About Steph

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

Life is a Highway

 

Life’s like a road that you travel onWhen there’s one day here and the next day gone

“Life is a Highway,” Rascal Flats

Hey, guess what? North graduated from high school and Noah has news, too.

In the almost two weeks between the last day of school and graduation, North kept busy. This is what they were up to:

1. Baking

We went strawberry-picking the day before Memorial Day and North volunteered to make the strawberry-blueberry shortcake I usually make for our Memorial Day picnic. It was one of many baking projects. They also made chocolate cupcakes with strawberry-whipped cream frosting for their friend Grey’s birthday, and two batches of almond butter-chocolate chip cookies, one of which was for a picnic with friends, and one for us. They made enough of the cupcakes for us to sample them, too.

2. Socializing

Speaking of friends, they were quite social in their time off school. They had a gathering in a playground with friends from middle school (this was the one with cookies) and another gathering at Ranvita’s house with friends from high school, at which everyone made a different pasta or potato dish to share.

The first Saturday in June, roughly the same group of friends also met in downtown Silver Spring for lunch and then went to Ranvita’s house to prepare for Pride Prom, which North attended with El. North says it was more fun than regular prom because it wasn’t as loud, the music was better, and they knew more people. (Beth and I discussed how it was very lesbian to get ready for prom at your ex-girlfriend’s house and go with someone else and everyone is fine with it.)

In addition to all these group social engagements, their new friend Valerie came over and had dinner here one day, and they went to El’s house the afternoon after graduation practice to watch Fear Street 3, having previously watched the first two installments together, and then they went to Maddie’s house the day before graduation to drop off tickets—we had extra and North gave them to several of their junior friends—and they hung out there for a while.

3. Cleaning

The kids and I gave the porch its annual big clean the same day as Pride Prom. This chore involves carrying all the porch furniture onto the lawn, scrubbing the walls and floors with soapy water to remove pollen, grime, and dust, and then lugging the furniture back onto the porch. It also involves water play, usually in the form of Noah spraying North with the hose (with their consent). Because it was a sunny day, the spray made rainbows and that seemed appropriate because it was the first day of Pride month. It also reminded me to find the little Pride flags we stick in our front porch planters in June. (I often leave the flags there all summer and into the fall, taking them down after National Coming Out Day in October.)

4. Dealing with Medical Issues

We also had to squeeze in a lot of appointments before North’s departure for camp. On the day after Memorial Day alone, they had three. One of these meetings, a virtual one, was with the Office of Disability and Access at Oberlin to discuss accommodations. North wants a room on the first floor or in a building with an elevator and access to early registration so they can try to avoid late afternoon classes, as that’s when they get their migraines. The staff person they spoke to was encouraging, but their case hasn’t progressed through all the official channels yet.

Speaking of their migraines, they recently got two new prescriptions, a monthly injectable preventative that you have to be eighteen to take and a rescue nasal spray they just happened to have not tried yet. They’ve only had one injection so far, about three weeks ago, and we can’t tell if it’s making a difference yet, but it can take a while to work (sometimes up to three months), so we’re still hopeful about it. It took so long to get through the red tape that was necessary to obtain the nasal spray that it just arrived on Tuesday and they haven’t tried it yet. We really just need one medication or the other to work because North already has a rescue medicine that works for them, but it can only be taken twice a week, and they get four to five migraines a week. If either of the new medicines works well enough to reduce the number of migraines they get to two a week or fewer or effectively halt them once they start, it will greatly improve their quality of life. So, keep your fingers crossed for that.

5. Watching Television

The Sunday before graduation, North and I were talking about how they were leaving for camp in less than a week and we drew up a list of the six television shows they are watching with various members of the family to see if there was a chance of finishing either all available episodes or a season in any of those shows. It only looked possible for Dr. Who (the kids watched the most recent episode on Monday morning) and maybe Emily in Paris, which they’re watching with me. We had six episodes left in season 2, and we watched three of them on Sunday night, one on Tuesday night, and two on Wednesday night. The four of us also hit the midpoint of season 2 of Grownish.

6. Riding the Rails

In other activities, North enjoys trains, so they amused themselves by taking the Metro to stops they’ve never been just for the ride. One day soon after school let out, they rode the Red Line from one end to the other and were in process of doing the same on the Yellow Line on the Monday before graduation when they exited a train car, not noticing their phone had slipped out of their pocket onto their seat or the floor. They realized what had happened when their podcast cut out as they watched the train the phone was on pull away with it. Metro Lost and Found didn’t respond to inquiries, so we had to get North a new phone. I told them it was an extra graduation present.

7. Being Promoted to Honor Thespian

The same day they lost their phone, Beth, North, and I attended the induction ceremony for the International Thespian Society in the courtyard of their school. There was music playing from various shows that have been put on over the past three years and cake and then we watched all the new and returning thespians each light a votive candle and set it afloat in a metal tub of water. When the candles bump up against each other in the water the melting wax causes some of them fuse. The theater director, Mr. S, explained that each time it creates a different collective pattern from everyone’s individual contribution, just like live theater performance does. It’s a very simple but beautiful ceremony.

Mr. S introduced each student and announced how much credit each had earned for acting, crew work, writing Cappies reviews, participating theater outside school, or taking a theater class. You need at least ten points total in two categories to be inducted and then there are a few levels above that. North was inducted last spring with twenty points, earned thirty more this year, and was awarded ten more from taking an acting class in tenth grade (due to a recent rule change). This meant they will graduate at the Honors Thespian level. The next day at graduation rehearsal, they came home with thespian cords and a Cappies medal (plus a certificate for earning a GPA of 3.75 or higher).

8. Graduating

Graduation was at ten a.m. Thursday at DAR Constitution Hall in the District, and the students were supposed to arrive at 8:30, so we left the house at 7:20. We dropped North off and headed for Peet’s Coffee, where I got a latte and Noah and I split an apple Danish. Beth and I took off on separate walks while Noah waited for us there. The doors were supposed to open for guests at nine, so we were surprised to see the graduates still milling around outside when we arrived.

Instead of letting the kids in first, the doors opened, and everyone was let in at 9:15. North was annoyed at having to wait so long, but that’s how these things go sometimes. We found our seats and waited. We picked a spot where Noah thought would be good for photos, and we noticed Talia’s family on the other side of the hall almost directly across from us. Talia and North went to preschool together and reconnected in high school when they worked on some of the same shows together. Talia’s mom and I have been good friends since our kids were two. Because North went to high school out of boundary and most of their friends this year were juniors, I knew many fewer of the kids graduating than I did at Noah’s graduation, so it was nice to be able to see Talia’s folks experiencing the same thing, if from a distance.

So, you’ve been to a graduation before, right? They are all very similar. There are speeches. The graduates cross the stage and collect their diplomas. People are told at the beginning to hold their applause until all the names have been called and no one does that. (There was an especially fervent fan club of a girl named Sophia sitting near us.)

Beth predicted ahead of time that covid would feature prominently in the speeches since this class had their first year of high school almost completely online. The principal spoke about that and about how their first year was his first year as principal of the school, and how it took a while for him to get to know their class. The student speaker quoted the song “Life is a Highway” and used it as a metaphor for their trip through their high school years, from the online ninth grade year through the masks, distancing, and limited extracurriculars of their sophomore year to the more open last two years.

I always pay attention to names, and while I didn’t go so far as to count to see what was most popular, it seems there were quite a lot of Zoës and Sophias in North’s class. The most interesting names belonged to a boy whose two middle names were John Coltrane and a girl who was named Love Lee Angel plus one more middle name and a last name.

After we’d gone from Abrahams to Zuniga, all the names had been called. Caps flew into the air. North only tossed theirs a few inches because they’d bejeweled it with the Oberlin logo and they wanted to keep it for pictures. That was what we did next. We met El and several of North’s junior friends who’d come to perform in the choir or watch the ceremony—for pictures.

The rest of the day had been planned by North. We went to Sunflower for a late lunch. It’s our favorite vegetarian Chinese restaurant but we don’t go often because it’s in Vienna, Virginia, which is kind of a hike from where we live. We most often go in October, as it’s near our traditional pumpkin patch. We were all very hungry by the time we got there, and the food was delicious. We are especially fond of the fake shrimp.

Back in Maryland, frozen yogurt was our next stop, but I had to abstain because it was too close to lunch and my blood sugar was in what I consider the special occasion range and still rising. Next, we went to downtown Silver Spring and watched Challengers, which was fun. Miles and Maddie met us there after the movie was over for more pictures because they hadn’t managed to meet up with us in the city.

We got home and had a late dinner of frozen entrees. We figured ahead of time there would be no time to cook dinner that night, so we’d stocked up. While we ate, North opened their graduation gifts. They’d previously opened checks from both grandmothers; Noah got them an earring rack; I got them two t-shirts from Takoma businesses (a Takoma Beverage Company shirt with rainbow letters and a tie-dyed shirt from People’s Book where North’s queer poetry book club met); and Beth got them a stuffed white squirrel wearing an Oberlin College t-shirt. North had requested a stuffed white squirrel that was “less scary” than the angry-looking mascot they’d found on the campus store’s website. Beth made the t-shirt herself with an iron-on Oberlin logo. I told them my gift and Beth’s were to remind them of where they’d come from and where they were going.

And then North had to finish up their packing because the very next day they were…

Going to Camp

The next day Beth, North, and I drove to the Girl Scout camp in western Virginia where they are going to spend most of the summer as a counselor. It’s in the George Washington National Forest, near the West Virginia border. Beth had a meeting that went until one and we left soon after. The drive was supposed to take two and a half to three hours, but with traffic it took almost four, with a few brief pit stops for coffee, gas, and restrooms. We listened to podcasts (Handsome, Normal Gossip, and The Moth) and watched the scenery get less suburban and more mountainous. We arrived at camp at five, a half hour late for counselor orientation, but the staff person who met us said the tour had just started and North hadn’t missed much. We dropped their stuff off in their cabin and said a hasty goodbye.

I would have liked to get a better look at the camp, but from what I saw it was much more rustic than the Girl Scout camp they attended the summers they were nine, ten, and eleven. There are no flush toilets, and the cabins have no electricity. I know there’s a charging station counselors can use, plus washing machines, driers, and refrigerators somewhere, and a row of sinks with running water in a shelter outside the latrines, so there are some modern conveniences.

It felt strange to drive away so soon after arriving, but North gets weekends off—the campers rotate in and out every week and the sessions run from Sundays to Fridays, with Saturdays off for counselors—and there’s a bus that runs between Silver Spring and camp that both campers and counselors can take, so they intend to come home sometimes, maybe as soon as in two weeks.

Meanwhile, in News of the Other Kid….

After leaving camp, we found an Italian restaurant nearby where we had pizza before hitting the road back to our own summer as a trio. A summer, which will involve employment for Noah, as it turns out. As we approached the restaurant I got a text from him. Do any of you remember the job he interviewed for in February with a media company that took forever to get back to him? Well, he got that job. It’s a full-time video editing position that will start in about a week and last until early November. The company makes video content for businesses, organizations, and Democratic political campaigns. They’re hiring extra help for the election season.

Noah’s been working only sporadically since last summer (most often for this very office) so it’s a relief for him to have something steady for the next several months. It looks like both kids are embarking on summer adventures, expected and unexpected, as they travel life’s highway. I’m very happy for them both.

Sunrise, Sunset

Yesterday was a big day around here, full of endings and beginnings. North has finished high school (though graduation is almost two weeks off) and we adopted two kittens.

Penultimate Week of School

“I am never going to high school on a Tuesday again,” North informed me on the second Tuesday in May when I got back from voting in the Maryland primary. Public schools were closed because some of them were polling places, so North had the day off. They had already voted by mail, so they ordered pizza and watched two horror movies back-to-back—Halloween and Bodies, Bodies, Bodies. “Are you living your best life?” I asked them and they said yes. The reason they’d have no school the following Tuesday was that it was Senior Skip Day, and I did end up saying yes to that.

Last Weekend of the School Year

The following weekend Beth and North went cabin camping. They took some hikes, including one along the Susquehanna River, where they saw a lot of herons, and they explored antique stores in Havre de Grace, where North bought some penguin earrings. On Saturday North fed most of their school papers for the year into a bonfire, which has been a May-and-June camping trip tradition for both kids over the years. (They had to save a few papers because there was another week of school left.)

Last Week of School, Monday

On Monday, North went to school in pajamas because it was Pajama Day for Senior Spirit Week. They were also lugging a tote bag filled with apple juice, pineapple juice, paper cups, and a bag of Sour Patch Kids. This was their contribution to their AP Lit class’s end-of-year party. In law, they started watching Legally Blonde, and they didn’t expect to have to complete any assignments on it. They reported that they were doing math games in their IB math class and regular work was continuing in Sociology and Mythology, but things were definitely winding down.

The next day was Senior Skip Day. This was also the day we met the kittens (virtually). But let’s back up a little here, so I can tell you about a different cat, because he was an important part of how we got here.

The Original Conjuring Cat

If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve probably seen pictures of our next-door neighbors’ very friendly cat, Uno. I haven’t asked, but I assume his people named him that because he’s blind in one eye. Uno’s family moved in back in December and sometime in February he started to expand his territory to include our yard. He rolls around and naps on our grass, occasionally climbs a tree, and winds around my legs while I come outside to put compost in the bucket or hang laundry on the line. If I stop petting him before he thinks I should, he knocks the socks off the drying rack or bats at my ankles to get my attention. Sometimes when someone opens the back door, he will come inside and explore. We are all smitten with this cat.

The first week in May, Uno’s people went away for a few days and North cat-sat for him. He must have missed his family because for a few days he came inside our house more often than usual and stayed longer. He actually jumped up and sat on my lap while we were watching television one night. Everything about this experience, his weight and warmth in my lap, the way he purred and licked my hand, was deeply comforting. It was that night I felt something shift in me and I realized, more than a year and a half after Xander died, that I finally felt ready to have cats again. Like Mr. Mistoffelees, Uno had performed a conjuring trick on me and melted that frozen, cat-shaped part of my heart.

I decided not to say anything to Beth or the kids for a week, just to see if the feeling stuck. It did and ten days ago (in our family therapist’s waiting room) we started looking at kittens available for adoption at various rescue organizations’ websites. The next day, Thursday, we put in a request to meet two male kittens. We heard back from their foster home on Sunday that they were no longer available, so we chose another pair of kittens, one male and one female, from a litter of four, and we heard back that same day that they were available. We made an appointment to meet the man who was fostering them virtually on Tuesday morning, knowing that North would be home for Senior Skip Day.

The Naming of Cats

Before the meeting, we talked a lot about cat names. I am the one who cares the most about names, the one who regularly posts comments on Swistle’s baby-naming blog, and the one who has a list of cat names saved up for future cats that is longer (by far) than the number of cats I am likely to have in the rest of my life, unless I become a crazy cat lady. But I also like the serendipity of cats who come with good names already. Matthew was just such a cat. Xander came to us with the name Spanky, so obviously that had to be changed.

When we were waiting to see about the two male kittens, I wavered between their shelter names (Oliver and Enzo) which I liked, and the names I’d picked years ago for two male kittens (Jonas and Ezekiel, from the Indigo Girls song). Everyone seemed willing to let me decide. But when we learned they’d already found a home and we were considering the male-female pair, I was lukewarm on their names (Dawson and Darla), but I didn’t have go-to set of names for a mixed sex pair.

I did have one for a gray female, though, Willow. My logic was pussy willows are gray, and I also liked the idea of another name from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer because it is my all-time favorite television show. We had a brief discussion about how the kitten in question might be more of a gray/brown mix, the kind that’s often called a brown tabby, but Beth reassured me that pussy willows are gray and brown if you include the stem. I’d been considering giving any cats we adopted middle names to honor Matthew and Xander and when I put Willow and Alexandra together, it sounded perfect. Willow Alexandra… isn’t that lovely?

My girl cat name list was longer than my boy cat name list. In fact, the only other male name I could remember was reserved in my mind for an orange cat, so I asked if anyone else had ideas. North brainstormed a few: Charlie, James, Leo, and Walter. I liked most of those and threw Jonah and Zachary into the pool, but I wasn’t set on any of them. Then I remembered Graham, which I’d completely forgotten was on the list. (I never wrote any of this down.) We decided we should wait to meet the kittens and see what fit.

 Last Week of School, Tuesday (Senior Skip Day)

Tuesday morning, we chatted with the man fostering the kittens while we watched them play with toys and tumble around on the floor with the other two kittens in their litter. We learned all four were getting spayed or neutered the next day and after that, they would be ready for adoption. We requested the forms for the next step.

When we got off the call, Beth said very sternly, “We can’t have four cats,” but no one had said anything about that, so I think she might have been speaking to herself as much as to us.

After the meeting, North and I walked to Koma, a coffeeshop that opened in our neighborhood last winter. We got coffee and split an apricot Danish.  I dropped them off at home and continued my morning walk. When I got home, Noah and North were watching Dr. Who. I set North to work organizing and culling a drawer full of free greeting cards we get from charities. (We get more of these than we can use, and the drawer is stuffed).

In the mid-afternoon El came over to watch Fear Street 2 with North and they stayed for dinner. North had wanted them to come earlier, saying it was kind of missing the point of Senior Skip Day to come after school had already let out, but they weren’t really put out. Beth had asked them earlier in the day how their skip day was going, and they said, “Good. I’m not at school,” which I think was all that was required.

Last Week of School, Wednesday

We picked North up at school Wednesday afternoon because we had an appointment, and they had a gift bag. Four of their friends who are juniors had bought them a teddy bear wearing a mortarboard, a box of Sour Patch Kids, and a card. They seemed quite touched by this gesture.

The Naming of Cats, Part 2

That same day we heard from the shelter than Dawson had been adopted so we said we’d take one of the remaining female kittens in the litter and I immediately switched gears to my female-female name pairs. There were three: Amelia and Chelsea (after my two favorite Joni Mitchell songs), Chloe and Olivia (after a line in a Virginia Woolf essay), and Ruth and Naomi (after the Biblical characters, who are sometimes read as lesbians). North didn’t like any of them. But it turned out not to matter, because soon after we got that news, the man who was fostering the kittens said it was a mistake on the shelter’s part, that someone had considered Dawson but not taken him, so he was still available.

Last Week of School, Thursday

North left for school wearing a senior class t-shirt for Senior Spirit Week. They came home and reported they had successfully returned their chrome book and confirmed they had no outstanding debts to the school so they could graduate, after waiting in line for over an hour to do so. There were cupcakes in their math class.

After school, Beth and North went to PetSmart and came home with all manner of pet toys, including some from the Pride display. There was a rainbow-colored tunnel, three interlocking rainbow-striped arches made of cardboard for climbing and scratching, a ball track, and worms that dangle from a stick because the man who fostered them said it was their favorite. They also got the kind of food they’ve been eating and litter. We also ordered a cat tree with platforms and a cave and a ball on a string to bat.

Friday: Last Day of School and Kittens’ First Day Home

North wore their Oberlin t-shirt to school on the last day of school. In the early afternoon we had a phone call with the shelter to finalize the adoption paperwork and an hour later, we were picking North up at the bus stop, so we could go pick the kittens up from their foster home in College Park.

In the car North reported on their last day of school. Nothing academic happened except in Mythology, where they listened to the teacher read them a story about Gilgamesh. There was Italian ice in math class. They liked seeing where people were going to college on their shirts.

The kittens came right to us when their caregiver brought them out. They were curious and friendly, not shy at all, and they went into the carrier without much fuss. We marveled at how tiny there were. Matthew and Xander were twice as old (four months) when we got them, and they grew into very large cats, so they were big for their age and already looked half-grown when we adopted them.

I hadn’t gotten much work done that day but once we were home it was impossible to work. Obviously, we had to sit in the living room and watch the cats for the rest of the afternoon. They explored the living and dining room, jumped up onto whatever surfaces they could, nosed around under furniture and came out with dust on their whiskers. They liked all the toys and played energetically with them. They pounced on each other and wrestled and didn’t seem at all sore from their surgeries two days prior. When they discovered the basement steps they raced up and down them. (We’d wondered if they would be able to manage the stairs when we first saw them, but that worry was put to rest. It’s relevant because it’s where their food and litter will go, though we started off with it upstairs.)

After a few hours with them we decided Walter was the name that fit best. It was the only one that was either first or second on everyone’s list. I am pleased with how it alliterates with Willow, and I also like that it could be after Walt Whitman, since our first cat (who Beth got in college) was named Emily, after Emily Dickinson. I told the kids that Whitman and Dickinson were the two best nineteenth-century American poets. “And that’s a fact, not an opinion,” which made them both laugh.

“You have strong opinions about poetry,” North told me. But why wouldn’t I? I spent a big chunk of my twenties and thirties studying and teaching literature.

As for the final piece, Walter’s middle name is Matthias for Matthew. So, the names are Willow Alexandra and Walter Matthias. Willow is the one with the white markings. She looks a lot like Emily as a kitten and a bit like Uno, too, who is a tabby with a white chin, chest and feet.

Around five-thirty Beth drove North to school for Senior Sunset. It’s an end-of-year tradition that, along with Senior Sunrise, bookends the year. The kids sat out on the football field, socialized, signed each other’s yearbooks, and watched the sun set. Pizza, chips, and snow cones were served. It sounded like a nice, low-key event. North said it was fun, and they hung out mainly with other kids from the GSA.

The cats have been here for a full day now. They seem quite at home, not unsettled by the move at all. They will cuddle with us, but only briefly (unless they fall asleep) because they are quite busy playing with their toys and running around like maniacs. They are starting to meow more after being almost silent yesterday. From the night Uno sat in my lap to the day they moved in with us it was only two and a half weeks. And in less time than that, North will be leaving for the Girl Scout camp where they are spending the summer as a counselor. Part of the reason we hurried once we’d made a decision was so that they would have time to bond with the kittens before leaving for most of the summer.

So, all in one day, there was ending, of our time with kids in K-12 public schools, and a beginning, of our time with these kittens who will eventually be our empty nest cats. It makes me wonder about the future, what North’s college years will be like, what’s in store for Noah, and what the kittens’ adult personalities will be like.

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears

Serial Celebrations

Celebration #1: Birthday

“It’s a good thing you’re coming,” I said to North as we walked out the door Saturday morning. “Because I love you and I enjoy your company, but also because I might need your help.” The point of the outing was to claim my birthday reward at Starbucks, and I sometimes have trouble figuring out how to redeem stars and rewards on the app and one kid or the other has to help me.

This time it was clear what I needed to do, however, so I didn’t need help and soon North and I were enjoying our drinks and pastries. I got a latte and a cake pop. I would have gotten the birthday cake pop because I can be literal like that, but they had a new flavor I wanted to try (orange) so I went with that. North had a nibble and said they liked it better than the pineapple cake they got. I tried North’s berry-flavored bubble tea, and I thought it tasted like cotton candy.

I left North sitting outside Starbucks while I walked several blocks to the library to return The Scarlet Letter, which I had just read for book club, and then I returned. On our way home we dropped off some children’s books at a Little Free Library. I am still distributing the books the kids culled from their rooms back in March. The supply in the cardboard box in the living room is slowly dwindling. It felt like a very productive morning walk.

After lunch, Noah and I read The Interestings, and then we all enjoyed the strawberry cake with lemon frosting Beth made at my request. (I remembered the lemon frosting on North’s birthday cake and how good it was.) It was excellent as Beth’s cakes always are.

I opened a couple presents—two kinds of nut butter from my sister (pistachio and lemon-cashew-coconut) and an Oberlin hoodie from Beth. I’d been saying for about a year that when North chose a college, I would replace the rather worse-for-the-wear WVU hoodie I’d been wearing since North was in kindergarten with one from their new alma mater. (Many members of Beth’s family went to WVU, and it was a present from her mom.) Earlier in the week I’d opened a card from Beth’s mom informing me a tree was being planted in a national forrest in my name. The kids got me one big gift for my birthday and Mother’s Day combined, and I’d elected to open it the next day. My birthday is always near Mother’s Day and this year it was the day before, so my birthday was just the first act of the weekend festivities.

After presents Noah and I watched an episode of Angel and then we surrendered the television to North who needed to watch Thor Ragnarok for their mythology class. They’d missed movies in two classes while taking the AP English exam the week before and they had to complete assignments on both, so we’d all watched The Judge with them the night before. That one was for their law class. You know it’s almost the end of the year when the teachers start showing a lot of movies.

I talked to my mom on the phone, and she told me I had two gifts coming. She didn’t tell me what the first one was because she thought it would come soon, but the second one wasn’t going to arrive until late May. I had a pretty good idea she had pre-ordered the latest Stephen King because I’d asked for it. She confirmed my suspicion.

We went out to dinner at El Golfo. I had the spinach enchiladas, which is what I always get there, and Beth and I split a dish of chocolate mousse. They had a nice set up for people to take Mother’s Day photos. When Noah asked who would be in the picture, I said just Beth and me.

“Are you a mother? No, you are not,” I said, but North pointed out that without the kids we would not be mothers, so we took one without the offspring and one with them.

At home, we watched Grownish and then my sister called shortly before Beth and I went to bed. And the first celebration was a wrap.

Celebration #2: Mother’s Day

North asked us ahead of time if we’d like breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day and we decided to eat it at the table instead, but they did make us both breakfast to order. I had fried eggs, vegetarian sausage patties, strawberries, and Red Zinger tea. It was luxurious to have a meal cooked just for me.

North was going to spend the afternoon and evening at Maddie’s, so they asked if I’d like to watch Emily in Paris in the morning. It seemed a good idea since Noah and I had watched our show the day before. When Beth got back from grocery shopping, we opened our Mother’s Day presents from the kids. Beth got six dark chocolate bars in different flavors from the kids, and I got a new purple backpack. My old backpack, which I think I’ve had since I stopped carrying a diaper bag, is developing a hole in the bottom, so I’d asked for one. (The surprise was the color—I gave the kids several options.) I haven’t actually started using it because I have to clean out the old one and transfer all the things that I carry in it to the new one. It’s kind of a rat’s nest in there, so that will be a project.

The kids’ next project was to start prepping for dinner. I’d asked Noah if he could cook dinner, since Saturday is his night, but we’d gone out to dinner, so he had not cooked, and Sunday is Beth’s night, and it didn’t seem right for her to have to cook. He agreed and asked her what she’d like, as I had chosen the restaurant the night before. She requested the vegetarian crab cakes he’d made once before. (The main ingredients are chickpeas, artichokes, and hearts of palm blended and fried). North volunteered to help even though they wouldn’t be home to eat them, which was just as well because they don’t like them. As it turned out, both kids had evening plans, so Beth would fry the cakes herself and roast asparagus to go with them.

Once the dough was made and stowed in the fridge, and Noah and I had read a half a chapter of The Interestings, Beth and I left to take North to Maddie’s and Noah headed off to his weekly game night at a Panera in Rockville. I went with Beth and North because Beth and I were taking a walk in Brookside Gardens. While we were there, we saw a wedding party, many families on Mother’s Day outings, and group of geese with three adults and a half-dozen or so half-grown goslings.

We came home, relaxed a little, and then Beth finished preparing the not-crab cakes and we had what she deemed “a romantic dinner” for two, before snuggling on the couch to watch Abbott Elementary and The Big Door Prize. It was a nice end to a weekend in which I spent time with the whole family, and alone with my firstborn, my youngest, and with the woman who has been with me for every step of this motherhood journey.

Festive Friday

The night before Noah’s birthday North popped into his room to say good night and to wish him a happy birthday in advance, because they would not see each other on his actual birthday. North would be leaving for school before he got up. From there they would go to El’s house, from there to the prom, and from there to after-prom, and they’d be home after midnight.

North started reporting a few days before prom that their teachers kept saying they didn’t expect any of the seniors to show up at school on Friday and, surprisingly to me and Beth, there was similar sentiment on the parents’ Facebook page for North’s school, with people saying they didn’t see why prom had to be on a Friday and that they wouldn’t make their kids go to school that day. What are we not getting? Does it really take that long to get ready for prom? I wouldn’t know. I didn’t go to my prom and neither did Noah, but Beth went to hers and she seemed just as mystified. Anyway, we made North go to school, though they are angling to stay home on Senior Skip Day later this month, and we’ve said we’ll consider it.

Beth, Noah, and I are all home most weekdays, so we went about our usual business until two p.m. when we took a cake-and-presents break. The cake was chocolate with strawberry frosting, a family favorite. Beth had made it the night before. It was delicious as always. Noah opened cards with checks from both grandmothers, plus new headphones and a few books from Beth and me—Leigh Bardugo’s The Familiar, and two books from the Discworld series. Over the course of the day, he talked to my mom on the phone and his boss from his internship in Los Angeles last summer also called to wish him a happy birthday.

Several hours after opening presents we went out for pizza and gelato at Mamma Lucia, at his request, and then we came home and watched the first half of Tetris (we’d finish it the following evening). Beth said it would qualify as a movie North wouldn’t want to watch and when I told them the next day that he’d picked a movie about Tetris they didn’t look impressed. When I qualified that it was actually about the licensing of Tetris, the blank look on the face seemed to convey, “You just made it worse.” It’s more entertaining than it sounds, though.

Beth had an unexpected work crisis and had to work a little after the movie, but we weren’t up much past our bedtime. After I’d fallen asleep, though, I kept waking up, maybe because I knew North wasn’t home yet and except for Cappies’ shows, they don’t often stay out late so I’m not used to it. Then around 1:40 a.m. I could hear them in the hall outside my bedroom door impatiently trying to get Noah out of the bathroom so they could use it and go to bed. It reminded me of how the kids would often wake me arguing over bathroom access when they were little, except then it would have been several hours later, and it would be the beginning of their day and not at the end. But the upside was that I knew North was home safe.

The next morning I asked how the prom went and North said the first couple hours were fun, but it went on too long and it was too loud. Dinner was served buffet style but there wasn’t much for vegetarians, so they ended up eating rice, salad, and cheesecake. Luckily, they’d had pizza at El’s house before arriving at the prom. Apparently, even though North attended school neither of them needed even the few hours available to primp because they found time to watch Scream before leaving. Later North said that was more fun than prom, but they also liked bowling and eating funnel cake fries at after-prom.

Later Saturday North gave Noah a gadget to attach his camera to his camera strap (it was on his list), and we continued to eat the cake. By Sunday night we’d polished it off. So now our eldest is another year older and our youngest has passed another end-of-high-school milestone. In the month and a half since North turned eighteen there have been a few of those, more related to being a legal adult than finishing high school:

  • They voted in the Maryland primary.
  • They got a tattoo of a compass on their thigh.
  • They now call their own Lyfts and ride alone (unless it’s somewhere I need to go with them).
  • Depending on the appointment, they sometimes go into the doctor’s office without us.
  • They explored a dating app and have had three dates with someone they found there (Not El. North and El met at school and are not exclusive).

One thing eighteen year olds cannot do, however, is pet a baby goat at a school Earth Day celebration without parental permission. (This was a couple weeks back.) I signed the form, though it seemed kind of funny that I had to do it. Chances are, though, that was my last time signing a school permission form. And that in itself is a kind of milestone.

Bittersweet

Last Field Trip

When I wrote to my sister to tell her I wouldn’t be working on Friday because I was going to chaperone a field trip, my last ever, she replied, “Last field trip…bittersweet!”

It’s just one last after another for kids and parents alike senior year. I hadn’t done this particular parenting duty for a while though. My heyday of chaperoning field trips for North was fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. (I never did one for Noah after preschool because when he was in elementary school, he had a younger sibling I was looking after and after that the schools didn’t ask very often. Plus, he never seemed to want me to do it as much as North did.)

After supervising a bunch of rowdy sixth-graders attending a chorus festival, I wasn’t in a hurry to do it again, but it had been six years and I had an inkling high school seniors in an AP English class would be better behaved.

It was also a draw that trip was to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I’d been only once before, when Beth’s mom and aunt were visiting in 2017 and I remembered feeling rushed on that visit. I was the slowest to move through the displays and I had not finished the history section and never got to culture at all.

It’s an excellent museum, but it wasn’t completely clear why the AP Lit classes were visiting. They’ve read African American literature, of course, but the trip didn’t seem explicitly tied to what they’d read. According to North, there hadn’t been any discussion ahead of time about how the visit would connect to Their Eyes Were Watching God or any other works of literature. I wondered why.

North and I left the house at 7:25 on Friday morning and caught a bus that would take us to the Takoma Metro. We had the choice to meet up either at school or at the Wheaton Metro, and the Metro stop is on North’s way to school, so we went there. We got there a little early and I ate the breakfast I’d packed from home. There was a young woman using the same low concrete wall I was using as a table to set out her breakfast from Dunkin’ Donuts and the makeup she was applying. I didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out she was on the trip, too.

Once the students, teachers, and chaperones had arrived at the Metro station I received a map of the museum and a list of the students in my group. A teacher took roll, and I was able to cross off three kids in my group who weren’t there or who had been switched to another group, but I did not have the remaining kids collected. Apparently, that would happen later. We all got on the Metro and went to Metro Center.

Here we were supposed to divide into groups, but it wasn’t clear how because I couldn’t put kids’ names to faces and they had not been told ahead of time their group numbers, which would have enabled them to find me. It was a big crowd, three sections of AP Lit, probably about seventy-five kids. North and the kids I did have with me tried to help locate the other kids on the list, but I don’t think I ever had all eight of them in one place at the same time.

I was moderately stressed about this, but whenever I let North’s teacher know I didn’t have all my group with me, she didn’t seem all that concerned, and she said she’d find the rest of them. It didn’t seem as if they were supposed to stay with me the whole time anyway, just to check in at certain points, though it also seemed all the chaperones were handling it differently. Instructions were never clear.

We walked from Metro Center to the museum and got in line. There was a group of high school students from Michigan in line next to us. Two of them were in Trump or MAGA gear, which caused North to raise their eyebrows at me. We had timed tickets for 10:15. We were given instructions to convene for lunch at the food trucks at 12:15. My group immediately dissolved and North and I were left alone to explore the museum for two hours. North said a little sadly that El was supposed to come on the trip but couldn’t because it conflicted with a coffeehouse the literary magazine was putting on at lunch that they were helping to organize, so they’d stayed at school. It was an odd echo of the fifth-grade trip to Mount Vernon, when I ended up chaperoning just North, who was using crutches and a wheelchair and couldn’t keep up with their classmates. I must say though, that just like at Mount Vernon, I enjoyed the unexpected one-on-one time with North.

We had a list of two things to try to see on each of the museum’s five levels, so we used that as our guide. We started on the first floor at the Afrofuturism exhibit, where we checked off the Janelle Monae video and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther suit. (Throughout various parts of the museum, North was interested in actors’ and musicians’ costumes, which makes sense, as they spent a lot of time in high school on costumes crew or as costumes manager.) I found this exhibit very interesting. It took a broad view of Afrofuturism, including for instance the Abolitionist movement. Though I’d always heard of Afrofutrism as an artistic movement, the Abolitionists did imagine a different future for African Americans, so it makes sense. The exhibit also went beyond science fiction and speculative fiction, considering the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley as Afrofuturist. North and I had a good talk about the exhibit, and they were kind enough to let me go on and on about Octavia Butler.

This would not have been true if we’d made it to the history section of the museum, but we didn’t, so my most heart-rending moment came in Afrofuturism. There was a display case with three space-related uniforms. The first one belonged to a NASA astronaut. The second one was a costume worn by Nichelle Nichols, the first black woman crew member on Star Trek. The third one was from a kids’ space camp and had belonged to Trayvon Martin. His name was embroidered on it. Seeing that was a gut punch.

Next, we went all the way to the top of the museum and worked our way down from the fifth floor (Music, Art, Performance, Culture). North rested on a bench and watched a video while I made a quick scan of the floor to get a lay of the land and find the suggested items so we could visit them together first. It was easy to find Chuck Berry’s Cadillac, though probably not so impressive for North, as they’d never heard of Chuck Berry. They dutifully read the plaque about him. I tried to take a picture of the bright red car but there were too many people in the way, so I gave up. (I didn’t end up taking any pictures inside the museum.) The second destination was Neighborhood Record Store, which consisted of a faux record store where you could page through album covers, interlaced with informational placards about artists. After that, we wandered around the floor, taking in the displays, especially costumes. I think it might have been here I saw a purple cape worn by Prince that kind of surprised me with the awe and joy it made me feel. I’m not even a huge Prince fan, but still… It was one of the sweet moments, interspersed with the bitter.

We didn’t spend too much time on the main part of the fourth floor (Sports, Military, Education), but we made sure to find Kobe Bryant’s Lakers uniform and to stop at the Place Table. This was a table with a screen. Photos moved all over it and when you touched one it would stop and text about the place in the photo and what it meant to the person in the photo would appear. It was part of a larger exhibit about sense of place. I watched part of a video about an African American town on Martha’s Vineyard, while North lingered at the Place Table, reading people’s stories.

The third floor was devoted to Interactives. We watched an instructional video about how to dance in a step show. (Some people were in front of the screen dancing along.) Even though we were hurrying by this point because we needed to be out of the museum soon, North later said the Green Book display was their favorite feature in the museum. You sit in a car, with a screen for a windshield. It shows you where you are driving on a map and you have access to the Green Book, which helps you select restaurants and hotels where African Americans could stay along your route.

We were almost out of time and intended to quickly pop into the history galleries on the second floor to find the stools that came from North Carolina Woolworth’s that were used in a sit-in and to walk through the segregated train car, but these galleries were crowded, and  you are funneled into the fifteenth century, so we didn’t think we could make it to the twentieth century in the time we had left without dashing through the galleries, which did not seem like a respectful thing to do. We did glimpse the train car from an atrium a floor above.

We reported back to the lobby where I could only find one member of my group. It turned out the meeting place was outside the museum and by the time North, the other kid, and I went outside all the kids were in line at the food trucks. North’s teacher let me know everyone was accounted for and we got our lunches, walked back to the Metro, and headed home.

Other Lasts

The field trip was not the only last of North’s high school career this week. Last weekend they attended their last two Cappies shows, The Adams Family on Friday night and The Prom on Saturday night, and they wrote a review for each one. I don’t think they’ve ever attended two plays in one weekend before, so they went out with a bang. Also, the Adams Family review will be published in The Alexandria Times. This was their first published review of the year, so that made them happy, partly for the validation, but also because it gave them the last point they needed to graduate as a five-star thespian. I asked if they were happy or sad to be done with Cappies (except for the meeting to vote on awards for plays) and they said both because it was fun but also a lot of work. 

Tomorrow and Thursday North will take an IB math exam, Friday they will go to the prom with El, and the following week they have the AP Lit exam. Over the weekend, Noah was helping North with their math homework and I was at the dining room table, half-listening to them. My phone was showing me memories of my kids eighteen years ago and I showed North a picture of themselves as a one-month old. “I was little then,” they said. “I didn’t have to do calculus. When did the expectations change?” I wonder the same thing sometimes.

There are several weeks of school left, and one more dance in early June (Pride Prom) but after a busy spell, things should start winding down soon. And then high school will really be over. I can hardly wrap my head around that bittersweet reality.

All Roads Lead to Oberlin

Thursday

Thursday morning North and I were in the kitchen making our breakfasts and I mentioned we’d be hitting the road soon, and asked “And where will that road go?”

“To Oberlin,” North answered.

“And why is that?” I asked.

“Because all roads lead to Oberlin,” North said, right on cue.

A little while later, having missed this exchange, Beth came back from her morning walk and said she supposed she wouldn’t need to use Siri to navigate because “…all roads lead to Oberlin.” In case you hadn’t guessed, this was the name of the accepted students’ day at Oberlin. It’s a slogan they’ve been using since we attended Oberlin in the mid-to-late 1980s and who knows how long before that?

It was a longer journey than we anticipated. The weather slowed us down—as we crossed Pennsylvania (this is the bulk of the drive) there was almost every kind of precipitation—rain, snow, sleet, hail, even graupel. The crazy thing was that in between, there would be bright, sunny spells. We also stopped a lot—for walking, restroom, and meal breaks, and Beth had to stop and work on an unexpected work project for a total of two hours, about half of that time in a Starbucks, the rest in parking lots, where I paced to get some steps. We left Takoma Park around 9:30 a.m. and didn’t arrive at our AirBnB in Oberlin until 9:30 p.m. We passed the time with a diverting mystery audiobook, so it didn’t seem that long.

The AirBnB was the same one where we stayed almost six years ago when Noah visited Oberlin as a prospective. I had a deeply evocative memory of lingering on the back porch on a cool summer morning watching the rain and trying to imagine him in college while he slept in. North would not have that opportunity, as the admitted students’ schedule was jam-packed. (Noah didn’t end up applying to Oberlin so we never did an admitted students’ event there with him.)

Friday

At eight a.m. Beth took North to pick up some coffee and a bagel at the Slow Train Café and then to registration, where the two of them met Oberlin’s mascot, an albino squirrel. (You occasionally see these, minus the Birkenstocks, on campus.) I stayed at the house to eat breakfast because we didn’t have any joint events with North until late morning. They were going from registration to sit in on a Psychology class, and then to a session for students interested in the pre-law program and other preprofessional majors. One of the features of the day was that they split up the kids from the parents more than at Johnson and Wales or St. Mary’s. As a result, North spent more time talking to current and prospective students than at the other schools and we think that gave them a better sense of the vibe of the place. “I can see myself here,” they said later in the day. It was also a softer sell. There were no announcements about where to go if you wanted to commit on the spot (at St. Mary’s they have a gong they ring when someone does).

Beth came back to the house, and we hung out until it was time to meet North for the President’s address in the lovely Finney Chapel. North said they’d found talking to the pre-law administrator informative and they enjoyed their class, which was in the same building I used to have psych classes (it was one of my two minors). From there, we were separated again. North had lunch at a dining hall while Beth and I ate with other parents and staff in a hotel. All day, whenever we told people in addition to being the parents of a prospective, we were also alumni, they were surprised and kind of delighted. The food, at least the vegetarian option, was less delightful. I needed to go back to the car to get some cheese and a hard-boiled egg to supplement it because it had almost no protein and I need some at every meal to keep my blood sugar regulated.

We met up with North in the lobby of the hotel where we left for a campus tour. North had requested a slower-paced one so it was a private tour.  I kind of miss hearing other people’s questions when it’s just us and a guide, but she happened to be interested in law and psychology, just like North, so they bonded over that and I always enjoy walking around Oberlin’s beautiful campus. Every now and then I would point out places of interest to North.

Afterward we stopped at the biggest classroom building on campus because North wanted to rest on a bench for a bit. Beth perused a directory and saw that an English professor we’d both had and another one I’d had at Oberlin were still there. It was kind of wild to think North could take a class from one of my old professors, just like Allison‘s daughter does. (Hi, Allison!).Next we went to drop-in hours at Disability Services where we had a chat with a staff member about the kinds of accommodations North might be able to get for migraines.  

And from there, it was off to a session about the practicing arts at Oberlin (all but music because there’s a whole conservatory for that). We listened to art, creative writing, dance, film, and theater professors and staff talk about their departments and then split off for a tour with the Managing Director for Theater, Opera, and Dance. We saw multiple theaters including a main stage and black box theater, backstage space, rehearsal spaces, the costume shop, and scenery shop. The facilities are extensive, impressive, and recently renovated. They put on ten major plays a year, plus smaller shows, not to mention dance and opera performances. It seems like quite a vibrant program. North is hoping to act in college and is thinking of minoring in theater.

The director had so much to say that the session ran over, but it didn’t really matter because our next stop was flexible. It was separate receptions, one for students and one for parents. Beth and I might have skipped this, as we’re not big on socializing with strangers, but we were both hungry, and we figured there would be food, so we went and snacked on crudites, cheese, chips with guacamole, and a frosted cookie in the shape of a white squirrel that we split. We were not entirely anti-social and did talk to the father of a prospective and an admissions staff member.

From there we went to have dinner at a dining co-op. Student-run housing and dining co-ops were one of the most important aspects of my time at Oberlin. I ate in co-ops all seven semesters I was on campus and lived in them five semesters. There’s something very empowering and educational about being part of a group endeavor like that. Over the years, I had jobs that ranged from doing KP, serving as a waiter, cooking, cleaning bathrooms, and acting as recycling coordinator for my house and a representative on the board. I met a lot of my friends in co-ops and had a lot of fun. I must have sold it well because North says they will definitely live in a co-op if they go to Oberlin. (The picture of North is outside Harkness, with the OSCA twin pine logo behind them.)

I never lived in Harkness, a vegetarian co-op, but I had a close friend who did, and I ate there one Winter Term when my regular dining co-op had closed for the month, so it was a familiar space. It really looks very much like it did in the 80s, including the industrial kitchen, where we went to bus our dishes after dinner.

We sat at a different table from North, so they could mingle more freely, and we listened to current students and prospective students at our table talk about things like if there’s “a good party scene” at Oberlin. (The answer was it depends a lot on what you mean by that.) We had salad, pizza that North later said tasted a lot like the homemade pizza we make every other Friday, and brownies.

It would have been nice to linger in Oberlin, but we had three-and-a-half-hour drive ahead of us because we were staying with Beth’s mom in Wheeling that night. Beth would be spending the week in West Virginia, and North and I would fly home from Pittsburgh the next day.

Saturday and Beyond

Our flight wasn’t until mid-afternoon, so we had time for a visit to a nearby coffeeshop, a walk around the neighborhood, and a visit with Beth’s aunt Carole. That morning in Wheeling, North declined their offer from Johnson and Wales, so it’s down to Saint Mary’s and Oberlin.

We came home to piles of clean, folded laundry on my bed and Noah making roasted cauliflower with yogurt sauce for dinner.  Almost immediately, I checked the porch ledge to see how the mourning dove chicks were doing. I don’t think I’ve mentioned them this year, but there’s a nest there every spring. Before we left, we’d gotten to the nerve-wracking part where the parents start to leave the babies alone, first occasionally, then for longer and longer periods. They do not always survive this. But the babies were alive and well and bigger than the last time I’d seen them. Over the course of the next few days, I saw the parents less and less and one of the chicks was creeping closer to the edge of the ledge, craning its neck to peer down, and wiggling all over. Later one of them seemed to be trying to open its wings. And this morning, when I went out to get the newspaper, one of them was perched on the wicker chair. I thought the other one was gone, but later I saw it on the porch floor. They spent the morning moving around the porch until one of them took off. The other one is still there as I write, but I doubt it will be there for long. Talk about symbolism. That’s a bit heavy-handed, universe.

North went to school Monday and Tuesday, and they have the day off today because it’s the day between third and fourth quarter. That drove home how little of North’s time in high school is left (six and a half weeks because the seniors get out three weeks before everyone else). It started with covid and virtual school, and if you’ve been reading here a while you know all the twists and turns there have been along the way. I feel grateful they are where they are today, at a fork in the road, with each path leading to a good place.

Update: Thursday, 4/11

All yesterday afternoon I kept peeking out at the remaining chick. I saw it taking little flights all over the porch and in the early evening, both parents came back to the ledge and called to it, and they all met on the porch floor and the adults fed it. The next time I checked, all four birds were gone, and I haven’t seen them since.

That night in a video call with Beth, who’s still in Wheeling, North told us they’d chosen Oberlin.

 

Spring Fever: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 83

North’s birthday was also the first day of their spring break. Over break they studied for the IB math exam they’ll be taking in May, the two of us went to Koma for coffee on Tuesday, and on Thursday they went to the U.S. Botanical Gardens with El. That was their night to cook, and they felt ambitious enough to make sourdough bread (from a mix they got for Christmas) for the grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup they’d already been planning to make.

We often travel over spring break, but we’ve been making a lot of trips to colleges, with one more trip coming up in a couple days, and Beth has been to Wheeling to stay with her mom twice this year and she’ll be back for a third time soon, so we decided against it. But shortly before break I said in an offhand way that maybe we should take a day trip and North was all over it. They planned a very nice one, a morning browsing the historic bayside town of St. Michael’s, lunch at one of four vegetarian-friendly restaurants they identified for our consideration, and then a stroll in a nearby park. We decided to do it on Good Friday because Beth’s office is closed that day.

But we didn’t take this delightful-sounding outing. Remember how I said only two posts ago that I might not write about covid again? Silly me. Noah had started to feel mildly ill on Sunday, the day after North’s birthday, and I did, too, a day after that. I had a sore throat and some congestion. I might have had a slight fever on Tuesday—I don’t know because I didn’t take my temperature. The worst day was Wednesday, mainly because of intense fatigue. But I tested negative for covid Wednesday morning. We went ahead and went to family therapy, and when we mentioned both Noah and I had upper respiratory symptoms, the therapist immediately sent us home (per office policy, which we didn’t remember from our intake paperwork). I was already starting to feel better by Thursday.

On Friday morning, shortly before we were going to leave for St. Michael’s, North said if we were going to eat in an indoor restaurant, Noah should really test for covid, so he did… and he was positive. I followed suit and I was positive, too. Beth and North were negative. By this point, none of us was feeling very sick, but we decided to ditch the St. Michael’s trip and take our germs somewhere that was likely to be less crowded.

We got takeout from Busboys and Poets and had a picnic lunch at Fort Washington Park, which is on the Maryland side of the Potomac. It has nice river views, but it turned out the lighthouse was under construction and a lot of the places you can walk nearby were fenced off and inaccessible. We did learn about the interesting history of the fort. During the War of 1812, as British forces approached, the commander of the fort, outmanned and outgunned, decided to set fire to the fort and flee. Flaming ships were launched in the direction of the British forces. (That last tidbit seems right out of Our Flag Means Death.) The commander was court martialed for abandoning his post, btw.

Over the next several days, we didn’t strictly isolate, but we tried to stay away from each other more than usual. Well, not all of us. Noah and I hung out in his room reading and we cooked a stir-fry together on Saturday, since we couldn’t infect each other. Also, as Beth and I were sharing a bedroom and breathing the same air all night long, I wasn’t that careful around her either. But we opened windows for air circulation, and ate in separate rooms or outside. We masked on the occasions when all four of us came together to watch tv or to dye Easter eggs in the back yard.

The egg dyeing was on Saturday afternoon. As we waited for the eggs to dry and then decorated them with stickers and the little felt hats we use for this purpose every year, North read us a list of one hundred reasons they should attend Oberlin, sent to them in an email, and quizzed me on whether in my experience each one was true. (Beth had gone inside by this point.) This was fun and funny and happy and sad all at once, thinking how close North is to leaving, no matter where they go, and how precious it felt to do this kind of ridiculous activity (taping little hats to colored eggs—why do we do this?) one more time. I am not saying one last time, because who knows what the future holds? North’s college spring breaks may sometimes coincide with Easter and even if both kids move far away, who’s to say they won’t happen to visit us near Easter some year?

Later that night I said to North, “I have a question about the Easter Bunny. When there are no minors in the house any more…”

North interrupted, “I still expect him to bring me candy.”

I clarified the question was about whether the Bunny still hides the baskets and North was adamant that he still does, so the baskets were duly hidden.

North’s last day of break was Easter Monday. They made brownies in the afternoon, and I quit work a little early to watch Emily in Paris with them. I made egg salad with our Easter eggs for dinner. They went back at school today, having never gotten sick. It will be a short week for them, though, just two days, because on Thursday morning we are leaving for Oberlin’s admitted students’ day. Our last MCPS spring break is over. It’s time to think about what comes next.

Petals and Parties

Tuesday: Blossom Party

The National Park Service and the Washington Post Capital Weather Gang each make a prediction for the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms every year. This year, the only day of overlap between the two predictions was North’s birthday, so we thought there was a good chance their birthday, a Saturday, would fall during peak bloom. They wanted to go see them on their birthday, after their birthday party the night before. It seemed like a good plan. But then the second week in March it was remarkably warm, over seventy degrees most days, and the blossoms reached peak bloom on the Sunday six days before North’s birthday.

The peak lasts just four to five days on average and North had already convinced me to let them stay home from school Tuesday because the juniors were taking the SAT that day and not much instruction was going to happen. So, afraid we’d miss the blooms if we waited until Saturday, I asked the kids if they’d like to come down to the Tidal Basin with me on Tuesday and they both said yes. (I tried to talk Beth into it, too, but she couldn’t take the time away from work.)

The timing was a little tricky. North had a dentist appointment in the city at 8:30 a.m. and Noah had a concert at 6:00 p.m., also in the city, so North preferred a morning visit, and Noah would have liked an afternoon one, but North also had a virtual therapy appointment at 4:00 p.m. so they needed to be back home for that, and we settled on morning. Then North invited a friend to join us and set the time to meet them at 10:45 at the Smithsonian Metro station. From there they’d go to the MLK Memorial, where Noah and I would meet them.

Beth took North to the dentist and after the appointment left them at a coffeeshop at near the Friendship Heights Metro, as they had some time to kill. Noah and I left the house at 9:35 and arrived at the Smithsonian stop at 10:25. I was thinking we’d meet North and El there instead of the memorial, but once we got above ground it was cold, in the low forties and very windy, and the zipper on my jacket was broken, so suddenly getting warm drinks seemed like a better idea than waiting for twenty minutes, so we went to Starbucks and then walked to the MLK Memorial, where North and El were waiting on a bench, surrounded by puffy pale pink petals.

We walked to the FDR Memorial and then North and El decided to stay there while Noah and I walked the perimeter of the Tidal Basin. We haven’t done the whole loop in a long time, as there was a narrow window between when North was old enough to walk that far (maybe age five) and before they developed mobility issues (around eleven). It was a nice walk. There were a lot of people, but the path wasn’t jam-packed. We saw ducks and geese on the water and the sky was partly blue. It was warmer and less windy among the trees than it had been on the streets walking from the Metro. And the trees were just perfect.

We paid our respects to Stumpy, the famous little cherry tree with a mostly hollow trunk that doesn’t look like it should be able to bloom but does every year. There’s a lesson there, I think. Sadly, Stumpy is among the over 150 trees that are slated to be cut down after the bloom is over this year because the seawall around the Tidal Basin needs to be rebuilt to prevent the frequent floods that endanger all the trees. I understand why it’s necessary, but it’s still sad. A lot of people must feel the same way because there were a lot more people than usual taking Stumpy’s picture.

We met back up with North and El and decided to have lunch at Panera. As we walked, the 12th graders talked about their college plans and compared notes on the cliques in the theater program and the Visual Arts Center (a magnet art program within North’s school that El attends). North was navigating with their phone, and it turned out the Panera they’d found was in the Ronald Reagan Building basement. We had to go through security that was tighter than some airport security—Noah and I had to remove our watches—and then the restaurant, which I thought would be in the food court, was off down a long, empty corridor, and when we finally found it Noah discovered he’d ordered ahead to the wrong Panera, so he peeled off to go get his food. He spent the rest of the afternoon at museums, killing time until his concert. He said later it was a fun day.

Meanwhile, because there were no seats at Panera, North, El and I walked (for the second time) past a big cybersecurity event in the atrium flanked by two menacing, two-story-tall robot statues, and we returned to the food court where we joined the many middle and high school tour groups in matching hoodies or windbreakers. I was tired and hungry, and it was good to eat my grilled cheese and soup. Then we splurged on ice cream before we got on the Metro and headed home.

Friday: Bowling Party

Friday morning North left for school with a container of rainbow-sprinkle blondies. The treats weren’t for their birthday, they were for El, who shares a birthday with North. (They couldn’t come to North’s party because they were having a party of their own the same night.) Our kitchen was a busy place for a few days there because in addition to normal meals and North making blondies Thursday afternoon, Beth started making North’s three-layer lavender cake with lemon frosting on Wednesday (making lavender-infused milk and lavender syrup) and continued with the different steps through Thursday (making the cake and frosting) and Friday (assembly and decoration). North asked for a cake with a lavender plant and a bee in the frosting. Didn’t it come out well?

We met North’s friends at 5:30 at Roscoe’s, where we picked up a bunch of pizzas and other food. We ate at the public picnic tables on Laurel Avenue, with North and their friends at one table and Beth, Noah, and me at another. It was a chilly, windy afternoon and Beth and I were not dressed warmly enough, so once we’d finished eating, we walked around the empty tables under the tent, frequently looping back to ours. I caught bits of the party conversation, which centered on summer plans, jobs, mutual acquaintances, classes, and the theater program at North’s school and Miles and Maddie’s school. Five out of the six kids have just finished a show at one of those schools, either as cast or crew, so they had stories to share with each other. They also talked a bit about college, as all the guests are juniors just beginning their college search and North’s at the end of theirs.

We ate cake next—the lemon frosting was so good it rivals the fresh strawberry frosting Beth often makes and the cake was nice and moist. North opened cards, including a hand-drawn one with bees and flowers that Marisa had made that Miles and Maddie signed, too. Marisa illustrated her own wrapping paper as well. North’s presents included a pair of crocheted sunflower earrings, a journal, and some contributions to their tattoo fund. When all the presents were opened, and North had read all the affectionate messages in the cards aloud, and the cake was eaten, I observed that the bowling alley was probably heated, and everyone gathered up their things and we left.

We went duckpin bowling. This form of bowling is popular in Maryland, and I remember taking Noah to a few birthday parties at these lanes when he was in elementary school (the little balls are great for kids) and then in high school he filmed a short documentary about a bowling league there. However, we are not big bowlers, and we hadn’t been there as a family since the summer North was four, on an outing they do not recall. We got another pizza and pitcher of soda that came free with the lane, and we also ordered fried pickles and tater tots. The kids made short work of the fried treats and ate most of the pizza, too. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and conversation was lively. After our two hours were up, the guests’ parents came to pick them up—Anastasia, who is the only one with a drivers’ license, and who had helped ferry guests to the bowling alley, joked that she didn’t think she’d have to wait long for her ride.

Marisa came home with us because she was sleeping over. Her older brother goes to St. Mary’s, so she and North talked about its pros and cons in the car. Beth and I went to bed soon after we got home, so I don’t know much about what they did, but I heard them making popcorn in the kitchen around one a.m. and North says they watched Bottoms. In the morning after a breakfast of bagels and fruit salad, Marisa’s dad came to get her, and the party was over. I couldn’t help but think in a gently melancholy way of all the birthday parties both kids have had in this house over the years—starting with Noah’s first birthday party—and how this was probably the last one.

Saturday: Blossom After-Party

But I didn’t have much time for nostalgic thoughts on North’s actual birthday. It was a very busy day and it started with a bang. North found out that morning that they got into Oberlin and with more aid than we expected. So now Oberlin is in the mix, much to everyone’s surprise, honestly. We will be headed to Ohio for an admitted students’ day the first week of April. Now North has heard from all six schools where they applied, and they got into five. (Only Mount Holyoke turned them down.)

Later that morning Beth and I went to an appliance store to look at induction stoves and we bought one. We’re doing a mini-kitchen renovation—we’re getting a new stove, new flooring, and a new back door. More on that in a later post perhaps.

In the early afternoon we left for our main outing of the day. We were returning to the Tidal Basin because North wanted to go on their actual birthday and because Beth hadn’t been yet. North wanted to bookend this trip with visits to Starbucks and Baskin-Robbins to collect free coffee and ice cream.

After a warm week caused the blossoms to pop early, we had a rather chilly week and that prolonged the bloom, so the timing wasn’t bad after all. It wasn’t easy getting there, though. There was a lot of traffic and we got diverted away from the road we were intending to take and had to drive over the bridge to Virginia. It was hard to get turned around back in the right direction and then we needed a bathroom break, so we stopped at National Airport, so the detour was a lengthy one.

When we finally got back to the Tidal Basin, we actually found a parking spot in one of the lots not too far from the blossoms and we walked there. There were more blossoms in the air and on the ground than there had been on Tuesday, but there were still plenty on the trees. We walked to the Jefferson Memorial and walked up the stairs to the statue. After that North wanted to rest on a bench, so the rest of us went to the FDR Memorial and then to where the food trucks and stage was. We watched some flamenco dancers and Noah got churros. It was a bit of a rushed visit because it was getting late, but any time I get to go to the Tidal Basin twice in a bloom period, I consider it a bonus.

On the way home, we stopped at Baskin Robbins, where everyone but me got ice cream—it was already six and I thought if I had some my blood sugar would not come down in time for dinner, even if we ate late. North opened some family presents we’d brought with us, a check from Beth’s mom, a pair of cherry blossom earrings, three skeins of lavender yarn, and a brown-sugar cinnamon syrup for coffee. North was pleased with everything.

Back at home Noah and I made a tater tot casserole, which was the birthday dinner North requested. Noah menu plans on Saturdays and he agreed to this dish, even though he doesn’t like vegetarian chicken or peas and he’s not even a big fan of tater tots and he ended up eating leftover pizza for dinner. The rest of us ate the casserole, which is quite good if not low carb—we made one corner of it only half-covered with tots for me. After dinner we ate leftover cake and started to watch See How They Run, which North chose, but we only had time for about half of it.

After the After Party: Sunday to Tuesday

It was just a coincidence that Beth and I undertook this nostalgia-inducing project the day after North turned eighteen, but North is in the process of clearing unwanted possessions out of their room as well as removing things they left behind in Noah’s room the last time that they switched bedrooms (in 2019), and there’s been a steady stream of dolls, stuffed animals, and books exiting both rooms.

On Sunday Beth and I sorted through the toys, and I did the books on Tuesday. I resisted the urge to keep very many toys. Other than a couple that belonged to me as a child, I only kept a rag doll that Noah was devoted to as a toddler. North is keeping a few stuffed animals, so I didn’t save any of theirs. Beth, who is less of a pack rat than me, said she was proud of me.  It was a little harder to part with books, but I filled a cardboard box with kids’ books to give away, and only kept about a quarter of what North didn’t want.

We have everything sorted to go to Value Village, the fairy tree (a hollow tree near the playground where people leave trinkets), Little Free Libraries, and the art materials library (think a Little Free Library for art supplies). It will take a while to get rid of everything—I can only carry so much on my walks—but we are freeing up space in both rooms. Noah has a new bookcase he can fit in his room now that the toy box and doll crib are gone, and he’s agreed to house the Harry Potter books and the Series of Unfortunate Events books there. When the question of ultimate ownership of these tomes came up, I said whoever produces grandchildren first gets them. I try not to give the kids the impression I expect them to have kids of their own or that I am owed grandchildren. I don’t want to be that kind of mom, but after the momentous week we’ve had, I must admit the thought of reading those books again to a beloved child, however far in the future, is comforting.

During Covid, Year 4: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 82

During Covid

Often, I will be talking about something that happened “during covid” and then I will have to stop and correct myself, because I know it’s not over. People are still getting and dying of it, but the numbers are way down. The official U.S. death toll stands at 1,184,376, as of March 9, which is only about 60,000 more than a year ago. That’s still about three times the number of people the flu killed in the 2022-23 season, but nothing like it used to be.

When I say something happened during covid, I’m not even sure what span of time I mean. My first instinct was to say March 2020 to August 2021, because that’s the month both kids returned to full-time, in-person school. That felt like a clear end point after almost a year and a half of mostly living in our bubble of four, socializing only outdoors with some exceptions at the end to visit family.

But then I remember what a shitshow that first semester back was for our school district. Buses would sometimes stop running for weeks at a time because so many bus drivers were sick and so many teachers were out that they couldn’t find subs for them, and North’s classes were often left completely unsupervised. Thanksgiving break started a day early because of the teacher shortage and by January it was so bad I was sure they’d go back to remote school, but they didn’t and then things gradually started getting better. So maybe “during covid” was March 2020 to January 2022.

But then again, none of us even got covid until November 2022 when Beth, North, and I all came down with it. And then North got it again in August 2023. (Noah has managed to dodge it completely unless he had an asymptomatic case.)

Despite all that, in its fourth year covid has touched us less and less. (I’ve even stopped reading pandemic novels, which I was doing compulsively earlier, though Noah and I did watch the last two seasons of The Strain this year.) It was almost to the point that I thought of skipping this yearly update until I remembered covid did send North home from camp two days early in August, so it has still affected us directly this year.

It’s ironic that North is the only one to have had covid twice because they are the most careful of all of us.  They still mask at school and on public transportation and any time they’re inside in public. None of the rest of us do that. I only consistently mask in Lyfts and at medical or therapy appointments that I am attending with North. I wore a mask to Beauty and the Beast and again to Grease, but that kind of event is hit-or-miss for me. My mental calculus went like this. Reasons to mask: 1) large number of people, 2) some quite close to us, 3) for a few hours. Reasons not to mask: 1) a large airy auditorium with a high ceiling. I could have easily gone the other way and I did in similar conditions at the admitted students’ days at Johnson and Wales and St. Mary’s. I wish I could tell you there was a logical reason for this discrepancy, but there isn’t really. I am still more generous when tipping masked baristas or Lyft drivers, just because the mask signals to me that they still consider their work more dangerous than it was four years ago and I want to respect that.

Even if it’s a shifting frame of reference, covid is still a marker of time. I often note that things have changed since covid, or that we haven’t done something since before covid, or that it happened during covid:

5/15/2023

In describing a campus tour at Towson University: Beth and I both feel that campus tours don’t show you the inside of the facilities as extensively they did five years ago. She speculated it was a covid-era change that was never reversed.

8/18/2023

The big thing we did after Noah got home and before North left for camp was to go to the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair on Saturday afternoon. We used to go every year, but we haven’t been since 2019, first because of covid and then because of schedule conflicts, often with North’s camp.

11/5/2023

On Saturday afternoon Noah and I made pumpkin ravioli from scratch. He has a pasta machine and ravioli cutting tools he hasn’t used in a while (the last time might have been three years ago, when he was home for covid).

Some things have changed for good since covid. Beth’s office never required people to return to the office and most days she works at home.

Testing for Covid

And because it’s still with us, testing is now routine, when anyone starts to feel sick.

7/15/2023

Darryl was feeling ill, so he didn’t come. His symptoms (fatigue and body aches) seemed like they could be covid, but Peggy got him a test and it was negative.

10/22/2023

Friday morning, the day before our rescheduled pumpkin outing, having had a sore throat and some congestion for a couple days, I decided to take a covid test. I was wondering if it would derail the expedition a second time. Would it have? I honestly don’t know. We were going to be outside for all the planned activities and maybe if I stayed away from the pumpkin stand, allowing others to go up to it and if I didn’t go inside the restaurant to pick up the food… I was already trying to talk myself into it, even though I was simultaneously thinking I probably shouldn’t be in a car with the whole family for a non-essential activity. But the test was negative, to my relief. That’s a very specific kind of relief that exists now, isn’t it? The, oh it’s just a cold relief.

Just the other day, North brought some covid tests home from school because they’d noticed we were running low on non-expired tests. They wanted to test because a member of the Beauty and the Beast cast had been performing sick for a week and had tested for covid, but only once. North’s test was negative.

Having Covid

And as I mentioned, people still get covid, including North.

8/18/2023

Friday morning we found out that North had tested positive for covid and had to come home, missing the last two days of camp and a field trip to Hershey Park.

8/27/2023

North was one of two campers sent home that day. The camp reported that three more tested positive at home after camp was over. Over the next few days, North was sick, but not too sick, with a sore throat and some congestion and fatigue. While we were waiting for Beth and North to get home, Noah prepared for their return by consulting the FDA web site that has revised expiration dates for covid tests and he separated our stockpile of tests into expired (4) and non-expired (6) boxes.

We didn’t make North isolate, as that’s just not good for them. We masked when we were in the same room with them and on the first night they ate dinner in the living room, one room over from the rest of us. There’s no door between those two rooms, so conversation was possible. On Sunday North had a headache and didn’t want dinner, then on Monday we all ate dinner on the porch together and Tuesday they had a headache again. For the first couple days we had the A/C off and all the windows of the house open, for air circulation, until both kids requested that we turn in on Monday morning when the weather got hotter and stickier…

Beth, who had the closest contact with North (on the ride home) tested on Saturday and again on Monday and Tuesday, each time negative. Even so, she decided not to go into the office Monday or Tuesday, although partly that was because she had a lot of work to do before our upcoming beach trip and she didn’t want to waste time commuting. Beth and I started masking again when inside stores and places of business, which we had only stopped doing last month. (Ironically, North never stopped.) North didn’t leave the house until Wednesday…

North took a covid test and it was negative, which was cause for celebration. Meanwhile, Noah, who had seemed sluggish all day, decided he’d better take a covid test before we left, just in case. Also, negative. Beth, Noah, and I immediately shed our masks for the remainder of the trip, though North still wore theirs in public most of the time.

I can’t predict what the next year of covid will be like, for the world, the country, or our family, but I’m hoping it recedes more and more into the range of serious, but ordinary contagious diseases. (Recent research on long covid may make this more likely.) And if it does, maybe I won’t have anything to write about next year.

What do you mean when you say “during covid”?

Song as Old as Rhyme

About a week before Beauty and the Beast opened, we watched the animated Disney version for family movie night. North was in a drama camp production of this play the summer they were eleven. They played the Beast and in the words of the father of a fellow cast member, North “brought the beast.” I mean, just watch the video clip in that post if you don’t believe me.

As I watched the movie for the first time since that summer, I was surprised by how many of the lines I remembered verbatim from the play down to how they were delivered by the campers. I also remember trying to explain to my not very interested youngest child how it was not a good idea to get into a romantic relationship with someone who treats you badly in hopes you can change that person. North is much more attuned to the problematic nature of the story now and as we watched, they kept yelling at Belle and reminding her the Beast had basically taken her hostage.

Tech Week: Monday to Wednesday

Tech week started on the Saturday we went to St. Mary’s so North missed the first day, but they’d been at rehearsals most afternoons and evenings the week before and on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the next week they were at school until 9:45 or ten every night. Often, I was already in bed when Beth brought them back home.

On Tuesday morning I asked North how the rehearsal the night before had gone and I head a litany of things that went wrong—an expensive curtain torn by a falling part of the set, one of North’s shoes gone missing, and a fight (a real one, not a stage fight). I asked who was fighting and why, and North replied, “Two freshman. I don’t know why,” with perfect senior scorn. (Luckily, they did find their missing shoe the next day.)

Opening Night: Thursday

Apparently, there were a lot of mishaps on opening night, too, including multiple people injured in separate incidents both backstage and onstage. One of the backstage accidents involved a glue gun. A girl twisted her ankle onstage during an acrobatic move and a boy’s cochlear implant fell out, but by watching the pit orchestra conductor he was able to come in at the just the right time in the song. (That’s a sign of a true performer in my book.)

North’s friend Maddie was in the audience that night and she said you couldn’t tell anything had gone wrong at all. North seemed pretty blithe about it all, so I guess there were no real disasters. And the show went on. A couple weeks earlier one of the cast members had mono and another thought she might have it, too, and I was wondering what would happen if mono swept through the cast, but it didn’t, so that was another bullet dodged.

Friday there was no show and no rehearsal, so North got to come home at three-twenty and spend the afternoon and evening relaxing. We ordered pizza and watched Joy Ride and they got to bed reasonably early and slept in a little.

Second Performance: Saturday

While Beth was taking North to school for their late afternoon call time and coming back home, Noah and I prepared and assembled spinach manicotti for dinner. Beth and I both took a disco nap while it baked because we are early-to-bed people and we knew we’d be up a little later than usual, plus we were losing an hour that night due the time change, and Beth was leaving the next morning to spend another week in Wheeling with her mom.

We ate an early dinner and drove back to North’s school. There was a big rose-shaped balloon in the lobby and bouquets of roses for sale. Beth bought one to give to North after the show, taking care to select one with a lavender rose because that’s North’s favorite color.

The show was really well done. It was the most ambitious play the theater department has ever put on, with a cast of over sixty, plus more than forty musicians in the pit orchestra. The leads have truly amazing voices, especially the girl playing Belle. Lumiere was just perfect, very funny, and he stole a lot of scenes. The set wasn’t elaborate but featured intricately painted backdrops (rented it turned out). The costumes were lovely, though I kept wondering if the kids playing enchanted objects were overheating under the lights because a lot of them were all covered up, especially Cogsworth in what looked like very thick material. When I said after the show that his costume looked hot, both kids laughed, and I had to clarify I was not lusting after teenage boys. “Teenage boy clocks,” North scoffed.

North was in three numbers. They played a washerwoman in the opening crowd scene and sang several lines as a solo or duet in “Belle,” one describing the bookish protagonist as “never part of a crowd.” They were also in “The Mob Scene” and the finale.

As I watched, I felt a lot of emotions. The joy of watching something well done, pride that North was part of a successful production, but also sadness that it was their last play of high school. And if I’m being honest, more sadness that North didn’t get a bigger part in their last play because I know they would have liked one. And back to pride again because they didn’t quit in the face of that disappointment.

I’m glad Beth got to see the play before she left. This time she knew further ahead of time that she was leaving, so we were able to get tickets for one of the earlier shows.

Meanwhile, there was a matinee today. Because it was the only matinee, there were a lot of kids in the audience and North said a lot of them were in Belle’s yellow dress. There will be two more evening performances next weekend. In between we’ll be going to see Maddie in Grease at her school on Wednesday night and North’s got a morning performance at school on Thursday for visiting elementary and middle school students. As a result, I’ll be taking them somewhere and/or picking them up in a Lyft every day for four days in a row.

I don’t really mind, though. Other than reviewing three more shows, this is the end of their high school theater career and that’s a big deal. North has loved performing ever since they were three and taking preschool drama classes. In high school they spent more time on costume crew or as a theater reviewer for Cappies than acting, but whatever the nature of their involvement, it’s been a passion of theirs for a long time. And I hope they continue to find a way to continue to pursue it in college, wherever they go. For them, it’s their tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme.