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.

Summer’s End

1. Before Hershey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Hershey: The Sweetest Place on Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Middle School is Over!

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

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

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

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

F-CON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Promotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Party Girl: Or, Speechless No More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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