At dinner a couple weeks ago, on the last night of the second quarter, I observed that on that very day, Noah had reached the mid-point of his public education. Six and a half years down, six and half years to go. He seemed amused and pleased by this observation.
Then the other day, while I was engaged in the mundane task of sweeping the hall floor, I had a similar realization. Noah is eleven years and nine months old. In eleven years and nine months, June will be gone, two months into her first year of college. That means around a month ago we passed the midpoint of our parenting-kids-at-home years. There’s still a lot we haven’t experienced—like parenting teens, but we’ll get there soon and we’ve had our babies and toddlers and kids with us for longer already than they will be staying. This made me feel alarmed and then melancholy. How could this adventure be half over already?
But the middle is a good place to be. Both kids brought home great report cards last week. Even though he continues to have trouble remembering to turn in his homework Noah still earned all As and Bs, and June’s marks were good, too. Her report card came with a notation that she’s reading at a second grade level, which was about what I would have guessed. Both kids are happy and engaged in school and in their extracurricular activities.
June’s first basketball game was Saturday. Her coach moved the team to a different league this season, the county league instead of the town one, so they could play other all-girl teams. While spirited, full of heart and grit, and just plain adorable, the Purple Pandas finished their season 0 and 8 last winter, playing co-ed (mostly male) teams. This year they are the Red Pandas (which as Beth points out is a real animal). The season is structured differently with a month of twice-weekly practices before games start, and a short, four-game season in February.
I’d been to a few of the practices so I knew the Pandas were much improved over last year. About two thirds of the players from last year’s team are back and the new girls have integrated into the team well. Several of the Pandas played on the June’s soccer team last fall so they’ve developed a good esprit de corps. They understand how to look for passing and scoring opportunities and exploit them and they’re demonstrating better basic skills. They are no longer afraid to knock the ball away from another player and no longer shocked and hurt when an opposing player grabs it from them. A lot more of them can easily make a basket and June has even made a few, though never at a practice I attended so I have yet to see it.
Saturday morning June woke excited for the game. She went out into the driveway to practice dribbling right after breakfast. She drank a glass of water when I mentioned her coach recommended they hydrate throughout the day. After lunch we drove out to the game, which was being held in the gym of an elementary school about a half an hour away.
Spirits were high among the Pandas. They were wiggly and full of energy as they lined up to practice shooting baskets and at one point before the game started they all broke out into the Mexican Hat Dance. Maggie, the coach’s daughter and a classmate of June’s since nursery school, had brought an American Girl Doll dressed in a cheerleader’s outfit to cheer for her. (Maggie’s mom was in charge of the doll during the game.)
There were enough players on both teams to split them in half and run two games simultaneously. June’s best friend Megan, a new Panda, was in June’s game and early on, she scored the first basket. I imagine that was satisfying, especially as her out-of-town grandmother was there to watch. I won’t give a play- by-play, but overall I was impressed at how well the Pandas performed. It was the first game I ever watched in which they looked better than the other team. They passed to each other and set up shots more skillfully, and they won, or at least I think I did. By my count the score was 6-4, though another parent thought it was 6-6, and there’s no official scorekeeping so there was no way to know for sure. At the end of the game, however, Megan came off the court screaming, “We won! We won!” so I guess she agreed with my scorekeeping.
There was no uncertainty on the other side of the gym. Over there the Pandas were dominating. Almost every time I glanced at the other game Sally had the ball and I saw it sail through the net a couple times. I heard the score was 14-4 at halftime.
Immediately after the game June said it was fun and she seemed pleased to have won, but in the car on the way home, she was mulling things over and was dissatisfied with her own playing. She hadn’t touched the ball the whole game, she said. A few times a teammate tried to pass to her but she never caught the ball. Beth reminded her she’d done some good defensive work, getting in opposing players’ way and preventing them from catching the ball, and then she discussed ways a smaller player like June might use a move like a fake to get back into the action when bigger girls (which in June’s case is all of them) were in her way.
Later that afternoon, June had a play date with Malachi, a kindergarten classmate who played in the Takoma basketball league last winter. His team bested the Pandas twice last winter, once by at least twenty points, I think. This year he’s playing in a different league as well and he’d also had a game earlier in the day. When his mom dropped him off and all the adults were asking the kids if they had fun at their games, Malachi got right to the point.
“Did you win?” he said.
“Yeah,” June said. And then they picked up a rubber ball and started bouncing it back and forth to each other in the living room. Later I heard them swapping basketball tips.
Tuesday there was another big event, Noah’s Honors Band concert. We had a hard time deciding whether to let him join this band because he’s often overwhelmed with homework and his practice for regular band. Plus, the weekday evening practices at a school a half hour away seemed as if they could be difficult logistically. But Noah wanted to do it and it only lasted six weeks, so we said yes. As we expected, Tuesdays were completely impossible. I think the only time Noah didn’t go to bed well after his bedtime with uncompleted homework was on a day there was practice, but no school. Nonetheless, he seemed to enjoy it and there was the bonus of time spent carpooling with Sasha, so it was worth it.
The boys needed to be at the concert forty-five minutes early so Sasha’s mom took them and then we swung by his house and got his dad so only one of four adults had to wait that long. In the car, Sasha’s dad said Sasha was worried they weren’t ready. Noah had expressed similar sentiments after the second to last practice. They only had five practices, spread out over one month, unlike regular band, which meets three times a week after school for months before there’s a concert. If things were a little rough around the edges, it would be no wonder.
We arrived while the orchestra was on stage rehearsing. I scanned it for kids I knew and I saw a girl who attended the Purple School in Noah’s class playing first cello, and a girl from his second elementary school playing violin. I recognized her because she has the quirk of always wears something with a zebra pattern. It was a hair band that day. When you count Sasha, who attended Noah’s first elementary school and plays clarinet and a girl from his middle school on saxophone that’s someone from every school he’s ever attended, and there were probably more I couldn’t see.
The director of instrumental music for the county gave some opening remarks in which we were urged to lobby for more music staffing in the elementary schools and soon the orchestra was playing. Up to last night I’d never heard an all-string version of “We Will Rock You,” but now I have. I am not a musician and possibly not the best judge, but in my experience of elementary and middle school concerts, I notice differences in skill levels most in the strings sections and I have to say, the orchestra sounded good.
The band was great, too. I caught my best glimpse of Noah as they filed onto the stage. Percussion is always in the back so I often can’t see Noah at all during his concerts. This time toward the end, I realized if I craned my neck a certain way and peered underneath a music stand two flutists were sharing I could see his hair, his forehead and his drumsticks in motion. So that was kind of gratifying, but I did miss seeing him in action for most of the concert. He was playing a lot of different instruments—cowbell, spoons, sticks, suspended cymbals, triangle, wind chimes, and xylophone. It would have been nice to know what sounds he was making at any given time. (I even had him tell me ahead of time what he was doing in each song and then promptly forgot.). But that complaint aside, it was a really impressive concert. The kids worked hard and it showed.
Percussionists are always the last to leave the building after a concert because they have a lot of work carrying all the drums and other instruments off the stage and into the band room. While we waited, we chatted with Sasha and his parents about band camp at the University of Maryland. Sasha went last year, loved it and is planning to go again.
In the car on the way home Noah said the concert was fun, but he was glad Honors Band was over. I will be happy to have more manageable Tuesday evenings (and for him not to be staying up late trying to finish his late assignments the rest of the week as he did tonight), but I’m also happy he did it. I love to watch my kids play, whether it’s basketball, drums or anything else they try. I’m grateful to have another eleven and half years at the sidelines and in the audience.