About Steph

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

Dancing Through Life

It’s just life
So keep dancing through

From “Dancing Through Life,” Wicked

So, for some reason we came back from the beach. Oh, wait, I remember why: Beth’s got this job and North was enrolled in musical theater camp and Noah had committed to being a counselor at a film camp for middle schoolers, so we couldn’t just spend the whole summer as beach bums.

We’ve been back two and a half weeks and they’ve been busy weeks, especially for North. In addition to going to the camp which culminated in a production of Wicked on Friday, they had rehearsals for Sweeney Todd six evenings and one weekend afternoon, and one day they babysat in between a six-hour day at camp and a three-hour rehearsal. But they had enough down time to go to see Yesterday with Beth and me one weekend and go swimming at an outdoor pool the next.

Meanwhile, Noah was largely free the first week we were home (other than working on his nursery school alumni interview podcast) and film camp started the second week. He needed some shots and medical forms for college and now that he’s eighteen he can be vaccinated without parental permission, so he went to the doctor himself. Somehow of all the things he does by himself now, that seemed particularly adult. He also had his first two drum lessons of the summer.

No one had camp or school on the fourth of July, so we went to Takoma’s eccentric little parade, complete with Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, marching bands, people playing bagpipes and steel drums, walking dogs, and pushing reel mowers. These are standard parts of the parade but there was also giant wooden rooster festooned with American flags (the rooster is the symbol of Takoma Park) and a Trump Baby balloon, which is a new addition.

Speaking of the President, he presented us with a fireworks dilemma. We usually watch the fireworks in Takoma, but they’re doing maintenance on the lawn of the middle school where they’re normally held so it was cancelled and D.C., which would be our natural backup plan was obviously out of the question since the whole day had been turned into a campaign rally. So on the recommendation of North’s physical therapist, we checked out the College Park fireworks.

People set up chairs in a parking lot on the campus of the University of Maryland, and I thought it would be miserably hot sitting on asphalt, but it had rained in the afternoon and the lot was still damp, which kept it bearable. There were food stands and live music and people selling glow sticks to the very diverse crowd so it was a festive atmosphere. The display was impressive and long, too, like a half hour. I’d do it again if Takoma ever cancels again.

The other day North didn’t go to camp (except for the last two hours of the day) was the Monday of the second week. That was because we had an intake appointment at the pain clinic at Children’s National Medical Center. We’re thinking of switching their pediatrician to one there since between neurology (for their migraines), the gender clinic, and now the pain clinic, they get the majority of their health care there already.

Anyway, the appointment lasted all morning. We spoke to various members of the team together and separately. Their recommendation was for behavioral cognitive therapy for coping strategies, desensitization to try to stop whatever misfiring is causing North’s pain, and aqua therapy to work on strengthening the affected leg. We’re still trying to set up all these new appointments. I left the appointment feeling cautiously hopeful because all the medical professionals we spoke to seemed very matter of fact, and not at all baffled by what’s been going on.

Before we left North also let some medical students take pictures of their pupil while an electrode fastened to their toe transmitted electrical signals—it was part of an experiment to see if changes in the eye can help doctors measure physical sensations (like pain) more objectively. I thought that was kind of interesting.

On a lighter note, Thursday was free slurpee day at 7-11. It was a hot day (unsurprising for mid-July in the D.C. area) and I’d spent a long time unsuccessfully trying to find the apartment building where a writers/editors meet up was happening and I’d gotten hot and sweaty and discouraged and it seemed like ice and sugar would be cheering. As my bus pulled up to the 7-11, who should I see but Noah, the director of his camp, and four campers, all walking into the store. By the time I got back there, they were all exiting with their frozen drinks. “I swear I’m not stalking you,” I told him and then the camp director had enthusiastic things to say about what a help Noah was at camp and that was nice, too.

Friday was performance of Wicked. Beth and I met up at the community center. Noah had to leave his camp early to come see the performance and he was a little late, but he arrived during the first song and set up his camera in the back of the theater.

If you’re not familiar with Wicked, it’s a prequel to the Wizard of Oz and much of it takes place at a prep school in Oz. North’s playing Nessarose, the future wicked witch of the East and the sister of Elphaba, the future wicked witch of the West. (North’s character is the one who gets squashed by a house at the beginning of the film.) Here’s a clip (eight and a half minutes) from when most of the main characters are students at the school.

It was convenient there was a character in a wheelchair in the play, but when all the characters ran up the aisles of the theater, North was able to keep up on their crutches. The production was very good. Gretchen always gets impressive performances out of the kids in just two weeks. Elphaba was played by four different girls (all in green face paint) and Galinda/Glinda by three and they all managed to inhabit their roles. North’s old preschool classmate and basketball teammate Maggie was a very charming wizard and Gretchen’s older daughter had some nice song and dance numbers as Prince Fierro (who later becomes the straw man). I learned later she’d studied the dance moves in Saturday Night Fever for the ball scene.

There was a cast party at Roscoe’s that evening. Beth, Noah, and I got a separate table, partly because Beth and Noah were going to the White House to attend Lights for Liberty, a protest of conditions at the migrant detention centers. We thought they’d get in and out more quickly if they weren’t part of a large group. I’d have liked to go to the vigil, too, especially since I haven’t been nearly as active as I was in the early days of the Trump administration, but North objected to the whole family deserting them after their show, so I stayed behind with them. Once Beth and Noah had departed, I joined the big table at the grown-up end and reminisced with Gretchen, the camp director, and another mom of a long-time camper about the shows the kids did when they were tiny.  (North’s been doing musical theater camp since they were five years old.) Eventually the kids drifted off to get gelato and hang out in a nearby playground. It’s always hard for the actors to say goodbye to each other after the intense experience of putting a play together in two weeks.

It was almost ten when Beth and Noah got home. He said it wasn’t going to be as easy to get to the White House to protest when he’s in upstate New York, so he has to do it now. And speaking of that, I can’t believe how close his departure is, just five weeks away. In the summer I’m always happy to do the things we usually do, like going to the beach and the Fourth of July parade and watching North in drama and chorus camp performances and berry-picking (which was on the agenda this weekend), but usually at the same time I’m ticking the weeks off in my mind, counting down to a more normal schedule when the kids go back to school. But this year when that happens it’s going to feel less normal instead of more so, with my firstborn gone. That’s part of life, though, and a good one, too, so we’ve got no choice but to keep dancing through it.

Coda

And speaking of the passage of time, Beth and I marked thirty-two years since our first date on Monday. On Saturday we went to see Booksmart and then had dinner at Jaleo’s and then on Monday North and I made a blueberry kuchen with some of the berries we’d all picked the day before for an anniversary dessert. Noah went to the 7-11 to get some vanilla ice cream to top it. It seemed fitting everyone had a part in bringing the kuchen to the table, as if it hadn’t been for that first kiss one long-ago July night, we wouldn’t be a family.

Party of Nine

We just returned from our traditional extended family beach week in Rehoboth on Friday afternoon. I haven’t gone back to check old blog posts, but this might have been our largest group ever with nine people in the beach house: my family of four, Beth’s mom, my mom, my sister Sara, her fiancé Dave, and their daughter Lily-Mei. We ranged in age from six to almost seventy-six and we were spread out over a big house with a little cottage on the property. We’ve had the house before, but never the cottage. All week people were telling me how perfect the setup was. YaYa had her own space and Sara and Dave had a room that adjoined Lily-Mei’s. It was just right for our group. Not to mention it was a half block from the beach. Here’s how we spent the week:

Friday 

“This is awesome! This is the dream of my life!” Lily-Mei exclaimed. She had just been informed it was ten o’clock. Being up that late is heady stuff when your bedtime is seven-thirty. What she didn’t know was that her body was still on West Coast time and her folks were intending to keep her up late all week in hopes she’d sleep later in the mornings.

With the arrival of my mother, Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei, our crew was complete. YaYa and Noah had returned from his two-week visit to Wheeling the previous day and we’d driven to Rehoboth, while the West Coast contingent had made brief visits to friends and relatives in the Philadelphia and Scranton areas before meeting us at the beach.  They hit bad traffic and by the time they arrived, North and I had already been wading at the beach, and the five of us had pizza at Grotto.

Lily-Mei’s exuberance could have been due to getting out of the car after being cooped up a long time or to seeing her cousins for the first time in two years, or just her big personality, but whatever the reason, soon she was joyfully and noisily tearing around the house, with North and Noah trailing her.

Saturday

The next day started earlier than I would have preferred, but not because of the smallest child in the house. The sun from an eastern window woke me before six. I tried to go back to sleep for a long time without success, but the good part was that North and I were on the beach before 8:30 and before most of the house was even awake. (The next night we hung a wool blanket over that window, and an eastern window in Noah’s room, which helped a little.) It was somewhat difficult for North to walk on the sandy path down to the beach with their crutches and they required help getting in and out of the water, but once they were in deep enough to be buoyant, they had no problems in the water. This was a relief because I wasn’t sure if they’d be able to swim this year, but they swam for hours most days. It may have helped that the water was very calm, with only very small waves.

We swam together for an hour and they stayed in the water another half hour, when we returned to the house so I could help menu plan and make a grocery list for Beth and Mom, who were going shopping later in the day. When we arrived, we were met by Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei, who were headed out to the beach. Lily-Mei was put out to have missed us there.

Once the swimmers and shoppers had left, I had some leftover pizza for lunch, and read the first chapter of The Bad Seed to both my kids. We’re experimenting with reading together for the first time in years, but it’s hard to find a good book for everyone. (We only managed two chapters during the whole week and none in the two days we’ve been home, so I’m not sure it’s working.) After Lily-Mei got back from the beach, North went to play with her and Noah and I switched over a book of Shirley Jackson short stories.

I tried to nap in the mid-afternoon, but couldn’t get to sleep. When I got up, Mom, Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei had gone to the beach, so North and I followed. It was a beautiful day, warm but not hot and not too humid. The water was still calm. We swam and sat on the beach in varying combinations and Dave and I got to chat and know each other a little better.

Mom went back to the house first and made dinner, tortellini with a tomato-sour cream sauce. After dinner, Sara, Dave, and the kids (including Noah) watched part of Cars. It was his favorite movie back in the day. In fact, he was kind of obsessed with it. They stopped the movie frequently to explain what was going on to Lily-Mei. When I asked him later if it held up, he said yes and he’s a film buff, so that’s saying something, but I suppose nostalgia played a role.

Meanwhile, Beth and YaYa walked to the boardwalk, where they got ice cream and saw dolphins. They returned about the same time the kids stopped watching the movie because the fireflies had come out and Lily-Mei wanted to chase them. Did you know they don’t have fireflies west of the Rockies? So this was a rare treat for Lily-Mei, who was remarkably good at catching them one-handed. But she didn’t always need to because sometimes they just landed on her hand. She was like a little insect whisperer. Noah shot a movie of Lily-Mei holding one on his phone in between catching a few of his own. We were all standing in the gravel driveway of the house, watching the glowing insects on the ground, in the air, high up in the branches of an evergreen, and temporarily in our hands and a glass jar. It was kind of magic.

While Lily-Mei was getting ready for bed, North and I walked down to the beach and looked at the stars.

Sunday 

When I got up (early again), Noah, North, and Lily-Mei were all in the kitchen. My kids were making breakfast to eat in front of Dr. Who, a Sunday morning tradition. I asked Lily-Mei if she’d eaten and she said no, so I made her a bowl of cereal and some vegetarian bacon. She ate half the cereal and a bite or two of the bacon and then parked herself and her stuffed bunny in front of the closed door behind which Noah and North had sequestered themselves. This was such a pitiful sight that once I’d finished my own omelet, I asked her if she had any books she’d like me to read to her. I read her a Thomas book and The Carrot Seed, books she found on a shelf. Sara got up and North emerged from the den just as we were finishing up, so they played zookeeper’s keys and Rat-Tat-Cat, a card game we’d brought from home because North really liked it when they were six, and then they played some pretend game involving leprechauns fending off encroaching bad guys.

Around eleven, Sara, Lily-Mei, North, and I went to the beach. We spent a couple hours, swimming, making sand castles, taking walks, and hanging out on our towels. Lily-Mei was pretty fearless in the water. Whenever she got knocked over, she just got right back up. And she wanted to swim far out in the ocean. In fact, at one point, North asked if she wanted to swim all the way to Portugal (the country directly across the ocean from Delaware) and Lily-Mei said yes, looking over her shoulder and saying, “Bye, Mama!”

After lunch, Beth, my kids, Dave, Lily-Mei and I set out on an expedition to Candy Kitchen and once we’d walked that far it seemed to make sense to just keep going to Funland, so Dave and I took North and Lily-Mei, while Beth and Noah peeled off to run errands and go back to the house. At Funland, North and Lily-Mei rode the teacups, the Freefall, and the Graviton (one of those horrible centrifuge rides), most of them multiple times.  Nothing was too scary, except the automatic flush toilets in the restroom. Next the kids and Dave played carnival games and Lily-Mei won a stuffed ladybug and Dave won a stuffed panda.

By the time we got home, it was time for me to start dinner, a lentil stew and salad. Beth was kind enough to do some k.p. for me while I was still at Funland. After dinner, the kids finished Cars. Then Mom and I took North and Lily-Mei on an evening walk to the beach, where we spied dolphins almost as soon as we arrived. It was sunset and the beach was awash in pink. The sky was pink, the water was pink, the wet sand was pink. When we got home, Mom read  part of the first chapter of Beezus and Ramona to Lily-Mei. I love those books so much—both from my own childhood and from reading them to my kids—that I found myself listening from the porch. I don’t have it memorized word for word, but I always knew what was going to happen next.  Later when Mom and Lily-Mei came out to the porch, and Lily-Mei discovered she had two new mosquito bites, she wailed, “I don’t like this world!” It can be a short distance from the dream of your life to not liking the world when you’re six.

Monday

My shoulders had gotten a little pink from being in the sun at midday the day before, so I got to the beach early and had some solo beach time in the morning, then came back around 10:20 to do laundry and read with Noah, while North played with Lily-Mei. Sara had engaged her for three mornings of babysitting (but of course they played with her at other times, too). Once North was off duty, I took my kids to Grandpa Mac’s for lunch.

In the mid-afternoon, Sara, Dave, Lily-Mei, North, and I headed down to the beach where we swam and made sand castles. Well, Sara and her family were the main builders, but North and I contributed a little dribble village outside the castle gates.

Before dinner, people worked on a puzzle of Arcadia National Park. Most people helped, but Dave and Noah were principal contributors and Lily-Mei found the last piece on the floor and fitted it in.  Then we had YaYa’s delicious spinach lasagna—a regular one and a gluten-free one. Next there was an expedition to the boardwalk for dessert. Between us all, we got ice cream, frozen custard, and gelati (a parfait of frozen custard and water ice—that’s Italian ice to you if you’re not from the Philadelphia area). North and I got the gelati and it melted so fast so we were both sticky and colorful messes by the time we were done.

Tuesday

North was sitting Lily-Mei again in the morning. I heard North ask what she wanted for breakfast and Lily-Mei said, “Candy!” When North said she couldn’t have candy for breakfast, she said, “But I know where it is.” After they ate something a little healthier than that, I took them both down to the beach, where there was more swimming and digging in the sand. At one point, a wave knocked Lily-Mei down and she said, “That was no problem at all!”

We came home and Mom and I went to a boardwalk restaurant for lunch. Then I read for a while with Noah before going back to the beach with Mom and North. Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei had gone back to Funland. They returned with five new stuffed animals (including a sloth she seemed quite taken with) and two decorative pillows. Mom came into the water to get her legs wet before she went back to her chair to read while North and I swam. But there were biting flies that day and she quickly retreated to the house. Once I was out of the water, I didn’t want to stay long either. The flies even got under the towel I used to wrap up my legs.

Dinner was Beth’s signature beach meal—gazpacho, salt-crusted potatoes with garlic-cilantro sauce, and fancy cheeses with bread and crackers. Sara says this meal alone is worth a flight from the West Coast.

After dinner, Beth, Sara, Dave, Lily-Mei, and I went for a bike ride along Gordon’s Pond Trail, which goes through a salt marsh and down to a cliff that overlooks the ocean. Beth often takes solo bike rides when we’re in Rehoboth and this is one of her routes. Sara’s walked or biked it a few time and as a bird-lover, she always enjoys it. This time we saw egrets and red-winged blackbirds and clouds of dragonflies hovering over our heads as we biked. I’ve never seen so many in one place. We stopped at a marsh overlook and at Herring Point, where we saw a large pod of dolphins hunting for their dinner. Sara was excited, having not seen dolphins yet on this trip, but Lily-Mei had seen some that morning on the beach and was not as impressed. (Also the flies were biting here, too, so she wanted to get moving again.)

As we biked, Sara told Lily-Mei how two years ago she’d been in a baby seat on Sara’s bike instead of pedaling on an attachment that turned Dave’s bike into a bicycle built for two, and how two years before that, when she was still in China, Sara had decided on her name while walking on this very trail.

We left Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei back at the house and continued into town, where we made a quick Whoopie pie run. We brought the dessert back home to share with YaYa and my kids, but Noah was asleep, having gone to bed early with a headache.

Wednesday 

He was recovered in the morning, which was good because Mom, Beth, my kids, Sara, Lily-Mei and I were going to have breakfast at Egg, at his request. From Noah’s point of view, eating out is the main point of a beach vacation. Mom and Sara were charmed by the farmhouse décor and we all enjoyed our meals. (Noah and I got crepes with lemon curd and blueberries.)

Next on the agenda was Jungle Jim’s. Everyone but the grandmothers and me went. I always say going to waterparks at the beach is against my religion. I used the time to catch up on writing this blog post at Café-a-Go-Go with an iced café con leche and then to go to BrowseAbout to get a book for Noah. We’d finished The Lottery and Other Stories the day before and I thought I should use the time I still had the bike to run errands. (I’d rented it for one day only because we were so close to the beach.)

Mom and I had lunch at the house. We were the only ones there because YaYa was having lunch with a friend who lives in the area and everyone else was still at the water park. Apparently, Jungle Jim’s was a big hit with Dave and Lily-Mei because they stayed after the rest of the party left, getting home shortly before dinner.  Mom and I went to the beach after lunch, hoping to avoid the biting flies by varying our arrival time. Sure enough, it was a very nice day, sunny with no flies and the sea continued to be very calm. This was the first day I was starting to get frustrated by the lack of waves, because swimming in big waves is such a joy to me. But I swam a couple times anyway and had a nice talk with Mom in between, sometimes standing in the water, and sometimes sitting on the sand.

We had to leave the beach around four because we had five o’clock reservations at a Japanese restaurant. It turns out when you call the same day for a party of nine, you are either going to eat pretty early or pretty late. But service was leisurely,  so the timing actually worked out well, as it was 6:15 before we had our entrees. It was a pleasant place to wait. We were seated on the roof, in our own gazebo, with curtains to draw against the sun. The tables were on wooden platforms over a series of interconnected koi ponds. We dined on seaweed salad, sushi, udon bowls, and seafood pasta. My kids introduced Lily-Mei to a kind of melon-flavored Japanese soda that comes in a bottle with a glass pearl suspended inside and when she got bored she had fun walking back and forth between our table and the downstairs hostess stand to fetch mints for various members of our party, one at a time.

After dinner we broke into groups, seeking candy from Candy Kitchen and ice cream. Noah, North, and I went to Funland where North and I went into the Haunted Mansion and both kids rode the Freefall and the Paratrooper. We only used up thirty of the seventy-six tickets we came with, mainly because the lines were so long, but North had more rides they wanted to go on, so I promised we could come back.

Back at the house, various people were watching the first night of Democratic debates—I decided to wait until the field was more winnowed— or listening to a live broadcast of the Accidental Tech Podcast, or reading Beezus and Ramona aloud to Lily-Mei, who had managed to stay on West Coast time (two years ago when Sara tried this it didn’t work). As a result, the youngest member of the party was often up later than North, Beth, and me.

Thursday 

It was our last full day in Rehoboth. I managed to get down to the beach by 8:45. I took a walk north and found a big sand sculpture someone had made in the shape of an animal with powerful back legs. The upper part of the body was worn away so it was hard to tell if it was a rabbit or a kangaroo. Then I swam. There were no real waves and it was looking like there wouldn’t be any on the trip. I was sad about this, but I made an effort to appreciate what I did have, a sunny day with pleasant air and water temperatures, instead of dwelling on what I didn’t have. That’s tricky sometimes, though, isn’t it? Almost as if the universe wanted to reward my efforts, I saw a pod of dolphins, including a baby dolphin swimming with its mama, which is something I’ve never seen before in all my years of going to the beach. It was jumping a little higher out of the water than its elders and occasionally wandering out of their straight path.

I returned to the house mid-morning to do laundry and read Noah’s new book—An Absolutely Remarkable Thing—until lunchtime. Nicola’s was next on Noah’s list of restaurants to visit because he wanted baked ziti. Dave, North, and I accompanied him. Afterward the kids and I went to Funland, where we used all but fourteen of the one hundred tickets I’d originally purchased and North checked every ride they wanted off their list. And they did it just in time to get down to the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel where they were going to high tea with YaYa. It’s a tradition for them. When North was younger it was a dress up occasion, but now they just go in whatever they’re wearing. From there, North went earring shopping with my mom. They were so booked they didn’t get to the beach that day.

While North was off with the grandmothers, I came home and napped, then went to the beach for an hour before dinner. As I walked down the sandy path, I heard someone say, “It’s so level. It’s like a pool” and it was. The light was really beautiful, though, making the yellow-green water underneath glow and the silvery-blue water on the surface gleam.  Every little ripple and swell was clearly delineated. It looked like the water in Moana. After my swim I lay on my towel. I had a book but I felt too tired to read, so I felt the warmth of the sun and listened to a harmonica someone was playing nearby, which reminds me—one time when North and I were at the beach early in the morning, there was a man walking up and down the beach playing bagpipes. You never know what will happen at the beach.

Sara and Dave made black bean quesadillas, corn on the cob, and kale salad for dinner. Afterward, my kids went down to the closed snack bar on the path to the beach for a photo shoot. They’d been thinking of making a music video on the beach like they did last year, but they didn’t get around to it in time, and North thought they could use some still photos in a video someday and they liked the retro metal Pepsi and cheeseburger signs and thought it would make a good backdrop. So Noah took some pictures of them around the snack bar and then the kids and I walked out to the beach and got our feet wet and climbed the mound of sand the lifeguards pile around their chairs during the day. Then while Noah had his camera and tripod out, we went home and assembled everyone for a group shot on the porch stairs. While we waited for him to set up the shot, North and Lily-Mei chased fireflies. (This never got old for Lily-Mei. I think she did it every night.)

Friday 

This was checkout day. After the last puzzle of the week was finished (at the very last minute) and the house was packed up and locked, and Beth, Noah, and YaYa were headed back to the realty to return the keys, the rest of us stood in the yard and talked for a while, prolonging our goodbyes. But finally, Mom, Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei piled into their car to drive back to Philadelphia where they’d visit friends again before flying out west. North and I walked down to the beach, got a half hour swim, and then met up with the rest of the East Coast contingent for lunch. There was a last trip to Candy Kitchen, a last few minutes on the beach to say goodbye to the ocean. North and I were still in our suits, so we dived in; Noah was dressed and was only going to get his feet wet, but he got most of his front wet. As we walked down the sidewalk away from the ocean and toward our car, parked on a distant side street, I glanced over my shoulder at the boardwalk and the dunes, feeling a bit like Lot’s wife. But I didn’t turn to a pillar of salt, and I kept walking.

You’re Done, Too

Noah and YaYa left for Wheeling the day after he graduated, after a farewell breakfast at Panera. That evening Beth, North, and I watched a supernatural teen romance (Every Day) because North had wanted to see it and Noah wasn’t interested. I also made chocolate pudding with them, took them swimming, and to Pride with Zoë, so it was a pretty jam-packed weekend. Beth had to work the weekend of Pride, so it was just me and the kids. It’s been thirty years since Beth and I attended our first Pride festival in Cleveland and it felt a little strange to be there without Beth and with a couple of thirteen year olds, more like chaperoning a field trip than anything.

North went to school the next week. A lot of it was the usual end-of-year movies and parties, but they did have an algebra test as late as Wednesday. North recently had this to say about the past school year: “I hated it, I’m glad it’s over, and I will miss almost nothing about it.” Still, I hope it wasn’t all bad. They were in two plays, sang with the county honors chorus, performed a solo concert, won an honorable mention on the National Spanish Exam, and fulfilled a long-standing wish to visit a foreign country. I kind of get what they meant, though– early adolescence can be rough.

When seventh grade was finally over, North and Beth left for a weekend camping trip in Southern Maryland, where they burned all North’s school papers over a campfire and visited Smith Island. They brought home a Smith Island cake, which in case you didn’t know, is the state dessert of Maryland.

Often when Beth takes one or both of the kids camping I have an ambitious agenda or house and/or yard work, but I’ve had very little work from either Sara or Mike the past couple weeks and I’ve been doing a lot of house and yard work already. And though I haven’t even put a dent in everything that could be done, I decided I’d take it easy. The campers were gone from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning and in that time I read most of a thick Shirley Jackson biography that had been sitting on my bedside table for two or three years, took myself out to dinner at Kin-Da because I was in the mood for vegetable tempura, and went shopping at the farmers’ market.

Monday was the first weekday of North’s summer break and they were out of the door before 9:30, off to Zoë’s house where they’d spend the day and night and part of the next day. They only came home at two on Tuesday because I wanted them to clean the bathroom before we left for their trans kids’ support group. Today they were out the door just before 9:30 again. The reason for all this North-and-Zoë togetherness was that this was one of the only weeks (or maybe the only week) neither of them has camp this summer, so they wanted to squeeze in all the time they could.

North came home at four, so they could eat an early dinner before heading off to the first rehearsal for Sweeney Todd. Highwood Theatre has moved to a new (and less convenient) location, so I accompanied them on the bus to make sure they knew the route. Tomorrow North’s got a physical therapy appointment in the morning and another Sweeney Todd rehearsal in the evening. In between, Noah and YaYa will join us and the day after that we’re all driving to the beach. I’m pleased by the timing–we’re arriving at the beach on the summer solstice–but in some ways it feels like summer’s already in full swing.

You’re Done

Noah graduated from high school on Friday morning. In case there was any chance we’d forget, there were plenty of reminders in the week before. He had to go to school to pick up his cap and gown and tickets on Tuesday afternoon and then on Thursday there were not one but two rehearsals, one for graduating seniors in the morning and one for the members of the band and orchestra who’d volunteered to play at graduation in the afternoon. (He also registered for his college classes on Monday, the day registration opened.) 

In between these tasks, he helped me make baked ziti and clean fans, mowed the lawn, and started editing interviews he conducted in October for a podcast he’s been making for the kids’ preschool. Last summer and fall he interviewed a bunch of alumni and their parents about their experiences at the school as a volunteer project. He produced a few episodes from his summer interviews before school started in September, but other than taping a few more interviews, he hasn’t worked on it since then. Working on this and volunteering for two weeks at a film-making camp for middle schoolers are going to be his main summer occupations. But he also had enough down time to watch the livestream of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote and to watch a half dozen episodes of Orphan Black with me over the course of several days.

Beth’s mom flew in for Noah’s graduation, arriving Thursday afternoon. Beth picked her up at the airport, but no one else could come to meet her because Noah was at the band rehearsal and I was taking North to a physical therapy appointment.  Beth and YaYa got caught in rush hour traffic and it was two hours before Beth had dropped her off at her hotel to check in and swung around to get Noah, North, and me so we could all meet for dinner. Noah and I read from The Lottery and Other Stories while we waited.

Once we were all together, we had dinner at a tapas restaurant in Silver Spring. We got a selection of olives, pan a la Catalana, a cheese plate, mushrooms sautéed in garlic, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and patatas bravas.  They have a nice dessert sampler there, with churros, flan, tres leches cake, and sopapillas, but Noah wanted ice cream and it was his occasion, so we went to Ben and Jerry’s instead. Kung Fu tea is next door and North wanted bubble tea so we split up temporarily, though eventually we all ended up seated at Ben and Jerry’s.

As everyone was finishing up their desserts, North experienced another flare up in their leg (the third in a week). I was afraid we’d all be stuck there until it passed, but Beth brought the car around and I encouraged North to power through enough to stand up and walk to the car. (My back up plan was to see if Noah could carry them. I know I can’t.) Fortunately, they were able to walk across the street and get into the car, where we had some painkiller in the glove compartment. That night they slept on some cushions on the floor of their room because they couldn’t get up to the ladder to their loft bed.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one evening, after North was settled into bed, Beth noticed something was amiss with our cat Matthew’s paw. There was matted fur with something bright red in the center. From a distance, it looked like he was badly hurt and I was imagining a late night trip to an all-night vet, when we got closer and saw he had something clear and sticky all over that paw and a scrap of red paper had stuck to it. So we all got to go to bed, which was good because the next day we were all had to get up early.

Graduation was taking place at the basketball stadium at the University of Maryland and there were at least two graduations taking place there that day. Noah’s was at 9:00 a.m. and the musicians had to be at school to help move instruments into the van that was transporting instruments to the stadium at 6:15. He set an alarm for 4:45, slept through it, and Beth woke him at 5:05. She dropped him off at school came back to shower and eat, and Beth, North, and I headed over to YaYa’s hotel a little before 7:30. He texted Beth to tell her that the U-Haul’s parking brake was stuck and it looked like they might not be able to get any of the percussion instruments to College Park.

In further misadventures, as we got into the car North noticed Noah’s white, purple, and black cord lying in the driveway, where it must have fallen while he was getting into the car at the crack of dawn. It was for completing the Communications Arts Program and he was supposed to wear it around his neck. Beth scooped it up, in hopes of getting it to him.

We got to the stadium around 8:10 so there was ample parking and we could have sat anywhere we wanted, but North didn’t want to navigate the steep steps, so we stayed up in the nosebleed seats near the entrance. The band was practicing on the court, with all their percussion instruments (someone had fixed the van’s brake), so Beth walked down to the lowest seats, called his name and tossed the cord to him. It was lucky he was playing with the band because otherwise he would have been sequestered wherever the rest of the graduates were and it was unclear if she would have been allowed back there.

The ceremony started promptly at nine. The band played a tribute to John Williams, which began with the Star Wars theme and then some processional music by Wagner, “Pomp and Circumstance,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as the 718 seniors (minus members of the band, orchestra and chorus) filed onto the court in two lines, one in red robes and one in white. Until several years ago, boys wore red and girls wore white, but now it’s gender-neutral. You can choose whatever color you want. Red is slightly more popular.  Once everyone was seated, there was a red rectangle on the left, a smaller white rectangle on the right, filled in with more red at the bottom, plus the black robes of faculty down the outer sides, along the aisle between the rectangles, and in the back. It was kind of a cool, watching this design take shape.

It was also a treat to be able to see Noah playing, as percussion is usually in the back at concerts. It was in the back here, too, but because of the stadium seating we could see everyone on the court. Even as high as we were, I could still sometimes hear him on the snare drum and the bells, though sometimes the bass drum drowned him out.

I haven’t been to a high school graduation since my own (as I was in Iowa, taking a grad school summer school course when my younger sister graduated from high school in Pennsylvania).  But it was about what you’d expect. A lot of speeches, interspersed with a chorus performance, a band and orchestra performance of the school’s alma mater, and then after about an hour, the names. It takes a long time to read 718 names, almost another hour. And, to my surprise (and apparently Noah’s, too) the musicians were all called first, so he walked across the stage, shook his principal’s hand and received his diploma case (the actual diplomas were distributed later) quite early in the proceedings. I’m not sure why he didn’t know this was going to happen, as he’d been to two rehearsals the day before, but it went smoothly enough. It looked like everyone knew what they were doing.

Listening to the rest of the names and watching kids on the Jumbotron was full of sentimental moments as Noah’s classmates from preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school went by. Because Blair is such a big school and Noah’s been something of a lone wolf the past several years, I didn’t even realize some of them went to his school. A few names I was waiting for, but it was hard to know exactly when they’d be called because the graduates went up in alternating groups of red and white so alphabetization was only approximate. Finally, all the names, from Abarca to Zimand, had been called, the students turned their tassels and they were graduates. They weren’t supposed to toss their caps, but of course, some of them, including my usually rule-bound son, did. North asked later, how you got your own cap back if you did that and he said if you were in the main area , you probably didn’t, but if you were only graduate sitting with the band in the percussion section, it wasn’t that hard. The band played a recessional from Aida, and everyone filed out.

We expected a long wait for Noah because he had to help pack up the percussion instruments and go get his diploma. As we lingered outside the building, on a pretty early June day, we chatted with the mother of Jazmín, one of his preschool classmates, and the father of Ruby, his best friend for most of kindergarten. We talked about where the kids are going to college and later Beth reminisced about how once when Noah fell and was hurt on a kindergarten field trip to a grocery store a few blocks from the school, Ruby’s dad was chaperoning and carried him all the way back to school. Noah came out earlier than we expected. Apparently, as he was helping with the instruments, the band teacher told him, “Go on. You’re done.” We took pictures of him with YaYa, with North, with Beth and me, and with Beth and YaYa. Then we dropped North off at school for their afternoon classes and went out to lunch. Told he could have lunch anywhere he wanted, he chose Noodles and Company. He’s a man of simple tastes.

We went back to YaYa’s hotel so she could change clothes and then back to our house, where we hung out, napped, and read. When North got home from school, Noah opened graduation cards and presents. He got a t-shirt for tech podcast he listens to, a pair of cordless headphones, a teleprompter, and a lot of checks, cash, and gift cards. North’s present to him was a series of five paintings. The captions read: What I love about you (an amusement park scene)…Is that even on the scariest of rides… (a roller coaster)…You’ll always hold my hand (two clasped hands)… And let me know that I am safe (closeup of an eye)…and I will always believe it (heart).

Noah wanted to deposit his check, so Beth ran him up the credit union, and then YaYa, Beth, North, and I went for a stroll around the neighborhood before a pizza dinner. Then we came home and Noah packed for an almost two-week visit with YaYa. In the morning, we all had breakfast together at Panera before Beth drove YaYa and Noah to the airport.

He’s done. Now it’s time for him to go on, to West Virginia for some grandmotherly spoiling, then a week at the beach with more family, then a month and a half at home making podcasts and teaching kids to make movies, and then on to the great adventure of college. 

Shine on Me

“I used to go to school here,” Noah said mock-wistfully as we drove into the parking lot of his high school, the one he stopped attending a little over a week ago. I made a mental note to tell him to stop making this joke, lest his sibling’s head explode, but this time, North didn’t seem to mind. We were there for their spring chorus concert and they were in a good mood, joking with Noah and laughing.

Because the concert is in June, North was all decked out in rainbow gear, or as much as you can be when the bulk of your outfit is supposed to be black and white. They wore a white short-sleeved button-down shirt, black leggings and black ankle boots, brightened with a black bowtie with multicolored musical notes and rainbow-striped socks peeking out over the tops of the boots.

They were also using a colorful new pair of crutches. Although it’s been almost four months since North broke their tibia and the bone and ligaments have long since healed, they’re still experiencing pain. We are all very frustrated by this. The orthopedist referred us to the pain clinic at Children’s National Medical Center, but our appointment isn’t until July so we ordered North a pair of forearm crutches, which are supposed to be better for your posture if you’re on crutches long term. They’re purple and teal, with pink grip tape around the handles.

It’s kind of depressing to be thinking about North using crutches for the long-term, but that’s where we are. In fact, recently, they’ve been experiencing flare-ups of more intense pain. When this happens, they sometimes sleep on a futon on the living room floor because they can’t get up the ladder of their bunk bed. Last week one particularly ill-timed episode cut short their chorus field trip to King’s Dominion. Beth had to rush home from work and then drive a couple hours (almost as far as Richmond) to fetch them and bring them home.

The chorus was participating in Music in the Parks. Bands, orchestras, and choruses perform in the morning and then enjoy an afternoon at an amusement park. When Noah was in middle school his band always went to Hershey Park. North got to perform, have lunch, and ride one ride before their leg started to hurt badly and then they spent much of the afternoon in the first aid station, waiting for Beth. Eventually, they recovered enough to go on one more ride and attend the awards ceremony before Beth arrived. I was sad about this turn of events because North had wanted to go on this field trip for years and last year it was inexplicably cancelled and next year they’re probably taking art instead of chorus, so this was their only shot.

It wasn’t a total loss, though, because they did perform and the chorus did pretty well, coming in second out of four middle school choruses. The chorus was ranked two on a scale of five (the lower numbers are better). At festival in March, they’d scored a four and this had been a pretty bitter disappointment, so it was nice to have their improvement recognized.

But back to the concert… It was an orchestra, piano, and chorus concert, held at Noah’s school because North’s school doesn’t have an auditorium and they rotate between different high schools whenever there’s a concert. It’s always nice when it’s at Blair, because it’s the closest high school.

While we waited for the concert to start, I scanned the program, looking for familiar names. I saw a few, but not one of North’s elementary school classmates, at least none of the ones I knew, is still in orchestra or chorus.

The orchestra played six songs. My favorite was a Bach piece called “Sleepers Wake,” maybe because I have a recording of it, so it’s familiar. The orchestra teacher explained he’d let the band choose one of their performance pieces from a website of band music. They chose a song called “Tour of California,” which he said reminded him up driving up the Pacific coast on a motorcycle. After the band, two piano students performed—a girl did a duet with the piano teacher, who is also the chorus teacher, and boy played alone. They were both beginners and sounded pretty good, considering.

After intermission, the chorus came on. They had four songs: “Alleluia! Sing Alleluia,” (more Bach) “She Sings,” “Rise Up,” (the Andra Day song, not the Diane Birch song, the Indigo Girls song, or the one from Hamilton with that chorus, which is actually called something else) and, finally, “Shine on Me,” a gospel tune.  Beth said she liked the first one best, North liked the second one, and I favored the last one. Maybe none of us picked “Rise Up” because it was an eighth-grade spotlight so North didn’t sing in it. (The eighth graders are going to sing it again at promotion.)

After saying goodbye to the eighth-graders, Mr. N, the chorus director, thanked the returning sixth and seventh graders and wished the members of the chorus who were taking other electives next year well and expressed his hope they’d be back on the stage someday. Then he spoke about Music in the Parks, and how much the chorus had improved in a little over two months. Well, that’s how I would have put it, but he put a surprising emphasis on the chorus’s low scores at festival, more than on their good scores at Music in the Parks, so that was strange and kind of uncomfortable.

But I don’t think Mr. N needs to worry about North returning to the stage. This summer they’ll be in chorus camp, a drama camp production of Wicked, and most likely in a production of Sweeney Todd. They always find a way to shine.

It was close to North’s bedtime when the concert ended but they wanted to go out for frozen yogurt and it was a beautiful evening and almost the end of a long year for them, so a little celebration seemed in order.

Noah in the Bardo

My book club met the Wednesday before Memorial Day to discuss Lincoln in the Bardo, a book that imagines President Lincoln’s grief when his son Willie died of typhoid and Willie’s first night in the afterlife, or rather the bardo, which is a Tibetan Buddhist concept of a holding area between life and rebirth. In this book it’s located in a Georgetown cemetery and populated by all the dead folks buried there who can’t accept their own deaths, insist they’re just sick, and therefore refuse to move on to the next place. Some of them pass through the bardo in minutes, others linger for years or decades. The bardo is also used as a metaphor. The Civil War is a bardo. Grief is a bardo. This weekend, Noah found himself stuck in a kind of bardo as well.

Friday

The school year ended for seniors on Friday. (All the other grades have three weeks left, much to North’s consternation.) Going into the last week Noah had homework in all his classes due, mostly at the end of the week, and mostly big, time-consuming assignments. He also had all of the mornings from Monday to Thursday off or partly off because the ninth to eleventh graders had standardized tests. I thought that might help and I guess it did, but Thursday night he still had homework due in five or six classes. He ended up staying up half the night and went to school Friday morning on four hours of sleep…and with undone assignments in four classes.

He’d given up on the statistics chapter and a bevy of little assignments for health, but he wanted to finish two things he’d been working on all week—the storyboard for his hypothetical film version of Isben’s Enemy of the People for English and his film on 5G cell phone networks for Silver Lens (his school’s documentary-making team). It’s his third movie of the year and the second one on 5G. The first one was about safety and regulatory issues. This second, shorter one was about how close the technology is to being finished. And, like 5G technology, it wasn’t ready.

At school he secured permission from his English teacher to stay after school for about an hour and turn in the storyboard then. And he got an extension on the movie (the second one—it was originally due Wednesday).

On Noah’s last day of eighth grade he came home and yelled “Middle school is over!” so loudly and so many times that he went hoarse. He came home Friday more subdued, maybe because he’d had so little sleep the night before and maybe because high school wasn’t really over, not quite. We were planning a celebratory pizza dinner at Roscoe’s, followed by gelato, and we still did it, but because he got home late we scrapped plans for Noah and North to hose the dust and pollen off the porch that afternoon. We do this once a year sometime in in May and the kids get into their bathing suits, spray each other with the hose and make a game of it. It’s their favorite chore, but it would have to wait.

And Noah wasn’t the only one with undone work. I hadn’t finished a draft of my Great Lakes chapter that I needed to send to the graphics person that evening so we also postponed our weekly Friday movie/TV night until Saturday night. I finished the draft after dinner and we were all in bed by ten.

Saturday

The next day I took care of some less urgent work tasks and Beth, North and I went to the pool, an outdoor one, not the one where I swim laps every week. Noah stayed home to work on his movie. It was a near perfect late May day, sunny, warm but not hot, and not too humid. I should have realized everyone would want to linger for a few hours and brought something to read, but I didn’t so after I’d swum as long as I wanted to and relaxed in a chair on the grass for a while, I got restless and wanted to leave. Beth and North wanted to stay, so I considered walking home—it’s only about a half hour—or going to a nearby grocery store and fetching a few dinner ingredients.

I settled on the second plan because it seemed practical. At the register with my frozen ravioli, mushrooms, and asparagus, I put my hand in my shallow, diagonally cut front pocket and found the twenty that should have been in there was missing. (Later in telling Noah this story I had to explain how a lot of women’s clothes either lack pockets or have non- or semi-functional pockets and he was really surprised.) So, I put all the food back and started to walk back to the pool. My route was mainly along a busy thoroughfare. Imagine my surprise when I spotted my twenty in the grass just off the sidewalk, fifteen or twenty minutes after I must have lost it. I went back to the grocery store, purchased the food, and Beth swung by on the way home from the pool to get me and then Noah and I made dinner. After we ate it, we had our delayed TV night, watching two episodes of Blackish.

Sunday

Beth and I were busy with errands, house and yard work for much of the middle day of the weekend. Between us we menu planned for the next week, grocery shopped, mopped the kitchen floor, weed whacked, mowed the back yard, and prepared a bed for tomatoes and planted them in it. Then Beth and North made miso soup, asparagus, carrot, cucumber and tofu sushi, edamame, and seaweed salad for dinner. Noah continued to work on his movie all day. North spent the afternoon at Sadhbh’s house. Beth, North, and I wrapped up the day with an episode of The Great British Baking Show.

Monday

Beth made homemade waffles for breakfast because that’s a three-day weekend tradition and she and I did more work in the yard and garden in the morning. She weeded along the fence line and I transplanted kale seedlings into the bed she’d prepared for the tomatoes the day before as there was some extra room. While I was weeding an overgrown area near the pea plot, I was surprised to find a ripe strawberry on a stem with some little white ones in my hand. We once tried to grow strawberries there—maybe last year, maybe as long as a few years ago—and apparently the plant survived and seeded outside the garden bed without us ever seeing it in the tangle of weeds. But looking for something with similar leaves in the ground I couldn’t see it, so I quit weeding in case it was still there, but I fear I uprooted the poor thing, just as it was fulfilling its destiny. The berry was quite good, though. I split it into four and we all had a bite.

Around noon Noah said he needed a title for his movie, which made me think he was almost finished. I suggested Talk to You Later. He was tepid about it but didn’t have any better ideas, so that’s what it’s called. (Get it? It’s about phones and the future. I swear, I am underappreciated sometimes.) Sure enough, he finished the movie little after two. There were already plans in the works to go out for frozen yogurt, but now we had a decent justification for dessert on a day when I was already planning to make strawberry shortcake to go with our Memorial Day picnic dinner—with berries from the farmers’ market since our crop consisted of a single berry.

When I asked Noah if he’d like to wash the porch after we got back from frozen yogurt or the next day, he initially said the next morning, because it would be cooler then. I reminded him North would be in school tomorrow morning so it had to be that afternoon or the next one. “Oh, I forgot about that school thing,” he said breezily. And then as we drove home from frozen yogurt, we passed his school and he said, “Oh, look, it’s Blair, where I used to go to school.”

I think he’s out of the bardo.

The B-52s

A New Job

A few days before my birthday something unexpected happened. I got a new job. The week before that Sara had called to let me know that because she lost three major clients all at once she was going to have to take me off retainer temporarily until she could rebuild her client base. She’d still have some work for me, but no guaranteed hours. It wasn’t a good time for our income to dip. We’ve had some unusual one-time expenses recently and soon there will be college tuition. So the next day I put out some feelers with a couple people I know, hoping to find a little stop-gap work.

One of these people was Mike, who used to be North’s basketball coach and is the father of a preschool classmate. He has a business helping non-profits and government agencies interpret their data and make it more accessible. We’d talked about working together several years ago, but at the time he wanted someone to work more hours than I wanted to work. He asked me a to send a resume and some writing samples. On Wednesday, five days after I contacted him, he’d hired me. My first job is to work on report about coastal conditions for the EPA website. I’m editing a chapter on the Great Lakes.

It was a surprise to find work so soon and it was pretty stressful at first because it’s been a really, really long time since I’ve worked for anyone not related to me and that felt intimidating, even though Mike’s a very nice person. Also, office work involves learning a lot more computerized systems than it did in the mid-nineties (when I last worked somewhere other than a two-person family business or academia). It actually surprised me how complicated it seemed to figure out how to navigate an unfamiliar email and calendar system, find shared files, record my hours, etc. I started to wonder if I was too old to learn how to work in a modern environment. A week in, it’s getting better, though I do still have moments of panic and time management is a challenge. As a result of starting during a production rush for this EPA report, I’ve had to delay working on some projects Sara does have for me, which I regret a little. But once I learn how to balance the two jobs, this combination could just the thing, since I was hoping to be working more hours next fall when Noah’s at college. It just came earlier than I anticipated.

A New Age

So back in the realm of things I did expect, I turned fifty-two on Saturday. That morning I was in the dining room with Beth when North walked in and said, “It’s the fifty two year olds.”

“We’re the B-52s,” I said, “Because we be fifty-two.”

But North had never heard of the B-52s and Beth was engrossed in her phone and not paying attention, so the joke fell flat.

Despite this inauspicious beginning, it was a nice birthday. I spent a lot of time reading the weekend sections of the Post and there was a little street festival going on about fifteen minutes from our house so Beth and I headed down there in the early afternoon and had a lunch of bean and cheese pupusas, plantain chips, and agua fresca. (Mine was cucumber-lime. Beth got mixed fruit.) While we ate it we listened to a band play and watched a juggler. The kids had stayed at home, so it was a little like a date.

That evening we went out to a Thai/Japanese restaurant and then came home for cake and ice cream and presents. The cake was chocolate with peanut butter frosting, which is what I asked for and what Beth delivered. Though I am the family’s main cook, she’s the main birthday cake baker. It was delicious, as always. The frosting was just like the inside of a Reese’s peanut butter egg.

My presents included a new reusable tote with a Japanese print on it (I am always losing them and needing more), a big pot for growing herbs, a gift certificate to the hardware store to get more pots, but not “more pot,” which is what the kids insist I said. They aren’t selling marijuana at ACE, at least not yet. Noah said “they’d totally sell it at the farmers’ market” if it were legal. Before my actual birthday I’d already received a check and some charitable donations in my name (to the Arbor Day Foundation and RAICES) from various relatives. Thanks, everyone!

Mother’s Day

The next day was Mother’s Day. There were more presents in the morning. Beth got a new phone case and a bottle of raspberry syrup she likes to use in summer drinks. I got gift certificates for Starbucks and Takoma Beverage Company and the promise of a new Guatemalan cloth coin purse.

North wanted to spend part of the day with each of us, so they went grocery shopping with Beth, and then to the pool and the library with me. (These are Beth’s and my normal Sunday errands.) I was glad to get North in the pool so they could exercise their injured leg. We’ve been trying to get them to rely less on the crutches, but they still have pain, so it’s been difficult.

Beth drove us to the pool and then drove home and then drove back to the pool when I called to tell her both North and I had forgotten to pack our bathing suits (well, North had half of theirs). And then when we were finished at the pool and library, she picked us up and took us to Kung Fu Tea, where we had a little Mother’s Day tea, though not the kind with fancy china. (I’ll note here Beth doesn’t even like tea so she abstained.)

Finally, North wanted to make this Mother’s Day video with us to post on Instagram:

Then Beth posted it to Facebook and said, “North has magical powers to get me to do things outside my comfort zone. Nevertheless I am glad to be their mom.” I feel about the same.  

It was hard to decide what to do about dinner because Sunday is Beth’s night to cook and that didn’t seem right on Mother’s Day, so we got Italian takeout, but she paid for it and drove to go pick it up and I did the dishes so maybe that wasn’t much better than a normal Sunday when she’d cook and I’d do the dishes. Some aspects of Mother’s Day are tricky when both parents are moms. But it’s easier than when the kids were smaller and needier. Plus, the food was good and the leftovers lasted for a few days of lunches for me and a dinner alternative one night when Noah didn’t care for what I’d cooked.

Monday everyone went back to work and school. That afternoon we received some good news in the mail about Noah’s merit aid at Ithaca. We were expecting a small award for his being a National Merit finalist, but it went up by more than we expected, which was a nice surprise.

Fifty-two is off to an interesting start.

That Went Well

There always seems to be a week in fourth quarter when all the things happen. This year it was the week that spanned the end of April and the beginning of May. Noah’s band went to state band festival on Tuesday, North’s school play ran from Wednesday to Friday, Noah’s spring band concert was Thursday, and Noah turned eighteen on Friday.

Tuesday: State Band Festival

In mid-March Noah’s band did well enough at the county-level band festival to advance to state. This wasn’t a surprise as he’s been in a band that went to state most years since he was in sixth grade. The only exceptions were seventh grade when his band didn’t qualify and ninth, when he wasn’t in band, due to schedule conflicts. This record is a testament, in part, to the talented and dedicated band teachers he’s had over the course of his elementary, middle, and high school years. Even though it wasn’t a surprise they went to state, I was pleased because these competitions mean a lot to Noah. At state this year, the Blair Wind Ensemble earned all superiors. They were judged the best high school band in the county and one of the five best in the state.

Thursday: Spring Jazz and Band Concert

Just two days later it was time for the spring concert. North had to miss it because they were acting in the play and that was sad because it was Noah’s last high school band concert. I am not going to say it was his last concert because I hope he continues with percussion in college. For nine years, it’s given him a much needed artistic outlet.

There are five bands in Noah’s high school so the concerts tend to be on the long side—three hours isn’t unusual. They are also very good, so the length is fine if you’re expecting it and you’re not worried about how much homework your kid has to do when he gets home. We were expecting it and arranged for another actor’s mom to drive North home from the play. And I wasn’t worried about Noah’s homework, because he didn’t have any that night. So we settled in.

The Jazz Combo and Jazz Ensemble go first and second. Among their numbers were standards like “All of Me,” and “Girl From Ipanema.” The female vocalist sang a Dinah Washington song I’d never heard of but liked, called “Relax Max” and the male vocalist sang, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” which works surprisingly well as a jazz piece, though I don’t tend to think of Freddy Mercury as a jazz musician.

Concert Band was next. This band consists mostly of ninth graders. It’s the only non-audition band of the five. They played a song written to commemorate a mining disaster (these band pieces often have morbid back stories), “Arabian Dances,” which sounded familiar so I imagine Noah’s played it at a concert at some point, and “Eye of the Tiger,” which is a perennial band concert favorite, for reasons I don’t understand at all. I know Noah played part of it at least once at band camp during an 80s medley and I’m pretty that wasn’t the only time. I mean, I don’t have anything against it and there’s definitely some nostalgia for the parents, but still, it’s puzzling.

I guess it’s a sign your kid has been in band a long time when you recognize at least one piece all the bands are playing. For Symphonic Band (the intermediate band) it was “The Heart of Madness,” which was inspired by three stories by Edgar Allan Poe. At one point, you can hear the tell-tale heart beating away. Noah played that at band camp one year. He might have even played the heart part.

The Wind Ensemble played last. As usual, Noah was busy running back and forth between the different instrument stations. He played snare, marimba, xylophone, and triangle. The marimba and xylophone were positioned off the side of the stage instead of the back, so we actually got to see him playing, which was a treat. On the marimba, he used four sticks at once. I’ve seen him do that at home on his bells, but never on stage. It’s an impressive sight. The Wind Ensemble played three songs. The last one, “First Suite in E-flat for Military Band,” had three movements and apparently it’s very difficult. The judges at festival praised the band teacher for being “brave enough” to try it.

Before each band’s last piece, the director called the seniors to the front of the stage and read a paragraph the students had written about their experience in band and in which they announce where they are going to college. I’ve always liked this part of the spring concert. I thought I’d cry when the band teacher read Noah’s blurb, but I managed to keep it together. Noah was the only senior going to Ithaca, but between the band concert and the orchestra concert Beth and Noah attended on Tuesday there were at least a couple each going to RIT and UMBC.

After the concert was over, as we walked to the car, Noah said “I think that went well,” which for him qualifies as exuberance. He still has one more band performance—he’s playing at his own graduation—but I couldn’t help thinking he was right, that it’s gone very well, all of it.

Friday: A Midsummer Night’s Midterm

Friday we finally got to see the play, on closing night. Rehearsals for the play started in January or February. Both Beth and I had been a little concerned because there weren’t as many as we’d come to expect from last year’s school play, especially at the beginning, and North kept mentioning that people didn’t know their lines alarmingly close to opening night. From what I could tell the director was pretty laid back compared to most directors North’s had, either at drama camp, school, or Highwood.

We needn’t have worried. It was a fun play and a really good performance. It’s about a group of students studying for a test on Midsummer Night’s Dream and it consists of scenes from that play, interspersed with dialogue from the students, who offer explanations of what’s going on as well as commentary. Noah said he didn’t think the frame narrative offered much, but I think it’s probably very helpful for middle school audiences unfamiliar with the play, and it added humor, too, especially when the Shakespearean characters responded to the students.

There were two dozen kids acting in the play and everyone did a good job. The kids playing the four lovers delivered their long Shakespearean speeches with feeling and without stumbling over their lines. Puck and Oberon were endearingly mischievous. Hippolyta was a majestic Amazon queen. The kid who played the wall in the Pyramus and Thisbe skit (the play-within-the-play-within-the-play) was a ham in the best way. North was another one of the players performing at Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding. The director had asked them if they wanted a male or female part and North said either, so he gave them Flute/Thisbe, a man playing a woman. It was in the Thisbe half of the role North really shone, speaking all their lines in a warbling falsetto and dying with great aplomb. (A good death scene is always fun.)

After the play it took a while to get out of the school because the actors took a cast photo and then they all had to hug each other and it takes a long time for twenty-four kids to hug each other. (Does figuring out how many hugs that comes to sound like an elementary school math problem?)

We stopped at the grocery store on the way home for ice cream because it was Noah’s birthday. Yes, he did spend the evening of his eighteenth birthday attending his sibling’s play, after a pizza dinner at Mod with me and Beth, while North was at school getting ready for the play. (We also had fettucine alfredo for dinner the night before his birthday and went out for Italian the night after. Noah’s birthdays tend to involve a lot of pizza and/or pasta.)

At home, he opened presents. The big one (a zoom lens for his camera) he’d opened early because he thought he knew what it was and he wanted Beth to use it to take photos at his band concert. But he still had a few to open— a raspberry pi (https://www.raspberrypi.org), a USB controller, a bag of sea salt caramels, two books, and two t-shirts, one from Ithaca and one from Takoma, so he remembers where he’s going and where he came from. It’s a bittersweet moment as he’s balanced between these two places, but I didn’t dwell too much on it, at least not that night. It was late in the evening, after all, and we had cake to eat.

Fast Break

The day after North got back from Colombia they went to school for exactly one day and then it was spring break. The break was shorter than usual this year, because of the Governor’s order dictating when the school year has to start and end. Instead of the usual ten days, it was six (from the Wednesday before Easter through Easter Monday). Between that and the fact that we’d all been traveling a lot recently, we decided not to go anywhere over break this year.

So the break was short, but eventful. North attended Gretchen’s spring break drama camp, which they’ve never done before because we’re usually gone. It was just three half-days and culminated in a performance of two songs (with choreography) from Dear Evan Hansen. North had a solo in one of the songs, just a few lines, but no one had any long solos, as there wasn’t much material and there were fourteen kids. Eight of them were singing Evan’s lines. North was one of two Zoës and even danced a little, as much as their crutches would permit. (Gretchen never goes easy on anyone. I think that’s one of the things North likes about her.) Most of North’s friends were out of town, so in the afternoons after camp they amused themselves by dying their hair blue-green and making brownies.

North also spent a lot of time on the porch in the sky chair, watching the mourning dove nest. Two doves built it in late March and the chicks hatched while North was in Colombia. I’d been worried about the nest because last year the doves built a nest in the exact same place and it was attacked by some kind of predator, which killed the chicks, leaving a bloody mess behind. But that happened almost as soon as they hatched and these two chicks were bigger and already venturing to the edge of the ledge and flapping their wings by the beginning of break. (The picture is of the dove sitting on the eggs. I didn’t want to get close enough to the little ones to take their pictures.)

Meanwhile, Beth, Noah, and I were all working for most of break. I kept more or less my normal hours, but Beth had Good Friday off, so Noah decided to take it off, too. He went into break behind in a couple subjects—possibly because of our back-to-back trips to visit RIT and Ithaca the two previous weekends—and he spent the five other days catching up.  Well, I’m not sure how much he worked Thursday, what with all the distracting commentary on the Mueller report there was to read.

But we made the most of that day off Friday. I read several chapters of The Handmaid’s Tale to him in the morning. After attending North’s performance in the early afternoon, we split up, and went to two different movies. Beth took North to see Fast Color, which they both gave good reviews. Noah and I went to see Us, which I recommend if horror is your thing (but I don’t if it isn’t—it’s bloodier than Get Out.) At the bus stop as we waited to go home, Noah and I discussed possible allusions to The Time Machine and the film’s treatment of class. I am really going to miss this kid.

Saturday we dyed Easter eggs. I made the two-toned ones on the ends of the line, the yellow/green and pink/purple ones. One of North’s eggs, partly pink and partly blue, was inspired by the trans flag. Beth did the one in the floppy hat. A long time ago we got a kit with these hats and we’ve been re-using them ever since then. Noah did the one that looks like it’s sticking out its tongue, but he actually clipped an ear off a bunny sticker. It represents the creatures that eat rabbits in Us. It reminded me of the time I was a teenager making gingerbread cookies with my family and I made one in the shape of Marie Antoinette, beheaded and holding her head. (I used tic tacs for the blood.) Come to think of it, this egg is a lot more subtle.

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Sunday Beth and I spent much of the day working in the yard, taking down weed trees, tearing vines off the fence, mowing the lawn and preparing garden plots. I planted peas in one of them, possibly too late, seeing as how they already have pea shoots at the farmers’ market—and parsley and cilantro seeds in pots the next day, so now I guess I can say the garden is started. (We’ve also got rosemary that survived the winter and mint, oregano, and sage coming back from last year with no help from me.)

The next day Beth went back to work but the kids were home for one more day. North’s big project for the day was making whole-wheat bagels. It was Earth Day so on my daily walk through the neighborhood, I decided to photograph the flowers and flowering trees that bloom so exuberantly this time of year.

We’d encouraged Noah to make a decision about college over break and it was the last day so at dinner on Monday we asked him what he thought. We went through the pros and cons of the three schools he was considering and by the end of the meal, he’d decided. He’ll be going to Ithaca. I’m happy for him and very proud of his hard work in three different magnet programs over the past nine years. Sometimes it seems hard to believe that after thirteen months, nine colleges visited, seven initially notified of his scores, four applied to, and two visited a second time, the decision is finally made. The next part of his path is visible and waiting for him.

Tuesday the kids went back to school and I discovered the dove’s nest was abandoned. This wasn’t surprising as I’d seen one of the fledglings out of the nest, walking around the porch floor a few days earlier and then it was back up on the ledge later, so I knew it could fly, even though I never saw it. It’s been four days now and they haven’t come back. I am glad the young birds are launched into their new lives, but it does seem as if whoever is in charge of the symbolism of my life got a little heavy-handed here. I mean, a literal empty nest on my porch? It’s five years and several months until mine is empty, but it’s seeming a lot more close and real these days.

Texts from Colombia: An Adventure

When North was in second grade, I told them we were going on an “adventure,” when we were actually just going on a walk. This was a holdover from when the kids were very small and I used to call any outing an adventure. North patiently explained to me that it’s only an adventure if it involves “climbing a tree or going to another country.” This became a family joke.

Well, North’s climbed a few trees since then, but until this month they hadn’t had the other kind of adventure. They returned from the seventh and eighth-grade Spanish immersion trip to Colombia on Monday evening. I wasn’t there, so I’m going to tell the story in North’s own words, though their texts, mostly to Beth. I check my texts less frequently, so Beth was the main conduit of information. Also, some of my text exchanges with North were in Spanish. I included a little of that as bonus content for those of you who can read Spanish. All texts are shared with North’s permission and they were at least as redacted as the Mueller report.

Note: All time stamps are U.S. Eastern time. It was an hour earlier in Bogotá.

4/5, 5:51 p.m.

North: On the plane
I get to be buddies with Zoë
But the customs line is sooo long
And I have to stand

4/6, 1:01 a.m.

North: IM IN COLOMBIA
I  met P and J [North’s host couple], very nice, I’m tired so I don’t completely remember our plans for this weekend, but they sound fun and we’ll be hanging out with Zoës family [North’s host family consisted of a school administrator and her husband. They had no kids, so they often socialized with Zoë’s host family, and at school, North and Zoë both shadowed Zoë’s student.]

4/6, 6:34 a.m.

Beth: You didn’t get much sleep

North: Nope
I think what she said were doing today is that we’re going to drive through a little town with lots of mountains and a lake, and then we’re having dinner with Zoës family

Beth: Sounds amazing!

North: Yeah and we’re making plans to spend most of Sunday with her family too, on Sunday we have a welcome dinner for our chaperones that I’m going to, and the students have welcome breakfast at the school on Monday

4/6, 2:11 p.m.

North: I ordered at a restaurant in Spanish
Oh yeah and I’ve been communication solely in Spanish for the past twelve hours
I am in pain because apparently public bathrooms aren’t a thing in Colombia

Beth: Sorry!

North: 2 hours later we got home and I used the bathroom
It was wonderful

Beth: Sorry you had to be uncomfortable for so long
Early to bed tonight?

North: Not right now we’re going out to dinner with zoë’s hosts

Beth: Have fun!

North: Were you expecting me to go to bed at 6:30?

Beth: No, but maybe by 9?

4/6, 10:32 p.m.

North: It’s always seemed normal to me, but I’m realizing now that the fact that I can speak 2 languages is really cool. Language is still such an abstract thing that we don’t quite understand, and the fact that some people can understand more than one is really spectacular if you think about it.
We’re still not home from dinner btw [North learned first-hand about the late hours people in Spanish-speaking countries often keep on this trip.]

4/7, 9:18 a.m.

North: We were walking around and my host brought me into a clothing store. I think it’s her way of saying, “your wardrobe is atrocious” [P quite generously bought North a lot of clothes on the trip.]

North: A guy stopped us on the street, tied strings around our wrists and told us how much Jesús  loves us (hint: he apparently loves us a lot)

4/9, 5:51 p.m

Me: Que hiciste hoy?

North: Fuimos al museo de oro, y el quinto de Bolívar 

Me: Divertiste? Usaste una silla de ruedas o caminaste?

North: Silla de ruedas porque temenos que caminar much, era muy divertido

4/9, 5:53 p.m.

North: I’m starting to see bits of freckles peeking out

Beth: Sunshine power!

4/10, 6:59 a.m.

North: I like this whole going to school for half an hour then getting on the bus with Zoe for two hours thing. It’s nice [The American students spent one whole day at the host school, but the rest of the days, they were mainly on field trips.]

Beth: It will be hard to go back to your regular routine

North: In the US, kinder eggs are illegal, here, it’s illegal for a minor to drink coffee

Beth: Interesting! How old do you have to be for coffee

North: 18

4/9, 6:37 p.m.

North: My knee has been getting more stiff and painful recently, it’s getting harder to do my exercises…We’ve mostly been using the wheelchairs on field trips because I don’t enjoy standing on one foot for hours on end

4/9, 9:08 p.m.

North: Zoë got me a kinder egg

Beth: Nice!

North: Cuz I wasn’t allowed to get the one I found at the store
I’ll be careful not to choke and die

4/11, 7:45 a.m.

North: Today we had papaya with Parmesan on top for breakfast
I did not like it
In the slightest
But I ate all of it
I wouldn’t recommend it

Beth: Good for you for eating it

4/11, 10:05 a.m.

North: Is putting sunscreen on your hands a thing? [The kids got a lot of warnings about using sunscreen because the sun is stronger at the high altitude of Bogotá.]

Beth: Yes

North: My hands never burn it’s weird

4/11, 3:32 p.m.

North: Guess what I got you?

Beth: Salt? [There was a field trip to a salt mine that day and Beth, who is a connoisseur of salt requested they bring some home]

North: You guessed it!

Beth: Thanks!

North: They had no small bags so

Beth: Wow that might put your luggage overweight!

4/11, 5:39 p.m.

North: The back of my neck is burned and my cheeks are redder than usual

Beth: They said that might happen! Lots of sun in the salt mine?

North: It seemed dark lol but outside of it yeah

North: Today they said something I was very annoyed about, the only after school activity available was robotics and they said, “but robotics is not for girls.” There is so much wrong that sentence and I would have proved them wrong and gone to robotics, but I don’t like robotics.

Beth: Computers were not for girls when I was in junior high. It’s terrible but people keep fighting for change and change happens

4/11, 8:38 p.m.

North: Tim Burton dumbo just came out here so we saw it
It’s literally the equivalent of 3 dollars each for tickets

Beth: Was Dumbo dubbed into Spanish

North: Yep
It was fairly easy to understand but the lips not matching the words was trippy

North: I’d love to go to this school. No yelling teachers, people are very causal and call their teachers by their first names and use informal conjugations, the food is amazing, and THE HALLWAYS ARE OUTSIDE

North: It’s past 9:00 and we still haven’t ordered
I’m never going to bed tonight

Beth: You are going to need a lot of rest when you get home

North: But I still have to get up at 6:30 the next morning to get to school
Well shoot, I just realized that the two adults coming home with me are drinking
Who will drive safely
Nobody [We don’t drink, so North’s not accustomed to seeing adults drinking and doesn’t really have much context for what’s safe, so they needed some reassurance.]

Beth: If they are having a glass of wine with dinner it will be OK
I am sure your teachers will make sure you are safe

4/12, 6:48 a.m.

North: It’s driving P crazy that she can’t coordinate my outfit cause we’re going to the wetlands today and I can only wear stuff that can get dirty

North: Oh no
I just looked
They put cheese on mango
You can’t mess up mango
But I just saw it happen

North: I have to somehow navigate wetlands on crutches today
It’s our community service

11:16 a.m.

North: Somebody decided that rather than having me organize a library with the eighth graders it would be a good idea to take me on a 2 hour hike

4/12, 7:03 p.m.

Me: Did you survive the hike?

North: Barely

Me: What kind of terrain?

North: Tall grass, it was wonderful for crutches

Me: And did you dance at the dance?

North: Nope

Me: What’s the plan for tomorrow?

North: Idk

Me: Well you can rest your leg Monday on the plane

Me: You’re visiting a colonial village according to P 

4/12, 9:15 p.m.

North: Did I mention that I spent $12 on the hate u give only for it to be available for free on the flights
I just realized I forgot to wear my retainer on this entire trip

Beth: You can start tonight!

Beth: Did you go on the mountain hike?

North: Nope [This was the only activity North skipped due being on crutches, on a very active trip.]

4/13, 6:06 p.m.

North: There are so many stray dogs here but they’re all so calm, they don’t bark and aren’t scary at all. I’m petting a dog [North is very afraid of almost all dogs. Finding a host family without a dog was one of the factors that delayed North getting matched with a family until almost before the trip started. Being vegetarian was another. It’s possible being non-binary was yet another, although North says they were perceived as a girl by almost everyone. They weren’t even sure if P and J knew, though the trip organizers from North’s school told us months ago that they were looking for a tolerant family so I assume they did.]

4/14, 8:42 a.m.

Beth: Sounds like the hotel was kind of a disaster… I mean adventure. Ms U sent out a message [After they left their host families, the Americans spent a couple more days in Colombia and stayed in two very different hotels]

North: There were fleas, exposed wires in the shower, and of course no WiFi and little service
But there was a cat

Beth: A stray or did it live at the hotel?

North: It was a stray but lives in the hotel where guests pet, feed it and let it into their rooms

4/14, 8:34 p.m.

North: This is like the size of a room you would get for all four of us and it’s just me and Zoë

4/15 1:05 p.m. 

Beth: Welcome back to the USA [North was going through customs in Atlanta]

North: I put the salt in my carry on.
They thought it was drugs

Beth: Did they confiscate it?
Is it weird to be back where most people are speaking English?

North: They just scanned it thoroughly and patted me down
It’s fine

4/15, 5:30 p.m.

North: About to take off. I have the entire row to myself

A few hours later, North came off the plane, tired but very happy. It’s been nice having everyone at home together for the past five days, but I’m glad they finally got to have the non-tree climbing kind of adventure, thanks to the hard work of the teachers and administrators of both schools and the generosity of their Colombian hosts. ¡Gracias a todos!