About Steph

Your author, part-time, work-at-home writer.

Take the Win

Saturday

Around quarter to five in the afternoon, I settled myself on the damp sand, close to where the last little edges of the waves were reaching. My mom, sister, brother-in-law Dave, and niece Lily-Mei were in route from Philadelphia where they’d flown in the day before, Beth was out getting some groceries, and North had started making dinner. I don’t remember what Noah was doing, but he didn’t want to come with me.

I was wearing my swim bottoms and a t-shirt. I didn’t intend to go in the water because I wasn’t staying long—though if the waves looked good I probably would have, bathing suit or no bathing suit. As it was, the water was pretty calm. I sat and stared at it for a solid half hour and managed to get my mind nearly empty of thought. I think that might what it’s like to meditate, though I’ve never tried.

I walked in the front door just behind Sara and the others, having timed my exit from the beach just right. We showed them around the house and since there was a ping pong table in the basement and we had a nine year old who’d been cooped on planes and the car for much of the past two days, we had to play right away. While Lily-Mei was playing with my mom, she said, “You realize I’m going easy on you,” even though Sara had come up with a co-operative way to play. Rather than trying to score points against each other, each pair tried to keep a volley going as long as it could.  The room also had a dart board, which North used throughout the week. They liked it so much they want one for Christmas.

North served a casual feast: veggie cheeseburgers, corn on the cob, watermelon, and a tomato-mozzarella salad with pesto. They also made a pitcher of watermelon agua fresca. We ate at the long dining room table, which was in a room with a soaring wooden ceiling and a wall of windows overlooking a narrow finger of Silver Lake. Throughout the week we’d see herons, geese, ducks, turtles, dragonflies, and enormous fish that swam with their backs sticking out of the water (looking like small eerie alligators) either from the dining room windows, or the lawn behind the house.

Once it was dark, Beth, North, Sara, Dave, Lily-Mei and I went for a short walk on the beach. There was a group of teenage girls standing in a circle near the water singing Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” with surprising enthusiasm. I wondered they were buoying one of their number whose boyfriend had recently cheated. I also wondered why girls so young even knew this song, but Beth speculated that maybe someone has remade it recently.

Back at the house, Noah and Sara’s family started a game of Sorry, but Beth and I were ready for bed, being an early-to-bed-early-to-rise sort of people. Sara and Dave were keeping Lily-Mei on West Coast time, so she was up later than us every night.

Sunday

Beth went kayaking in the morning. She’d rented a kayak for the week and this day she explored the waters right outside our house. I organized people into putting items on a grocery list and helped Mom brainstorm ideas for her meal for our party which included four vegetarians, one person with diabetes, one person with a gluten sensitivity, and at least the requisite amount of likes and dislikes in a large group (only the diabetes is new since the last time she cooked for all of us but it seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back because she was stumped). Then Sara and Dave went out to buy the groceries. Mom and I took a walk to the tea and spice store to get a tea ball to infuse herbs and Parmesan rind into a soup Noah and I would be making later in the day.

Mom, who is going to get a knee replaced soon, needed a lot of stops to rest, but that wasn’t a problem as there were benches and shaded pavilions all along the boardwalk and it gave us a chance to talk. She picked up a strawberry-banana smoothie to sip as we rested at one of them.

When we got back Noah and I read a little and then Beth, North, and I went to the beach. I couldn’t stay long because it was my night to cook, but we all waded together for a little while and then North and I went out deeper for a bit. The water was still on the calm side, but it was nice to be in the water on a hot day. I walked home on my own, leaving Beth and North at the beach.

Back at the house, Noah and I made minestrone. When Beth and North got home, Beth settled into the hammock we’d brought from home and set up near the water. She stayed there until dinner. The after-dinner entertainment was a screening of North’s drama camp performance of Pippin and a slideshow of Mom’s pictures from her trip to Morocco this spring. It looks like a very beautiful country.  After that, Sara and Dave and Lily-Mei made a Candy Kitchen run. Beth and I were in bed before they returned.

Monday

Beth left to go kayaking in the canal in Lewes (having decided Rehoboth Bay was too rough) before anyone but me was up. Around 10:35, Lily-Mei and Dave decided it was the day for the water park and they wanted to go right away, but North wasn’t even awake yet and it’s possible Sara wasn’t either. In any case, they both needed to eat breakfast and get ready, so the actual departure was around 12:15.  While they waited, Noah pushed Lily-Mei in the hammock like it was a swing. She kept saying, “higher” and he said, “I don’t want you to fall out,” and she replied, “higher!”

Mom and I took a walk to the turtle bridge, so called because turtles congregate in the water below. It was within sight of our house, so a very short walk. (Mom though she might have overdone it the day before.) We saw a lot of turtles, but also ducks and geese. One had a quarter of its shell that was a completely different, more colorful, pattern than the rest. I wasn’t sure if it was molting—do turtles molt?—or if the shell was broken and that’s what was underneath or if it that patch was just cleaner than the rest. The turtles, especially the bigger and presumably older ones, were all covered with muck and algae.

After the water park party departed, I headed to a pavilion on the boardwalk to blog in a scenic, shaded, breezy place. Once I got caught up I went back to the house to change into my suit. When I got back to the house, Beth had returned from kayaking and was eating lunch out back by our little sliver of lake.

I returned to the beach and stayed from three to six. I swam for about an hour. The waves were a little bigger than the day before and close together so it was hard to get in, but once I did it was nice. After my swim, I got a pistachio gelato on the boardwalk and sat on a bench looking at the ocean to eat it. As I did I encountered my inner child in the form of a three or four-year-old boy who was explaining to his parents, “We should build a house here so whenever we come to Delaware, we don’t have to leave” in the tone of one explaining the obvious solution to people who are slightly dim-witted. When I got back to my towel, I started Piranesi, which is the first book I’ve read on my own since the last time we were at the beach in early July. It’s short, so I read about a third of it and then it was time to head back for dinner.

Dinner was Beth’s traditional beach meal: gazpacho, salt-crusted potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, olives, baguette, and a cheese plate. It’s always much anticipated. After dinner, we split up. Sara’s family played ping pong, while Beth and my kids went to the boardwalk for ice cream. I stayed behind because I’d already had a boardwalk treat and it was my turn to do the dishes.

I watched Sara, Dave, Mom, and Lily-Mei play Pictionary, then took Mom’s place when she’d had enough, then Noah took mine when my family got back from the boardwalk. Dave said he wasn’t sure what it meant that he was “burning through partners.”

Tuesday

Beth, Noah, and I took a long walk the next morning. It was already very hot and humid when we set out around nine a.m., but we were undaunted. We hit Café a Go-Go, where I got an iced latte, Beth got a chocolate chip cookie, and Noah got a cranberry-orange muffin. Next we went to BrowseAbout, where I picked up a couple books I’d ordered and Beth tried to decide how to spend the gift certificate I got her for our anniversary and decided to hold onto it for now, and Noah got the third book in the Game of Thrones series and looked at an extension kit for Settlers of Catan he’s had his eye on for a while. (They’re surprisingly expensive.) Finally, we went to the farmers’ market and got some excellent raspberries and two giant soft pretzels, one for Noah and one to take home to North. I was intending to get the blueberry doughnuts I resisted in July since there were more people in the house this time to eat them up, but they didn’t have them that day.

Back at home we had lunch, I folded laundry on the ping pong table, which I recommend if you find yourself with a ping pong table and laundry to fold—it’s just the right height and it’s divided into neat quadrants. Noah and Dave finished the puzzle, which consisted of images from Funland. It must have been an easy one because we’d only started it that same day. I put in three pieces and fitted two together outside the puzzle, which is more than I generally do, which may also be an indication that the puzzle was easier than usual.

In the mid-afternoon  I went to the beach, joining North, who was already there. We swam about an hour in small to moderate waves, then North went up to the boardwalk to wait for Beth to come pick them up and drive them back to the house. I went up to the boardwalk a little later to read another forty pages of Piranesi on a bench in the shade.

When I got home, Lily-Mei was showing off the impressive haul of stuffed animals she won at Funland, almost more than she could hold. Mom made fruit salad and three asparagus quiches for dinner and we ate two of them. (The other one disappeared over the course of the next couple days.) North had gone to bed with a headache and didn’t come to dinner. After dinner, Beth went for a walk, Noah and I watched Only Murders in the Building, and Sara’s family played a board game called Outburst and went to the boardwalk. After we’d gone to bed I could hear Sara animatedly reading a Harry Potter book to Lily-Mei. I couldn’t make out any of the words, except “Gryffindor” and “Slytherin” over and over so I’m guessing it might have been about a Quidditch match.

Wednesday

In the morning Beth went kayaking on the lake outside the house again. This time Noah walked along the shore, following her and taking pictures and drone footage. It was good she got some time in nature because she had to spend a lot of the afternoon and evening ferrying people around. She drove my mom and me to our traditional lunch spot because the walk would have been too much for Mom. After lunch all eight of us met up for ice cream and funnel cake on the boardwalk and she drove our kids there. Then everyone but Beth and me went to the movies—they saw Marcel the Shell—but even though she didn’t go to the movies Beth drove our kids because Sara and Dave’s rental car wouldn’t fit six. She dropped North’s required covid test for sleepaway camp in the mail, and then she picked up the kids at the movies and me at the house and drove us to dinner at a make-your-own-bowl place out on the highway, and drove us all plus my mom to Sweet Frog for frozen yogurt and then home. On that drive, we all admired the gorgeous moon, huge, golden, and nearly full, hanging low in the sky.

Earlier that day, while most of our party was at the movies, I went to the beach. It had been sprinkling a little while Mom and I were walking and it started again while I was in the water. It was such a light rain it was hard to tell it even was raining, since I was wet already, but I could see the rings forming and spreading on the surface of the slate gray water. Parts of the sky were blue, with puffy white clouds, but most of it was full of dark clouds. The water was very still, with the smallest swells. I floated on my back and studied the cloudbanks. When the lifeguards blew the five o’ clock whistle, I got out of the water and started to read on my towel, but the sprinkles turned to drizzle and I sought refuge in a pavilion one block down the boardwalk. After I spread out my towel along the back of the bench and got my book out, I looked up and noticed a huge rainbow over the beach. It was a day of beauty in the sky.

Thursday

We had bad news from my cousin Holly in the morning. Her fourteen-year-old daughter Annabelle, who has multiple disabilities and is medically fragile, was in the hospital with unexplained breathing problems. (It turned out to be septic pneumonia.) The hospital was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, only three hours away, and Holly’s a single mom without a lot of support in the area, so Sara was thinking of leaving the beach to go be with her, but then she found out Holly’s adult stepdaughter was going to come out, so she didn’t.

Meanwhile, Mom took my kids out to breakfast at Egg. When they got back Beth took North to an urgent care to get a camp physical because despite weeks of trying to get the required health form signed and faxed to camp, we’d found out from the camp nurse the day before that it never arrived. The short version of this story is that our pediatrician is on leave and her substitute had promised to send the form but never did, despite multiple calls. The week before we left for the beach, when the form was already overdue, Beth even dropped into the office, unannounced, and tried to stage a sit-in, but she left when assured the form would be sent. Anyway, it never was.

This urgent care did not take appointments, so Beth and North had to sign in and then sit in a hot car for almost three hours until they were called in and told the doctor could not sign the form because of North’s complex medical history and multiple prescriptions. They came home very discouraged as camp was starting in three days and it was seeming as if they might not be able to go.

While they were gone I walked to Café a Go-Go, got myself a latte and brought one home for North. I also had half a piece of coffee cake and saved the other half for Beth, who was having a rough day, for reasons beyond what I’ve mentioned.

Mom, Sara’s family, and I went to the beach. Sara and I had a nice talk, mostly about our kids, while in the ocean, and then she read a Harry Potter book to Lily-Mei, and then she and Dave and Lily-Mei made a sand castle with dribble towers and series of pools and canals and walls that captured water to use for the dribbles. Mom and I read our books and I texted back and forth with Beth about the camp problem and other problems and then I went for a walk along the shore and back down the boardwalk.

When we returned from the beach, Beth was on the phone with the camp nurse. She’d explained that her next step was to drive back to D.C. and attempt another sit-in at the doctor’s office when the nurse said if she could just see some kind of official record of North’s prescriptions, they could waive the form. Within seconds Beth was on the Children’s National Medical Center portal and making a PDF of the records and sending to the nurse. The nurse texted her “See you on Sunday” and there was much rejoicing in the house.

Sara and Dave set up a make-your-own spring roll station for dinner, which was fun. I actually skipped the wrapper and ate only the fillings and sauce because we were having S’mores after dinner and I came into dinner with higher blood sugar than I anticipated, due to a poorly timed afternoon snack.

We made the S’mores over the backyard propane fire pit filled with volcanic rook and blue glass pebbles. It was very pretty with the flames dancing among the colored glass and reflected in them and it was peaceful to sit by the water, surrounded by tall oak trees. However, those trees were blocking our view of the sky, and North wanted to see the moon because it was full that night and a super moon to boot. So Noah and North walked to the turtle bridge to see if they could see it from there, but it wasn’t high enough yet.

People peeled off gradually. Mom went inside to call her gentleman friend John who was recovering from his last radiation treatment and wasn’t doing well. Sara, Lily-Mei, and Noah went inside to watch a Harry Potter movie (#3). Beth called her brother. North and I went back to the turtle bridge and this time we could see the moon and it was lovely. Finally, North went back inside and Beth came out for a little bit, and then she and I went to bed, and Dave was the last one lingering by the fire.

In bed Beth was speculating about why the camp nurse had agreed to waive the signature on the form, when there was more on it besides the prescriptions, then she decided not to think about it, saying she’d “take the win.”

Friday

Friday morning Beth went kayaking on the lake one last time and then Noah helped her get the kayak up on top of the car so she could return it. I caught up on my blog, and then everyone but Mom and Sara went out for crepes or pizza for lunch.

After lunch, we dropped by Candy Kitchen to buy taffy and truffles and then Beth left and Dave and I accompanied the younger generation to Funland. We rode the Haunted Mansion twice in a row because both Lily-Mei and North wanted to sit with me. I could let you think I’m that popular, but it was because I was wearing my glow-in-the-dark Haunted Mansion t-shirt and they wanted to see what it looked like inside the Mansion, even though there’s black light in there so North’s whole white shirt glowed, as did the white trim on Lily-Mei’s shorts. She yelped when the big bat swooped down at us and at some of the other jump scares, and afterward she said it was scarier than she remembered from last year. She’d been telling us before we went in that it was “tame.” In my experience, eight to ten is the perfect age for the Haunted Mansion, and she’s nine.

The kids did some more rides (the Paratrooper and the Freespin) and then we took a break for games, because apparently Lily-Mei hadn’t won enough stuffed animals yet. (She came home with two more.) At that point, Noah and I walked home and read, while Lily-Mei and North went on more rides and then North called for Beth to give them a ride home, leaving Dave and Lily-Mei there. When Beth and North got back, my family of four plus Sara all went for a quick trip to the beach. Steps from the boardwalk, we ran into Dave and Lily-Mei who were returning home from Funland, so Lily-Mei switched parents and came to the beach with us.

It was almost five when we got there and we were going out to dinner so we only stayed a little over an hour, but it was a nice time. The weather was lovely—the heat having let up a couple days earlier—and Sara and Lily-Mei discovered a set of large, interconnected holes (big enough to climb into) with walls that rose a little above ground level that someone had dug and they set to work decorating the walls with dribbles. North and I got into the water and enjoyed the best waves of the trip. I got out just in time to read the last fifteen pages of Piranesi, which was gratifying, while Sara and Lily-Mei splashed in the water.

Earlier that afternoon Noah had reminded us that we hadn’t taken the family portrait yet, so after everyone was home and showered, he set up his tripod behind the house and we took it.

Sara and Dave went on a dinner date by themselves, while the rest of us had pizza and stromboli on the patio of Grotto. It was pleasant out there, with strings of white lights crisscrossed over the tables. Some people got dessert on the boardwalk and then Noah and I walked home, while everyone else drove. Noah and I stopped at the turtle bridge on the way home to look at the now-full moon.

Back at home Mom was trying to get information about John, who was now was in the hospital with a bacterial infection, probably due to the radiation suppressing his immune system. She was talking to the neighbor who she’d asked to check in on him and his daughter throughout the afternoon and evening. It was a hard week on people we care about.

We set to work folding laundry (on the ping pong table again) and packing, but we finished in time to show Mom the movie Noah made in his Advanced Cinema Production class last spring. In the middle, Sara and Dave came home so we started it over. Once everyone had seen it, Beth and I went to bed, around the same time Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei were leaving for one last trip to Funland. They managed to stay on West Coast time the whole trip, but this meant we’d be checking out of the house the next day at what would feel like seven a.m. to them. I wondered how that would work out.

Saturday 

Despite this obstacle and the usual chaos packing up and emptying the fridge, we did manage to get out of the house only fifteen minutes late. We said our goodbyes on the front lawn and went our separate ways. The West Coast folks were going to Philadelphia where they’d visit the Harry Potter exhibit at the Franklin Institute, stay overnight then fly home on Sunday, all except Sara who was going to visit Holly. (This was planned before Annie got sick.)  We were headed for Maryland, at least until today, when Beth is taking North to camp and then driving to Wheeling, where she will stay with her mom for a week while attending a conference in Pittsburgh.

Speaking of Beth’s mom, we were all sorry she wasn’t able to join us this year and it wasn’t the most relaxing vacation with all the stress about North’s camp and worry about Annie and John and others, but it was also the first time I’d seen my mom, sister, brother-in-law, and niece in over a year, and that time is always precious. And I got to go to the beach every day and Beth kayaked most days, so even though we didn’t build a house so we wouldn’t have to leave, I count that as a win.

Everything That Came After

We’ve been home from the beach now for almost two weeks and while I can’t say we’ve had as much fun as we did there, life here is not devoid of fun. Here’s what we’ve been up to recently:

Week 1

The weekend we got back, the kids and I watched the last two episodes of Stranger Things. Noah refused to watch it at the beach because he considered the resolution on the television there subpar and as a student of media, he takes the visual elements of entertainment seriously, at least for some shows. It was worth the wait. I mean, that last episode… Wow. Now we just have to wait another two to three years for the next season.

That Sunday, North and Ranvita had a picnic dinner/stargazing date. North made a peach-blueberry galette for the picnic (and we got to eat the leftovers). North and Ranvita been dating for several months now, but I only just received permission to mention that. I also learned recently in a very interesting conversation that in between North’s sixth-grade boyfriend Xavier and Ranvita, there have been three other romantic relationships I didn’t know about at the time. Beth and I had guessed one of them was an unrequited crush (“because she seemed to make you so unhappy,” I said when North told me and North said “She did make me unhappy.”) The other two just flew under our radar, including a relationship that lasted more than a year and a half, without us realizing the girl in question was more than a friend. They’re still friends, as it ended amicably.

The next Monday was 7/11, so Noah partook of a free Slurpee from 7-Eleven. He had to go alone, though, because I wouldn’t have minded the walk, but didn’t want the sugar, and North wouldn’t have minded the sugar but didn’t want the walk.

That Friday it was the thirty-fifth anniversary of Beth’s and my first date, which we celebrate in addition to our wedding anniversary. I’d spent the week we were at the beach thinking about what to get her and I considered several options but when she told me she’d been to the bookstore to see if they still had t-shirts that say “Let Summer Begin” to replace a favorite of hers that’s getting a hole and that she hadn’t seen one in her size on the rack, I decided to go back and enquire if there were any in storage. The answer was no, but since Beth’s had this shirt for years and they’re still carrying it, it seemed possible they might restock before we go to the beach again in August, so I got her a gift certificate she can use if they do and for something else if they don’t. In a funny coincidence, she got me a t-shirt, too. I’d mentioned back in June that I don’t have enough gay t-shirts so she got me a purple one with the rooster that’s the symbol of Takoma Park, surrounded by the colors of the progress pride flag, arranged into a color wheel-type design.

We went out for pizza that night, sans kids. (They had Little Caesar’s delivered to the house.) We got a caprese salad, a vegetarian sausage and mushroom pizza, and gelato and ate it at a table tucked into in the alley next to the restaurant. I had two pieces of pizza and considering how my glucose monitor runs low, I probably went out range on that plus the gelato, but it was considered decision. I decided I wanted to just have what I wanted and except for a lemonade (I couldn’t quite go there), I did just that. I have no regrets.

While we were out, North was at their first babysitting job of the summer, for a two-month old baby girl. They sat for her again yesterday—it’s looking like it might be a semi-regular thing. North seems quite smitten with the baby—“so cute!”—and happy to have a source of income.

The other thing that happened that day was that Beth bought Noah’s airline ticket to Queensland, Australia. He’s leaving the Friday before Labor Day. He still needs to find housing and register for classes, but that step made it seem much more real that he’s actually doing this. I am happy for him to have this adventure, as he’s wanted to do it for a long time and it was delayed a year by the pandemic.

Week 2

Sunday we went blueberry and blackberry picking. I wasn’t sure we’d go because it’s unusual for us to go berry picking twice in a year and we’d gone to pick strawberries in May. I’m glad we did, though, because it’s a fun family outing and we came home with two quarts of blackberries and five pounds of blueberries, plus produce, egg noodles, cheese, and treats from the farm market. I froze half the blackberries and most of the blueberries and we are working our way through the rest. I made the blueberry kuchen I make every year after berry picking on Monday night, substituting almond flour for half the flour and coconut sugar for half the sugar. It turned out a little more cakey than usual, but it was still good.

Tuesday I voted in the Maryland primary. It was the first time in a long while that I voted in person on Election Day but I didn’t get my research done in time to vote early and I didn’t get around to requesting a ballot to drop in a box, as Beth and Noah did. It was a really long ballot, with twenty-one offices to consider and for some offices you could vote for multiple people.

There was an advantage to going in person, though. It’s nice to see other voters and the poll workers and the people campaigning outside the polling place; it’s like watching the wheels of democracy turning. I told North that even though voting in the primary is more work than voting in the general (because there are actual decisions to make), it’s also more fun because the choices are generally good, and while I want the candidates I voted for to win, it will be fine if they don’t, so there’s less stress than in a general election when there’s more at stake. I anticipate the midterms, with control of both the House and the Senate in question, will be kind of agonizing.

North had applied to be a poll worker, but never heard back. I told them that at least at my polling place it looked like they weren’t short-staffed, so there probably wasn’t much need for new workers. They went to the movies with Ranvita that day instead.

On Wednesday North started the lengthy process of making focaccia (it requires multiple rises over two days) and babysat again, while Beth, Noah, and I finished season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Originally I was hoping to finish two seasons this summer, but that’s looking unrealistic at our current pace, so now my goal is reaching the midpoint of season 5.

Today we ate the focaccia at dinner, with a Caprese salad. The focaccia was outstanding and it was nice to have a cold dinner, as we’re in the midst of a heat wave that’s only supposed to get worse. We might get into the triple digits on Sunday and we’re currently trying decide if that’s too hot to go to the pool, which we haven’t done all summer. (Will it be mobbed? Will the water be gross and warm? Or will it be the only thing worth doing on a day like that?) And that brings us up to date.

On our anniversary, I wrote on Facebook:

Steph Lovelady kissed a girl for the first time 35 years ago today and this morning talked with a roofer about repairs to the roof of the house where she has lived with said girl (plus kids and cats) for the past twenty years and tonight went out to dinner with her to celebrate the kiss and everything that came after.

Some of what came after is fun, like picking berries with our young adult and nearly adult children and gaining insight into their lives, and some is mundane, like talking to roofers about home repairs, but it’s all part of the life we’ve built together, day by day, over three and half decades.

Fun Days

Saturday

Around five in the afternoon I was on the beach photographing my feet. The first picture I took to mark the moment the first little waves rushed over my sandals. Touching the water is often what makes it seem as if we’ve arrived at the beach. Shortly after we got to the little mint green house where we’d be staying for the week, Beth and Noah got back in the car, to get groceries and visit the Crocs outlet. North went into their room and closed the door, presumably to nap, so I made the ten-minute walk to the beach by myself.

The second two photos I took to remind myself of what the jetties near the beach access path I’d need to find again looked like because there were a lot of paths and few good landmarks on this stretch of beach, no houses, just scrub pines, and even the lifeguard chair had no number, which is kind of unusual. I ended up putting three of the photos on Facebook because I was taken with them. I took a walk along the waterline, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smell of the beach, before turning back to the house, walking in the back door at 5:50, the exact moment Beth and Noah were stepping through the front door. This was satisfying because it meant I’d had as long a walk as possible without making my cooking partner wait.

Noah and I had planned to cook dinner together, a soba noodle salad with tofu and vegetables. He’s been on a soba noodle salad kick. This was the third or fourth variation he’s made this summer. (His cooking leans heavily on pasta and the buckwheat noodles agree with my blood sugar better than white, which might be part of the reason he keeps planning them.) After dinner we watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which in combination with having just arrived at the beach, is a truly superior way to end an evening.

Sunday

Beth was up early the next day. She had gone for a walk and then left to go kayaking before anyone else made it out of the house. North and I went to the beach late in the morning. It was mostly overcast with the sun breaking through every now and then, so I wasn’t too worried about being on the beach near noon. The water was cold, but not forbiddingly so, and the waves were moderate, not quite as big as I’d like, but still nice. In the water and later on the towel, where we retreated to warm up, we had a nice long conversation. They told me about things that happened at the day camp where they’d been volunteering as a junior counselor the week before and what might happen at the overnight camp where they’ll be in a leadership program in August. (The answer is they’re really not sure, as they’ve never done it before as it’s for sixteen and seventeen year olds, but it’s at a camp for kids with LGBTQ+ parents they’ve loved as a camper, so they figure it will be fun.) It was nice to have an unusually large chunk of one-on-one time with them.

Back at the house we ate lunch and then Noah and I read a couple chapters of The Magician’s Land, the third book in the Magicians trilogy, which we’ve been reading since late May. We watched the television series a year ago, so it’s a little strange to be reading the book, because it feels as if I should know what’s going to happen next, but I don’t, because the plots keep diverging and coming back together. I do recommend it, though, if you’re a fan of fantasy.

I headed back to the boardwalk afterward, to check out a new coffee place on the boardwalk Beth told me about. I’m always on the lookout for a shaded place with an ocean view where one can hang out for extended period of time and if they serve coffee, that’s a bonus. It was closed when I got there, but the tables were still out, on a brick platform overlooking the boardwalk, and I had my water bottle full of ice water and a book to read (Rhode Island Red—my book club always reads a mystery in July) so I had nearly everything I’d wanted. I read three chapters and headed back home where Beth was making her traditional beach week dinner—gazpacho, a cheese plate, olives, salt-crusted new potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, and baguette. We ate this delicious feast out on the spacious deck, under the leafy cover of the big trees that grow there.

We ate a little on the early side so I could get the dishes done in time for a seven p.m. departure. Rehoboth was having its fireworks a day early (presumably so tourists driving back home on the last day of the three-day weekend could attend and spend money in town). The display wasn’t supposed to start until 9:30 but we wanted to get ice cream and secure a spot on the sure-to-be-crowded beach. I’d been experimenting with ice cream in the past week or so, after not having more than a few bites at a time since my diabetes diagnosis ten months ago. I knew a child-size portion with nuts on top would be fine, especially if I walked a little before or after, and having learned our lesson about never driving into or out of Rehoboth on the Fourth eight years ago, we’d walked there. I got a peanut butter-chocolate twist, to go with the nuts I’d brought.

It was good we got there when we did because the beach filled up with people, as did the street that surrounds the nearby bandstand, where a group was playing classic rock covers (Average White Band, Beatles, Van Morrison, you get the picture). I was glad the music wasn’t patriotic, as it’s a little hard to muster much patriotism these days, with the recent Supreme Court rulings heavy on everyone’s mind. Beth said they played “Proud to Be an American,” but from the beach the music was sometimes faint and I didn’t hear it, which was just as well because it would have been hard not to yell “Unless you’re a woman of reproductive age!” after the chorus “at least I know I’m free.”

I told the kids to bring something to entertain themselves and they both brought books. Noah was reading Game of Thrones and North had The Iliad. (They got interested in it because they read part of The Odyssey for their English class this past school year.) I read another few chapters of my mystery, until it got too dark to read. It was a lovely evening. It had been humid earlier in the day, but it wasn’t any more and the light on the ocean was lovely before the sun went down and when it did you could see a crescent moon rising in the west.

There were a few drones up in the air, against the rules, but apparently it wasn’t impossible to fly, as it is in permanently restricted areas around D.C. The show started around 9:40, by which point I was impatient because it was ten minutes late and under normal circumstances, I’m in bed by ten. It was a nice display, not as fancy as what you’d see in D.C. but probably comparable to Takoma’s fireworks, though I haven’t seen those in years, as they haven’t happened in years. (They didn’t have any this year either, but it was the first time Takoma’s parade happened since 2019. We missed it, of course, being out of town, but I saw pictures on Facebook.)

Monday

Monday was the actual Fourth and Beth suggested we get the before-lunch ice cream we usually get on the Fourth, even though it wouldn’t be from the ice cream trucks that gather at the end of the parade route in Takoma. She’d gone kayaking again and returned around eleven-thirty. I broke ranks and ate an early lunch before she got home because I wanted to stay on the boardwalk afterward and I didn’t want to have to come home for lunch. Beth said since I was not partaking of before-lunch ice cream as tradition dictates, I should take the picture of those who were, so I did. I did have some frozen custard, though, strawberry-banana twist, even though there’s no photographic evidence.

Everyone else went home, but I went back to the boardwalk café, which was open this time, so I got an iced latte and read, blogged, and watched dolphins leaping in the sea from my seat in the shade for two hours.

When I got back to the house, I found Beth and Noah working on a puzzle of Mount Rushmore they’d chosen from the house’s selection of puzzles and North frying tofu for a late lunch. They wanted to go to the beach and so did I, but they didn’t want to walk, so Beth drove us.

We had another nice swim and talk, starting with their immediate job prospects (a babysitting gig they’re interviewing for when we get back) and moving onto college and career plans. In one scenario, they attend culinary school in Rhode Island, then study abroad in France, then open a bakery in Provincetown. They have given some thought to how they will afford the astronomical rents in this gay mecca: “Step one: I marry rich… Solid, right?” In another scenario, they major in pre-law, go to law school, become a public defender, and reform the legal system. In both scenarios, they foster kids before having their own.

When we got out of the water, I was tired, having been up late two nights in a row, so I lay down and closed my eyes. We were sitting next to a loud group and I kept thinking I’d like to move the towel so I could hear the ocean, but I was comfy on the sand in the sun and I couldn’t muster the energy to move. North texted Beth to come pick them up but I stayed a while before walking home.

When I arrived preparations for our Fourth of July picnic were underway. Everyone had a cooking assignment. Mine was boiling hot dogs and devilling eggs. We ate out on the deck again and then we finished a movie we’d started at home, Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga. It was fun, if you’re in the mood for something light.

After the movie, Beth, Noah, and I headed for the boardwalk where he got ice cream and she got almond bark. The main purpose of the outing was to go sit on the beach and see if we could see fireworks from any of the neighboring jurisdictions that were having theirs on the actual holiday. The answer was yes. We could see the Dewey fireworks to the south and Cape May’s far to the north. Plus people were setting off their own private stash just north of us in Cape Henlopen, and at one point there were more going off just behind the big hotels to our west. Sometimes it was hard to know which direction to look. But because the fireworks were further away than the night before they were of course smaller and quieter. The beach wasn’t empty—it’s never empty, not even in winter—but it wasn’t packed either. It was eerie and beautiful to be sitting there, almost alone, watching the distant bursts of color lighting up the night in three directions.

Tuesday

Beth and I went to the farmers’ market the next morning to get tomatoes, cucumbers, peaches, berries, and giant soft pretzels for the kids. I was tempted to get some cucumber starts because ours are growing very slowly, not even flowering yet, but we weren’t sure the little plants would survive four to five days in their tiny pots, plus a stint in the hot car the day we left the beach, so we didn’t buy any. I also resisted the siren song of some tasty-looking blueberry doughnuts.

Later in the morning Beth took the kids to the water park. I puttered around the house, starting laundry, and after lunch I went back to the boardwalk café and got mint chocolate chip ice cream—and not a child’s size this time because my experiments with ice cream had gone so well. It was good and I stayed in range. I can’t tell you how cheering this was. It must be all the fat, slowing down the impact of the sugar. In addition to eating ice cream, I read a few more chapters of my mystery, and then I hit the beach.

The day was overcast and the water was choppy. The waves weren’t big but they were close together. The water was a uniform gray, without the blue, green, and golden-brown highlights you see on sunnier days. In the water I watched a preteen boy do tricks on his boogey board. He stood on it like it was a surfboard and when it crested a wave, he’d jump off, do a somersault in the air, and land in the water. It was really something else.

By four, I was out of the water and it had started to sprinkle. People were packing up and leaving and I considered staying because I do enjoy a less populated beach, but Noah and I hadn’t read that day, and there was laundry to cycle, and it was my night to cook, so I left, too. It was cozy on the sun porch reading while intermittent rain hit the windows, and the dryer hummed.

For dinner I made veggie burgers, green beans, and a tomato-cucumber-mozzarella salad. After dinner we watched a couple episodes of Blackish (all of us) and Only Murders in the Building (me and Noah).

Wednesday

Rain was predicted in the afternoon, so I made sure to get to the beach in the morning. Beth was kayaking, Noah was doing something on his phone, and North was still asleep when I left. The water was much calmer. I would have liked more waves, but there was an advantage, which was that I could see a lot of dolphins, swimming out past where the waves would normally block my view, and I saw one jump all the way out of the water, tip to tail. It was a stunning sight. There were pelicans and osprey, too, quite the nature show.

Beth brought home Italian takeout for lunch. The kids had pasta and Beth and I split a rolled, breaded eggplant appetizer with cheese and tomato sauce, making the rest of our lunches ourselves. There were Italian cookies, too.

It was at lunch that we realized my online book club meeting that evening was going to conflict with our plans to go to Funland. (I’d forgotten about book club when we made these plans.) But then I double checked and the email about book club was ambiguous, saying the meeting was Wednesday, July 7, a date which does not exist this year, so I wasn’t sure if it was Wednesday or Thursday. I wrote the leader and not getting a response, called the library, which organizes the club, but the librarian wasn’t sure, so I called the community center where the room for the people who attend in person is booked (the meetings are hybrid). Eventually I found out book club met Thursday so we could go ahead with Funland, as planned.

Beth and North went to the beach while Noah and I stayed at the house to read, but when we were done, I joined them for a short swim. Beth had texted me that the waves looked big. She actually has an app on her phone that reports wave height that she uses for kayaking. I wasn’t sure if five-foot waves were bigger than average or not, and it turns out they weren’t as big as I thought they’d be, but I can’t really regret a second ocean swim in one day. Afterward I walked to town to buy some candy at Candy Kitchen, and to get an iced latte. I took it to the tables at the now closed café (I know now it closes at two) which I was starting to regard as my personal office and blogged some more.

When I got back to the house at 6:10, I was a little surprised North wasn’t making dinner yet, but Beth told me they’d gone to bed with a migraine, so it turned out we didn’t go to Funland that night after all. The rest of us made our own dinners (Noah had pasta, I made scrambled eggs with tomatoes, vegetarian bacon, and potatoes, and Beth made herself tacos, which was the planned meal) and then we watched an episode of Buffy. Afterward Noah settled in to listen to a tech podcast, Beth went for a walk, and I continued to blog.

Thursday

Thursday I was out of the house for most of the day and barely at the beach. We had brunch at Egg. Noah and I both ordered the lemon-blueberry crepes and I gave him half of mine, which turned out to be about the right amount of crepes for both of us. (He really likes crepes.) I supplemented mine with poached eggs and a glass of milk for balance and walked immediately before and after the meal and I didn’t get a big spike.

Where I walked after brunch was BrowseAbout Books, where I’d promised to buy both kids some books. (Beth split off the group to go get a massage.) North got Her Body and Other Parties; Noah got Clash of Kings and Rule of Wolves.

From there we walked to Funland. It wasn’t open yet, so we all read on a bench nearby—and then I took a short walk on the beach—and then the kids rode the Paratrooper (a mutual favorite) and tried out the new Free Spin, which has replaced the Free Fall. They disapprove of any change at Funland on principal, but otherwise they liked it, I think. Noah went back for a second ride on the Paratrooper while North rode the Sea Dragon and the Graviton (which I heard a little girl called “The Stick to the Wall,” which is an accurate description as any). North lost their phone on the Graviton and the ride was halted for five minutes while employees searched for it, which North says was embarrassing, but worth getting the phone back.

We took a break for funnel cake and it turns out a quarter of a funnel cake is still too much for me if I don’t add a protein or exercise much, but now I know. Noah headed home and North and I went back to Funland to ride the Haunted Mansion and to buy a puzzle of images from Funland and a Haunted Mansion t-shirt I’ve had my eyes on for years. It’s the only ride I go on there and I love it. (I wore the shirt to bed the first night we were home and made the delightful discovery that the moon behind the haunted house glows in the dark.) North said I should use the subhead “Fun Day” for this day because we went to Funland and had funnel cake, but I wasn’t using subheads beyond the days of the week and I didn’t have a title yet, so now I had one.

Beth picked us up and Noah and I had time for two chapters of The Magician’s Land before it was time to leave for dinner. We had 4:30 reservations because it’s really hard to get reservations for the roof at The Cultured Pearl and we decided we’d rather eat outside than at a more traditional dinner time. It’s really beautiful up there with reeds and koi ponds between all the tables and drapery on top of and around them. In a day full of culinary risks, I tried tempura, and by eating a lot of edamame beforehand, I was able to manage it without a spike. Two successes out three’s not bad, I reasoned. Oh, and if you ever have the opportunity to try edamame with Old Bay seasoning or smoked mayonnaise, go for it. It’s a fun change from just salt.

Beth and the kids got dessert afterward and I came along but didn’t indulge. Afterward everyone else drove home, but I walked along the beach. When I got back, Beth and North had left for the Crocs outlet since North didn’t go when Noah did, Noah worked on the Mount Rushmore puzzle, and I logged onto my book club.

That night I took my first shower in the house (I’d been using the outdoor shower) and it didn’t drain. The toilets wouldn’t flush either. Beth emailed the owner of the house and we went to bed. I thought I noticed a faint, swampy aroma wafting from the bathroom but I told myself I was imagining it.

Friday

Maybe not though, because in the morning sewage had started backing up into the shower. Just a little, but any sewage in the shower is more than you want. The owner called a plumber and he was at the house by 9:15. The longer he stayed the less cheerful and communicative he became, which was concerning, but at 10:25, he came in and said the problem was fixed. I trusted him enough to start a load of laundry and no soapy water came up out of the shower drain, so everything seemed to working as it should. (The owner of the house rebated us $500 for the inconvenience, which was quite generous.)

By the time the plumber left, it was getting to be the time of day I try to avoid on the beach, especially if it’s sunny, which it was, so I stayed at the house, read with Noah and did laundry again. When Beth got home from kayaking, she brought home Grandpa Mac for the kids. We all ate lunch and by two p.m. all four of us were at the beach together for the first time since the fireworks. The waves were actually big that day, so Beth just put her feet in the water for a bit and Noah was in and out pretty quickly. The two of them retreated to the sand and his book and her magazine.

I swam for two hours, mostly with North, with a break in the middle to get ice cream and water ice at the snack bar on the beach access path. The waves were absolutely amazing, the best I’ve experienced in years. It was somewhat less conducive to conversation than our previous swims. In fact, once North asked me a question just a big wave towered over us and I just said, “No talk!” before we dived under it or jumped into its swell to be pulled up and over it, I don’t remember which.

There was a strong northward tug in the water so we had to get out of the water when we got close to the red flag and walk back to the other end of the lifeguards’ range several times. It was one of those times we decided we needed a rest and frozen treats. As I headed back into the water, full of cookies-and-cream ice cream (and alone this time, though North eventually joined me again), I told Beth “I’m so happy!” and she laughed and said, “I know.” The next time I got pulled too far north and had to get out of water I thought I might be done, because I was tired and cold, but North was waiting for me on the beach and it wasn’t hard to convince me to get back in the water. Some years, many years, we spend a whole week at the beach without waves like this, so I thought we should seize the day. The next time we had to get out, though, I collapsed on my towel. Everyone was heading back to the house to shower and get ready to go out to dinner, but I lingered a bit, resting and watching the waves hurl themselves on the shore.

We had dinner at Grotto. We got a table on the patio right away, much to our surprise, and we had to put off the server who wanted our order a few times while we waited for Beth to arrive—she’d been looking for parking. Everyone had mozzarella sticks, the kids split a pizza, and Beth and I split a salad and a stromboli. I felt happy and kind of stoned from my swim, but it gradually wore off when I started thinking about needing to pack and clean out the refrigerator and all the leaving-the-vacation-house chores we had to do. Despite this, we watched a movie when we got home, Kramer vs. Kramer. I hadn’t seen it in a long time and it’s so evocative of its time, perhaps especially for a child of a late 1970s divorce (though my parents’ divorce wasn’t much like the Kramers’).

Saturday

We did all the aforementioned chores, left the house a little after ten, and split up. I’m actually not sure where the kids went, but Beth went for a walk and before I had one last swim and before we all had a lunch of fries and crepes and pizza, and before the kids and I went down to the water one last time to put our feet in the ocean and say goodbye to it, I did some errands, which included picking up the two gift certificates I promised my sister for her birthday in March. One was for the bookstore and one for the tea and spice shop. She’ll be able to redeem them in August when we return to the beach for another week, this time with extended family. It’s never easy to leave the beach, but it’s certainly easier when you’ve had such a string of fun days and when your next trip is only four weeks away.

Finales: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 75

The Last Day of School

North’s last day of school was a week ago Friday. When they came home I asked how the last day of tenth grade was and they said three out of their seven teachers brought either doughnuts or doughnut holes. I guess it was that kind of year, meriting more than the customary amount of treats.

When Noah came home for the summer, I almost wrote about how happy I was he had a whole school year of in-person classes uninterrupted by covid (except for one week of online classes in January). But North had more than a month of school left at that point, and I didn’t want to jinx them. So I’ll say it now. I’m glad both kids were in school all year. I’m glad Noah played in a band, joined the drone club, and had an on-campus IT job. I’m glad North served as costumes manager in two school plays, was active in the GSA, took a rec center painting class, made some new friends, is learning to drive, and is looking for a summer job. That’s a lot in the positive column for this year.

Re-entry had its bumps, though. Starting sometime during the second quarter, North started missing a lot of school and it continued through the end of the year. They were sick several times in the winter and spring, once, in April, very sick with a high fever. That last time was probably due to the school going mask-optional in March. I guess their immune system needed to recalibrate to being around everyone’s germs. Other days they were fatigued or had joint pain.

But mostly it was migraines. The pattern their migraines had followed since they were a small child has changed. Instead of almost always occurring in the late afternoon or early evening in the fall, winter, or early spring, and generally on days when there was a big drop in temperature, now they often come in the early morning—North wakes with them—and they seem unrelated to weather. The upshot of all this was that on average they missed school about one day a week from December through June. Sometimes they would recover and go to school for part of the day, but more often they didn’t.

They were conscientious about making up work and their grades didn’t suffer in most of their classes, but as a former teacher I know how much that’s intangible but still valuable goes on in the classroom. That’s why the mostly remote year was so awful for many students and teachers, North included. I’m hoping we can find a solution that has them in less pain (this would be ideal, of course) or that they can find better ways of coping with pain so they can be in the classroom more often during their junior year.

We had pizza from North’s favorite pizza place on Friday night, at their request. We also watched a movie of their choice (Athlete A), though that was a coincidence. It was what got drawn from the hat (well, bicycle helmet) that night.

The First Week of Summer Break

Saturday afternoon, Beth took North out to practice driving and they drove on a road for the first time. Up to now, they’d been driving in parking lots at the University of Maryland, which are fairly empty because school is not in session. They seemed pleased with how it went.

Sunday afternoon they went to the Museum of Natural History with Sol and saw “mummies and rocks and insects.” While they were looking at natural (and cultural) things there, Beth and I communed with nature another way, by kayaking at Black Hills Regional Park. Beth’s been kayaking a few times this year already—the season starts in May—but it was my first time since last year. We saw a Great Blue Heron, several turtles, a cormorant,  and a big flock of geese. It was windy and in places the water was choppy and paddling was challenging, but we had a good time. The weather was lovely, sunny and in the seventies.

While we were gone, my mom called and left a message letting us know she had covid. She only found out because she was over at my sister’s house helping her pack for my sister’s family’s upcoming move and she casually mentioned that she wasn’t tasting things as well as usual and my sister immediately fetched a covid test she had on hand and sure enough it was positive.

My mom says she felt fine, but was isolating when we spoke. She just got back from a trip to Morocco and she’s not sure if she got it there or at home, but she had to test to get on the plane home and that test was negative. Maybe she got it on the flight or she had it before she flew but it was too soon to show up on the test. I’m glad her vaccines and booster did their job and kept her safe from serious illness, even though she caught it.

Monday was the first day of North’s drama camp, but it was a half-day camp and Beth had the day off because Juneteenth is a federal holiday now, so we planned an afternoon excursion to Fort Smallwood Park in Anne Arundel County where the Patapsco River meets the Chesapeake Bay. My goal for this excursion was to make both kids happy, which would mean going somewhere you can swim and fly a drone (this last condition means you have to be at least fifteen miles from DC and not in a Maryland state park).

When North got home from camp they were tired and wanted to rest a bit before we left, so it was almost 2:15 by the time we left. We arrived a little after three and set up our towels on the beach before wading into the water. It was sunny and around eighty degrees, just about a perfect day.

There were rocks piled up to delineate a pool, which was crowded with kids, but there was an opening in the wall so you could go out farther than that and we did. The water was about chest-high at its deepest, brackish, and cool but not cold. For a while the kids were out deeper than we were, and when Beth and I approached them, Noah said, “We think this outing should involve ice cream,” and it wasn’t the kind of day we wanted to say no, so we said yes, even though I had reservations about ice cream in the late afternoon, mostly for myself.

Noah got out of the water to fly while the rest of us continued to soak in the salty water. North and I talked about drama camp and they said “Finale” was their favorite song. After drying out on the sand for a while, we piled into the car and went in search of frozen treats. We stopped at Rita’s and I decided to try a child-sized chocolate frozen custard. I happened to have peanuts in my bag, so I piled them on top, in an attempt to add some balancing protein to my dessert. (It seemed to work. I didn’t go out of range, even though we had a late dinner just a couple hours later.) Overall, I think the expedition was  a success.

Tuesday evening we watched Pippin because we wanted to familiarize ourselves with the plot. The performance would be five songs and some connecting dialogue so it seemed like we’d follow it better if we watched the whole thing ahead of time. There is no feature film version, but Noah found a filmed stage performance from 1981, nine years after it premiered on Broadway. (Allison, it was filmed in Hamilton, Ontario, which made me think of you and Eve.) During all the sexy bits—and there was a surprising number of them—North would inform us, “We’re not doing that part.”

After it was over, Beth said, “That was very 1972” and it was. It kind of reminded me of Godspell stylistically, but with a plot and more sex and less religion and set in the Middle Ages. Did that even make sense? Maybe it was like more Hair, with a similar amount of anti-war sentiment and dancing and sex, but set in the Middle Ages.

Anyway, I was a little surprised North liked “Finale” best because it wasn’t their biggest number. They had a much longer solo in “Extraordinary.” They were playing Pippin. They found out several days before camp started, in an email from Gretchen, the director, saying rather than having auditions on the first day as she usually does, she’d cast three of the parts ahead of time (most of the non-ensemble parts) and given them to the three oldest campers, who are all rising eleventh graders. It turns out there was a big age gap between those three and the rest of the campers who were all in middle school. I guess having worked with the three older kids for many years—one is her own daughter—Gretchen figured she already knew what she needed to know to cast them.

Wednesday and Thursday rain was forecast, which is a concern because the camp is held outdoors in a park near Gretchen’s house. In an email Tuesday night she said in case of rain they’d work under the gazebo, perhaps focusing on making costumes and props, and in case of severe weather, they’d retreat to her porch or go inside her house (with masks). It did rain Wednesday, but not until after camp had dismissed for the day. Thursday it was already drizzling when Beth drove North to camp. It rained most of the morning and North said they spent the majority of their time sitting under the gazebo, “sewing and singing.” I said that sounded very wholesome, like a quilting bee.

Friday was performance day. Noah and arrived at the park a little early so that he could set up his tripod and camera before the audience arrived. While he did that, I watched the actors rehearse “Finale.” Parents and friends started drifting into the park. Beth came with our camping chairs. I spotted Zoë and A.J. (another friend of North and Zoë’s) on the grass.

The show started promptly. It was maybe a third of the play, but it hung together pretty well, I think, in terms of plot continuity. It was nice to see North act and sing because I hadn’t seen that since last summer’s drama camp and this was a more substantial part than they’ve had in several years. I was also glad they had a scene with Grace, who was playing Catherine, because I think they have good chemistry on stage, maybe because they’ve been acting together at least once a year since they were three years old and in a preschool drama class.

Anyway, here are two of North’s big numbers, “Corner of the Sky” and “Extraordinary,” with Grace and North’s scene in leading into the second song. Elia, who played Leading Player (the one in the top hat), is also a drama camp old-timer. If you can make out an adult voice in “Corner of the Sky,” that’s Gretchen standing behind the audience and singing. I liked the effect of voices coming from more than one direction. Also, the girl in the sparkly silver outfit with braids reminded me a lot of North when they were younger. (In the opening, not included, she did cartwheels across the stage.)

Pre-covid, there was often a cast party at our local pizzeria, but we hadn’t heard anything about it until the middle of the rehearsal when North texted me about whether I wanted to go and I said yes and then almost immediately afterward, North texted back to say it wasn’t happening, so I packed a picnic, which is what Gretchen had suggested in an email to all the parents and what has happened the past couple years, but it turned out I was the only one to bring food. Most of the actors just left when it was over, but I asked North if they wanted to eat, since I had food and they said yes, so Beth and Noah went home, and North and I stayed and ate yogurt and leftover quesadilla, and shared our cucumbers, strawberries, and grapes with Elia, Zoë, A.J., and Liliana, Zoë’s girlfriend who’d turned up to meet Zoë after the show was over. When people were done eating, I left the teens to hang out in the park for a couple hours, and headed home.

On my way out of the park, I chatted with Gretchen, who was picking up props and costumes and she said she thought this would be the last year for the older kids and she’d just do her younger kids’ camp next year. She has said this the past three years running but I think this year I believe it because so many of the kids who did this camp year after year didn’t this summer and the fact that there wasn’t a cast party or a group picnic afterward made it seem like a certain amount of esprit de corp has gone out of it. So it was all a little bittersweet, but I think overall North enjoyed it and I’m glad they did it one last time.

Second Weekend of Summer Break

Saturday we went to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for the first time in several years. It had been cancelled the past two years and we’d missed it the year before, so it had been at least four years since we’ve gone. I always have the same three goals for this experience: I like to listen to music, preferably from another culture; I like to eat interesting food; and I like to get a picture that includes the kids in front of the Washington Monument. We fulfilled all three goals.

The themes this year were the culture of the United Arab Emirates and “Earth Optimism.” We stopped at the first music stage we encountered and listened to NOON, a three-piece band from Dubai, consisting of musicians playing the oud (which looks like a mandolin), electric bass, and drums, with “echoes of funk, African and Indian rhythms, and the improvisatory impulses of jazz.” I liked it.

After that we wandered through some of the exhibits, we saw baskets and fishing nets from the UAE and a hooded falcon, and learned about bird-friendly coffee in the Earth Optimism area. (It’s grown in a way that doesn’t impact bird habitat.) I have to say nothing in the Earth Optimism area actually made me feel that optimistic, but that’s a high bar, with the climate crisis being what it is.

Next we got our Washington Monument pictures, and food. The kids got pizza and fries and we all shared a mushroom and cheese sandwich, eggplant in tomato sauce, a salad, and some basil limeade. It was all very good.

While North rested, Beth, Noah, and I went to browse the Marketplace where Beth bought some Middle Eastern and eco-friendly chocolate bars, and I got a little something for my Mom’s birthday. (Hint to Mom: it was from the Earth Optimism area.) After that, we got dessert, rosewater soft serve for North and gelato for everyone else. Beth and I split an Arabian coffee gelato. It was a fun afternoon.

Sunday Beth and I went to the Farmers’ market, where in addition to our normal shopping we picked up some more plants for my herb garden (cilantro, dill, parsley, and rosemary), and we went to the rain-delayed Takoma Pride festival. It was a small affair, just a few tables, but one of them was for the Rainbow Club at two local elementary schools (one of which is a K-2 school) and I wondered—are kids in that club already out or supporting parents and siblings? Both, I guess. You can definitely say gay in Montgomery County public schools.

Then we saw a children’s pride parade and it was very cute and cheering, and I could use a little cheering because with the fall of Roe v. Wade and the really horrifying reasoning of the opinion, it’s hard not to worry about the future of gay marriage in the United States. I don’t think Maryland will go back, but it does seem possible gay marriages could at least potentially be dissolved on the federal level and then we’d be considered married for some purposes and not for others, just like we were for half of 2013, until DOMA was overruled. And while we’ve had a lot of finales in the past couple weeks, such as the end of a challenging school year and a beloved summer camp, I hope the end of marriage equality is not on the horizon.

For Our Lives: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 74

It was potentially quite a busy weekend. North had a lot on their social calendar and there was a March for Our Lives rally in response to the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde on Saturday afternoon and it was Pride all weekend. In DC, there was a parade on Saturday and the street festival was Sunday, plus our little town was having its first-ever Pride festival on Sunday.

Beth, Noah, and I were all going to the rally and Beth, North, and I were all considering going to some Pride activity, but at the beginning of the weekend we hadn’t decided which one(s).

Friday: Prelude

North’s friend Ranvita came over for our weekly pizza-and-movie night. Over pizza and mozzarella knots, North and Ranvita talked about the dialogue they needed to perform for their theater class the next week and whether or not they were going try to get off book. (Apparently, there was an option not to, but you couldn’t get an A on the assignment if you chose not to memorize the lines.)

Beth was working late, so it was just Noah, the two high schoolers, and me. We didn’t want Beth to miss one of the movies we’d communally selected to watch together as a family so we needed to pick a new one. We have a complex nomination-and-veto system for choosing movies and having to pick a new one that four people could agree on made me reflect on the genius of having an orderly system because picking a movie four people can agree on is hard. Well, it was really just three people because I think Ranvita was a little overwhelmed by us and she kept quiet. It was mostly North putting ideas out there and me rejecting them because they were unrated and it was too hard to know what objectionable content they might contain or Noah rejecting them because their Rotten Tomatoes score was too low.

Finally, we settled on one of Noah’s choices, Perfect Blue, an amine thriller that was rated 16+ on Common Sense Media. By this point, we’d spent so much time trying to decide on a movie that I didn’t look carefully at the details of the reviews and if I had, we might not have watched it with North’s friend who’s a year younger than they are and whose parents I don’t know at all. I liked it—it was very twisty and played with reality, fiction, dreams and hallucinations in an interesting, artsy way—but it was also quite violent and sexually explicit and some of the violence was sexual. But I do tend to be stricter about media than most of North’s friends’ parents, so I hope it didn’t scar her. She did keep saying, “That was not what I expected” afterward as we all tried to figure out the plot together.

After the movie was over and Beth had gotten home, but before Ranvita left, I saw Xander in the kitchen, dragging one of his back legs behind him. It seemed like he couldn’t move it at all. I alerted Beth and she pointed out that something like this had happened to him last summer and it only lasted about a half hour (the vet couldn’t explain it), so we waited and sure enough he made a full recovery. It’s worrying, though. As Beth said, having an elderly pet “is not for the faint of heart.” Someday it won’t be a false alarm, but that day was not this weekend.

Saturday: Protest

Beth, Noah, and I left for the rally late Saturday morning. I’d gone through the hand-painted signs we’ve kept from previous marches and rallies and found some gun control ones we could re-use. I hesitated over the more all-purpose “America Is Better Than This,” sign I made for some early Trump administration protest (I think it was immigration and the Muslim ban). I’d actually made it thinking I would re-use it, but I never did. The sad truth is while I got to fifty years old believing that, at fifty-five, I don’t anymore. Too many of my fellow Americans, including members of my extended family on both sides, watched the cruelty and corruption of the Trump years and didn’t flinch. But I do still believe in the power of protest and the ballot, so that’s why I still go to rallies and write get-out-the-vote postcards.

Beth wore an orange top and I thought about it, but even though I have two, they are both short-sleeved and the day was drizzly and unseasonably cool, so I went with a long-sleeved shirt that says Love is Love is Love on the front. It occurred to me that someone seeing it might think I was heading to Pride. We saw people obviously going to one event or the other on the Metro. In fact, in the Takoma Metro parking lot, we saw a woman I thought was probably going from the rally straight to Pride because her outfit was mostly orange, but she had a rainbow flag draped over her shoulders like a cape.

We arrived at the rally around 12:15. There was a timer at the bottom of the Jumbotron screen indicating the speeches had been going on for ten minutes or so. We missed X González but we heard plenty of speeches. We heard two sons of an eighty-six-year-old woman who died in the supermarket in Buffalo, and we heard the mayor of DC, and two young people, one who introduced and praised the mayor for her efforts on gun control and one who criticized those same efforts.

The most powerful speech, of those we saw anyway, was David Hogg, of Marjorie Stoneman Douglass. He’s an electrifying speaker. What I appreciated most about his speech was his focus on the many state-level gun control victories there have been since the Parkland shooting, including some in Florida. It’s so easy to think nothing has changed and despair, but there has been incremental progress. It made me think I really should get back to my postcard writing, which I’ve let lapse a bit. When he finished I was thinking of visiting the line of Porta-potties because I didn’t think it was going to get any better than that, but Representative Cori Bush was next with a gripping account of being a survivor of gun violence in the context of domestic violence, so I was glad I stayed for that.

During her speech, the timer stopped at 78 minutes and after she’d finished, it was announced that was how long it took for police to stop the gunman at Robb Elementary. It was an effective demonstration of how long that must have felt to the terrified children, teachers, and staff inside the building.

There was a moment of silence, but suddenly in the middle of it, people started running away from the stage. We hadn’t seen or heard what sparked it, but we ran, too, until someone from the stage implored people to stop running and said there was no threat. I didn’t find out what had happened until later, but apparently, a counter protester (I hadn’t even seen there was a counter protest—we must have been too far away) had jumped over the barrier, yelled, “I am the gun!” and threw something into the crowd. He was detained by park police and the speeches continued after that, but I saw several people crying immediately afterward and I noticed they were all kids or teens. It made me think how a lot of kids my kids’ age are traumatized by the ever-present specter of gun violence, as we hear about school shooting after school shooting. (I guess the equivalent for 80s teens was nuclear war. I was pretty much convinced there was going to be one when I was in high school, but the obvious difference is we never did have one.) It actually made me glad North did not attend the rally because two summers ago witnessing a car crash into our fence as they stood just feet away was one several factors that may have triggered their functional neurological disorder and left them partly paralyzed for months.

We didn’t stay much longer after that, because Beth needed to get back home and drive North to their friend Marisa’s birthday party. We took pictures by a field of bouquets of white and orange flowers, each of which presumably stood for some number of lives lost to gun violence. Part of the way to the Metro station, Noah and I peeled off because he wanted to stop for lunch. I’d eaten before we left, but I accompanied him to Corner Bakery and got an iced latte and a cookie—I ate half of it and saved the rest for later—and he got a sandwich, chips, and a muffin. The restaurant was filled with people in March for Our Lives t-shirts and others in rainbow gear.

If North hadn’t had a birthday party to attend it might have been nice to go from the rally to the Pride parade and meet up with them there. Pride was cancelled the past two years because of covid, but the two years before that we went to the festival and I thought the parade would have been a nice change of pace.

Noah and I came home and made a soba noodle-vegetable salad with peanut sauce for dinner together. North came home in time to watch half of O Brother Where Art Thou, after they plucked the index card with its title from the pile of approved films.

Sunday: Pride

Sunday morning, we were still undecided about Pride. Thunderstorms were predicted and Takoma Pride was postponed for two weeks hence. North was all for going to the DC festival, which had not cancelled, but Beth and I were unenthused about the idea of going to Pride in a downpour and she had work she needed to do, so she and I stayed home and North went alone to meet up with their friend Sol there. North has the same Love Is Love Is Love shirt I do (they were Christmas gifts from my mother years ago) and they actually did wear theirs to Pride.

As it turned out, it never stormed and they were able to stay a few hours. Apparently the kids had trouble finding it, initially going to the right address in the wrong quadrant of the city, but they managed on their own without calling for adult backup. North was using their wheelchair that day, as was Sol, which makes that feat more impressive. They said they had fun. They didn’t bring home too many tchotchkes, but they did pick up a tube of lip balm that looks like a tampon (which they are quite taken with it) and a new button.

I’m glad they went and I hope to go to Takoma’s smaller Pride celebration in two weeks. It’s another way of witnessing and standing up for our lives.

If a Tree Falls: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 73

If we’re Facebook friends, you’ve already seen pictures of the large section of the stately silver maple tree in our back yard that fell on our house a week ago Sunday, and read updates about the leak in the kitchen ceiling and initial encounters with roofers. But I’m going to start at the beginning. I hear it’s a very good place to start.

Before the Tree Fell On the House

It was a thunderstorm with high winds that felled about a quarter of the tree. Like most summer (and late spring) thunderstorms, it was preceded by a stretch of hot, muggy weather. It started Friday morning and lasted until late Sunday afternoon.

On Saturday the kids and I cleaned the porch, which is an annual chore involving bathing suits, a hose, and buckets of water. We do it this time of year because the pollen that’s usually thick on every surface has basically finished falling by this point. We lugged all the furniture, recycling bins, ladders, etc. off the porch, cleaned the floor and the tops of the walls, then scrubbed all the stuff on the lawn and hauled it back up. Noah provided music, including a rather startling remake of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” with a techno beat.

It wouldn’t be a porch clean if Noah didn’t spray North with the hose or pour a bucket of water over their head (with their consent, of course) so that happened, too. We don’t always put soap in the buckets of water but we did this year and now that the porch floor is painted pale green rather than a sort of cross between gray and olive green, this makes a big difference. I was impressed with how much cleaner it looked when we were done.

When the Tree Fell on the House

The next afternoon we were all doing our own thing. Noah had a temp job operating a boom for Mike, a local filmmaker who sometimes has work for him. Mike was filming a documentary and they were in a church recording someone giving a speech about climate change. Noah was filling in for a member of the crew who had covid. North was taking a nap. Beth was working on a financial aid form for Noah’s senior year. I was out on the newly clean porch reading The Picture of Dorian Gray and watching a thunderstorm roll in. It got dark, rain started to fall, unusually high winds kicked up, and then there was an extremely loud crash from somewhere behind the house. I had no idea what it was, but I went inside and Beth told me before I could see. I got an umbrella and went out to the back yard to investigate.

Because the tree was covering the roof, it was hard to see exactly where the damage was, but soon water was pouring in through the kitchen light fixture, and dripping down the wall and onto the stove, so over the kitchen was a safe guess. Fortunately, no other rooms in the house were affected. Beth sprang into action searching online for emergency roofers and making inquiries on the neighborhood listserv and I texted a friend whose house sustained roof damage during a hurricane many years ago to get recommendations from her. We couldn’t get anyone to come until the following morning so we put a bucket and a big metal mixing bowl surrounded by towels on the floor and pots on the stove. Beth and I worked around these receptacles as she made dinner and I did the dishes, the latter activity by the light of a camping lantern because the dome of the light fixture had filled with water and come crashing down to the floor, where it broke, and even though was still functioning, it was wet and it seemed unwise to use it.

It rained on and off through the evening and little overnight but the bucket and bowl did not overflow and Monday was sunny and mild. A crew from our usual tree service came in the morning to cut up and haul away the tree. At that point we could see that most of the damage to the roof was in the overhang, but there was a small hole visible, unsurprisingly, over the kitchen. A roofer came in the afternoon and applied a small tarp. Before he left, he explained his superior tarp-applying technique and told me there was no chance any water could get in before we had repairs made. So you know where this is going, right?

Tuesday was unseasonably chilly (like sweatshirt weather) and rainy. And sure enough, while it wasn’t cascading out of the ceiling any more, there was water slowly dripping out of the light fixture and down the wall over the stove again. The roofer came back, applied two more little tarps and this time did not make any guarantees. We were kind of appalled that even though he’d told us it would be the same price for a tarp no matter what the size, that he charged us triple that quoted price because there were three, when a big one could have covered the same area. Needless to say, we’ve decided to use a different roofer for the main repairs.

It didn’t rain again until Friday, but the new tarps kept it out. We couldn’t do anything else until the insurance adjusters came to assess the damage and that wouldn’t happen until Memorial Day, so there was an almost week-long lull in roof-related activity.     

After the Tree Fell on the House

On Thursday Noah took a bus to Silver Spring, had lunch at Panera, and saw a movie (Men). When he got back he said it was the first time he’d ever been to a movie theater by himself and I asked what it was like and he said pretty much the same but with no one else to pay. He’s been home two and a half weeks now and we’ve read a book (The Desolations of Devil’s Acre) and started another (The Magicians) and watched a season of a television series (The Wheel of Time) and started season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and he and Beth are watching that new Star Wars show and he’s watched a couple episodes of Dr. Who with North and he’s reading Game of Thrones and watching I don’t know what on his own. He has not been looking for a summer job, other than letting Mike know he’s available, because he still doesn’t know if he’s leaving for Australia in July or September, which he thinks would be relevant to potential employers and I guess he does have a point.

The reason he doesn’t know is he’s still waiting to hear if he’s been accepted to one of the two programs to which he applied. Inconveniently, it’s the one with the earlier start time (in Melbourne). In fact, he thinks if he doesn’t hear soon there won’t be time to apply for a student visa (you need an acceptance letter to do it) so he’s leaning toward the program to which he has been accepted (in Queensland).

North is looking for a job. They had an interview at local bakery and didn’t get the job but they’ve also applied to Giant, Panera, and Starbucks. Plus, they’re taking an two-week online drivers’ ed class that meets in the evenings so they’re busier than usual. Beth took them out to practice for the first time Sunday in a parking lot at the University of Maryland and it went well.

Saturday we went strawberry picking. When we set out, I didn’t realize how happy it would make me to be all together in the car, listening to Lady Gaga, going somewhere farther away than North’s school (which was the site of our last all-family outing when we saw the spring musical during Noah’s spring break). We didn’t even leave the county, but still, it felt like a tiny adventure.

North made sure to wear their strawberry crocs for this expedition and apparently a lot of people had the same idea. As soon as we arrived we saw a baby in a strawberry sleeper, and at least a half dozen little girls in strawberry t-shirts and dresses. (I had not realized strawberries on children’s clothing were so gendered.) North was so taken with the sleeper they resolved on the spot if they ever have children and they take them strawberry picking, they will buy them some strawberry-themed clothes for the occasion.

We’ve been to Butler’s to pick berries a couple times during the pandemic, but this was the first time they were running the wagons instead of having people drive out to the fields. We deliberated about masks. The wagons are open-sided and we generally don’t mask outside, but the benches can get crowded. Three out of four family opted to mask on the wagons and we were in the minority of riders, but not alone. North wore theirs in the field, too, but I think they may have just forgotten to take it off. (They’re so used to wearing one at school they sometimes leave it on for a while after they get off the bus.) We picked four quarts relatively quickly and stopped there because we didn’t want to pick more than we could eat before they spoiled.

Attracted by the smell of frying doughnuts, we visited the snack bar, where we got strawberry-frosted doughnuts, a cream-filled strawberry roll, a strawberry slushie and iced tea. (I had half the strawberry roll and it took my blood sugar right up to the limit of where I was willing to go.) We skipped the giant slide and the farm animals and headed for the farm market where we got produce, two tomato plants, local cheese, Amish pasta, and more treats. Then we drove home, listening to Taylor Swift. It was a highly satisfactory outing.

Two days later, Memorial Day, was a busy day. North went out for lunch to a diner in Silver Spring with three friends, Beth and Noah installed one of our two AC window units, Beth put tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants in the ground, and I made our Memorial Day picnic, with some KP help from Noah. The traditional menu for this meal is carb-heavy—including potato salad, corn, watermelon, baked beans, and strawberry shortcake. I decided I’d just have smaller servings of everything and see how it went. We eat this same picnic three times a summer (also at the Fourth of July and Labor Day) so it was worth the experiment. I added a hard-boiled egg to the potato salad and made devilled eggs, and had two hot dogs with melted cheese, in hopes the protein and fat would balance out the carbs. It seemed to work, surprisingly well, actually.

I can usually make reliably good shortcake, but this year I used a new recipe and didn’t read it carefully enough and I failed to chill the dough and they came out more like cookies than biscuits. I was disappointed about this because if I was going to eat dessert after an already risky meal, I wanted it to be just right. But then as I was cooking other things “MacArthur Park” came on in my music and singing along loudly was more therapeutic than you’d think, even though the problem was not that someone left the shortcake out in the rain and no sweet green icing was running down. And no one refused to eat the cookie-like shortcake topped with strawberries, blueberries, and whipped cream, so I guess it wasn’t a disaster.

The other thing that happened that day was that the insurance adjusters came to inspect the damage to our roof. Xander quickly made friends with one of them, twining around her legs and gazing up at her. Either he really took a shine to her (he really has never met a person he didn’t like) or it was because while the four people were talking in the kitchen she was standing closest to the refrigerator where his cat treats are kept.

It will be a couple weeks before we hear back about how much money we’ll get and as the current tarps seem to be doing their job, we’re not in a hurry, so we’ll wait to see what they say before we hire roofers and painters. This will probably be a long process, because that’s what happens if a tree falls.

When Children Die

I wish I could end the post here, but it seems wrong to chatter on for over two thousand words about housekeeping, and home repairs, and a day trip, all of which happened during the week of our worst school shooting in almost a decade and not say something about it. But what is there to say that hasn’t already been said?

When the shooting in Newtown happened, North was in first grade, just like the victims. When the shooting in Parkland happened, Noah was in high school, just like the victims. And now my niece is elementary school, just a year younger than the fourth graders in Uvalde who lost their young, precious lives so senselessly. I can’t fathom the grief of their families and it makes me heartsick how little progress on sensible gun reform we seem to have made as a nation in past nine and half years.

But that’s not the same as giving up. I wrote a check to the Brady Center and we will probably be marching in the gun control march in DC the second weekend in June. Because that’s what happens when there’s a mass shooting big enough to startle us out of our complacency. But of course, these shootings are happening all the time, (fifteen shootings with at least four dead since Uvalde, in case the article is behind a paywall for you). I know a check and a day spent marching isn’t enough, but it’s what I’ve got.

Mothers’ Days: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 72

Mother’s Day

We have a bunch of family holidays in a row the first couple weeks of May, first Noah’s birthday, then Mother’s Day, then my birthday. (Well, that was the order this year. Sometimes my birthday is before or on Mother’s Day.) Just like Noah’s birthday, it was my first Mother’s Day and my first birthday without him since before he existed. Mother’s Day could have been sad, but it wasn’t. I think I’d burned through my emotion about being separated from him on these days earlier in the week.

Noah sent gifts and asked North to wrap them and he texted me and Beth his Mother’s Day greetings, so he did his filial duty. I did, too, calling my mom, and chatting for over an hour. We talked about her recent trip to Idaho for her sister’s funeral and her upcoming trip to Morocco. (I’d sent her a collection of single-serve bags of nuts, dried fruit, and other mostly healthy treats for the trip. She seemed pleased with them.)

For the most part it was a regular Sunday. Beth went grocery shopping in the morning and in the afternoon she and North attended a painting class they’re taking together. That week they were working on paintings of found objects and Beth’s painting was of a collection of objects she found while weeding our fence line, including a rubber bat from Halloween and a metal numeral seven from when we replaced our house numbers on the porch years ago. This is one of my favorites of all her artwork from this class.

While Beth and North were out of the house I read a big chunk of my book club book. For a book we’re only spending one meeting on, it’s on the long side and I didn’t start it as soon as I should have so I was glad to knock out ninety pages of it in one sitting. That would have been an almost unheard of luxury a decade ago.

It was mid-afternoon before the three of us were all awake and in the house and not hurrying to put groceries away (me) or leave the house (Beth and North) so that’s when Beth and I opened presents. From North I got a cord for my reading glasses, the kind you wear around your neck, the idea being maybe I won’t lose them so often. From Noah I got a book. I asked for it because although I thought I’d already read it, I don’t own it and now that the trilogy’s complete, I wanted to start fresh. (However, when I read the whole novella in one gulp the following evening, I realized I hadn’t read it after all.) Beth got a chocolate bar and lavender soap from North and an iPad case from Noah. The gifts were nice and it’s also nice that the kids mainly handle Mother’s Day gift buying on their own now, with a small nudge from each mom on behalf of the other.

After we opened gifts, I had a little nap. In what you may be recognizing by now as a motif, as I was getting into bed I was thinking how as a mother of younger kids I would either have to time this to coincide with child’s nap or co-ordinate with Beth, but now I can just lie down on a weekend afternoon when I want. (Well, I did time it so I wouldn’t miss any of my Fitbit’s hourly step goals, so maybe I’m not as free as I thought.)

Beth made dinner, which she often does on Mother’s Day because Sunday is her cooking night. That she should do this has never seemed quite right to me, but if we’d gotten takeout she probably would have paid, so it’s hard to fete her that way, especially since I cook four to five nights a week and don’t really want to take on an extra shift on Mother’s Day either. That’s one the tricky parts of Mother’s Day for lesbian moms. Anyway, she made a nice dinner, a spicy tomato soup with vegetarian chicken and watercress, served with aged Gouda, a Spanish cheese, and crackers she made from almond flour and homemade cashew flour and I did the dishes. After dinner, we watched an episode of Severance.

So much reflection on how different the holiday is now that the kids are grown or close to it, reminded me of this Mother’s Day blog post from 2009.  Here’s the most relevant paragraph:

I feel like we haven’t really gotten the hang of Mother’s Day despite eight years of practice. The first one we didn’t expect to celebrate as mothers because Noah arrived three weeks before his late May due date. We were so overwhelmed with new motherhood we agreed to just let the day go uncelebrated. There have been years when we went out for a meal or arranged to each give the other a scheduled break, time to read or leave the house unaccompanied or take an uninterrupted bath, but other years we just seem too busy to work it in. This year was like that. While my Facebook friends were posting upbeat Mother’s Day messages I posted a cranky one about how lesbian moms and straight single moms should be issued a “Dad for the Day” to co-ordinate a day of rest for them.

After that outburst on my part Beth gave me a day off for my birthday, right after Mother’s Day. I guess she saw the writing on the wall and realized I needed it. I was a stay-at-home mom with one in elementary school and one in preschool then, so it was much appreciated.

Birthday

Back in the present, I turned fifty-five three days after Mother’s Day. Beth was going to be out of town for most of the day because she was driving up to Ithaca on a four-day trip to get Noah. His advanced cinema production class was having a showcase on Thursday and if she showed up earlier than she’d originally planned, she’d have the opportunity to see it. She was hesitant about leaving me on my birthday, and Noah was apologetic about it too, but I told her to go, we didn’t want North to miss three days of school so someone needed to stay and there was no point in both of us missing the showcase. Plus if she went I might have some idea how it went, whereas if she didn’t, Noah would probably tell me it was “good” or “fine.”

Beth was staying home until lunchtime so she could work a half day and we decided to have breakfast out at Takoma Beverage Company. Before we ate I opened my presents from her, the second two books in the Cairo Trilogy (we recently read the first one in my book club). I had a latte and poached eggs, but I also splurged on a waffle with sweetened, lemon-infused whipped cream, fresh berries and blueberry compote, and maple syrup. It was like a diabetic fever dream. I almost didn’t check my sensor until after the data for that meal expired, but I faced the music and it wasn’t bad at all, probably because between walking home from the restaurant and working in the yard I was on my feet for almost two and a half hours straight after breakfast. (Also, in addition to the protein I paired it with at the restaurant, I had vegetarian sausage before we left home as an extra precaution.)

Anyway, what I was doing in the yard was planting daffodil bulbs, which I realize you’re supposed to do in the fall, but I had bucket full of them a neighbor had discarded with the greens still attached, and presumably still photosynthesizing, plus more Beth dug up from our back yard a year ago and I’d forgotten to relocate in the fall and might forget again if I didn’t get them in the ground now. I’m not sure how many of the ones that were out of the ground for so long are still alive, but almost half of them put out little exploratory leaves this spring even with no roots in the ground, so I think some of them should flower next year. I made a nice long row of them along the front and side fence, over the course of three days.

After lunch Beth hit the road and I did a little work on web copy for a greens powder and a sugar-free dark chocolate bar. Then I read a few chapters of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I’d started reading before all my birthday books arrived because North is reading it for their English class and that put me in the mood for it. In my birthday stack I now had the books Beth gave me and two more my mother sent—Piranesi and Sometimes You Have to Lie, which is a biography of Louise Fitzhugh, author of Harriet the Spy.

When North got home from school, I opened their present, a jar of hazelnut-pistachio butter. I’d asked for interesting nut butters and I think that qualifies. I also opened Noah’s gift, which he’d entrusted to North. It was Gwendy’s Magic Feather, the sequel to the book he’d gotten me for Mother’s Day, which I’d already finished. North and I split a slice of lemon cake I’d picked up at the co-op because even though I wasn’t having my official birthday cake until Noah got home, I wanted a little cake on the actual day, too. That ended up having a bigger impact that the waffle, but it was a special occasion.

Noah texted me a little after six to tell me he’d finished his last assignment for the semester. Over the space of two days he’d taken an exam, given two oral presentations, and finished his film. Now all he had to do was attend the film showcase on Thursday, go to his last IT work shift on Friday, and pack up his apartment before hitting the road with Beth on Saturday. His text made his return seem closer.

A few days earlier North had volunteered to make dinner on my birthday, even though it wasn’t their night to cook, and asked what I wanted. What I really wanted was fettucine alfredo, but I thought about it and decided the sauce would be good enough, so I had a vegetarian chicken cutlet with homemade alfredo sauce and roasted asparagus. (North made pasta and broccoli for their own meal because they don’t care for asparagus. When it was time to eat they stuck a candle in the cutlet and lit it.)

My sister and niece called after dinner to sing me “Happy Birthday” and when the dishes were done, North and I watched the first half of The Omen. Watching a horror movie was their idea, but they let me choose, so I continue to expose them to the horror of my youth, not that I watched The Omen in 1976, as I was only nine then, but it’s set in a time I remember. Perhaps we’ll work our way up to The Exorcist.

Mother and Child Reunion

Beth and Noah arrived home three days later. In the interim, North and I finished The Omen on Thursday and went to see a presentation of four student-directed one acts at their school on Friday because several of their friends were acting in them. This event was originally scheduled for January, but after-school activities were cancelled because of omicron for a while and even though they resumed months ago for some reason it only got rescheduled last week.

The plays were for the most part impressively well written and well-acted. Because two of North’s preschool classmates go to their school (after attending different elementary and middle schools) and are active in theater, I was able to chat with some parents I hadn’t seen in quite a while. Afterward, North and I went out for pizza and ate it al fresco. It was a fun outing.

I was just starting to make dinner the next evening when Beth and Noah pulled into the driveway. I saw the car from the kitchen window and met them in the driveway. Even though Noah’s not tall, he is for our family, in which everyone else ranges from five one to five four, so I often think he’s grown when I first see him after a couple months apart. Or maybe it’s just his new maturity. After all, when I last saw him, he was only twenty.

We unloaded the car and he asked if he should help cook because it was Saturday and that’s his cooking night when he’s home. Never one to turn down help, I said sure. I was making an egg and asparagus salad because he’s fond of asparagus if not egg (I left it out of his helping and gave him some tofu cubes instead) and we served it with the sunflower seed-studded sourdough rye bread we got at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, which had been in the freezer waiting for his return since last month because good bread is one of his favorite things to eat.

After dinner we watched his film. North and Zoë, who was sleeping over, wandered into the living room in the middle so we started it over. It was very professionally done. I noticed the actors looked a little older than college age. It turned out he never did find any Ithaca students and he hired two local actors. His crew consisted of his friend Gabriel, who also wrote the script, and a few volunteers from his film class. (He returned the favor, serving on their crews.) Beth told me that the difference between the better films and the rest was mostly in lighting and sound quality and also that the professor, who was very taciturn, praised his film and no one else’s. Of course, he’s not completely satisfied with it, and he wishes he’d had time to add some music, but overall I think he’s pleased with the final product. I’m glad it all worked out and he didn’t have to withdraw from the class. To wrap up the evening we started season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am hoping to finish at least one season before he leaves for Australia. (We don’t actually know when he’s leaving as one program he’s considering starts in July and the other in September.)

Today Noah continued to consume media with different members of the family. He watched an episode of Dr. Who with North after Zoë left and then he and I started a new book (The Desolations of Devil’s Acre, last book in the Miss Peregrine series) and a new television series (The Wheel of Time). We had our shared birthday cake after dinner. The weekend was too busy for baking, so we had a bakery cake, chocolate with cookies-and-cream frosting.

Our May celebrations of birth and motherhood are officially over, but it doesn’t feel like it because now what we’re celebrating is having everyone under one roof for a spell. Plus, we still have leftover cake.

You Were Eighteen, Now You’re Twenty-One: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 71

You were eighteen, now you’re twenty-one
Drew their lines then they changed their minds
You were eighteen, now you’re twenty-one
Housed by rules now you’re free to run

From “18 21” by the Slants

Noah was eighteen when covid cut short his first year of college. He turned nineteen and twenty at home. Today he turns twenty-one at school. This was his first birthday I haven’t spent with him and the idea of that felt very strange indeed. I mentioned this to my mother a couple weeks ago and she said it would be “the first of many.” That’s probably true. I was at college for birthdays nineteen through twenty-two and the only birthday in my adult life I remember spending with her was in 2008, when I turned forty-one and we visited her and my stepfather over Mother’s Day weekend.

My birthday is eight days after Noah’s and just a few days before he’s coming home for the summer so we’d agreed to share a birthday cake to be eaten on his return. As his birthday neared, though, I found I couldn’t bear the idea of him having no festive pastry on the actual day, so I ordered four cupcakes—chocolate, vanilla, red velvet, and carrot—from a local bakery to be delivered to his apartment.

We had his presents mailed to him. North got him a camera microphone filter, the purpose of which, I think, is to block out extraneous noise when you’re filming, but I wouldn’t bet any significant sum of money on that. Anyway, it was on his list and it was in North’s price range. Beth and I got him another microphone (also from his list) and a purple long-sleeved, tie-dyed t-shirt. Tie-dyed shirts have been part of his look since he was little and he still wears them, even though in general he now favors more muted colors than he did as a little boy, so I went with a dark purple rather than something multicolored. I wanted to buy him some books, but he has a sizable pile left from Christmas waiting in his room for him and we still don’t know how long a summer break he’s going to have. He intends to study abroad this fall and possibly part of the summer, too, probably in Australia, but last I heard he was also considering Scotland. (My mom did get him a book about color symbolism in film, so he won’t run out of reading material.)

His semester is winding up, with not quite two weeks to go. He eventually found two actors to appear in his film, so he cut the third character out of the script and filmed about a week and a half ago. He says the shoot went well. For his junior project, he’s been making an app that you can use while you are filming to mark what you think are good takes so they are easier to find when you’re editing. He says that’s coming along well, too.

His band concert was Saturday afternoon. Beth and I watched it online like we did last semester. As a percussionist he always plays a lot of different instruments but in this concert it seemed like even more than usual. He played chimes, timpani, snare drum, a taiko tire drum, suspended cymbals, bowed vibraphone (or tried to—the pedal broke), bass drums, and congas. It made me wish we had a better view because at his last concert in December, the camera zoomed in and out and there were a lot of close ups of people playing, which didn’t happen this time and of course, he was in the back. But it was still fun to see him play. I always enjoy that. I have since he was nine.

I was actually thinking as I watched it was good the three masked percussionists were in the back row because they were behind, rather than in front of all those wind and brass instruments blowing air out toward the audience. (Audience members were asked to mask even though Ithaca’s been mask-optional since March, possibly for this reason.)

Sunday afternoon I passed by a Starbucks while out for a walk and I got birthday cake pop to save for today because I also wanted a little cake, if just a couple bites, to mark the actual day my son was born. And yesterday I made fried tofu with peanut sauce because we often have Thai food on or near his birthday because Beth and I ate dinner at a Thai restaurant the night before he was born.

I miss him today, of course, but I’m happy he had an uninterrupted year of college, after the rules changed on everyone so suddenly and for so long. He’s free to run now, all the way to Australia, or wherever his travels take him. I hope wherever he goes he’ll wear his purple shirt, and make movies, and maybe even some music.

In the Midst of Life We Are in Death

Even as we celebrate twenty-one years of Noah’s life, we also mark a death. On Friday my mother and sister and many members of my extended family attended a memorial service in Nampa, Idaho for my aunt Diane, who died in January. The church where it was held streamed it so I watched online. Diane was seventy-five. She was my mother’s younger sister, the third of five siblings, and the first to die. She was a pastor’s daughter and a pastor’s wife, a teacher, and an elementary school counselor. She had three children, my cousins Heather, Holly, and Jeremy, four grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. In a politically divided family, she was known as the peacemaker. In her later years she suffered from Lewy Body dementia. I last saw Diane at my stepfather’s memorial service five years ago, but the last time I spent time with her in a smaller, more intimate group was in April 2008 when she and my aunt Peggy and my uncle Darryl visited my mother and stepfather in Philadelphia and we all met up in Baltimore.

RIP, Diane Adele Higgins Bolles.
1946-2022

Going West: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 70

Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.

Attributed to Horace Greeley, New-York Daily Tribune,  July 13, 1865

I actually think Washington and its surroundings are a very fine place to live, but we like other places, too, and spring break is a good time to visit them. Often we go east, to Delaware or Maryland beaches, but we have gone as far north as Vermont and as far south as North Carolina. This year we went west, for three reasons: to visit Beth’s mom in Wheeling; for North’s first college tour at Beth’s and my alma mater, Oberlin; and to visit North’s half-sibling Avery in Ypsilanti.

Before I write about the trip, though, a word about the mourning dove chicks. Sunday afternoon, just one day after my last blog post, I went out on the porch and noticed the nest was empty. I am really not sure what to think about this. There were no signs of struggle, no blood or feathers on the porch floor, but I didn’t think they were quite ready to fledge. I hadn’t seen any of the hesitant initial flights to the floor and back to the nest I often see, but on the other hand they weren’t tiny and helpless any more. In my mind, it could have gone either way. It could even be that the smaller one got snatched and the bigger one flew away from the scene of the crime. Since I’ll never know, I am hoping for the best.

Monday: Takoma Park, MD to Wheeling, WV (via Morgantown, WV)

Back to our travels: we hit the road around 10:30 and immediately turned around because a block or two from the house North and I realized we had not packed any masks. We were the only people wearing masks when we stopped at The Blue Goose Fruit Market and Bakery for treats and I was one of two masked customers when I went into Taco Bell to pick up our lunch order.

As we drove west, Trump signs got more common and spring seemed to rewind a bit. When we stopped in Morgantown to visit Stephanie, a friend of ours from college who teaches at WVU now, she had crocuses in front of her house and there were cherry trees in bloom nearby. It was nice to see them again as their bloom is so fleeting and our cherry trees were done. It was also nice to see Stephanie and drink peppermint tea and eat crumbly cheddar and talk about the books she’s teaching and her students and climate change (she teaches Environmental Humanities) and North’s thoughts about college.

We arrived in Wheeling around 6:30. YaYa had prepared a nice dinner for us, a vegetable-white bean soup, salad, and bread. We’d brought some leftover banana pudding cake North and their friend Ranvita had made on Sunday and when Beth’s aunt Carole came over after dinner, we all had some.

Tuesday: Wheeling

In the morning I read my book club book (Palace Walk) and Beth and YaYa went for a walk in Wheeling Park. Carole came over a little after noon to dye Easter eggs with us. North made the trans flag on one and got tie dye and batik effects on a few more. Beth made the Ukrainian flag with a heart sticker. I made very busy yellow and green one covered with spring-themed stickers. I initially put on just a few then decided more is more. Our collection of little felt hats was pressed into service, as it is every year. YaYa chose a green beret with a pipe cleaner spiral on top. Carole went with a more classic, unadorned look for her pink and half-green, half-blue eggs.

Later in the afternoon, YaYa, Beth and I went to Oglebay park to walk among the daffodils and tulips and around the little lake with its swan boats and ducks and a turtle sunning itself on a log. Beth’s aunt Jenny came by for a fly-by visit  and then we had dinner at Carole’s house, which is two doors down from YaYa’s. She made spinach ravioli with sauteed vegetables and a salad and then she put out ice cream and gingersnaps. We lingered at the table for an hour or so after we’d finished and the two members of the older generation asked the lone representative of the younger one about high school and North was quite expansive about the classes they liked and the ones they didn’t and everything else they were asked about. We went back to YaYa’s house and Beth’s friend Michelle from her own high school days came over and we had a wide-ranging discussion about everyone’s health issues and life changes and work and relationships, in other words all the important things.

Wednesday: Wheeling to Oberlin, OH

Beth’s aunt Susan came by the next morning, full of news about her great grandchildren. And with that visit we’d seen all three of YaYa’s sisters in the space of two days. After Susan left, Beth and YaYa went back to Oglebay because YaYa had wanted to go to the gift shop the day before and it had been closed. While they were gone, I took a long walk in Wheeling Park and the adjacent cemetery.

After lunch, we hit the road for Oberlin. With pit stops so Beth could take a work call and so North and I could get coffee and use a restroom it took three and a half hours to get to our AirBnB. Beth went out for some groceries and I made egg salad out of some of our Easter eggs for dinner. I served it on toast with broccoli on the side.

We took an after-dinner stroll through Oberlin, traversing Tappan Square and walking through town. I felt right at home when I saw a short-haired young woman in Birkenstocks with a guitar slung over her back. Beth told North about three separate times that she thought they could be happy in Oberlin because “it’s a happy place.” We pointed out the movie theater where we had our second date (in July 1987) because every trip to Oberlin is a trip down memory lane for us and the kids just know to expect that.

We got back to the house just in time for me to log onto my book club meeting. It’s hybrid now and it’s not ideal because there are almost always technical snafus at the beginning and it’s hard to hear the people who are in person when you’re remote and I haven’t gotten the hang of how to jump into the conversation when I’m not in the room, so I just settled in to listen. Even with all the drawbacks I was glad to be able to do it. It’s better than missing it entirely. While I was in book club, Beth worked a little and then she and North played Battleship on their phones.

Thursday: Oberlin

In the morning Beth took a walk around campus and I read until North got up and then we went to the campus art museum. I had a strong desire to take North there because I visited it when I was a prospective at Oberlin and I was really taken with it. I remember thinking if I went to Oberlin I’d go there all the time, and while I didn’t go as often as I anticipated, I did go often enough to have favorite pieces. I showed North St. Sebastian Tended by Irene which I wrote an essay about for an art history class and this sculpture I really loved. Beth showed North her favorite painting and we browsed the rest of the eclectic collection.

From the museum we went to the campus bookstore, where North selected Wilder Girls, which is a book I’ve considered reading and now that it’s going to be in the house, I probably will. North says it’s horror with lesbian characters—“What more could you want?”

We were wandering around looking for somewhere to eat lunch (almost none of the haunts of our college days are still open, so there was no obvious choice) when I noticed North was slowing down and limping and in the interest of letting them get some rest before the walking tour, we decided to eat at a nearby Mexican place, rather than continuing to compare menus. I had a spinach quesadilla with a side order of refried beans. I wasn’t sure how the white flour tortilla would affect my blood sugar and I still don’t know because my sensor had just expired and I didn’t have a new one on yet.

We attended an information session held in a lecture hall where I had an intro Psychology class my first year. The presenter talked really fast for an hour, talking about the things every college touts at these things—student faculty ratio, the abundance of clubs and cultural events, how environmentally friendly the school is, although Oberlin’s goal to be carbon neutral in the next few years goes above and beyond. He also covered the Experimental College with its student-taught classes, the student-run co-op housing and dining halls, and opportunities to work closely with faculty. I never took an ExCo class but I knew people who did and I did eat and live in co-ops and my senior year I helped a professor teach literary translation workshop I took as a sophomore, so it all rang pretty true for me.

The walking tour was next. Beth asked the guide if he could go a little slow so North could keep up and he did. The tour didn’t take any longer than advertised, though, so either he cut some of his normal stops or he always walks pretty slowly. Oberlin is a smaller campus than many we toured with Noah, so maybe the guides don’t have to rush as much. We went from North quad to South quad, stopped at the library and saw a model dorm room. I peeled off from the group at the library because the id card office is there and I wanted to get an alumni id so I could use the pool later. The tour left before I finished and I had to catch up with it following Beth’s texted directions.

After the tour, I asked North if the presentation and tour made them more or less interested in Oberlin and they said they said about the same. What’s drawing them to it is the pre-law program, which I don’t think even existed when Beth and I were students. As North and I walked to the house, Beth went back to the library and got her own id card.

After a short rest, we went to the gym and Beth rode an exercise bike while I swam in the pool where I used to swim laps in college. The locker rooms have been renovated beyond recognition, but the pool looks pretty much the same. I looked at the board of swim team records and noticed a few date back to the early nineties, just after I graduated. It pleased me to think of someone just a couple years younger than me still holding a pool record. It was not a record day for me. The pool in Takoma where I swam closed at the beginning of the pandemic and never re-opened so I have only swum laps a handful of times in the past two years and I could feel it. I did about two-thirds of my usual routine and called it quits. My time wasn’t bad, but I was tired and Beth was finished so I didn’t want to make her wait.

While I am normally not at all self-conscious in changing rooms, I discovered I am when the average age of women in the room is about twenty (and most of them are members of the swim team, which had just finished practicing). I considered the irony of the fact that when I was that age (but not on the swim team) I actually wrote a poem called “In the Women’s Locker Room at Carr Pool” which was about all the different types of bodies in the locker room, students and faculty and little kids, all ages and shapes, and how they were all beautiful. I need to try to see myself with my younger self’s eyes.

Back at the house, we got excellent Thai takeout and watched an episode of The Gilmore Girls and then the second half of Being the Ricardos (which we’d started about a week earlier).

Friday: Oberlin to Ypsilanti, MI (via Lake Erie)

We lingered in bed that morning, and before we left Oberlin, we went out for coffee at a place called Slow Train Café, which might have been named for how long it takes to get your coffee. It wasn’t the baristas’ fault by any means. They were swamped. The coffee was good when we got it. We also checked out another bookstore, where we got a couple Oberlin t-shirts, one for Beth and one for my niece. (My sister also went to Oberlin.) Lily-Mei’s shirt had a squirrel on it because the squirrel is the unofficial mascot of the college. It’s because there are albino squirrels you can occasionally glimpse on campus. (We didn’t see it any on this trip.)

We hit the road, had lunch at Panera, and stopped at Maumee Bay State Park on Lake Erie, where North sat on swing with a view of the water and then collected little shells on the beach, while Beth and I took a short walk along the shore.

We got to our AirBnB in Ypsilanti a little after four. We unpacked a bit and I set out a variety of snacks from our store of food—garlic cheddar, olives, smoked almonds—and some raspberry lemonade we found in the fridge because North’s half sibling Avery and one of their moms was coming over.

We sat in the living room and got to know each other. As you can see, there is definitely a physical resemblance between the kids, which I knew ahead of time from pictures, but it seemed stronger in person, probably because Avery’s intonation and hand gestures are similar to North’s. When you see the whole package it’s kind of eerie. Besides having lesbian moms (not so surprising for donor-conceived kids) they have more in common. Avery is non-binary, into theater and likes to bake. Like North and the donor, they had red hair as a baby that changed to light blonde and then darkened as they got older. They also have joint issues and migraines.

Avery has met several of the group of fourteen known half-siblings, so I imagine it was less novel for their mom than it was for us, but it was a pleasant chat. Everyone got along and we all met up with Avery’s other mom at a pizza place for dinner. The kids had plans to spend all of the next day together, but North came back to the AirBnB with us for the night, where we watched an episode of Gilmore Girls before bed.

It was a very Good Friday.

Saturday: Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, MI

Avery came by the next morning to pick up North. It was the first time I’ve watched North leave in a car driven by a peer, as none of their friends drive yet.

North and Avery spent the day wandering around Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, shopping for books and crystals. They had lunch in a diner and then went back to Avery’s house where they had takeout pasta for dinner and watched a horror movie. North slept over at their house.

Left to our own devices for twenty-four hours, we got a leisurely start to the day. Beth took a walk. I did laundry, messaged back and forth with my friend Megan about meeting Avery, and read my book club book. After lunch, we went on our own little adventure. We visited the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens and explored a small area of Ann Arbor. At the botanical gardens we walked through the conservatory, looking at cacti, a lemon tree, and other plants. Beth was quite taken with a kaleidoscope that’s aimed at a planter full of succulents. The images of the plants make the design when you spin it. Outside in the formal gardens, the daffodils were just getting started, but not much else was blooming, so we didn’t spend long there and took a walk on a wooded path that passed by a creek and some ponds. We saw geese and turkey.

In Ann Arbor, we picked up some groceries at a food co-op, got coffee (me) and drinking chocolate (Beth) at an upscale chocolate shop, where I also got myself a tiny dark chocolate Easter bunny and some toffee-almond eggs, and we made a pilgrimage to Zingerman’s deli, where we walked out with fancy bread, cheese, olive oil, potato chips, pastries, chocolate bars and a lighter wallet. Are you familiar with Zingerman’s? We’ve never been in person but we are fans of the catalog, and apparently so are a lot people on my Facebook page, based on the response to the pictures I posted there. I got Noah something for his birthday which I will not reveal here because he often reads my blog.

Back at the house, I blogged and then made dinner—sherry-cream mushrooms on toast, salad, and some leftovers (sautéed Brussels sprouts and an Easter egg). Beth and I watched the season finale of Abbott Elementary and the first episode of Severance.

Easter Sunday: Ypsilanti to Somerset, PA

In the morning, North came back from Avery’s house as we were packing up the house. Beth told them the Easter Bunny had left a basket in their room and after a brief search North found their basket of candy, bee socks from the botanical gardens, and dill pickle potato chips from Zingerman’s in the under-bed storage drawer.

It turned out we’d had a misunderstanding because we thought the visit with Avery was over and we were about to leave town and North thought they were going to see Avery again and have lunch before we left, so there was some texting between Avery’s mom and me and North and Avery and it was decided we’d swing by their house so the kids could have a proper goodbye. We all went inside and chatted for a while and my eyes were drawn to a picture of Avery in elementary school that looked a lot like North at that age. Then they showed us their garden and we piled back into the car.

We drove out of Michigan and all the way through Ohio and into Southwestern Pennsylvania, where we arrived at our third and final AirBnB around dinnertime. We picked up some canned soup at a Dollar General (no grocery stores were open on Easter) and Beth and North collaborated to make mushroom melts and soup. Afterward we watched two episodes of the Gilmore Girls and ate Easter candy. We watched four episodes on the trip, satisfying progress toward my recently announced goal of finishing the series before North leave for college so we don’t end up in a Buffy situation like we have with Noah now. (Not starting that show earlier in the pandemic was a strategic mistake.)

Monday: Somerset, PA to Takoma Park

We had to be out of the house by eleven, which meant rousing North from bed at ten. It was quite a chilly day in the Laurel Highlands with snow predicted. Beth and I both got in our morning walks before it started to precipitate. The house was in a neighborhood set on a very steep hill, terrace style. On my walk I found a path that went through the woods on the back side of the hill and then past a barn with horses in a corral and a pond. Spring seemed to have the weakest hold here of all the places we’d been, with forsythia just get started and daffodils and hyacinth the only flowers.

As if to emphasize this, by the time we left, freezing rain had set in. Eventually it changed over to snow and for a while it was like driving through a snow globe, with big fat flakes, sticking to the ground and the trees. Beth enjoyed it, as she never seems to get enough of winter weather. About a half hour after our stop for a late lunch it changed back to rain.

When we got home, we discovered spring in Takoma has advanced. Many more trees have leaves than when we left and there are azaleas and dogwoods in bloom.

“It was a good trip,” Beth said as we ate Indian takeout for dinner, and it was. I think it was one we’ll remember for a long time.

Between the Breaks: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 69

There was a three-week stretch between the end of Noah’s spring break and the beginning of North’s. The first week you’ve read about already—that was the week of North’s birthday and closing night of their show.

North came down with some kind of virus the middle of the second week and missed four days of school—the last two days of the third quarter and the first two days of the fourth quarter. They took a rapid covid test at home the first day they felt sick and it was negative. The next day we all went to the Silver Spring Civic Center for PCR tests. Beth’s and North’s came back negative and mine must have fallen through the cracks because I never heard back. I wasn’t particularly worried once we got North’s negative results, though, because they’re the one who comes into contact with the most people, so I didn’t pursue it. I’d had a sore throat and some congestion around the time North got sick but it never got more serious than that and Beth wasn’t sick at all. (Two days after we were tested Beth and I got our second booster shots.)

At the worst of it, last weekend, North had quite a high fever—it got up to 103.3 and they were pretty miserable with chills. They slept a lot, occasionally emerging from their room to eat or watch television. It’s always sad to see your child lethargic like that. On Sunday afternoon we cuddled on the couch and watched The Shining together. North said it wasn’t as scary as It. We’ve been on a horror movie jag and we watched both installments of that one recently.

In addition to the fact of their being sick, the timing of North’s illness worried me because I was afraid they’d miss end-of-the-quarter assignments and not be able to make them up. But they went back to school on Wednesday and they say they’re on top of everything. They came home from school pretty happy because they got a 98% on a five-page persuasive essay arguing against abstinence-only sex education that was their biggest third quarter assignment in English and the teacher asked for a copy to use as a sample for future classes. By Thursday they were well enough to stay after school and organize and put costumes from the play into storage, to come home long enough to make a pan of brownies for Zoë’s birthday, and to go her house for dinner and a movie. They’re having another friend over tomorrow to bake and watch a movie, so even though they’ve still got a lingering cough, I think they are almost recovered.

At the same time Noah was going through his own rough patch. He’s making a film for his advanced cinema production class and he’s been having trouble finding actors and a crew. Approaching people for this kind of thing isn’t his strong suit and after several people who auditioned either backed out or ghosted him he got so frustrated he was on the verge of withdrawing from the class. I felt sad for him as he’d been really looking forward to taking it and it’s ended up being very stressful for him. So I was proud of him when he texted me to let me know he’d talked about his problem in class and people volunteered for his crew. He still has no actors and he doesn’t have all the crew members he needs, but as of Friday he was saying he was going to stick with it. I volunteered to post a message to the IC parents’ Facebook page and he agreed and parents started responding right away. I posted last night and by this morning I’d sent his recruitment form to fourteen parents who expressed interest on behalf of their kids. We’ll see if that translates to some of those students contacting him and choosing to participate.

Through all this, I tried to mother both kids through food. I found a recipe for vegetable-chick pea soup with ginger and turmeric that claimed to be “the very essence of healing goodness” and made it for dinner on Monday night, by which point North had been sick for five days. They were actually already on the upswing by this point, though it would be a couple more days before they went back to school, so maybe the soup exerted some small effect. Meanwhile, I decided to send Noah a planned care package of Easter candy a little early, in hopes that a chocolate-hazelnut bunny, peanut butter eggs, mini eggs, and jelly beans would be cheering. I did not mail it in an Easter basket, for reasons of space, but I did pack the box with Easter grass. Noah was home last Easter and the one before because of covid so this was his first Easter-in-a-box from me. If he wants Easter eggs, I guess he’ll have to dye them himself as I don’t think they’d ship well.

While I was fretting about my sick and discouraged children, I also had two little mourning dove chicks on my mind. Every spring (and once in the fall) for the past several years we’ve had nesting birds on our porch and this year is no exception. This would be a joyful thing, but more often than not the babies never fledge because either the eggs don’t hatch or they do and the chicks are killed by predators. I don’t even know what kills them. According to the internet, it could be birds of prey, snakes, cats, dogs, or squirrels. Considering the nest is on a ledge near the ceiling of the porch and the column it tops is pretty smooth, I think it would have to be something that can fly (bird), jump (cat, squirrel) or reach the ledge from the porch wall (large dog). I (almost) never see any of these animals in my yard except squirrels, so that’s my best guess. I didn’t even know squirrels were omnivores.

The eggs did hatch this year and four days after I first caught of a glimpse of two babies being fed by a parent, I started seeing them unattended in the nest for short periods, and of course whenever I saw that, I’d worry for them. I kept counting the days since I first saw them and hoping they’d get bigger and fly away before something bad befell them. Several more days went by and I noticed the chicks, especially one, had grown quite a bit and the bigger one was starting to walk around the ledge and half-open its wings, which made me think it might be ready to fledge soon. (That’s a young bird, not a parent in the picture. The other one is obscured behind it.) Fingers crossed for a happy outcome.

So to sum up, North is mostly recovered and Noah has some leads and the chicks are still alive. Things could be worse.