About Steph

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Four Road Trips and a Bus Ride

Beth spent a lot of time in August driving. In fact, over the last three weeks of August (and the first day of September) she was on the road a total of ten days. We took four road trips, in various combinations, but as the sole driver, she was the common denominator on all of them.

Road Trip #1

A little over three weeks ago, Beth and I took North to camp. This was a day trip, as the camp is only three hours away, in South-Central Pennsylvania. We needed to feed North lunch before drop-off so we went to the same pizza place where we’d had lunch the year before. North actually remembered the name, Paradise by the Slice, which aided us in finding it. It has a subtle tropical theme in its décor and pretty good pierogies in addition to pizza. I think I may sense a tradition forming.

Road Trips #2-3

The second and longest trip, just over two weeks ago, was to fetch North from camp and drop Noah off at college, and if you read my last post, you know all about that. The third trip, a week and half ago, was to Wheeling. Beth took North to her mom’s house for the traditional week of one-on-one grandmother time the kids call Camp YaYa and then drove back the next day. (Noah attended his session of Camp YaYa in June, right after graduation.) While at YaYa’s, North swam and did leg exercises in the condo pool nearly every day, went shopping for school clothes, went to the movies, gave a reading about fracking at YaYa’s church, attended a performance of bluegrass singer Hazel Dickens songs at the library, ate out a lot, and made banana bread.

Home Alone

While North was gone, Beth and were alone for five days, which is the longest we’ve ever been alone since Noah was born. In fact, I think I can count the kid-free weekend get-aways we’ve had on one hand. I’ve always been a little jealous of parents we know who manage to send their kids to sleep-away camp or the grandparents’ house at the same time. So I’m sorry to report we didn’t really use the five days well. It was all work days and AT&T was on strike so Beth was working some evenings, sometimes long after I’d gone to bed. We did go out to dinner the first night, at the (relatively) new Mexican place in Takoma Park, Cielo Rojo. I’d only been there once before and I like it so that was nice. And then I made four adult-friendly dinners in a row, kind of a luxury. Beth’s favorite was zucchini-eggplant sandwiches with queso blanco. (She’s a big fan of eggplant, and up until this summer neither of the kids liked it. Noah’s the convert. North’s the holdout.)

On Thursday morning I went out to get the newspaper and I was startled to see a crowd at the middle school bus stop, then I remembered it was sixth-grade orientation. I found it slightly amusing how many parents stayed until the bus came, being the jaded middle school parent I am now. It made me think how school was just around the corner, though. I honestly hadn’t been thinking much about it, and I’m usually counting down the days.

Road Trip #4

The Friday before Labor Day Beth came home early and we hit the road around 2:45 for Wheeling. The traffic was awful and getting out of the D.C. metro area took forever. It was around 10:15 when we finally pulled into YaYa’s condominium parking lot— the drive usually takes five to six hours. We did stop for dinner in Cumberland, at a restaurant in a converted mansion that once served as a joint Union-Confederate hospital during the Civil War. There’s dining on at least three levels and the back stairways and narrow halls that connect dining rooms, kitchens, and restrooms are a crazy warren. We were eating in the brick-lined “pizza cellar.” We eschewed the chance to have pickles or penne on our pizza, going for the more staid mushrooms and spinach instead. We got the fried eggplant appetizer, as well, because we’d only had eggplant twice in the week before.

When we got to YaYa’s she was out at a season preview event at a community theater, but North was still up and making chamomile tea. (North had attended the event, too, but Beth’s aunt Carole brought them home because YaYa had volunteered to help clean up afterward.) I was tired—I haven’t been sleeping well recently—and went straight to bed, but Beth and North waited up for YaYa.

Saturday morning we went to Target to buy school supplies and some more clothes and had lunch out at a restaurant where you can get French fries inside your sandwich. Not having grown up with this delicacy, I didn’t see the appeal, but Beth did so she indulged. That’s how it is sometimes with food. We went to Oglebay Park pool in the afternoon and then up to the lodge gift shop where YaYa bought some t-shirts for Beth. We had Mexican for dinner and while we were out, Carole texted she’d left something on the porch for us.  She and YaYa had spent the morning (and in Carole’s case the day) at a Labor symposium and there was a sheet cake with the faces of labor leaders in the frosting. She brought us a big slice of it with Walter Reuther (fourth President of the UAW and civil rights activist, born in Wheeling) pictured on it. Beth was really tickled by this. Carole came over and we had cake with sliced up Klondike bars and then we watched the beginning of Fantastic Mr. Fox. (YaYa moved recently from one condominium to another and now she lives two doors down from Carole. I think they are enjoying being neighbors.)

Sunday morning we went to YaYa and Carole’s church. It’s a small Unitarian church right over the West Virginia-Ohio border. They’re between ministers right now, so services are member-led. It was Carole’s turn. The service was Labor Day-themed and YaYa gave a talk about women in the labor movement and there was a discussion about it afterward.

After church, Beth helped her mom with some technical and mechanical issues around the house and North collected some water from YaYa’s pool in a bottle to bring to church next week. (They’re having a water service in which everyone brings water from a special place.) We left for home a little after two, and had much better luck with traffic. Even with a stop for dinner at a shopping center sushi place, we were home by eight-thirty.

Home Together

We had a relaxing day at home on Labor Day, the last day before the new school year. Beth and North went grocery shopping and Beth worked on some home repairs and rested while listening to podcasts. I read the newspaper and wrote this and took a walk with North. As we approached the bridge over Long Branch creek, I asked North if there was anything they were looking forward to in the new school year, because they’ve been pretty negative about it. North guessed (correctly) that I was trying to get something positive out of them and if they didn’t come up with something I would. “So, fine, seeing my friends,” they said grudgingly. I decided to leave it at that. I remember eighth grade well enough to know it’s often no picnic.

But we did have a picnic that night because we do it every Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day— I made veggie dogs, baked beans, corn on the cob, macaroni salad, potato salad, and watermelon. We ate it on the porch because it rained in the late afternoon and our patio chairs were wet. Afterward we went out for frozen yogurt, another last-night-of-summer-break tradition. As we were eating our frozen treats, another family was leaving and the dad said, “Another summer in the books.” And it was.

Bus Ride

The next morning North made themselves a smoothie for breakfast and packed a lunch in their new bento box. (They’re always enthusiastic about breakfast and lunch preparation at the beginning of the school year.) They posed for the traditional first-day-of-school at the front gate and five minutes later they were at the bus stop, waiting for the bus for the first time as an eighth grader.

At 3:20 they were home and moderately cheerful. They have Zoë in two classes and the two of them are on the same lunch shift after having no classes together last year. North also got into art, which was their first-choice elective. They had a little bit of homework (of the introduce-yourself-to-the-teacher variety) in two classes, but nothing taxing.

Most years I’m chomping at the bit for the school year to start, or a little melancholy about summer ending, or most often a mix of the two. But my usual impatience has to do with having a quiet house to work in, and North was gone so much of August that I wasn’t as eager for it as I usually am. And all the family traditions, the picnic, the ice cream, the picture at the gate seem a little wrong without Noah here, but at the same time, they also seem right. I think that’s how tradition works, stitching us together and easing us through the transitions.

August and Everything After

In August and everything after/I’m after everything
From “August and Everything After,” by Counting Crows

Sunday: Camp and Cousins 

“I’m ready if you are,” I said to Beth around 9:30 on Sunday morning. We were packing up the car for a four-day trip during which we’d pick North up at camp, spend a little time in Ithaca together as a family, and then drop Noah off at college. As soon as the words were out of my mouth I wondered if I really was ready for this trip, but ready or not, it was time.

We arrived at Camp Highlight around 12:30. Beth and Noah packed North’s things into the already full car while North drifted around the crowd saying goodbye to campers and counselors. It wasn’t goodbye for long, though, as we saw some of them again almost immediately. A bunch of campers and their families were meeting up at diner for lunch and North successfully lobbied us to join them. Beth, Noah, and I got our own table, while North went to sit with a big group of campers. Camp Highlight is a camp for kids of LGBT+ parents, which made me wonder if the staff noticed the sudden influx of middle-aged gay and lesbian couples along with their eight-to-fifteen-year-old kids in red t-shirts, but maybe it happens every year. It was difficult to peel North away and get back on the road, but eventually we did.

Our next stop was a few hours north at my cousin Holly and her daughter Annie’s house, near Wilkes-Barre. Holly grew up out West, but in the four years she’d been living in Pennsylvania, we hadn’t seen each other. In fact, we hadn’t seen each other in twenty-one years. I’m sorry about that, as I never got to meet her husband Mark, who died last November of cancer.

Holly’s house is a charming old farmhouse painted pale yellow and filled with old furniture and eclectic decorations, including her own paintings. We had what Holly called “a quick but lovely visit.” We chatted and ate. Holly set out a huge spread—cheese, olives, fruit, green beans, hummus, chips and salsa, and chocolate. We hardly needed dinner that night. And that was a good thing because we got to our Air BnB outside Ithaca later than expected. There was food provided for guests in the fridge, so North had eggs and potatoes, Noah made a baked potato, and I just had a bowl of cereal and we all went to bed.

Monday: Lake Cayuga

The next day we explored our surroundings. The house had a big yard with a hot tub (broken, sadly), a koi pond with goldfish and frogs, and a hammock. There was also a garden with vegetables you could pick and an apple tree with a couple of ripe apples and many unripe ones. There was a meditation room with a curved glass wall and ceiling overlooking the nearby hills, which you could also see from the porch. It was really delightful. We are already thinking about staying there again.

We were about a half hour from Ithaca and we drove into town to have breakfast at the famous Ithaca Bakery, which we hadn’t managed to hit on our previous two trips there. Beth got the rosemary-salt bagel on the recommendation of friend whose kid is a sophomore at Ithaca and she didn’t regret it. Next we hit Wegman’s for groceries and some prescriptions for Noah that Beth had ordered to arrive there. And sure enough, they were waiting for us.

We went back to the house, where we relaxed (the kids watched an episode of Dr. Who, finishing a season they’d been watching for months). Then we packed a picnic lunch and went swimming at Cayuga Lake. Shortly after we arrived, Noah, who’s not exactly the outdoorsy type, asked “What is the goal of this activity?” He did wade a little and throw rocks in the water, which he always enjoyed as a little boy. Mostly, though, he sat in the shade and looked at his phone while the rest of us swam. We stayed until late afternoon and then returned to the house.

Noah and I finished up Pet Semetary, the last book in our mother-and-son book club, at least for a while, and then Beth fried some green tomatoes from the garden and we had green beans (also from the garden) and deli macaroni and cheese with it. We ate out on the porch, enjoying the view and the pleasant temperatures. It had been quite hot and humid at home, so Western New York was a welcome change. After dinner, we drove into Ithaca to have dessert at Purity Ice Cream.

That night we had our last family poetry reading, a bedtime tradition we’ve had since Noah was in first grade. I don’t know why this was harder for me that finishing our book, maybe it was because the end of Pet Semetary isn’t all that suited to melancholy nostalgia, what with all the violent death and ill-fated resurrections. Or maybe finishing our last summer novel (of seven) and our last poetry book on the same day was just too much. The book was Honeybee, by Naomi Shihab Nye, and the last poem we read (out of order because it was seven pages long and we’d skipped it the night before when we were pressed for time) was called “Last Day of School.” It’s about a woman revisiting her old elementary school and it ends, “there will never, never be a last day of school.” After Noah finished reading the poem, I dissolved into tears and Noah gave me a long hug.  I know most fifty-something moms’ and teens’ reading lives are not as entwined as mine and Noah’s have been, and it could seem odd, but for me it’s been a beautiful gift.

Tuesday: Move-In Day and Robert H. Treman State Park

The next day Noah packed up all his belongings and we drove up to the college, with a pit stop for breakfast at Waffle Frolic on Ithaca Commons. Noah stood in lines to get his i.d. and his dorm room key and then we moved him into his room. It was a very smooth process and there were a lot of orientation staff there for the express purpose of helping carry things up to the rooms. We met his roommate and the roommate’s brother and mother, but only briefly because you’re only allowed to park in the small lot for fifteen minutes so we had to leave pretty soon after they arrived. We did some on-campus errands, including getting a photo by the famous fountain and buying a lot of Ithaca College swag at the campus store: a t-shirt for Beth’s mom and sweatshirts for me and North; I also felt I needed a mug, pencils, and a car magnet. We went to Student Health to see about the process for having Noah’s ADHD meds shipped to campus and visited the mail room for small packages and the other mail room for large packages—he had both. The large package was a box fan for his window.

Later on the Ithaca parents’ Facebook page we heard people complaining about the heat on move-in day, which made us shake our heads and decide that these people were definitely not from the Washington, D.C. area. It was a little warm in Noah’s third-floor room, but I didn’t even break a sweat carrying things up there. The roommate brought a narrow, vertical fan that stands in the middle of the room and Noah had his fan, so I think they’ll be fine until it gets cool, which I hear happens pretty quickly. (We almost returned Noah’s fan because he and his roommate initially couldn’t fit it into the window, but the next day they moved some furniture so it could tilt it into the window frame.)

Noah didn’t want lunch—we’d had a late breakfast and his was a waffle sundae that to his regret he couldn’t finish, so we left him there to unpack and attend a hall meeting and a dorm cluster meeting. Left to our own devices for the rest of the day, we ate lunch at the house (North opted for Taco Bell drive-through) and then went to Robert H. Treman State Park where you can swim in a bitter-cold swimming hole with a waterfall at one end. We’d been there last year on our visit to Ithaca but North wasn’t with us then and we thought they’d enjoy it. Well, they enjoyed it, to put it mildly. They swam for two hours in the 64-degree water, swam against the current to the waterfall and back three times, and did countless handstands. It was good to see them so active in the water and it made me hopeful about their aqua therapy, which was set to start later that week.

While we were discussing dinner plans, North pointed out we’d eaten at the house two nights in a row and we were on vacation. Beth asked what they’d like to eat and North found a sushi place on the Commons where we had a feast of bubble tea, hot and sour soup, seaweed salad, edamame, agedashi tofu, and of course, sushi. We got cucumber rolls because they’re North’s favorite and a kind that had thinly sliced mango and avocado on the outside and sweet potato inside. We walked to Sweet Melissa’s for ice cream afterward, though I skipped dessert because the bubble tea had been pretty sweet and there was leftover mochi at home.

Wednesday: On Our Way Back Home

There were events for parents most of the next day, but we decided we’d attend a couple before lunch and be on our way. Breakfast was provided, so we ate in the gym and Noah joined us after he’d had breakfast in the dining hall. We listened to some speeches from college administrators together and then the students were divided into small groups and left while we listened to more speeches—mostly about how not to be helicopter parents— and then we ate a buffet lunch. I’m not quite sure what the students did in their groups because we didn’t get a chance to talk to Noah much after that. He had a pretty tight schedule. We were initially hoping to go back to his room so we could drop off some clothes he’d left at the Air BnB (he’d put a few things into the week’s worth of camp laundry I did for North on arriving there and I hadn’t taken the clothes out of the dryer). Anyway, there was never time for that, so we brought the bag of clothes to give him as he was entering a session for new students of the School of Communications. We said goodbye quickly in the hallway outside the auditorium.

In the weeks and months before Noah left for college I’d imagined that moment of parting many times and it wasn’t anything like I expected, rushed and without tears. For a while it looked like we might not be able to find him at all and we’d have to leave without saying goodbye. He might have preferred that—he tried to say goodbye via text—but that would have been more than I could have borne.

After

Leaving a kid at college is hard to describe, such a mix of happiness and sadness. It’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced. We had two days at home as the threesome we’ll be most of the time for the next five years. North went to their first aqua therapy session, finished their summer reading homework, and made soft pretzels. Beth and I worked, North and I walked to Little Caesars and brought home a pizza (something they’ve been wanting to do all summer) and we all watched a movie called Lemonade Mouth. Then yesterday morning, Beth drove North to Wheeling, where they’ll spend the last week of their summer vacation with Beth’s mom. I stayed behind, alone in the house, which was sometimes lonely and sometimes restorative. I read the newspaper, had lunch out, mowed the lawn, cleaned the kitchen, went to the farmers’ market, and wrote this. Beth got home this afternoon and she and I will practice being empty nesters for a work week, until we leave on Saturday to spend Labor Day weekend in Wheeling and collect North.

I miss Noah terribly. How could I not? But I’m also proud and excited for him as he steps away from us and finds out what August and everything after will look like.

Seize Some More Days

Last Weekend of Sweeney Todd 

As I mentioned earlier, North’s last performance of the summer was last Sunday when Sweeney Todd closed. There were only two performances that weekend, a Saturday evening show and a Sunday matinee because Highwood had two shows running at once, and And Then There Were None had the theater on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.

North wanted to see And Then There Were None because they thought their friend Cam was in it and I have a soft spot for the novel because I went through a big Agatha Christie phase in middle school, then I taught it in a class on genre fiction, and then Noah and I read it when he was in middle school. So, of course, I went with them. Highwood had to vacate its quarters on short notice earlier this year because of structural problems with the building and they’d been operating out of temporary space. The last few shows have been performed in a storefront-type space on the first floor of a medical building in downtown Silver Spring. We saw North’s friend Sadhbh play the title role in Macbeth there in May. When we arrived at the ersatz theater, got our programs, and took our seats it became apparent Cam wasn’t in the show, but Sadhbh was. That was just as good, so North wasn’t disappointed. (North thinks they may have lost track of who was who in a group chat.) It was a good production, just slightly scaled down from the novel. I was impressed with how Sadhbh breathed life into Emily Brent, given how flat Christie characters tend to be. Her judgmental glares were quite comic.

The next day I was back at the theater, this time with Beth and Noah, to see Sweeney Todd. North was in the ensemble. They didn’t play a named character but they sang in all the group scenes, died onstage as one of Sweeney Todd’s victims (sliding very nicely out of the barber chair) and had a few lines sung as a duet in “Not While I’m Around.” Some of the Toby’s lines in this song had been reassigned to North and another actor–the two were supposed to portray Toby’s conscience. This was a last minute adjustment that made North happy because they’d hoped to be cast as Toby. It’s a pretty song and well suited to North’s voice. If you’re familiar with Sweeney Todd, or any Sondheim really, you know how complicated the music is. The kids did a great job with it. The actor playing Mrs. Lovett was really excellent in the role. My only complaint was that the instrumental music was too loud, causing me to miss some of the dialogue and song lyrics.

After Sweeney

So, after a month jam-packed full of drama camp, choir camp, rehearsals, and performances, it was suddenly all over. The end of North’s summer break will be travel-heavy. They’re spending a week at sleepaway camp in Pennsylvania, then they’ll road trip up to New York with us to drop Noah off at college, and then spend a week in West Virginia with Beth’s mom. In a span of three weeks, they’ll be home just a couple days in between Ithaca and Wheeling. But before all that, they had a week relaxing at home.

Well, kind of relaxing. We packed a bunch of appointments for both kids into that week. Noah had his penultimate drum lesson of the summer, went to the psychiatrist who prescribes his ADHD meds, and got his hair cut. Both kids went to the dentist, but different dentists because Noah’s no longer going to the pediatric dentist as of this summer. North went for an evaluation at the rehabilitation center where they will be doing aqua therapy for their leg. We met with the physical therapist who will coordinate their care and got twelve appointments scheduled from late August to mid-October. The therapy pool has limited hours so they’re going to be missing a lot of school, which concerns me. The next day we went to the physical therapist North’s been seeing since March for a final visit. We’d decided it was better to have all the physical therapy coordinated in one location so we’re saying goodbye to her.

North worked on summer homework. They’d finished their summer math packet sometime in July but I had them to do some extra online review of algebra concepts and they finished the book they chose from the summer reading list, Outrun the Moon, historical fiction about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The kids cleaned the bathroom, kitchen, and porch, vacuumed and mowed and I taught Noah how to sew on a button so he can do that for himself at school.

We also found some time for fun. The kids recorded the audio for a music video of a new song of North’s, “Sweet as Cola,” on Monday and they shot the video on Wednesday and started editing it on Thursday. On Tuesday the three of us went for a creek walk, an annual late summer tradition. I wasn’t sure how steady North would be in the uneven surface of the creek bed on crutches, so we did a modified, shortened version. But they were actually fine and faster than me. I’ve been slow and careful in the creek since I fell and hurt my knee in there a couple years ago. It was nice to do even an abbreviated version of the walk. I found myself thinking nostalgically of one of the first times I took the kids to wade at that exact spot ten years ago.

North spent part of Monday and most of Thursday with Zoë, with whom they hadn’t had a non-camp week in common since June. From Friday morning until Saturday afternoon, Lyn and North had what Lyn’s mom called “an epic hangout.” They went to downtown Silver Spring by themselves to have lunch and see The Lion King. Later, Noah and I met them for pizza. North went to watch Lyn’s aerial silks class and then the two of them came back to our house and slept in a tent in the backyard. The next morning I took them both to the pool.

We dropped Lyn off at home around 3:30 and drove to the Montgomery County Fair. We spent the late afternoon and evening there, looking at farm animals, eating fair food, and riding our favorite rides. We finished with the Ferris wheel, the four of us in the little car suspended high above the ground, looking over the colored lights of the fair on a mild summer night, before our August travels scatter us in different directions.

Seize the Day

As Beth, Noah, and I walked toward the music school building at the University of Maryland for North’s choir camp concert on Friday afternoon, I said that after Sunday we’d be all finished with this summer’s performances.

“Yah!” Beth said.

“They’re not that bad,” Noah joked and Beth explained her comment had not been about the quality of the performances, which we always enjoy, just the logistics of rehearsals and performances. The past week had been one of the more hectic weeks of the summer with North at chorus camp in the daytime and Sweeney Todd rehearsals and performances at night. (And it happened to be a week when Beth was out of town for a week-long business trip to Las Vegas. She’d only returned the evening before.)

It’s true one of the ways I mark our progress through any summer is in performances. And by that metric, we’ve zipped past a film camp screening, five performances of Sweeney Todd, and choir camp concert since I last wrote. We have just two performances of Sweeney Todd to go (one of which is in progress right now).

Film Camp

Exactly a week after North was in Wicked at musical theater camp, the kids at the film camp where Noah was a counselor screened their films at Rhizome, a local art space where the camp was held. It’s a clapboard house with a front porch decorated with strings of large colorful beads, a screening room on the first floor, and gallery space upstairs. The house and the neighborhood offered a lot of diverse spaces for filming. In addition to the porch and interior of the house, the kids used a nearby alley and a small plaza in front of an office building and the lobby of the same building.

The camp director was Noah’s media teacher in tenth grade and he’s the faculty sponsor for Blair Network Communications (the school television station) and Silver Lens (the documentary team). Noah was on BNC his junior year and Silver Lens his senior year so he and Mr. M know each other well. For two weeks Noah helped him teach a small group of middle schoolers how to write scripts, film, and edit.

On the third Friday in July, the audience gathered in the screening room. Mr. M and some of the campers spoke about their experiences at camp and then Mr. M showed some of the practice film they shot while working on camera skills. There were two short feature presentations, interconnected films, the first about the persecution of animal-human hybrids (I’m guessing some of these kids saw Sorry to Bother You) and the second about the hybrids’ rebellion. Each film was about eight minutes long. In addition to his behind the scenes roles, Noah played two goat hybrids, a lawyer, and a pro-hybrid human protester. The films were a lot of fun and afterward Mr. M was effusive in his praise of Noah. One of the campers chimed in that he’d been “invaluable.”

Camp Mommy

Both kids were home the following week. Whenever there’s a week like this in the summer, we call it Camp Mommy.  North went to the U.S. Botanical Gardens with their Highwood friend Lyn and we made soft blackberry cookies for a family friend who was in the hospital. (They were kind of like scones, but crumblier.) The kids and I took walks together most mornings before it got too hot. They did house and yard work and North helped with dinner most nights and thought to bring in the laundry one afternoon while I was on a conference call and it started to thunder. Noah started deep cleaning his room and stripping it of knickknacks he no longer wanted (a lot of which were actually North’s, abandoned two years ago when they got their own room).

We took most of the castoffs to the fairy tree near the playground. Wait, your neighborhood doesn’t have a fairy tree? It’s a tree that’s hollow at the bottom where people leave toys and decorative items and then other people take them home. I am a habitual contributor as the house is still full of the kids’ old toys and this is more fun than taking them to the thrift store. One day when we went to drop off seven child-sized bracelets, we found someone turned the collection of items there into an art installation. A large Batman doll was seated on a brick, with a rubber duck keyring dangling from his wrist and a Chinese rabbit we’d left there earlier suspended over his head. I put one of the bracelets around his neck and scattered the rest on the ground around him.

Tech rehearsals for Sweeney Todd started that week so it was nice North didn’t have any place to be in the morning after late nights at the theater. And right before Beth left for Las Vegas we developed a cascade of interconnected plumbing problems that lead to multiple visits from plumbers and a contractor, the removal of our dishwasher, and water damage to a basement wall. So, that week and the next I spent a lot of time coordinating with workers and washing dishes by hand. Noah said I was “partying like it’s 1899.”

Choir Camp

This was North’s most transportation-challenging week of the summer. Sweeney Todd opened that Friday and I had to figure out how to get North home from the theater late at night with Beth out of town. I ended up finding rides for every night, so I didn’t need to take a Lyft out there to pick them up. Thanks, Lane! Thanks, Yulia! Starting Monday, North was in choir camp in College Park in the daytime. They had to miss the first day (Sunday) because they had a Sweeney Todd matinee, so I went up there to collect their music and find out what electives they had (songwriting, theater, and ukulele). Getting to College Park is a little trickier than North’s other day camp, which is in Takoma Park, but after Noah and I helped them navigate the trip there and back on Monday (it involves switching buses at a transit center) they were able to get themselves to camp and back on Tuesday.

To make matters more complicated, Monday and Tuesday were days off at the theater, but Wednesday there was a brush-up rehearsal and a show on Thursday night so they had to go straight from camp to Silver Spring, grab some dinner there and then go to the theater. Wednesday I picked them up at camp and accompanied them to Silver Spring and took them out for pizza and bubble tea before rehearsal started. Thursday they made the same trip alone (and even figured out a better two-bus route than the bus-train-train one I’d used the day before). This was good because it meant I could be home for the contractor, who at 7:56 a.m. had changed his arrival time from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Beth got home that evening, after seven and a half days away, and we were all very happy to see her. She ate dinner and crashed, napping until it was time to go get North at the theater. The next day she worked from home and we all set out for the concert a little after one p.m. This was our eighth year of going to band, orchestra, and chorus concerts at the University of Maryland so we knew what to expect. The fifth to seventh grade orchestra played first, followed by the eighth to tenth grade orchestra. (Orchestra and chorus camps take place the same week; band camp is the week previous). The chorus performed last.

Their first song, North’s favorite, was “Seize the Day” from Newsies. (It should surprise no one their favorite piece was from a musical.) The junior counselors who were accompanying the chorus on various instruments all wore newsboy caps, which was a nice touch. Next was a pretty sixteenth-century Italian song, then a traditional camp meeting song, “No Time,” (which North sang one year in Honors Chorus) and a traditional South African song with an accompanying dance. This was possible because rather than standing on risers, the singers were on wide platforms built into the stage, so there was room to move around and stomp. North managed the forward, backward, and side to side steps on crutches and even stamped lightly. The last song was Harry Belafonte’s “Turn the World Around” with steel drums to give it a Caribbean sound. It was an uplifting tune and I found myself thinking of the Democratic debates I’d stayed up late to watch earlier in the week, allowing myself to feel a little bit hopeful and wondering which candidate can turn the country around. It sorely needs it.

After the concert we went out for ice cream at the University’s ice cream parlor, then later that evening out for pizza. On the way home we saw a rainbow. I wondered if it was a good omen.

We’re going to see the closing performance of Sweeney Todd tomorrow. Then the kids have another week at home together before North heads off to sleep-away camp. I think the second session of Camp Mommy will feature a creek walk, a trip to Langley Park for a pupusa lunch, and the filming of a music video. I may also take North and Lyn to a movie and to splash in the fountain in Silver Spring.  It’s not looking like I’ll have much work for either Sara or Mike, and honestly, this week I don’t mind. Noah has only two and a half weeks of summer break left and North has four. I want to seize every day.

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.