She Likes the Nightlife, Baby

The kids have been back in school now for three weeks and so far everything seems to be going pretty well. Noah’s homework has been light enough that he’s finished before bedtime as often as not so he’s had some free time in the evenings.  He was able to go see The Giver with me over Labor Day weekend. And the next weekend he was actually finished by lunchtime on Saturday.  I made him do some research about his high school options that afternoon—because the Open Houses are in October and we need to decide which ones to attend—but we all went to the Takoma Park Folk Festival on Sunday. He invited Sasha to come with us. Noah had been at Richard and David’s house two days earlier to play a role-playing game called Dragon Lord. They are thinking of making a standing date every other Friday afternoon. It makes me happy that he’s had some time for leisure and hanging out with friends. If it’s true what everyone says about eighth grade being easier than seventh at his school, it would be a welcome change. Friday & Monday: Violin Lessons June’s violin lessons have started back up after a brief recess between the summer and fall sessions at her music school. At the last summer violin lesson, in mid-August, her teacher told us it was going to be her last lesson with June, as she was moving to Virginia Beach. Her husband got a job in the symphony there and the school didn’t want her to tell us until they’d hired a replacement. Elizabeth was a wonderful teacher, so we were sad to hear she was leaving. Right before this lesson, June started complaining about practicing and even said she wanted to quit violin so when we found out Elizabeth was moving, Beth said it was almost as if she had a premonition about it.  Anyway, we decided she’d give it until November because we were right at the end of session and I didn’t want her to quit if it was a passing whim. The new teacher was sick the first week of the school year so June didn’t have a lesson until the Friday after Labor Day.  Then she had another lesson the next Monday. Because the first one was a makeup lesson and I acted quickly to secure a good time, it was at four, which is when June’s lessons with Elizabeth were.  I like this time. It gives us just enough time to take the bus to the music school when she gets home from school and have a snack at the Co-op before the lesson, which has become a comfortable routine for us.  Unfortunately, her new regular lesson time is 5:45, too early to eat dinner beforehand and too late to cook dinner when we get home. I’m not sure how I’m going to handle this problem in general, but this week June and I made corn chowder before we left for the lesson and reheated it when we got home. At the first lesson, the teacher, Robin, spent about fifteen minutes chatting with June, asking her questions about her favorite colors, school subjects, what she wants to be when she grows up, etc.  She said she needed to know what kind of person she was because music is all about conveying emotion and seeing into people’s souls. This would have been a bit touchy-feely for me and I was glad I wasn’t answering these questions and having someone assess my soul, but June rolled with it. Robin liked June’s answer about her favorite color—aquamarine.  That always impresses people who are expecting a primary or secondary color. Then she looked through June’s music books and Elizabeth’s notations on them to see what kind of music June could already play. When June mentioned she’d composed two songs during her lessons with Elizabeth, Robin immediately decided to concentrate on these for the rest of the lesson (which ran over by about five or ten minutes—there was no one immediately after June and it wasn’t dinnertime so I didn’t mind). She listened to June play “Half-Scale Song,” and “Flower on a Butterfly” and taught her how to write the music. They did the first measure or so of the first song together. Her homework was to finish writing out “Half-Scale Song.” When I asked Noah to find some staff paper online for June, he knew of a program that would allow you to input the notes and print out the song. It can also play the song back for you. Over the weekend he took June to the site and he helped her figure out the notes through a combination of her playing them on the violin and listening to the computerized violin play it back to them.  In about a half hour, they had it printed. At the second lesson, June and Robin went over the song again and they both played it—June as she wanted it to sound and Robin as it was written, and together they corrected some errors near the beginning.  Robin circled the measures where there were still inconsistencies and asked June to fix them before the next lesson and also write out “Flower on a Butterfly.” All this was very interesting to watch. Robin’s an enthusiastic and engaging teacher, but I was a bit stressed by the fact that she seems to run habitually behind schedule. Our lesson started five minutes late and ended fifteen minutes late, even though there was another child waiting.  It only started when it did because I tracked down the school director and asked if Robin was in the building and he found her. And it only ended when it did because once it had gone five or ten minutes late, I pointed out the time to her and mentioned I’d seen another child on the whiteboard schedule right after June. So, I guess I will need to be the timekeeper during these lessons, but other than that, June’s off to a good start with her new teacher. Tuesday: Brownie Meeting Tuesday night was June’s first night of Brownies.  It was actually the third meeting of the year but we didn’t decide to join until after the list of after school activities at June’s school came out and she wasn’t interested in any of them. She had also decided against playing soccer because her best friend Megan’s not playing this year.  Then I remembered she really wanted to join her friend Maggie’s Brownie troop the year before but it would have kept her up at least a half hour past her bedtime. Even with her new bedtime I thought it would be tight, but when I asked if she was still interested she was enthusiastic, so we decided to give it a try.  So she now has regular evening activities on two consecutive days, which might mean I am lightening up about dinnertime and bedtime, although I keep asking at the music school if we can get an earlier time slot if anything opens up at any time, pretty please with a cherry on top, so maybe not. We arranged to carpool with Maggie’s mom. She would take the girls to the meeting and Beth, who gets home later, would fetch them.  I went with Kathryn and the girls because I needed to do some paperwork.  The troop meets in a little building in a municipal park with a playground and the girls were playing on the playground when we arrived.  Three of June’s preschool classmates are in this troop and another is thinking of joining, plus there are three girls June knows from her elementary school, so she felt right at home, even though she was joining in media res. It’s a mixed age troop, Daisies to Juniors, though all the girls wearing vests (and only about half of them were) were Brownies, so I’m guessing it’s a majority Brownie troop. I’d mentioned to June when she said she wanted to join that it’s a school year-long commitment and then she wanted to know if she could attend one meeting before I actually paid. It turned out I didn’t even have to ask for this accommodation because while the leader had the required health forms for me, she couldn’t locate a registration form and she didn’t want payment right away. When June got home, though, she knew she wanted to stay. She’d earned a badge for politeness, after spending much of the meeting discussing said topic. Some, but not all, of the girls earned the badge for participating in the discussion. They are going zip lining next week, not on their meeting day, and in the evening, so June’s nightlife is just getting more and more exciting.  Meanwhile she immediately started bugging Beth about buying her vest online.  I think she’s hoping to have by the next meeting. Thursday: Back to School Night Two nights later, Thursday, was Back to School Night at June’s school.  When Noah’s school had Back to School Night last week, we got a sitter, but because we’d be closer to home for this one, we decided to leave the kids at home alone. They’ve done this before, but never at night. Thursday morning we reminded Noah of this fact and told him he might have to put June to bed. “How about she puts herself to bed?” he asked. “You don’t want to exercise your new power?” Beth said. “Oh, right. She has a new bedtime. 7:45 again!” (Noah’s been annoyed that the gap between June’s bedtime and his has shrunk since she got a new one at the beginning of the summer and he’s unlikely to get a new one as long as he has to get up at 5:45 a.m. on school days.) For the third time in four days I was in a rush to get dinner on the table because of an evening activity. As we were eating I remembered I’d forgotten to give June her bath before dinner. It had been a hot day, too, and her hairline was all sweaty. She clearly needed a bath so I asked if she thought she could handle it herself.  She agreed and before we left I started the bath water running, dumped half an envelope of bubble bath in, put her towel and a pair of pajamas on the bathroom counter, and brushed her hair. “Don’t be too bossy,” I said to Noah as we headed out the door and he told June she was his servant now. But when got home, five minutes before June’s bedtime, and I asked if he’d been too bossy, she said, “He was fine.” Beth then asked Noah if June was well behaved. “She watched Netflix the whole time,” he said. She’d bathed and gotten herself ready for bed on time, which is more than I can say for Noah even though he was getting ready while we were home. But it’s good to know we can leave them for a couple hours and they won’t kill each other. Beth and I might even go to a movie this weekend without getting a sitter, though probably a matinee. I think we’ve all had enough of the nightlife this week.

sooperdooper, postscript

When I tucked Noah into bed Sunday night, he gave me an unexpectedly hard hug.  “Do you think school will be sooperdooper?” he said.

“I hope so,” I said.

“Do you think it will be like the sooperdooperLooper, fun but with scary parts?”

“Maybe,” I said.

“You should have put that in your blog,” he said.  So I am now.

The kids started third and eighth grade yesterday. We did the usual things beforehand.  We went shopping for school supplies about a week and a half before school.  June wanted to shop by herself, so she directed Beth, Noah, and me to wait at the other end of Office Depot as she strolled the aisles with a shopping cart and consulted her list. She did consent to let Beth pay.

Last Friday, June and I went to her school to meet her morning and afternoon teachers, Señora Y and Ms. P.  Señora Y has a reputation for being strict. I know nothing about Ms. P. When June introduced herself, Señora Y said she had “un apellido divino,” a divine last name. Then she spoke to the assembled kids and parents in such rapid Spanish neither June or I could follow everything she said, which worried me a bit, but June was too busy discovering that quite a few of her friends were in her class to care. She has fewer friends in the afternoon class with Ms. P, whose library, especially the Meg Mackintosh mysteries, attracted June.

All the third grade classrooms are trailers. This wasn’t a surprise, as the whole third grade was in trailers last year, too.  I don’t really mind. It’s a reality of a crowded school district and an elementary school with almost nine hundred students, but I simply refuse to call them “learning cottages,” as the school does.  June’s friend Megan’s mom once jokingly called them “learning shacks,” so I’m thinking I might adopt that, though “learning hovels” and “learning tenements” have a certain appeal as well.

Sunday night we went out for ice cream. It’s a last-night-of-summer-vacation tradition in our family, continued from my childhood. We voted on where to go.  I had the kids write their choices down on slips of paper and then Beth and I did the same.  Since it was the kids going back to school we decided if they agreed we’d go to their choice, and adult votes would be used to break a tie, if necessary. They did agree—both had written down Ben and Jerry’s—but I don’t think they would have agreed if we’d given our votes orally.  (For the record, Beth and I both wrote down Baskin Robbins—she was thinking nostalgically of her own childhood. I was thinking it was closer and therefore faster.)  But Ben and Jerry’s it was.  It was a pretty evening, warm, but not hot or humid, so we ate our last ice cream of summer vacation outside, seated at a table and on the cow statue.

Noah was revising one of his poem annotations, printing assignments and submitting them electronically right up until bedtime. In the morning he was up bright and early. Beth didn’t have too much trouble getting him out the door by 6:40.  June’s bus doesn’t come until 8:20, so we had plenty of time as well. Each kid posed at the gate for the traditional first-day-of-school photo.  (I spent a lot of the morning looking at other people’s first-day-of-school photos on Facebook. Many of June’s old preschool classmates have younger siblings starting kindergarten this year. I can’t believe all these babies are in elementary school now.)

As much as I’d been looking forward to the quiet house, it did feel strange and even a little lonely at first.  It was also strange to head off to Starbucks all by myself, to drink a latte and read my September book club book (Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist.) But it was nice, too; I won’t deny that.

June’s bus was ten minutes late coming home. She didn’t know why; it was probably just first day glitches.  She said “third grade was fun,” but she didn’t have much to tell me about it.  I asked if she could understand Señora Y and she said she spoke more slowly today. She didn’t have any homework. Noah was home ten minutes later, and not as lucky.  He only had one assignment, but it was the kind of open-ended assignment that often stumps him. He needed to write a letter to incoming sixth graders telling them what to expect from the Humanities magnet. So, he was up past his bedtime on the first night of school writing it and he was working on it again in the morning so Beth needed to drive him to school.

And we’re off… I’m hoping for a sooper doper year and I hope you have one, too.

sooperdooper

I. The End of the Summer

I had an idea for a blog post in which I was going to chronicle every argument the kids had during the last two weeks of their summer break. I even had a title—“Why Do We Scream at Each Other” from “When Doves Cry.” I figured material would be plentiful.  After all they would both be home those two weeks, without any camp.  But then a funny thing happened… they didn’t fight much. A little, yes—they weren’t angels—but not enough for a wry, amusing blog post.  And I have to say I don’t mind not getting to write it. I was working those two weeks, reduced hours, but enough to dread having to play peacemaker on top of everything.

Maybe Noah was too busy finishing his summer homework to argue with June.  He didn’t leave it all until the end of the summer (like some of his panicked classmates who’ve been posting recently on their class listserv) but he had quite a bit left two weeks out, especially for someone who’s a slow reader and writer.

He had to read a collection of poems from various periods in American history, pick four poems and write a set of historical and literary annotations plus a short essay (expanding on the literary annotations) for each of them.  He had to write a speech nominating someone to be the subject of a documentary he’ll be making for his media class this year. And then there was a reading log he was supposed to have been keeping all summer and which required some creativity—he didn’t fabricate anything, but I’m sure there were omissions. And he also had to write a paragraph about his volunteer work at June’s tinkering camp in order to get Student Service Learning hours for the twenty-two and a half hours he spent doing clerical work and playing with campers there back in June. As I mentioned, he hadn’t exactly been slacking off in the homework department. Earlier in the summer he completed a geometry packet, wrote a short essay on sixteenth and seventeenth-century immigration, read a novel and wrote a set of annotations for it. Does anyone else think this is just too much? I do.

When I wasn’t working, I took June out of the house as much as possible to give Noah quiet to work, and to keep her entertained. We went to the library twice, the movies twice, and the playground and the creek once. We had two of her friends over and she went to two of her friends’ houses. The second week when I had five hours of babysitting and she had three play dates was much more pleasant and less stressful than the first week, when I had no babysitting and she had one play date. We are not yet to the point where I can work peacefully with both kids home and every one just does his or her own thing, though it always feels as if it’s on the horizon. (Work-at-home parents with older kids: when exactly does this happen?)

Noah did find time to read at least a chapter of Allegiant every day and to play Monopoly with June and me for several hours one day. I’d forgotten how long it can take to finish a game (we didn’t), how fun it can be, and how good Noah is at it. When we quit, June had been eliminated and he was far ahead of me.

The weekend in between those two weeks we went to Sasha’s Bar Mitzvah and the Montgomery County Fair. Sasha and Noah have been friends since kindergarten, so even though his congregation seems to play down the “becoming a man” aspect of the ceremony, in favor of “beginning the journey” of becoming a man, it was very moving to see him up on stage, giving his presentation about graphic novels and Jewish history, and to hear his parents’ heartfelt, honest, and funny speeches. The fair was fun, too.  I’d probably write more about that, but the last weekend before school started, we went to HersheyPark and as that’s more unusual for us—we go to the fair most years and we’ve never been to HersheyPark—so I will focus on that.

II. A Sweet Day

We didn’t even decide to go to HersheyPark until three days before we went, which for us qualifies as nearly unprecedented spontaneity. We had some coupons and had been considering it in a vague sort of way all summer, but we hadn’t gotten around it to it and by the time there was only one weekend of break left we figured Noah would be too busy wrapping up the loose ends of his homework and we’d kind of given up on the idea.  Plus, June was just short of one of the height cutoffs for rides and I thought it might be better to wait until next summer when she’d be allowed on more rides.

But it turned out Noah really wanted to go. He’s been the past two springs on band field trips, he likes the park, and he wanted to go as a family.  So I told him if he met a certain benchmark on his homework by Wednesday evening, we’d consider it. At first it seemed like he wasn’t going to make it and I felt guilty about setting him up for disappointment but then he rallied, met the goal, and all of a sudden, we had to a trip to plan.

We left the house at 7:50 a.m. on Saturday and were in the parking lot by 10:40. Cool, rainy weather was forecast and it rained on and off the whole drive.  When we got out of the car, it was overcast but not raining and the temperature was in the mid-sixties. However, the parking lot attendant—who told us to “Have a sweet day”—and the security guard who checked our bags told us we wouldn’t need the umbrellas either until evening or at all, so we stowed them along with our bathing suits in a locker and turned our attention to the question of where to go first.

Beth had encouraged both kids to pick two rides they considered essential so we could make to fit them in if lines were long. June wanted to go on a mine ride and a moderate-sized flume ride, called the Coal Cracker. Noah had helped June make her choices, showing her videos from the park web site and giving advice, but he’d forgotten to make his own selections, so we headed for June’s rides. We did the mine ride first and then since everyone liked it and the lines were short, we did it again. Noah and June sat together, as they did at her request every time riders were in pairs. I think she enjoyed riding without an adult right next to her. He was also her “responsible rider” on rides she was too short to ride alone but Beth and I didn’t care to ride.

We also did the Coal Cracker twice. June loved it. She got off of it skipping and pleading to do it again. After the first ride on that we checked out the photo they snap of you and three out of four of us had our eyes closed.  “Be more photogenic next time,” Beth advised us and so we were. The result was good enough to purchase.

After lunch we split up so Noah could do a more serious roller coaster, the Great Bear; he had to do it alone because its multiple and closely spaced loops are too much for his mothers or his younger sister.  The funny thing about it, though, is that it’s the first roller coaster he ever rode—on the sixth grade band field trip. If we’d been there we would have tried to talk him out of it, but he loves it.  Sometimes it’s a good thing for your parents not to be there.

While he was waiting in line I took June to some of the kiddie rides she still enjoys and when we met up again, we decided to tackle the sooperdooperLooper. This 70s-era coaster was one of the first looping coasters, so it’s pretty tame for a coaster that goes upside down. It’s low to the ground and has just one loop.  A friend of June’s had recommended it and I thought she could handle it. I thought I could, too. I used to be braver about roller coasters than I am now, especially in my mid-teens to early twenties.  I haven’t been on one that goes upside down in a long time and I will admit I closed my eyes right before the loop, but both kids kept theirs open by their own report.

When it was over and I asked them how it was, Noah said, “Awesome!” and June said, “Scary!” She was glad she’d done it but didn’t want to do it again. I felt about the same, but we all told Beth, in unison, when she asked how it was that it had been “sooper doper.” It was kind of an obligatory thing to say.

I would have liked to do a wooden coaster, because I like those and June had a sizable one in mind—also recommended by the same friend—but I don’t think she realizes how shaky wooden coasters can feel. Noah actually got a little freaked out by a slightly larger one just last summer, so I vetoed it, even though she was tall enough. She’d been close to her limit already and I didn’t want to push her over it.

It turned out the height cutoffs at Hershey are quite liberal, so June’s small stature was more a relief to me than an obstacle for her. The one exception was one of those slides you go down on a burlap sack. She was too small to go alone, even though she’s been doing a similar slide at the county fair since she was four. She was very indignant about having to go on my lap.

Even before that, June was measuring herself at every ride. Did she think she’d grown in the space of a half hour and would now be a Hershey’s bar instead of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup? It was unclear, but I saw a lot of other kids doing the same thing and heard one girl resolve to grow five inches in the next year, so she could be a Jolly Rancher, the tallest category.  (And why on Earth is it the tallest category anyway? Those things are much smaller than a peanut butter cup, or a Hershey bar, or a package of Twizzlers.)

Noah and I did the swings (one thing June was too short to do) and we all took in the sights on the Sky View (an aerial tram ride) and the Ferris wheel. The Sky View goes right through the tracks of several of the more aggressive coasters. One way amusement parks have changed since I was a kid is the way the tracks of different rides are intertwined. I guess it’s for space considerations but I appreciate getting a vicarious view of a ride I’ll probably never experience, except from this more sedate viewpoint.

We decided to skip the water park, to June’s dismay, because of time considerations and because it was just too cold. The last thing we did was go to Chocolate World, where we took the tour of the fake chocolate factory, ate dinner at the food court, and bought chocolate, of course.  I’ve been through that factory ride, both as a kid, and once when we took Noah to Hershey as a baby and I have to say I don’t remember the singing cows. They are so loud it’s hard to hear the informative narration about chocolate production, so if you were hoping I’d be able to provide you with fun facts about manufacturing chocolate, you’ll have to go elsewhere for that.

We stayed overnight in a hotel near the park. In the car as approached the hotel I asked the kids and Beth if they’d had a “sooper dooper day,” and they all agreed they had. I had, too, but I was exhausted and ready for bed as soon as we arrived, though I stayed up long enough to put June to bed, read a chapter of Allegiant to Noah, and read Facebook for a little while.  But an hour or so after we checked in, we were all in bed with the lights out, our sweet day over, and with only one day of summer break left.

Stage Mother, postscript

June’s Indian dance performance was yesterday.  I almost didn’t make it because there was a repairperson fixing our freezer, which had been leaking and causing water to drip through the basement ceiling and it wasn’t clear whether he would finish in time for me to leave the house.  Noah was charging his video camera to tape the performance for me and Beth was arriving at the house in order to pick us up and take us to June’s school when he wrapped up and left.  He actually crossed paths with Beth in the driveway.

It was that kind of week.  The other main stressor was that June’s camp for the first week of summer break—a yoga camp she attended last year and liked and that was walking distance from the house and took place during a week when Noah would be out of town thus affording me a rare week with both kids occupied—that camp was cancelled at the last minute because the instructor had a family crisis.  So I spent hours over the course of several days on the computer and on the phone scrambling to get June into another camp at the last minute.  But I finally did and the freezer was fixed in time for me to go to her dance performance and it cost less than a new roof (the other possible explanation for the dripping water), so it all ended well.

Noah didn’t have much homework (or so we thought at the time) so he came, too.  The performance was in the multi-purpose room, which is a combination cafeteria/auditorium.  It was actually pressed into service as both that afternoon as the kids who attend the school’s after care were there to eat their snack of carrots and hummus and to watch the performance, alongside the parents and siblings of the children in the dance class.

On the registration form I filled out for Indian dance early in the spring it noted in all caps that it was a CO-ED class for BOYS and GIRLS, but apparently the use of capital letters was not sufficient to attract any boys to the class.  There were about ten or twelve girls standing on the stage in borrowed costumes when the show began.  (Before it began, they were peeking their heads out under the bottom of the curtain.) June had described her costume to us in detail the week before.  It was a purple sleeveless top with blue straps and loose blue pants with a flower and vine motif.  She loved it. June’s hair was braided (she told me later a girl in the class had done it for her) and she even had a bindi on her forehead. The dancing itself lasted about five minutes, maybe less. June was in the front row and her best friend Megan was in the back, but I could see Megan’s brilliant smile from all the way back there. June looked more serious, but like everyone, she seemed to be having a good time.

Afterward the group posed for pictures in their practice room, parents and siblings left so the girls could change and as she dismissed them, the teacher handed out cookies and lollipops as rewards for good behavior during the eight-week session. There was a great deal of speculation about which dancers would get a treat, but in the end, they all did.

School ends tomorrow with a half day. We bid a fond farewell to second grade, a somewhat less fond one to seventh grade, and the kids and Beth will embark on a camping trip during which they will meet Beth’s mom and hand off Noah to her, for a week of grandmotherly spoiling. While they are all gone I will enjoy a couple days of quiet and solitude, the calm before the storms of summer.

Stage Mother

The school year is winding down so I’ve been at the kids’ schools a lot, attending more end-of-year performances and celebrations.  This week it was a band concert for Noah Tuesday evening, and June’s afternoon class’s final publishing party Thursday.

Spring Concert

The band concert was poorly timed for Noah. It was the night before his biggest media project of the year, a ten-minute documentary on food processing, was due. He had worked on it over the weekend, but he couldn’t throw himself into it as completely as he would have liked because he had homework in nearly every subject, and some of it quite substantial. (Think twenty-five page review packet for his algebra final exam, for instance).

When I left to take June to her violin lesson Tuesday afternoon, shortly before Noah was due home, I left him a detailed note (with a timeline) about when I’d get home, when he needed to post his very last rough draft of the documentary for peer comment and when he needed to be ready to eat dinner and get dressed for the band concert. I considered a flow chart detailing which non-media homework (by subject) I would recommended he jettison and which he should try to do, but I didn’t go that far.  It was probably just as well because he disregarded the timeline and we were a little late leaving the house. I counted it as a win, though, because it was quite difficult to tear him away from his work and I really feared we’d be much later or even miss the concert outright.

Noah ate an early dinner at home and I’d packed June an emergency dinner (fried tofu and carrot sticks) in a plastic baggie, but the plan was for Beth and June and I to eat dinner from the food trucks outside the school while the band warmed up.  Vegetarian options were limited, though, to a pepper-and-onion burrito. Beth got one and June and I tasted it. June decided to eat the tofu and carrots instead.  Not being a big fan of peppers, I decided to skip dinner and have a snack when we got home.

The concert was part of a larger arts event and last year we explored more of what was going on, but this year because the concert was longer and we’re all a little tired and burned out we stayed outside the school enjoying the beautiful spring evening and chatting with another band mom we know because our kids went to the same preschool.

We went inside when it was time for the concert. The jazz ensemble played while people were taking their seats and then the official concert started with the intermediate band, the chorus, and then advanced band, which is Noah’s band. Usually I enjoy Noah’s band concerts. I have even been known to tear up with pride when they are especially good.  I really couldn’t tell you if they were good at this one or not, I was so distracted by wondering when it would be over.  I had failed to find a sitter for June and she was slumped against me, complaining of being tired, and I knew Noah would want to stay up as late as we would let him to work on his documentary, plus I was hungry, so I just wanted to go home and couldn’t get into the moment.

There was one treat, though. Noah got to play the cymbals up near the front of the stage during part of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and we had a rare, unobstructed view of him.  Even during the rest of the concert we could see him more clearly than usual, playing the tambourine in the back.  The choir came on again after the advanced band and finally the orchestra took their seats.  They were in the middle of their first of five songs when the fire alarm sounded.

The poor band/orchestra teacher kept conducting and the orchestra kept playing, but he was glancing over his shoulder at the principal, who had been standing the aisle, listening to the concert.  When the song concluded, she announced everyone had to evacuate the building.

Everyone poured out into the parking lot. Right before the orchestra started playing, Beth had gone over to talk to Noah and see if he wanted to leave but he said no. I think staying for the whole concert might be a requirement for the musicians plus the percussionists are responsible for lugging all the drums back to the music room after the concert is over. And despite the time crunch, I also think Noah genuinely wanted to hear the orchestra play.

Once we were outside, though, watching the fire trucks pull up to the school, I started to re-think the wisdom of this decision.  I found the band teacher, who still looked harried but who had lost his deer-in-the-headlights expression and asked him if we could leave, pleading Noah’s homework and June’s exhaustion. Given that the all the members of the various bands, the orchestra and the chorus, not to mention hundreds of audience members were milling around in the parking lot I don’t think he minded losing one of his charges much and he said yes, we should go.

Just then it was announced that it was a false alarm and everyone could re-enter the building. I dashed to Noah who was standing in the gelato truck line, and made him get out of line, with instructions to get on stage and get his music and drumsticks right away before the orchestra started to play again. He was reluctant. He wasn’t supposed to be up there, he said, but I convinced him and he disappeared backstage, finally emerging with the sticks after the first song. Later he told me he had crept along the floor so as not to be visible to the audience, which must have worked because I never saw him. As we left Beth kindly offered to go out and buy him some ice cream to eat as he worked, since I’d made him get out line. It was the right thing to do, as “getting out of the ice cream line” is actually our family shorthand for not fulfilling a promise.

She bought the ice cream and sure enough, Noah was up late into the night, talking with one of his classmates and incorporating his feedback into the documentary. Though he posted it the next morning before school, he wasn’t satisfied with it and planned to ask for an extension.  I felt my heart sink at this news, as I just wanted him to be able to focus on his other assignments and exams. The end of the school year was only a week and a half away but it seemed too long.

Every year during the last few weeks of the school year I have moments when I think I simply cannot wait for it to be over. Mostly this is because of Noah, and the strain his schoolwork puts not just on him, but on the whole family. Then just as frequently, I have moments when I cannot bear for it to be over. Mostly this is because of me, and the fact that I work at home, which is not always easy when my delightful, extroverted, and highly energetic daughter is home.

I will dearly miss that moment when June gets on the school bus and the day stretches in front of me, quiet and at least potentially productive.  She’s going to various day camps—both kids are—but she is registered for more weeks than he is. It’s not the same as school, though, because they are mostly half-day camps and ever-shifting logistics of getting her there and back are more complicated than crossing the street to the bus stop that is steps from our house. And then there’s the whole fact that I got cheated out of four days of school this year, but you’ve probably heard more than you care to on that subject, so I will restrain myself.

Publishing Party

Two days later I walked to June’s school with a tote bag containing my phone, keys, camera, and a big bag of Cheetos, June’s contribution to the publishing party snacks. (I would have preferred to show up with a healthier snack but Cheetos are June’s favorite treat—she will choose them over sweets—and it was the end of the year so we said yes.) I was determined to be more present at this event than I had been at Noah’s concert and maybe even to take pictures.  Because of the hurried way we’d left, we didn’t take our traditional post-concert photo of Noah in his band clothes. (He agreed to re-enact his drumstick retrieval at the kitchen table for the picture above.)

I arrived in Ms. K’s classroom at 1:45 and got right to work reading student work and leaving comments on their compliment pages. This was the third publishing party of the year and the students had work in their portfolios from the whole year.  Their new pieces included a selection of poems, a biographical essay (June’s were on Helen Keller who is her new heroine and Squanto) and an autobiographical essay about a personal achievement (she chose learning to play the violin for this one).

After parents and children and Ms. K had circulated around the room reading each other’s work and commenting for about forty-five minutes, it was time to eat.  I needn’t have worried about bringing a less than healthy snack. Other than a bag of baby carrots, it was all chips, our Cheetos, and sweets. So we didn’t stand out as nutritional scofflaws with our offering.

The kids settled on the rug and Ms. K started a video of herself as a talk show hostess interviewing each child in the class on such questions as “What is onomatopoeia?” “What are the parts of the writing process?” “List some literary devices,” and “How many sentences should a paragraph have in second grade?” (The answer is five in case you are called upon to write something at second-grade level any time soon.) The sound quality was poor and I couldn’t hear much of it, but Ms. K had learned from the last publishing party and had subtitled the whole thing, so that was helpful.

At the end of the party, I snapped a picture of June and Ms. K together. June had asked to wear a party dress to school that morning “because it is a party” and pointed out that Ms. K would probably be dressed up because she “has a great sense of style.” I passed on this assessment to Ms. K, who said she loved June’s dress, too.

Meanwhile, I will have one more chance to see one of my kids on stage and dressed up next week at the performance of June’s after school Indian Dance class. And then there are all the music camp and drama camp and musical theater camp performances to anticipate this summer… and that happy thought does help me get into the mood for summer break.

Merely Players

All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parts

As You Like It

I wanted to write about the fun end-of-year assignments Noah’s had recently—playing John Calvin at the Medieval Mixer and Sir Toby in a scene from Twelfth Nightand how his homework load has lightened to the extent he actually spent a good bit of Memorial Day weekend doing things other than schoolwork.  But then he came home Tuesday having remembered he’s supposed to have been keeping a journal on the Shakespeare unit since early April. He’d only written one entry and it was due soon, maybe Friday, he wasn’t sure. So maybe it would have been a good idea for him to have worked a little more during the long weekend after all…

Act I: John Calvin (Medieval Mixer)

Nevertheless… it is true he has had some fun assignments recently.  For the mixer each student was assigned a historical figure from the Medieval or Renaissance periods.  They had to write a two-page paper about their figures and give a speech from that person’s perspective.  Then they had to dress as their characters and mingle with each other, speaking as these people would if they had ever met.  Noah said his plan for the ad-lib part of the mixer was to tell everyone he encountered that they were predestined to go to hell, and I thought it was an excellent idea, but for some reason he didn’t do it.

Nonetheless, he did enjoy the exercise and he cut quite a figure as the Protestant reformer. Beth made his hat and sewed the furry collar onto his robe.  I went beard shopping at a theater supply store but they only had the kind you attach with spirit glue and we thought this would be too time consuming to apply and remove so Beth ordered him a beard online. (I found it somewhat ironic it was a gray beard because at the theater supply store the clerk asked Noah’s hair color and I said it was similar to mine, and he said, rather unnecessarily, “But without the gray?”)

Intermission: Long Weekend

The mixer was the Friday before the long weekend.  Beth took that day off and drove to Wheeling where she spent a few days visiting her brother. While she was gone I was very busy with gardening and housecleaning and grocery shopping and I needed to work a little, ghost-writing a blog post on carrots and cauliflower.  But the kids and I had fun, too.

Friday afternoon we hosed all the dust and pollen off the front porch, which is their favorite chore and one we only do once a year because it’s kind of a production getting all the porch furniture onto the lawn and then back onto the porch. That night I let them eat dinner (frozen pizza) in front of the television, which is another rare treat. We binged on PBS cartoons, watching Martha Speaks, Word Girl, and Curious George, or June and I did. Noah came into the living room to eat and he did watch Word Girl but after that he was in the room but doing something on his phone.

Saturday night June had a sleepover with Megan. I’d asked Megan’s mom if I could send June to play at their house so I could get some work done and she saw my play date and raised me a sleepover. I did some work while June was gone, but on finding myself alone with Noah, it seemed a better idea to take him out to dinner at Roscoe’s, have gelato at Dolci Gelato, walk all the way home and read a couple chapters of The Hunger Games.  We read at least ten chapters over the course of the weekend and came close to finishing it.

Monday afternoon I took the kids to the pool and then came home and made strawberry shortcakes with the perfectly ripe strawberries I’d bought at the farmers’ market on Sunday.  Beth came home as I was making them and we had a picnic of hot dogs, baked beans, devilled eggs, corn on the cob, watermelon, and of course, the shortcakes.  It was good to have her back home.

Act II: Sir Toby (Shakespeare Scenes)

Tuesday everyone was back to school and work. Noah wrote part of another Shakespeare journal entry that night but he seemed stuck, so I sent him to bed, forty-five minutes after his bedtime, with the entry unfinished.  Wednesday he had better luck.  After working on algebra and studying for a Spanish test, he tackled the journal entries again and this time he finished all but the last one. I stayed in the room with him as he wrote, reading him the questions he needed to answer. He would answer verbally and then I’d say, “Write that down.”  This often helps get him unstuck when he has writer’s block. He was pleased to have made so much progress on what had seemed like a daunting assignment but he did note it would have been a better idea to have written them as he went along, as he was supposed to have done. Lesson learned, perhaps?

Thursday afternoon Berth and went to Noah’s school to see the Shakespeare performance and right before it started I was talking to his teacher and found out exactly when the journal was due, as Noah was still unsure. The answer was all the entries except the last one—coincidentally the ones he’d written mostly in one night just the night before—were due the next day but the last one—which he hadn’t started—wasn’t due for a week. It was quite the stroke of luck.

The performance was of selected scenes from four different plays—MacBeth, Othello, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Noah was in the Twelfth Night group. Over the course of six weeks the whole class read A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream together and then the kids were split into groups read overviews of the other plays, selected a scene or two, set it in a new time and place, designed a set, assembled costumes, and rehearsed.

There was a MacBeth scene in which Banquo’s ghost made an appearance in a 1950s diner, another in which the witches make their predictions in a Saudi Arabian desert, etc.  I was not always able to tell what the new setting was supposed to add to the scene, but I thought the steampunk version of Othello might have been trying to take advantage of anachronism to stress the universality of jealousy, ambition, and violence.  I knew Noah’s group chose to set their scene in West Berlin of the 1980s because there are references earlier in the play to divisions in society, which they wanted to stress. With some guidance from us, Noah decided to wear a white t-shirt and khakis because the outfit was classic enough to work in pretty much any Western setting from the 1950s to the present and then he borrowed Beth’s demin jacket from college, an authentic 1980s relic, though not German.

Overall, the scenes were entertaining. All the kids seemed to know their lines and there was some good acting and it looked like everyone was having a good time.  Later Noah said he and other kids in his group had stumbled over some of their lines, but I honestly didn’t notice. I told him I thought because he knew the scene so well he could hear the mistakes they made that the audience and the members of other groups would miss.

Act III: Honoree (Middle School Awards Ceremony)

That very same night there was an awards ceremony for Noah’s middle school held at a nearby high school. We knew he was getting an award but not why.  Last year all the members of the band got awards because of their high-scoring performances at competitions over the spring. I thought it could be that again, though the band, under the less experienced leadership of a new director did not do quite as well as last year—still well, but not as well. So there was a pleasant amount of curiosity and anticipation about what the award might be going into it. In the car on the way there Beth speculated that all the seventh-grade Humanities magnet students would get an award for surviving the IDRP (interdisciplinary research paper) they wrote last fall. I thought it could be GPA-related because he had nearly all As last quarter.

We split up because honorees were sitting in one section of the auditorium and guests in another. There was a musical interlude by the orchestra and choir and then the ceremony started. The first two sets of students honored were for straight As and perfect attendance. I knew Noah wouldn’t be in either of those groups because he’s never had straight As and he missed at least one day this year… but in the middle of perfect attendance they called his name. Was it a mistake? Did they not count absences on Easter Monday because it was originally supposed to be part of spring break? He had dentist and orthodontist appointments that day so we didn’t send him to school.

Beth took out her phone and brought up his attendance record on the school’s record-keeping site and he was not marked absent the day he’d missed.  So it was a mistake. My heart sank a little, knowing that after receiving an invitation, he would be disappointed if he didn’t get an award he’d actually earned. We watched him come up on stage, take the award and shake a line of teachers’ hands. He had no other choice, but I wondered if he felt as if he was playing yet another part, after a week of acting.

I scanned the list of awards on the program, wondering if he might win another, because you can win more than one. I’d actually noticed a lot of overlap between straight As and perfect attendance, perhaps not surprisingly.  I thought his best chances were a content area award for either media or music, which are his two passions.  There were fewer kids receiving these awards and they were announcing names alphabetically by first name.  During the media awards they went straight from a Nila to a Sierra, so no dice there. No music award either.  I looked at the program again, with less hope. He’s done well in science and Spanish, but I didn’t think he’d really “demonstrated a desire to extend [his] knowledge beyond the curriculum, and served as a model to [his] peers.”  The only real possibility left was geography bee, and only if there were awards for the winner from each world studies class in the school because he did win the geography bee in his period, though he was eliminated at the school-wide level.  But only the school winner was honored and that was it.

When we reunited with Noah, he said it had been disappointing but he didn’t seem too down about it. He and I talked about it this afternoon and agreed it might be a funny story some day, though right now it’s more annoying than humorous, especially since he stayed up late last night expanding his Shakespeare journal entries and it would have been nice to have more time for homework earlier in the evening.

End-of-the-year events are not over, of course. Next week Noah has a short band concert during the Arts Alive event at his school and June’s afternoon class will have their third and final publishing party.  I am looking forward to seeing them play the parts of musician and writer, as those are among their favorite roles.

A Teenager in the House

On my thirteenth birthday, I woke at my father’s house, hearing my stepmother exclaim to him, “Steve, there’s a teenager in the house!” She meant me, of course, but I was only half awake and easily confused and I thought someone had broken into the house. It seems like so many stark transitions happen in the space of just a year or two to kids that age: preteen to teen, middle school student to high school student, not to mention puberty. It can be hard to take in sometimes.

And so it was that Wednesday evening, three days before Noah turned thirteen, Beth and I attended an informational meeting about high school choice for parents of seventh-graders. The assignment process begins in the fall of eighth grade, so apparently it’s time to start thinking about this.

The meeting occurred on a day of torrential rain and a couple major roads were closed because of flooding. Our basement was also flooded and Metro was single tracking so Beth’s commute home took longer than she expected and I was downstairs bailing water when the babysitter arrived.  The drive was another a challenge. We had to change routes several times because traffic was backed up due to the road closures and even though Sligo Creek Parkway was open, the creek had overflowed its banks and there was standing water close enough to the road to give Beth pause about continuing that way.

Despite all these setbacks, we were only ten minutes late. I learned a few things at the meeting. The first is that there are even more specialized programs in our area high schools than I realized (they number in the dozens) and that the process for getting into them (a mix of lottery and application programs) is even more complicated than I realized, even though I was expecting a lot of programs and complication. Also, I knew this already, but you have to choose an academy within a high school. It’s a like a major. No one just goes to his or her default school. You have to choose, both the school and the academy within it.

We need to do more research and we are scheduling a meeting with his school counselor to discuss his options, but we know we are probably not interested in pursuing either the accelerated humanities or math and science magnets at our home high school. Noah’s been in academic magnets since fourth grade and up to this year it’s been a good experience for him, but this year had just proved too much. He is quickly burning out and we need to get him off the fast track so he has a reasonable chance at maintaining his love of learning and maybe even having enough free time to enjoy his teen years. Given his mix of giftedness and slow processing, the trick will be keeping him challenged without overwhelming him. Too easy work is as deadly for his motivation as too much work. I’d like to learn more about the performing arts magnet because more drumming and less homework sounds like a healthy change to me.

Noah’s birthday was low-key.  He didn’t want a party, didn’t even want to invite a friend or two to come to dinner with us as he did last year, despite my perhaps too frequent encouragement to do so. I got him a card that said, “Let us celebrate your existence with cake, and possibly ice cream,” and we did that. Beth made him a strawberry cake with strawberry frosting at his request and there was ice cream, too.

And there were presents, of course. He opened them in order of size, so the first box contained a lightning cable.  We are always searching for cords to recharge various devices and Beth has been saying Noah should have his own dedicated cable so he stops swiping hers, so now he has one.

There were several books, including one by the author of the Fablehaven series, which he enjoyed reading last summer and fall. (This was June’s present to him.)  He also got The Hunger Games trilogy because he and his classmates have been collaboratively writing a massive piece of online fan fiction based on the novels, with themselves as characters.  He’s been participating even though he has not read the novels so I thought he might get more out of the experience if he read the books. My mother was surprised I’d get him such violent books, as I have always been strict about media exposure. June’s only recently been allowed to watch most PG movies and I still say no to some of them.  But I reminded Mom that when I was Noah’s age I was reading Dracula and The Shining. I’m not suggesting we go on a slasher film binge together, but I think he’s old enough for any of the young adult dystopian fiction his peers are all reading.

The rest of his presents consisted of film equipment.  From us and from Beth’s mom, he got a new tripod, a lighting kit, a green screen and a frame and clamps to hold it. Noah has always enjoyed making movies. He takes a media class every year as part of the Humanities program. It’s his favorite class and he’s made a number of short films for school and for fun.  He’s working on a documentary about food processing right now (for school). The big project in eighth grade is a biographical documentary.  This involves a five-day field trip to New York and the resulting films are screened at The American Film Institute for family and friends. It’s the defining experience of the eighth grade year and we hope he enjoys it more than his ten-page research paper on product liability law that was his biggest seventh-grade project.

In Noah’s birthday card, I wrote the url for the Eastern Shore Writers’ Association blog, because I’d submitted an excerpt of my blog post about our trip to the beach last month, edited to focus on him and it had been accepted. You can read it here if you like (http://eswa-blog.blogspot.com). It’s the kind of present not every teenager would appreciate, but he seem pleased when he read it. I’d also emailed him a link to Dar Williams’ song “Teenagers Kick Our Butts,” after he went to bed the night before.  It’s worth a listen if you’re not familiar with it: http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Teenagers+Kick+Our+Butts/2J28Vl?src=5 Then, to emphasize the point, I sent a separate message titled “the important part” with these lines:

Find your voice, do what it takes
Make sure you make lots of mistakes
And find the future that redeems
Give us hell, give us dreams
And grow and grow and grow

I didn’t send this to him, but my other favorite line from the song is in the chorus, “Tell us what the future will bring.”  That’s the question always on your mind if you have kids, or teach kids, or love someone else’s kids.  Sometimes you get glimpses. For instance, at a local third to fifth grade elementary school (not one either of my kids have attended but within walking distance of our house), there’s a club called the Young Activist Club.  They have been trying to convince the schools to stop using Styrofoam trays in the cafeteria since Noah was in kindergarten. One of the founding members was the older sister of one of his nursery school classmates, a girl who is now in high school.  Because I knew some of the kids in the club and I sympathized with their cause, over the years I followed them on Facebook and cheered when I saw them at Fourth of July parades carrying trays with environmental messages written on them in marker. To a casual observer, though, it never looked like their campaign was getting any traction. Then I recently heard the whole school system is changing over to compostable trays, staring next year. The last publicity photo I saw was of a girl speaking on stage. She also went to my kids’ preschool, and is only a year older than June.  (She was the one playing guitar at June’s music school recital.) It took eight years, almost three cycles of students through that three-grade school, and it’s still not clear the compostable trays will actually be composted, but I know those kids will keep organizing if they aren’t, and that makes me feel hopeful about what my kids and all their peers can accomplish.

Noah asked if he could have a day without homework for his birthday and I really wanted to say yes, but when Beth and I looked at his assignments for the weekend, it just didn’t seem possible. He did do less than he would usually do on a Saturday. He did some algebra in the morning and then we took a break while Beth and June were at kung fu to finish And Then There Were None. When the murderer was revealed Noah said, “I thought it was him and then I didn’t,” which is usually how it goes when you read a mystery.

When Beth and June returned, we left for lunch because Noah had also asked if he could have lunch and dinner out and this time we said yes. We went to Noodles & Company, a favorite of Noah’s. I got Pad Thai because that’s what I had for dinner the night before I went into labor with him and for a long time we had a tradition of going out for Thai the day before his birthday, though we don’t do it any more.  In search of dessert afterward, we spotted a crepe cart at the Fenton Street market, and we got Noah a banana-pecan crepe, because after noodles, crepes are one of his favorite foods. (He’s all about the carbs.)

We ran into traffic on the way home because Commencement had just ended at the college around the corner from our house.  Watching the young people walking down the sidewalks in their caps and gowns I was thinking about middle school graduation a year from now, high school in five years, and college perhaps, in nine (unless he takes a gap year or graduates on the five-year plan). Either way, it suddenly seemed nearer than it had the day before.

Back home, Noah went back to factoring quadratic equations, with some help from Beth, who was in between the steps of making his cake. He and I took another study break to read the first two chapters of The Hunger Games on the porch because he asked if we could, and how could I say no on his birthday?

Later that afternoon Noah read Act II, scene I from A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream while I had coffee with a friend from college and his partner, who were visiting from out of town.  When I came back, we left for dinner at Vicino’s, an Italian restaurant in Silver Spring. The food was good but I’d forgotten how slow the service is there, so when we got home we had cake and ice cream and put June straight to bed, a half hour late and without her bath. Noah had to practice on his practice pad instead of his real drums, so she could sleep. He was up past his bedtime, too, finishing his percussion practice. So he and Beth and I all went to bed at the same time, ten, on the first night we had a teenager in the house.

An Out of This World Birthday

I. Star of the Week: Friday

“Have a good time, star of the week,” I called out to June as she and Beth headed out the door at 8:15. Beth was taking her to school because she was chaperoning the second-grade field trip to Air and Space. It was the first event in an almost unbearably exciting three days: first the museum trip, which corresponded with June’s birthday party theme—outer space—followed by a school fundraiser at Chuck E. Cheese that evening and then June’s birthday party, which would start late Saturday afternoon and last until Sunday morning, on June’s actual birthday.

“You were star of the week?” Beth inquired.  Star of the week is a rotating position in June’s afternoon class.  Mainly it consists of being responsible for classroom chores, but Ms. K has done a good job selling it.  Beth wanted to know if it was a coincidence that it was the week before her birthday.  It was, June said.

While they were gone I read a few chapters of a P.D. James mystery, cleaned the kitchen, exercised, worked on the outline for a brochure, and gathered June’s early birthday gifts.  I’d bought her a sweater and a skirt with starts on them to wear at her party, and a pair of pajama bottoms with glow-in-the-dark stars, also for the party.  June has two pairs of much loved and now ragged glow-in-the-dark space pajamas (hand-me-downs from Noah) which would have been perfect for the party if not for the fact that one pair no longer glows and the other has a huge whole in the crotch I’ve mended multiple times and which is now beyond fixing. So clearly, new pajamas were needed. It turns out glow-in-the-dark space pajamas are harder to find than you’d think. I spent several evenings looking online and finally found a pair (bottoms only) in her size on eBay.  I put everything in a dark blue gift bag, which I decorated with outer space-themed stickers. These were for a build-your-own solar system craft for the party but we had more than we needed.  In fact, June and I had spent much of the previous afternoon sticking identical stickers back to back, punching holes in them and suspending them from the ceiling with fishing line for party decorations. June also drew Saturn (sans ring) with marker and glitter glue and then made rings for the Pin-the-Ring-on-Saturn game.

Beth got home from the field trip a little after two, reported it had been a success, especially the IMAX 3-D movie about the Hubble space telescope and then she started baking the cake. June decided she wanted a three-tier cake with sky blue frosting and roses on it before she settled on her party theme and she could not be swayed to a more space-themed cake, even after I found out through a photo posted on Facebook that one of my local friends owns a star-shaped cake pan that would have been perfect. June did agree to some star-shaped candles and picked out black plates, cups, and napkins with gold stars on them.

Once both kids were home from school and June had showed me her rainbow-striped coloring page of the space shuttle, she opened her early presents, which also included some fabric and sewing patterns from YaYa, a clue that June was getting the sewing machine she asked for from us. Then Beth and June set out on their second trip to Party City in less than a week, this time to get the star and moon-shaped balloons we’d already bought filled with helium and to procure additional balloons, including a huge one that says, “another year of fabulous!”

When they returned, it was off to Chuck E. Cheese.  We ate pizza and June ran around with friends and played games and had several pictures taken of herself, with and without a statue of the mouse.  Beth, Noah, and I played a lot of skee ball and I shot hoops, too. The tickets we earned playing games with twenty dollars worth of tokens netted June a bookmark, a container of purple play dough, a glow-in-the-dark plastic snake, a box of Nerds and a roll of sweet tarts. No one ever said the prizes are a good deal, but we had fun and we also raised $9 for June’s school between the tokens and our meal and Noah didn’t complain too much about being forced to set foot in Chuck E. Cheese, the very concept of which seems to offend his preteen sensibilities. There’s a Fro-Zen-Yo next door so we had dessert there (except for June who opted for an ice cream sandwich plucked from a machine by a robot arm at Chuck E. Cheese).

After June was in bed I wanted to make sure Noah and I had some one-on-one time during a busy, June-focused weekend, so we started reading The Martian Chronicles, a book I used to teach. He liked the part where the astronauts from the second expedition end up in a Martian insane asylum.

II. Out of This World: Saturday

Saturday was a whirl of party-related chores.  We cleaned and reorganized the living room so that there was enough floor space for five sleeping bags and cleared everything on the porch to one side to make room for the piñata and the Pin-the-Ring-on-Saturn game. June and I cleaned the kids’ room, filled the goody bags, and worked on the party timetable. Beth and Noah hung a paper curtain in the living room and practiced projecting a movie onto it, and Beth and June frosted the cake. In the excitement we forgot that June had a make-up violin lesson, but her teacher dropped by with a small gift for her (polka-dotted rosin).

All day June was singing “Let it Go,” because we were going to show Frozen at the party.  June had not seen the movie because with rare exceptions she was not allowed to watch PG-rated movies until she turned eight and Frozen has been the hottest movie for kids June’s age for months.  She’s watched the video of the most famous song many, many times and has it down pat.  She was also wearing a small tiara like Elsa’s from the time she got dressed that morning.

The party started at five, but June had asked if Megan could come an hour early, ostensibly to help with last-minute preparations. I remember my sister and I doing this when we were kids; the real reason is to affirm best-friend status, and as Megan is without question June’s best friend, I said yes.

Once the rest of the guests began arriving, June directed them to page through a book about the moon she’d set out on the living room rug along with one of Beth’s old astronomy textbooks from college.  Noah started a playlist of songs about the moon for atmosphere. Then we directed them to the table I’d covered with newspaper and set out clear plastic sun-catchers in the shapes of the moon and stars, along with paint, brushes, and cups of water.  This proved a popular activity and the girls painted a few each before Beth and Noah returned with pizza and we had to clear off the table to eat.

After pizza, the beautiful blue tiered cake, and ice cream, June opened her presents. Marisa got her a book about space.  There were several presents of fabric and a sewing kit and Lego and Lite-Brix kits. Maggie made a nice card with chalk drawings of outer space on black construction paper.

The piñata was the last order of business before the big event—getting into pajamas and watching the movie.  This year’s model was star-shaped and covered in shiny gold foil. It was actually quite pretty. Last year was the first year one of June’s guests broke the piñata without maternal or fraternal assistance and it was after everyone had a had a few turns so I was unprepared when Megan, only the third girl in line, broke it.  In retrospect, I should have only let each girl hit it once during a turn so more girls had a chance. Live and learn.

I was a little worried before the party started that in an effort to fill sixteen hours, we’d actually planned too many activities.  Beth looked over the schedule right before the party started and said it was “ambitious,” but I ended up glad for the full schedule because the party, surprisingly loud considering the small number of guests, always got louder and more chaotic whenever there was a down moment. And as it turned out, we had all the girls in pajamas and sleeping bags, supplied with popcorn and ring pops and ready to watch the movie at 6:55, five minutes ahead of schedule. I noted this with some satisfaction and Murphy’s Law immediately took effect. The movie wouldn’t start. It wasn’t compatible with one of the devices we were using to project it. Beth and Noah tried several fixes and finally Beth had to purchase a new copy online, which at fifteen dollars was totally worth it.  The film began at 7:03.  Luckily, speedy tech support is Beth’s specialty.

There was some chatter during the movie and many admonishments not to give anything away because June had not seen it already (it’s possible all the guests had).  They certainly knew the songs and there was some singing along.  When “Let it Go,” was about to start they all sat up in their sleeping bags.  I told Beth it’s like the anthem of their generation, and she predicted they will all be belting it out when they’re thirty and going through bad breakups.

Marisa was not spending the night so her mom came to pick her up when the movie was over and everyone else brushed their teeth and got back into their sleeping bags. I explained the rules, everyone was to stay put unless they needed to use the bathroom but they could converse until ten.  It was around nine-fifteen, an hour and half past June’s bedtime and she said she was tired and just wanted to go to sleep and not talk at all. Her friends all wanted to stay up and June was starting to look upset. Someone suggested reading and she went and got an armful of books for her friends.  I supplied flashlights to those guests who had not brought their own (a surprising number of them had) and soon everyone but June was reading quietly and she was snuggled down with her eyes closed.

I was surprised by this turn of events and wondered if getting them quiet for the night might be as simple as that but by nine-thirty I was hearing voices, including June’s, now sounding cheerful. Shortly before ten I came to remind them it was time to sleep.  I returned with a similar message shortly thereafter and then Beth went in at 10:15, got water for everyone who was thirsty, and spoke somewhat sternly about the need to stop talking and by 10:30 they were all asleep or doing a reasonable imitation of asleep.

III. The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars: Sunday

I fully expected them to all be up at the crack of dawn, but they surprised me by sleeping until almost seven and they were sluggish and disinclined to get up even then.  The girl who’d kept the rest up after they wanted to go to sleep was complaining that she wanted to go back to sleep, but everyone was talking. I put in a Magic School Bus DVD about the solar system and they watched it, still lying on the floor, while Beth made pancakes and I sliced bananas and set the table. June wanted a candle in her pancake because it was her real birthday so I put one in and they all sang “Happy Birthday” to her in English and Spanish.

Breakfast perked the girls up and they got dressed and went outside with their moon observation journals (the fact that they are studying the moon at school might have inspired June’s party theme). Although it was supposed to be out at that time, it was too cloudy to verify and they all dutifully noted that in Spanish in their journals.  Next they played Pin-the-Ring on Saturn on the porch. June had the first turn and went several feet wide of the mark, taping her ring to the front door, making everyone including her laugh.  Zoë went second and almost walked off the porch steps before I grabbed her jacket, so from then on after blindfolding and spinning each girl I took her by the shoulders and gently pointed her in the right direction and then they got more accurate.  We had an extra ring so I let June have another turn and she got hers onto the paper with the rest of them.

The last two scheduled activities were making a solar system map with stickers and playing a game Megan had invented especially for the party called Catch-the-Star. It involves chasing a beam of light from a flashlight around the living room. I didn’t quite understand the rules, but the girls all did, and that’s what mattered.

We ran out of activities just ten minutes before the end of the party so we sent them outside to chase one of the balloons. One guest’s mother thought the party ended at ten instead of nine, and she had to come all the way from Rockville so she was just setting out when I called at nine-thirty to inquire if she was on her way.  The girl and June worked on building the car from the kit she’d gotten for her.

Once the party was finally over, June opened her presents from immediate and extended family: the sewing machine and a case to carry it, a kids’ guide to herbs, a shawl she’d admired, a saddle for her American Girl doll’s horse, two Edgar and Ellen books, and a lot of clothes. I went overboard with clothes this year because June’s new favorite colors, light blues and greens are easier to find than orange, her old favorite, and blue and green are also my favorites.

Becky, June’s preschool music teacher and the mother of her favorite babysitter, came by in the afternoon with more presents, a historical book about women’s basketball, and certificates for activities with Becky and Eleanor—a manicure, gelato, a tea party, and a game of Horse.

June spent the day quietly playing with her new building kits, reading Harry Potter, which I wouldn’t let her read until she turned eight, watching Frozen again and singing “Let it Go,” under her breath. After dinner we ate leftover birthday cake and June wanted us to put candles on it and sing to her again, so we did.

Happy birthday, dear June. As your card said, I wish you the sun, the moon, and the stars.

Another Writer in the Family

When I was looking for positive things about February in my last post, I forgot an obvious one.  A week ago, June’s afternoon class had a publishing party, to showcase the kids’ second quarter writing. I’d been to the first quarter one in November, so I knew what to expect. Each child has a collection of writing on his or her desk and kids and parents travel through the classroom, read the papers, leave compliments on a sheet provided for this purpose, and then everyone eats. At the last party, being a former writing teacher, I took my responsibility seriously and tried to leave substantive comments on each child’s work. Being a well-trained middle-class mom, I also brought juice boxes.

This time June wanted us to up our game a little, so we brought grocery store cupcakes.  And Beth was able to take off work early, so we were both there, although I arrived ten minutes late and Beth got there about hallway through the festivities. I got right to work circulating around the room and reading. There were factual essays about snow and re-imagined or original fairy tales on display. Because I was late and there was less time for reading and commenting than at the last publishing party, I probably only read work from half the students in the class of sixteen, but I got a good sense of what they’d been working on last quarter.

The reason we were on a tighter schedule was that there was a new activity. The kids had illustrated their stories using a computer animation program and these were projected onto a screen while recordings of the kids reading their work played. Or that was the idea anyway. In practice the recordings were so soft as to be completely inaudible, except for the occasional word or two that could be heard, in isolation and sometimes rather loudly. (And whenever that happened the kids would laugh in surprise so it was hard to catch even that word or two.) I couldn’t even follow the stories I’d just read. I think if I’d been the teacher I would have ditched this plan and had the kids read their papers aloud, but we sat politely and clapped at the end of each story as if we’d heard it. June’s was last, and miraculously the audio worked fine. We could hear the whole story.  The class laughed again at this turn of the events, but Ms. K shushed them and we listened.

Most of June’s classmates had opted for the alter-a-fairy-tale approach, so there was the story of the three little sharks (who tell the wolf they won’t let him in, not by the hair of their finny, fin fins) and the Gingerbread Fish, who swims away from an ever-growing mob of pursuing sea creatures. June went the original story route, however. I wish I had a copy of the story so I could tell it in more detail, but it’s still at school. Here’s the gist:

A boy discovers the condiments in his refrigerator are alive and move around at night. He writes a story about it for school but the teacher throws it in the recycling bin because it was supposed to be a non-fiction piece and she doesn’t believe that it actually happened. Then, seized with doubt, she breaks into his house at night, and observes the phenomenon herself, fainting in surprise when she sees it. Back at school she plucks the story from the recycling and displays it on the wall. And then somehow the teacher ends up dying of injuries sustained during her fall when she fainted. The story ends, “And they all lived happily ever after, except Ms. K.”  Yes, she did use her teacher’s real name in this story. Now the class was laughing all over again and repeating June’s final line to each other.

I told Ms. K she’d been a good sport about being killed off in June’s story, but she didn’t seem to mind.  “June’s writing is amazing,” she told me.

In the car on the way home June said she didn’t like it when people were laughing at the beginning of the story but I said I didn’t think they were laughing at her, that they were just surprised that the sound was working.  She didn’t say she minded people laughing at the end. I think she recognized that as admiration for the funny ending.

June brought home a lot of language arts homework this week, some of it routine like alphabetization practice and a worksheet on contractions. But what caught our attention was a series of sentences using her spelling words, which she opted to string into a story, and a rather dramatic one at that. There’s an excerpt in the photo. Our run-away favorite line is, “But if you weighed my sorrow it would be 1,009 pounds.” (The point of the spelling lesson was ie/ei words, if you couldn’t guess.)

But her dramatic streak is not limited to her school writing. On Monday she made arrangements on the bus to shoot hoops with a fourth grader who lives down the block. It would have been quite the social coup, but the girl never came.  June waited for her on the porch for a long time. It wasn’t until the next day that I found the notes she made while waiting. “Strange sounds, windy, no sign of A., getting dark early.” All it was missing was howling wolves getting nearer and nearer…

When I quoted this on Facebook, one of my friends commented that we had “another writer in the family.”  She comes by it honestly. We are a family of writers. Beth’s the online communications director of her union. My father was a newspaper, magazine, and eventually web site editor; my sister and I work together as copywriters; I was once an English professor, and from the time I was a kid into my early twenties, I used to write fiction.  I have recently been thinking of giving it another try. There’s a contest run by Browse-About Books in Rehoboth I want to enter.  The stories have to take place on the Rehoboth boardwalk. So far, though, I don’t have any good ideas, so we’ll see. Meanwhile, Noah and his classmates are amusing themselves by writing a collaborative story online. It’s a version of The Hunger Games, but with themselves as characters. He’s participating even though he hasn’t read the books yet.

Of course, Noah has been writing for school, too. He had a two-page paper about Mauritania due on Thursday for an ongoing unit on Africa. They had a celebration called Africa Fest that day with food and music. For Africa Fest, he had to make a trifold poster with two other students, make a model of a Mauritanian artifact (he chose a stringed instrument called an ardin) and write the paper (a demographic and historical overview of the country).

It was a straightforward assignment, with a series of factual questions to research and answer.  It wouldn’t have been too stressful except he’d neglected to work much on it, focused as he was on his product liability documentary, and even though he is a good writer, any kind of writing is slow for him. He didn’t get to the paper the weekend before it was due, because of other assignments and then on Tuesday night he didn’t feel well and couldn’t work productively, so Wednesday afternoon found him with the research done, but only three sentences written.

This seemed like a completely impossible situation, because the artifact wasn’t made yet either. I advised him to skip algebra homework as well as practicing his drums and to focus only on Africa Fest assignments. He decided to start with the instrument, which took until after dinner to construct, but came out pretty well. It’s the kind of thing he does well. He wasn’t completely satisfied with it, though. He thought it would be better if it actually played music.

It was seven by the time he started on the paper.  Beth and I had consulted in private about whether there was any chance he could produce a passing paper in the time he had and if maybe he should just take the failing grade and do his math instead, but he wanted to try. It did seem a shame to let all the research go to waste.

He ended up staying up until almost midnight and working on it some more in the morning but he did finish. Beth and I normally go to bed around 9:30 since the alarm goes off at 5:45, but I stayed up with him until 10:45, sitting with him in the study, mostly reading a magazine, feeding him the next question he needed to answer whenever he finished one, and making sure he didn’t get sidetracked or spend too much time on any given question. Once the paper was written and it was just the Works Cited left, I went to bed, leaving him at the computer. I think I see a lot of all-nighters in his future as a college student.

But the good news is now that IDRP and National History Day and Africa Fest, all of which kind of ran into each other, are over (well, almost over—he still has to finish reading Things Fall Apart, write a speech about Mauritania, and write a comparison paragraph about colonialism in Mauritania and Angola this weekend) but once they are all over, there might be a bit of a lull before the next big thing, which is a Shakespeare unit.  He’s not sure when that starts but he doesn’t have any assignments for it yet. I worry about the time it will take him to read the plays, but I also think it could be a lot of fun.  Chances are I will read along with him, for what family of writers could resist that?

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.