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.

So Oregon

Sunday-Monday: Westward Ho

About halfway through the third flight of the day June fell asleep. It had been an exhausting day and it was early evening our time so I wasn’t surprised. She woke a few minutes later when the flight attendant came by with the snack cart. She declined the offer of a drink, but again, I thought nothing of it, figuring she was so sleepy that the appeal of snacks and drinks high in the sky had diminished. It wasn’t until she started crying that I put the pieces together. I had just outlined them for a neurologist at Children’s National Medical Center less than a week earlier—falling asleep in the late afternoon, losing her appetite, and unexplained crying. June was getting a migraine.

I took her to the bathroom because she thought she might vomit, but she didn’t and we made our way back to our seats. Another flight attendant offered painkillers, which June didn’t want because they weren’t chewable, and earplugs, which she accepted but did not use, and a bag of ice with a wet paper towel inside. I used it to mop her forehead and I held the airsick bag for her when she did vomit during our descent. It was the first time she’d used one and I have to say she nailed it. It was also the first time June had flown. My mother and stepfather moved to Oregon a year and a half ago and this was our first visit.

For the first two and a half flights June enjoyed flying. “We’re in the clouds! We’re in the clouds!” she exclaimed as we took off, and she enjoyed pointing out the tiny houses, and road and even a miniature football field. She also read and colored in a coloring book provided by the airline. I read The Miserable Mill (book 4 in the Series of Unfortunate Events) to her and she and Beth listened to an audiobook of a Nancy Drew mystery.

My mom and Jim met us at the Medford airport and then Mom had to turn around and go back home because they had forgotten the booster seat. Luckily, Ashland, where they live, is not far from Medford so we relaxed in the lounge, glad to be on the ground, until she returned.

Sara came over for dinner and we got to congratulate her in person on finally being matched with a Chinese toddler girl, after years of trying to adopt first domestically and then from Haiti. Some time next spring or summer she will travel to China and bring home her daughter, who will be two by then.

We ate a lentil-kale stew Mom had made and all fell to bed exhausted, except Noah, who wanted to stay up until his bedtime on West Coast time. We let him because we all had to make the switch sooner or later. The rest of us went to bed about halfway between our bedtimes on EDT and PDT. Sara thoughtfully brought us a bottle of melatonin, which she said might help us sleep longer in the morning.

I’d been fretting for a long time before the trip that June would wake up at three in the morning the first day in Oregon and I would have to keep her quiet for six hours until it was reasonable to expect on-West-Coast-time-and-retired adults to be awake. Well, she slept until almost 4:30, when I had to adjudicate a dispute about bathroom access between both my kids. I thought we’d all be up for the day but I said everyone had to go back to bed and try to sleep and Noah and I actually did sleep. June didn’t and at 5:25, while she was getting herself a bowl of cereal (she’d already had a plate of strawberries), she knocked over a jar in the fridge and Mom and I woke to a loud crash. We both got up to investigate and we had a little pre-dawn chat before Mom went back to bed.

I ate breakfast and read to June on the deck and then took her on a walk around Mom’s neighborhood, looking for a playground Mom had mentioned but we didn’t find it. We did find wild blackberries and Queen Anne’s lace growing by the side of the road and as June had things to pick, she was happy.

Beth and Noah were up by the time we returned so we all headed back out together on a longer walk in search of espresso and Wi-Fi. On the way we enjoyed the mountain view— a lush, green range on one side of the road and an arid one on the other. Apparently, Ashland is at the juncture of two ecosystems. After second breakfast at a café and some computer time for everyone, June and I hit the playground, which Beth had discovered on the way. There were two preschool girls and a mom there. June played with them and within minutes had them all filled in on the plane ride, her migraine and her Kung Fu lessons (the little girls had suggesting playing at martial arts). I simply cannot imagine having June’s social moxie. As we left one of the girls wanted to know if I was the grandmother June was visiting, a detail I include because Noah said I should, and which Beth attributes to the gray hair at my temples, though I want to state for the record she has at least as much gray hair as I do and probably more.

When we got back to the house Mom was up and we spent much of the day walking around Ashland with Sara. We visited Lithia Park and tasted the famed mineral water (salty and with more than a hint of baking soda). You should only try it if you are curious. We saw the duck ponds and walked along a wooded trail. There was a playground with a giant rope climbing structure and it was just what June needed—two playgrounds in one morning after a day cooped up on planes. We had lunch at a restaurant with a nice view of the creek and we visited the Oregon Shakespeare Festival gift shop because Mom volunteers there. She said she would buy June “anything [she] wanted.” This turned out to be a deep blue and green princess dress and a white garland-like headdress. Then she had to take June around the store and show her off to all her gift shop friends. Meanwhile, Noah got a rubber duck that looks like Shakespeare with a beak.

In the late afternoon we went to Emigrant Lake, where we split into groups. June wanted to go to the water slide so Beth took her. Noah, Sara, and I swam in the lake and Mom stayed on shore with a book. The lake was only 35% full, due to a drought. Noah noticed the line of buoys that normally mark the swimming area, sitting up on the dried and cracked mud hundreds of yards from the current shoreline. He said we were rebels to cross the line. The lake, even in its reduced state, was pretty, ringed with mountains. Sara swam far out, but I stayed with Noah who enjoyed splashing and plucking small green gelatinous balls (algae perhaps?) from the water and throwing them.

Mom’s sister Peggy, her husband Darryl and their grandson Josiah, who’s just a month and a half younger than June, arrived from Boise in the early evening and our party was complete. We met for dinner at an Italian restaurant. June and Josiah, who are good buddies from the two years he and his mom lived in Brooklyn when we used to see them more frequently, sat together and made plans for later, which included playing Sleeping Queens, a card game Josiah learned from June at a previous family gathering, and he was eager to play again.

The new arrivals were staying at Sara’s house and June wanted to sleep over there, too, which meant Noah and I had some time to read Insurgent before bed. I managed to stay up until my bedtime and even a little past it that night.

Tuesday: Oregon Trail

In the early afternoon the ten of us piled into our vehicles to drive to the Oregon coast where we were spending a few days. June went with Peggy, Darryl, and Josiah and the two kids played Sleeping Queens with the cards spread out on a cooler in between them. We stopped a few times—for forgotten groceries at a health food store, for a late lunch at a picnic table near a river where Sara took a dip and finally at Jedediah Smith State Park in Northern California to see the redwoods and for Sara to try to swim in another river. On exiting the cars, we all scattered. The kids found a big fallen log with alarmingly large slugs on it (not quite as big as a banana slug but bigger than slugs have any right to be). While they were climbing on the log, Mom, Jim, and Sara headed toward the river. The left a helpful sign on the back of the car that said, “River” with an arrow pointing to the right. I went to find them in an attempt to make sure everyone knew where everyone else was. Sara was wading in the river but it was too shallow to swim. As we were all leaving the river, I heard Beth’s and June’s voices coming toward us and I veered in their direction. When I first caught sight of them, Beth was tumbling down a steep incline and then I heard June crying. I ran to them. Apparently they were going down the slope when Berth stopped to put her hand on a signpost to get her balance. But the sign was rotted at the base and it fell right on June. They were both scraped up—Beth worse—but June was more rattled, having taken a wooden post to the head.

After we’d cleaned them both up with Peggy’s first aid kit and checked June for signs of concussion, we drove the rest of the way to the rental house, had a quick dinner of white bean and artichoke sandwiches, and went to bed. Beth and the kids and I were in one room. June slept on the floor in a sleeping bag and Noah had a mat he placed in the closet. He liked being enclosed that way and ended up spending a lot of his free time in the closet, which led to the predictable jokes. (When I explained them to him, he joked that if he was gay, he thought I’d be “pretty understanding” about it, so I took the opportunity to say I would, but it would be fine with me if he was straight, too.)

The house was painted bright colors and was what Noah and I (independently of each other) called “very decorated.” There were a lot of wooden figures—on shelves and hanging from the walls—stars, animals, and mythical creatures. June liked the winged mermaid in our room best. I was taken with the snake in a sombrero.

I didn’t go down to the beach Tuesday evening, surprising those who know me best. It was dark and the trail to the beach was unfamiliar and involved crossing a highway, so I decided to wait.

Wednesday-Thursday: Down By the Turquoise Sea, Oh My, Under the Blue, Blue Sky

But the next morning I left the three kids playing Sleeping Queens and the adults chatting or making almond pancakes and I made my way down a steep, scrubby incline by the side of the highway and down to the beach. It wasn’t easy to get down it and I had to roll up my jeans and ford a marshy area before I was on sand. It wouldn’t have been a good idea after dark.

The beach was lovely—located at the north end of a long, shallow cove with those classic Pacific coast rocks rising from the water at either end. The sand was darker and more pebbly than East coast beaches but still mostly sand. There was a lot of driftwood, including whole logs and a lot of tubular kelp, some hard and dried into curly patterns, and some still flexible. There were eight vultures on the sand, walking around and occasionally stretching their wings. I was there over an hour and never saw another soul, though I could hear traffic not far behind me.

I returned to the house, and ate the leftover pancakes Sara made. Everyone wanted to go to the beach but the path I took proved too steep for some of the senior members of our party so we got into the car looking for a place with easier access, but not before Josiah had scrambled to the marshy pool of water and lost a flip flop.

At the beach the kids enjoyed playing with the dried kelp tubes. Noah immediately discovered a short, thick one that made a satisfying thump when he whacked it on the sand. June decided hers was a scepter and she was Queen June. Noah decided to overthrow Queen June and then she wanted him to tie her ankle to one of the longer, more flexible lengths of kelp that looked like a ball and chain. She had a suitably downcast prisoner look. Josiah built a pyramid of sticks and June, Josiah, and Darryl played in the surf but it was too cold for the rest of us to follow them.

Back at the house, June and Josiah started a treehouse they would work on the rest of the stay. The laid sticks and a flat rock in the crook of a tree branch and secured it all with yarn Peggy had on hand. The treehouse had its own constitution, a set of rules and punishments for breaking the rules. And they charged a dollar for admission.

Our afternoon adventure was a drive south along the coast, stopping at scenic viewpoints and beaches to see particularly impressive rock formations and in some cases to hike around them. We saw an arch, a natural bridge, rocky islands covered in conifers, and sea caves with water rushing in and out of them. And as June cheerfully noted after a particularly high, narrow trail, “we didn’t plunge into the icy water!” The water was turquoise in places and there was fog rolling in and out all day, usually just enough to be scenic without completely obscuring the view.

Mom and Jim showed us a beachside campground where they stayed in their trailer on a previous adventure and the kids enjoyed climbing the rocks that emerged from shallow water on one beach. The rocks were sharp with barnacles and mussels and one had succulent plants growing on one face.

We got home later than intended, which was worrying me because I tend to obsess about the kids’ bedtimes, but we found that in our absence, not only had Peggy chopped the vegetables for shish kabobs (which we knew she was going to do) but she’d made the rice, baked a peach-blackberry crisp with Josiah’s help, and even taken my laundry out of the drier and folded it. She is now my favorite aunt.

After dinner there was a talent show. June sang “Memory” from Cats to much acclaim and Josiah did magic tricks, quite skillfully I must say. (The next day he showed June how to do one of the card tricks.)

I stayed up too late trying to catch up on Facebook and then discovered while trying to undress that I was stuck in my jeans. I’d rolled them up to just under my knees in the morning on the beach, and then left them that way all day. Either my calves swell late in the day like some people’s feet, or I built up some muscle from all that hiking, or my jeans got wet and shrank a little. Whatever the reason, they would not unroll and they would not budge. It took Beth ten minutes of yanking on them and dragging them down millimeter by millimeter until I could get out of them. I should add lest there be any misunderstanding that these are not tight jeans. I don’t wear tight jeans. They are Mom jeans, from L.L. Bean, no less. Anyway, I wore different pants the next day.

I spent Thursday morning mostly at the house, socializing and reading to the kids. Josiah was really enjoying the Series of Unfortunate Events even though he came in at book 5, The Austere Academy. I did enjoy a brief jaunt down to the beach. It was a cool, sunny day and my stretch of beach was deserted though I could see people far to the south.

After lunch, nine of us drove to Arizona beach, so called because it’s sheltered by rock and somewhat warmer than nearby beaches. Beth had read there were good tidal pools there. We arrived an hour and fifteen minutes before low tide and we couldn’t find much interesting tidal pool life at first. But the kids didn’t care because there was a freshwater creek winding down the beach toward the sea and great quantities of sun-bleached driftwood in all sizes. Noah and Josiah swung heavy logs around and June and Josiah built things—they made dams and a castle guarded with a long wall of logs. They also attempted to build a raft—a long-standing goal of June’s. Meanwhile Beth and I were poking around the rocks near shore, looking for sea anemones and starfish. We edged around the corner of our cove, into the next one, picking our way through rocks and waves. At the far end of that cove, we hit pay dirt.

I found the anemones first. They were small and brown and covering a rock that was under shallow water. When I poked them they grasped my finger gently. I wondered the kids would leave their building projects to see them and then Beth spotted a red starfish on a rock a little further out, and I went back to get them. It took a while to get back to the original beach and talk to my mom, Peggy, Darryl, Sara, and the kids so by the time Darryl and the kids and I made it back to where Beth was (Mom and Peggy elected not to come as it meant wading through swirling seawater and across slippery rocks) Beth had found scores of starfish and hundreds more anemones. The starfish were red and orange and black, clinging to the rocks and to each other. In addition to the little brown anemones, there were big green ones. The more you looked, the more you found.

“This is magical,” Sara said.

Later Noah told Beth, “You keep suggesting things to do that sound really boring but turn out to be great!” (Beth asserts the trick is to undersell the activity. She’d described the tidal pool trip to him thusly: “We are going to a beach to look at pools of water on rocks.”)

The kids drifted back to their creek before the adults were finished marveling at the sea life but we eventually followed. I took a brief swim in the ocean, probably ten minutes or less, and the water was so cold my legs were starting to go numb when I walked back onto the sand. After my swim I was standing by the creek, near the ocean, when I saw Noah’s crocs come floating down the creek. I snagged them, returned them to him, and asked if he’d known they were drifting out to sea. June nearly lost her crocs at this beach, too. It was a hard couple of days on kids’ shoes.

Friday: If You Said Jump in the River, I Would

The next day it was time to check out of our beach house and drive back to Ashland. Noah and I went down to the beach to say goodbye to the ocean while people were finishing their packing. As we sat on a log and stared at the ocean and the conifer-covered hills at the north end of the cove, he said, “This is so Oregon.”

On the way home we stopped at the Smith River for a picnic lunch and to swim in a swimming hole. This was Sara’s favorite part of the trip because as much as I am an ocean person, she is a river and lake person. The swimming hole was shallow in some places and deep in others so it was good for everyone who wanted to swim. The water was cool and green and very clear. (“Lucid” according to the park website, so of course we all worked the word “lucid” into conversation as often as possible because we are that kind of family.) There was a rock face on one side with a good ledge for diving, but only Sara dove from it. “I hope Mom’s not watching,” I commented to Beth as we watched her, and luckily, she wasn’t. I understand the maternal point of view on these matters better now then when I was childless.

Once we got to Ashland, we visited Sara’s house and her tile mosaic studio, which we had not had a chance to see yet. It’s a charming house and as Beth noted with an eye toward its future inhabitant, full of breakable objects. The kids liked seeing the studio where Sara breaks colored glass with a hammer and then glues the pieces into pictures. What kid wouldn’t like at least half of that equation?

We had pizza for dinner on the green in front of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival theaters and watched the Green Show, which is a free show put on six nights a week. That night it was the Rogue Artists Ensemble performing HYPERBOLE: Bard, which in their own words “recreates a collection of William Shakespeare’s most famous scenes through clowning, masks, puppets, and original music.” This was fun. Noah has studied some Shakespeare in school, which might have helped him appreciate it. June thought the funniest part was the slapstick bit when Romeo and Juliet kept dying and coming back to life, only to find each other dead and killing themselves over and over.

When the show was over, I turned to find Beth talking to our friend Sue, who lived with us in a group house when we attended grad school at the University of Iowa about twenty five years ago. (Her mother lives in D.C. so we see her every few years.) Soon her husband Scott, who also lived in the house, came over and we were all exclaiming over the coincidence of finding each other. They live in Washington state now and happened to be visiting Ashland. We invited them to come have gelato with us but they had theater tickets so it was a very brief reunion.

After gelato, we said our goodbyes to Sara and returned to Mom and Jim’s house. We had an early flight the next morning but June had napped in the car so I let her stay up past her bedtime so I could read a chapter of The Austere Academy to her and Josiah.

Saturday: Homeward Bound

We were up at 5:30 and out the door by 6:35. Mom drove us to the airport. We parted, after many hugs goodbye, and began our trek home. June got a nosebleed in the Medford airport and I thought our journey east might be as eventful as the one west, but it wasn’t. June was an old hand at flying by now and just wanted to watch movies on the laptop, so I let her go over her media limit by watching all of Harry Potter and part of Frozen, both of which she has seen many times. She didn’t even want to rent the movie players they provide on the plane to watch something new, like her brother who watched 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I think after a week of adventure, she was ready to return to the familiar. And while it was nice to sleep in my own bed Saturday night, over the past few days I have often found myself thinking of all the relatives we saw and the bodies of water in which we immersed ourselves and the trails we hiked and the beaches we wandered and I imagine us doing it again some time.

Underneath the Sycamore

We are the same
We are both safe
Underneath the sycamore

From “Underneath the Sycamore” by Death Cab for Cutie

What it Means to Be Brave: Saturday to Monday

Sunday morning I was settling into the wrought iron chair and arranging my cell phone, reading glasses and a copy of How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword so I could begin to read it to June. But June was looking upward into the branches of the sycamore. It looked like a good climbing tree, she observed. Could she try it?  Yes, after we read, I said.

For my birthday back in May I asked for a summer weekend in Rehoboth. Our big trip this summer is to Oregon in August so we weren’t planning a Rehoboth trip at all. Beth surprised me with an offer of a few days instead, midweek, when it would be less crowded. But it was hard finding lodging for a few days and we ended up booking a whole week at a condo on the outskirts of town. It was different from the places we usually stay, not a classic beach cottage, but it had its perqs: price, access to a pool, and a big lawn no one but people walking their dogs or feeding the resident stray cats ever seemed to use. June enjoyed watching the cats as well as deer from our veranda.

The lawn also had a huge sycamore with four chairs underneath. The kids and I quickly fell into a pattern of reading under the tree in the morning while Beth biked or grocery shopped or worked. It was Hiccup’s adventures for June, and Katniss’s for Noah. June and I were up to #9 in the How to Train Your Dragon series and Noah and I were up reading the last book in The Hunger Games trilogy.  Early in the week, in the afternoons Beth took the kids to the pool (Sunday) or the water park (Monday) while I had some solo time at the beach. We arrived in Rehoboth on Saturday afternoon and it was Tuesday afternoon before anyone but me set foot on the beach. Pretty much the first thing I did on Saturday after we’d unpacked was to have Beth drive me to the boardwalk so I could rent a bike and be able to make the trek back and forth myself.

After two chapters I asked June if she wanted another. She usually does but she was impatient to climb the tree. She needed a boost to get into the lowest branches and I needed to stand on one of the chairs to give it to her, but then she scrambled along the length of a couple of them. She didn’t go too far up it.  I suggested she wait until another day to go higher. She seemed to like both the idea of going higher and the idea of not doing it right then. She’d been happy but also nervous in the tree. She’s like that, not naturally fearless like some kids, but always pushing her own boundaries. Later in the day I told her that’s what it really means to be brave.

Meanwhile, Noah had come outside. June was standing on a branch a couple feet over his head. “I’m taller than you,” she observed. He reached up and jiggled the branch a little. June told him to stop, lest she “plummet” to the ground and then they started to argue over the exact definition of the word “plummet” and whether she was high up enough to “plummet.”  He always has to try to burst her bubble. I guess it’s an older sibling thing. Earlier in the day when she came into the room with a phone on which she’d been playing Bejewelled and said, “I beat your high score,” he responded with something about different scoring algorithms on different versions of the game, which was probably true, but it served to deflate her.

But June had plenty of opportunities to prove herself that day. She swam deep underwater in the pool diving for pennies and that evening she rode the Paratrooper, a fast, tilting, sometimes backwards-travelling kind of Ferris Wheel at Funland. It was her first time on it and she was just barely tall enough at forty-six inches. She loved it. Noah loves it, too, so it was fun to watch them high in the air together, all smiles, their bare feet dangling high above us.

But part of the reason June was smiling was that we’d just gotten out of the Haunted Mansion. June’s been asking to go on this ride for years and years ago I said she could do it when she was eight. I based this on the fact that when Noah first rode it at the age of ten (which was the first year he asked) he was only mildly scared and I remember thinking he could have done it a couple years earlier. But what I failed to take into account in this calculation, and realized as we were standing in line and June pressed her body against mine at the sight of the hanging corpse outside the mansion, was that as a younger child, Noah was always more scared of stories (the Cloud Men in James and the Giant Peach terrified him) while June has always been more spooked by visual frights (think any Disney witch, but especially Maleficent).

I asked her gently if she wanted to get out of line and said it was okay if she did. No, she said, sounding grimly resolved.  I waited a few minutes.  Maybe she’d like to rethink her decision to sit with Noah and sit with me instead, I suggested.  Yes, she said, sounding relieved, she’d like that. Noah protested; he didn’t want to sit with a stranger. But it turned out the three of us fit in the car, just barely, as I am not exactly svelte, and in we went.

June snuggled up against me and I slipped an arm around her. It was dark inside and there was black light so June’s white t-shirt glowed. She liked that. I’m not sure exactly what else June saw in the Haunted Mansion because by her own account her eyes were closed about half the time and sometimes she had her hands over her ears as well. She did not see the giant spider, but she saw the room full of tiny skulls because Noah persuaded her to open her eyes in there. “It’s cool,” he promised her. The effect is made with mirrors and it’s one of his favorite parts. She did keep her eyes open for the zombie, she wanted us to know, even though she “desperately wanted” to close them. I asked her afterward if the ride was just the right amount of scary or too much. Just right, she said. She was proud and elated on exiting, so much so that we had to buy the souvenir photo. She does not mind that she is cowering in it. She says she will show it to her friends and they will be amazed at her bravery.

Meanwhile, Back at the Beach…

I went to the beach every day. On Saturday just for a ten-minute dip in the ocean when I got the bike, Sunday and Monday for most of the afternoon. I swam and took a walk, watched lifeguards train and teenagers on skim boards and the foamy water swirling around mossy rocks of my favorite jetty (yes, I have one) and found a little ruffled clear jellyfish washed up on the sand. I read and wrote and dozed under the shade of an umbrella someone donated to me when she left before her rental period had ended. I had fries and iced tea on the boardwalk and people-watched on the beach.

I think I saw my future self on Sunday afternoon. She was probably in her seventies, with long gray hair, unstyled, and wearing a simple black one piece. She was full of grandmotherly enthusiasm for her grandchildren’s swimming ability and their (really very impressive) deep hole ringed with dribble castles. But when they interrupted her praise to say they wanted to go back to the house, her face fell. “But I thought we’d stay…a lot longer,” she said. She didn’t really look happy again until some other relative agreed to take them and she settled back into her chair to stare at the ocean.

While alone I went to town long enough to do a little shopping, buying some hazelnut-Ceylon tea at the tea and spice shop for myself and looking for an anniversary present for Beth and a birthday present for my mom.

Star of the Sea: Tuesday to Thursday

Tuesday afternoon we all made it down to the beach. The kids and I biked (or scooted in Noah’s case). Part of the ride is along Rehoboth Avenue, a very busy street, so I decided the safest formation would be me in front, since I knew the way, with June in the middle and Noah bringing up the rear. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but all the way to the beach I could hear June yelling, “Get behind me” (though she never added, “Satan”) and Noah yelling “Get in front of me” and I’m pretty sure the distraction of their constantly switching places must have cancelled out any temporary gain in safety.

We hit Candy Kitchen first and then Funland, where Beth met up with us.  She’d been at the Farmers’ market. It was about 2:30 when we settled our towels on the beach, in front of Funland, just north of the Star of the Sea condominiums. June dashed off for the water before I could re-apply the sunblock we’d put on hours ago, she was that eager. She stayed in the water two and a half hours, pausing only a few minutes when I insisted on the sunblock, and then only getting out because the lifeguard had blown the 5 o’clock whistle when everyone has to get out of the water (at least temporarily).

Noah thought he wanted to swim in the deeper water with me, but changed his mind when he decided the waves were too big. June didn’t want to go in the deeper water either that day even though I told her it’s gentler there. I was getting tired of being buffeted by breaking waves so I left them to swim further out and then came back to the towel to read. June complained initially about having to play alone, after Beth and Noah left to go to the cheese monger (sadly closed) and to start dinner, but she reconciled herself to it, and we had a much more peaceful ride home.  “Let’s go, star of the sea,” I said as we began to pedal up Maryland Avenue.

“I’m not the star of the sea, Mommy,” she said, but she was laughing.

The next morning we were on the boardwalk before 8 a.m., breakfasting at the Dolles crepe stand. This lead to June playing in the ocean from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. I wasn’t in my suit and hadn’t intended to stay more than a half hour, but it’s hard for me to make anyone leave the beach.  When we finally left it was because I wanted to avoid the strongest sun of the day.

That day would have been my dad’s seventy-first birthday. I marked it as I often do, with food. He loved coffee and nice restaurants and chocolate ice cream so I had an iced café con leche that morning and for dinner we went to Planet X, Beth’s and my favorite restaurant in Rehoboth, and one we usually only visit when we’re staying with relatives and have babysitting. June liked the funky-fancy décor and by being flexible (sharing entrees so everyone could eat just the parts they wanted) both kids managed to eat. If you go there this summer, I recommend the seitan dishes. We had two of them and they were scrumptious. We followed it up with ice cream and frozen custard on the boardwalk. I had chocolate-peanut butter custard with chocolate jimmies.

Earlier in the day while I returned to the beach, June made her third trip to Funland, this time with Beth. She rode the Sea Dragon, one of those rocking Viking ship ride, for the first time. She liked it, but it made Beth sick. June also added to her stuffed animal winnings. So far she had two medium turtles, a mini rainbow-colored dolphin, and three mini beach balls. She’d been gunning for a large all week.

Thursday was my longest day at the beach. Ironically, this was because rain was predicted in the afternoon. After her morning bike ride, Beth found Noah and me reading under the sycamore and suggested we all hit the beach earlier than usual to beat the rain. We were by a little after ten.  Beth and the kids left three hours later to go home for lunch, but there was no sign of rain so I stayed until 4:45 when I left to meet them at Funland. June had won a small stuffed turtle and both kids had ridden the Graviton, one of those rides where you stand against a wall and centrifugal force pins you to it. I’d spent the day swimming, reading, and finally I saw dolphins and pelicans, for the first time that week. I also got my first sunburn in years on my arms and shoulders an on the part in my hair, even though Beth rented an umbrella. I guess I didn’t notice and move quickly enough when the sun shifted. Still, it was a very nice day.

The Rockets’ Red Glare: Friday to Saturday

Hurricane Arthur finally brought us some rain on the Fourth.  It started around 6:10 a.m. After a round of Sleeping Queens (we’d all been playing a lot of games—Quirkle, Uno, Roundabouts and Sleeping Queens), June and I read on the sheltered veranda, but by the time we’d finished and eaten breakfast the rain was blowing onto it, so I couldn’t read to Noah there and we had to do it inside. June amused herself listening to songs from Cats she needed to memorize for her musical drama camp the next week, playing with her menagerie of new animals, and practicing her violin.

Around 10:20 Beth and June left to go to the movies, a promised rainy day activity. They wanted to see How to Train Your Dragon 2, because June and I have been reading the series since Christmas and we’d just rented the first movie from a Red Box earlier in the week. (We also watched The Dark Crystal, which we found in the house’s stash of movies.) However, their first choice was sold out and they watched Maleficent. June is now completely unfazed by the witch who was terrorized her and caused her to run out of the room every time she tried to watch Sleeping Beauty as a preschooler.

Noah and I headed out to Starbucks while they were gone, braving ankle-deep water in the condo parking lot to get coffee and milk and pastries and sit and read for an hour and a half. Half of Rehoboth had the same idea apparently, so the lines for ordering and pickup were long, but orderly and cheerful, as everyone was on vacation. We did get a seat, too, and could have had the comfy armchairs, but sweetly Noah wanted a table so we could sit closer to each other.

After lunch, Beth drove me down to the beach and parked so the car would be handy after the fireworks. The rain had stopped by then but the surf was high and the lifeguards weren’t letting anyone in the water. They had a job of it, too, keeping people on shore. The atmosphere of the beach was odd—there were many more people than you’d expect on a cloudy afternoon when swimming was prohibited. The umbrella and chair rental stands were closed, too, so a lot of people who might have been swimming or sitting were just milling around. I read on the beach and then went into town to do some more birthday and anniversary shopping. The shops weren’t too bad, but Candy Kitchen, where I was forced to buy some chocolate-walnut fudge so I could break a twenty for bus fare, was mobbed.

I was home briefly and then we all set out for our Fourth of July festivities, dinner at Grotto followed by fireworks on the beach. This would be the first time June had ever seen fireworks. I am so crazy strict about bedtime that Noah had to wait until he was eleven, so I guess I must be loosening up a bit. It’s also possible that the idea of seeing them on the beach swayed me, as I have not seen fireworks since Noah was an infant and doing on the beach seemed really cool.

We’d finished our dinner by 6:15 so we had a three-hour wait until the fireworks were scheduled to start.  Beth and Noah started by reading on the boardwalk while June and I staked out a place on the beach. I got out my book and she was running around singing songs from Cats and practicing her cat moves. Then I got cold and went to buy a long-sleeved t-shirt and Beth and Noah came down to join June on the towel.  We read and played some more. Noah wanted to go buy popcorn and June wanted to go play in the arcade, so I stayed with the towel while everyone else went up to the boardwalk.  Finally it was almost show time.  June bought a glow stick from a vendor at dusk and around nine we could see the fireworks from Dewey (to the south) and Lewes (to the north), which was a surprise because we’d heard all the neighboring towns had postponed theirs, due to Arthur, but I guess they changed their minds.  June kept marveling that she was at the beach, at night, past her bedtime!  And Noah kept her excited by continually announcing the time: it was 9:04, 9:07, 9:10, 9:12 and then exactly on time, the fireworks started.

My favorites were the coordinated ones that seemed to spin in the sky like a Ferris wheel, but I also liked the squiggly, fizzy-sounding ones. We went to the fireworks in D.C. for many years before Noah was born and the year he was two months old (and too young to have a bedtime) so I’ve seen fancier fireworks, but never in a more beautiful setting and never with a more appreciative audience.  June could not pick a favorite. She loved them all and leaned happily against me for the whole show.

We were all happy and feeling as if the outing had been a success as we headed for the car. We had considered walking or biking home, to avoid the traffic, but we were afraid June would be too tired to walk a half an hour starting an hour and half past her bedtime, thus the car.  We’d have been better off with any other plan, including taking a bus, which we didn’t consider. Many streets, including Rehoboth Avenue, the main drag, were closed off and we got stuck almost immediately. Around 10:30, after forty minutes in the car and twenty minutes on the same block, Noah and I bailed and walked home.  June was asleep in her car seat, or we would have taken her, too. I was afraid to call Beth too often because I didn’t want to wake June, but I called once we got home and I offered to come back and get June when Beth said she’d woken and had been crying at being left behind, but she was asleep again, so I didn’t. It was 12:30 before they got home. I’d gone to bed but I couldn’t sleep until they were back.

The next day we were all short two to three hours sleep (June was the only one able to sleep in) and I felt weepy with exhaustion as we packed up the house. I don’t deal well with sleep deprivation and I had more than my share of it raising two children who were both very poor sleepers until they were five or so. (Remember they are five years apart and consider the implications.) I think this is the reason I’m so tightly wound when it comes to any sleep-related issue. So it was ironic that this was how I was rewarded for relaxing and acting like a normal American parent on the Fourth. I think I have to keep doing it, though, because you can’t put that cat back in the bag. I will just have to be brave enough to try it again. In a way, it’s good for just what you fear to happen because then you can see it’s not the worst thing in the world after all.

We got out of the house on time the next morning, though, enjoyed an hour or so on the beach, had lunch, paid one last visit to Funland, where June exchanged two of her medium stuffed animals for the much desired large and we hit the road. As we walked to the car, she told me cheerfully, “Next year I’m going for a giant.” Somehow, I think we might have to start making room in the toy box.

There’s Always a Wave

Saturday to Wednesday: We Relax (and Kind of Lose Track of What Happened When)

Noah and I were walking along the beach near the waterline on Tuesday, the third day of our spring break trip to Rehoboth. It was a chilly, overcast, drizzly day and I was wearing rubber boots but his feet grow too quickly for us to keep him in rain boots so said feet, only inches from the forty-odd degree water, were encased only in sweat socks and crocs.  (Any idea where this is heading?)

Actually it’s not just his feet—all of him is growing quickly, as adolescent boys will. He’s been taller than me since Thanksgiving and he will be taller than Beth soon. Earlier that day I’d taken him to Café A Go-Go for a strawberry-banana Jumex and a slice of coconut cake and the proprietor, who has watched Noah grow up from a preschooler, said, “I saw him last summer and he wasn’t like that.” She wanted to know how old he was and on hearing he’s almost thirteen, she said, “I don’t know how that happens,” shaking her head slightly as if she disapproved of children turning into teenagers. I said it might be because I kept feeding him.

On the beach, Noah started walking backwards and the wind blew his shaggy hair back from his face. “Tell me if there’s a wave,” he requested.

“There’s always a wave,” I said. And soon there was one and I didn’t warn him quickly enough and his feet were underwater.

“Nothing to fear now,” he said, and strode into the water up to his knees, not even bothering to roll up his pants.  June had been wading in the water earlier but in bare feet and with her pants hiked up, on Sunday and Monday, the two warmest days we had, in her bathing suit.

The week started out sunny and warm and then changed over to rainy and then sunny again, but now chilly and quite windy.  On Tuesday night there was freezing rain and we woke the next morning to frost and ice on the grass and rooftops. My Facebook posts started to take the form of weather reports:

Monday: Steph knows you might not immediately believe her if she says it was a beautiful day at the beach today because she’s never been to the beach when it wasn’t a beautiful day, but honestly it was the kind of day you might think was a beautiful day–low seventies, big waves glinting the sunlight–and Steph does prefer that to mid-thirties and sleeting (as it was last spring break).

Tuesday: Steph had fewer companions on the beach this rainy day, but they included both of her children, a half dozen surfers, and a few dolphins.

Wednesday: Steph, over the course of the past 23 years, has been on the Rehoboth boardwalk at all times of the day and night, in all seasons, and all kinds of weather and has very rarely been alone there, but this morning at 8:20, she and June had its sunny, sparkly, ice-slicked boards to themselves. (By 9, it was full of puddles and people.)

The first several days of our stay, we had no ambitious agenda. Noah was tired and burned out from a challenging school year. Although his workload did decrease after IDRP and National History Day, his energy never rebounded and his processing speed issues have seemed worse recently even with less homework to do. With luck, a restful break will help him recuperate. Relaxing at the house and taking short trips to the beach seemed to be what he needed and the rest of us were happy enough to do the same, as long as there were enough outings to keep June busy. (She also kept herself busy. After a trip to play mini-golf, she created her own course on the front porch and then organized an awards ceremony, based on our performance.)

Noah did have some long-term projects for school he could have worked on over break but he didn’t want to, and we decided he needed a break more than anything, so other some minimal homework he completed during the first few days (never working more than two hours a day) and studying the capital cities of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean most days for fifteen minutes or less, he had the week off.  And Beth, who often takes working vacations, also worked very little, just one morning plus a couple of calls.

It turns out what Noah does when he’s not working is spend a lot of time in his room, which we dubbed the “boy cave,” with the shades drawn, reading, playing games or watching videos or listening to podcasts on various electronic devices. Beth read a lot, too, took a couple solo bike rides, and got a massage. She also took one or both of the kids to the arcade and to play mini-golf twice. (June won a set of jacks at the arcade and so I played jacks for the first time since my younger sister was around June’s age and we used to play together, back in the late seventies.)

When he wasn’t holed up in his room, Noah played Crazy Eights, Roundabouts, and Battleship with June (the last one electronically on separate devices in different rooms, because why play a game with your sister face to face when you could do it in adjacent rooms?) He and June filmed a sequel to June Bird Discovery, a faux nature documentary they made two years ago. June plays the bird; Noah is the narrator.

Noah and I finished The Martian Chronicles and started And Then There Were None. I also read part of How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse to June and on the rare occasion both kids felt like being read to at the same time, we read from High Wire, book 5 in the Edgar and Ellen series. We all watched the first Harry Potter movie over the course of two or three evenings and after June was in bed, we watched an episode from our DVD of The Carol Burnett Show, which Noah enjoys more than June does.

I got to spend a lot of one-on-one time with each kid, taking them to Candy Kitchen, the beach or one rainy day on shopping trips for Mother’s Day gifts for my mother and Beth, and for June’s birthday present for Noah.

We ate out a lot, at least one meal each day and sometimes more. I think we were indulging Noah, who likes to eat out, or maybe we were just trying to make sure he left the house occasionally.

Of course, I went to the beach at least a couple times a day, with and without the kids. June and I bought new sand toys on our first morning at the boardwalk 5 & 10 and made sand castles, collected seashells, and waded in the frigid water. I buried her in the sand multiple times at her request. Also on the first day, I took Noah to Browse-About and we each bought new books, which we took to the beach and read side by side. I took beach walks with both kids and by myself. Once I saw a strange bird—duck-shaped but perhaps a bit bigger, black with a bright orange beak. It was floating on the waves and diving under them and bobbing back into sight. My friend Heidi says it might have been a double-crested cormorant. June and I also saw a few dolphins, one quite close, and at least half out of the water.

Other than eating out and going to the beach, I spent a lot of time buying books at Browse-About. I got The Crying of Lot 49, which we’re reading at book club next month, The Book Thief and Divergent, because I’ve been wanting to read them. I bought The Kill Order (from the Maze Runner series) for Noah as an early birthday present, and if you are one of the people whom I mentioned shopping for, it’s possible you might be receiving a book.  But not all of you will. See how I keep the suspense alive?  All in all, I bought ten books in four trips. It’s so nice being in a town with a brick-and-mortar bookstore, as there hasn’t been one in Takoma for about fifteen years and the Borders in Silver Spring closed a few years ago as well—I couldn’t restrain myself.

Thursday: We Enjoy Nature

Late in the week we went on a couple family outings. In preparation, I took the kids to the T-shirt Factory on Thursday morning where they picked out hoodies and decals to apply to them because it was still cold and neither of them had a warm enough jacket and we were going on a hike that day. June choose a fluorescent green hoodie and a decal with wild horses on the beach. Noah got a lizard and the words “Rehoboth Beach” on gray in an adult medium. Adult medium, people! It’s a good thing we didn’t tell María at Café a Go-Go. We’d come to the t-shirt shop straight from breakfast at a diner, where Noah built pyramids out of butter packages and creamer containers, just as he did when he was a little boy. I was amused by this juxtaposition and a little glad he’s not all the way grown up yet.

Thus outfitted, we hiked the Burton Island Trail in Delaware Seashore State Park. The trail winds through a sandy path in a pine forest and over boardwalks in a salt marsh. Beth and I saw egrets and a great blue heron in the water, a treeful of orioles and an osprey circling overhead. There were horseshoe crab shells everywhere and the gravel causeway near the trailhead was littered with newly broken clamshells, remnants of some seabirds’ all-you-can-eat buffet.

The kids walked far ahead of us, occasionally waiting for us to catch up, but then dashing off before we quite closed the gap. As a result, they missed all the wildlife, unless you count the still-hinged clamshell Beth picked up to show June, but they seemed to enjoy the trail and the independence of taking a hike basically alone.

Friday: We Enjoy Culture

Friday, our last full day, we opted for civilization over nature, in the form of Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum on the Ocean City boardwalk. We last visited this attraction two years ago the terrifying day we lost the children for a half hour on the boardwalk (“Wild, Wild Horses” April 9, 2012). This time, though, we did not lose them. We spent about an hour taking in the sights and saying things like, “But why would you want to paint two Presidents’ portraits on the wings of a stuffed bat?” and admiring a reproduction of a painting of a woman with a water jar made by lining up pieces of burnt toast and scraping off the dark parts for shading. June was irritated at me for yanking her away from the gruesome shark attack video.

This year we sprung for combination tickets to enter the mirror maze as well. Beth and I insisted we all stay together and we were out more quickly than I thought we’d be. Part of the illusion of all the mirrors, of course, is that the dimly lit vaulted passageways appear much longer than they really are. Noah worked out a system based on the angle of his reflections and soon we were out, but not before a confused moment in which June said, “Wait, which one is the real Noah?”

That afternoon Beth and June went to see a nature documentary about bears, while Noah and I read, and then I napped and walked on the beach. We had dinner at Grotto. June didn’t want much of her pizza and one bite into her gelato she began to cry, saying she felt sick. I was afraid it might be a migraine, but she said no it was her stomach. We took her home, where a warm bath seemed to soothe her. Beth diagnosed over-eating. Between the boardwalk in Ocean City and the movie theater, there had been a lot of treats that afternoon.

I took another long walk on the boardwalk and beach after June was in bed, feeling more melancholy about than usual about leaving the beach. That night, when I said goodnight to Noah he noted the rental house was for sale and suggested we buy it and never go home.

Saturday: We Depart, Reluctantly

The next morning, while we were packing up the house I asked Beth what time she wanted to leave Rehoboth and she said, “Never.”  We did leave, but not right away. It was a lovely day, sunny and warm for the first time since Monday, and so we lingered, even longer than we usually do on the last day.

I took the kids on a final Candy Kitchen run while Beth returned the keys to the realty and then Beth and Noah made a final visit to Café a Go-Go while June and I visited the arcade and then the beach. We all met up at the kite store on the boardwalk where their annual customer appreciation day was underway. There were dozens of kites of all colors and sizes flying on the beach, pegged into the sand, and some huge inflatables—a caterpillar and a puffer fish. There was free food—fruit and bagels—and the Easter Bunny was there, handing out candy. June colored a paper kite with a picture of a dolphin leaping from the waves into a sunny sky.  A store employee cut and taped the kite where necessary and attached the spool and then Beth got it up into the air for her. We just missed the Easter egg hunt, but we were there for the games.

June participated in a spoon race, an egg toss, and a sack race.  She is such a team player that within minutes of being assigned to a team and without knowing any of the other kids she was cheering, “Team One! Team One!” and assuring the boy who went before her in the spoon race, “You can do it!”  Her team won both the spoon race and the sack race. In the egg toss, a partner event, she was eliminated toward the middle of the pack. I thought she was surprisingly good at catching a raw egg thrown from a distance, but some of those kids were even better.

After the games, we went to the cheese monger to buy fancy cheese to supplement the chips, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, and candy we had in the car and we had a late lunch. Our final stop was the Crocs outlet where Noah got a pair of new crocs he needed and June got a pair she didn’t.

A little after three, we were on the road, heading back to our land-locked lives. Still, I know, there’s always another wave.


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Monday and Tuesday

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

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

To Grandmother’s House We Go

Tuesday and Wednesday: Before Thanksgiving

The two days before Thanksgiving were cold and wet and above all busy. I had several work projects to finish. Noah turned in the rough draft of his research paper on Tuesday and had a rehearsal for a joint middle school-high school concert after school and the concert itself that evening.  He didn’t get home until 8:15 and was up until 10:30 doing his World Studies homework. We let him stay up that late (and actually went to bed before he did) because the next day was a half-day and the day before Thanksgiving so we didn’t expect much instruction to take place.

Beth came home early that day and took Noah on a series of errands, which included getting new boots for him while I stayed home with June, packed for our Thanksgiving trip and had her try on snow pants, hats, mittens, and boots.  It was cold in Takoma Park and colder in Wheeling, where there was already some snow on the ground.  June couldn’t even get into her snow pants from last winter so I called up Megan’s mom Kerry, who is always giving us hand-me-downs from her two girls and I asked if she had any outgrown snow pants and sure enough she did.  I needed to go to the library to pick up my next book club book (Alice Munro’s Selected Short Stories) and Megan’s house is on the way so an outing was born.  The girls were happy to see each other, if only for a few minutes (Megan hugged June as if she were going on a long sea journey rather than away for a long weekend.)  The rain and sleet had changed over to snow flurries, which made the walk to the library seem festive.  June went so far as to say it was “a winter wonderland,” even though the snow was not sticking, which I think of as a requirement for that label.

At the library we saw June’s friend Riana and her mom. Riana was sitting in front of an impressively tall pile of books with her nose in one of them. Her mom, Shannon, explained these were necessary supplies for a long, cold weekend. As June and I waited outside the library for Beth to come fetch us, June engrossed in a book of poems she’d selected, Riana and Shannon left the library; Riana was reading while walking.  I pointed to both girls, “They can’t stop,” I said.

“Do you think we’re raising readers?” Shannon asked and she bid us a happy Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, Part I: Through the White and Drifted Snow

We left around nine a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. We usually drive on the holiday itself to avoid traffic.  There was very little traffic and the roads were dry, and we made only two short stops, so we arrived in Wheeling a little after two.

The drive was lovely. About ten thirty I started seeing big icicles on the rock face of the road cuts and little ones fringing the road signs like beards.  Fifteen minutes later I noticed the trees in the distance were an oddly fuzzy gray, as if they’d been frosted, but I didn’t think it was snow. It wasn’t white enough. As we got closer I saw it was ice. There had been an ice storm and all the trees were glazed and sparkling in the sun. The photo only pays it partial justice. There was an occasional flurry, enough to be scenic but not enough to hinder driving.  When we stopped for gas, snacks, or a restroom there was just enough snow on the ground for June to stomp. For a brief part of the drive, the snow on the side of the road was deep enough to qualify as “white and drifted snow,” I noted to Beth, but that was only at the highest elevation.

The only mishap of the drive was at the very beginning. As I tried to insert the first CD of the carefully chosen selection of audio books Beth got at the library for the trip, it wouldn’t go in; there was another CD stuck in there.  We listened to Noah’s summer band camp concert on someone’s device (iPod, iPad, phone, who knows, we have a lot of gadgets) and then June suggested we try to play the CD stuck in the drive.  We had no idea what it was but Beth pressed play and Magic Tree House #20, Dingoes at Dinnertime started. These are not my favorite children’s books, but it was forty-five minutes of entertainment for June on a long trip, so I didn’t mind.

Thanksgiving, Part II: Hooray for the Fun! Is the Pudding Done? Hooray for the Pumpkin Pie!

We went straight to Beth’s mom’s house to socialize for a while before going to the hotel to change clothes for dinner, which was at Beth’s aunt Susan’s house. She had a big crowd, twenty-one people, including her three sisters and a small fraction of their children, grandchildren, and one great grandchild. There was a group of four girls aged three to seven, including June and another seven year old and they were immediately fast friends. They ate early at the kids’ table and then watched an animated film about a cow who wanted to be a reindeer.

Noah was the only other kid there and because of the big age gap between him and the other kids or maybe because he’s taller than me now (a fact which did not go unnoticed), Susan said she would seat him at the adult table.

While half the party was eating appetizers and chatting in the living room and the other half was in the kitchen, June played “Happy Birthday” on the violin for the three people who had November birthdays.  And she didn’t make them share. She played it three separate times, each time facing the birthday boy or girl.

Here’s a video Susan took:

Right before dinner, Beth’s aunt Jenny asked for everyone’s attention and delivered a heartfelt speech about how she was grateful for her sisters’ support after her recent heart surgery.

And then we ate.  Dinner was great. Susan’s granddaughters Lily and Tessa had made place cards decorated with pumpkins, acorns and autumnal leaves.  Almost everyone had brought food. The vegetarians among us feasted on mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy (June’s favorite), sweet potatoes, rice, Jenny’s corn pudding, Carole’s nut loaf, green bean casserole, Brussels sprouts, deviled eggs, rolls, and cranberry sauce (Noah’s favorite). Then there was pie. There were three pumpkin pies (including one YaYa made and a pumpkin chiffon Carole made), two pecan pies (one of which YaYa contributed), and a coconut custard pie. It reminded me of the picnic in Harold and the Purple Crayon: “There was nothing but pie. But there were all nine kinds of pie Harold liked best.”

After the meal, June played “Over the River and Through the Woods,” twice because Beth’s cousin Laura dropped by to socialize after her own dinner and had missed it.  June had been practicing this piece for weeks for just this occasion.  (Her violin teacher is a flexible, easy-going young woman who lets June depart from the standard Suzuki songbook when June suggests another song she’d like to learn instead.)

Shortly before seven, most of the families with kids started getting ready to go. Lily and Tessa handed out gingerbread people to everyone and Thanksgiving was over, at least for us. I suspect those with bedtimes after eight stayed a bit longer.

Friday to Sunday: After Thanksgiving

We passed a pleasant weekend in Wheeling. We visited some more with Beth’s aunts, ate leftovers, and went out for crepes and for Chinese. Beth visited with a friend from high school; I read most of an issue of Brain, Child and a good chunk of an Agatha Christie novel, while Noah and I read seven chapters of Fablehaven #4, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary. June spent hours in the hotel pool, one morning with me and the next with Beth and she went skating with Beth. We saw a holiday laser light show and drove through the light display at Oglebay Park. Noah spent two mornings doing homework but he didn’t have to spend the whole weekend holed up in the hotel room, as I’d feared he might. I was glad he was able to come on our outings so he could have a break and spend time with family, because that’s the real reason we give thanks.

A Barrel of Fun

Beth, who was sitting in an armchair in her mother’s living room and looking at her phone shortly after lunch on Tuesday, gasped quietly.

I looked up from the couch, where I was reading the newspaper, and asked why. “A room may have opened in the Breakers,” she said. We’d been in Wheeling a couple days and we were headed for Cedar Point the next day. The Hotel Breakers is the oldest hotel associated with the park. The original portion dates back to 1905, with larger modern wings, and it’s where Beth’s family stayed during her childhood trips to the park. When Beth and I visited Cedar Point in college she fantasized about us staying there together, though of course at the time it was out of the question financially. The next time we came to Cedar Point was much later, the summer Noah was five and June was an infant and that time we stayed in a cottage right on the lake.

There had been no vacancies at the Breakers when Beth made our reservations for this year’s trip, but she’d been checking online every day and within minutes of seeing the vacancy, she’d cancelled our original reservation and made a new one. Afterward, she was all smiles. She really wanted to stay in that hotel.

We had a pleasant stay in Wheeling. In various combinations, we attended an outdoor concert at Oglebay Park and rode the paddle boats and played miniature golf there as well. We swam in the pool at Beth’s aunt Carole’s condo and in our hotel pool.

YaYa and two of her three sisters played the customized Monopoly game (Sisters-opoly) that Noah made for them. All the properties and good luck/bad luck cards are based on significant places and memorable experiences in their lives. It was fun listening to them play, arguing anew over whether or not one of them avoided her turn doing the dishes back in the 1950s and hearing about the teasing Jenny (the youngest sister) endured as a child for believing the pimento grew in the olive.

As they played we listened to the CD of Noah’s band camp concert. Noah put it on shuffle and occasionally made people guess which of the three age groups was playing.  Not to be outdone by her brother’s performance, June sang songs from Oliver! for YaYa on several occasions during our stay.

Each kid had an individual sleepover with YaYa, June on Monday night and Noah on Tuesday. June was indignant on Monday evening when we didn’t leave right after dinner, but instead stayed during what she thought would be her private time with YaYa (the Sisters-opoly game was still in progress and Noah was playing).  When we left, twenty-five minutes after June had her bath and gone to bed, she came down the stairs in her shark pajamas saying, “I just wanted to see you leave.” But we left her with YaYa until lunch the next day and they had a lot of fun so she was appeased.

It so happened that when Beth, June, and I were leaving YaYa’s after dinner the next night (when Noah was staying behind for his sleepover), he was upstairs reading. As we left he came down the stairs to say, “I just wanted to see you leave.” Who knows? It may become a catchphrase in our family.

Oberlin, OH: Wednesday Afternoon

The next morning we set out for Cedar Point with a pit stop in Oberlin, Beth’s and my alma mater.

We arrived around lunchtime, in a heavy downpour.  This seemed appropriate as it rains and snows a lot in Oberlin, because of the moist air from nearby Lake Erie. Most of the restaurants from our era have closed in the twenty-four years since I graduated from college so we ate at a very nice organic restaurant with a good selection of vegetarian entrees. There were a lot of professorial-looking people eating there and the wait staff consisted of impossibly young people we were forced to admit were probably students.  (Were we ever that young? I don’t think we were.)

After lunch we took the kids to Gisbon’s bakery, which we were glad to see was still in business. I got a whole-wheat doughnut, one of my favorite college day treats, and a buckeye for later.  Beth bought a t-shirt at the bookstore and then we took the kids on a walking tour of dorms, co-ops, and one apartment building where we lived in college. We took Noah’s picture in front of Noah Hall, the dorm where Beth I and met my first day of college, and after which we named him.  So June wouldn’t feel left out, we took her picture under the Memorial Arch where I think I remember having the discussion (about a year into our relationship) in which we jokingly decided that if we ever had a daughter we’d give her Beth’s and my middle names (traditional names in both our families) for her first and middle names, which is, of course, exactly what we did eighteen years later.

Cedar Point, Sandusky, OH: Wednesday afternoon to Friday morning

It was late afternoon when we got to the hotel. I remembered the lobby with its stained glass windows and chandeliers from walking through it on previous visits and I had a strong association of nursing June on its benches.  In the first floor corridors there are old-time black and white photos of people on the beach, riding long-gone rides, and quite of few of different people posing in a barrel with the words “Barrel of Fun” painted on it.

We unpacked and relaxed for a while in one of the several swimming pools and hot tubs.  Noah and I wanted to go swim in the lake and June didn’t, so we left her with Beth and he and I waded into the calm and pleasantly cool waters of the lake.

There are a number of restaurants in the Breakers and if Beth and I had our way, we’d have eaten in the Japanese one, but it seemed more likely we’d find something everyone would eat at Perkins, so we ate there.  The service was quite slow, so it was past June’s bedtime when we finished and we headed up to our room.

The next morning we were lined up to enter the park by 8:45 a.m. People staying at the any of the hotels associated with park can enter at 9:00; everyone else is admitted at 10:00.  We split up until lunchtime.  Beth took June to the kiddie rides and carnival games at which they won a blue stuffed dog. Noah and I headed straight for the Iron Dragon, a moderately big hanging coaster that travels over a lagoon.  Part of the reason we came to Cedar Point this year was that on a band field trip to Hershey Park this spring, Noah discovered he liked roller coasters and we thought he might be at a good age to appreciate some of the big-kid rides for the first time.

Noah liked the Iron Dragon and it’s about my speed, too, so we rode it twice, and then went in search of a wooden coaster.  After a longish walk to all three and a well-considered visual inspection, we decided to start with the smallest one, the Blue Streak. I was glad we did because at 75 feet and 40 mph it ended up being a little much for Noah, who declined (rather forcibly) to ride it a second time.

After that it was hard for him to choose a ride.  He wanted to go on the mine ride but he was apprehensive so we rode the antique cars and the swings while he mulled it over.  Finally, after texting Beth to get its statistics for height and speed (she had an app for that on her phone), and finding out it was only half as tall as the Blue Streak and approximately as fast, we rode it.  It was pretty tame and he seemed happy to have done it.  There was a man sitting in the front seat, who screamed, “Oh my God!” at every little dip, presumably in jest; it was actaully really funny and helped break the tension. Noah would have liked to do the mine ride again, but by then it was time to meet Beth and June and have lunch.

We rode a few rides everyone wanted to do (the sky tram, the Ferris wheel, and the train that travels through various tableaux of skeletons engaged in activities such as playing in bands, making moonshine, sawing lumber, and shooting one another—it’s a sentimental favorite from Beth’s childhood and June loved it).  Next June rode the bumper cars and she and I rode the Woodstock Express, which is quite a respectable starter coaster with cars that look like a train.  In line she asked me, “Do you think I can handle this?”

I’d been wondering just that, hesitated just a moment, and said yes.  “What do you think?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said with confidence and I decided I didn’t need to say anything about how it was okay to get out of line.  Earlier at the Iron Dragon I’d witnessed a mother trying to force her weeping nine- or ten-year-old daughter onto the ride so I wanted to be careful about not pushing the kids past their limits, but June was grinning and ready and she was smiling all through the ride.

Next we visited Soak City, the water park just next to the main amusement park.  We went down waterslides, clambered on a path of lily pads, and floated down a river on inner tubes. We only stayed an hour because it was time for dinner by that point.

The Magnum goes right over part of the water park. I rode this coaster the week after I graduated from college, at which time it was the biggest coaster in the world.  It’s still one of the bigger ones in the park, though it doesn’t go upside down or have the cars hanging off the sides of the track or anything crazy like that. It’s just a very big coaster, with graceful, clean lines.  To my regret, I could never ride it now. But every now and then I would point it out to the kids and say something like, “Let’s all take a moment to admire the Magnum,” and remind them I’d ridden it in my glory days.

We ate in the park, and after June had a chance to jump on the Spoopy moon bounce we split up again. It was past June’s bedtime, so I was taking her back to the hotel, while Beth and Noah were planning to stay until the park closed at ten. June didn’t know I’d been considering letting her stay up and watch the nightly 9:30 firework show but around seven when the kids and I were sitting at a picnic table waiting for Beth to come back with burritos she put her new stuffed dog on the table and used it as a pillow and I couldn’t see keeping her up another three hours. She did perk up a little after eating so on the way back to the hotel, we detoured briefly to the beach where she collected seagull feathers and we relaxed in the chaise lounges.  She couldn’t believe I wasn’t hurrying her off to bed, but it was a lovely evening and we could see the bigger rides all lit up in different colors from the beach, and I wasn’t quit ready to end my day either.

Meanwhile, back at the park, Noah surprised Beth (and later me when I found out) by riding the Windseeker, a swing ride that goes up 300 feet in the air.  It is far from the most terrifying ride in the park, which has plenty of enormous coasters, including one that sends you hurtling to the ground at a 90-degree angle at 120 mph.  (Our family name for this one is the Paperclip, because that’s what it looks like, a giant paperclip standing up on end.) But it was intimidating enough. Beth says she checked his seat belt three times and was quite anxious until he returned to Earth. He says it’s not scary at all. Apparently he is more scared by fast drops and I am more scared by the idea of being that high up with no structure underneath me, but as he rode the Blue Streak and I did not ride the Windseeker, I think Noah qualified as the bravest one in the family on this trip, though his sister is close on his heels.

Around ten, I looked out the hotel window and stared at the cars sweeping up and down the big coasters in the dark, feeling a little sad both that my youth was behind me and that our trip was almost over as well.

Friday morning we visited the hotel gift shop where I bought a t-shirt that says “Cedar Point, America’s Roller Coast” and we strolled on the beach before hitting the road.  But after an intervening day of tennis practice, housework and errands, Sunday found us at the Montgomery County Fair where we spent all afternoon riding a Ferris wheel, a little coaster, swings and other rides all over again, because even though we did have a barrel of fun on our trip, we weren’t quite ready for the fun to end.

One Wave at a Time: Twenty-One Trips to the Beach

1. Saturday, 8:53 p.m.

It was almost dark when I reached the trail from the parking lot to the beach, but the sand was still warm under my feet. It had been hot and humid and muggy for the past two weeks at home and it was hot and humid and muggy at the beach, too, but there’s an ocean there, and the water swirling around my ankles was cool.

2. Sunday, 11:46 a.m.

Sara and I didn’t really mean to arrive at the beach quite so close to high noon, but my family and my mom and sister had all been socializing and menu planning and now June and I were too eager to wait until late afternoon, so the three of us headed out late Sunday morning.

June was toting her new body board for most of the fifteen-minute walk. Beth bought it for her at home after much pleading and June was so excited to have it she slept with it the first night after she got it. She also drew a picture of smiling people riding the waves the first morning we were at the beach.

Once we got our towels arranged, the first thing June wanted to do was stand at the water’s edge and let the motion of the waves bury our feet in the sand. This was a good way to get acclimated to the cold water as it splashed our legs and torsos.  Something about prevailing southwesterly winds was churning up water from the deep and making ocean temperatures colder than usual from the Outer Banks to New Jersey, Beth had informed us.

Soon June decided it was time to use the board.  We were starting very close to shore and the first two waves were perfect, gently pushing her to the sand. But then a big one cane up behind the third one she tried to ride and merged with it, crashing over us, knocking June off the board and me off my feet. (I lost my sunglasses, though I didn’t notice at the time.)

Sara said she saw it all unfolding inevitably, the wave too big, June and I too far apart, no way for either Sara or me to get to June in time. It was a very long five seconds or so before I could drag June to her feet. Her hair was swept over her face, full of sand and shell fragments, and she was sobbing. All three of us went up to the towels and sat until she’d calmed somewhat. I offered to take the board and demonstrate its use while she watched from the safety of the sand. She agreed, but not long after I got into the water, I saw a big jellyfish and made a hurried exit. Then Sara mentioned she did feel a stinging sensation, the way you do sometimes when you swim near jellyfish.

I talked carefully to June about how it was fine if she didn’t want to try to ride the board again today but that sometimes if you don’t try again right away after something scary happens, the scary gets bigger in your head. She said nothing, so I left it at that.

June did want to go back in the water without the board, so eventually we did, but then she got sand in the crotch of her suit and she started to feel stingy, too.  Between the hot sun and the treacherous water, Sara decided it was time to go home, but June wanted to make sand castles so she did. I thought she’d forgotten all about the board when she quietly announced she was going to ride one more wave–just one–and then we were going home for lunch.

We picked a small one and she glided to shore. She scraped her knee a little but she didn’t seem to care, she was just happy and relieved to have done it and not to have to do it again, at least not right then.  As we packed up our things, she held the board aloft.  A sudden breeze buffeted it for a moment.  “June versus the wind!” she cried. “June wins! June is stronger than the wind!”

3. Sunday, 6:04 p.m.

Beth and I biked to the cheese shop to buy some Spanish cheese for dinner the next night. Sara was at home making lentil-sweet potato stew while Mom watched the kids.

“Do you want to go to the boardwalk?” Beth asked as we left the store.

“You know me so well,” I answered.  She remarked that over the course of twenty-six years you notice a few things.

So we found a bench in the shade and sat and watched the ocean for ten minutes until it was time to bike home for dinner.

4. Monday, 10:10 a.m.

Rain threatened, so I managed to get the kids down to the beach earlier than the day before. When I asked June if she wanted to come, she said, “Yes! And I want to bring my body board!” I’d been on the verge of telling her we’d bike (or scoot in Noah’s case), but the board presented a logistical challenge. Beth offered to drive us to the parking lot, so we took her up on it. It wasn’t as hot as the day before. Every now and then it clouded over and looked like it would rain, but it never did. The water felt a little warmer, too, but still plenty cool.

We splashed in the water for a long time. Noah came up with new names for different kind of waves and wave actions. The backward tug of a wave is a “ghost wave.”  When two waves merge, one “eats” the other. Eventually, June declared she wanted to ride a wave, again, just one. The first wave she wanted went by before she could get on the board, but she caught the next one, and then she was done. This seemed to be her system for conquering this fear, one wave at a time.

Once she’d dispensed with this, she befriended a girl whose family was sitting nearby. I’d been watching this girl because she was about June’s age and she had a body board, too. I wanted to see what she’d do with it.  Not ride it was the answer.  Instead she put it on the sand and stood on it, pretending to surf, while the very edges of waves rushed over it. They did this together for a while. They also lay on the boards facing the waves, deep in conversation, while the occasional wave splashed their faces. June ran to fetch her goggles for this activity.  Later they dug in the sand– stopping when the girl’s toddler sister kept destroying their creations—and played with a boomerang.

The girl’s name was Augusta, which her mom thought was funny, two girls with month names.  I’d recently heard an almost identical comment from the mother of a girl named April who was attending tinkering camp with June the previous week.  The mothers always find it more amusing than the girls do.

Noah and I were on the towels. He was burying his legs in the sand when June came by to ask if she could go in the water with Augusta and her mom. I said I’d come with her. June can swim, but she’s not a confident ocean swimmer. On reflection, I realized we had the cart before the horse with the body board.  She won’t really be able to ride it until she isn’t afraid to go in over her head and catch the waves while they’re forming rather than in the more chaotic areas of crashing waves near the shore. As it turned out, Monday was the last day she even tried to ride it, but I was proud of her for getting back on the board after wiping out, even if it was only twice. Maybe next year her memory of it will be of those last two successful rides and it will be easier to try again.

Soon it was clear that Augusta and her mom were going out well past June’s comfort zone. I asked if she wanted to try swimming in the deep water, thinking peer pressure might help her seize the moment, but she said, no.  I think she’d used up all her courage on the board. Noah joined us where we were and we splashed together and watched a lone pelican fly over our heads until the kids were hungry for lunch.

5. Monday, 6:37 p.m.

After an afternoon at Funland with Mom for the kids, and Beth’s delicious dinner of gazpacho, bread, Spanish cheeses, and salt-crusted potatoes, we drove to the north end of the boardwalk and walked down to the middle, stopping for various desserts along the way.  As we read the water ice flavors, “watermelon, cherry…” June stopped me at tie-dye. She wanted it without seeing it or even asking what it tasted like. It was blue, green, and white, and it stained not only her tongue and lips, but even her teeth blue.

Noah and I got frozen custard and everyone else got ice cream. The benches were full so we initially sat on the low concrete wall that separates the boardwalk from the little strip of dune grass. It was a beautiful evening, warm but not hot, less humid, golden-hued.

Our rental house was north of the boardwalk, near a less populated stretch of beach so there were fewer junk-food seeking gulls whenever we went to the beach, but here their cries filled the air as they circled lazily over the crowds.

6. Tuesday, 9:17 a.m.

The kids felt like watching television so my first beach trip of the day was solo. I swam and read and swam again and watched two ospreys fly over my head with fish in their talons. I also saw a big, purplish-red jellyfish. I began to wonder if the cold water brought them. I saw them washed up on the shore every day that week.

My towel was right behind the lifeguard chair so I heard when another guard jogged by and advised them, “Watch the waterline. There’s a seal!”

I looked up and saw a crowd gathering around a jetty just to the south. Everyone stopped what they were doing, even the lifeguards (at least those with a partner to stay behind) abandoned their posts. And sure enough there was a black head rising from the water. The seal was swimming near the end of the jetty. When it turned and swam toward shore I could see its face, even the whiskers, and a good bit of its torso.

On shore everyone was exclaiming. How did it get here? Escaped from an aquarium? Seriously lost? A boy Noah’s age guessed it “took a wrong turn.”  Later I googled seal habitat and found that on the East coast they’re native from the Arctic Circle down to New York, and that they are “occasionally” seen off North Carolina. Had the cold water brought it south, along with the jellyfish? The seal seemed intent on getting (back?) to New York. It left the jetty and swam steadily north, occasionally stopping to pop its head out of the water and look toward shore or behind its shoulder.

People were taking pictures and movies. I went back to my towel and got my phone, hoping to snap a picture. Along with a couple other people, I followed it north for around forty minutes. I never got a picture, though, because it popped up too briefly and at unpredictable intervals.  At one point, we passed a big pod of dolphins, but I hardly paid them any mind.

Eventually I turned back because I had gotten pretty far from my towel. It was a long walk back. I read and swam again and then went home.

7. Tuesday, 4:37 p.m.

After Beth took June to Funland again (where June won two stuffed animals at this game she loves where you move a cup to catch a ball falling out of a vertical maze), everyone but Beth made it down to the beach at the same time that afternoon. The weather was nice, not too hot, with a breeze coming off the water. Mostly the kids splashed and Sara napped while I chatted with Mom, who prefers to stay on shore. Mom had made dinner, a black bean-quinoa salad ahead of time, and the afternoon was so lovely we decided to eat in shifts so that Mom and Sara could stay at the beach longer.

8. Tuesday, 9:05 p.m.

Beth and Noah hatched a plan to go on a dessert run after June was in bed. This was later than anticipated because June had a lengthy and mysterious meltdown at bedtime, triggered buy a minor conflict with Noah. (This has been happening a lot recently.)

Once she was finally asleep, Beth, Noah, Sara, and I got cake and cheesecake from Gallery Espresso and brought it home to Mom, who stayed with June. (She was also the one who got June to calm down enough to sleep. Thanks, Mom!)

On the way back to the car, we walked a block along the boardwalk. We’re rarely there after dark any more and it was hopping. There was also a delightfully cool breeze from the ocean. Heat is one of the reasons Beth rarely comes down to the beach, so I told her once the kids stop habitually waking at dawn we can come down to the boardwalk at night more often. Sara asked Noah if he liked being old enough to be out late—I know, it was barely past nine, but that’s late for us. He didn’t answer, just laughed.

9. Wednesday, 9:39 a.m.

Beth took the kids to Jungle Jim’s water park in the morning so I had another solo beach jaunt. I told Sara after the seal the day before I was half-expecting to see a unicorn, but I didn’t, just a few dolphins. The sky was overcast; the sea calm. I swam and read and swam again.

10.  Wednesday, 12:55 p.m.

Mom and I had lunch at O’Bie’s, a boardwalk restaurant with a nice view and a nice breeze, both from the ocean and big overhead fans.  It’s becoming our traditional lunch spot. The food’s not bad, but not exceptional either. Sometimes it’s all about location.

11. Wednesday, 2:58 p.m.

Sara parked near the north end of the boardwalk and walked down it to the bike shop. We were embarking on a long series of errands that included: a bike rental place to get more comfortable bikes than the one supplied by the house; the bookstore, to buy Sara’s belated birthday present and Beth’s anniversary present; the wellness center, to buy a gift certificate for a massage as an early birthday present for my mom, who’s turning seventy this week; a bakery, for birthday cupcakes for my mom; a coffee shop to slake our thirst with iced drinks after biking all over town; the sunglass store, to replace the ones I lost in the ocean;  a gift shop, for a card for Mom; and finally, Candy Kitchen, because I thought the house needed salted caramels. Sara and I split up between the coffee shop and the sunglass store, so she could move the car.

12. Wednesday 5:30 p.m.

Rehoboth’s a small town, but between all these stops and doubling back to feed the meter, it was two and a half hours later by the time I was walking my bike along the boardwalk again for quick view of the ocean before heading home.

13. Thursday, 9:03 a.m.

Beth and the kids and I had breakfast at Gallery Espresso—crepes, yogurt, a bagel, and a chocolate chip muffin fresh from the oven with the chips still melted. I offered to walk the kids back home because Beth had her daily conference call at 9:00 a.m. It had been overcast the past few mornings with no rain, but as we walked along the boardwalk I thought the banked clouds looked darker, more serious. June, who’d been oddly moody for the past week or so, was put out because I wouldn’t buy her potato chips at breakfast. I tried to interest her in several people who seemed to be standing on surfboards and rowing along the nearly flat sea with oars, but she said she’d seen that before.  Soon she fell to bickering with Noah and forgot to be mad at me. Then she perked up and asked if we could take the secret path home.

Beth had discovered a grassy alley between the back yards of the house on our block and yards of the next block over. It goes almost all the way to the beach. It’s not a short cut, but it’s shaded and interesting to see the more private sides of all the houses on the way to the beach—the decks and pools and gardens and sheds. I’d transversed it alone and with Mom when we’d gone to lunch, but not with the kids. I said yes and by the time we left the boardwalk, June was happy.  (It did start to rain while we were on the path and we got soaked, but the kids seemed to regard it as an adventure and not an inconvenience.)

14. Thursday, 2:09 p.m.

The rain that started in the morning continued steadily until mid-afternoon.  We spent the morning inside, working (it was a working vacation for both Sara and Beth), reading and watching 101 Dalmatians (The house was well stocked with kids’ movies. June had already watched Anastasia.) In the afternoon Mom went for her massage and Beth took the kids to see Monsters University in 3D. I stayed inside as long as I could stand it and then took a walk in the rain.

Before I reached the boardwalk, however, the rain stopped, and I wondered if I’d packed for the wrong outing, but I settled into the first wooden pavilion on the boardwalk and read two chapters of my book, waiting to see if the rain was really over. Mom called me to say she and Sara were going to the beach, so I headed home to change and meet them there.

15. Thursday, 3:54 p.m.

The rain had cooled the air considerably so I didn’t want to go in the water right away, for fear I’d be chilled if got out and wanted to stay at the beach. I sat on my towel, talked with Mom, and watched the dolphins. She said she wanted to see one jump out of the water, but all we saw was fins skimming the surface.

I asked Sara if she wanted a swim and she said, “No. Are you crazy?”

“No, she’s Steph,” Mom replied.

When I got out of the water, Mom and Sara had left. I spotted about six dolphins, close to shore and one jumped almost all the way out of the water. I saw everything but the nose.

16. Thursday, 7:33 p.m.

Beth and I had just finished an almost-anniversary dinner at Planet X, while Mom and Sara took the kids out for Italian. We were taking a stroll along the boardwalk in the pleasantly cool air, and watching the dolphins, unaware that Noah, who’d complained of a headache before we left, had taken a turn for the worse at the restaurant and had been sick at the table. Mom and Sara took him home at put him to bed. When we got home shortly after eight both kids were asleep.

17. Friday, 2:33 p.m.

We woke to rain and it rained ceaselessly until mid-afternoon. Noah and I read for a long time and the kids watched Bambi and seemed content to stay inside. I was feeling stir-crazy enough to agree when Sara suggested we bike to Candy Kitchen in the rain, though after stepping out into the downpour, we decided to walk instead, so we could use umbrellas. It was coming down so hard I was wet up to the waist (though mostly dry from there up) when we stepped onto the boardwalk.

I wanted to see if the benches in the first pavilion were dry, but they weren’t. Then I noticed a dead mouse on the ground inside.

“It’s not dead,” Sara said. I asked if was just the wind moving its limbs but she said no, and the waterlogged little thing began to struggle, its torso half rising off the ground. Sara scooped it into her hand. I asked what she was going to do with it. “Nurse it back to health?” she suggested. I reminded her she had a plane to catch the next day and two cats at home.  I also warned about bites and rabies.  She continued to hold the mouse and carried it all the way to Candy Kitchen and inside, hidden in her hand. We made our purchases and parted ways.  (She went home with the mouse and made it a little nest of shredded paper inside a basket and tried to feed it on milk and shredded apple.  It didn’t eat much, if at all, but it did seem to perk up and explore a bit before it laid down and died a few hours later.  It’s buried in the yard of the beach house now. Sara was sad, but satisfied to have given it a more comfortable death.)

While she headed home, I walked out to the beach. Here the wind was blowing the rain in all directions and my top half was soon as wet as my bottom half. There were a few other people on the beach, some huddled under beach umbrellas, but as soon as I got north of the boardwalk, I was alone. The sky was medium gray—it looked almost like dusk—and the sea was dark gray and choppy. It looked inviting and I was already almost as wet as I’d be if I’d swum in my clothes, but the roughness of the water and the isolation of the beach gave me pause, so I didn’t swim, just waded up to my calves and breathed in the intoxicating smell of sea and rain.

18. Friday, 5:01 p.m.

Of course the rain started to let up shortly after I got home and changed into dry clothes. By 4:30 Funland was posting on Facebook that the outdoor rides would be open by 5:00, so Noah and I headed over there. (June was feeling under the weather.)  He rode the Freefall and then we rode the Paratrooper together. This ride looks like a Ferris wheel and when we were in our twenties, Beth and I rode it, not realizing it tilts and goes fast, and at the very end of the ride, backwards. Beth didn’t care for it, and I never went on it again either, even after Noah started to ride it a couple years ago.  This time I enjoyed the ride, especially the ocean view, and hearing Noah laugh as the soles of his bare feet brushed the top of a small tree, but I once it started going backwards, I was ready for the ride to be over.  My queasiness did settle the question of whether I should try the Sea Dragon, which is one of those swinging Viking ship rides I used to love when I was a teen. The answer is no, you are not sixteen any more, lady. Good to know, for when Noah moves up to that ride.

19. Saturday, 10:19 a.m.

I wheeled my bike onto the boardwalk and walked toward the bike rental store. Beth and the kids were driving to the realty to return the house keys. We’d said our goodbyes to Mom and Sara, who were finishing up their packing and were about to drive to Philadelphia to catch a plane back to Oregon.

20. Saturday, 11:01 a.m.

Once the bike was returned I met up with Beth and the kids and we headed to Café a-Go-Go for iced coffee drinks, pastry, and juice. Then we split up, as Beth had some anniversary shopping to do. I took the kids to the boardwalk Candy Kitchen, where we stocked up on candy and June bought a stuffed harbor seal with her own money. (I thought she’d go for one of the mermaids or a seahorse, but she surprised me.) I couldn’t help but think about being with the mouse the last time I was in Candy Kitchen and I think it’s possible I will think of it whenever I go into that Candy Kitchen for a long time.

21. Saturday, 11:57 a.m.

After trip to the T-shirt Factory where the kids picked out blank t-shirts and designs to have pressed onto them–Noah chose the words Rehoboth Beach, DE with an Aloha flower on white and June selected a mother wolf with a cub on yellow–we picked up some fries and hit the boardwalk. Beth happened on us while I was buying the fries.  We spent about an hour on the beach.  It being a Saturday and right in front of the boardwalk, it was much more crowded on the sand and in water than any other time I’d been to the beach all week.  Beth got her feet wet, then rested on a towel while the kids and I played in the water.  I had a swim and the waves were better than they’d been all week.  There were two that were big enough to sweep me up into their swell and drop me a couple feet through the air down the water below.  This is my absolute favorite thing to do with a wave.

We had crepes on the boardwalk (strawberry-nutella for Noah and tomato-cheese for everyone else). June wanted to go to Funland one last time. I was hesitant because we didn’t have a lot of time left on the meter and I thought if she didn’t win the medium stuffed animal she had her heart set on, she’d be disappointed and we’d leave the beach on a low note.  But we talked about what would happen if she didn’t win it and she said it would be fine, she’d just try again next year, so we said she could go on one ride and have five dollars to try her luck at the ball and cup game.  Well, she walked out of there with a mini beach ball and a medium panda to add to the small panda and owl she’d one earlier in the week. (Noah, taking fewer turns, won a mini beach ball and a small panda.) Next year June wants to win a large.  And to go in the Haunted Mansion.  And maybe next year I’ll convince her (and Noah) to venture out into the deep water with me.  Whatever June sets her mind to, I think she’ll do, one wave at time.

All The World’s a Stage

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

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

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

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

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

On Stage: GreekFest

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Location: Cape Henlopen and Rehoboth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Everything

The last time Beth, Noah, and I were in New York was for my father’s memorial service three years ago, but the last time all four of us were there together was a little over five years ago.  You can read about that visit in this post (“The Planet New York,” 12/27/07). June was twenty-one months old so of course, she doesn’t remember this trip, but she provided the impetus for this one. Ever since she was in the community center drama camp production of selected scenes from Annie last summer she has wanted to see New York. The perfect thing of course would have been to see the play, which is on Broadway now, but it wasn’t feasible in terms of time or money, so we made the following plans, based mostly on June’s suggestions: see the Statue of Liberty (from afar, because it’s still closed due to damage from Hurricane Sandy), have pizza in Brooklyn with my cousin Emily and her son Josiah, take a carriage ride in Central Park, and see the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. It seemed ambitious but feasible in the roughly twenty-four hours we were planning to spend there.

But we didn’t count on the traffic.  There was an accident on Route 1 near Wilmington, and there was construction on the New Jersey Turnpike, and what we thought would be a four-hour drive stretched out to six. We had to cancel our dinner plans with Emily and Josiah because getting from our hotel in New Jersey to Brooklyn and back in time for the younger kids’ bedtimes was impossible. Instead we took a ferry from Weehawken to Manhattan, where we walked among the Times Square crowds, gawked at the tall buildings, and got pizza slices and garlic knots for dinner. We had these cupcakes for dessert.  The pictures on the site do not convey how tiny these cupcakes are; they literally bite-sized.  June was delighted with everything. She was up on her knees pasted to the window of the ferry on our first foray into the city (and on the next day, too).  “New York hot dogs!” she exclaimed on seeing a vendor. “New York pretzels! New York everything!”

We got back to the hotel, paused on the shore of the Hudson to admire the skyline on the other side, all lit up (the Empire State Building in Easter egg colors) and put June to bed, only a little past her bedtime. She fell asleep about two minutes after her head hit the pillow. I asked Beth if she thought June would like to be surprised with a room service breakfast and she thought she would, so we all pored over the menu, made our own choices, and mutually decided on pancakes with fresh strawberries for June.

She was surprised, but in a delayed reaction kind of way. At first she didn’t even understand we’d ordered the food and thought a man bringing breakfast on a cart to your room might just be part of staying in a hotel near New York.  We explained it to her and it wasn’t until about an hour after breakfast that she started saying over and over that she couldn’t believe we’d ordered breakfast to the room to surprise her.

Our first stop for the day was the Empire State Building.  Beth had read if you arrive before ten you don’t have to wait hours and hours in line and the first ferry across the river wasn’t until 8:55, but we managed to get there by 9:40.  The lines were not horrific. It took about an hour to get to the top (you wait in line to go through security, and then to buy tickets and then take the first elevator and then the second elevator) but it was efficiently run and the lobbies where you wait are pretty, with art deco décor and Empire State Building mosaics and frescos on the floors and walls, and models of the building in glass cases, and black and white photographs of the construction of the building.

Up on the observation deck the view was just what everyone expected.  We stayed about twenty minutes, taking it in from different angles, making special note of the Chrysler Building (which we could also see from the hotel parking lot). I gave Noah two quarters so he could use the binoculars and then two more so he could do it again.

Next we made our way to Central Park.  The carriages are first-come, first-serve, but there were several lined up in a row when we got there and we didn’t have to wait at all.  I noticed our driver, Jamal, seemed to be using the license of someone named Jason, but he was amiable and informative and he when he tried to up-sell us to a more expensive tour, it was a pretty soft sell.  Mostly what he pointed out were locations from various movies (most of which we hadn’t seen because we hardly ever go to the movies) but the big find was the Plaza Hotel because that’s where Eloise lives.  I pointed out the back-to-back P logo on the doors to June, who noted it appreciatively.  Toward the end of the tour, June confided to us that she was pretending we were royalty from Maryland and that all the other horse-drawn carriages in the park were our guards.  Beth says that’s when she knew the expense and being stuck in traffic much of the day before had been worth it.  New York was everything June had imagined.

After the carriage ride we stopped at a deli to pick up supplies for a picnic lunch on one of the boulders in the park.  (I had Swiss on rye and a black and white cookie.)  When we’d finished and were about to leave for the Statue of Liberty, June said she wanted to stay and climb the rocks.  She loved them when she was a toddler and they are just as much of a draw now. Beth asked if she’d be willing to skip the statue, and she said yes.  We’d had a full day already and we had a long drive ahead of us, so it seemed like a more relaxed plan.  We stayed in the park for a while watching both kids scramble over the big rocks.  As we were leaving Central Park, heading back to the subway, the shuttle bus, the ferry, and a long car ride home, June said, “I wish I lived in New York.”

“Maybe you will someday,” I said.

“She totally will,” Noah predicted.

Meanwhile, June is enrolled at the same community center drama camp this summer and they’re doing Oliver! London anyone?