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?

Sky of Blue and Sea of Green

Day 1, Saturday: “Happy” and “Birthday”

Apparently turning seven is so exciting that it’s impossible to stay quiet until seven a.m., or to stay in bed until six a.m., or even five a.m., and that you have no alternative but to wake your brother, turn on lights and stand right outside your mothers’ bedroom door, conversing in loud whispers with said brother right before five a.m., causing the mother who’s grumpier in the morning (that would be me) to utter the words “inconsiderate” and “unkind,” before “happy” or “birthday” and to threaten consequences if it happens again, but to pull her punches for today because it is your birthday after all.

I sent the kids back to bed, but at six a.m. June was out of bed like a shot and logged onto Club Penguin to see if she’d received a membership for her birthday. There are things only members can do (like adopt more than two puffles, or virtual pets) and now thanks to Grandmom and Pop, she could. She’d adopted four new puffles before I was even out of bed. (I think she has sixteen now.) She didn’t even want to open her non-virtual presents until she’d exhausted her media time for the day, though she did pause to speak to YaYa on the phone and open her gift, a meditation pillow she’d admired for quite some time. I don’t think she intends to meditate on it. She just thinks it’s pretty.

Eventually, June opened her other presents—some clothes, an orange and fuchsia bath towel she wanted, a build-your-own doll bed and dresser kit, and a set of Club Penguin-related gifts from Noah (a stuffed puffle, a puffle zipper pull for her backpack, coins redeemable on the site and a collection of coloring pages he printed for her). June set to work assembling and painting the doll dresser at once while Beth and I packed for the beach, the first leg of our spring break adventure. It was almost 12:30 by the time everyone was packed and Noah had practiced percussion and we could go.

We arrived just before 4:00 at our apartment, a quarter of a big house a half block from the beach. You could see the ocean from the sidewalk in front of the house. Other than boardwalk hotels, it’s the closest we’ve ever stayed to the beach. When Beth saw how excited I was, she laughed and hugged me. “It makes you so happy,” she said.

“It flips a switch in my brain,” I explained.

“To happy,” she said.

We unpacked and then Beth and June hit the grocery store for dinner and breakfast provisions and a birthday cake. Noah stayed at the house and watched golf on television while I went to the beach. The late afternoon light was golden and the sea was a dark blue-gray in the distance and shining silver closer to shore. I’m reading Ulysses for book club and listening to the chapters on audiobook after I read them for reinforcement.  I happened to be up to the “Nausicaa” chapter, which takes place on a beach at twilight, so I thought it would be fun to walk along the beach and listen to it.  I walked along the beach and boardwalk listening. I found a horseshoe crab on its back, legs waving in the air, set it right, and watched it disappear into the sea.

Back at the house, I took a brief but much needed nap and then Noah and I made June’s requested birthday dinner—veggie hot dogs with melted cheese and cherry tomatoes, and mac-and-cheese on the side. We finished the meal with carrot cake topped with candles shaped like individual letters that spelled “happy” and “birthday.”

June had a bath and watched part of The Wild with Noah. (I pretended to forget she was out of media time) and then she went to bed in the top bunk because she wanted it and Noah wanted the bottom, which was a double bed. I was pleased and surprised that this arrangement worked out so peaceably. And then June’s birthday was over. For her anyway, I slipped down to the beach for a chilly nighttime walk under the moon and stars before collapsing into bed at 9:30 and falling asleep almost immediately.

Days 2-3, Sunday and Monday: Stormy Weather

Some spring break beach trips the kids wade in the water bare-legged and eat ice cream on the boardwalk and read or play games on the porch or balcony, and some spring break beach trips we take short, bundled up jaunts to the beach and the porch is a place to keep sandy boots.  Sunday was cold and cloudy and Monday was the type of day for which the phrase “wintry mix” was invented so it was looking more like the second kind of trip.

Everyone took a short walk on the boardwalk Sunday afternoon, which culminated in a visit to Candy Kitchen. June knew she wanted gummy butterflies before we even got there so she had plenty of time to cruise the stuffed animals while her brother hemmed and hawed and finally chose candy necklaces. June fell in love with a baby penguin and wanted it so badly that she wanted to trade her candy for it, but I told her to get the candy because you never know what the Easter Bunny might put in her basket.

Beth, Noah and June did not set foot on the beach during the first three days of our trip. I went several times by myself, for periods ranging from five minutes (in driving sleet with my umbrella repeatedly turning inside out) to an hour in merely chilly conditions.

What we mostly did these two days was hang out in the house. On Monday, we temporarily suspended media limits and there was much playing on Club Penguin and June watched The Wild a second time, and we all watched two episodes of The Carol Burnett Show on dvd.  But we also played Forbidden Island, and read a lot.  Noah and were steadily making our way through the last book in the His Dark Materials trilogy The Amber Spyglass, I started an Agatha Christie mystery, and June worked on a sticker book, dressing up people in international costumes.

In the mid-afternoon June developed a debilitating headache and slept much of the rest of the afternoon. She woke up a couple times, still in pain, and then went back to sleep until the last section of the nap did the trick and she woke recovered around 6:30, and had some of the matzoth ball soup Beth had made and we’d all eaten while June was asleep.

That evening, feeling a bit cooped up after two days in the house, I started researching possible day trips to take once the weather improved.

Days 4-6, Tuesday to Thursday: All Along the Watchtower

The next three days were predicted to be mostly sunny with highs around 50 degrees. We decided to wait a day to let the trails dry out and set Wednesday as the day for a trip to Cape Henlopen State Park. Tuesday morning I spent hours roaming the beach and boardwalk. I walked along the shoreline and clambered on jetties. There’s one in particular I like because the concrete that holds the rocks together has been worn into organic curves and whorls by the tides, making tiny coves and harbors that fill with every wave. The sky was brilliant blue, scattered with puffy white clouds I could see reflected in the silvery wet sand whenever a wave retreated.

Seeking a dry, sunny place to sit I found a pavilion with benches only a little damp and I read three chapters of my mystery, getting up to follow the sun as it moved along the bench. Later I sat in the sand until the cold and damp seeped up through the seat of my jeans, but mostly I walked.

I went home for lunch—the house was empty because Beth had taken the kids to the outlets for school supplies, underwear, socks and sneakers.  I headed to Browse-About  to get a gift certificate for my sister’s birthday. I’d been window-shopping for her without luck for a few days and decided a gift certificate would be a practical gift because she’s coming to Rehoboth in July. I got myself a copy of Emma Donohue’s Room, because I’d been meaning to read it and it was marked down almost 50%. On my way back to the house I called Sara to tell her about the gift certificate (it was her actual birthday that day) and to hear about her long weekend with her new boyfriend. We are not always timely with gifts in my family. In fact, Beth recently told me I was very good about it, “considering your background.” She made it sound as if I’d been raised by wolves, or heroin addicts.

After I talked to Sara, I went back to the house and collected the kids to bring them to the beach. (But first I had to admire June’s new sparkly, bejeweled, flashing sneakers.)  I watched the kids build sand castles for an hour and fifteen minutes. I was glad to see them finally outside and it was more aerobic than you might think because there were many, many intruders who needed chasing away from their castles. June’s castle had an elaborate security system involving but not limited to a ring of seven watchtowers. They wanted me to award them prizes so June won for “best use of shells, pebbles, watchtowers and artificial roses” (she found them on the beach) and Noah won for “best use of a magic rock and best back story.”  I was the only one in boots so I was the designated fetcher and carrier of water. After tempting fate one too many times, my boots filled with icy water and my jeans were soaked and soon caked with sand. Still, we all came home happy.

Noah and I read, we had dinner and Grotto’s and once June was in bed, we capped off the day with another episode of Carol Burnett. (June’s not so interested in these, but Noah really likes them.)

Wednesday morning we visited Cape Henlopen State Park, where we looked at fish and horseshoe crabs in tanks in the Nature Center. June said the crab felt like “a hard washcloth that was wet.” I flipped over another upside down crab, reaching with some difficulty to the very back of the tank to do it while the kids cheered my rescue.  (Apparently saving animals was going to be a theme of the week because there was a bird trapped in the screen porch of the unit next to ours and I had to make a few phone calls to find the right realty so someone could come over and free it.)

We took an interpretive trail through pine forest and along a section of the bay, and back into the woods. Reading the brochure for the trail, I learned a new word: wrack.  It means the line of detritus (shells, seaweed, trash) waves leave on the beach.  It seems useful.  (“You’d never believe the wrack in the living room after that play date.”)

Next we climbed up a concrete World War II observation tower. If you’ve ever gone up a lighthouse, it’s just like that. The towers were used to monitor the coastline for German subs (“German substitute teachers?” Noah joked more than once).  The view from up there was wonderful.  We could see the bay, two lighthouses, and more observation towers. The kids started throwing little chunks of concrete they found inside the tower off the top until I got worried they’d hit someone.  The park was deserted and I couldn’t see anyone, but you never know.

We went to examine the abandoned bunkers and the big guns (not original to the site but genuine). A concrete shed with a rusty door chained shut we’d seen along the trail, the tower that June thought looked haunted, and the eerie, empty barracks all convinced Noah that he wants to come back and shoot a mystery movie in the park. (I’d like to do return as well and explore some more trails.) Finally we climbed up to the battery, which is on top of the largest dune between Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras. It’s eighty feet high and offers a stunning view of the bay.

We were near Lewes, and hungry for lunch so we found an Italian deli with a restaurant attached and had a satisfying meal, complete with Italian pastry, and left laden with olives (which June wanted) and fusilli (which Noah wanted). We made a quick stop at the Crocs outlet, meaning only to get new crocs for me, but somehow we also came out there with a pair of heavily discounted aqua and purple sandals for June.

In the afternoon, I took June to the beach where she made more castles and dug a hole. “Do you think it’s big enough?” she asked.  I asked what she was going to do with it so I could answer.  “Make it pretty,” she said. Of course.  I said it was big enough for that, and she lined the sides with shells and pebbles. Then she climbed on a jetty, choreographed a dance, and made a line of handprints in the sand and pretended they were footprints of a mysterious animal. The outing ended when she unwisely put her hands in a bucket of cold seawater, exclaimed, “My hands are so cold they hurt!” and then she had to go home and take a warm bath.

I’d been rather low in spirits that morning, but spending much of the day outside had done me a lot of good. As I boiled ravioli and made salads for dinner. I sang along with the Beatles, “Every one of us has all we need/Sky of blue and sea of green.”

Thursday was a nice quiet coda to the beach portion of our vacation, or it was for me.  After a breakfast of crepes and bagels at Gallery Espresso, Beth went on some Easter-related errands and I took the kids back to the house. When she returned she took the kids on a series of outings: miniature golf (both kids), playground (June), and tennis courts (both kids).  Our paths crossed when they came home for lunch and I was home doing laundry, so Noah and I finished The Amber Spyglass while Beth and June were at the playground.

Earlier in the day I’d gone out to buy a replacement for the wooden-handled shovel Noah had broken earlier in the week (it belonged to the house) and I had lunch out. I didn’t make it to the beach that day until mid-afternoon, but once there I spent a very satisfying few hours. I read the last five chapters of my mystery on a bench on the boardwalk and I guessed the solution, which I hardly ever do—it involved an evil twin. I wandered far north up the beach, watching an enormous pod of dolphins (there might have been fifty of them) swimming south, and finding four gorgeous conch-type shells stuck to a jetty. I drank a pint of hot take-out lemon mint tea to stay warm, but I still came home chilled, wind-burned, and only a little melancholy that it was our last day at the beach. It’s easier to leave, when there’s more adventure to come, and we were not going home but to New York City, for an overnight visit.

Stayed tuned for more spring break adventures…



“Have we ever left for vacation this late?” June wondered.  It was 6:15 Friday evening and we were pulled up at a gas station, waiting for our turn to fill up the tank for our drive to Rehoboth Beach.

I told her that once, before she and Noah were born, Beth had to work so late we didn’t leave for the beach until 10 p.m. and we got there at 1:00 a.m.  Beth doesn’t work that late anymore, but she did have a 4:00 meeting that meant she couldn’t cut out mid-afternoon, as I’d hoped. As a result, our annual Christmas shopping weekend trip was getting off to a later start than I’d anticipated.

We were lucky to be going at all. I’d only made the reservations on Monday, after weeks of wavering about whether to take the trip. Due to other obligations, the weekend after Thanksgiving weekend was the only one that worked. It would mean traveling two weekends in a row and getting behind in household chores, plus we’ve been making an effort to be more frugal lately.

I like the Christmas shopping trip for a few reasons—first off, it’s an excuse to go to the beach.  But away from the distractions of home, it is much easier to focus on shopping and we often get quite a lot of it done.  Also, Santa’s house on the boardwalk is the very best place to visit him. It’s scenic, free, and there’s never much of a line.  Despite all the advantages of the trip, an oceanfront hotel room in Rehoboth is not cheap, even in the off-season. But in the end, I couldn’t bear the idea of not going, so we went.

Normally, it throws me into a panic to have the kids up well past their bedtimes. It has to do with them both being terrible sleepers well into the preschool years, and only fair sleepers now. When they’re up late it dredges up that feeling that none of us is ever going to get any sleep again. Given all that, I felt surprisingly calm to be leaving the Taco Bell near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge where we dined, only about a third of the way to our destination, at 7:50, five minutes past June’s bedtime. Maybe it was the call of the beach or maybe it was personal growth. You be the judge.

June fell asleep around 8:20 and remained asleep until we arrived at the hotel at 9:35. By 10:00, we were checked in and the kids were in bed. They were poking each other and bickering when I stepped out onto the balcony to watch the ocean for fifteen minutes and when I came back in they were quiet and awake, but drowsy-looking. I got ready for bed and crawled into bed, too.


I’d hoped we might all sleep in, as we’d all been up past our respective bedtimes, but I woke at 5:45 and couldn’t get back to sleep and the kids were awake and whispering loudly to each other by 6:10.  We didn’t even bother making them stay quiet until 7:00, even though that is the weekend rule.  We were all out of bed by 6:45, and June and I were out the door at 7:10, on a scouting mission to see if Gallery Espresso was open yet.  It wasn’t and there was no sign indicating when it might open, so June and I wandered Rehoboth Avenue and the boardwalk, gathering intelligence on open restaurants and then we played on the beach, while we waited for Beth and Noah to be ready to leave the hotel.

The early morning light turned the sand an apricot color, while each little hollow lay in blue-gray shadow.  The sea and wet sand near the shoreline were silvery and the last pink of the sunrise was just fading from the sky.  It was hard to imagine anything more lovely.

Gallery Espresso finally opened at eight and we had pumpkin crepes (Noah and me) and bagels (June and Beth) for breakfast.  Beth started to teach June to play chess, and then we split up to shop. June and I shopped downtown Rehoboth while Beth and Noah hit the outlets.  In addition to Christmas shopping, they needed to get underwear for him because I’d left his suitcase on my bed at home and even though he’d decided it would be fun to wear the same clothes for three days in a row, I decided clean underwear was the bare minimum effort we needed to make not to be negligent parents. (We leave suitcases behind all the time. It’s our specialty.  We left Noah’s at home on a trip to the Outer Banks the summer he was eight, and Beth and June left theirs behind just this summer on a camping trip. It no longer fazes us much.)

June and I had a very productive morning. We got her gifts for my sister Sara, Beth and Noah, and she found a Groovy Girl doll bed and she decided to ask Santa for it. This was a more easily obtainable item than “climbing equipment,” which was her most recent idea for a Santa-request. We didn’t have a jungle gym in our budget and it wasn’t even clear that was what she meant because when I said, “like playground equipment?” she said no. We were pondering a promise of an outing to a gym with a climbing wall, but the doll bed was sounding good. June liked the idea because apparently she’d wanted it on a previous trip to a toy store and Beth wouldn’t buy it—prime Santa material. All I had to do was wait to make sure she actually did ask Santa for it and didn’t change her mind in the next few hours.

Satisfied with our morning’s shopping, we headed to the beach to play. Beth and Noah soon joined us and the kids spent almost an hour making sand castles. It was heartwarming to see Noah happily engaged in this activity. He’ll be twelve in the spring and I don’t know how many more times I’ll see the sight of him sprawled on the sand, shaping one of his creations.

The kids thought we should have a sand castle contest. I said I’d be the judge, and there would be at least two categories.  June won “best use of shells” for her shell-topped and ringed castles. Noah won for “cleanest lines” (he smashed a few castles until he got a perfect, uncrumbled impression of the pail) and “best use of shadow.”  He’d filled in the long shadow of his castle with a heap of sand to give the shadow a slightly raised texture.

For lunch we tried a boardwalk restaurant where we’d never eaten, mainly because there’s often nothing vegetarian on the menu, but Beth checked and they had a few options.  It’s on the second floor, over an arcade, so we knew it must have a nice view.  The view was in fact lovely, and the food was mostly okay, despite slow, surly service and oddly thin and grainy milkshakes. On the whole, I thought it was a win, though Beth may disagree.  I do tend to put a lot of emphasis on an ocean view.

After lunch, Noah and I read in the hotel lounge while Beth and June did more shopping.  And then it was time for Santa.

I never thought June would believe in Santa longer than Noah did. He’s more trusting by nature, and she’s more prone to skepticism. When they were babies Noah smiled at everyone he saw, while June watched the world suspiciously from the safety of my arms. But Noah’s also scientific-minded and logical, where June loves magic and romance. She’s the age Noah was when his belief in Santa crumbled under the weight of the logical impossibilities (“Where Santa is Real,” 12/10/07) but so far June’s faith shows no sign of wavering. She has questions, of course.  Does Santa fly home to the North Pole every night after visiting with children on the boardwalk or does he stay in a hotel?  Perhaps our hotel? Is it possible that it’s not really Santa in the house, but a helper?  However, the core of her belief seems unshaken.

She was nervous about the visit, which surprised me because she wasn’t last year and it seemed like a regression. “I don’t know him very well,” she explained. Even though I told her she didn’t have to sit on his lap, she did without any hesitation, and she told him she wanted the doll bed. Noah sat on Santa’s lap, too, for fun or for June’s sake, and he said he wanted a $400 gift certificate for Apple.  Santa seemed taken aback and we rushed to assure him that a smaller sum would suffice.

After Santa, I left the kids with Beth and made a beeline for the doll bed, because Beth said the last time she’d been to that store, there was only one left. They have free gift wrapping there and the wrapper was a chatty elderly woman who wanted to know all about the recipients of the doll bed and something else I was getting for Noah. When I said the kids were with their other mom, she wanted to tell me all about her older brother who came out in the 1950s and “had to move to San Francisco.” She still seemed sad about his departure and she said she was glad there was more social acceptance now.  So I was obliged to tell her we live in Maryland and we’re getting married next month.  I think I made her day she was so happy for us.

I had time for a solo walk on the beach before I was supposed to meet Beth and the kids for dinner at Grotto at 5:00. At 4:10, the light was very similar to how it had been at 7:30. The sand was golden-pink again; the water silvery. As the afternoon progressed, the sky grew pinker, until it was half-covered with puffy, vividly colored clouds.

At Grotto, the kids went over to the Christmas tree display at the back of the restaurant. Local charities decorate trees and set donation boxes underneath. Beth gave the kids some money to donate. June donated to the prettiest trees. Noah tried to take the mission of the charity into account, but it was hard because a lot them were foundations with uninformative names. He did say it helped if “they made an effort” with the tree. On the way out of the restaurant, June got a balloon she named Balloony and wore tied around her wrist on and off for the rest of the weekend.

At the hotel, I bathed June and then took her down to the lounge to read Toys Go Out and assorted Christmas books while Noah practiced percussion in our room until June’s bedtime.


The next morning we had breakfast at Gallery Espresso again and again we had to wait for them to open so Noah read Toys Go Out to June in the lounge, which we shared with a woman and a baby.  I was able to do my own thing while they read and I wondered if the woman was looking forward to having self-entertaining children or thinking with horror “They still get up at the crack of dawn at that age?”

After breakfast, Beth and Noah went back to the room so he could do some homework and I tried to take June to the beach, but it was foggy and chilly and she quit on me after ten minutes.  I hated to leave as the waves were big and beautiful to watch, but it seemed important to keep the kids separated so Noah could work, so instead of leaving her with Beth, I took her back to the lounge, where she drew and I wrote.

When it was time to check out of the hotel, we loaded up the car, left it in the hotel parking garage and walked to a jeweler’s to shop for wedding rings.  We weren’t sure if we were going to buy or just look–the big day is just around the corner, and we thought if we saw something we liked it would be nice to give our business to a gay-friendly establishment, of which there are plenty in Rehoboth.  In fact, in this store, in the corner where you sit to look at rings and get your fingers sized there was a framed poster of three kissing couples in wedding attire—one straight, one gay male and one lesbian–with the slogan “Traditions Evolve.”

It didn’t take long to choose. We knew what we were after, simple, matching gold bands.  We had to decide about carats, width, color and finish and soon Beth was singing a credit card receipt for more than the entire budget for our original commitment ceremony.  (We did that ceremony on the cheap, as we were young and broke. It was a potluck in our apartment.)  The clerks, one male and one female, were friendly and congratulatory.  When we were finished, the man brought out some homemade peanut butter fudge to celebrate.  News of our nuptials spread joy wherever we go apparently.

We had lunch and ran down to the beach to say goodbye to the ocean.  On the walk toward the beach June kept saying she couldn’t wait for Christmas.  This year she’s just as excited about the gifts she picked for other people as the gifts she’ll receive. Three weeks seems like an impossibly long wait to her but to me it seems a pleasant span of time to plan and look forward to the holiday.

At the beach Noah and I and waded into the waves while June watched a few steps behind us. I was wearing rubber boots, but Noah was barefoot. He screamed from the cold but he was laughing at the same time, and he stayed in for twelve waves, just as he said he would.  We’re big on doing what we said we would, all four of us.

It was the first day of Advent the day we left the beach, the day we bought the rings.  We are not Christians, but it seemed fitting to do this at the beginning of a season of joyful anticipation. We’re not having a wedding per se because we’ve done that already. It will just be Beth and me and the kids and the officiant at our house one Friday morning in mid-January, on the twenty-first anniversary of our commitment ceremony. We’ll dress up and there will be flowers and the rings of course.  I’m thinking of that as the day as being like renewing our vows.  We’ll all speak a bit about what being part of our family means to us, and of course, we’ll legally formalize our relationship.  Like Christmas, it’s a joyful thing on the horizon.

Let’s Say Happy

We are big Halloween decorators and moderate Christmas decorators, but we have no Thanksgiving home décor. June took it upon herself to fill that gap this year. She cut out a paper turkey, colored it with crayons and hung it on our front gate, and taped paper tables and cornucopias to the front door and porch pillars. But her Thanksgiving masterpiece was the banner she painted for the porch. Between two turkeys, it reads, “Happy thanksgiving Happy thanksgiving let’s say Happy.”

“I can’t wait for Thanksgiving,” she kept saying in the days leading up to the holiday. We were going to my mom and stepfather’s house and while the nine people there would not be quite the crowd they had last Christmas (“Occupy Christmas” 12/29/11), it was going to be hopping with Mom and Jim, our family, my sister Sara, my cousin Emily and her son Josiah, who’s June’s age. June enjoys these family gatherings. And Beth’s birthday was the day after Thanksgiving so there was plenty to celebrate.

We arrived at Mom and Jim’s house around noon on Thanksgiving, after a three-hour drive. Emily and Josiah came shortly after we did and we took the three kids, who had all spent the morning cooped up either in a car or a train, for a walk down to the creek. They ran around and hung from exposed tree roots at the creek’s edge and clambered on the big rocks. Soon it turned into a game that had something to do with a battle between the Mongolian and New Hampshire armies (June’s been on a Mulan kick recently, which accounts for the first army). Then Noah decided he wanted to script and film the story and Josiah, who is sometimes camera-shy, didn’t want to be filmed, and drifted away to climb some rocks.  As we were leaving, Noah was making plans to return with multiple cameras to film a leaf floating down the creek from different angles. It was supposed to illustrate the king’s speech about not sinking into hardship like a stone but floating over it, like a stick or a leaf.

Back at the house, I showed the kids how to make turkey centerpieces for the kids’ table out of apples, toothpicks, raisins, and green olives. Josiah chose to put just a few raisins on each tail feather, for a spare, minimalist look that let the different colors of the toothpicks show, while Noah packed his raisins on densely and placed the toothpicks very close together to create a solid fan of raisins. June’s design was somewhere in the middle.

Shortly before dinner, June seemed to be flagging. We thought it might be the excitement of the day plus the Dramamine she’d taken for the car ride, but after taking only a few bites of Mom’s delicious stuffing, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and cranberry sauce, she said she didn’t feel well and wanted to go to bed. Between 5:30 and 7:30 we put her to bed three times because she would decide she felt better, get up, eat a little, feel worse and go back to bed. When it was time for desert she declared that because she’d been sick she was only going to have one dessert and not two.  (There was pumpkin pie and apple-cranberry crisp.)   She ended up eating her whole dinner and dessert and going to bed for the last time only a little before her normal bed time. She did feel warm so we gave her some Tylenol and hoped for the best.

She did seem to get a good night’s sleep, but when she woke shortly before 7:00, she was still ill, worse in fact, and she threw up almost right away. She was lethargic and feverish all morning, though she was finished throwing up by 8:00 a.m. I stayed in bed with her most of the morning, reading to her or reading my own magazine (Brain, Child) while she slept. Beth had been planning to go picket at Wal-Mart to show support for the strikers. She was unsure if she should go with June sick, but I told her to go ahead because it was important to her and there were plenty of adults in the house if I needed back up (and in fact I did call Emily to come sit with June after I cleaned up from the final vomiting incident).

Beth returned late in the morning, by which point June was somewhat improved. I’d finally gotten some more Tylenol into her (she’d been too sick to keep in down earlier in the morning) and she’d stopped sobbing from the pain of her headache.

Beth and Noah took a walk to CVS to get more Tylenol for June and then he accompanied Beth on a birthday lunch at the Regency Café.  (She and I had been thinking of going out together but we didn’t want to leave June without either mother so Noah pinch-hit for me.)  By 1:00 pm., June wanted to get up, get dressed and eat something.  I made her a piece of toast. She only ate half of it, but it seemed to perk her up considerably. She wanted to play with Josiah, who had been sad to be shooed away from her sick room earlier in the day, but he was on the verge of leaving with Mom, Sara and Emily to visit a museum of medical oddities.  I think June would have been game to go, too, if we’d let her, but it was just too soon to chance it, everyone agreed.

Instead, Beth, Noah and I took her back to the creek to finish filming their movie. It was a lovely day, sunny and warm. We shuffled through the yellow and brown leaves on the ground and admired the tiny, lacy red leaves still on the Japanese maples. Even Noah, who is often so in his own head he fails to notice his surroundings, had commented on these leaves the day before.

We had pizza for dinner and an ice cream cake from Cold Stone. I’d ordered it about a week before and then called to change the flavor when Beth saw the Holly Jolly Peppermint Cake advertised in the Sunday circulars the weekend before her birthday and said it looked good. When Mom and Sara were a half hour late coming back with the cake, I told myself they were probably just stuck in Black Friday traffic but I was secretly worried something had gone wrong with the cake. Things often seem to go wrong around Beth’s birthday, a gallbladder attack and a family lice infestation, being two of the more notable examples (“Giving Thanks: Food, Water, and Love” 11/23/07 & “A Lousy Birthday” 11/23/11.)

Nothing was wrong with the cake. It was delicious—red velvet cake layers alternating with dark chocolate peppermint ice cream topped with chocolate ganache and crushed candy canes and holly leaves made of chocolate. Beth seemed pleased with her gifts—a box of pastries from Zingerman’s, a box of Godiva chocolates, a DVD of episodes of the Carol Burnett Show (a childhood favorite of hers) and several books. And she really loved the cake.

June asked to go to bed early again. She felt slightly warm but by the next morning she’d made a complete recovery. One thing Beth wanted to do on her birthday that we didn’t get to do because of June’s illness, was to go to the Tyler Arboretum, which we’d visited two years earlier  (“Everything We Have” 11/29/10).  It’s full of tree houses and whimsical cabins on the ground and play spaces made of natural materials (like logs and tree stumps) and less natural big fiberglass frogs.  On Saturday morning we headed out there with Emily and Josiah. It was much colder than the day before but we still had fun wandering down the paths, finding the tree houses and climbing up into them. There was a cabin built to the exact dimensions of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond with a bookcase filled with children’s books.  Josiah’s favorite was a tree full of wind chimes that also had a circular bench around it and ropes you could pull to ring cowbells. Let’s just say that melodious tree got a lot noisier when our party arrived and started pulling on those ropes.

We didn’t see all the tree houses—not even in two visits have we seen them all—but it was cold and everyone was getting hungry for lunch, so we left a little before noon.

Emily and Josiah left for New York that afternoon and the visit started to wind down from there.  Sara and I went out for coffee, Noah started working on long-delayed homework, and we had a spaghetti dinner with leftover birthday cake and apple-cranberry crisp.  After June went to bed we watched a documentary about Machu Picchu, which Mom and Jim will visit this winter, fulfilling a long-time dream of my mother’s.

But before June went to bed, we played a round of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Cat.  (Mom and June made the cat and the tails earlier in the day.)  Then Mom had everyone go around and say what our favorite parts of the weekend had been.  A lot of people said the tree houses. Thanksgiving dinner and Beth’s birthday celebration were also mentioned.

When I was getting June ready for bed she wanted to hear the flip side. What was the worst part of the weekend? Her getting sick, of course, but I told her I was also sad about Mom and Jim moving to Oregon in January (they finally sold their house) and it being our last holiday in the house where they’ve lived the past twenty years. The kids and I may come for a couple days after Christmas, but we’re spending Christmas in Wheeling and even if we weren’t, Mom and Jim would be too busy packing to host another holiday. Mom is in fact very stressed about everything she has to do between now and mid-January when they close on the house, so Sara may be coming out after New Year’s to help them wrap up the loose ends.

On the drive home from the arboretum, I was struck by how perfectly the Philadelphia suburbs resemble themselves, all those gray stone walls and houses, those winding little creeks, that autumnal sky spitting little flurries of snow. I’d lived in four states by the time I was five and a half years old, and though we stuck to the Philadelphia area after that, we still moved around a lot, albeit in a smaller radius.  I used to say because of those frequent moves that I wasn’t really from anywhere.  But once I was an adult and I settled into another place, first in and then near the city where I’ve lived for over twenty years, I finally knew that even though I’ve lived in the Washington metropolitan area the longest, I am not from Washington, I have roots elsewhere.  It’s making me sad at the moment, because I won’t have much reason to visit Philadelphia any more, but Beth did point out to me that I am not exiled from it.  And having roots is good thing, a grounding thing.

So, let’s say happy.