Midway Through Middle School

The kids have just finished a five-day weekend, or five and a quarter if you count the delayed opening today. They had Monday off for MLK Day and Tuesday was the teacher grading and planning day they have at the end of every quarter and Wednesday was a snow day. Third quarter (finally!) starts today and this means Noah is midway through middle school. Last week was exam week. I actually like midterms because the teachers assign a lot less homework, so even though he has to study, his load is lighter than usual. Nonetheless, he’s had a lot going on. There was a band concert last Thursday, he’s been swamped with homework ever since exams ended, and he got braces Tuesday.

Before the Long Weekend: Wednesday and Thursday

Thursday was a really nice day for me, if busy, which I appreciated because Wednesday was not.  It was the fourth anniversary of my father’s death, so I was little down all day, and I had a computer problem that stopped me from working on a day when I was already behind, and the fire alarm kept beeping because it needed new batteries and I couldn’t figure out how to get the old ones out of the darn thing, and then I got a mild scare when Noah was a half hour late because he missed the Metro bus after band practice and he didn’t call to tell me or answer my call because his phone was dead.  It was that kind of day.

Thursday on the other hand was reasonably productive on the work front, and once the kids got home they were full of appealing requests.  June wanted to go down the block and play Horse at our neighbor’s basketball hoop and then she actually asked to hear a chapter of The Secret Garden.  We have been limping our way through this book, which I loved a child but she’s lukewarm about at best, for over a year. It was the second day in a row we’d read from it, but we haven’t since then.

Because of his band concert that evening, Noah didn’t have much time for homework, so he asked me if I could read Things Fall Apart to him because it’s generally faster for me to read to him than for him to read to himself.  I am never one to turn down a request to read a classic, so we read chapters two to four (and I went back later and read the first chapter on my own).

Noah also had a couple pleasant revelations.  “I accidentally won the geography bee,” he told me when I asked how school was.  He had not realized there was a geography bee and had not studied for it, but he won nevertheless, which is just classic Noah. He’s a little disgruntled about having to advance to the next level (competing against the winners of other social studies classes at his school) because he thinks she should study this time, but I pointed out that not studying seemed to work out pretty well last time.

The big news, though, he kept to himself.  At dinner Beth asked if he’d gotten his IDRP back and he said, yes, and then casually, “I got an A on it.”  Because he got a C on the rough draft, we were not expecting this. I’d already told him that I didn’t care what grade he got on the final paper because he’d worked hard and I was proud of that regardless of the grade. I meant it, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy to hear he’d done that well. It’s good to have your work recognized.

So we were feeling celebratory as we headed off to the winter concert. We took June for the first time since she was in preschool.  Because she napped back then, she actually had a later bedtime than she does now. Last year the winter concert was pretty short, though, and we thought we’d try bringing her to this one.  We may not be doing it again any time soon because they have a new band teacher now and he does a lot of things differently, and one of them is that the winter concert is approximately twice as long. June was leaning against me for much of the concert and she did not get to bed until and hour and a half past her bedtime. I think she enjoyed it, though, especially when the orchestra was on stage and she could imagine when she will be old enough to play violin in a concert.  She’s particularly interested in the concept of being first violin, a distinction not available to percussionists.

Speaking of the percussionist, we could sometimes see him, more often his hair than his hands or sticks, but he says he played snare drum, triangle, crash cymbals, suspended cymbals and tambourine and I believe him. Their last number was “Bolero,” which is always fun to hear.  Because the percussionists don’t take their instruments home they are supposed to return them to the music room but the other three musicians abandoned the job to Noah so Beth and I helped him in the interest of getting home.  I had a lot of reasons to be proud of him that day, but the fact that he would never, ever think to leave the instruments on stage and assume someone else would take them where they belong was one of them.

Long Weekend: Original Four-Day Version

Friday Noah got to relax because Fridays are a no-homework zone, no matter how much homework he has, and he did have a lot. I read to him before leaving for June’s basketball practice and then again after she was in bed. We finished the last book in the Fablehaven series, Keys to the Demon Prison. We’d been reading these books since around Labor Day, so that was satisfying. When we came home from basketball, he was practicing his drums, without my having reminded him, which was also satisfying.

Saturday morning Noah and I picked up another series we’re also reading, The Norumbega Quartet, where we’d left off, with book #4, The Chamber in the Sky, and then he did algebra and media homework.  I wanted him to get all his non-social studies homework out of the way because he had to write rough drafts of the annotated bibliography and a process paper for his National History project.  They have to turn their IDRP into a new format, so he’s making a documentary about product liability law, or he would be making it if he didn’t have so many preparatory assignments getting in the way.  By Sunday afternoon he was ready to start on the annotated bibliography and he worked on it until Monday afternoon.

A great many parents told me it would be better after IDRP and I’m not really in a position to judge yet, as it was five weeks ago that they turned it in and they were on winter break for almost two weeks of that time, and then they barely went to school this week…but National History Day is a pretty big project, too. I hope once Noah gets to actually making the film, he will enjoy it more, but right now while he’s fleshing out his research, it’s kind of a slog.

Beth and I both have a very strong desire for Noah to have more free time than he does right now, so we’ve been considering his options for high school and thinking more and more seriously of encouraging him not to apply to any of the academic magnets, although a performing arts magnet is a possibility.  He’s been in magnets since fourth grade and in general the rigorous curriculum has been good for him, much better than when he was in third grade, bored, unchallenged, and unhappy. But his ADHD and slow processing make the work harder for him than for many of his peers, and I think this year he may have hit the point where just working harder than everyone else is becoming a less viable strategy. Also, once he’s in high school it will be easier to piece together a schedule with enough AP classes for him to be challenged but not so many that he’s doing homework all the time. That’s what we hope anyway.

Monday morning Beth took Noah to the orthodontist to get spacers in preparation for the braces, and then she took him back as soon as they got home because one of them had popped out of his mouth. He’d been complaining that one felt wrong all along and I guess he was right. Beth gave him some painkiller before the procedure and he didn’t seem to be in much pain. In fact, he got himself a bowl of tortilla chips in the afternoon, which helped me decide not to bother pureeing the cauliflower soup for him at dinner.

On the way to the second trip to the orthodontist, Beth dropped June and I off at Value Village so we could brave the 50% off MLK Day sale. Value Village is a huge thrift store, think big box size, not particularly well organized, and crazy busy on a sale day, but it’s also very cheap and June’s outgrown a lot of clothes recently.  We went in with a list of thing we hoped to find: basically leggings and long-sleeved tops, including turtlenecks and sweaters. I told her we were there for practical school clothes that fit now, nothing out of season and not anything to grow into because her style changes. Given that as we walked in the door, she was saying, “How about a party dress?” I think I was lucky we walked out with two pairs of fleece pants (there were no leggings, at least none I could find), three tops, and a white knit poncho. The poncho was not on the original list, but I decided it could serve the same function as a cardigan, so I relented. She loves it so much that when we went to Starbucks immediately afterward and wanted a hot chocolate and I said she could have one but she’d have to take off the poncho to drink it, she opted for water.  All these purchases, plus a pair of snow pants for Noah, cost less than seventeen dollars.

At home, I ran a load of laundry, the third one of the day, this one consisting of other people’s size 6 and 14 clothes that are now my kids’, mixed in with a bunch of baby clothes they once wore, which I’m giving to a pregnant friend. I am so sentimental about the kids’ baby clothes that I still have a lot of them, though fewer all the time, because I give some away every time someone I know has a baby. Before I put them down the laundry chute, I looked at them all, and marveled that my quickly growing man-child, who’s taller than me and who has a deepening voice, and has sprouted hair on his legs and a strange shadow on his upper lip, ever wore those tiny onesies and sleepers and footed leggings, but he did.

Tuesday morning Beth took Noah to the orthodontist again for the actual braces while June and I made banana bread and muffins, and watched the snow come down outside. Noah came home with braces.  They caught me off guard every time he smiled, and he did smile, which I don’t think I did the day I got braces.  He didn’t seem to be in any pain, ate raw carrots at lunch and didn’t take any painkiller. This is very different from how I remember this experience. I’m not sure if there have been advances in orthodontia since the early 80s or if he was having a mercifully tactile under-sensitive day.

Noah worked on his process paper most of the rest of the day. June and I delivered the banana bread, along with the baby clothes to Wakako. She lives just far enough from a bus stop that it felt like an adventurous trek in the snowstorm but not so far that it was arduous.  June looked sleepy on the bus home, but she stayed in the yard sledding and making snow angels when we got home.  Shortly before we left, June noticed that all the radiators were cold. Beth called for a boiler repairperson and fortunately it was an easy fix, because it was supposed to be frigid the next day, with highs only in the low twenties.

Beth took June for a walk in the woods by the creek later in the afternoon and while they were gone I buckled down to work, which I had been doing only sporadically for the past couple days.  I had deadlines and the threat of a school closure the next day had put the fear of God in me. When Beth and June got home, Beth had a conference call and June took it upon herself to shovel a good bit of our long walk. She did a great job, but it was still snowing, so it got covered again soon and then Beth did the whole walk and then it got covered yet again.  Shortly after dinner, Beth got the notice that school was closed the following day.

Weekend Coda: Snow Day

When we woke up, the house was freezing. The radiators were cold again so the morning was a rush of calling the heating oil company (Beth once, me twice) to get a service call, going to the hardware store and buying some space heaters (Beth), and trying to shovel the icy walk and then giving up (me). Then Beth drove June over to Megan’s house and left for work, and Noah and I holed up in the study to work. He had a series of essay questions to answer about his film topic. When we turned on the new heater, it registered the temperature in the room as 43 degrees, but over the course of several hours it got up to 69 degrees.  Not bad, considering that outside it had been in the single digits overnight and didn’t get past 15 during the day.

The repairperson came around noon and by one, he was finished and the radiators felt faintly warm. I fetched Megan and June and brought them back to our house where they continued their seven-hour play date. When we came home, I found Noah asleep in his computer chair. He woke when I came into the room and said he had a headache and stomachache, so I put him to bed.

I salted the walk, ate a late lunch of grilled cheese and black bean soup, and then went in to check on him. I asked if he wanted me to read to him, and he did, so I read for an hour and twenty minutes.  Then he was feeling better and he went back to work while I took a long-handled ice scraper to the ice on the sidewalk and chipped away most of it. By the time I came in, tired, cold, and sore, and discovered the lentils I’d left simmering on the stove had burned, I was feeling as if the day, or maybe the whole endless weekend, had really been too much.  And I learned from my friends on Facebook, that there was a two-hour delay the next day.

But the next morning the kids went to school, Noah frustrated he had never completed his essay questions. I tried hacking at some of the more stubborn icy spots on the sidewalk, cleared the toys off the living room floor, read just a tiny bit of a new novel (Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam) and sat down to tackle my own backlog of work in a quiet house. It’s a new semester and time to make a fresh start.

O, Christmas Tree

We are spending Christmas at home this year for the first time ever. For the kids’ whole lives we’ve alternated Christmases at my mother’s house and Beth’s mother’s house.  Even before Noah was born we usually spent Christmas with one family or the other, though the alternation was less strict back then. But last January my mother and stepfather moved to Oregon, and it’s not as easy to travel to see them now so we decided to stay home.

Of course I am sad about not seeing my family on Christmas, but there are upsides: no packing, no travel, a more relaxed winter break, and the biggie in June’s eyes—we got a Christmas tree. Because we were always away on Christmas day and our parents had their own trees it never seemed worth getting one before.

On a Friday evening not quite two weeks before Christmas, we all piled in the car after a diner of frozen pizza and drove to the lot of volunteer fire department to buy a tree. Except when we got there the lot was dark and unstaffed and there were only a couple of trees lying on their sides on the asphalt.  It looked as if they’d sold out.

We reconsidered our options. Ace Hardware had trees in their Garden Center behind the store.  And there was a temporary lot in the parking lot of a nearby shopping center.  We decided if we couldn’t support the fire department we’d support a local brick-and-mortar business. Ace it was.  The trees were mostly bundled up and it was hard for me to tell one from another or to guess what they might look like with their branches down but Beth and the kids settled easily on one in the seven to eight feet area and we bought it. When the store employee lifted it to make a fresh cut on the bottom and trim the lower branches, Noah whispered to me, “Tree hugger,” which made me laugh.

The next day Beth set to work cleaning out the clutter of toys in the living room to make room for the tree. Some she moved temporarily down to the basement and some she put aside to give away. Then she set the tree up in its stand.  Sunday she strung lights on it—the lights a thoughtful early Christmas present from my sister who picked lights similar to those we had growing up. However, we didn’t put the ornaments on it because we wanted to wait until after Noah’s paper was turned in and he could participate.

June was delighted with the tree, even only partially decorated, and with the tall candles we put in the fireplace (the chimney doesn’t draw well so we never build fires) and she spent a lot of time reading in front of it, or listening to me read to her.

All weekend and through the week that followed the tree kept taking me by surprise, the unexpected smell of fresh pine in the house, the warm feeling I got from seeing its colored lights shining the dimness of the living room. We thought the cats, or at least Mathew, who’s the more easily spooked of the two, would show some surprise and perhaps even dismay at having a tree in the house, but they had no reaction whatsoever. Apparently we’ve done stranger things than bring a live tree into the house. It is a very odd tradition when you think about it, but it’s also a wonderful one.

The lights proved a bit fickle, as Christmas lights will, and one day a section was blinking on and off, even though they are not blinking lights.  I noticed the neighbors’ tree was doing the exact same thing, about a quarter of their tree was blinking, when it had not been previously, so maybe something about the electric current was odd that day. Or maybe the trees were communicating with each other in Morse code. If so, they said what they needed to say and then stopped.

A week after we bought the tree, we decorated it. Noah had turned in his research paper the day before and was in high spirits.  We’d let him pull the middle school version of an all-nighter on Wednesday night—he was up several hours past his bedtime that night and was still tinkering with it on Thursday morning before he left for school but he got it done. I was super proud of him for completing such a big project and also super relieved.  It felt as if a weight had been lifted from all of us and now we could celebrate.

Friday evening, we got take-out pizza and let Noah choose the restaurant. I thought it would be a quick job to decorate the tree because we didn’t have that many ornaments, just the ones we’ve accumulated over the years as presents from people who didn’t know we didn’t have a tree, a few we’d bought this year, and some spare ones YaYa gave the kids over Thanksgiving.  But I hadn’t actually gone upstairs with Beth, YaYa and the kids when they were selecting ornaments or looked in the box afterward and I didn’t realize it wasn’t a few ornaments she gave us, it was several dozen.

I’d imagined the end result would be a sparsely decorated starter tree, but by the time we’d finished the tree was loaded.  It holds several cherished ornaments from Beth’s childhood, many of which I recognize from Christmases we spent at her family’s house. We also have a newly purchased tree topper, a rusted metal angel holding a star (because we couldn’t settle on whether to get an angel or a star) and our new ornaments everyone had a hand in choosing. June got an angel playing the violin. I meant to buy an ocean-themed one in Rehoboth but I forgot and settled on a Starbucks cup instead.  Beth and Noah picked ornaments with characters from classic Christmas specials.  Beth got the Grinch in a wreath and Noah got a set of four characters from Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Once the tree was decorated, and after June was in bed, Noah sprawled on the floor next to it staring at the candles in the fireplace and playing with the melted wax, and just being still for a long time. I thought this inactivity might be just what he needed after working so hard for so long, but eventually he and Beth got the idea to set up the train and they threw themselves into this task with great enthusiasm.

Last summer Beth’s aunt, who had been storing it, gave Beth the train set, circa 1979, which used to wend its way around the Christmas trees of Beth’s youth. It took some trouble shooting to get it going but once they did, Beth and Noah spent a lot of time happily watching it go around the tree. It was like having Noah’s six-year-old self back for a visit, and I for one was happy to see him so carefree.

Every Christmas I have spent with my mother, from childhood to adulthood, she has declared, with utter sincerity, that this year’s tree is “the best tree we’ve ever had.” It’s become something of a family joke. My sister posted a picture of her own tree on Facebook this year, saying it was the “best xmas tree ever!” Since we’ve only had one tree, I suppose this one is by definition the best one we’ve ever had, but considering the happiness it’s brought all of us, I think it could be the most memorable one we’ll ever have.

Beachmas

Every year we go to the beach for a weekend in early to mid-December, to Christmas shop and for me to get an off-season beach fix. When I wrote my speech about our family traditions for our wedding last January, this one was prominently mentioned. It’s right up there with going a little crazy with Halloween decorations and always going to see the cherry blossoms even if they bloom at an inconvenient time.  It’s part of our family culture, so much so that both of my children have believed (and one still may) that the Santa in the little house on the boardwalk is the real Santa and any others they might see in the weeks leading up to Christmas are fakes.

So a week ago, on Thursday morning I was in the kitchen with June singing a Christmas song—I don’t remember which one—except I kept substituting “Beachmas” for “Christmas.” This was because we were leaving for the beach the next day. I’d been cheerful all week contemplating this trip, but I also had some trepidation.

Last year we considered not going on this trip, to save money, but in the end we went because I couldn’t bear the idea of not going.  This year I was more worried about time, Noah’s time that is. It was the second to last weekend before IDRP is due and I didn’t know if going away was a good idea.  But I knew if we cancelled a long-standing tradition on account of his workload we’d all be sad, including, maybe especially him—Noah thrives on tradition—so I didn’t even tell Beth I wasn’t sure if we should go, and we went.

Friday

We got a late start Friday afternoon, largely because Noah had not had time to pack beforehand and it was past four-thirty before he was ready to go. We ended up in rush hour traffic on a rainy afternoon, and our progress was excruciatingly slow.  I told Beth I wasn’t going to worry about getting the kids to bed on time, and she said that was good, because there was no chance of it.

We had an audiobook (one of the ones we couldn’t listen to over Thanksgiving because there’s a CD stuck in the drive) downloaded onto a device, but we decided rather than listen to it we’d all be quiet so Noah could read and take notes on the Holocaust memoir he had to re-read because he (along with half the class) failed the test on it. This was less fun than listening to a book together or singing along with Christmas music would have been, especially for June who can’t read in the car without getting sick and was bored and restless.  We decided it was best for Noah, though, and because of his workload and his learning challenges (his ADHD-NOS and his slow processing speed being most relevant here) often what’s best for Noah determines what we all do.

We arrived at the hotel around 9:15, June having slept around a half hour in the car. After we unpacked and June was tucked into bed, I slipped out for a walk on the beach. It was misting and 43 degrees according to the big thermometer on Rehoboth Avenue, with a fierce wind blowing.  I wore my raincoat, rather than the warmer fleece jacket I’d brought, largely to keep myself from yielding to the temptation to stay on the beach too long.  When I came back to the room fifteen minutes later my boots were sandy, my cheeks were tingling with the cold and I felt lighter, more alive, the way I always do after my first trip to the beach in any given visit. Noah still wasn’t in bed and June was awake, too.  It was probably ten-thirty before we all fell asleep.

Sunday

We didn’t sleep well. The room was over-heated and Beth and I both woke several times during the night and then the kids were up and whispering to each other by five-thirty. I stayed in bed until seven, hoping for more sleep, but I didn’t get any.

The kids and I got dressed and went down to play on the beach while we waited for Galleria Espresso, our favorite breakfast spot, to open at eight.  It was colder than the night before, 38 degrees, but it felt a little warmer because it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t as windy.  June dug in the sand a bit and the kids made a perfunctory sand castle—June filled the bucket with sand and Noah turned it over carefully and then immediately stomped on it because that’s what he does with all his sand castles.

We met Beth at the restaurant and were met with the unwelcome sight of it dark and bare inside.  There was a sign saying it was re-locating to Route 1, which meant it would no longer be accessible by foot, and we’d be unlikely to go there much anymore.  We were all disappointed (no pumpkin crepes for breakfast!) and with the nearby Café-A-Go-Go closed for the season, it was unclear where we should eat. We are creatures of habit, all of us (except maybe June).  As it was we were already staying it a different hotel than we usually do because our preferred hotel was partially under renovation and full of runners for a marathon being held that day. We were quite discombobulated. Beth had the idea to eat in the restaurant of the fanciest hotel on the boardwalk, The Boardwalk Plaza, and knowing it has an ocean view, I readily assented.

After breakfast I was ready to get started on my Christmas shopping mission with June while Noah stayed in the room working on homework.  But June wanted to swim in the hotel pool. She was actually the only one of us happy to be in a new hotel, because of the pool, so I said okay.  We had it to ourselves, possibly because it was raining in there. No, really. They seemed to be having a problem with condensation all over the hotel.  There was water pooling on the windowsill of our room and water dripped from the glass ceiling of the pool area.  I covered our clothes with our jackets so they wouldn’t get too wet while we swam.

By the time June and I had finished and had showers it was almost time for lunch, but we made a quick stop at the tea and spice shop.  June was a shopping dynamo, focused and decisive as she picked gifts for immediate and extended family.  We had lunch at a boardwalk restaurant, which I chose again mainly for the view because we’ve had bad service and mediocre food there in the past. I knew Beth and Noah were unlikely to set foot in there again so it seemed like my best chance to eat a salad and sweet potato fries while I watched the gray waves crash against the shore. June ordered fried pickles for an appetizer, and they were about what you’d expect fried pickles to be like. As we were leaving I thought I’d lost my phone and they were really nice about pulling the booth apart into its component parts to look for it and then I discovered it was in my shirt pocket all along.

Our next stop was going to be the bookstore, but we needed to go back to the hotel first because I had a gift certificate I’d forgotten to bring with me. I came into the room and greeted Beth and Noah cheerfully, but it was soon apparent something was wrong.  Noah had started his homework with Spanish and algebra because those are two of his easier classes and he wanted to get them out of the way, but he got unexpectedly snagged on both assignments.  He was frustrated and tearful and he didn’t want to stop working and go out for lunch because he just wanted to break through the impasse.

I was pretty sure his difficulties stemmed in part from the fact that he hadn’t slept well and it was two o’clock and he hadn’t had lunch.  I felt a stab of guilt for coming to Rehoboth at all, when he might have been able to work better at home.  Meanwhile June said she was going to pretend Noah was laughing and not crying because she didn’t like to hear him cry.

In the end Beth coaxed him to the cheesemonger’s for a lunch of fancy cheese and crackers, while June and I continued our shopping until it was time to see Santa. Noah has not believed in Santa since he was six, but up until this year he has gone for June’s sake (and for many years when she was too shy to speak to Santa he conveyed her wishes for her).  This year, though, he declined.  We didn’t push it. He’s twelve and that is a bit old for sitting on Santa’s lap.

The three of us watched as June went into the little house and whispered to Santa and just so all her bases were covered, she left a note in his mailbox. She’d composed and sealed the note several days earlier.  Uncharacteristically, Beth decided to pry open the envelope and read it, largely because being Santa, she wanted to know what June was expecting of Santa. The note was cryptic saying June knew Santa already knew what she wanted but even if he didn’t provide it she would still believe in him.

After Santa we switched kids and Beth and June went shopping while I stayed in the room with Noah. I thought maybe if I read the Holocaust memoir to him it would go more quickly but he was stopping me so often and taking such detailed notes I soon realized the notes were what was making the reading take so long and I wasn’t helping much.  This was frustrating because I had proposed this as a way he could finish something and feel better about the day and we ended up giving up on it and on working any more that day.

We had dinner at Grotto Pizza, his favorite, and as always Beth gave the kids money to donate to whatever charity they thought had the best Christmas tree in the restaurant. Noah seemed in better spirits.  Earlier in the day Beth had seen a sign outside a locked public restroom that said, “Restroom closed. Use Rehoboth Ave,” and we were all joking when I needed to go use the restroom that as the restaurant was on Rehoboth Avenue, perhaps I should just go outside and pee on the street. We’d been making this joke all day in various forms, but it had not gotten old. That’s how it is with family sometimes.

We went back to the hotel room and watched Frosty the Snowman, which we’d brought with us, and after June was in bed, Noah drummed quietly on the side of our bed with his drumsticks for an hour or so until it was time for him to go to bed.  This helps him decompress sometimes and I thought it was just what he needed.

Meanwhile, I went to the beach again. It was clearer, a beautiful night, and I could see Orion and the Big Dipper. But it was still cold and I didn’t stay long.

Sunday

The next day an ice storm was due to arrive so we left in the late morning, rather than after lunch as we usually would. I took June to the beach while Noah worked a bit.  We found a post in the sand someone had decorated, wrapping it with red tinsel and affixing tiny ornaments and a big bow to it. I was quite taken with it, a little bit of Christmas there on the beach.

Eventually June got too cold to stay on the beach. I can’t complain about her hardiness because although I’d packed snow pants and boots, I’d forgotten to bring any of her winter jackets and she wore a windbreaker all weekend, sometimes over a sweater, sometimes not. We went to the lobby of a nearby hotel as ours didn’t have one and we read until Beth called and said Noah was ready to eat. We had a nice breakfast at Green Man, and Beth and Noah did some shopping while I took June back to the room and packed to go.

The kids and I went down to the beach for one last time before we left, to say goodbye to the ocean. There was a lot of foam on the sand, as there often is when it’s windy, and the kids had fun stomping on it.  Then we let the waves run over our feet, thirteen times Noah decided, because it was 2013 but actually waiting for 2,013 waves would take too long. June and I were wearing rain boots and our feet stayed dry, but we discovered Noah’s snow boots were not as waterproof. Also, he tripped over his own feet and fell into a retreating wave and got his pants all wet and sandy.  But he was laughing, which was good to hear. Like June, I’d rather hear him laugh than cry.

The ice storm came, as predicted, and it was a tricky drive home for Beth. Noah started editing his paper that evening, having not worked on it all weekend.

Monday and Tuesday

In an extraordinary stroke of luck for Noah the next two days were snow days. He did go out and enjoy the snow, but he spent most of those two days at the computer re-writing his IDRP.  He still has a lot of work to do on it this weekend, but by next Thursday it will be done, for better or for worse.

I’m glad we went to the beach, despite the cold and all the time Noah had to spend working.  He go to go to Grotto’s and shop a little and play on the beach twice so it wasn’t a total loss for him. It wasn’t my ideal Beachmas, but we were all there together, doing what we always do as a family. That’s what holds us together and helps us laugh in the bad times and makes the good times even better.

Tuesday Afternoon is Never-Ending

Monday was Veteran’s Day, which in our area means a lot parents have the day off and kids have a half-day. Our school district takes advantage of parents’ availability by scheduling parent-teacher conferences on that day (and the following day, which is also a half-day for the kids). We scheduled a meeting with June’s morning teacher in the early afternoon, soon after school let out, deciding a meeting with the afternoon teacher was unnecessary as I’d been in her classroom to observe during the Columbus Day Open House, and just the week before to attend the second-grade publishing party.

Our meeting with Señora J was pleasant and uneventful.  June’s doing fine in her class and her grades are very good. The only thing Señora J had to suggest was that she check her work more carefully and speak up in class more.

In middle school you don’t make appointments, you just show up and stand in the lines that snake from the tables where the teachers sit in the gym and the cafeteria. So that’s what we did. We hit the gym first and eyed the huge lines for Noah’s English and World Studies teachers. For a five-minute chat with each of them, we’d be in that windowless room two hours—I got out of line briefly to talk to Noah’s Spanish teacher, who had almost no line, before re-joining Beth in the English teacher’s line. His algebra teacher wasn’t too swamped either so after we talked to the World Studies and English teachers, we saw her too.

It was no surprise the seventh-grade magnet English and World Studies teachers had mammoth lines.  It’s IDRP season—that stands for Interdisciplinary Research Paper. It’s due in a month and if the attendees of parent-teacher conferences are any gauge, the parents are nearly as stressed about it as the kids.

We told most of Noah’s teachers about his slow processing.  (See “His Different Mind” 7/20/11.) And we explained how it might affect 1) his class participation—it’s sometimes hard for him to formulate his thoughts quickly enough to participate in lively discussions—and 2) homework completion—sometimes it’s just impossible for him to finish.  We understand his grades will reflect what he produces and don’t expect anything else, but we wanted the teachers to know he’s not blowing things off; he’s doing his best. Noah’s first quarter grades were actually quite good, almost all As, but I think it’s helpful for his teachers to know a bit about his learning style. For some of the teachers, it seemed to be just the piece of the puzzle they need for Noah to make sense.  Right before I explained why Noah sometimes doesn’t talk in class, the Spanish teacher said he often appears to be daydreaming, but “he knows everything,” sounding a little baffled as he said it.

By the time we’d finished in the gym, it was time for the teachers’ break and we still had three teachers to go. We had to kill forty-five minutes so we took June, who’d been patiently (and then not so patiently) reading and drawing for two hours, to Starbucks for a treat before we headed back and saw Noah’s science, media, and band teachers in a little over a half hour. The media teacher said Noah is a good independent learner and “isn’t afraid of technology.”  When Beth asked about the procedure for trying out for honors band the band teacher explained the application was due a month ago (at which point the kids got their audition music) and auditions were the very next day, so he couldn’t audition.

Beth and I were both disappointed, because Honors Band was such a great experience for Noah last winter. When we asked him about it, he dug around in his band folder and found the band teacher’s invitation to apply, the form, and the music he had not practiced. He said he’d just assumed he wouldn’t have time to play in two bands. This seemed especially sad because recently when Beth asked him what his ideal class schedule would be he said all media and band.

Over the course of the afternoon spent standing in line we chatted with other parents, and in two cases mothers mentioned in a casual sort of way that school (academics, not social aspect) frequently make their children cry. One said she would count the evening as a win if her daughter didn’t cry hysterically while working on her IDRP outline and wasn’t up until one a.m.  Here I considered the fact that while Noah’s often up past his 8:45 bedtime on school nights, we never let him stay up half the night, no matter what he’s done or hasn’t done. Sometimes Beth will drive him to school in the morning so he can carve out a little work time before school and sometimes he just doesn’t finish his work, although he usually does.  I can’t imagine letting him stay up until one a.m. He’s only twelve, and growing like, well, like a twelve-year-old boy. He needs his sleep more than he needs a perfect grade on the IDRP.

So, what is this IDRP? It’s the biggest project in seventh grade and from what I’ve heard from parents whose kids have finished the Humanities program at Noah’s middle school the most difficult project during the whole three years. Parent after parent has told me, “It will be better after IDRP,” and I believe it (partly because of all the parents who told me, correctly, that fifth grade is easier than fourth at the Highly Gifted Center). Sixth grade was intense, but usually manageable and often fun, especially their GreekFest projects (See “All the World’s A Stage” 5/7/13). And in eighth grade, the payoff year, they take a five-day trip to New York City and make a documentary film, which I’m confident Noah will enjoy.

Meanwhile, we have IDRP, the middle child of the Humanities program, an eight to ten-page research paper, researched partly at a university library. The kids took a two-day field trip to the University of Maryland last month (and then Beth took Noah back so he could have more time with his sources). Noah’s topic is product liability law. He took an interest when we visited Cedar Point last summer and he and Beth had a discussion about amusement parks’ liability when something goes tragically wrong on a ride. The two of them have talked a lot about his paper and she says he’s very engaged and knowledgeable about the topic when you talk to him about it.  He’s just not so keen on communicating his knowledge in written form.

It’s been a big week for IDRP.  Noah had to turn in his second set of thirty-five note cards on Monday, and then an outline with an introductory and a concluding paragraph the very next day. Knowing how close these assignments were spaced, we’d hoped for him to finish the note cards a week ahead of time so he could have the whole weekend to work on the outline, but it didn’t happen.  In fact, he didn’t finish the note cards until the very end of the weekend before they were due.

I kept thinking he was almost done, when he’d reveal another requirement of the assignment he had not mentioned previously. So, when he was almost finished with the thirty-five cards (five to go), he reported that the cards needed to cover ten sources and he’d only done five.  And when he’d almost finished covering ten sources, we learned he was supposed to have five primary sources and he only had two. The finish line kept retreating further away the closer he seemed to get to it.

So, the note cards were completed and turned in on Monday (minus one primary source), but even a whole afternoon and evening courtesy of the half-day was not enough time to write the outline and the two paragraphs. (Go ahead and guess when we found out it wasn’t just an outline due Tuesday? Did you guess Monday? You’re right!)  We let him stay up past ten and he turned in a solid introductory paragraph and an outline but no conclusion.

All this time Noah had, understandably, been letting some of his other work slide. He didn’t do his math on Monday and there was a big World Studies reading with questions due on Wednesday.  Yes, Wednesday, right after grueling back-to-back assignments for this very class on each of the two days previous. (I joked while standing in line for the World Studies teacher that we should open with, “Why are you tormenting my child?).

Anyway, Tuesday was another half-day so I thought he could get it done. He got home around one and buckled down to work.  About an hour and half, he told me he’d just realized he’d been reading the wrong chapter.  He didn’t seem that upset, but I had that familiar feeling of progress dissipating, like a mirage retreating back to the horizon.  And this was when the line from “Lady Madonna,”—“Tuesday afternoon is never-ending” flitted through my mind and I posted it on Facebook.

“Noah, I’m so sorry,” I said. And then I advised him to save his answers in case they had to read that chapter later.  Oh, they did, he said. That one was due on Friday.  Okay, an assignment for Friday was half done. I felt a little better. Noah got to work on the right chapter and worked on it until five-thirty, shortly after June and I got back from her violin lesson. Then it was time for the rest of his homework.

Through the rest of the week, I kept hoping Noah would be able to write the overdue conclusion, but he didn’t. He doesn’t get home until four-thirty most afternoons because he has band practice and of course he had homework in other subjects. He wrote it this weekend, though, because the rough draft of the paper is due the week after next and he wants to take the conclusion to his conference with his English teacher this week.

This weekend we excused him from vacuuming and cooking dinner so he could work. As of last night, he’d done a math packet, practiced drums, and written two pages of rough draft, including the introductory and concluding paragraphs. I thought I saw light at the end of the tunnel, but then he spent four hours on Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., writing a thirty-second speech for media and he still had more media assignments to do before he could even go back to IDRP. It will all get done somehow, and my worrying about it doesn’t help, but I think it’s going to be a long month.

Quite an Experience

I. Thursday and Friday

Thursday June came off the school bus sobbing.  She’d twisted her knee the weekend before when she wiped out on her bike going down a hill too fast.  We’d been icing it regularly and keeping it wrapped in an Ace bandage and it seemed to be gradually getting better.  But while she was waiting in the bus line at school two squabbling girls crashed into her and knocked her down, re-injuring the knee.  She cried for over an hour after she got home. I cancelled her violin lesson and was seriously considering getting her on a bus and taking her to the emergency room of the hospital two blocks from our house when she finally stopped.

By the next morning she still couldn’t walk very well (she was hopping everywhere) so we decided to take her to the health center attached to her school for a preliminary medical opinion to help us decide what to do next.  We had a feeling staying at school wasn’t in the cards. In some ways the timing was lucky (and in other ways unlucky) because Beth and I were both already planning to take the day off.  The kids had a half-day and Beth and Noah were leaving in the afternoon for their annual early fall camping trip (“Notes on Camp” 9/30/07).  Beth was planning to pack in the morning, but I was hoping there’d be time for a mini-date–coffee or a Netflix movie or maybe both.

At school I delivered a form and check for an after-school cooking class June wants to take. (It’s full, but I got her on the waiting list.) Then we delivered a bag of the kids’ old t-shirts and sweatpants to the health center.  They requested them for kids who get sick at school and need a change of clothes. Then the nurse had a look at June’s leg, asked us some questions, and recommended we have a doctor examine her today.

She offered June a ride to the school doors in a wheelchair, which June accepted with half-suppressed pleasure. Over the course of our errands, the assistant principal, the principal, and two mothers of June’s friends inquired about what had happened to her. June, who does enjoy this kind of attention, later commented, “That was quite an experience.”

At home, Beth set to work making a lot of phone calls, communicating with June’s pediatrician and trying to get an appointment at an urgent care.  The funny thing was we already had a pediatrician appointment that day (for the kids’ overdue annual exams), but it wasn’t until mid-afternoon and if we waited until the pediatrician appointment for a referral to somewhere with an orthopedic specialist, it could have delayed Beth and Noah’s camping trip.  At the second urgent care Beth tried, they told her they didn’t take appointments but the wait was only about a half hour, so we headed over there.

During the intake questions, we were asked if June drinks or smokes.  Apparently they have to ask everyone, but one does wonder if they could make an exception for the under-eight set.

The doctor–who later inspired Beth to remark “They let awfully young people be doctors these days”–felt June’s leg all over and said there were no broken bones or torn ligaments and it was just a deep bruise that should feel better in a couple days, a week at most. Basically, her advice was to keep doing what we’d been doing—painkiller, ice, and compression.

We came home for lunch and to wait for Noah to get home so we could leave for the kids’ pediatrician visits. The nurse practitioner there looked at June’s leg again, and went over the headache journal I’ve been keeping to track June’s debilitating headaches. When I said the most obvious pattern was that they almost always occur in the late afternoon, she said it could be dehydration, but when I mentioned they seem more common right after the temperature drops, that she feels the pain only in the front of her head, and they make her vomit, she said migraines without aura were more likely.  So we got a referral to a neurologist.  Meanwhile, she gave us a handout about migraine triggers and alcohol was one. We pointed out for the second time that day that our second grader is not a lush.

June’s been having these headaches since she was four, at first just a few a year but now about once a month, and I’d been dreading the day someone told us they were migraines, but I found once I’d heard it, it was actually a relief. It means we can get some advice about treatment and coping strategies. There’s a next step.  Finally, we got a cream for her persistent chin rash, and then it was Noah’s turn. His exam was uneventful. Both kids got flu shots and we were out of the office in less than an hour.

June was walking a little better by this point, well enough to stop at Starbucks for refreshments before driving home, where Beth and Noah finished packing and Noah practiced his drums.  On their way out of town, Beth dropped June and I off at Chuck E. Cheese’s, so we could attend a fundraiser for her school.  Earlier in the day I thought attending this event was out of the question as June could barely stand, but now she was a lot better.  Except for the relatively brief time we were eating, she was on her feet for the hour and fifteen minutes were there.

Here I must concede that the whole experience of attending a school fundraiser at Chuck E. Cheese’s was considerably less horrific than I thought it would be. Yes, it was loud, and there were a lot of kids there, including several from June’s class, but the space is big enough that it didn’t feel claustrophobically crowded. Most of the arcade games were available when June wanted to play them either right away or after a short wait.  The system was pretty easy to understand. You buy game tokens with your meal, use the tokens to play games, tickets spit out of the games after you finish, and then you redeem them for prizes.

With the twenty-five tokens I bought her, June netted forty-seven tickets. That plus the fifteen bonus tickets we got for attending the fundraiser translated into a set of glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth, a top, and two rolls of sweet tarts.  June was well satisfied with her prizes. I bought her a bag of blue cotton candy for the road, and we headed out into the night. I’d been planning on catching a bus home, but she’d been fine standing for a pretty long time, so I thought the fifteen minutes it would take us to walk home should be manageable. It seemed like a better idea than waiting a half hour for a bus.

June was elated and chatty on the walk home.  “It was an exciting day,” she said, “but this was the best part.”  She said it was “creepy” walking home in the dark, but creepy in good way. She said she loved the sound of the crickets and “the sweet heart of the night.”  She’d given me a handful of her cotton candy and as it melted in my mouth, I had that walking home from the carnival feeling I associate with the boardwalk, and I had to agree.

II. Saturday

You might think it would be hard to top a day in which you got to ride in a wheelchair through the halls of your school and go to Chuck E. Cheese’s for the first time, but Saturday gave Friday a run for its money. A friend of Beth’s at the National Education Association had asked her if June would like to be filmed for a commercial. They were looking for kids in grades one to four. June definitely wanted to but I wanted to play it by ear because I’d have to take her into the city on public transportation and there would be several blocks of walking. She seemed to be on the mend, however, so on Friday, we confirmed we’d be there.

Before June got hurt, I’d been planning a full weekend for her. She likes to keep busy and even more so when Beth and Noah are out of town and she’s feeling a bit left out of the festivities. There was a creek clean-up Saturday morning and she wanted to participate in it, much to my surprise because when I took both kids last spring she’d been whiny and difficult about it. Over the past couple weeks she kept seeing the signs and saying she wanted to do it and I’d been non-committal.  But I didn’t want her clambering around on the rocks of the creek in her current condition, so no creek clean-up this fall.

There was also Takoma Play Day, an event Beth has taken her to in the past. I’ve never gone so I wasn’t sure what to expect but I know June spent all her time at the last one playing tennis and Beth says the focus is on active play, so I decided to skip that, too.

Megan called on Friday evening, inviting June over for a Saturday morning play date so that took care a few hours.  When I picked June up, she was complaining of a slight headache so I said she could rest at home but she wanted to go the playground, so I took her, but we only ended up staying five or ten minutes because I wanted to be careful of her leg and didn’t want her to play on the creek boulders or climb up the outside of the tunnel slide and where’s the fun in that?

When we got home, we iced her leg and I read to her from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Next, she watched some television.  (She seemed not to notice the irony that we’d just finished the Mike Teavee episode one bit.) When I came into the living room at 2:35, five minutes after her show ended I found the television turned off and June asleep on the couch.

This was a problem because I wanted to leave for the commercial shoot in twenty minutes, but Beth and I have learned that it’s not a good idea to wake June when she falls asleep in the afternoon. It’s often how her body responds to an incipient headache and if that’s the case, the longer she sleeps the less pain and vomiting she has to endure.  However, she’d also had an exciting couple days and she could just be exhausted. I called Beth to confer and she advised I let her sleep.  So I did, even though I knew if June missed the filming and she hadn’t even have a headache, she’d be hopping mad.

Around 3:40, June stirred on the couch and sat up a little. “Did I fall asleep?” she asked. I said yes and asked if she’d had a headache when she went to sleep.  Just “a teeny one,” she said. How did she feel now, I enquired. Fine.

I’d hoped to be on the 2:55 bus and the next one wasn’t until 3:55 but if we had dinner in the city after the shoot instead of before (my original plan) and if we had good luck with the bus and train, I thought we might make it on time.  And we did. We arrived at the studio at 4:53, seven minutes before our appointment.

The first thing the wardrobe person wanted was to see June’s extra clothes. There were very specific instructions about what to wear and what not to wear and you needed to bring multiple outfits. Solid colors with no logos and no black, white, or red, no skirts and no shorts was the gist of it.  It turns out June doesn’t have a lot of clothes in solid colors and I wasn’t sure if they just meant no stripes, plaid, etc or no graphics at all. She also thought a dress would be okay because it didn’t say no dresses, though I was doubtful.

Anyway, June was wearing a pink dress with a fish on it and solid teal leggings. The wardrobe person asked for the extra clothes and selected orange leggings and an orange Henley with pink ribbon trim. June changed and I filled out a consent form while the hair and make-up person took out her pigtails, combed her hair, sprayed it with hairspray (June later complained it smelled funny) and powdered her face.

We waited in the green room a while, watching cartoons and eating fruit salad and tortilla chips. When they called June, we went to the studio and watched the girl before her. This scene was of a mother in a rocking chair, reading to a child in her lap.  The photographer rode a little cart that went back and forth on an arc of track. The image of the mother and child was on computer screens all over that people were watching.

When they were finished, it was June’s turn. Her scene was different. She was sitting and reading a book by herself.  The director told her to turn the pages, look interested, and look up every now and then, as if imagining to herself something about what she was reading.

Well, three years of summer drama camp or June’s naturally dramatic personality paid off here.  At first I thought she was over-doing it, but people kept saying “Good job!” and “Nice head tilt!” and things like that. Given that they filmed kids for ten hours for what I imagine will be a thirty-second or one minute commercial, it’s unlikely any of June’s footage will make the final cut, but still it was a very satisfactory experience for her.

We had dinner at the Shake Shack afterward—Portobello burgers and fries for both of us, a peanut butter shake for me, and coffee frozen custard for her.  Walking through the bustling neighborhood of Dupont Circle toward the Metro, and admiring the big puffy, salmon-colored clouds in the sky as the sun went down, June sighed and said, “I love cities.”

“Do you think you’ll live in one when you grow up?” I asked.

“I’m planning to move to China,” she informed me.

Who knows? Maybe she will. Sunday she spent a quiet day at home resting her leg and reading, but she wants to go far, that’s for sure, and a little thing like a sprained knee is not about to stop her.

Back to School

This is the first school year in a long time that neither kid is starting a new school.  A year ago Noah started middle school, two years ago June was starting kindergarten, and three years ago Noah was switching from his home elementary school to a magnet gifted program. So starting second and seventh grade is almost anti-climactic, but in a good way, a settling-back-into-familiar-routines kind of way.

We got the postcard with June’s classroom assignments on the Wednesday before school started.  She has Señora J in the morning and Ms. K in the afternoon.  Señora J has the reputation for being a little stern, but fair and challenging. I think she and June will get along fine. I’d never heard of Ms. K. and I wasn’t sure if she was new or not. It’s a big school outside the school-within-a-school of the Spanish immersion program and I haven’t heard of all the teachers.  As it turns out, she is new. This made me just slightly nervous because the year Noah had two new teachers (third grade) was his most academically unsatisfying year.  And I don’t think June was sufficiently challenged last year, especially by her English teacher, though June was quite fond of her.

As for Noah, seventh grade is reported to be the most rigorous year in the Humanities magnet.  They write a ten-page research paper, researched in part at a university library. It will be taxing at times, no doubt, but I’ve also heard it’s the year they really learn how to write and that kids who come out of the magnet program find themselves better prepared for advanced classes in high school than their peers.  So I think it will be worth it.

All summer I had a printout of my summer work schedule taped to the wall of the study.  It had the dates for each of the ten weeks of the kids’ summer break and how many hours I committed to work during each of them.  I checked the weeks off one by one as they passed.  For most of the summer I did this with a sense of satisfaction, as I looked forward to getting back to a more predictable routine and a quieter house.  But after we returned from our West Virginia/Ohio trip and there were only two weeks left on the makeshift calendar, I started to think, “Only two more weeks?” and I resolved to do more fun things with the kids before summer break was gone.

Summer Break, Week 9

The second to last week of summer break both kids were home.  They had to do summer homework (and they both all but finished it) and practice their instruments, and Noah mowed the backyard, but we also went wading in the creek, went to see a documentary about cheetahs and lions, went out to lunch and out for ice cream and frozen yogurt.  I took June to a drop-in music class and to the library for Spanish circle time.  June had a friend over and they organized a picnic and a tea party and played dress up while I worked.

On Friday we were planning a trip to the pool but then I found out the pool I had in mind, the only outdoor public pool in walking distance of our house, is closed on Fridays, so June and I went to the playground and she waded in the creek again and then we went to the 7-11 to get milk and we ended up with snacks as well.  As I watched her ride her bike home one-handed while eating Cheetos out a bag in the basket I came to the conclusion that it really is time to take off her training wheels.  When we got home, Noah had finished all the items on his to-do list so I made some iced tea and we played one board game of each kid’s choice. June chose Operation; Noah chose Quirkle. It was nice to have the time to play a long game all the way to the end and not feel rushed.

Over the weekend, I made a peach-blackberry cobbler, we went thrift store shopping for school clothes and Noah and June organized an art show. (The art was all June’s but Noah made the poster for it.) It was originally conceived as a money-making venture, but we told June she couldn’t charge money for admission or artwork. We also limited the guests to kids who live on our block, a group consisting of two families with three kids each. One family was out of town, but the other came, as did a retired colleague of Beth’s who saw the poster Beth put on Facebook.  June proclaimed the show a success before it even happened, because we bought her a summery party dress for it, even though we went into the store saying words like “practical” and “school clothes.” (Things like this have a way of happening around June.)  Anyway, June got to walk people through the artwork twice, get complimented on it, serve lemonade and cookies, and wear a new dress. She was satisfied, even without profits.

Summer Break, Week 10

The next week Noah had drama camp. I was glad because it forced him to complete his summer homework the week before and just have a nice relaxing final week of summer. June and I were left to our own devices. So I arranged for a couple play dates (including a double play date that started with me taking June and Megan to Spanish circle time, having a picnic lunch with them and then dropping them at Megan’s house for several hours).

After an animated discussion about the existence of fairies during her other play date–consensus: they are real–June told me last year there was a kid on the school bus who said the Tooth Fairy is just your parents.  And then she looked me right in the eye and said, “Is it you?”  So I had to tell her. (Actually, I made Beth do it.) It was not the answer she was expecting, and I was sorry about it because she’s only lost two teeth.  But for us, when it gets to the point of direct questions, it starts to feel less like pretending and more like lying, so it was time. There were no follow up questions about Santa and the Easter Bunny. If she doesn’t ask, we won’t tell.  She may be starting a new school year, but I’d like to let her enjoy as much magic and innocence as she wants for now.

That week June and I also made chocolate-covered frozen bananas and “back to school” cupcakes, with the initials of the kids’ schools on them, went to Co-op story time, which we hadn’t done all summer, and finally made it to the pool.

On the way home from the pool I walked along the creek and June walked in it (because it would be a waste of being in her bathing suit if she didn’t, she explained).  Usually we could see each other, but sometimes the undergrowth was so thick we couldn’t.  Then I could hear June splashing along beside me, singing an impromptu song about walking in the creek and muttering to herself, “Mommy knows where you are.” It was just the right amount of adventure.

On Thursday, Beth and I sat in on Noah’s drum lesson. It was the last one—he only takes private lessons in the summer—and he’d asked if we wanted to watch.  He’d been working on learning the drum part for “Route 66” for a couple weeks and he practiced it several times during the lesson, with the teacher offering occasional feedback, and then recording him.  Usually I only hear Noah play in band concerts or practicing at home, and then I only hear his part of the music (he’s sometimes listening to the rest on headphones).  So it was novel and fun to hear him playing along with a rock song, and doing quite a spirited solo at the end.  The teacher said he was “hanging with it” and had “chops.”

Friday June went to work with Beth in the morning and then they both came home mid-day for the Open House at June’s school and Noah’s drama camp performance. June was so excited to meet her teachers and see her friends at the Open House she kept bouncing up and down on her toes.  To our surprise, we discovered we know Ms. K, she’s the mother of one of Noah’s old classmates (and by a strange coincidence, so is Señora J, but we knew that already).  Ms. K has three kids who’ve attended June’s school (one’s in high school now, one’s in Noah’s grade and the youngest is in June’s grade). This eased my mind because it meant while new to the school as a teacher, she was not really new and knowing something about the school’s culture will probably help her land on her feet.

Between the Open House and Noah’s performance we ran some errands. We dropped off Beth’s Birkenstocks and mine to be re-soled and re-corked, and went to a bookstore to buy the fall book for my book club. We’re reading Remembrance of Things Past, or the first couple volumes of it. I decided to start reading it on the first day of school. It seems like a good day to start a serious book.

At Noah’s performance, he was in two improv sketches, one in which he was called on to be the “world’s worst cobbler” and the “world’s worst doctor” (I called out “cobbler” when the audience was asked to name a profession, probably because we’d just taken our shoes for repair) and another one called “Poison Arm Samurai” in which thirty ten-to-thirteen-year-old-kids stumbled around the stage in zombie-like slow motion slaying each other by brushing their arms up against each other. It was like a very strange dance.

After the performance we let June play in the fountain, but she didn’t stay long as it was cool and drizzling. “The summer is really winding down,” Beth commented as we watched her run and splash.

What really made it feel that way for me, though, was some time the next day when I sat down at the computer to check my email and noticed the calendar on the wall.  I grabbed a pencil and checked off the line that said, “August 19-23: 7.5 hours.” Then realizing there was no reason to keep it, I made a move to pull it off the wall and found myself reluctant to do so.

Then we were down to the last weekend. On Saturday, Noah went over to David’s house, and June went to Talia’s birthday pool party. Both kids got haircuts on Sunday.  It was the most hair June’s ever had cut off at once, probably three or four inches. She wanted it shorter for second grade, and even though I’ve always like her hair long, I said yes, because she’s seven and I need to let her make more of her own decisions. I actually expected her to come home with shorter hair than she did. It’s a couple inches past her shoulders still.

We were planning to go out for ice cream Sunday night–it’s a last-night-of-summer-break family tradition–but June put herself to bed at five with a headache, and Noah was scrambling to print and assemble all his summer homework assignments until seven-thirty or so, so there was no leisurely family outing.  But Beth and Noah did make a Baskin-Robbins run and the three of us ate it around the dining room table.  (They brought home enough so June could have some later.)

This next morning Beth and Noah were out the door by 6:40 and June was ready to go by 7:35, a good forty-five minutes before she needed to. At the bus stop we greeted families we haven’t seen in a while and met the one-month old brother of a third-grader I’ve known since he and June were toddlers waiting at their older brothers’ bus stops. Last year’s fifth-graders were gone and everyone is a year older. Funny how that happens.

The kids came home with no homework in June’s case and minimal homework in Noah’s case.  They shared their news at dinner.  There was a glitch in Noah’s schedule and he wasn’t signed up for band. (This was resolved on the second day of school.) There are new restrictions on when middle schoolers can visit their lockers (hardly ever) and new rules about where the kids at June’s school can play during recess, and breakfast is now served in the classroom instead of in the cafeteria at her school. Otherwise, not much is different.

We ate the leftover ice cream and the kids went to bed, another school year underway.

Launch Into Summer

School let out today, a Friday, and until Tuesday, sixth grade was still going full tilt. This is what Noah had on tap on Monday and Tuesday:  he took an English final, finished a website for his media class (a portfolio of his work), constructed a twenty-page hand-made booklet for social studies (a cultural autobiography), and answered eleven short essay questions about what he’d learned in his Literature and Humanities class.

The weekend before the last week of school was grueling. I spent much of it tensely hovering over Noah, who had a tremendous amount of work to do. My bad mood was compounded by discouragement about the number of garden plants we’ve lost to pests this year.  On Friday night something ate one of the two surviving watermelon vines and one of the biggest zinnias and knocked over a big pot of thriving cilantro.

Noah took a break to help me make lasagna for dinner on Saturday and then he came with us to a very fun and relaxing outdoor concert of three local bands, a benefit for the Takoma Foundation, but other than that he was pretty much working from after breakfast until bedtime on Saturday and Sunday.  (I took pity on him and did his vacuuming on Sunday.) Monday night was a slog as well.  But by Tuesday afternoon he just had a couple little assignments– one of which involved gathering parts to take to school for an in-class science project on solar energy — and by 4:30 he was finished for the day and for the year. There was no more homework after that.

Because he had his snap circuits kit out to raid it for parts, he and June ended up playing with it.  They were having so much fun and laughing so hard I started to think summer break might not be a bad idea after all.  I always dread it at least a little, because of the chaos of the weekly schedule changes of their day camps, and the endless bickering, and the difficulty of working when they’re both home.

But every year I think, maybe it will be different, they’ll be more mature, and summer will be easier.  And the thing is, it always is a little easier, just not easy enough.

June’s school year came to a more relaxed close. She finished her last long-term project, a poster about Nicaragua, during the second to last week of school. There was no homework the last week and she came home with her backpack and her arms full of papers and journals and artwork every day for days on end. She also brought home her summer reading and math packets, and pretended to be exasperated by all this summer homework, though Beth and I both think she’s secretly thrilled about it and can’t wait to get started. She’s like that.

On the last Monday of the school year her morning class had an ice cream party and on Wednesday, they all brought in board and card games to play. Thursday the afternoon class had a popcorn-popsicle-games and movie party. There were more parties on Friday.  The whole week was pretty much a non-stop fiesta as far as I can tell.

Noah had some fun, too.  Thursday was an all-day party for the sixth and seventh grade. (Eighth grade promotion was that morning and then the newly minted high schoolers were dismissed for the day.) They got to spend part of the morning outside and there was a students-versus-staff volleyball game and an optional dance (Noah chose to read in the library instead, which is exactly what I would have done.)

On Wednesday, with no homework, the kids ended up playing baseball on the Wii together, something no one around here has done for months, but before playing they got into a vicious argument over the sky chair on the porch. June tearfully claimed he pushed her out of it. Noah indignantly said he didn’t. After the Wii session they went right back to arguing, irritating me to the point that when June asked me what was for dinner, I said if they didn’t stop arguing, I’d have no time to make dinner at all.  Then I said, “I’m going outside to pick some lettuce. Don’t kill each other in my absence.” For a wonder, they didn’t.

So I imagine summer will be like that, a constant alternation between sibling harmony and disharmony, full of laughter and tears, and above all noisy.

Neither of my children is leaving a school this year for the first time in several years so the end of the school year felt a little anti-climactic. There was no bittersweet preschool lantern launch, no leaving one elementary school for another, no elementary school promotion ceremony.  Noah did attend the middle school award ceremony the last week in May because all the members of the band got certificates for their excellent showing at music festivals and competitions this spring. I would have liked to go, but I couldn’t get a sitter, so I stayed home with June and presented her with an award for being the best artist and athlete in the family.  (Noah protested the artist part when he heard about it later, but he didn’t care to contest the athlete title.)

On the last day of school, I went about my normal routine.  I read a little on the porch with a bottled mocha after June left for school, very little actually, just about ten pages of Joyland, because it was a half-day, but I didn’t want to skip my favorite morning ritual entirely.  I did the breakfast dishes and two loads of laundry and picked up toys and sticks in the back yard so Noah could mow it after school, and I exercised.  I finished up an article on a prebiotic supplement, blogged, ate lunch and around 12:40 June came hurtling off the bus and down the sidewalk arriving at the gate before I could.  Noah was only ten minutes or so behind her and summer break was underway.

What did we do? Noah belatedly emailed a gift certificate the classmate he was assigned for a year-end gift exchange and mowed the back yard while June watched television, then both kids packed for their upcoming adventures and June and I made cookies and ran errands while Noah was at Sasha’s annual end-of-the-school year pool party. While June and I were out we stopped at the mulberry tree again. This time June climbed up into its branches, saying over and over, “This is fun!” Finally she joked, “Have I mentioned this is fun?” We capped off the day with celebratory pizza and gelato.

Tomorrow Beth and the kids are driving out to Western Maryland where they will camp overnight.  On Sunday they’ll meet up with YaYa, who’s taking Noah to West Virginia for his annual week-long visit. Before Beth and June will return home on Sunday I’m going to try to give the garden and fence line of the yard a good weeding. I’ll also plant at least some of the cucumber seedlings I’ve been keeping in pots and bringing in at night to save them from the slugs because if I never do it they’ll never really take off and we won’t have cucumbers this summer.  June starts her first day camp (drama) on Monday. I’m hoping for a successful launch into summer for all of us, vines and humans alike.

Arts Alive!

You always know when the end of the school year is drawing close because suddenly there are all kinds of arts events on the calendar.  It started with the Purple School garden and art party last weekend, which we attended though it’s been two years since we had a child in that (or any) preschool.  A lot of June’s classmates have younger siblings still at the school so we knew there would be a lot of people we knew there, and delicious food, and art festooning the schoolyard fence.  We were not disappointed.

We ate and socialized and exclaimed over how big everyone kids were getting and picked off the oak pollen that kept falling onto our hair. I actually didn’t look at much of the art, which I felt bad about later, because Lesley is a skilled art teacher and the curriculum of the school is arts-based, so the children’s work is always impressive.  But there was no pressure to find my own child’s art as soon as we got there and there were so many old friends to talk to, I just didn’t get around to walking the whole perimeter of the yard. I did admire a painting by Talia’s younger brother Nate–it was swirl of red, yellow, and black paint evocatively titled “So Many Dragons”– and I went inside to see the self-portraits the 4/5s class does every year because those are always wonderful.  While we were there Lesley filled out the paperwork for Noah to volunteer at the school over the summer. (He’s going to help her organize and catalog her online archives.)

Tuesday evening was the art show at June’s school.  It seemed smaller than in previous years, or maybe it was the same number of pieces in fewer, bigger groupings, but I was glad the show was happening at all because last year it was canceled due to staff cuts in the art department. We found June’s painting of a monkey in the style of Henri Rosseau almost immediately and from there we took in the rest of the show at a pretty fast clip, despite the fact that her school has eight hundred students and everyone has at least one piece in the show. I did have time to admire the glazed ceramic cupcakes and castles and the layered three-dimensional paper cutouts of landscapes and seascapes. When Noah attended this elementary school he always wanted to do a thorough job appreciating every single piece at the art show, sometimes beyond the time I wanted to spend, but June was just the opposite. She led us quite briskly through the show and we were in and out of there in twenty minutes, even though we did pause to take pictures of our faces in cutouts of famous works of art.  I might have encouraged June to linger more and look for her friends’ work, but there was bedtime to consider and Noah was at home alone doing homework (or perhaps not doing it), so I let her hurry us along.

Thursday was Arts Alive at Noah’s school.  I didn’t quite understand the nature of the event until we got there, as it’s his first year in middle school. I was expecting a regular band/orchestra/choir concert with some art hanging in the hallways to view beforehand, but it more considerably more extensive than that.  Instead of one concert there were three with breaks in between. We only attended the band segment so we could have more time to take in everything else There was art in the halls and in the gym, but there were also videos to watch on laptops, and picture books the eighth-graders had made to read and then donate to third-graders at a nearby elementary school. There was also a museum of quite detailed model buildings from different historical periods made by seventh grade World Studies students.

We got to talk to the seventh and eighth grade Media teachers about what Humanities magnet students do in those grades. (In eighth grade they take a five-day field trip to New York City and conduct a video interview of someone of their own choosing.) Once you visited all five areas and got your program stamped at each station you could enter a raffle but we never heard them call any more numbers after we got our tickets, probably because we were in the concert from then until we left.

The concert itself was short and mostly consisted of songs the band has been playing at festivals and competitions all spring.  Middle school band is a lot more involved than elementary school band and entails a lot of field trips.  (Just two weeks ago they traveled to Pennsylvania where they played at a festival in the morning and went to Hershey Park in the afternoon.)   At the concert, the band teacher announced that the band had taken top marks at both the county and state-level competitions they attended this spring.  And then an administrator announced that the band teacher, who’s really wonderful and who had a nice rapport with Noah, will be switching schools next year.  I was sad to hear that. We’ll miss her.

Anyway, the band sounded great on all their competition pieces and not bad on the medley of Beatles songs, considering they’d only been practicing it a couple weeks. As usual, we couldn’t see Noah, but there was just a moment when Beth caught a glimpse of his face and snapped a picture. (In the car on the way home I quizzed him about what instruments he’d played in each piece— bells, claves, cymbals, snare drum, and wind chimes was the answer.) I do wish I could see him at concerts.  It would be so much more satisfying to know which sounds he was making at the time instead of trying to recreate the experience later.

Anyway, by eight-thirty we were leaving the school. Walking into the parking lot, we were surprised at how light it still was, even on a cloudy evening.  That’s another sign that summer’s coming, as if the exuberant blossoming of art and music wasn’t enough.

Tiny Titan

Two weeks ago June and I were walking home from her running club practice when she tripped and fell to the ground, breaking her fall awkwardly with her right hand. I was puzzled at first because when I asked what hurt she said it was her hand, but a glance at her palm revealed only the slightest scrape and she was crying really hard. She continued to cry the rest of the way home and for a long while afterward.

I chalked it up to the fact that she’d been emotionally fragile and prone to tears for at least a week. She often gets teased at school for being the smallest in her class and it had flared up recently. Initially I thought the crying jags were because she wasn’t sleeping well and then I thought it was because she missed Beth while she was out of town but the first night Beth was back, she finally told us what was wrong.

She and Noah had been squabbling over something—I don’t remember what—and she burst into tears, saying he’d said she was always wrong and he was always right.  I’d heard the whole exchange and I knew he hadn’t said any such thing, but I supposed it was how he’d made her feel.  “Is it hard being the youngest sometimes?” I asked her, pulling her into my lap.

This was close enough to the underlying problem that she started to cry even harder.  “Sometimes it’s hard being the littlest one in my class,” she said, and she told us people have been picking her up off her feet without her consent again (this is a recurring issue) and someone said she looked like a baby and must not be very smart.

Beth had come into the room by this point and June took a turn on her lap as she unburdened herself. It turns out that one of the ringleaders was a boy just barely taller than June so I told her he was probably trying to make himself feel bigger by picking on her.  Because the problem was mainly with kids in her morning class during the students’ less supervised times (in the lunch line, at recess), I said I could talk with Señorita M., the morning teacher.

So, as I said, when June fell and her response seemed disproportionate, I wasn’t that surprised. This kind of thing had been going on for a week. But the crying went on and on, so I called Beth at work and told her it was possible June had sprained her wrist, and Beth said she’d come home early and take June to an urgent care.

By the time she got home, though, June wasn’t crying any more and there was none of the swelling or bruising you might expect from a bad sprain (I’ve had a few myself) so we were wondering if it was really necessary to keep June up past her bed time to drive her a half hour away to go through the hassle and expense of a medical appointment, but June insisted it still really hurt so they went.

They returned close to Noah’s bedtime. June had her right hand in a splint and a set of X-rays to keep and the whole experience seemed to have been quite satisfactory from her point of view.  I will note here that June is fond of medical attention and is quite well acquainted with the school nurse.  They used to call me whenever she made a visit to the Health Center at her school. Now they never do.

Beth and I both thought she’d wear the splint to school the next day (a Friday), bask in the attention and it would be off by her Saturday morning gymnastics class.  We were wrong. June went to gymnastics, but she only participated in the stretches and the trampoline.  At school her gym teacher made her sit out, even though they were playing soccer. What better game for a kid with a hurt wrist—you aren’t even allowed to use your hands!

Every time she took a bath we’d remove the splint and Beth would palpitate her wrist gently and June would say it still hurt. It was always in exactly the same place, too, which made us believe it wasn’t just wishful thinking on her part.  A week went by and then almost two. During this time we needed to replace the wrapping, which had gotten grungy and kept coming undone because the Velcro was wearing out, so we bought a self-adhesive kind at a drugstore while we were at the beach. Her teachers and classmates took turns writing down her schoolwork for her and she dictated her homework to me.  She also started writing and drawing a little with her left hand, and got better at it with practice.

She was clearly enjoying aspects of this experience, especially the extra attention from Ms. R, her afternoon teacher, whom she adores. And sometimes she was loath to talk about anything but her wrist. One day a few days after the accident, she was listening to Beth and me having a boring, grown-up conversation about an email problem I was having (long delays in receiving messages, one sent on Thursday didn’t arrive until Saturday, etc).  June suddenly saw a way to turn the conversation in a more interesting direction and piped up, “Thursday? That was the day I sprained my wrist!”

The week after she sprained her wrist, I picked her up from her after-school art class and we visited Señorita M to talk about the problems she was having with her classmates.  Señorita M, who is a small person herself, listened sympathetically, thanked her for coming forward, and promised to have a class meeting about it, with no names mentioned.  June reports that things have gotten a lot better in her class since then, though some kids in her afternoon class are still teasing her. So we still need to talk to Ms. R, but as the main problem was in the morning class, June seems a lot happier.

By Wednesday almost two weeks had gone by and June’s wrist was no better. So we took her to an orthopedic specialist. When we took the splint off, I looked at her wrist, which looked bare and delicate.  I noticed the now exposed fingernails on her right hand were longer and cleaner than the ones on her left hand.

The technicians took new X-rays from multiple angles and then the doctor examined her wrist, agreed with us that it was odd it had not healed, but had no good explanation. He showed us the X-ray and said the bone that would be most likely to have suffered a break was often not even fully ossified in children her age and in her case was more cartilage than bone. He said there was no next step, other than an MRI, which he did not think was warranted at this point (thank goodness). He fitted her with a brace he thought might be more comfortable and convenient than the splint (no wrapping and unwrapping), told us to come back if it wasn’t better in another two weeks, and sent us on our way.

So we have no answers, but June likes the new brace and says it’s more comfortable than the splint.  Her fingers stick out more so she can use scissors and hold utensils, though she still can’t write. The brand name of the child-sized brace is Tiny Titan.  Beth and I couldn’t stop smiling about that. It seemed perfect for June, whom we have always called “small but mighty.”  She’s the only athlete in the family, as well as the only extrovert, and she has a good understanding of her needs and knows how to express them. While no parent likes to see his or her child suffer (the night she told us about the teasing I cried, too), I know she will persevere through whatever physical or emotional challenges life throws at her because she’s our tiny Titan.

All The World’s a Stage

“This was a nice weekend. I’m glad I forgot my homework,” Noah said.

It was Sunday morning, around 10:40, and Noah was practicing his orchestra bells while we were packing up and preparing to check out of our hotel. This year in lieu of a birthday party, Noah asked for a family weekend in Rehoboth.  The main thing he wanted to do was to film a movie in Cape Henlopen State Park, which we’d visited in March and which struck him at the time as a good location, due to the empty and somewhat eerie WWII-related buildings (watchtowers, barracks, etc.)

We left on his birthday, a Friday, after school.  But it was a big day even before we left for the beach because it was GreekFest at his school. This all-day event is the culmination of a several months-long unit on ancient Greece (mostly myths, but some history, too) and involved long-term projects in all four of his Humanities classes.

We started off the big day with present opening at 6:30 a.m. Noah unwrapped a book, two sets of summer pajamas (a birthday tradition), two hunks of fancy cheese from his favorite gourmet online catalog, and an assortment of rhythm instruments he’d requested, including a set of chimes, claves, a cowbell, and a high quality tambourine. (He often has to play these in concerts but up to now could only practice them at school.) He seemed pleased with everything.

Beth got him off to school and then went shopping for birthday cake ingredients. While I did some chores and exercised, she made the cake and frosting. Then it was off to GreekFest.

On Stage: GreekFest

We went to see the animated films first. All the sixth-grade Humanities magnet students worked in groups to animate a Greek myth and the media teacher was playing a ninety-minute sequence of them continuously all day.  We had almost an hour in the room, but Noah’s film did not come up in the rotation. Fortunately, all the films were also playing on laptops set up around the perimeter of the room so we got to watch his group’s rendition of the Prometheus myth.  They made nice use of special effects including some very realistic raindrops running down the screen during a storm, and instant replay to show the vulture returning to the bound god over and over.  It was fun seeing his classmates’ work as well. The films were smart and funny.

There was a lunch break next. Beth offered to come along and lead the lunchroom in “Happy Birthday,” but for some reason, Noah declined.  (June might have said yes, I think.) Because it was only 10:40, Beth and I went out for coffee rather than lunch.

When we returned, it was time for skits. While we waited, we had time to peruse the newspapers the kids had written.  Noah’s period published “The Greekly Weekly News.” Noah wrote the classified ads. Arachne was selling tapestries, Midas was selling golden objects; Pygmalion was selling statues, there was a Daedalus wing system on offer, etc.

The way the skits worked was that each student chose a character to portray and then they were assigned to groups and had to write a skit in any television genre using all their characters. Noah’s group did a police drama that involved Medusa turning first a pet dog then all the other characters to stone. Toward the end, Noah (as Daedalus) tried to escape by flying away, but did not succeed. There was also a talk show, “Hot Talk With Apollo,” (a good way to incorporate disparate characters, I thought), a soap opera, which made good use of a siren and the Oracle of Delphi, and a game show hosted by Nike, goddess of victory. Like the films, the skits were smart and funny, and the kids were clearly having a good time.

We moved out to the hallway to look at posters about historical ancient Greek figures — Noah’s poster about Aristotle wasn’t on the wall because he’d turned it in late — while the kids set up the podiums for their monologues. Each student was still in character, but now they each had to give a speech, introducing themselves to listeners, who would activate them by pressing a button, or taking some other action. For instance, at Persephone’s podium, you had to take a real pomegranate seed from a paper plate at her feet to get her to start talking.  Noah, as Daedalus, held a square piece of plywood and a toy hammer.  You tapped the board with the hammer to get him to speak. Noah had a little trouble getting the gears on his podium to start turning but a classmate helped him and when the machinery started to work they did a fist bump.  (This was a bit startling, as I’d never seen Noah do that with anyone.)

Not to be repetitive, but the monologues were great. Everything was great. The kids really threw themselves into their roles, especially the boy who played Typhon with appropriate creepiness.  Beth said the whole event, but especially the skits and monologues, made her feel Noah was in the right place in this program.  I felt the same.

On Location: Cape Henlopen and Rehoboth

When we left Greekfest, we had a late lunch at a Thai restaurant, a sentimental choice because the last meal I ate before I went into labor with Noah was Thai. Then we returned home to finish packing for the beach. The kids were both home by 3:30 and a little after 4:00 we hit the road.  As tradition dictates, we stopped at the Taco Bell by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for dinner, and then we ate birthday cake at the outside table at Dairy Queen, with a little soft-serve on the side.

Chances are you’ve never tried to light birthday cake candles by the side of a busy highway on a windy night, but it was a difficulty we failed to anticipate.  We were all shielding the cake with our paper plates, hoping the candles would stay lit long enough for Noah to blow them out, and finally they did.  I think it might be a birthday cake he’ll never forget.

We’ve been using the same numeral candles for Noah’s whole childhood. Some of them are in better shape than others and that morning Beth had melted the edges of the halves of the broken numeral two candle to mend it. We discussed how we’ll have to go visit him at college and bring the candles when it’s time to use the same ones reversed on his twenty-first birthday.  He didn’t seem dismayed by this prospect.

We got to our hotel late and learned that the room was being renovated and was not quite finished.  So there was a sheet tacked up over sliding glass doors that lead out to the balcony instead of curtains and we were lacking some other amenities, such as a second sink.  But the room seemed livable enough and they gave us a $75 discount, so we weren’t about to complain. We also realized in the process of unpacking, that Noah had left his backpack with his sheet music and his homework at home. He said he thought he could practice without the music and fortunately, thanks to GreekFest, he only had homework in one subject (math) so it wasn’t a disaster.

Saturday morning after a diner breakfast, we drove out to a drugstore to get props for the movie and some new bandages for June’s splint (she sprained her wrist almost two weeks ago—more on this later) and then we headed out to Cape Henlopen State Park. Noah had hoped to script the movie before he filmed it, but he’d been so swamped with homework in the weeks leading up to GreekFest, he didn’t have time, and he had to wing it.  It went really well.  I think it might have been close to the experience he wanted from all those mystery birthday parties he hosted (“Up to Eleven,” 5/8/12).  He had a vision and with Beth’s, June’s and my help, he carried it out.  He directed, he and Beth filmed, and we all acted.  Some of our lines he recited to us ahead of time; but mostly he gave us some general outlines and we improvised.

The basic story of the movie is about two kids who are reluctantly visiting the state park because their parents are interested in the WWII watchtowers. (It opens with Beth reading a park brochure in a droning voice.) The kids stumble upon a locked shed with a rusted metal door, and when the padlock falls to the ground (we accomplished this effect by dropping our own padlock), they go inside.  The interior of the small concrete shed expands to the interior of a watchtower (this part of course shot in one of the actual watchtowers). Eerie voices explain that the shed contains the ghost of a watchtower that was never built.  The kids drop pinecones off the top into an arrow pattern to alert their parents, who find and rescue them. Suddenly interested in watchtowers, they are seen in the hotel room researching them on the Internet.  We filmed all the park scenes in the morning and then went out to lunch.

Beth, who was coming down with a bad cold, was wiped out so she napped at the hotel room while I took the kids Mother’s Day shopping. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with reading and percussion practice. We had pizza and gelato at Grotto’s and once June was in bed I had my first extended walk on the beach—I’d had a short jaunt the night before and another one before breakfast.

It was twilight when I left the hotel and as I wandered along the beach and boardwalk the sky darkened to cobalt. The weekend had been exceptionally windy so there were big piles of sea foam on the sand and frequently the wind tore off pieces and sent them spinning up the beach like tumbleweeds.  They are doing some kind of work on one of the jetties, probably something to do with the storm water pipe that empties into the ocean there, but I’m not really sure.  There’s a (presumably) temporary wall made of metal or plastic surrounding the jetty on three sides. At low tide it keeps the sand at the center above water but at high tide the waves crash hard into the side parallel to the beach and sends water jetting high up into the sky. It reminded me of those Japanese paintings of huge ocean waves.

The next morning after we checked out of the hotel, Beth took her Mother’s Day shopping shift while I hung out on the boardwalk. When she and kids returned we ate leftover pizza on with a chaser of vinegary fries. We purchased fudge, chocolate-peanut butter pretzels, and gummy sharks at Candy Kitchen.  Then the kids and I played briefly on the beach. They were so enthralled with the sea foam I wished I’d gotten them onto the beach before it was time to go home, but we’d had a lot to squeeze into a day and a half, and we’ll be back in two months.

So Noah is twelve now, but we are not quite finished celebrating. He has small get-togethers with friends planned (dinner out with the twins and a possible sleepover with Sasha, though we haven’t nailed down a date for that yet).  As I wrote in his birthday card, he’ll be a teenager before we know it. But I like teenagers; otherwise I wouldn’t have had so much fun teaching college freshman for all those years. And if those years are drama-filled, I hope it’s the kind on stage.