Artful April

When I flipped the calendar page to April I noticed it looked busy, and notably artistic.  Here’s a sample of what we did during the first two weeks of the month (a lot of which never even made it onto the calendar).

Tuesday:  4 p.m. June’s violin lesson
Wednesday: 3:15 p.m. Observation day for last meeting of June’s drama class
7:30 p.m. Steph’s book club (The Iliad, books 1-6)
Saturday: 9:30 a.m. June’s makeup violin lesson
10:15 a.m. First meeting of kung fu class for June.
Sunday: 11:05 a.m. June performs at her music school’s booth at the farmers’ market
3 p.m. Movie date for Beth and Steph (The Grand Hotel Budapest)
Tuesday: 7:40 a.m. Band festival drop-off for Noah
4 p.m. June’s violin lesson
Wednesday: 7:30 p.m. Steph’s book club (The Good Lord Bird)
Friday: 5:30 p.m. June’s violin recital for June

Noah also had five band practices during this period. He normally has them after school every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, but the teacher cancelled practice the day of the festival. And I feel compelled to note I’m not even considering two meetings of the discussion group for the MOOC Beth is taking on American Capitalism, as I am focusing on the (martial) arts here.

Wednesday Afternoon: Drama Class

Wednesday was the last meeting of June’s after school drama class. The winter session of after school activities was supposed to end in mid-March but we had so many snow days this year, it was pushed to the first week of April and they still had to extend the class time of three of the meetings from forty-five minutes to an hour to recoup the lost time.

Sadly, the school district as a whole is not being as honorable about making up lost days as the after school activities program.  We had ten snow days this year, six over the limit of built-in ones, and we will only make up two of those six, but I will spare you a rant about that right now.  Maybe I’ll save it for when school ends a week before I think it should. I should still be plenty bitter by then.

Anyway, parents were invited to observe the last class. It was originally billed as a performance but then the instructors clarified it wouldn’t be anything different than what they do on a normal day. Nevertheless, there were more parents present than kids, so most of the nine kids in the class must have had at least one parent there.

They started with warm-up exercises and pretended to be zoo animals and then one of the teachers read them We’re Going on a Lion Hunt. You may know this chant as “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” especially if you frequent library story times.  Then they brainstormed all the different places the children in the book go (grassland, lake, cave) and the kinds of animals one might encounter in these habitats.  Creative answers were encouraged. Next, they pretended to visit each locale. Two children pretended to be the explorers and the rest were animals. My favorite part was when they all put their hands on each other’s shoulders to form a long, conga line-style snake.

When it was over I asked June if it was like a normal class and she said not really because everyone was behaving themselves. I knew sometimes the teachers had classroom management challenges. This frustrates June whether it’s in regular class or extracurricular activities because she takes everything she does seriously and she expects the same of her peers. Overall, though, she said she did enjoy the class and she’s looking forward to her spring after school activity—Indian dance, which starts in late April.

Wednesday Evening: Book Club

That same day my book club had its second meeting on The Iliad.  This book club is officially two different book clubs, although the members are basically the same.  The Big Book Club covers two classics a year, at least four sessions per book. The first meeting is always a lecture by a professor or graduate student who’s an expert on the book. (The Bi-Monthly Book Club, or as it’s sometimes jokingly called, the Small Book Club, tends to focus more on contemporary fiction.)

This was our first post-lecture discussion of The Iliad and it was a lively one. We covered questions such as whether the gods who orchestrate all the action could be seen as symbols of different psychological states, the role of women, whether all the violence was glorified, lamented or both, and the sheer loveliness of the extended similes. As I consider myself an expatriate from academia at times, this book club has been a real lifeline for me. I almost always come home from it feeling energized, sometimes to the point of not being able to sleep when I get home.

Saturday Morning: Kung Fu

I met Beth and June at her kung fu class, as they were coming from her make-up violin lesson (which she attended in her kung fu uniform).  The original lesson was, of course a snow-related cancellation. June’s music school is also more conscientious about making up snow days than our school district, it should be noted, if one cares about that sort of thing, which you may have guessed by now, I do.

I got there first and was surprised to see as other kids arrived that they were mostly wearing black kung fu uniforms like hers.  We got hers as a hand-me-down, but when June last took kung fu two years ago only one kid had a uniform and everyone else wore street clothes.  Not much else seems to have changed in the interim, other than that June is now no longer one of the younger kids in the class. Now she’s probably one of the oldest ones, though she falls in the middle in terms of size.  Two kids had white belts already.  June had debated whether or not to wear hers to class and decided not to, as she has forgotten a lot of her white belt skills and thought she might need to test for it again.

I remember being startled at the first class two years ago at how the rather gruff teacher just launched right into exercises without any introduction or much in the way of instructions. It was like that again.  He did acknowledge June, saying, “It’s been a long time,” warmly when he saw her. He had the children sit cross-legged and they took turns closing their eyes and trying to locate coins he dropped around them by the sound of them clattering to the wood floor.  June remembered this exercise and had said she hoped they would do it at the first class.  He said, “Good job, June,” when she found them. I wasn’t sure if he’d remember her name or not, so that was nice.

He introduced the children who were returning to the new ones and praised their skills. “June was very good,” he said, with a slight emphasis on the past tense and then they got started. They practiced various poses and stretches.  He liked June’s shark fin. He went up and down the line, critiquing and re-positioning kids until they were in the right pose, talking to them about self-control and hard work and suggesting if they weren’t up for the rigors of kung fu, they should take karate or tae kwan do. I was glad June didn’t pipe up that she had taken karate since she last saw him.  It wouldn’t have gone over well. He’s sure of his own way of doing things and he doles out criticism as readily as praise. I think June actually likes that about him because she knows when she’s really earned an encouraging word.  It was forty minutes into class before a child who wasn’t paying sufficient attention was temporarily exiled to sit with his mother. I remember it usually happening earlier than that.

About forty-five minutes into class they started kicks and I could see June was glad to get to that part.  Then the instructor had the two white belts and another of the returning student demonstrate the forms everyone else would need to learn.  Then he said, “Let’s see what June remembers.”

She came to the front of the class, bowed, did two or three forms and said, “That’s it.” He seemed satisfied and sent most of the class to the water fountain so he could have a little extra instructional time with the two white belts. When the class was re-assembled he showed everyone what he wanted them to practice and class was over.

Sunday Morning: Street Performance

When June had her violin lesson on Saturday, her teacher mentioned the school was going to have a booth at the farmers’ market the next morning and she didn’t have to but would she like to stand in front of it and play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and her recital songs?  Would she? June was all over that.

They didn’t give us a time slot since they’d be there for the whole four hours the market was open and when we showed up at 10:15 they were still setting up the tent so we finished our shopping and came back a little after eleven. Beth went to get us a couple coffees and missed June going through her repertoire the first two times, but she did see the last round.  June ran to meet her when she returned and reported to her she’d drawn “quite a crowd” in Beth’s absence and she did. About a dozen people stopped (not all at the same time) to stop and clap for her. She bowed after every song and seemed quite pleased.

Sunday Afternoon: Film

Sunday was quite an exciting day for June as she woke up at Zoë’s slumber party, went straight to the farmers’ market and was home long enough to eat lunch and play in the yard for a little while before Becky and Eleanor came to pick her up for her afternoon that featured a manicure, gelato, a tea party, and a walk in the woods. (This was a birthday present.)  June was waiting impatiently for them on the porch when they arrived.

Beth and I seized the opportunity to go see a movie.  It was actually our second movie of the weekend. The night before while June was at Zoë’s house, we had some one-kid-two-moms time with Noah, going out to dinner at an Italian restaurant in Silver Spring and watching the first half hour of the first Harry Potter movie. June has caught up by herself and we hope to finish it all together over spring break.

For the adult movie, we chose Grand Budapest Hotel. This was fun, a bit more violent than I realized it would be, having not read much about it, but engaging and a nice getaway with Beth. We’ve seen three movies in a theater since Christmas, which may be some kind of post-kids record for us.

Tuesday Morning: Band Festival

The first thing I heard Tuesday morning was Beth exhorting Noah to get into his band clothes—“I’m not kidding,” she was saying tensely. The bus for the band festival was leaving from Noah’s school at 7:40, she had to drive him there, and time was running short. I managed to snap a quick picture of him before they left. See what an enthusiastic subject he was?

In the spring the band travels to a number of judged festivals and other performances, including one outside Hershey Park, after which the kids go to—you guessed it—Hershey Park. Tuesday was their first one, a countywide competition. Noah was hoping the band would score well enough to advance to the state-level competition, as the chorus already had. After all, who wants to be beaten out by the chorus? Last year they did advance and went on to get a perfect score at the state competition.

That afternoon Beth forwarded me an email from the band teacher. The band had done very well, scoring “superior” from two judges and “excellent” from two more, but they needed a perfect score to advance.

June and I crossed paths with Noah as he was walking home from the bus stop and we were headed to another bus stop for her violin lesson. I yelled congratulations mixed with condolences from across the street, and then called him a few minutes later on my cell phone. He sounded a little disappointed, but he was a good sport about it, as is his way.

Wednesday Evening: Book Club

The next evening the other book club met.  We discussed The Good Lord Bird, a piece of historical fiction by James McBride about John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, told from the point of view of an African-American adolescent boy who travels with Brown. It’s narrated in a sort of American picaresque style—a lot of the discussion focused on connections to Huckleberry Finn—with a dash of postmodernism. It was a good discussion, but I would have liked to talk more about the fact that the protagonist cross-dresses for most of the novel.

Friday Afternoon: Violin Recital

On Thursday evening at dinner June said Friday was going to be “the best day ever!” She cashed in forty tiger paws (a reward system at her school) to have lunch in the classroom with her teacher, she was going to Maggie’s birthday party directly after school and from there she’d go to her recital.

I’d spent a good deal of the week ferrying June’s violin from place to place.  She broke the bridge on Monday afternoon while she was practicing so Tuesday morning I took it to the music store to buy a new one and get it installed.  Later that afternoon at her lesson, the teacher said the new bridge was too high and we needed to get it shaved down to fit the violin, which is a quarter sized one. Indeed, June had to press harder on the strings and was making mistakes she hadn’t been making before, so I called the store—found out the employee should not have put it in as is—and arranged for a loaner while we get the bridge customized. I went back to trade violins on Wednesday morning, so June could finally practice. (She did an extra long practice that evening.)

Friday I brought the violin to Maggie’s house where her birthday party was in full swing. (Literally, the kids were taking turns on the backyard swing.) June had already changed into her recital clothes and after her turn being pushed high into the air by Maggie’s dad (who is also her basketball coach), she gathered up the cup and saucer she’d painted and the cupcake Maggie’s mom packed for the road and we were off to the recital.

On arriving, June learned from the program that she was going first and she looked a little stricken, but her teacher told her they were going to a practice room to run through her songs, “and then you won’t be nervous any more.”  She sounded convincing, and when June came back she did look more confident.  It turned out I knew one of the moms in the audience. Her kids went to the same preschool mine did, but in different years. Her third grader was going to play the guitar in the recital.

June was the only student in the recital to play three songs and also the only one listed as an arranger of her own music. (She was improvising a tune based on a half scale.)  There was a small mistake in her first song but she recovered and went on to play the rest of her songs well, took a bow, and looked relieved to be able to sit and listen to the other violinist, the guitarist, pianists and the tiny girl playing a drum kit.  There were ten musicians in all, most of them ten or under, and the whole program over completed in twenty minutes. Then it was time for juice and cookies and a celebratory pizza dinner at Roscoe’s.

The most artful part of April was over, but it was the first evening of spring break so more adventures awaited us…