About Steph

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

I Wish

Cinderella:

I wish
More than anything
More than life
More than jewels

Jack:

I wish
More than life

Baker and His Wife:

I wish
More than anything
More than the moon

From “Prologue,” Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim

We’re just over a month into summer break and each week has had a different configuration of family members in different places. Last week (the fourth week) North was still at drama camp in the daytime working on a production of Into the Woods and either home or at My Fair Lady rehearsals in the evenings, and Noah was at a sleep-away camp for the first time ever.

It was a Java programming camp at George Washington University, where I used to teach. In fact, it was at the small satellite campus where I taught my last four years there. It’s close enough to home that he could have commuted (there were both day camp and residential options), but I remember it being at least an hour and a half each way on public transportation—though he wouldn’t have needed to stop at the University day care at the main campus to pick himself up, so I guess that would have shaved some time off the trip. Anyway, the sleep-away aspect was actually what we were looking for because other than a five-day field trip to New York in eighth grade, Noah’s never been away from home out of the care of relatives and it seemed like a good idea to do it for at least a week some time before he leaves for college.

The camp turned out to be less than ideal in some ways. It wasn’t challenging enough for him and the campers didn’t have much freedom to wander around either campus by themselves, so it might not have fostered as much independence as we would have liked, but still, he was away from home in the company of strangers and that was one of the principal goals. And he did design a game, which I played at least a half dozen times Monday night. You have to navigate a man through a set of openings in obstacles. I don’t know how many levels there are but when he was demonstrating it for me, he got up to level 22. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten past 10 and the one that trips me up most often is 8, because the opening is all the way over to the right side of the screen and I can’t get the avatar over there fast enough.

As for North, I didn’t anticipate how tiring it would be to rehearse six to nine hours a day, depending on whether they had to go to the theater after camp. I know that sounds ridiculous when I write it out that way, but I thought it would be equivalent to being at school all day and then having a three-hour rehearsal, which they often did in sixth grade. The difference was drama camp is more physically active than school. And My Fair Ladyis a dance-intensive show, so it made for some pretty long and exhausting days.

That might be why when on Wednesday evening as North and I were eating dinner and Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” came on, North had more objections to the “money for nothing” part of the equation than the “chicks for free” part, because “Writing and performing songs isn’t nothing! It’s hard work!” Still, I felt the need to have a little discussion with them about the difference between the speaker of the song and the songwriter.

Friday was the Into the Woods performance. Unfortunately, the kids at Noah’s camp were also giving presentations on the projects they’d been working on at the same time. I considered going to the dress rehearsal for Into the Woodsand then taking a Lyft to Noah’s presentation. It might have worked if everything had gone just right, but when I asked North they said they’d rather I come to the real performance…so Beth and I split up, with me at the play and Beth at the computer camp presentation. I was sad about it, but there was no good solution.

The night before the performance, Beth taught me how to set up Noah’s tripod and use his camera so I could film the performance for Beth and Noah. This responsibility was somewhat nerve-wracking as I am the least tech-savvy person in the family. (Disclosure: I don’t even post this blog myself. Beth does it for me.)

But I needn’t have worried. I remembered my lessons and though it took me awhile to position the camera and tripod so the whole stage was in the frame (I ended up moving two rows back from my original seat) I managed to film the show. The narrator who stands off to the side of the stage is rarely visible, but otherwise, you can see everyone.

What to say about the show? It gets more ambitious every year. When North was five it was just a revue of several songs from The Sound of Music with a puppet show for the song about the lonely goatherd. Eventually—I can’t say exactly when, maybe it was just last year when they did Beauty and the Beast—it started to feel more like going to a scaled-down version of a play instead of a selection of scenes from a play. Their version of Into the Woods was an hour and fifteen minutes long. If you’re familiar with this show, you know the singing is almost non-stop and very challenging. It’s been so rewarding to see the kids, many of whom have been in musical theater camp with Gretchen since they were small, grow as singers and actors. The age range of the camp keeps shifting upwards as the kids get older. This year the kids were ten to fifteen.

Some years there’s one actor who really steals the show, but performances were strong across the board this year. Maggie made a very menacing wolf, Grace was a spunky Little Red, Lottie and Anna shared the role of the witch (who changes appearance in the middle of the play) and both actresses skillfully portrayed her villainy but also the very human pain and neediness underneath it. The princes were appropriately smarmy and I could keep citing performances but I’ll just say again that everyone really shone. And the singing was great. Some of those kids I’ve always known were talented singers, but I heard powerful singing from others that hadn’t sung as much in previous productions.

In my unbiased opinion, North did a wonderful job playing Jack, both in his comic and earnest moments. They had good chemistry with Little Red in their bickering scenes and their singing was lovely, as always.

Here’s their big solo, “Giants in the Sky.”

And here’s “Your Fault,” which is a good example of multiple actors singing rapidly interwoven lyrics, which is common in the show. North’s in this song, too.

There was a cast party at Roscoe’s that evening, and after we’d finished our pizza and gelato, a gang of the actors left the adults at the restaurant and went next door to get their fortunes told by a psychic, then wandered down the block to a nearby playground. We eventually followed them there. Seeing them draped over various pieces of playground equipment, looking like overgrown children, I thought back to Lottie’s tender delivery of the witch’s plea to Rapunzel to “stay a child while you can still be a child.” Some of them are still children, some are poised on the brink of adolescence, and others are in its early years, but to hear this girl, a rising ninth-grader, sing those lines was poignant, almost heart-breaking. They can’t stay children and I wouldn’t really want them to, but still…

Time marches on and if we needed any reminder of that, it was the thirty-first anniversary of Beth’s and my first date on Sunday. We did most of our celebrating Saturday. We went to see Three Identical Strangers (which I recommend) and enjoyed a delicious dinner at City Lights of China in Bethesda. On Sunday all four of us went blueberry and blackberry picking but before that, right after breakfast, we exchanged small gifts—Beth got me two kinds of tea from the tea shop in Rehoboth (mint and peach-turmeric) and I got her a gift certificate to ACE hardware, which I know doesn’t sound very romantic, but she’d just said it makes her happy just to walk in there, so it seemed appropriate.

In the summer of 1987 when we were twenty and tentatively flirting with each other, Beth wished on a falling star for me to fall in love with her so for our summer anniversary (our wedding anniversary is in the winter) she often tries to find a card with a star or stars on it and this year her card was studded with stars and the text said, “Got My Wish…You.”

Into the Woods starts with each character making a wish—to go to the king’s ball, for a dry cow to give milk again, to have a child, etc. By the end of the first act those wishes have all come true but things start to unravel in the second act, thanks to a rampaging giant. By the end of the show most of the characters’ losses have been at least partially recompensed (orphaned children adopted, widowed or separated characters in a new pairing). It’s a realistic acknowledgement that no-one’s life is one long happily ever after, but human connection is still possible, even after loss. That one wish Beth made all those decades ago did come true, and I’m glad it did. My card said, “Damn, I love you so much,” and I do.

Rock Around the Clock, Part 3

When we woke up on the fourth of July, I discovered I wasn’t that enthused about any of our normal Independence Day traditions—going to the parade, the backyard picnic, the fireworks. I tried to remember how I’d felt last year and I couldn’t but then Facebook Memories helpfully reminded me:

Steph asked Beth at 7:30, before they were even out of bed, if she thought they could just enjoy the parade and their picnic dinner and the fireworks and not get depressed about the state of American democracy and Beth said no. But Takoma’s parade is so quirky and spirited, it was cheering, and Steph and Noah made a tasty sour cherry sauce for ice cream, and now the whole family is in a big crowd waiting for fireworks so the day does not seem entirely tragic. Not even mostly tragic. Maybe 30/70.

I re-posted it with the caption, “About 70/30 today.” Things just seem so bleak right now. But I decided if going through the motions helped last year it might help this year. Cutting to the chase, it didn’t, but at least it didn’t make me feel worse, which seemed like a real possibility. It a was hot day and we arrived late to the parade and missed some of it, but I always like its small town, community-spirited feel. Afterward we got eggrolls, fried rice, and fried plantains from people who were probably first or second generation immigrants at a food stand and it made me think about immigration and how central it is to America’s identity.

We had our picnic, with the same foods we usually have except Beth made homemade potato salad instead of buying it at the grocery store and I made devilled eggs.  North husked the corn and helped chop potatoes, and Noah pitted cherries for the sour cherry sauce, so it was a whole family effort.

We went to the fireworks and they were pretty, but they go off very close to where you watch them and maybe something about the wind was different this year because we were showered with grit all through the show, which was alarming. I was on edge and half-afraid we’d end the night at an urgent care with an eye injury.

Anyway, I didn’t come here to talk about the fourth of July, I came to tell you about the second. Truly dedicated readers may remember my “Rock Around the Clock” posts. In 2008 and 2013 I kept a record of what I was doing every hour on July first. While I’m writing these, they often don’t seem compelling, but I’ve discovered these slices of life are interesting to look at years later (for me anyway) because so much changes in five years. Just for starters, my daughter is now my non-binary child, a change I’m still adjusting to, ten months after they told us.

It’s time to do it again, but this year I pushed it forward a day so it would be a week day, like the other two posts. This made it fall on what would have been my father’s seventy-fifth birthday, but I didn’t mark it. He’s been gone about eight and a half years and some years I feel his birthday, or the day he died, or Father’s Day keenly and other years less so. Another sad change since 2013 is that my stepfather also died, sixteen months ago.

Though these posts are mostly personal, in 2013 I wrote a little about the political changes our country had recently undergone. Everything seemed so hopeful back then, didn’t it? The contrast is startling and sad but it makes me wonder how quickly the tide could change again. Blue wave, anyone?

7 a.m. 

Beth’s alarm had gone off a half hour earlier and she was getting ready for her first day back at work since vacation, probably eating breakfast. I was still in bed, looking at Facebook on my phone and enjoying the air conditioning for a little while longer before emerging from the bedroom. Specifically, I was reading Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America,” which one of my friends had posted. Noah was asleep. I don’t know whether North was awake or asleep because one of the changes in my life since the last time I wrote one of these posts and especially since North’s bedroom is now across the house from mine, is that I don’t always know the instant my youngest child is awake. This is a freedom I would have found astounding ten or even five years ago.

8 a.m.

Beth had left for work, without enthusiasm. I was loading the dishwasher, after having looked up bus schedule information for North, who was getting ready for the first day of a two-week drama camp. They’d packed a lunch and were making breakfast, a reheated grilled cheese sandwich from the farewell lunch at Busboys and Poets we’d had the day before with Beth’s mom and her aunt Carole. (YaYa and Carole drove home from the beach with us on Saturday, went out for Lebanese with us, stayed overnight in Silver Spring, and flew home Sunday afternoon, after breakfasting at the hotel buffet and attending church with Beth and North, then shopping at the farmers’ market, where I joined them and went out to lunch with them.)

Noah had just finished eating a bowl of cereal and had retreated back to the air-conditioned part of the house. We have two new-to-us, less leaky window units this year, one that cools North’s room and one that cools our room, Noah’s, and the bathroom. The living room, dining room, and kitchen have no A/C. But on Beth’s advice I was intending to try closing the windows, opening the door to North’s room, positioning a fan in the doorway, and seeing if the cool air would reach my desk in the corner of the living room because the high on that day was 99 and if you’ve ever been in the mid-Atlantic in July, you know it’s not a dry heat.

9 a.m.

North had left, more happily than Beth. Having two kids who get themselves around on public transportation is a pleasant feature of this phase of life, though when North’s in chorus camp later this month Beth, Noah and I will probably drop them off and pick them up because the camp is at the University of Maryland and the trip involves crossing many lanes of traffic on University Boulevard and navigating a busy transit center.

Noah was still in the cool part of the house, watching something on his phone. I’d eased myself back into my work week by reading the copywriting e-newsletters I’d missed while on vacation. I was thinking of getting up from my desk and prodding Noah to do something productive.

10 a.m.

Noah was researching colleges, specifically Denison. I know that because I saw it on the computer screen in his room when I came in and handed him a pile of clean laundry. While I’d folded it, I’d been listening to a podcast (NPR’s Embedded) about President Obama’s Syria policy, which was a small corrective to romanticizing the past, I suppose.

11 a.m.

I was back in Noah’s room, getting a fan for the Make-Steph’s-Work-Area-Less-Sweltering Project. He said was leaning toward visiting Ithaca College, Carnegie Mellon, and University of Maryland-Baltimore this summer. (Oberlin was already on the list.) I was pleasantly surprised at his decisiveness and his offer to set up the visits himself. (I set up the spring break ones.)

Noon

Noah was in the kitchen, making pasta for his lunch. I was at my desk, working on August Facebook posts for a skin care company. My own skin was less sweaty since I’d set up two fans, one to draw air out of North’s room and one to blow directly on me.

1 p.m. 

Noah was installing software on the computer in his room. I was eating a lunch of cheese, crackers, and apricots while reading a newspaper that arrived while we were gone because the paper had arrived most of the days we were gone (even though we’d cancelled it) and our paper that day had gone into the bushes, (not to be discovered for three more days).

2 p.m. 

Noah was cleaning the basement bathroom. I was reviewing background material for a supplement company newsletter.

3 p.m.

I’d moved on to the first newsletter article. Noah was still cleaning the bathroom, which was puzzling because it’s a small bathroom, but if there’s ever a time to just let him work at his own pace, it’s a Monday in early July, so I didn’t investigate or try to hurry him along.

4 p.m.

I was reading The Dark Tower to Noah. We’d finished Song of Susannah the day before and embarked directly upon the last volume of the Dark Tower series. North had come home, watered the garden, and was reading, too, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

5 p.m. 

North was eating dinner—salad with cantaloupe and veggie bacon—early because they had an evening rehearsal for My Fair Lady and needed to be at the bus stop by 5:20. I made it for them and then kept them company while they ate and discussed how Into the Woods auditions had gone at camp. They reported that auditions went well, but they thought another camper did a better job trying out for Little Red, clearly wanted the part, and would probably get it. North said Gretchen had them try out for Jack as well as Little Red and Rapunzel and seemed most pleased with the audition for Jack. I said Jack was a pretty good part, and since most of the kids at this camp are girls Gretchen might want to use North for a male part. North’s been playing all male parts since coming out as non-binary, though they try out for male and female ones. (Sure enough, they found out the next day they’d been cast as Jack. Although they weren’t originally considering it, they’re happy with this role.)

6 p.m.

Beth was home, unusually early because she’d had a headache all day. I was making dinner, a version of the salad I’d made for North but with a homemade oil and vinegar dressing. It seemed like a good day for a dinner that required no more cooking than crisping up veggie bacon in the microwave.

7 p.m.

Having finished making, eating, and cleaning up from dinner, and having discussed the possibility of adding R.I.T. to our summer college tour in late August with Beth and Noah, I was checking Facebook prior to my last work task of the day, collecting the month’s clippings to mail to Sara the next day. I always throw in some stickers and temporary tattoos for Lan-Lan. Slowly, I’m emptying the drawer that used to overflow with stickers when the kids were little. This makes me happy and sad at the same time.

8 p.m.

I was working on my previous blog post, the one about our beach trip. Beth and Noah were in the back of the house. Noah was watching something on the iPad and Beth was lying in bed listening to a podcast.

9 p.m. 

Beth had picked North up from rehearsal and North had gone to bed. I was still blogging.

10 p.m.

I’d given up on finishing the beach blog post. Beth and I were in bed, but not sleeping because we were lamenting: 1) the lack of leverage the labor movement has in this historical moment; 2) the President’s petty refusal to lower flags to half-mast for those killed at the Capital Gazette, (a decision he later reversed); and 3) the loss of the Supreme Court, perhaps for a whole generation.

Noah was still up, moving around in his room and the bathroom so we could hear doors opening and closing and see lights going on and off—our bedroom door and his have to stay open when the A/C is on.  We’d also recently seen North, who’d gotten up to use the bathroom and to get “bonus” goodnight hugs from everyone. I think it was at least forty-five minutes before I got to sleep, but eventually I did and the second day of July 2018 was over.

The Whole Sand Castle

Day 1: Saturday 

“This was a nice way to start the holiday. Tacos and ice cream. We’re really kicking back,” Beth’s aunt Carole said. We were at the Dairy Queen near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, after having lunch at Taco Bell. Noah, YaYa, and Carole had flown to D.C. from Pittsburgh the night before and we were all driving to Rehoboth Beach, where we were spending the second week of the kids’ summer break.

Noah spent the first week in Wheeling with YaYa, swimming in the pool at Carole’s condo, attending a showing of Charlie Chaplin films and watching movies at home. North spent it at home with me. They didn’t have camp, so they lazed in the hammock and played the ukulele, practiced dance moves from My Fair Lady in the yard, and binge-watched Fuller House while I worked. Three evenings they had My Fair Lady rehearsals. They are playing Jamie, one of Eliza’s father’s drinking buddies. I gave them a chore every day but we also had an outing almost every day—to the Long Branch pool, to the farmers’ market to get pupusas for lunch, out to lunch with family friends Becky (North’s old music teacher) and Eleanor (Becky’s daughter and North’s old babysitter), and to visit Lesely, their old preschool teacher, who was at school because she’s running at half-day camp at the school and it had just finished for the day. I felt like I managed a pretty good mix of work and fun for both of us, though exercise and reading for pleasure kind of fell by the wayside for me, except for the day we went to the pool, when I did both.

We arrived at the beach house a little after four. After we unpacked, Beth went to get groceries and I took a quick walk down to the beach and got my feet wet. When I got back to the house, my mom had arrived from Philadelphia where she’d spent a couple days visiting with friends on her way from Oregon and our party was complete.

We socialized and Beth made dinner—ravioli and salad—then after we ate we listened to North sing an original song, plus one from Dear Evan Hansen, plus “Hallelujah,” while accompanying themselves on the ukulele. Beth and Noah drifted to the porch where they started the 1,000-piece puzzle (a village scene) they would work on for most of the week, (along with YaYa and Carole).

Meanwhile the seniors played a Broadway-themed board game North got for their birthday from Megan. It was then I learned all three of them know the words to “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady, because suddenly they were all singing it with North, while Mom danced around the living room. (The game requires you to do things like this.)

Day 2: Sunday

North and I didn’t go down to the beach until noon because I was reading with Noah, chatting with various relatives, and helping Beth make a grocery list. This often happens on the first day—the morning is busy and I just can’t wait until mid-afternoon when the sun is less strong. But we were restrained and didn’t stay long, just an hour and fifteen minutes. We were in the water most of the time, with a brief break to sit on our towels to eat cherries and a plum and re-apply sunblock.

After a late lunch at the house, Mom and I went back to the beach for a short walk, then we set out on a series of errands, one of which was to rent a bike for me, but I failed in that because Mom dropped me off at the bike shop at 5:02 and they’d closed at 5:00. Gazing sadly through the window at the employee inside did not yield results, so I texted Mom and she picked me up.

When I returned to the house Noah and North seemed to be engaging in some preparatory work for music video North wanted to film at the beach. I thought I heard them approach and then back away from an argument on the following topic: Should Noah add instrumental tracks beyond North singing and playing the ukulele? (Noah pro, North con.) I was pleased at their restraint and civility because while they’ve collaborated on several films, the process is sometimes messy and fraught.

Mom and I made dinner—veggie burgers and dogs, really excellent corn on the cob we got at a farm stand on the drive down, and a tomato and mozzarella salad with basil I brought from the garden at home.

After dinner Noah asked if we had any dessert in the house and we didn’t, so everyone walked down to the board walk (about a half hour away) and got ice cream, frozen custard, and water ice. That last one was mine and I was happy to be close enough to Philadelphia to call this treat by its nonsensical but rightful name and be understood. If you’re not from Philadelphia you probably call it Italian ice. Rehoboth establishments, being frequented by vacationers from the DC area and Philadelphia, use both terms and North noticed one place covered all the bases by advertising “Italian water ice.” I take even more pleasure in saying “water ice” than in calling sprinkles “jimmies,” though I had occasion on this trip to do that, too. We ate our frozen treats on a boardwalk bench under a gorgeous pinkish sky, full of sharply defined clouds. They were beautiful. Everything was beautiful.

Day 3: Monday

I resolved to stay off the beach until mid-afternoon because despite diligent application of sunblock I had gotten a mild burn on my shoulders as a result of being out in the noontime sun. I went to town instead where I successfully rented a bike. When the house is a twenty-minute walk from the beach and the boardwalk and downtown are a half hour and you don’t drive and parking’s impossible anyway, it’s really handy to have one. I used said bike to cruise around town, acquiring and iced café con leche, a couple books from the Books of Elsewhere series I’d pre-ordered for North, and some fudge. It was a very satisfactory outing.

I returned to the house, made myself a cucumber and mozzarella salad for lunch, sampled the strawberry cheesecake fudge I’d bought, and hung out with the older generation on the screened porch because Beth and the kids were at Jungle Jim’s water park, where they spent most of the day going down slides, riding the bumper boats, and playing mini golf. This is a beach week tradition of theirs, but I’ve never set foot in the place. I tell them it’s against my religion. They regard this statement with some skepticism.

I made it down to the beach just before three and Mom joined me shortly after that. I had a long swim—the waves were a little calmer than I’d like but it was still nice—and when I got out we had a long talk, mostly about various relatives and what they’re up to these days. Beth dropped North off at the beach (directly from the water park) around four-thirty. Apparently they hadn’t had enough of water for the day because they made a beeline for the ocean.  I stayed up on the sand with Mom until she left and then I joined North in the water. When it got to be around six I thought we should leave so we could get home and shower for dinner, but I had some difficulty coaxing my merchild out of the water.  At one point I was on the shore motioning them to come out and they held up five fingers. I wasn’t sure if that meant five minutes or five waves, but I held up one finger. As they stayed in for more than one wave, it must have meant minutes. And then, instead of walking to the towel, they cartwheeled.

Carole was the cook that night and she made a pasta salad with feta, tomatoes, and green beans. Although we did have dessert in the house, Beth, the kids, and I made a whoopie pie run into town anyway because sometimes you just need a whoopie pie.

Day 4

The following day Mom, YaYa, and Carole took the ferry to Cape May for a day trip. As she had been the day before, Beth was glued to the computer, waiting for a decision in the Janus case because when it was decided she would need to direct her union’s online response. That one didn’t come that day, just the awful decision on the Muslim ban. It was just the first of many wrenching political things that happened that week, as you know by now. Every 5-4 decision that goes the wrong way (for instance the Texas gerrymandering case the week before) just fills me with rage about the Supreme Court seat Mitch McConnell stole from President Obama. But this is a vacation post, so I won’t dwell on that.

Anyway, no decision meant Beth was free for the day, so she took North to the farmers’ market to get ingredients and then the four of us went to Grotto for lunch. The main reason for this expedition was so Noah could have baked ziti and much to his dismay it wasn’t on the menu, which he considered “a betrayal.” The boy is serious about pasta.

Because we had lunch on the late side and we stopped a couple places on the way home, including Candy Kitchen, it was 3:45 by the time North and I made it to the beach, but we were in the water almost constantly until almost six.

While we out of the water briefly, we came across three big mounds of sand someone else had made near the waterline and we decorated one of them with dribble castles. It was a good place to do this because there was plenty of wet sand available, but it was a bad place to do this because the relentless assault of the waves was eroding the base we were trying to build on and taking down other people’s work and ours, too. This was fun until it started to seem like a political metaphor, and then it was less fun. Whoops, there I go again.

We took another short break to eat the picnic of fruit, mushroom focaccia, and pretzels with cheese dip North had packed. I ate sparingly because I knew Beth was making her signature beach dinner of gazpacho, potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, bread, and a cheese plate. This is definitely a meal you want to save room for.

That night Noah, Beth, YaYa, and Carole worked on the puzzle and made significant progress on it.

Day 5: Wednesday

The Janus decision was announced Wednesday. That’s the one that put another nail in the coffin of public sector unions, though I suspect that’s not how Beth was supposed to spin it. While Beth worked on the union’s response, the kids watched Dr. Who. Mom took them out to lunch at Grandpa Mac’s and then to Funland while YaYa and Carole had lunch with a friend of YaYa’s who lives nearby.

It was an overcast day so I felt safe enough swimming in the late morning. With the clouds and the wind, the day was almost chilly so there weren’t many people in the water, but people were on the beach playing with all sorts of balls—footballs, baseballs, lacrosse, and paddle balls—which gave the beach a kind of festive atmosphere.

I hadn’t read on the beach yet so I read a Washington Post Magazine and tried to read the Sunday Arts and Style section I’d brought from home, but reading the paper on the beach on windy day isn’t the best idea, so I had to put it away. I took a walk instead, in a loop, first north to a jetty of barnacle and algae-covered rocks and watched the water crash against them and make little whirlpools and channels between them. Then I turned around and backtracked to my towel and beyond it to another jetty. The lifeguard there blew his whistle at me for standing too close to the rocks.  I was annoyed because I wasn’t swimming near the rocks, which I understand is dangerous. I wasn’t even climbing on slippery rocks. I was standing on the sand next to them. I’m fifty-one years old for crying out loud. I think that’s old enough to stand next to rocks.

Anyway, I was hungry for lunch so I biked back to the house and had leftovers of Beth’s delicious dinner. She was on a work call while I ate, but I sat with her on the deck once she was finished and had her own lunch. We learned shortly afterward that Justice Kennedy had retired and that’s when it started to feel as if the whole damn sand castle had been swept to sea.

Noah came home from Funland ahead of Mom and North so instead of dwelling on our real imperiled world, he and visited another imperiled, fictional one, via Song of Susannah. We’ve been reading the Dark Tower series since last summer and we were nearing the end of book six of seven.

When North got home we went to the beach. When we first went into the water it was choppy and rough, so when the lifeguards called everyone in at five, I decided to rest a bit while North waited impatiently in the shallow water. North only started swimming past where the waves break last summer but now it’s all they want to do. The current rule is they have to be with me when there’s no lifeguard on duty and they have a hard time understanding why I’d want to do anything but swim at the beach, thus my limited reading time on this trip.

When I went back into the water the waves were bigger and more spread out, perfect really. I taught North how to ride up the underside of a swelling wave and glide up over the top, catching air on the other side. They caught on right away and loved it.

Back at the house we had YaYa’s famous spinach lasagna, garlic bread, and salad for dinner. It was the night the kids had chosen to film North’s video. Everyone came down to the beach to watch. We were on the beach about an hour, mostly waiting for the light to change  to the level of darkness North wanted for the second scene. North also had a costume change, which was effected behind the closed snack bar tucked back in the dunes. Beth and I held up a blanket to make a little tent against its back wall and they changed in there. It was a beautiful twilight with an all-but-full pale orange moon rising over the sea. The kids worked together well and everything went smoothly.

That is, it did until everyone had left in the car and I couldn’t find my bike key. I searched all over the beach and the parking lot with the flashlight on my cell phone (it was full dark now) but finally I had to call Beth and ask her to come get me. I left the bike chained to the rack. I was kind of dejected about it, but almost everyone was eating watermelon on the screened porch when I got back and that was cheering.

Day 6

The next morning I returned to the area and searched it thoroughly in daylight. I kept seeing yellow things—vegetation in the dunes, a Ricola wrapper on the sand, but none of them were the bright yellow fob on the key. I also made inquiries with the chair rental guy, the tennis court attendant, and the parking lot attendant but no one had turned in a key. (The lifeguards and snack bar employees weren’t on duty yet.) I decided to kill a little time in town on the slim chance a Good Samaritan would turn it into the bike shop (the address was on the keychain). But after going to the bookstore and a coffeehouse and browsing in a t-shirt shop, I went to the bike shop to make arrangements to get a new key. They didn’t have a record of the number on my lock and I hadn’t thought to check it, so they needed to send someone to the rack to find out and then they needed to send someone to the off-site location where they keep extra keys.

By this time it was almost noon and I was meeting Mom on the boardwalk for lunch, so I said I’d come back. By the time we’d finished our lunch—Mom got crab cakes and I got nachos—the key had arrived and to my surprise, there was no fee for the lost key. Atlantic Cycle now has a customer for life in me.

When I returned to the house, the kids were watching Dr. Who again and no one wanted to go to the beach, so I went alone. Beth had rented an umbrella and a chair earlier in the day (it was the only day she went to the beach in the daytime, having taken pity on North while I was off dealing with the bike key situation) and the chair and umbrella were still there, empty, so I sat in the shade and read two short stories from a collection of classic horror stories before I swam.

As I was standing in the water, I saw a pelican (the first of four) fly by and it reminded me that while I’d seen countless ospreys, most with fish in their talons and a couple horseshoe crabs, I hadn’t seen any dolphins all week and I’d been looking for them. As the sea was calm and flat and there was no one else in it to block my view—I was even further north than where I’d been swimming most of the week—I decided to just stand still and watch the horizon and then almost immediately I saw a fin, then three, and then one more. They didn’t jump out of the water, but it was eerie, as if something had told me just when to look.

I got into the water and swam. The waves were good, but I had to leave soon after the lifeguards blew the five o’clock whistle because we had 6:15 dinner reservations and I needed to get home and shower. Carole was treating us all to Japanese. I got seaweed salad and vegetable tempura, and we all shared a couple orders of edamame. It’s a pretty restaurant with bamboo strung with white lights and several koi ponds both inside and out. Everyone enjoyed their meals.

From there we wandered into town where Beth and Noah got ice cream, North got an açai bowl and I got a ginger lemonade. We split up and Mom, the kids, and I walked home the long way, along the boardwalk. That night YaYa, Carole, and Noah finished the puzzle. This was also the day we learned with a heavy heart about the five journalists who were killed at the Capital Gazette. The news would just not let up this week.

Day 7: Friday

Everyone spent the morning at the house—I was reading with Noah, doing laundry, and hanging out with my mom, who was packing. She had a flight out of Philadelphia the next day and was leaving to stay overnight with another friend. Mom and I ate leftovers for lunch and then watched about a half hour of Into the Woods with North, who was watching it in preparation for drama camp. They were thinking of trying out for Little Red or Rapunzel. After Mom left, I was sad because she lives on the other side of the country, and it could be a year before I see her again.

Noah cheered me up by coming to the beach with me. Like Beth, he had not been to the beach in daylight all week. (I don’t know how I convince so many people who aren’t beach-lovers to come to the beach with me for a week every year, but I appreciate the fact that they do.) We had a dip and relaxed on the sand. Eventually North joined us and we all went back into the water in various combinations. At the end it was just me and North. Our last wave knocked us both over (something similar happened to Noah earlier). I never like the last wave to be a bad one, but the lifeguards were blowing the whistle and to get in again we’d need to wait for them to drag their chairs up the beach and leave, and we needed to get home to shower for dinner, so that was it for the day.

We had pizza at Grotto and then some people got dessert and North and I split off to go to Funland, where we rode the Haunted Mansion, which is still a little scary for North. When we checked the screen with the souvenir photos they try to sell you afterward they said we couldn’t buy it because “it makes me look bad,” by which they meant slightly spooked in contrast to my calm face. I thought about how when they were eight, they wanted a picture of themselves cowering into me with their eyes shut tight and their arms thrown protectively over their face because it proved they’d been inside.

The Haunted Mansion cars have two routes, the only difference being sometimes they go out onto a balcony where you can briefly see the boardwalk and the ocean and people on the boardwalk can see you. This is the less common route, so we were both happy when the car went out there and people on the boardwalk waved. We had enough tickets left for North to ride the Free Fall and the Viking ship and then we walked on the beach. When I warned North not to let their phone get wet as they waded in the water, they felt for it in their pocket and couldn’t find it. It was in the sand, not far away, but I think that was a bigger scare for them the anything in the Haunted Mansion.

As we walked home on the boardwalk they were considering the pros and cons of the two parts they wanted (Rapunzel: better singing, Little Red: better acting). Then they sang part of a song and an older woman stopped us to compliment North’s voice.

Day 8: Saturday Again

Saturday morning was the usual scramble to pack and get out of the house, then I returned the bike and sat for a while in the shade of a boardwalk gazebo, admiring the sea and spotting more dolphins, while the rest of the crew sought air-conditioning. Next I went to buy myself a long-sleeved Rehoboth Beach t-shirt, because my old one has holes in both elbows. I found one that has a beach scene with horizontal stripes of color in the sunset, the ocean, the sand, and the dunes, in a pattern that kind of resembles a rainbow flag. (It’s sad I will probably never wear long sleeves again, though, since it’s crazy hot back here in the DC area and it’s hard to believe it will ever be cool again.)

I had a short swim, about a half hour, which was as long as I dared to stay in the sun so near noon. I was in the most crowded part of the beach, right in front of Rehoboth Avenue, and it was a hot, sunny Saturday morning, and the water was calm, almost like a wave pool, so the ocean was packed with people. This was quite a contrast to the beach where we’d been swimming all week, which always had people on it but never crowds.

Still, I was feeling a kinship with everyone standing around in the water together—the little black girl with the adorable Afro puffs, the people tossing footballs back and forth in the water, the middle-aged couple and their college-age daughter who just seemed really happy to be spending a weekend together and were all wondering if the daughter could get another one off work so they could do it again. The wildlife was different here, too. Instead of the countless ospreys with fish in their talons I’d been seeing all week, there was a gull with a French fry flying over our heads instead. I wouldn’t want to spend most of my beach time in the more populous part of the beach, but it has its charms, too.

Once I’d torn myself away from my last ocean swim, I got a bucket of fries and brought them to the alley of shops and stalls where we were all meeting for lunch. I bought orangeade for everyone, actually finished up a punch card and got a free drink, which was satisfying after Smoothie King refused to honor my punch card back in May. (I am still bitter about this.) After lunch the kids and I made our final purchases from Candy Kitchen and we went to put our feet in the water probably for the last time until we return in November for our annual Thanksgiving weekend trip. I’m hoping (though not necessarily expecting) that we will be celebrating happier political developments in the midterm elections that will take place a couple weeks before that. That would truly be a reason to give thanks.

Rainbow Ribbons

Yonder come my lady
Rainbow ribbons in her hair
Six white horses and a carriage
She’s returning from the fair

From “Cyprus Avenue,” by Van Morrison 

We went to Pride last weekend, which we hadn’t done in eleven years. The last time we went I wrote about how I’d gotten a little jaded about Pride over the years but how marching in the parade with the kids made me see it through my six-year-old son’s eyes and brought some of the wonder back to it. This time I saw it through my twelve-year-old non-binary child’s eyes.

DC Pride has two components, the parade and the festival. The last time we went we marched in the parade but this time we went to the festival instead, partly because we had plans on Saturday. It was a jam-packed and very social weekend for North. Saturday afternoon we went to see West Side Story, because North knew some of the actors in it. We had an extra ticket because Noah was too overwhelmed with homework to use his, so North invited their friend Leila, who’s a big fan of Romeo and Juliet (and came to see North in it last month). This was a lot of fun. I like that play and it was a good production. After we dropped Leila off at her house, we took North straight to Evie’s house for a Harry Potter-themed birthday sleepover. When Evie’s dad opened the door in a cape, I remembered costumes were encouraged and even though North had located a robe and a tie ahead of time, they had neglected to bring them to the party. I offered to go home and get the costume, but they declined. Shortly after we got home, we took Noah out for Italian and then ice cream.

Saturday morning after Beth went grocery shopping and North got home from Evie’s, we picked Megan up and headed into the city. North was so excited they wanted to be there as close to the noon starting time as possible, so Beth and North skipped church that morning. North predicted we’d see a lot of people headed for Pride on the Metro. We were the only obvious ones at the Takoma stop and on the red line (we had two rainbow flags and an HRC flag between us) but there was a pack of teenage girls with rainbow glitter on their faces and rainbow ribbons in their hair once we got onto the green line.

North was wearing their Rainbow Alliance t-shirt—after long consideration of which of their three LGBT-themed shirts to wear, they decided it was likely to be the most unique. I was wearing a shirt from the 1993 March on Washington with the HRCF torch. That’s HRC’s old name and logo, you whippersnappers. (Also, get off my lawn.) I was going for an old-school “I was gay before it was cool” look, I told Beth. Beth wasn’t wearing anything identifiably gay. “You aren’t very rainbow,” I told her.

But we took care of that in short order. Before we even arrived at the festival, we received some free Mardi Gras beads and as the day went on we acquired free rainbow stickers and rainbow sweatbands. Someone also handed Megan a package of condoms. “What are these?” she asked us. Beth told her and I gently took them from her. After a few minutes elapsed, she said quietly, “Oh, I remember what those are for.”

Even though there were a lot of freebies, not everything was free. Over the course of a few hours, we bought and ate vegan shrimp and macaroni and cheese, an enormous dish of butterfly potatoes even the four of us couldn’t finish, shaved ice, ice cream, and funnel cake. Beth also bought North a big trans flag, from the many different kinds of flags on offer. We didn’t know what they all meant and spent some time guessing, “I think that one’s bisexual,” etc. If you’d like a guide to LGBT flags, you can find one here.  By the way, I guessed right about the bisexual one (out loud) and the asexual one (silently). I know you’re impressed with how hip and up-to-date I am.

Actually, Pride made both Beth and me feel a little old because it’s so different than it used to be. All through the nineties, we used to attend the festival when it fit (with room to spare) on the athletic field of a D.C. middle school. We always saw a lot of people we knew there, working at the booths or strolling around, and it had a festive, community feeling to it, sort of like the Fourth of July parade or the Folk Festival in Takoma Park. Now Pride stretches over several city blocks and the only people we saw that we knew there were, in kind of a funny twist, Leila’s family. It seems a little more impersonal now and a lot more corporate. Beth made herself feel better about this by stopping at the American Airlines booth where you were encouraged to write messages and leaving a pro-union message. (CWA represents the ticket agents at American.)

North wasn’t having any cynical thoughts, though. As I watched them sitting on a curb, eating a root beer shaved ice, wrapped in their flag like a cape and looking really happy, I thought about what a big year it’s been for them, being in middle school, acting in three shows, trying on a new identity. “This isn’t a sight I would have imagined a year ago,” I said to Beth. As surprising as North’s coming out as non-binary was (and continues to be for me), it’s now an important part of the story of their life.

So perhaps it was fitting that in between eating festival food, and people watching, and playing cornhole, and petting cats at the humane society adoption truck, we visited the booth of the sperm bank we used to begin that life. I wondered how many other parents of donor kids brought them by, maybe a lot, but the staff seemed pleased and proclaimed North “beautiful.” Of course, I agree, and I always will, no matter what flag they fly.

The Home Stretch, Part 2: Climbin’ up the Mountain, Children!

The Movie

Wednesday of last week Beth, North, and I engaged in some role reversal. A little background: Noah chose to make a movie for his CAP Diamond project, a culminating junior year assignment. It’s called Sharon and it’s about a fictional social media company called Quest that uses an artificial intelligence entity named Sharon to customize users’ newsfeeds, which leads to the splintering of news consumption and the proliferation of fake news, but also to increased profits for the company.

I tried to encourage Noah to employ our resident actor, but he wanted all adult or at least teenage actors because all the characters are adults. So he played the CEO, Beth played a company engineer, I played the profit-driven board member, and two of his classmates played a television reporter and a camerawoman—this part was filmed at his school’s television studio.

That’s how it came to pass that while Beth, Noah, and I were filming all the scenes that take place at corporate headquarters at Beth’s office late one afternoon, North was at home cooking dinner, which is normally my job. They made bucatini with a homemade cherry tomato sauce topped with veggie bacon crumbles from a recipe I gave them. It made me think I should have them cook more often. They’re perfectly capable of it. I don’t know if Beth and I should act more, but it was fun. I particularly enjoyed my line; “Mr. Parker, this isn’t The New York Times we’re running here.”

Noah worked on this movie pretty much non-stop for a week. It might have been better if he could have gotten an earlier start because none of the actors had a chance to memorize their lines, which he wrote the night before he filmed each scene—we were all reading them from laptops and other props. But it’s hard to see how he could have gotten much work done on the script before AP exams—he was taking four AP classes this year and then shortly after the exams were over he had to write a thirty-two bar composition for band, a task I think he would have really enjoyed if the assignment had been to write a shorter song. As it was, it took him most of Memorial Day weekend. Anyway, both the song and the movie are finished. He showed the film in class yesterday and while he wasn’t completely satisfied with it (he never is), his teacher loved it. Have a look: https://youtu.be/IetQAG2t3DM. (It’s about five minutes long.)

Noah was able to spend most of last weekend recording Sharon’s speech, adding stock footage, and editing the film because he only had a little bit of calculus and Spanish homework, which he finished Saturday morning. The house was unusually quiet all weekend because he was ensconced in his room working and Beth and North were on a church camping trip from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon.

Noah did take a few breaks, long enough to listen to me read a big chunk of Song of Susannah and to watch Get Out with me. Would you believe I made it more than a year without hearing any significant spoilers about this film and then just a couple months ago basically learned the whole plot? I don’t remember where. Anyway, fifteen months after the rest of you probably saw it, I finally saw this movie, and I enjoyed it very much, even with the spoilers. Noah liked it, too. It’s nice to have someone to watch horror movies with, as Beth is not a fan. He said one of his teachers almost showed it to them earlier this year, but ended up going with The Shawshank Redemption instead as fewer kids had seen it.

As the year comes to a close, a few of his teachers have been showing movies or turning their classes into study halls, especially in the AP classes, which have slowed their pace considerably since the exams are over. Calculus is the only AP class that’s still going full steam, though they read a book of short stories in English and took a test on three hundred vocabulary words after the exam and he’ll be making another movie on biodiversity for AP biology this weekend.

The Concert

Unless something comes up at the last minute, we’ve been to our last end-of-the-year events for North. We attended a church picnic on Memorial Day and the spring chorus concert was on Tuesday. Sadly, Noah couldn’t come because he was still editing the film. North was put out because it’s the second chorus concert he’s missed this year and he also missed The Canterbury Tales in April. I understand their disappointment and I wonder if they will hold it against him as long as my sister held the fact that I missed her performing the lead role in her sixth-grade production of Barnum against me, which is to say, to this day. It’s almost enough to make me wonder if I should require him to go to these things, but North has quite a lot of performances and Noah has quite a lot of homework. At least he saw the honors chorus performance and both School of Rock and Romeo and Julian this year, so he’s batting about .500 and I think he made it to the most important ones.

Beth had quite a long day the day of the chorus concert and Noah had an even longer one. The band was performing at Noah’s school’s graduation and he needed to be at school at 6:30, so Beth set her alarm in order to wake him up at 5:15. This is the second year he’s played at graduation, so I guess he’ll know exactly what to expect next year when he’s one of the ones in a cap and gown.

After an early dinner Beth, North, and I left Noah at work on his film and drove to his school, where the concert would be held. (North’s school has no auditorium so any event that’s too big to fit into the band room is held at Noah’s school.) North had to be there a half hour before the concert started so we parked and North went into the building while Beth and scooted over to the Starbucks that’s around the corner.

When we got back to the school, took our seats, and surveyed the program, I guessed the concert would last between two and two and a half hours, as there were a total of fourteen songs played by the orchestra, the a cappella club, and the combined sixth-grade and advanced chorus and Noah’s eighteen-song concert last month stretched to three hours. But after the orchestra and a cappella club had performed and it was time for intermission, the chorus teacher told us intermission would be short so the concert could resume by eight and finish by eight-thirty. Even though I was enjoying the music—it’s especially nice to hear a middle school orchestra when you’ve recently been attending elementary school orchestra concerts—this was welcome news. I like music, but I’m not a fan of late nights for me or the kids.

I thought the orchestra’s first song, “Tribal Dance” sounded familiar and later North told me they played it in orchestra either in fourth grade or maybe at orchestra camp. I often joke about how often young musicians have to play or sing the popular music of their parents’ youth so I was a little amused that the a cappella group sang “Stand By Me,” which would be more like the music of their grandparents’ youth. Still, they sounded good.

When the chorus took the stage, a teenage boy in the row in front of us said with mock indignance, “It’s 8:05!” but all the exits and entrances and moving about of chairs, music stands, and risers between groups had gone very efficiently so I wasn’t about to complain. North was pleased that the sixth-grade chorus was singing with the seventh and eighth graders at this concert, taking it as a sign they’d improved sufficiently over the course of the year to sing with the older kids. And North got some individual recognition on the program, too, with notations of their status as an Honors Chorus member and a member of Tri-M Music Honor Society, a group North will be President of next year.

North was wearing a rainbow-striped bowtie purchased especially for the concert but it kept coming undone and hanging vertically and they kept fiddling with it all through the chorus’s six songs. I hope this wasn’t too distracting for them. We’ll have to make sure it’s tied more securely at their next concert.

As always, there were songs in different languages-four in English, a pretty song in Latin called “Et in Terra Pax,” and a Nicaraguan folk song called “Todos Quieren La Banana,” during which North and a few other sixth graders played the conga drums. This was a fun bilingual song about how people of all nations love bananas. My favorite of the songs in English might have been the African-American spiritual “Climbin’ Up the Mountain, Children!” but maybe that was just because that’s how the end of the year feels sometimes, especially for my overworked eldest. North preferred “Can You Hear?” during which they played the drums again. The eighth-graders had a song to sing by themselves during which time the sixth and seventh graders held up their lit cell phones, like people used to do with lighters. The concert didn’t end by 8:30 but it was close, around 8:40 rather than the 9:00 or 9:30 I’d predicted.

When we got home Noah was still working and still wearing his band clothes from that morning and since both kids were dressed up at the same time, I thought we should get a picture. He was up until midnight working on the film. He’s still climbing up the mountain. In addition to the biodiversity movie, he also has to make a poster and write and memorize a presentation about Diego Rivera (in Spanish) and both assignments are due Monday and there’s a big calculus packet due Wednesday so it should be a busy weekend, but the summit is in sight, only a little over a week’s journey from here.

The Home Stretch, Part 1: The More Important Thing

The school year is winding down. The kids still have three weeks of school left, but North’s school’s end-of-year awards ceremony was on Wednesday, so we’ve entered the home stretch.

The way these events work is that if your child is being honored you get a letter in the mail, but you don’t find out what which award it is until you arrive.  At Noah’s middle school you didn’t find out until they called your name and you came to the stage. At North’s middle school the names—nine pages of them—are printed in the program. Having experienced both, I can say there are advantages to each system.

The element of surprise keeps it interesting, but it can be stressful, too.  A little background– in seventh grade Noah got an award for perfect attendance, which would have been nice except he didn’t have perfect attendance that year. It was a letdown, as he didn’t get any other awards. At the eighth grade ceremony, I was nervous the whole time, and relieved when he got the award for maintaining a 3.5 or higher GPA for every semester of middle school because that is a bona fide achievement.

So we were able to scan the program when we arrived at the high school cafeteria where the ceremony was being held. We’d guessed the honor would either be North’s honorable mention on the National Spanish Exam, or being nominated for the Tri-M Music honor society, or perhaps both. It was the former, which was near the end of the long program, so we settled in to watch kids file up onto the stage and to clap for them.

I said later if I’d designed the program I’d have called the first section “Do-Gooders” and the second section “Smarty Pants” because it started off with community and school service awards, awards for character traits, club awards, etc. and then moved on to academic awards.

The first awards presented were for the eighth graders’ community projects. It was interesting to hear what kind of projects kids do for this graduation requirement—one kid instituted a composting system in the cafeteria, a group collected feminine hygiene products and bras for women in homeless shelters, etc.  Then we found out which of the sixth and seventh graders were “Balanced,” “Caring,” “Knowledgeable,” and so on, who’d been active in various clubs (including Rainbow Alliance, which caused North to clap enthusiastically), and which middle schoolers had already completed their 75 hours of community service required for high school graduation. Three of them were sixth-graders, which meant they’d done it in just a year.

Then it was time for awards for Music, English, Math, and Science. It was nice to see North’s friend Edwin win the sixth-grade Science Scholar award and a girl who used to be in Scouts with North win an award for both Math and English. Finally, we got to World Languages. Kids in the French immersion program who’d scored a platinum, gold, silver, bronze or honorable mention on a national French test were first on the program, but to our surprise, they weren’t called to the stage by name, just asked to stand in their seats en masse. And it was the same with the Spanish immersion students.

This was a disappointment for North and for us. I’d been looking forward to seeing not just North but their friends Norma and Claire go up to the stage and get their Spanish exam awards, as I’ve known them since the kids were all in elementary school together. And it would have been nice to see North’s new friend Xavier collect his bronze award for the French exam, too. To make matters worse, kids in non-immersion language classes were called to the stage for awards such as most improved. We weren’t alone in being surprised and dismayed. I’m not on the school listserv, but Beth told me the next day there were a lot of irate immersion parents complaining there. I understand that it’s a very long program and they wanted to save time, but this seemed a clumsy way to do it. It might have been better to leave the French and Spanish exam awards off the program all together rather than to treat one group of kids differently than all the rest.

Beth had asked me earlier if we could cut out after North got their award and go for frozen yogurt. I’d been mulling it over, thinking it might be rude to leave in the middle, but I wasn’t in the mood to see any more kids walk up on stage, so we did leave. North took the time to find their friend Giulia, who’d won a gold award on the Spanish exam, to give her a congratulatory hug.

Shortly after we got to Sweet Frog, a boy we know (seventh-grade Spanish immersion Outstanding Linguist) and his mom and older brother arrived and we had a nice talk with them. I used to see his mom or dad every day at the bus stop when our kids (first the older pair, then the younger ones) were in elementary school, but we rarely see each other now, so I was glad about that. 

When they came by our table, Sam’s mom Barb said to North, “What did you get?”

“Cotton candy,” North said, probably figuring she couldn’t see the frozen yogurt under the copious neon-colored gummy products they had piled on it.

Barb explained she meant what award, while acknowledging the frozen yogurt might be “the more important thing.”

And North, who had been indignant a little while earlier, didn’t seem too upset anymore, so maybe it was.

In Fair Verona, Where We Lay Our Scene

Star-Cross’d: Tech Week

 Romeo and Julian just finished its three-day run. Opening night was Friday and then there were two shows each on Saturday and Sunday. Between tech week and the performances, North was getting to bed at least two hours past bedtime every day but one for a solid week and Beth and I were up past bedtime almost all week, too. I was reminded how during tech week for School of Rock in December, I was thinking we would never ever do this again. (And then after the run was over, I realized North had loved it so much that we had to do it again, though we did skip the March shows.)

North slept later than usual most mornings and napped one afternoon before rehearsal, but they weren’t late to school even once, even though I said I’d be fine with that. They were headachy in the afternoons twice, which I thought could be related to sleep deprivation, but they fended it off with painkiller, hydration, and rest and it never turned into a full-blown migraine. (North has gotten pretty good at detecting and preventing incipient migraines this year.)

One rainy morning I found them sitting on the porch steps waiting for the school bus (it stops right in front of our house, so sometimes when it rains North waits on the porch instead of at the stop). They were eating tortilla chips. “Is that all you’ve had to eat?” I asked and they nodded tiredly.

I went back inside thinking if they couldn’t be well rested, they could at least be better nourished, so I brought them a mug of water and some strawberries for starters and then went inside to see if I could melt some cheddar cheese over leftover kidney beans (a concoction North especially likes) before the bus came. I got the cheese melted to the exact consistency they like but when I brought it outside, North and the school bus were gone.

North took the Ride-On bus to rehearsal by themselves all week. (Last fall I went with them on the bus to School of Rock rehearsals because it dark in the late afternoons back then.) On Monday, after a month and a half of doing this, they had a bad experience. They were harassed by two older boys on the bus, which was the first time anything like that has happened to them. It didn’t escalate, but it was scary, both for them and for us.

Beth and I gave advice—sit close to the driver or to an adult woman—but it sucks to have tell your twelve-year-old how to minimize the chance of being a target of men and boys. I was a couple years older than that before I was ever harassed, so I wasn’t really expecting it so soon, but the only positive thing about it was that thanks to #MeToo, we’ve had these conversations already, more than once, and North knows it’s one of the hazards of existing in public space as a person who’s not a cis boy or man. There was no rehearsal the next day and on Wednesday I offered to go with them on the bus in case the same boys were there, but North said no, so with some trepidation I let them go alone and they didn’t see those boys for the rest of the week.

It reminded me of something else that happened to them for the first time this month. They helped organize their school’s Day of Silence for LGBT+ issues. Because they weren’t speaking and had the cards explaining why, some kids in the hall asked if they were in “the faggot group.” I wasn’t called that (or more often “dyke”) by passers-by until I was twenty. Sometimes it seems the world is getting worse, even when I know that in this case, it’s just a case of kids being out earlier, which is happening precisely because the world is getting better.

And speaking of Rainbow Alliance, while also getting back to the play—I think this is a post about the play—on Thursday, they stayed after school for a Rainbow Alliance meeting. I knew getting home on a bus, eating dinner, and getting on another bus to rehearsal would be tight, but we’d successfully managed this maneuver a couple times earlier this year so I thought it would be okay.

Well, North had the worst combination of bus luck. The 12 they needed to take from school to home was late. We’d been texting so I knew and I’d packed dinner for them to take to the theater. They just needed to get home, grab it and go. They got home just in the nick of time, with knees scraped and bleeding from running and falling on the way from the 12 stop to our house. I cleaned them quickly and because I was talking to them, I accompanied them to the 17 stop so we could continue the conversation. We were turned toward each other and not looking at the street when the bus, several minutes early, sped by the stop without stopping, because no one had stepped to the curb. (More than one line stops there, so you have to signal to the driver.)

North, who had been stressed for almost an hour about catching this bus, burst into tears. I hugged them and told them to come inside and have some of the tomato-rice soup I’d made earlier than I usually make dinner so they could have a hot meal before rehearsal.  I thought they might as well as there was no chance of them getting there on time now. They ate—both the soup and the cold supper I’d packed—I did a more thorough job cleaning and bandaging their knees, emailed the theater director to say North would be late, and then I sent them back outside, ten minutes before the next 17 was due and instructed them not to take their eyes off the street.

I watched them get on it from inside the house and almost immediately after that, I got a text from Beth who wanted to know if I was at the meeting at North’s school about the trip to Madrid the seventh and eighth-graders in the Spanish immersion program will go on next year. I wasn’t there and neither was she. Despite putting it on both our electronic and paper calendars, we’d both forgotten about it. Meanwhile, it was one of those nights it was clear from the time he got home that there was no way Noah could finish his homework (and he didn’t, but he was only thirty pages of reading short when he went to bed). It was just one of those star-crossed days. 

Performance: The Two (And a Half) Hours’ Traffic of Our Stage

On Friday, North, fed and freshly showered, caught their bus for their five p.m. call time. I was relieved their departure went smoothly so they wouldn’t arrive rattled. Beth got home around six-twenty and Beth, Noah, and I went out for pre-show pizza in Silver Spring, picking up a bouquet of yellow roses and speckled lilies on the way.

North had mentioned they kept missing their cues in rehearsal, which I thought was strange, as it’s not a problem they’ve had in other plays, but it was still happening as late as the last rehearsal on Thursday night. I was thinking about this nervously as we took our seats in the theater. I needn’t have. They missed no cues, they knew their lines, they were comically expressive as the Capulet’s servant, Peter. North has pointed out to us (and to their English teacher during a class discussion of Romeo and Juliet) that it’s Peter, who in inviting Romeo to the party where he meets Juliet, sets the whole play into motion. “Without him, there’s no play,” North says authoritatively.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a modern-dress, gender-blind production. Both leads were played by trans boys. The language of the play was unaltered, except for gendered language, so both Romeo and Julian call each other, “my lord,” etc. They also made the two leads a bit older, both in their late teens instead of thirteen and sixteen. But the plot is the same, which calls attention to all the gendered assumptions in it. Why, for instance, is Romeo free to wander around Verona with his friends, stay out all night, and get into brawls while Julian can leave his house only to go to confession, has no friends, and is being married off against his will? Free-range parenting versus helicopter parenting?

The play was also slightly abbreviated, the comic relief scene after Julian’s fake death in the fourth act is cut (too bad for North because Peter figures prominently in it) as is almost all of the fifth act after Julian’s real death. Even so, the play lasted two hours and forty minutes, including intermission, not the two hours the prologue promises, so I can’t really complain about the cuts. It was quite a late night already.

Over the weekend, Beth and I both tried to catch up on our sleep. Beth, who gets up earlier than me on weekdays and was run ragged from picking North up from late-night Tech Week rehearsals and the shows, slept late on Saturday and then took a long nap Saturday afternoon. I took a nap Saturday, too. No one felt up to cooking, so we used a gift certificate Beth had for the Cheesecake Factory on Saturday and we got Burmese takeout on Sunday. We did manage to summon the energy for mowing and other yard work, because it’s May and it’s been rainy and everything’s growing like crazy.

North was at the theater from 11:30 in the morning to 11:00 p.m. on Saturday and until 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, so we barely saw them. But in the little sliver of time we did, we heard that on Saturday night, North’s friends Leila and Morgan and Leila’s mom came to see the show. North is always excited to have friends in the audience so they were happy to see them afterward. When Beth picked them up that night, she let North linger long enough to get a root beer float at the concession stand because she’d given them money to get one between shows but the actors weren’t allowed to visit the stand until after the second show. This was also a consolation prize because some of the actors were going out to a diner for pancakes after the show and North wanted to go, but this proposal (going out at eleven o’clock at night with mostly older kids and possibly no adults—that part was never clear) was met with a hard no.

When North came home after the Sunday shows, they said the closing night audience was the best audience of all five. They laughed at more of the jokes and clapped harder. In fact, North said there was applause when they exited the stage after their biggest scene in the first act and because it wasn’t the end of the scene, they surmised, “They were clapping for me.” I was glad to hear the show ended on an positive note.

On Monday I was meeting Beth in the city for event (her office reserved a theater for a showing of the documentary RBG) so I left shortly after the kids got home from school. Before I went, I asked North how they felt about the show being over and they said it was sad, but they were glad to have a free afternoon. That’s kind of a novelty and before you know it, it will be summer and North will be rehearsing for My Fair Lady.

Have Your Cake and Eat it, Too

Thursday: Pre-birthday

“I’ve never been to any part of this hospital other than the emergency room and neurology,” North noted on Thursday morning as we were walking through the corridors of Children’s National Hospital. It was true, we were in a different part of the hospital than the one where we go for the specialist we see about North’s migraines. We had an intake appointment with a doctor, a social worker, and some other staff members in the Gender Development Program. We were there all morning, filling out forms and talking to people. We’re getting into their system now in case we ever need their services. We also signed up to get on the email list for two support groups we may attend, one for trans and non-binary kids and one for their parents. We have a follow-up appointment scheduled for July.

After the appointment was over we dropped North off at school and Beth and I went out for a pre-birthday lunch at Arepas Pues in Silver Spring. It was very good. Beth says she is going to be craving the cilantro sauce that came with the tequeños (fried cheese sticks) because cilantro has that effect on her. Arepas Pues is next to Smoothie King and I remembered I had a frequent buyer card in my wallet I hadn’t used in years because I am not actually a frequent buyer at Smoothie King. But the card was full because I used to be a frequent buyer, back when both kids used to go to drama camp in Silver Spring every spring break and summer and we’d often go get smoothies after camp.

Well, when I tried to redeem the card for a free smoothie, the cashier looked at it like she’d never seen such a thing, then called another employee over, then talked to someone on the phone and the upshot was there was no free smoothie for me. I was mildly annoyed because even though they clearly don’t use these stamp cards any more (they have an app now) the card had no expiration date. It would have been pretty easy to give me a smoothie, but I didn’t make a fuss because I’ve been a young person working retail and I didn’t want to be that customer.

Friday: 51/3 = 17

The next day was my birthday. Fifty-one is kind of an anti-climactic birthday, but it’s pleasing to me that now that Noah is seventeen and I’m fifty-one I’ve been a parent exactly one-third of my life. The day was pretty ordinary, at least until the evening. I sat on the porch and read a short story from this collection as well as the first few pages of Romeo and Juliet because I want to brush up on the play before I see it next weekend (North has a small part as a servant in the Capulet house). Then I finished ghost-writing a blog post on GMOs, exercised, and cleaned the kitchen. I had nice talks with both my sister and my mom on the phone.

When North got home from school I reminded them Beth was going to pick them up in a half hour for an appointment to get their braces off (the first phase is finished now and they have two years’ reprieve before the second phase) and then I left to go to Starbucks to redeem my birthday reward. Here I had better luck and successfully obtained a free iced strawberry-green tea and a couple cake pops.

When I got home North was gone but Noah was home, so we read Wolves of the Calla for almost an hour. We’ve been reading this book since January and we are tantalizingly close to the end, but I knew he’d be studying for AP exams all weekend and it was unlikely we’ll get to it again until next weekend. Then he practiced his bells and drums and Beth and North got back from the orthodontist with no braces and a new retainer and we all piled in the car to go to Highwood Theater.

It was Fine Arts Night, which is part preview for the two shows they have in production (Romeo and Julian and West Side Story) and part open mike night for the kids acting in these or previous Highwood shows. We had to drop North off for rehearsal at 6:30 but the event didn’t start until 8:00, so North while ate at home (a small pizza Beth picked up for them on the way home from the orthodontist), the rest of us had my birthday dinner of wood-fire oven baked pizza with eggplant and mushrooms and Greek salad on the patio of Pacci’s on a near perfect spring evening. We skipped dessert because we were going to have a red velvet-strawberry ice cream cake after the show.

The scenes from Romeo and Julian were the play prologue, the fight scene, and the balcony scene. The play was cast gender-blind and will be performed in modern clothes. Both leads are played by trans boys. I’m looking forward to seeing the whole thing on Friday. The kids in West Side Story did the scene in which Tony is convinced to come to the dance and the scene in which Maria sings, “I Feel Pretty.” Chances are we’ll go to that show, too, although North’s not in it. We pretty much go to all Highwood shows now because North always has friends in them.

Because kids come back to act in this student-based theater season after season, they get to know each other and they’re bonded. During the open mike part of the show, every single kid got thunderous applause from the other kids and many of them were enveloped in huge group hugs after they sang.  That’s what happened to North after they sang their original song “Guess What?” Beth said later it made her happy that North has found their people. Here’s how the song starts:

Guest what?
I’m not like anybody else
And guess what?
Maybe sometimes I mess it up myself
But guess what?
Maybe someday I’m going to be
Something you could never even see

‘Cause it’s not in my light hair
Not in my blue eyes
Not in my fair skin
Not in my freckles
Not in my big feet
Or the way I hold my tongue
But in the way I sing
And have always sung
‘Cause music takes the bad parts out of everything
And somehow kind of picks and chooses for me
And I love it oh so much
When I need it, it’s my crutch
Music’s always there
For me.

The show was diverse with teens singing songs from musicals, an adorable boy of eight or nine singing “Movin’ Right Along,” from The Muppet Movie, a girl about the same age singing “Octopus’s Garden” and accompanying herself on the ukulele, and a band of high school students that focused on classic rock (Pink Floyd, Toto, and Talking Heads). The teenage girl who sang “Hold the Line,” really rocked it.

The show was a lot of fun, but it was also long, about two hours instead of the one hour we were expecting. I was thinking I might rather delay my cake and presents until the next day (as Noah had the week before) rather than rushing through them at the end of a long day. I still wanted to pick up the cake, though, because Cold Stone was right around the corner, and it seemed silly to go make Beth go back to Silver Spring the next day.

Well, Cold Stone is open after ten on a Friday night, but thinking back to my own days as a Baskin Robbins employee one summer in college, I might have realized this isn’t the best time to pick up a cake. The staff was busy and unprepared for what I assumed would be a simple transaction. (I was in the store alone while Beth and the kids waited in the car.) I thought just giving them Beth’s last name would be enough but apparently there were a lot of cakes in the back and they didn’t have names on them. And because I hadn’t ordered the cake I didn’t know what size it was or if she’d ordered lettering. I said it might say, “Happy Birthday, Steph,” thinking that might narrow things down, but there was no such cake. (I later learned it just said “Happy Birthday.”) Employees kept coming to talk to me and wandering off and then new ones would come. Eventually Beth texted me the receipt and I thought that would help but it didn’t. Finally, they just took a cake from the display freezer and wrote “Happy B-day, Steph” on it right there and then and I was free to leave. It was ten-thirty by the time we got home and everyone went to bed, with no cake.

Saturday: Birthday, Belated

We had the cake after lunch the next day, after I organized a campaign to get everyone to finish their lunches by 12:15 (because North had to leave for rehearsal at 12:45). I opened my presents—an umbrella, headphones, a promise to get my Birkenstocks resoled and to buy Stephen King’s new book The Outsider when it comes out later this month. Earlier I’d received a Starbucks card from my mom and a card telling me Beth’s mom had a tree planted in my name in a national forest. I was very happy with the gifts. Beth’s card said “Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too,” which I thought was funny given the trouble we’d had with the cake.

Sunday: Mother’s Day

The next day was Mother’s Day so there were more gifts. Beth got a pink carnation at the supermarket, where they were giving them away to moms. The kids got Beth some treats—a dark chocolate bar and a bag of chocolate wafer cookies. I got another Starbucks card from Noah and a little herb garden in a pot from North. It has oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and nasturtiums. It was a thoughtful gift, as I’d been saying I thought I’d focus the garden on herbs and flowers this year because I’m tired of squirrels, rabbits, and deer eating our vegetables and melons. I already had basil, chives, cilantro, and parsley in various stages, so this makes a nice assortment. (And because I can’t stop myself sometimes, I do have some lettuce plants in the ground already and cucumber seeds planted in starter pots. And when North brought kale seeds home from church on Mother’s Day, I planted some of those, too, though I’m saving most of them for a fall crop.)

Monday to Thursday

We’re near the end of a busy week for both kids. Noah took four AP exams—in Biology, Calculus BC, English Language and Composition, and World History. He just took the last one this morning. It’s tech week for Romeo and Julian, which means North has had rehearsal until ten o’clock on Monday, Wednesday, and tonight and then the show runs from Friday to Sunday, three evening shows and two matinees.

North also got to go to a ceremony at school honoring kids who were on the honor roll and/or got straight As third quarter. It was their first time getting straight As so that was exciting. And then they were nominated by their chorus teacher to join the Tri-M Music Honor Society and that was even more exciting. Finally, after an article in the school magazine in which North was interviewed about why separating boys and girls in gym class was problematic for non-binary kids, their gym teacher started having them do their pacer tests all together. North is proud to have made a difference. And we’re proud, too.

Life seems full these days, in a good way. I’m appreciating this more keenly because early spring—from early March to mid-April or so—was a hard, out-of-sorts time for me. Now it’s better. It’s like I have my cake and I’m eating it, too.

Edge of Seventeen

Not His Birthday 

As we walked into Roscoe’s on Friday evening, Beth offered to sing “Happy Birthday” to Noah in the restaurant and he declined adamantly, adding, “It’s not my birthday.” It was in fact the day after his birthday. He’d had a band concert on the actual day so we’d decided to go out for pizza, have cake and ice cream at home and open presents on Friday instead, when we’d have more time and be more relaxed. So repeatedly over the next few days when he’d ask for something, like for someone who was in the kitchen to bring him a fork, we’d say, “Why? It’s not your birthday.”

His Birthday

There was some festivity on the day of his birth, however. He opened his presents from Beth’s mom when he got home from school on Thursday because she was going to fly to Ireland the next day and we knew she’d call, so Beth wanted him to be able to thank her when she did. She got him some Amazon gift cards, a t-shirt from Oglebay Park, and some Cow Tales caramels and M&Ms. I also had him open one of his presents from us, a loaf of bread from Zingerman’s, his favorite online food catalog, because I needed it for dinner. I gave it to him with a birthday hat on it, with little curls of ribbon hanging from the elastic chin strap. Never say I skimp on presentation.

I needed the bread to make garlic bread. When I asked Noah want he wanted for dinner on his birthday, he said lasagna and then surprised me by upping the ante and asking if we could have pasta every night from Monday to Thursday; he knew we were going out for pizza on Friday. He doesn’t ask for much, so I said yes. Monday I prepared fresh spinach fettucine with asparagus and a lemon-cream sauce; Tuesday I made lo mein; Wednesday I lowered the bar a bit and served the kids macaroni and cheese from a box with broccoli while I had something else (Beth was working late and ate at work); but on Thursday I rallied and made homemade lasagna with garlic bread (which is one of the best ways to show Noah you love him).

We had to eat the lasagna on the early side because we needed to leave at six for concert, which started at 6:30. There are five bands at Noah’s school—the Jazz Combo, the Jazz Ensemble, the Concert Band, the Symphonic Band, and the Wind Ensemble. Noah plays percussion in the Wind Ensemble, which you might think was an ensemble of wind instruments from, you know, the name, but it’s actually just the advanced band. I’ve often wondered if there’s some history behind the nomenclature, but I’ve never heard an explanation.  Noah also pinch hits for the Concert Band and the Symphonic Band when they need extra percussionists. At festival this year he played in all three bands and at this concert he was playing in the Symphonic Band as well as the Wind Ensemble. In the past when this has happened he’s had advance notice and the chance to practice with the other bands, but this time he was going to be sight reading a piece for Symphonic Band. He didn’t seem too nervous about this and I remembered how jittery he was before his first high school band concert just last year.

Once we were seated, I scanned the program. Each of the five bands had three songs, except the Jazz Ensemble, which had six. This was going to be a long concert. I wouldn’t have minded, as I enjoy my kids’ performances, but Noah still had two homework assignments left and one of them was a one-a-half page paper on Hurricane Katrina, which he hadn’t even researched yet. I tried to put it out my mind and listen to the music.

After both jazz bands had played, the jazz band director recognized all the seniors, speaking a little about each one and noting where they were all going to college and their intended majors. I am finding this ritual more interesting as my own musician gets closer to being a senior. It will be him in that lineup next spring, if the powers that control scheduling let him into band. (He’s only been in band three of his six semesters in high school because of conflicts with required classes.)

In the break between the Jazz Ensemble and the Concert Band, North and I went out to the lobby to use the restrooms and to patronize the bake sale. Either we missed the announcement to go back or there was none and we missed half the concert band’s set, re-entering the auditorium in the middle of their second song, and waiting to go back to our seats until that song was over. I was a little abashed and glad Noah wasn’t playing with that band.

When the Symphonic Band was setting up we were excited to see Noah standing next to a gong, as that’s an unusual instrument but it turned out this was the piece he’s never practiced and he missed his cue and never played it. He did play the suspended cymbals, though.

Finally it was time for the Wind Ensemble. The band director noted the ensemble had advanced to state festival this year and got top marks there. Then they played their three festival pieces—“The Liberty Bell March,” which you might recognize if you are familiar with the Monty Python theme song; an excerpt from “Appalachian Spring,” (the part based on the Shaker song “Simple Gifts”); and “Children’s March.” Noah played crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, triangle, xylophone, and chimes. In the last song he was playing three different instruments and running around a lot from one station to another. (In the photo you can see him in the back holding the crash cymbals.) Afterward, Noah said the band had made some mistakes, but “percussion sounded pretty good.” For Noah, this represents a high level of satisfaction. And for the record, I didn’t hear the mistakes. I never do, except sometimes in elementary school concerts.

It was almost ten when we got home and Noah was too tired to start a research paper, so he did the other assignment and went to bed, I’m not sure when because it was after Beth and I had gone to bed.

Not His Birthday

The next day, after we got home from pizza, we sang “Happy Birthday” to him in the privacy of our own house, ate Beth’s homemade chocolate cake with strawberry frosting (a common birthday request from both Noah and me) and ice cream and then he opened presents. He got a gift card to 7-11(for $17) because he often stops there on the way home from school, a book in a series we’re reading, more food from Zingerman’s (chocolate-caramel shortbread cookies, two kind of imported Italian pasta, Piave Vecchie cheese, which is supposed to taste like a cross of Parmesan and Gruyère—his favorite cheeses), a wireless charger, a headphone splitter, and a wallet.

The next day a check from my mom arrived and we completed our last birthday-related ritual, going out for Thai food. My last meal before going into labor with Noah was Thai food, so we often go out for Thai near his birthday.

Noah is seventeen years and three days old today. I am increasingly aware of how short our time with him still at home is. Why do you think that is? Could it be those college tours? And I’m also mindful of how much I will miss him when this boy on the edge of seventeen crosses over to eighteen and his adult life. But I’m proud of him, as a student, a musician, and increasingly, as an active citizen. I’ll be sad to see him go but I’m also eager to see what kind of man my boy will be.

When April Has Showered Sweetly With His Rains

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur 
Of which vertú engendred is the flour… 

Oh, let’s just do this in modern English, shall we?

When April has showered sweetly with his rains…
When the West wind has breathed so sweetly…
Through every grove and field…
When shoots and flowers…
Have broken through the earth…
When the sun shines…
And the birds sing…
This is when good folks to Canterbury go

The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted by Lindsay Price

April may have been when good folks went to Canterbury, but for us it’s when it starts to seem there’s another artistic event every day. Here’s what we did over the past week: North sang with the church youth choir during the Earth Day service, Noah’s band competed in the state band festival, North and I read poems at a poetry reading at the public library, I attended my book club, North acted in two performances of the school play, and three short films Noah helped make were screened at a film festival for high school and middle school filmmakers at the American Film Institute.

Sunday: Earth Day Service

There’s a children’s choir and a youth choir at church and when North expressed interest in singing with one of them, they were inexplicably put in the youth choir, even though the children’s choir goes through eighth grade and the rest of the kids in the youth choir are all in high school. As the children’s choir is bigger and seems better organized, I asked if they’d rather switch but they said they like the music in youth choir better, so we’re letting it be.

It was a very musical service. The two choirs performed “This Pretty Planet” together as the gathering music at the beginning of the service. The younger kids were in white tops, dark pants or skirts and kerchiefs made of green felt to which they’d attached cutouts of lady bugs, flowers, etc. The older kids were in street clothes. They sang the song in a round. It goes like this:

This pretty planet spinning through space,
Your garden, your harbor, 
Your holy place,
Golden sun going down,
Gentle blue giant spin us around.
All through the night, safe ’til the morning light.

During the offertory the children’s choir sang two more songs alone and then for the commencement music the youth choir sang another song “The Oneness of Everything.” It’s a long song, but here’s how it starts:

Far beyond the grasp of hands, or light to meet the eye,
Past the reaches of the mind
There find the key to nature’s harmony
In an architecture so entwined.
Like the birds, whose patterns grace the sky
And carry all who join in love, expanding,
The message of peace will rise in flight
Taking the weight of the world upon its wings,
With the oneness of everything.

Considering they practiced just once (right before the service) they sounded pretty good.

And speaking of music, one of the several hymns the congregation sang together, “Mother Earth, Beloved Garden,” was written by someone I knew in college. (We were in a housing and dining co-op together and I had a class with her girlfriend.) I wouldn’t have even noticed if Beth hadn’t pointed to her name in the hymnal, but I was pleased to see it.

Tuesday: State Band Festival and Favorite Poem Night

At festival earlier this spring, one of the three bands Noah played in got straight superiors so they advanced to the state level, which was held at Towson University on Tuesday. Noah managed to leave the house in his band clothes and they got top marks again for their performance pieces and their sight reading. They played a Sousa march, a piece by Copland, and song called “Children’s March.” Noah played crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, triangle, and bells. He seemed pleased with their scores in a muted, Noah sort of way.

That evening, North and I read at Favorite Poem night at the public library. It’s the third year in a row I’ve done this—and North’s first year—but I considered doing it for years before I did. The problem was I took the name a little too literally and it was hard to commit to any one poem as being my favorite. Finally, two years ago I decided one of my favorites would be good enough and read Emily Dickinson’s “One Need Not Be a Chamber to Be Haunted.” And then last year I had just read a Pablo Neruda poem, “The Wide Ocean,” at my stepfather’s memorial service, so I read that one again at the library. As I was trying to decide what to read this year, I thought I could do the two poems my father chose to have read at his memorial service eight years ago, as those are meaningful to me, if not exactly favorites. So, I read an excerpt from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” and Raymond Carver’s “Late Fragment.”

North read “Pronoun,” which is the first poem of in Freakboy, a novel-in-verse about three characters with different gender identities and expressions. There were a couple other kids at the reading, including one North knew from acting class. He did a very dramatic recitation of an e.e. cummings poem he had by heart. I think he stole the show, but another memorable moment occurred when the last reader was reading “Casey at the Bat” off his phone, not realizing it was truncated. Left without the last couple stanzas (right after the second strike), he looked at the crowd and said, “Well, you know how it ends, right?” and a good chunk of the audience chanted back, “There is no joy in Mudville—Mighty Casey has struck out!” much to North’s surprise. Later I explained, “Well, it’s a famous poem,” and they wanted to know, “Is it an old people poem?”

Wednesday: Book Club

Wednesday my book club had its fourth and final meeting on Kristin Lavransdatter, a three-volume, 1125-page novel set in fourteenth-century Norway following the life of a woman from early childhood to death. I struggled to finish the book by the last meeting but I managed it, just barely, because I’d invested so much time in it over the past couple months I couldn’t bear for there to be any spoilers. And I won’t give you any, in case you intend to read it, which you should if you like historical novels with sweeping, multigenerational plots and intimate psychological portraits.

Wednesday and Thursday: Canterbury Tales

The spring play at North’s school was The Canterbury Tales and it opened Wednesday and closed Thursday. The kids have been in rehearsal for months, having auditioned and received their scripts shortly before winter break. For the last several weeks, North’s been in rehearsals for two plays at once, as Romeo and Julian rehearsals at Highwood Theater overlapped with this play. It worked because all the school play rehearsals were after school and all the Highwood ones were either in the evening or on weekends, but it still made for some busy days. One recent Saturday North had a costume fitting for one play in the morning and a rehearsal for the other in the afternoon.

Beth got involved with the play, too, helping sew costumes on two Saturdays and designing the programs. The director had the idea to have Beth re-write all the kids’ bios using gender-neutral pronouns as a show of support for North. It was well-intentioned, but North, Beth, and I all thought using pronouns other than what the kids preferred wasn’t quite the right thing to do. After all North doesn’t like it when that happens to them—so I suggested writing the bios in the first person with no gendered pronouns at all and that’s what Beth did.

Beth and I attended the play on Thursday. In case you’re wondering what a middle school production of The Canterbury Tales would be like, the answer is: in modern English, mostly in prose, cut down to seven tales, and only mildly bawdy (although bawdy enough to surprise some parents).

The play was performed in the band room, which is an amphitheater-style room so the actors were in the front and the audience was on folding chairs around and above them. It was very well done: the costumes looked great, almost all the kids projected, and even though a lot of them had never acted before, there wasn’t much stumbling over lines and the actors portrayed their characters convincingly and with humor. North’s friend Zoë was one of the novices, and she did a great job playing the knight in the Wife of Bath’s tale. She seems to be a natural.

North played the Pardoner, one of the pilgrims, so they were on stage in the opening scene, in all the scenes between the tales and they narrated their own tale. It was a good one, featuring the black-cloaked figure of Death, who touched people on the shoulders causing them to act in ways that set their own deaths into motion and then stalked away cackling. In the intercalary scenes North’s character was a comic figure, with a lot of good one-liners. If you’re looking for them in the picture, they’re second from the left—in between the church choir performance and the play they dyed their hair purple. Also, the crutch isn’t a prop– they fell over a chair and twisted their ankle a couple days before the first performance.

Saturday: Montgomery County Youth Media Festival

Saturday morning we went to the American Film Institute to see the Montgomery County Youth Media Festival. Noah and his collaborators submitted three short films and they were all accepted, which is impressive considering the festival as a whole had about a one-third acceptance rate. All Noah’s films were made with other members of the production team at Blair Network Communications, the television station at Noah’s school.

Of Noah’s three films, the two in the documentary category were short bits profiling school events, one held by of the Free Minds Book club, which was facilitating correspondence between incarcerated kids and Blair students, and another by the Japanese club, which was teaching students to make rice balls and raising money for world hunger. The film in the narrative category was the longest one (and Noah’s favorite). It was a PSA about not being late to class. It featured the school mascot, the Blazer, and his fictional nemesis (invented for this film), the Reverse Blazer, who attempts to make a kid late to class by plucking him out of the hall and causing him to teleport to the athletic field. The Blazer then appears and pursues the Reverse Blazer, but the Reverse Blazer escapes, so as the Blazer explains everyone must be diligent about being on time for class because the Reverse Blazer is still out there. This film got a lot of laughs from the audience, which is also what happened when it aired on BNC.

Noah’s school dominated the documentary category with nine of the thirteen finalists; this isn’t that surprising because Blair houses the Communications Arts Program and filmmaking is central to the curriculum. The narrative film category was more balanced, with The Blazer being the only entry from Blair. I also noticed about a third of the middle school films were from Noah’s middle school, which also has a communications magnet.

The winner in the documentary category was a film about refugees in Paris, made by one of Noah’s classmates. A horror film won the narrative category. My interpretation of it was that it was about hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation in three kids in a college (or maybe boarding school) dorm. There was a lot of impressive film making but I have to say Noah’s peers seem to be a morose bunch (either that or the judges who picked the finalists are). It seemed every other film was about death or mental illness. At first I was surprised, not that kids would make films on these topics but that so many of them would and then I remembered being a teenager and I wasn’t so surprised any more.

I would have liked to stay for the whole festival but it was five hours and we did have other things to do that day so we left during the break between high school and middle school films and went out to lunch at Noodles and Company and then got bubble tea (for North) and ice cream for the rest of us before heading home.

It’s been a busy but fun week with our young artists. And we have a bit of a breather before our next two performances, which will be Noah’s band concert on Thursday and Romeo and Julian in mid-May.