.

After a breakfast of oatmeal and buckwheat pancakes that Beth made and after Noah vacuumed the living and dining room—I asked him to do it, thinking we might lose power at any time as some of our neighbors already had—all four of us shoveled for a couple hours. We hired a passing man with a shovel to clear the driveway because that was too much for us to tackle. At first he said he’d do it for $100, but part way through the job he changed his mind and said it would be $200. I don’t know if this is standard operating practice or if it’s because we have a long driveway, but it’s how it usually seems to go whenever we hire someone to do this job. (In the end, we had to have it done again and paid $325 total.)

June wanted to try sledding on the rise in our back yard, but the snow was too deep and powdery and the sled just got stuck. I asked Noah to try to make a sled run for her by going down it a few times and he tried but he couldn’t make anything workable.

When we came inside I read a chapter of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to June and we all had hot chocolate and soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. Noah had a list of sixty English vocabulary words to memorize and exercises to do with them, so I quizzed him on these while Beth and June made chocolate chip cookies.

In the late afternoon, we watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. June had seen it already at a slumber party but even so, she needed to sit between Beth and me and hold Muffin (her favorite stuffed animal) on her lap during the basilisk scene. This strengthened my resolve not to let her watch anything past the third movie for a while because I know they just get scarier as they go along.

No one felt like making dinner, so we heated up frozen tamales and lasagna and June had hot dogs with leftover soup from lunch. I got into warm bubble bath to soak my sore back and read the newspaper, which had miraculously arrived that day. Meanwhile Beth and June listened to a Nancy Drew audiobook and Noah practiced his drums.

Once June was in bed, I read Library of Souls to Noah. It was snowing when we all went to bed and the sidewalk we’d shoveled was filling back up.

Derailed: One day of school, a gymnastics class, and a basketball game

Sunday

The next morning the snow had stopped—Beth measured 23 inches on our patio table—and the sun was shining. Beth, Noah, and I shoveled the walk all over again, an easier job the second time around, and Beth and Noah lent some neighbors a hand as well. We had one fewer shovel to do it with, as someone had stolen one off our porch. The footprints in the fifth photo belong to the thief.

I read to June again while Noah started to memorize a monologue for another drama class assignment. Then two neighbor girls came over to play with June so their mom could return a child who had gotten snowed in with them while her younger sister was being born. Our neighbor needed to re-unite the girl with her parents at the hospital and then drive the whole family to their house in D.C. This was why Beth and Noah dug out their car earlier in the day.

By mid-afternoon school we’d found out had been cancelled through Tuesday. (Monday was a scheduled day off because the kids get a day off between marking periods.)

I was tempted to go to bed and hide with a book when I got this news but instead I checked in on Noah and found him despondent about his progress memorizing the monologue (which is based on Beth’s mom’s memories of her youth in the 1950s). I broke it into chunks for him to make it easier to learn, ran him through the first five chunks several times, and then suggested he take the rest of the day off since he wasn’t going back to school until Wednesday at the earliest.

He went downstairs to practice his drums while Beth made a white bean soup for dinner and June played with the little girls. They are in first grade and preschool and June’s really good with them. It makes me think she might be babysitting in a few years. They played with My Little Pony figures they brought, June’s American Girl doll, magna tiles and the castle and its inhabitants. They only had to resort to a Care Bears video almost three hours into the visit.

Derailed: One day of school, a gymnastics class, a basketball game, and my weekly swim

Monday

By Monday I was feeling I needed to get out of the house so I was happy to meet Becky, June’s preschool music teacher and a friend of the family for lunch at the bakery. Becky and June have an upcoming acting and musical performance together (more on that in another blog post) and they needed to go over their lines.

It was quite a challenge getting there. Nearly all the sidewalks were shoveled but the bridge over Sligo Creek wasn’t (it never is) and there was a long stretch of sidewalk belonging either to the hospital or the university that wasn’t either. Usually we could walk in other people’s footprints, but on the bridge there were no footprints and the snow was halfway up my thighs. I struggled along for a while, with June trailing me, but eventually we had to walk in the street.

At the bakery they were still out of a lot of their menu items, but they had the makings of grilled cheese sandwiches, so we ordered three of them and chips and drinks, and a big lemon bar to share three ways. We ate and then June and Becky practiced their lines. I went across the street to the Co-op for more groceries for us and a gallon of milk for a neighbor. When we’d left the house, there were two men shoveling out our driveway again and I texted Beth to see if they were done and if she could come get us. She could and she did. It had been just about the right amount of adventure walking there but I didn’t really want to do it again.

Beth took the kids sledding shortly after we got home while I stayed home to work. They came home sooner than expected and when they got onto the porch I could hear June was crying. She’d flown off her sled and sprained the pinky on her right hand. Beth took her to urgent care to make sure it wasn’t broken and they came home with June’s pinky in a splint.

That night I made the Siberian Train Wreck for dinner. Beth said it was “just like Hamburger Helper” and it was. Sometimes that’s the kind of food you want.

Derailed: One day of school, a gymnastics class, a basketball game, and my weekly swim

Tuesday

Tuesday was the day I really lost it. The trigger was Girl Scout sleep-away camp registration. Last year the process had taken three hours and nearly brought me to tears. This year was worse. It was also worse than the dream I’d had the night before before about walking down a long, swaying bridge with no handrails.

I was logged onto the site at 10:01, one minute after it opened. There were 1,004 people ahead of me in line. I waited patiently, watching the count go down until it was my turn. This took a little less than an hour, about what I’d expected. Once in the site I rushed to find June’s choices. There were two spaces left in Storm the Castle, an archery-themed program and her first choice. Her friends Maggie and Leila were trying to get into that one, too.

But by the time I got through the registration process it said the session was full. I thought it had filled while I was registering, but when I went back to the selections to see what was left, it was still showing spaces, more in fact than there had been before. I kept trying over and over to register her either for Storm the Castle or to get on the waiting list for her second choice, Artistas, which was full but allegedly had space on the waiting list.

I asked Beth (who was working from home) for help and she tried, too, but all we could get to work was my very last choice—Moonlight Mania, a program based on staying up late. Even though I’ve gotten more relaxed about bedtime recently, it’s still a hang-up of mine and this seems like an almost comically bad choice. Plus June doesn’t even really like staying up late.

I regretted registering her almost immediately, as it leaves me with the decision of whether being the mean mom who says June can’t go to Girl Scout camp or whether to worry for six months about sending her to this camp. Beth gingerly suggested we all give it time before making any decisions. She seemed wary of me. This could have to do with the fact that after I got off the computer I started to cry and once I started, there was no stopping and I had to shut myself in our room. I wasn’t even sure what I was crying about anymore. There were too many options.

Later in the day I learned Maggie got in to Storm the Castle and Leila got on the waitlist for the same session, which I would have considered a better outcome than what we had.

I was so upset about the whole thing that I almost didn’t care when school was cancelled for Wednesday or that I seemed to be getting sick. In an email to a friend, I wrote, “I hate summer and winter and everything.”

Derailed: Two days of school, a gymnastics class, a basketball game, my weekly swim, a Girl Scout meeting, and my mental stability

Wednesday

Beth went to work for the first day since Friday. June had a friend come over for a morning and early afternoon play date. I ran Noah through his vocabulary, the Romeo and Juliet scene, and the monologue and then we did an extra long reading from Library of Souls because it seemed more worthwhile than anything else I could be doing. (Later that day I read June an extra chapter of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.)

After I’d made lunch for all three kids and Claire left, I decided I really should be getting some work done, so I outlined a couple of brochures and worked on some social media posts.

If Tuesday was the day I lost it, Wednesday was the day my stay-at-home mom friends started to lose it. After three snow days with nary a complaint, when the fourth was announced around 3:30, my Facebook feed lit up with laments. This must be the point at which it seems the kids are really never going back to school. Apparently we live in the worst possible place for this kind of misery: south and we wouldn’t get big snows; north and our cities and towns would own the equipment needed to clear them away in a timely fashion.

Derailed: Three days of school, a gymnastics class, a basketball game, my weekly swim, a Girl Scout meeting, my mental stability, a basketball practice, and an elementary school orchestra concert

Thursday

Thursday morning I was tempted not to get out of bed but I decided it really would be better for me if I did and that it might even be a good idea to try to get out of the house, which I hadn’t done since I waded through the snow banks to get to the bakery on Monday. We were running low on milk, so I walked to the 7-11, which was good and bad. Good because it got me moving and it was a mild, sunny day. Bad because it allowed me to assess how well cleared the streets and sidewalks are in my neck of the woods and how ridiculous it is that we can’t break our huge county into at least two pieces for snow cancellation purposes.

Anyway, after lunch Becky came and rescued June from her cranky mother and took her to her house for three hours, where they practiced for the performance and had a tea party. I wrote most of a brochure on fiber supplements while she was out of the house.

When Noah told me school was cancelled the next day I wanted to say some very bad words. Instead I said, “I suppose you wouldn’t make that up just to torment me,” and I went back to work. I am a paragon of restraint.

But there was a small ray of hope. In the evening Noah had a drum lesson that wasn’t cancelled. It was the first organized activity either kid had that hadn’t been cancelled in a week.

Derailed: Four (soon to be five) days of school, a gymnastics class, a basketball game, my weekly swim, a Girl Scout meeting, my mental stability, a basketball practice, and an elementary school orchestra concert

On Track: One drum lesson

I don’t know when the kids will be back to school. I hope it will be Monday, but at this rate, who knows? We once had a longer cancellation, but that was for three feet of snow. We’ll exceed our allotment of snow days for the year when we have our fifth one tomorrow and then there will probably be some more and then there will be drama about whether or not we’re going to make up the extra days and chances are we won’t and then I’ll be mad about that all over again.

But in the meantime, I’ve invited Megan to come to our house tomorrow morning and then in the afternoon Megan’s mom is taking both girls to meet another friend at Kung Fu Panda 3, so chances are I’ll get some more work done and we’ll all survive another day.

And Now For Something Completely Different

“Why does it say we’re having ‘Chaos Unleashed on Earth’ for dinner on Wednesday?” June asked. She was looking at the whiteboard on the fridge where I write the week’s dinner menus. And it did say “W: Chaos Unleashed on Earth” right after “M: Squash + Kale on Bowties,” and “T: Baked Eggs on Potato Hash.”

I explained we had a lot going on that night. Beth, Noah, and I had an appointment with a doctor in Bethesda to discuss whether to try a new medication for his ADHD—we’re still looking for the right drug and/or dose. I didn’t think we would get back until six at the earliest and then June had basketball practice at seven and I had book club at seven-thirty. So instead of a home-cooked meal that night, we were all going to eat various frozen foods.

Both kids looked at me silently, but skeptically. I asked if they thought calling a doctor’s appointment, basketball practice, and book club on the same afternoon and evening “chaos unleashed on earth” might be a bit of an exaggeration. Two heads nodded.

The point is…I am a creature of habit. Small changes seem like something completely different to me. Sometimes deviations from routine can be fun, though. We’ve had a few unusual days recently, and they all had something to recommend them.

Week 1

Wednesday: Veteran’s Day

On Veteran’s Day, Beth had the day off, June had a half-day, and Noah had a full day of school. The reason for the discrepancy is that K-8 teachers have parent-teacher conferences those afternoons. I’ve been going to these so long I didn’t realize they don’t do them in high school until I asked Beth whether we’d be trying to see Noah’s teachers before our appointment with June’s math teacher and she told me we wouldn’t be seeing them at all, which made the day simpler, though I do miss having that opportunity to touch base with his teachers on a one-to-one basis.

The kids left for school and we were left to our own devices in the morning, so Beth and I went to Busboys and Poets for breakfast. We saw another lesbian couple we know (moms to two elementary school-aged kids) come in as we were leaving. I guess it’s the lesbian-moms-briefly-without-kids hot spot in Takoma. Anyway, it was pleasant to have a mocha and an avocado omelet and uninterrupted adult conversation for breakfast instead of cereal and the newspaper, as is my usual habit.

In the afternoon, we went to see June’s math teacher, who explained what they were studying and told us nice things about June and gave us her report card. June had said earlier that she finds it nerve-wracking when she knows we’re talking to her teachers, so she was happy to hear it went well—not that we were expecting anything else. She just gets a little high strung sometimes.

As far as June was concerned, the big excitement of the day was the first basketball practice of the season. The Pandas’ coach, Mike, had decided to start practice early this year, in November instead of December. The Pandas had a 0-8 season last year, and he must have thought it would be nice to win a game or two. Not that the losing streak affected the team’s enthusiasm. Those girls have heart. It’s the Panda way.

Not counting Mike and his daughter Maggie, we were the first ones there, but soon the gym was ringing with the sound of running feet and shouting voices. I always enjoy basketball practice, partly for the opportunity to socialize with other moms, but also just to watch the girls. They always seem to be having fun and this was no exception. 

Thursday: The Day after Veteran’s Day

June had another half-day because it takes two days for teachers to get through all the conferences. I had an appointment for a mammogram in the city that I knew would eat up a good bit of the day, mostly in transit, so I arranged for her to go home with a friend and stay the whole afternoon, so I could get in a couple hours of work before Noah got home at four.

If I have a late morning or early afternoon appointment in the city I nearly always get lunch out so I tried a new (to me) rice/noodle bowl place. It’s the kind where you get a card with checklist of ingredients and you pick a certain number from different categories and then you get in line and hand it to them and they make it in front of you. I got buckwheat noodles in miso broth, with a fried egg, tofu, peanuts, seaweed, and other vegetables. It was really good.

For most of the five hours I was out of the house, I was binge-listening to a new NPR psychology podcast, Hidden Brain, which I recommend if you’re in need of a new podcast in your life. Other than the actual mammogram, the whole day was another pleasant change of pace.

Week 2

Monday: Sick Day

Nevertheless, I was looking forward to a week of the both kids being in school for five full days. We were two weeks into the second quarter and we’d had exactly four of those this year. So of course June woke up on Monday saying she felt sick and wanted to stay home.

She had no verifiable symptoms and I wasn’t sure she was really sick, but I let her stay home because I never want to send her to school when she says she’s sick and then have the school nurse call me and say she’s thrown up or something. Beth had an idea that she might have been nervous about a missing homework paper. She’d left it at Zoë’s house on Thursday and had been fretting about it ever since, even though she’d called Zoë, who had promised to bring it to school. I’m not sure if that was the problem or not, but that afternoon we checked and found out Zoë came through, giving the paper to their English teacher.

Anyway, she stayed in bed until 12:30, weakly requesting some chamomile tea and toast around 10:30. She seems to have figured out exactly how long she needs to stay in bed before I think walking her to school and back just isn’t worth it, because at lunchtime she was recovered, wanting lunch and cutting out fabric for a dress she wanted to make for one of her dolls.

The fact that June lays low and stays out of my way when she’s home sick means it’s no longer a lost day of work for me. I wrote some web copy about selenium and zinc, exercised, and even read a chapter of Daniel Deronda, which I’d be discussing at book club in two days. I did spend much of the afternoon with her, though, and, as always when something had to give, it was housework. I gave up plans to vacuum and sort through the masses of paper that continually drift onto the dining room table.

What I did instead was read two chapters of The Horse and His Boy to her and quiz her on the multiplication tables and on U.S. geography, as the qualifying test for GeoBowl was Wednesday. Since she was no longer feeling sick, I also had her practice her violin, finish her Native American diorama, and take the laundry down off the line. I kept her busy until dinner time. In exchange for letting her stay home when she requests it, I try to make sure sick days aren’t too appealing.

Wednesday: Chaos Unleashed on Earth

So, I bet you’re wondering how did that busy Wednesday go? It was fine. We got back from the doctor’s appointment at 5:50 (with a new prescription), heated up frozen lasagna, empanadas, and enchiladas and ate more or less at the same time. Beth and June left for practice around 6:45. I stayed at home until 7:25, which was cutting it close, because Noah was working on a 300-word opinion piece about American imperialism and I wanted to be there if he ran into a snag. But he’d written his introductory paragraph with no help by the time I left and for him that’s lightening speed so I was happy as I rode the bus (which came on time) to book club. I was only five minutes late.

I usually manage to remove myself from whatever I’m currently fretting about at book club. I think that’s part of why I find it so restorative—that and because it engages a part of my mind that used to get a lot more exercise—but I did occasionally wonder how Noah’s essay was coming as we discussed the psychological, sociological, and narrative elements of Daniel Deronda.

By the time I got home, around 9:20, Noah was in the bathroom in his pajamas, flossing. The essay was not finished but he was up against the word limit already. I offered to take a look at it and suggest cuts and he seemed open to that plan. Writing to word limits is something I do a lot these days, but he doesn’t always want to avail himself of my expertise. He was probably happy not to be told he had to go to bed with the essay unfinished, as it was twenty minutes past his bedtime.

We moved to the study. I told him to put in his required quotes before we started looking for places to cut. He did that while I perused Facebook. When he had all his points included, the essay was 360 words and had no conclusion. I started highlighting places where he could word things more succinctly and pretty soon he got into the swing of it and was finding them himself. A lot of the changes were actually improvements, but there were a few things I was sorry to see go. His quotes were pretty truncated and would have been more effective if he could have included more of them, but he got it down to 300 words, including a brief concluding sentence.

I help Noah with his homework frequently, everything from quizzing him on Spanish vocabulary, to reading to him (I’d read the one of the two required sources for the essay to him the night before), to helping him outline ideas or edit, to just being in the same room to make sure he’s attending to his work. Some of it I do just to make his life more manageable, but because he’s in a humanities program, some of it is actually fun for me. Anything to do with writing usually falls into that camp.

He was in bed, paper printed, by 10:10. Beth and I go to bed very early, around 9:30 or 9:45 most nights, so she was already asleep. But what with all the mental stimulation of the evening, I was wide awake, so I took a melatonin tablet and stayed up another twenty minutes or so, so I wouldn’t end up tossing and turning in bed. And the chaotic day was over.

Monday is Beth’s birthday, which ushers in the holiday season for us. In the coming weeks, there will be a good deal more joyful chaos in our lives. I think I’m up for it.

Out to School

Up in the mornin’ and out to school
The teacher is teachin’ the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You studyin’ hard and hopin’ to pass
Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won’t leave you alone

School Days, by Chuck Berry

The kids are seven weeks into the school year and they’ve settled into the routines of fourth and ninth grade. We got their mid-quarter progress reports a couple weeks ago and they’re both doing well. We’re still trying to get some accommodations for Noah’s ADHD and processing issues, but so far all we’ve done is go to meetings. No decision has been made, but the school officials seem skeptical given his good grades. What we’re trying to get across is that getting those good grades comes at a steep price for him—that school is basically his whole life. Taking another tack, he has also recently started on some medication we’re hoping might help him get his school work done more quickly, but this week he’s on a half dose to acclimate and make sure he doesn’t suffer any side effects. He hasn’t had any, but we also haven’t seen any benefits at this low dose.

June’s very involved with extracurricular activities at school. In addition to orchestra and choir, she’s joined the student leadership club and the recycling crew. The only reason she’s not on the safety patrol (the kids who help out at crosswalks) is because she missed the deadline for turning in the form last year.

Beth’s on a mission to talk Noah into trying a club. It’s part of our greater Noah-Should-Do-Something-Besides-Schoolwork project. There’s an apps club that sounds like it would be right up his alley but when Beth texted him “Did you check out the clubs?” on the day the clubs all had tables at lunch, he texted back, “Couldn’t find the one where you get to stay home and not interact with people.” She hasn’t given up, but for now, he’s not doing anything outside his classwork. He is considering private drum lessons since he’s not in band this year. I’m hoping to get him into a session at the music school that starts in early November.

Meanwhile, Beth and I are involved with their schools, too. Beth has joined the PTSA board at the high school and is doing a lot of web site work for them. I volunteered to compile study packets for the GeoBowl at the elementary school and I will probably volunteer again to correct the packets or to grade the qualifying quizzes when the kids take them in November.

We spent a good bit of Columbus Day at the kids’ schools because they were having Open Houses. June’s school was open for parents for an hour in the morning and another hour in the afternoon. We decided to attend the morning hour because Noah has all his CAP classes in the afternoon and those were the ones we wanted to see most. June has math in the morning and now that she’s in compacted math, she takes it in English, so Beth would be able to follow the lesson.

We walked to school with June, arriving around 8:55, and waited outside the school until parents were allowed to come in and start lining up to sign the visitors’ log. Then we headed out to the trailers. June had all her classes in the portable classrooms in third grade and she was hoping to be back in the main building this year, but she has all her morning classes—math, Spanish, and science—out there.

The lesson was on finding the perimeter and area of a rectangle. Ms. O coached them into figuring out the formula for area (they had done the one for perimeter the previous week). They watched a video about perimeter and area in the context of farmers’ fields and she gave them a word problem to solve in pairs. When they were done they discussed the different strategies they had used to answer the question, which boiled down to 108 divided by 12. Some kids did it by long division; some multiplied different numbers by 12 until they came up with 108. Some subtracted 12 from 108 over and over until they came up with zero and counted how many times they had subtracted, while others did the same with addition, starting at zero and working up to 108. One boy drew a grid and kept adding rows to it until he had 108 squares. Ms. O praised most of the strategies, though she noted the grid might not be the most time-efficient way to solve the problem.

While the kids were working, Ms. O took small groups of them aside to talk through more problems involving a hotel room and its crown molding (perimeter) and wall-to-wall carpeting (area). During a down moment, I went over to the science corner and looked at the snail and fish habitats they’ve made from soda bottles. June’s been begging to bring hers home at the end of the unit and I wanted to get a look at it.

The lesson seemed well thought out and at the students’ level (though the instructional quality of the video wasn’t great). But the whole time I was trying to put out of my mind the teaching I’d witnessed at the HGC, the spark and passion I just wasn’t seeing in June’s class. This was made more difficult by the fact that we saw the HGC bus pulling away from her school with the face of one of her friends in the window as we were arriving. But I don’t think June shares my sadness about this. She seems to have moved on and is getting the most out of what her school has to offer, which is a good thing.

Another thing Beth and I both noticed immediately about June’s classroom was that all of her friends in the class—and one girl with whom she’s clashed for years—were together at one group of desks and she was in another with another girl I didn’t recognize and four boys. We asked her after school if they chose their seats or if Ms. O assigned them. June said they chose on the first day of school and that she chose hers because it had the best view of the Promethean board (an interactive, computerized white board). Beth and I had other ideas about why she might not have wanted to sit at the all-girl table. We both thought it was probably a good decision. I asked June about the girl who sits next to her and she said she’s never had a class with her before but she’s nice. I was glad to hear that.

Beth and I had lunch at Lebanese Taverna, where we saw the parents of Noah’s best friend from preschool—his folks had just finished a visit to a middle school and the high school. Noah and Ethan are actually in the same algebra class now, but since they haven’t been in the same school since they were five and Noah’s not good at remembering people from his past, he has no memory of his old buddy, which I find a little sad.

Next we headed to Noah’s school. While they normally have half their classes each day on an alternating schedule, that day all classes met, so parents could see whichever ones they wanted. We attended four of his seven classes—Photography, American History, English, and Drama.

The photography class was a lecture on how to remove the background from a photo in Photoshop. It was much too basic for Noah, who’s finding a lot of the class too easy because he’s already had three years of Media classes and some kids are starting from scratch. As a result, he’s been informally tutoring other kids, which is nice and I’m not going to complain about an easy class, given the rest of his workload. The teacher then introduced the next assignment, which is to make a cover for a tabloid magazine. He showed them some covers from the Weekly World News. The parents and the kids laughed at different ones, I noticed. “Is Dick Cheney a Robot?” was popular with the middle-aged set. (Later Noah asked us, “Who’s Dick Cheney?”) The stories on the kids’ tabloids are supposed to be about teachers and students at their school, so he advised them to tone them down a little and specifically forbade them from using the term “love slave,” which isn’t an instruction you get very often from a high school teacher.

American History was a lesson on nineteenth-century immigration. In addition to the teacher’s lecture, they watched a clip from Fiddler on the Roof and the teacher read them part of a piece from Sunday’s Washington Post Outlook section on the history of Italian-Americans’ assimilation process (it was a Columbus Day-themed piece). The kids seemed engaged and the teacher did, too.

In English, the teacher gave a Power Point presentation on some conventions of vampire literature because she wanted to make the point that in some ways, Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, as a story of female victimization, follows them. As someone who used to teach a month-long unit on vampires in a college class on horror, and who is kind of fond of Maggie, I found that interesting. She made the fatal flaw of not having read Twilight, though, and some of the students let her know how current vampire lit is departing from the norms. This may have lessened her credibility. I’m not sure. I haven’t taught horror since 2005 and I haven’t read Twilight either.

Drama was the last class. The class started in a cozy, bookshelf-lined room with a little stage at the end. I knew they were going to practice scenes from A Glass Menagerie and All My Sons during that class so I thought they’d be on the small stage, but the teacher took them to the stage of the school auditorium, which you can access directly from their classroom, instead. There she had them do some exercises to focus on physicality-they were supposed to walk around stage the way their character would, gesture the way they would, etc. Finally they broke out into groups and started practicing their lines. Noah’s doing a scene from All My Sons with another boy but they were pretty far backstage so I couldn’t hear much of their practice. I could hear a couple groups doing Glass Menagerie scenes better. It looked like a fun class and a good way to end the day.

We drove Noah home and a couple hours later—all of us but Noah who stayed home to work—went to El Golfo, which was holding a fundraiser for June’s school. We saw Ms. G, June’s English/Social Studies teacher there, but we were there early so Beth could go to the high school for a PTSA board meeting and we didn’t see a lot of families we know. Nonetheless, it was a good time. I always enjoy eating spinach enchiladas and tres leches cake and doing a good deed at the same time.

Back at home, Noah read and outlined a section in his history book about immigration and June took a shower. Beth got home from her meeting shortly after June had gone to bed, so she poked her head into the bedroom to say goodnight after a long day of all of us being out to school.

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.