Wintry Mix

If you live in the mid-Atlantic region, or anywhere in the country where the temperature hovers right around freezing for much of the winter, you’re familiar with wintry mix, precipitation that switches back and forth between rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow. We had a whole day of that on Tuesday. I think we had all four kinds of precipitation over the course of the day. Because we were right on the rain-snow line, forecasts for the day varied wildly. We might get ten inches of snow! Or nothing! There ended up being a dusting of snow in the morning that melted by noon with no more accumulation, even though it kept snowing (and sleeting and raining) throughout the day. The afternoon snow squalls, while pretty, didn’t stick.

This post will be wintry mix as well, a mélange of four things that happened over the course of the last week and a half.

I. Thursday to Saturday: Visit with Uncle Johnny

Beth’s brother Johnny, who lives in Seattle, was swinging through the East Coast on a trip that would include New York City, the DC area, Wheeling, WV, and Kentucky. He arrived in DC from New York on Thursday night. Beth met him for dinner after work and they had dinner at a teahouse in the city. Friday she worked a half-day and then they went to the Building Museum before meeting me for lunch at District Taco. (I was already in the city because I had a dentist appointment to get a temporary crown applied.)

From there we went to the Portrait Gallery, where we took in paintings, drawings, sculptures and, in the most interesting interpretation of “portrait,” a short animated film, set to John Lennon’s song “O Yoko.” The film was continuously playing on a small screen mounted on the wall between two paintings. I heard a guard confess it was driving him crazy listening to it all day. I liked it, but I didn’t have to listen to it any longer than I wanted to, so I saw his point. We made sure to show Johnny the portrait of John Brown, which is now a favorite of ours because when June was in preschool she was fascinated with it and always insisted on coming to see it whenever we came to the portrait gallery. (She has no memory of this now, but we are still charmed.)

I peeled off early, leaving Beth and Johnny at the museum, because I wanted to be home when June got home. She had left her violin at school two days running and I wanted her to be able to practice for her upcoming orchestra concert over the weekend, so I’d told her if she forgot again, we’d be heading to school to get it, getting a custodian to unlock the classroom door if need be. It didn’t come to that, as she remembered to bring the violin home. Perhaps this was because I got down on my knees on the wet pavement of her bus stop that morning and begged her to bring it home. That’s the kind of maternal behavior a nine year old will strive to prevent from occurring again.

So Johnny got to listen to June practice the violin when he and Beth arrived at the house, and then he wanted to see Noah’s drum kit, and Noah practiced, too. (I had them do it sequentially to spare Johnny the experience of listening to both at once.) We went out for pizza in Silver Spring and left Johnny at his hotel.

Saturday Beth and June went to meet him so June could swim in the hotel pool, but it was closed until ten and June had gymnastics in College Park at eleven, so they hung out in his room instead and June watched the Disney channel. After watching June’s gymnastics class and eating lunch with her in the University food court, they all returned home just long enough for June to change into her basketball clothes and to pick me up so we could go to the Pandas’ game.

Going into this game, the Pandas had lost a game and won two. It was a remarkable turnaround for a team that lost every game last season. “It’s like they just realized how to play basketball,” another parent said to me. Well, they didn’t forget, winning the game 8-4, against the Warriors, a team I remember beating them twice last year. The Pandas’ offense was apparently not as strong as in the game we’d missed the week before but their defense was great and they caught a lot of rebounds and that was enough to do the trick. It’s so fun to watch them win and Johnny was a good fan, cheering and taking a lot of pictures.

June still wanted to swim in the hotel pool, even after gymnastics and basketball, so we left her there with Johnny and headed home until it was time for dinner. Noah had been working all day but he took a break to go out for Burmese with us. Johnny had never had Burmese before and enjoyed it. He came home with us for a little while and then we said goodbye because he was leaving for Wheeling early the next morning. It was a nice visit, but too short. June had hoped to take Johnny ice-skating and shoot baskets with him at the hoop near the end of our block. But there’s always next time. 

II. Tuesday: Two-Hour Delay

Monday night, considering the forecast and the fact that he had a long history reading on WWII with two dozen questions due Wednesday and only about a third done, Noah said, “I need a snow day.”

“You don’t always get what you need,” I responded, thinking one of us wasn’t going to get that, though at the moment I didn’t know who it was.

But there was a two-hour delay, which was a nice compromise, long enough for Noah to get make some progress on the assignment and for June to practice her violin, make a card for Megan (whose grandmother just died) and for the two of us to take a walk to Starbucks where she had a slice of lemon pound cake and I sipped a green tea latte while I read to her. “That was nice,” she said as we headed for home shortly before her bus was due. And it was.

III. Thursday: Band and Orchestra Concert

The band and orchestra concert delayed during the snow week finally happened on Thursday and it was worth the wait. As Beth came in the door around 5:45, I was exhorting June to change into her concert clothes and find her music. This must have sounded pretty familiar from all Noah’s years of concerts.

I’d laid out a variety of white tops and dark bottoms on my bed so June could mix and match. She chose a white cardigan and a black pleated skirt, with black leggings. But she hadn’t changed out of the socks she’d been wearing that day—they were turquoise with pink hearts.

“What socks are you going to wear to the concert?” I asked, thinking surely not those.

“I am wearing socks,” June said, matter-of-factly.

We looked at each other silently. I almost opened my mouth and said you can’t wear those socks to an orchestra concert, but then I decided why not and said if her dress shoes fit over them it was fine. They did.

June was sure her sheet music was tucked into her music book, but when she looked, she couldn’t find it. So we left without it, telling her she’d have to share with someone.

When we got to the school gym, scores of young musicians and their families were milling around, finding their seats and tuning their instruments. There are one hundred and sixty kids in the band and orchestra, so you can imagine how many people were in the room. And while most kids at the concert were in white and black concert garb, a number of them were in street clothes, so I guess colored socks weren’t really a big deal. And they were packed together pretty tightly so sharing music wasn’t either.

It was a while before the concert got started, so there was time for socializing. We waved from our seats at parents of June’s classmates and fifth-graders we know from the bus stop and elsewhere. The mother of a fifth grade trumpet player came over to ask about the Communication Arts Program at Noah’s high school because her eighth grade daughter just got into it.

After a fanfare by the advanced brass, the whole orchestra played a medley of fiddle tunes. June had a duet with the first violin from the advanced string ensemble. This was originally going to be a solo, because no one but June volunteered, but then the first violin changed her mind. June was a little peeved about this, but I’m pretty sure she’ll get a solo in a concert some day if she sticks with it. I got a little teary while the two girls played. It happens to me at least once at every concert.

Although that was the highlight for us, it was just the beginning of the concert. The beginning band played a series of songs meant to evoke different parts of the country (this part of the program was called “Road Trip”) and the orchestra did a series of songs representing different animals from the Chesapeake Bay, as well as the water and wind.

There were movie themes, from Jurassic Park and Star Wars, which was preceded by two boys acting out the “I am your father, Luke” scene and there was an audience sing-along to “Hey Jude” and later we all stood to do the chicken dance with accompaniment from the advanced clarinets. (“I wasn’t told I would have to dance,” Noah commented afterward, but dance he did.) A girl who attended June’s preschool in the class one year ahead of her played her own original composition on the flute. The advanced clarinets and flutes played “Silent Night,” which seemed little out of place in February, and because there’s a little-known law that at least half of all elementary and middle school band and orchestra concerts should feature a jazz tune during which the musicians don sunglasses, they did that, too.

At one point, the bridge popped out of June’s violin but she ran over to the director between songs and he fixed it for her.

It was a fun evening. I am really in awe of elementary school music band and orchestra teachers. Imagine if your job was to teach a few hundred mostly inexperienced nine-to-eleven-year-old musicians from two different schools enough music to pull off two concerts at each school every year. Because he also works the elementary school where Noah attended fourth and fifth grade, Mr. G was Noah’s first band teacher, too, and he does a wonderful job.

IV. Friday to Sunday: Valentines’ Day Weekend

Friday morning, about twenty minutes before June’s bus was due, she decided she wanted valentines for her class. This happened after weeks of insisting that no, she didn’t want to buy or make any valentines this year. She just wanted to give a few friends some big Hershey’s kisses privately. I never thought June would lose interest in class valentines exchanges at a younger age than Noah did, but apparently she had.

Her last-minute change of heart was partly motivated by the fact that she wanted to bring the candy to school and couldn’t unless she had something for everyone. So I found a bunch of printable valentines online and she selected a page with cartoon animals and robots she liked. Then I printed them and she cut them out and signed them. She thought she had a class list but she couldn’t find it so she left them unaddressed, saying “They will know who they are for because they will be on their desks.” I couldn’t argue with that. Three minutes before we needed to leave for the bus, the valentines were sealed in a plastic bag tucked into her backpack. Sometimes I feel like I’ve really got this elementary school mom thing down.

That afternoon Megan came over. We’d been planning to take both girls on a field trip to a high school girls’ basketball game, an annual tradition for the Pandas, but snow was predicted so the game was cancelled and we decided to switch plans to a play date. June gave Megan a big chocolate kiss and Megan gave June a card with a drawing of bees that says, “We were meant to bee,” with a chocolate kiss taped to it. While they were playing, I swiped a conversation heart from the stash of candy June brought home from school and I broke my temporary crown on it. Karma, I suppose.

On Saturday, Noah wanted to make something heart-shaped for dinner. I was thinking grilled cheese sandwiches we could cut into hearts but he had more ambitious plans: heart-shaped slices of lasagna. So we made spinach lasagna and used a cookie cutter to cut four little hearts out of it. (The rest we ate in more traditional slices.)

On Valentines Day proper, Beth made heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast and we all exchanged gifts, mostly chocolate and books, but I also got a Starbucks gift card.

The kids have Monday off for Presidents’ Day and we’re supposed to get more wintry mix Monday through Tuesday—snow, freezing rain, and rain, with an ice storm thrown in for good measure. I guess that’s how we know it’s winter here.

Siberian Train Wreck

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Derailed: One day of school

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday

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

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

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

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

Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

On Track: One drum lesson

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

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

March Madness

I don’t even know what to say about the last few weeks. The last week of February was difficult and the first week of March was worse.

The last Thursday of February Beth and June and I attended a memorial service for a forty-four-year-old woman who died of breast cancer. We did not know her well, but she was the mother of one of June’s preschool classmates, a girl who also played on a soccer team with June in first grade and on her basketball team from kindergarten to second grade. Grief would be too strong a word to use because we weren’t friends, but her death did make me very sad, for her not being able to see her children grow up, for her widowed husband, and most of all for her four girls, aged six to twelve.

And then there was the weather. In the space of two weeks school was cancelled on four days, not to mention a two-hour delay and an early dismissal. (That last one was scheduled, at least.) This brought us to seven cancellations for the year, three over what’s built into the school year. And even though the school district promised to make the days up this year, they’ve gone back on that and applied for a waiver from the state, which means my consolation prize of three days of uninterrupted work in mid-June might not come to pass either. We’ll see.

When a friend asked on Facebook why a few of us stay-at-home and work-at-home moms were complaining so bitterly about the days off, I answered:

It’s the disruption of trying to work with kids at home, it’s needing to decide which of the things other than work that I usually do that I am not going to do, it’s the loss of quiet time that’s important for me as an introvert, it’s the fact that I also lose the chance to recharge through exercise when the pool at PBES is closed or through socializing with other adults when basketball practice or my book club is cancelled…And this is unique to me, but it brings back my grief for my father because he died shortly before the big storms of 2010.

This is what I meant about my father. It doesn’t happen every time school is suddenly closed, but when we have a great many cancellations in quick succession, it often brings me back to the-world-is-spinning-out-of-control feeling I had in the winter of 2010, when the kids missed two and three weeks of school respectively. (June was in morning preschool then and if the school district had a two-hour delay, her whole day was cancelled.) The bulk of those storms happened the month after my dad died and it’s clear that these two events got cemented together in my mind in a way that makes me overreact to the real but honestly not dire inconvenience of having the kids at home on a workday. I understand it’s not quite rational but that doesn’t change it. Add some painful private difficulties to the mix and I haven’t been much fun lately.

But so far I haven’t had a day as bad as Saint Patrick’s Day last year (our tenth and last cancelled day that year). I spent that day mostly in bed, with the blinds drawn, listening to an audiobook–and to make matters worse, it a pretty bad audiobook. I was afraid all this winter of going back to that place and I thought I had around two weeks ago, on the first Monday of March.

We’d had an ice storm and school was cancelled. I’d woken at 5:45, sore all over from having spent two hours the previous afternoon chipping ice off our sidewalk, but at 9:00, I was still in bed and I hadn’t eaten breakfast. It wasn’t that I wasn’t hungry. Getting out of bed and getting myself something to eat just seemed too daunting. I finally did get up, though, by focusing on the goal of putting a load of laundry in the washer. I decided to get the newspaper while I was at it and bring it back to bed. When I went outside at first I thought it was raining, which was strange because it was a bright, sunny day. Then I noticed that when I wasn’t standing under a tree it wasn’t raining and I realized it was water dripping from the rapidly melting ice. It was such a strange phenomenon I called June outside and we walked all over the sunny, sparkly, ice-covered yard, looking at every twig and every tall weed outlined as if in glass and listening to the water patter on the frozen ground and the ice breaking and falling off the tree limbs and the shrubbery and the clothes line.

Startled out my lethargy, I decided to eat breakfast instead of going back to bed and told June I was going to the creek to do something and asked if she wanted to go. What was I going to do? Come and see, I said and then I went back to the front yard and filled the wheelbarrow. Noah, watching from the porch in his pajamas, guessed correctly. “Are you going to dump that in the creek?” he said.

June did come with me, half amused and half embarrassed, as I pushed the wheelbarrow a block from our house and then she watched, bemused, as I heaved the contents over the railing of the bridge. She told me I was “completely insane.” Perhaps, but I felt better enough to muddle through with my day and not to go completely off the rails when school was cancelled again on Thursday and Friday. Though when Beth took June to work with her on Friday I really wasn’t sure if she did it because June likes to go to work with her, or to give me a chance to work in a quieter house, or because she wanted to spare June from me because I was still in a pretty bad mood. She didn’t say and I didn’t ask.

On that day, after I finished working, I walked to the library to return a book and while cutting across the campus of the university near our house I saw ten robins crowded onto a strip of exposed grass and mud over what must have been a warm underground pipe. Two days later on the same campus, I saw two clumps of crocuses, yellow and purple, almost a month later than they usually emerge, but there nonetheless. And now, after a week of warm weather, we have crocuses in our yard, too, and hyacinth and daffodils poking their way out of the newly visible ground.

Over the course of last week, life slowly settled back into its usual groove. The kids went to school five days in a row. I swam on Sunday and had a book club meeting on Wednesday. June had a violin lesson, a Girl Scout meeting, a basketball practice, gymnastics class and a basketball game. Nothing was cancelled. Although I appreciate this normalcy, I still feel tender and exhausted. I have a mistrustful feeling about it, like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The change to Daylight Saving Time, which has seemed easier in recent years as the kids get older, seemed very hard this year. I’ve been tired all week, and I’m not the only one. On Friday night June put herself to bed, fully clothed and without telling us. I only discovered her fast asleep when I went to tell her to get ready for bed.

The Pandas’ last game was yesterday. They lost, which was not surprising as they lost every game this season. Their defense is pretty good and while four or five players are on the verge of becoming good offensive players, they have no one who can consistently score, and if you can’t score, you can’t win. Mike, their coach, has somehow remained positive and encouraging through all this, and for the most part the girls have been positive, too. I mean, look at the picture. It was taken right after the end of the last game. Do they look discouraged?

They’re eight and nine years old and while some of them want to win, some of them just want to have a good time. Plus they were on their way to an end-of-season party (graciously hosted by Talia’s family) and they were excited about that. They live more in the moment than I do. I know June was very solemn at the memorial service and sad at the death of her friend’s mother, but I don’t think it touched her too deeply. It’s harder for me now not to be touched by things like that, even when they’re peripheral to my life.

My book club is reading Anna Karenina and I found when I got up to the part when she confesses her affair to her husband, it seemed so much sadder to me than when I read it as a grad student. It was the whole situation–Alexei’s pain, the way he hides it (from himself and Anna), which leads her to read him as cold and uncaring, which makes her think she might as well tell him what he already half-suspects and desperately wants not to know for certain. I felt so sorry for both of them…I think I read more emotionally now, maybe because I’ve been out of academia for almost a decade and I no longer worry about being sufficiently detached and theoretical. Or it could just be that I’m middle-aged and I’ve seen more of life and what it does to people.

I don’t think I’ll end up throwing myself under a train any time soon, though. I have children to raise, after all, and daffodils coming up in my yard.

That’s Love

Friday: Before Valentine’s Day

On Friday morning Beth got up at 5:45, as she does every weekday morning. It’s her job to get Noah out the door and mine to get June out the door and I have the easier job by far. June requires much less oversight to stay on task and she doesn’t have to be at the bus stop, which is right across the street from our house, until 8:15. I am not even sure what time Noah is supposed to leave as the actual time of his leaving varies so dramatically. Sometimes he walks to the school bus stop, which is about a mile away. More often he takes a public bus to the school bus stop or when he’s really running late or trying to finish some undone homework, Beth drives him to school. I guess they leave around seven a.m. on average, but sometimes it’s as early as 6:45 or as late as 7:30.

The difference on Friday was that after driving Noah to school, Beth headed out to the grocery store to buy a bouquet of blue flowers for June to take to school for Valentines Day. She wanted one flower for her morning teacher, one for her afternoon teacher, one for her morning bus driver and one for her afternoon bus driver. I’m not sure why she specified blue, but Beth said there were a lot of artificially colored flowers there and she thought she could find blue ones. I was expecting dyed flowers, but the flowers she bought were actually white with some blue tinting spray-painted onto them.

There were flowers left over once June had extracted four so I put the rest in a vase on the dining room table. For the rest of the day whenever I saw them I thought about how Beth was shepherding Noah through his morning routine or fetching flowers for June for two and a half hours before she even left for a full day’s work. I posted about it on Facebook and one my friends commented, “That’s love.”

June left for school with her freakish flowers and with lollipops for all her classmates. This might have been the first year she didn’t make any homemade valentines. I know last year it was mostly store-bought. And that’s basically what she brought home, candy and store-bought valentines, with a couple simple red construction paper hearts, nothing like the elaborate creations she used to make and receive in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. It made me a little sad, but I guess that’s part of growing up. In two or three years, she’ll be too old for valentines at all (except maybe for family)…until she isn’t again.

Saturday: Valentine’s Day

Saturday morning Noah was not ready to exchange Valentines yet, as he was still working on our cards, so we left for June’s basketball game, agreeing to do it when we came home.

The Pandas lost their fifth straight game, actually getting shut out for the first time this season. The score was 8-0. It’s hard to explain that they are not playing as badly as it might sound like they are. Put as simply as possible, they prevent a lot (but not all) of the opposing teams’ balls from going into the basket, and they take a lot of shots at the basket, but for the most part they just don’t go in. Sometimes the shots are wild, but maddeningly often they bounce off the rim.

June’s actually having a pretty good season. She’s gotten a lot more aggressive on the court. She steals the ball and takes shots at the basket much more often than she did in previous seasons, though she’s never gotten a basket in a game. (She gets them in practice all the time.) In this game she took a ball to the face, which caused her to bite her tongue so hard it bled. She sat out the rest of the quarter but when she came back into the game, she played just as hard as she had previously. That’s heart.

Back home, candy was exchanged, as well as cards. June also received sidewalk chalk and glitter glue, which she put to almost immediate use. “I was almost out of glitter glue,” she said appreciatively. Noah got a t-shirt with Roscoe the rooster, the unofficial mascot of Takoma. I got a Starbucks gift card and my favorite hazelnut-Ceylon tea (special ordered from the tea shop in Rehoboth) and Beth got a gift certificate for two movie tickets. Everyone was happy.

That evening Beth and I headed out to the movies. It was snowing when we left and icy roads were predicted but we decided to go anyway. We saw Birdman, which I really liked, especially the uncertainty about what’s real and what’s not and the way it used point of view. When we emerged from the theater, the roads were indeed a mess. We could see cars spinning their wheels and Beth said she thought maybe we should leave the car in the parking garage and take a bus home. But after we waited fifteen minutes at a bus stop that usually has a stream of buses arriving and only one came in all that time (and not the route we needed), she decided to chance the drive home. There was a bus stuck just a block from the bus stop and getting stranded if a bus had to offload halfway home didn’t seem appealing either.

Beth had to think a lot about the best route home, assessing each intersection and what looked safest and changing course several times. We ended up on Sligo Creek Parkway, where traffic was slow, but moving. There wasn’t a lot of snow on the ground but the winds were so high it was blowing all over and all the tree trunks and signs were coated with snow. Close to Maple Avenue, we saw a car in the creek. I should clarify here that in this part of the country we don’t call any body of water that would be deep enough to sink a car a creek. Those are rivers. The creek in question was probably about a foot deep and the car nearly spanned it. The headlights were on and there was a woman, or maybe a teenager standing on the bank. I called 911 to report it and the dispatcher thanked me but said someone else had already called about it.

When we got to the hospital near our house, the roads were very well cleared and we got up the hill of the hospital campus with no trouble. Beth decided to park the car there as our street might be messier and we were close enough to walk home. We picked our way through the icy parking lots and sidewalks as the snow swirled around us, passing a few people trying to push a car along our street. I wished I’d worn a warmer jacket. Beth wished she wasn’t wearing crocs.

We got home an hour after we set out on a trip that usually takes ten or fifteen minutes, but as we lay in bed listening the wind whipping around the house and rattling the windows and the sound of snowplows scraping the roads, I felt lucky to be warm and safe and that Beth got us home. That’s gratitude.

Sunday to Tuesday: After Valentine’s Day

Monday was President’s Day so it was supposed to be a long weekend and then Tuesday was a snow day so the weekend just went on and on… Knowing this was likely to happen, I worked a little every day from Sunday to Tuesday, trying to stay more or less on schedule.

Sunday morning Noah and June watched a movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, together. They hardly ever do this anymore and I was touched by the sibling togetherness, even if they did have an argument about how long to pause the movie for a breakfast break. (Later I found out they’d also been working on a movie they started filming last fall while we’d been out the night before.) They went out briefly to play in the snow that same morning, but it ended badly with June crying because Noah had dumped snow on her face and then he was grumpy because she left him alone after begging him to come out and play with her. But he made it up to her by coming in and making her cocoa.

Later Sunday morning Beth and June went grocery shopping and then Beth and I took her to the pool that afternoon, but Monday, everyone but me stayed home all day. I took a walk to Starbucks, but it was bitterly cold and no one wanted to come with me. June was antsy and bored, but it led her to write a murder mystery, so I guess it was a productive boredom. I asked if the parents on the cover are sad because they are psychic and know in advance they are going to die and leave their child an orphan but apparently, they are in heaven, looking down sadly at their orphan child. June found the photo by googling “sad parents.”

We ate a lot of comfort food over the course of the weekend. Beth made spinach lasagna and garlic bread Sunday night and pancakes and fruit salad Monday morning. I made braised cabbage and carrots, with mashed potatoes and fake Italian sausage on Monday night and fake beef and cremini stew on Tuesday night.

Tuesday I was a little grouchy about the snow day. I just wanted the kids to go to school and leave me in my quiet house and the morning was challenging. I was trying to work and the kids were bickering and June kept interrupting me to tell me she was still bored. But she had a friend over for most of the afternoon and things got better. They played outside and built a platform out of blocks where Playmobil people enacted some kind of drama and they wrote more stories. June was working on a sequel to “Another Orphan Made” and Maggie started a series called Horror Hilarious, which I am assuming is some kind of horror-comedy hybrid.

We walked Maggie most of the way home (her mom met us on the way) and it did me good to get out into the bright, sparkly day. It is always pretty down by the creek when it has snowed. Earlier in the day I had cheered myself by buying spring clothes for June and looking beach houses to rent for our summer vacation in late June. I found one I really liked, close to the beach, beautiful, and a workable arrangement of bedrooms for all the relatives we’re inviting. It was pricy, though.

When we got home, I saw Beth had answered my email about the various houses with the following message, “Let’s rent the one you love.” That’s love for sure.

Just Like Today

I’ve had days and some were better
And some were worse and some just like today

“Only Today,” By Two Nice Girls

Looking at my recent posts you might think my life is one never-ending celebration. (They go straight from Beth’s birthday to Thanksgiving to Christmas to our anniversary.) Believe it or not, this is not the case. So I thought before Valentine’s Day rolls around, I ought to write about a regular day. It should be a weekday, I decided, and one June had an afterschool activity because there are three of those every week, which is more than the two weekend days or the two weekdays she doesn’t have an activity. The problem was, the week I got this idea there weren’t many normal days.

The Not So Normal Days: Sunday to Wednesday

Sunday afternoon Noah started to feel unwell. He was tired and headachy and had a sore throat so bad he was having trouble swallowing water. Given that I’d been diagnosed with strep throat six days before, Beth and I were sure that’s what he had, but when she took him to the urgent care on Monday morning the rapid strep test came back negative, as did the cultures at twenty-four and forty-eight hours.

Anyway, he was in no shape to go to school Monday, so he stayed home. He slept most of the morning and then tried to do some homework in the afternoon. After school, June had her violin lesson. It was her first lesson since we got a new time slot (4:45) that gets us home in time to cook and eat dinner at a less frenetic pace than has been our wont on Mondays for the past few months. I can’t tell you how happy I am about this. Now that June has activities either shortly before or after dinner three nights a week, cooking has become a real stressor for me.

Tuesday was a snow day. It was not a particularly impressive snowfall (less than two inches) and the roads seemed pretty clear, but nonetheless, the kids were home. As snow days go, it was okay. I’d worked over the weekend to bank enough hours to take it easy for this very contingency, so I didn’t need to work much. June played outside at my strong suggestion, sledding down the little hill in our yard and throwing snowballs at the fence. She and I read These Happy Golden Years and made homemade whoopie pies, which were very well received by everyone but especially Beth who is a big fan of this confection. Even though school was cancelled, June’s Girl Scout troop meeting was not, though it took an email thread of at least a half of dozen messages from several moms (whose opinions were all over the map) before the troop leader finally settled the matter.

Wednesday Noah went back to school, still a bit sick, but better than he’d been. I was looking forward to getting back into the swing of a normal weekday, but it was not to be. Registration for Girl Scout sleep-away camp opened at ten a.m. I knew from other moms that this is the kind of camp that can fill up within hours, so I logged on right at ten, with June’s list of top five programs. She and three other girls from her troop had spent a couple days trying to match their lists in order to get into the same program at camp. In the end everyone compromised some but they could only get their top two to match. Their first choice was Backwoods (which takes place in a wooded area of the camp) and their second choice was Watered Down (which features swimming, canoeing and kayaking).

The first thing that happened was that I was given a place in the queue. There were more than twelve hundred people in front of me. Yes, you read that right. Twelve hundred. It took about an hour to move through the queue and then early in the registration process my page inexplicably froze and would not progress to the next page. It wasn’t the computer freezing, my cursor moved fine. I called the help line and I was so relieved when they said they’d call back and register me over the phone that I waited too long for that to happen (about another hour) before I gave up on them and started again on the laptop. In the meantime I’d gotten a message from the mom of the one of June’s friends saying two of the girls had gotten into Backwoods, but it was closed now, and her daughter was in Watered Down and I should really register June now as spaces were filling fast.

This time I got far enough into the process to find out that June was not in the database as being a Girl Scout even though I had filled out the paperwork and paid dues for both her troop and the national organization in the fall when she joined. I found out later the troop leader never processed that paperwork. Anyway, it was a fairly simple matter and only $15 to join the Scouts online and I did it, rather than lose more time. On my next attempt to register her, my session timed out right at the end and I had to start over. This whole time I could see the number of spaces in each program and watch them getting lower (and in some cases selling out). I kept telling myself quite sternly that this was not a matter of life or death and I did not need to feel so stressed, but didn’t listen to myself and I was near tears more than once.

However, the fourth time was the charm and shortly before one in the afternoon, I got June registered in the water program. I thought it was a pretty good outcome, with two girls in each program, so everyone will have a friend, and the four of them have requested to bunk together. The help line never did call me and a big chunk of my workday got sucked into a black hole, but I was so giddy with this accomplishment, I didn’t care.

The Normal Day: Thursday

Thursday I woke up in a good mood, partly because of my Girl Scout camp triumph, and partly because June had basketball practice that evening. I do enjoy watching the Pandas practice, but more importantly, most weeks this is my prime opportunity for conversation with an adult who isn’t Beth, aside from the five minutes I spend at June’s school bus stop every weekday morning.

June had an 8:00 a.m. GeoBowl practice session before school, so we left the house early, at 7:45. I meant to leave five minutes earlier, but the last time she had one of these I didn’t even remember it until 7:45 and considering that at the moment of realization I was in pajamas and hadn’t eaten breakfast and it’s a twenty-minute walk to her school, the fact that I got her there by 8:15 is really not too shabby. Anyway, I was happy to have improved on our previous performance.

It was a cold morning, and when we got to the creek, June peered at the ice-rimmed rocks in the middle of it and noted how the dead leaves on the ground next to it were outlined in frost. I warned her not to step on a half-frozen puddle and she probed it with her sneaker toe gently until the ice on top broke. There was the thinnest skin of ice on the creek, too, in the still parts. I didn’t hurry her along because she seemed so genuinely interested in her surroundings.

We were about a block and half from home when I noticed she wasn’t wearing her backpack, which contained her GeoBowl packet, her homework and her lunch. So much for getting there earlier this time. I found I really didn’t mind. My good mood was that durable. We went back home and set out again. Just before the playground, we came across a snowman someone had built. It had stones for its eyes and nose, a twig for a smile, a garland made of evergreen and a scarf of dried pokeweed stems. It was listing a bit to one side but that only added to its rakish charm.

We got to school by 8:10 and I left her with her geography-studying peers and came home, after a detour to Starbucks. Once home, I tidied the study, exercised, ghost wrote a blog post about cherries and wrote some marketing materials for a cherry blossom extract. Once June got home, she did her homework and had an early bath. I made dinner and tried to talk Noah through an analysis of “The Long and Winding Road,” which he had to analyze for English class. He was having a hard time with it, despite the fact that the song is not that complicated. I think he might have still been fatigued from his illness.

We got a ride to practice with June’s friend Megan, her sister, and her mom Kerry. As we waited for them, we sucked on two of the last few candy canes we have left from Christmas. The taste was sweet and sharp on the cold, dark porch, lit with the blue and white lights we still have strung along it. When their car pulled up, we gave Megan another candy cane, and she was excited to have it, even if she had to share with her sister.

At basketball practice I was happy to see Talia’s mom, also named Megan, whom I hadn’t seen in a couple weeks. She’s recently returned from a vacation in Puerto Rico so there was that to talk about and she wanted to know more about the Girl Scout camp registration process because the camp her daughter wanted to attend was starting its registration the next day.

At the beginning of practice Mike gave the girls a pep talk about how they shouldn’t be discouraged about their losing streak. (They have lost all three games this season.) He told them he knew they were disappointed and he was too but that since the score was 10-4 at the last game and eight of the other team’s points were scored over the course of several minutes, the Pandas had lost four minutes of the game but they’d won the other twenty-eight. Pretty good spin, I thought.

I had my eyes on the girls most of the time I was talking to Megan, but somehow I missed June scoring two baskets during a drill. She is definitely getting better. In the second game she very nearly scored a basket. It bounced off the rim and then she caught the rebound and shot again. That one went wide, but still, that’s good playing. She also had a few good steals from opposing players. As a result, she’s not too discouraged about how the season is going.

We came home, put June to bed, and I nudged Noah along until he finished his song analysis. It had been a week of many ups and downs (dare I say a long and winding road?) but I was happy to have arrived at a day just like this day.