About Steph

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Mothers’ Days: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 72

Mother’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother and Child Reunion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From “18 21” by the Slants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Midst of Life We Are in Death

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

RIP, Diane Adele Higgins Bolles.
1946-2022

Going West: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 70

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday: Wheeling

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

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

Wednesday: Wheeling to Oberlin, OH

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

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

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

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

Thursday: Oberlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a very Good Friday.

Saturday: Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, MI

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

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

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

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

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

Easter Sunday: Ypsilanti to Somerset, PA

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

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

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

Monday: Somerset, PA to Takoma Park

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

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

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

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

Between the Breaks: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 69

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sixteen So Far: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 68

Pre-Birthday: Opening Night

“How was opening night?” I asked when Beth brought North home two Thursdays ago, a little before 10:30.

“Good,” they said.

“Was it a good audience?”

“I don’t know,” North said. I knew they’d been backstage helping with costume changes and repairs for the whole show but I thought some of the actors might have said something one way or the other.

“Were there any wardrobe malfunctions?”

North threw themselves down on my bed with a sigh and reported they had to glue six shoes back together over the course of the show and that the theater departments’ collection of shoes is old—“decades old!”—and that this happens a lot.

We didn’t talk much more because North’s alarm was going off in seven hours and they wanted to get to bed.

By the time I woke the next morning, they were gone, but they came home at 3:30 because there was no Friday show that week. I hadn’t seen too much of North recently because it was tech week and they’d had evening rehearsals most nights. And I didn’t see much of them that night either because they went to bed early.

I had been seeing a lot of Noah. He’d been home six days at this point. We picked him up the Friday prior at a mall parking lot north of Baltimore after a bus ride during which the driver had missed two stops (including Noah’s) and had to circle back to drop students off. The name on the side of the bus was, fittingly, Adventure Tours.

Noah’s time at home was low-key. He did some homework, applied for one of the study abroad programs he’s considering for next semester (in Queensland, Australia), drummed a little, used the new camera lenses he just bought to photograph flowers in the yard and the cat, and did some chores for me (folding laundry, vacuuming, and deep cleaning in the bathroom and kitchen). We read a short story (“Lady Astronaut of Mars,” which is the story that spawned the Lady Astronaut series) and a novel, Storm of Locusts, the second in a supernatural post-apocalyptic series set mostly on a Navajo reservation. And he watched a lot of television. We watch shows in different combinations of people and he wanted to finish as many seasons/series as possible. He and I watched all of Station Eleven; he, Beth, and I finished season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (we were halfway through it when he’d left for spring semester); and he and Beth finished a season of The Story of Boba Fett. We also watched a little Blackish as a foursome, and he and North watched one episode of Dr. Who.

We fed him well. Because he loves pasta he helped me make vegetable tortellini soup his second night at home, and I made a spinach noodle soup and tofu-veggie bowls with chow mein noodles later in the week, and there were a lot of seasonal carb-heavy treats that week, as well. I bought an apple pie for Pi Day and I found it interesting that both Beth and North but not Noah, who is the most math-oriented of any of us, noted that because the crust had a scalloped shape, it wasn’t a circle. I want to note for the record that this didn’t stop anyone from eating it. North made Nutella hamantaschen for Purim another night they didn’t have rehearsal. We’re not Jewish, but we are multicultural when it comes to dessert. Finally, I made soda bread with raisins and caraway seeds for St. Patrick’s Day. I have some cultural claim to this one, as I am partly Irish on my mother’s side. I usually make colcannon to go with it, but I had to decide between bread and potatoes this year because I can’t have both at the same meal. Perhaps I will alternate years. I served the bread with cabbage soup, Irish cheese, and Irish tea. Over the course of the week, I ate the bread and both the desserts and managed to stay in range, though it was a close thing with the pie.

Faux Birthday: Act 1

North declared last Saturday their “faux birthday.” They paid a visit to their friend Sol, bearing hamantaschen, and in the late afternoon Zoë came over. The plan was to go out for hot pot and then to see North’s show. There aren’t as many costume changes as in the fall show so North was not needed backstage at every show and they got permission to sit this one out and be in the audience, which was a treat for them, as they never saw Puffs in its entirety.

Before Zoë came over, at my request, Noah spent thirty-five minutes explaining trig functions to North, who’s been having some trouble with precalc. The instruction was more enthusiastically given than received, and led to exchanges like this:

“What’s your favorite trig function?”

“I hate them all!”

In addition to enduring math, North also had to fold laundry on their faux birthday because they hadn’t done any chores all week and I am mean. Honestly, I think they minded the math more than the laundry. The laundry wasn’t done yet when Zoë arrived, so she lent a hand.

A little before five we all set out for the restaurant, where we each cooked our own pot of soup over burners set into the tables. You start with your choice of broth and you can order ingredients to cook (vegetables, noodles, tofu, quail eggs, etc.) off the menu or pluck them off a conveyor belt that runs by the tables. We did both. There’s also a condiment table where you can get sauces and herbs to finish your creation. We did this three years ago for North’s thirteenth birthday and they’ve wanted to do it again ever since. It’s fun, but pricy, so definitely a special occasion meal. While we were there, North opened Noah’s birthday gift, these headphones, since he would be gone by their actual birthday.

As we walked toward North’s school, we saw Talia’s family also headed for the show. Talia (North’s preschool classmate and elementary school basketball teammate) was on costumes crew with North last fall but she was acting in the show this time around. We took our seats and looked over the programs.

Have you noticed whenever I’ve mentioned North being on crew for this play I never say what play it is? That’s because it’s Urinetown and I wanted to type that as few times as possible. It takes place in a dystopian, drought-plagued city, where water is so strictly rationed no one has a toilet at home and everyone has to use pay toilets, which are run by an exploitative corporation. Then there’s an uprising and I won’t spoil the rest for you in case your local high school is putting it on any time soon. It’s a musical, but also a satire of musicals that critiques capitalism as well as alternatives to capitalism and the Broadway musical as a form. It was fun and well-acted, but squirmy for me, as many of the characters need to pee much of the time and I really hate needing to pee. North enjoyed seeing all the costumes in action. Afterward Zoë said the costumes were the best part and that it really would have been just as good as a fashion show. (She’s that kind of friend.) We saw Talia’s folks on the way out again and her mom, my friend Megan, complimented the bloody shirt of the ghost of an assassinated character.

There were bouquets for sale during intermission and while I was in the restroom (peeing for free) Beth bought one for North—three red roses, a purple one, and an orange one. They’re still brightening our dining room table, though somewhat droopily now.

We came home and everyone but me had a cookies-and-cream or carrot cupcake to celebrate. I’d had a little mango soft serve at the restaurant which I chose over cupcakes because I don’t eat after eight p.m. (They saved one for me to eat the next day.) Zoë slept over and left the next morning after breakfast to go to church. North went back to bed and Noah and I finished the last few chapters of our book and went for a walk to see the half-bloomed cherry trees that line the block just around the corner from our house. He took his camera so it was a slow walk, but I didn’t mind lingering with him.

Later that morning Beth and I took Noah back to the same parking lot where we’d picked him up eight days earlier. He went into the mall to get some baked ziti for lunch, but he didn’t have time to eat it before the bus came and he’s very strict about not taking his mask off on the bus so I have no idea when he ate it, maybe at a stop along the way. We didn’t stay to watch the bus pull away.

Beth and I got salads and had our lunch at a picnic table near Historic Jerusalem Mill Village, a living history museum in Gunpowder Falls State Park. We didn’t visit the museum. I might have liked to under other circumstances, but I was sad and distracted and didn’t think I could attend to a demonstration of blacksmithing. Instead we took a walk through a nearby covered bridge and on a trail along a creek and then drove home. (When I said, before we left, that Beth had planned this outing to cheer me up, she said no, it was just something she wanted to do, and I said she should take relationship credit when she can and North and Zoë agreed.)

Even though I was melancholy that day and for a while after, I appreciate that Noah came home and also that he went back because the last time he came home for spring break he ended up stranded at home for almost a year and a half. This is better, how it’s supposed to be.

My mom called later that day and wished North a happy almost-birthday. She wanted to know if it was going to be a sweet sixteen, and North wasn’t sure if she was asking if they were having a Sweet Sixteen party, but she just meant a sweet year.

Real Birthday: Act 2

North turned sixteen on Wednesday. The SAT was being administered in the morning so everyone except juniors had the morning off. North tried to convince us to let them skip the whole day because two of their teachers had indicated not much instruction was going to take place and it was their birthday, but we made them go, because, as previously established, we are mean.

The cherry blossoms were peaking down at the Tidal Basin, so we planned a birthday morning expedition to see them. We got treats at Starbucks and drove down there, trusting there would be parking on a weekday morning. We had to drive a bit to find some, but we ended up parked by the Potomac and there are cherry trees along its shore too, so it was a scenic walk to the Tidal Basin.

The petals were perfect, puffy and white to pale pink. It was crowded, but not mobbed. We hadn’t been as a family since 2018 because three years ago Noah had too much homework and North had some injury—I packed a lunch and went alone that year—and then covid kept us away for two years—we went to the more spacious National Arboretum instead those years. It was good to be back at The Tidal Basin, as we’ve been going since 1992 and we missed it. Beth and I reminisced about how North needed to be physically restrained from jumping in the Tidal Basin as a toddler and we remembered the year it was so cold we had to wrap Noah up in a blanket inside his stroller. We’ve been to see the blossoms in everything from shorts to winter coats because March weather is unpredictable in the DC area, but this year it was about in the middle, low fifties and cloudy.

“How is sixteen so far?” I asked North as we strolled among the exuberantly blooming trees and they said they didn’t have much to go on, but good.

Beth had to take a work call so Beth and North sat on a bench and I sat on the ground and tried to be mindful and appreciative of my surroundings and we walked a bit before and after, going by the MLK memorial and the FDR memorial. I would have liked to walk longer, but North felt they’d gone as far as they could, so we drove them back to school and dropped them off a half hour before classes began.

North had hoped to have a friend over for dinner but Zoë couldn’t come and Sol couldn’t either, but North didn’t find that out until that afternoon when it was too late to ask anyone else, so they proposed we go to a movie instead. We had an early dinner—a tater tot-topped vegetarian chicken casserole I made at North’s request—and then Beth’s delicious red velvet cake and cookies-and-cream ice cream and North opened their presents. Their main gift from us was their legal name change, but we also got them a book they wanted (Song of Achilles), some gourmet black cocoa powder, two kinds of chai, and a pair of pajama bottoms with strawberries on them. I told them I had a vision of them wearing the pajama bottoms and reading the book while eating something they made with the cocoa powder and drinking the chai. They also got gift certificates and money from both grandmothers and my sister. The money is supposed to be to put toward a pair of Doc Martens, but they’ll need to save some more to buy them.

After cake and presents, we headed back out for our second outing of the day. We saw The Outfit—I didn’t know much about it beforehand, but I liked it. We didn’t go to the movies at all during the first year of the pandemic and infrequently in the second year, but this was the second movie we’ve seen in a month. We are living the high life, I tell you.

When we got home we found a little box on the porch with Zoë’s gift, several pairs of earrings. The ones North liked best have little astronauts on them.

Post-Birthday: Closing Night

Friday North stayed home from school because of pain and fatigue. This has been happening more often, which is worrying, both for the pain and the school they’re missing. They also missed the third show. We watched Turning Red  at home that night. While we were watching it, their friend River sent them a digital portrait they paid an artist to make from a photo on North’s Instagram feed as a birthday present.

Saturday was closing night. Talia’s mom was there again and when the crew came out for a curtain call along with the cast, she took the last picture here. North stayed for part of the set strike afterward, but they weren’t home too late, around 10:30 again.

It’s too soon to know how being sixteen will be for North, and if the last two years are any precedent, there may be twists and turns, but like my mom, I hope it’s a sweet year for them.

 

Two Years: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 67

It’s been two years now since our first weekday suddenly and unexpectedly at home together as a foursome. Three days earlier North got sent home from middle school, for what was supposed to be two weeks, and then they never set foot in that building again. At the time, Noah was home from his first year of college on spring break, which had just been extended by three weeks. He ended up staying home for almost a year and a half. I summed up the first year and the next six months of our pandemic lives in these posts. We’ve been much closer to regular life during these past six months, thanks to vaccinations, but as the delta and omicron variants have reminded us, it’s not over yet and it could always surge again.

Here’s how the last quarter of the pandemic went for us in a nutshell, or seven nutshells.

September: At the eighteen-month mark of the pandemic, there was a big change. We weren’t all living and working and studying under one roof any more. Noah was back at college after two and a half semesters online and North was in school in person, too, after over a year of remote school followed by a couple months of hybrid instruction in the spring. The delta variant peaked in the middle of the month and receded and we started to trust a little more that the kids would stay in school. We continued our pandemic hobby of kayaking. I went to see an allergist about the hives that had been plaguing me since July. After inconclusive testing, he recommended trying going off soy for two months, which was a challenge for a vegetarian diabetic. (Spoiler: it wasn’t the soy.)

October: North started organizing an effort to replace their high school’s Powderpuff football game with something less sexist. Noah joined the drone club at Ithaca. My mother fell while hiking and fractured five vertebrae. She was in the hospital for two weeks and in a neck brace for three months, but she’s doing much better now. I led my book club’s discussion of The Haunting of Hill House. We upheld our reputation as the most committed Halloween decorators in our neighborhood. Beth and I went to watch the Halloween parade even though North couldn’t be in it because of a play rehearsal conflict. The death toll for covid reached 700,000.

November: I started wearing a Fitbit and joined the ranks of people can tell you how many steps they’ve taken on any given day, if you care to know, which I don’t imagine you do. North was the costumes manager for their school’s production of Puffs. Noah came home for Thanksgiving break and we celebrated Beth’s birthday and Thanksgiving at the beach, where we enjoyed the return of the Christmas tree lighting and in-person Christmas shopping. (The year before the former was cancelled and we’d eschewed the latter.)

December: We watched a live broadcast of Noah’s band concert and he passed the test to become an FAA-certified drone pilot. North got their braces off. Noah came home for winter break. Omicron started to emerge, but we all tested negative for covid and spent Christmas in a cabin in Blackwater Falls State Park with Beth’s mom and aunt. At the cabin we baked and hiked and read and did a puzzle and enjoyed each other’s company and the waterfalls and other beautiful scenery of the park. The death toll for covid hit 800,000.

January: Beth and I took a long hike on New Year’s Day and saw a historic African-American cemetery. Omicron gained strength and when North returned to school, in their words “it was a hot mess.” There was a shortage of bus drivers and Beth had to drive them to school for a while. Teachers were out in record numbers; some classes, including some of North’s, were just left completely unsupervised; and student attendance was low. I didn’t see how it could go on like that and I expected the school system go remote, as did most parents I knew. But it didn’t, and then omicron peaked and began to fade and conditions at school gradually improved. Much to our relief, North got their booster shot, making the whole family fully vaccinated and boosted. Beth and I celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of our commitment ceremony and the ninth anniversary of our legal wedding with an outdoor lunch in twenty-one-degree weather. Noah left for school and spent a week training for his new IT job, then another week in online classes before in-person classes resumed. We had a bunch of snow days—four, I think—some for very little or no actual snow, though we did get a seven-inch snowfall early in the month.

February: We went to see the always lovely Winter Lanterns display at the Kennedy Center to celebrate the Lunar New Year and attended an almost two-years-delayed Billie Eilish concert with twenty thousand other vaccinated and masked people in a hockey stadium. After having finished a coaching program for newly diagnosed diabetics in January, I was pleased that my average blood sugar from late November to late February was near the bottom of the prediabetic range. Also, my hives finally (knock on wood) seem to be gone, as of mid-February. Russia invaded Ukraine and like the rest of the world, we watched in horror. The covid death toll reached 900,000. 

March: Noah came home for spring break after having considered staying there to work. He’s been home since Friday. Ithaca lifted its mask mandate about a week before break started. On the day it happened, Noah said most people were still wearing them and when he came home I asked if that was still true and he said yes.  A week ago, MCPS followed suit and went mask-optional, too. North says more kids are wearing masks than not, but that the teachers have been more likely to shed them. There’s even a slogan to go with the new policy, because of course there is: On or Off, It’s Just Me. (I told North “I hope it’s not just you.”) Our county has dropped its mask mandate, but individual businesses can still require masks and many do. Takoma Park announced it was keeping its mandate for city buildings, like the community center (where my book club meets), the recreation center, and the library and then the very day after this notice arrived in the mail it was reversed. You still have to wear a mask to ride the buses or trains. I wear a mask when I’m indoors in a public place, but I downgraded back to cloth after a few months in K95s. That’s as far as I’m willing to go right now.

The current U.S. death toll from covid stands at 965,764. About 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated, with everyone five and older eligible. The global death toll is a little over six million, with about 57% of people vaccinated.

With the kids at school, and Beth’s work-from-home status probably permanent now, life can feel almost but not quite normal. I only read one pandemic-related book in the past six months (Pull of the Stars), though Noah and I are watching Station Eleven this week. (We hope to finish before he goes back to school.) My book club has gone hybrid and I usually go in person. In fact, I went tonight and, though voluntary, masking was universal.

How does the pandemic feel where you live? Are you hopeful or wary? I’m somewhere in between, depending on the day. Chances are I’ll be reporting back in another six months and I hope at that point things are continuing to get better, even if it’s incremental and inconsistent.

On the Horizon: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 66

Spring is on the horizon. There are crocuses and snowdrops in abundance down by the creek and elsewhere and I’ve seen aconite, winter jasmine, and one clump of daffodils in neighbors’ yards. Our own daffodils poked their heads out of the ground a few weeks ago, but have yet to open. The cherry tree at the end of the block that always wants to get the party started well before the other two dozen or so nearby trees are even thinking about it has swelling buds.

I moved the rosemary and parsley plants that have been living in a sunny spot in Noah’s room/Beth’s office back outside this weekend because I think they need the sun more than protection from the cold at this point. It still goes below freezing most nights, but not by much and they’re hardy enough for that. I’ll move them back inside if we have a cold snap.

The spring musical opens in a few weeks and North is costumes manager again, so they have rehearsal most days after school. It’s also the time of year when we start making plans for spring break and summer.

Travel News

The school district announced its snow day makeup plan and they scrounged up the necessary days by turning a teacher planning day in April into a half day and by adding two days to the end of the year. This is the very outcome I was hoping for because it leaves spring break intact. Now we just need to keep our fingers crossed it doesn’t snow again, but even if it does MCPS’s message implied any further snow days will be either remote instruction days or the district will apply to the state for a waiver.

It gave us enough certainty to plan our April trip to Michigan to meet one of North’s half-siblings from their donor’s side. The kids have been in touch since we got North a membership to the Donor Sibling Registry for their birthday last spring. Avery is a senior in high school, has two moms, and like North, identifies as non-binary. On the way to Ypsilanti we’re going to stop in Wheeling to see Beth’s mom, and then in Oberlin for North’s first college tour. It should be a fun trip.

And then this summer we’re going to the beach twice. Noah doesn’t know how long he’ll be home because he’s planning to spend the fall semester abroad and some of the programs he’s considering are summer-and-fall programs (or actually winter and spring since it’s Australia). This means he could be leaving any time between mid-July and late August.  We need to go to the beach early in the summer if we want him to come. But my sister’s family is moving from Ashland, Oregon to Davis, California in June or July and they can’t come until the move is complete, so we need to go late in the summer if we want them (and my mother, who is still recovering from her broken neck and will travel with them) to come. I still have some of the long-belated inheritance money I got from my father last summer, after putting most of it away for retirement and giving some away, so my elegant solution was two beach trips, one with me, Beth, and the kids the week of July 4th, and one with extended family in early August. We booked houses in Oberlin, Ypsilanti, and Rehoboth just this week. Having this settled is a relief because it was all up in the air for a while and I was anxious about it.

The one thing I wish I knew about the near future that I don’t know 100% for sure is whether Noah is coming home for all, part, or none of his spring break, which is in just two weeks. He’s directing a film for his advanced cinema production class and he was hoping if he could get a crew and actors to agree to stay on campus, filming during break would give them a solid block of time when no one has class. This made perfect sense and part of me hoped it would work out for him, but there’s no denying I would have been sad not to see him until May if that’s how it shook out, and the uncertainty was driving me more than a little crazy. Just this morning when Beth texted him about buying a bus ticket to come home, he said he probably would.

Medical News

In other news, I recently finished a program for newly diagnosed diabetics, consisting of two calls with a nurse and six Zoom sessions with a coach spread out over four months. Afterward I went in for bloodwork, and my A1C, a measure of average blood sugar from the past three months, is at the bottom of the prediabetic range, just a tad over normal. That’s with medication, of course. It doesn’t mean I don’t have diabetes any more but that between diet and the meds, my blood sugar has improved well beyond my primary care provider’s goal for me, not quite six months after diagnosis.

I’m still not happy with the reliability of the sensors I wear on my arm, which I sometimes test against a glucometer with finger pricks, and I go back and forth about whether I should give up on them and just use the blood method. The sensors, when they’re working, have two advantages, though. You don’t have to stab yourself with a sharp object several times a day and the app creates a graph that shows you when your blood sugar peaked and approximately how high. When you use finger pricks you have more accurate data points, but without much idea how they connect. I am trying to be at peace with the sensors’ erratic performance and not give up on them and take them off so soon. When it all starts to stress me out, sometimes I take a day off checking either way, and just try to eat intuitively.

Another piece of good news is that the hives I’ve had since last summer seems to be tapering off. On the allergist’s suggestion I started taking the antihistamines every other day (instead of every day) in mid-January and I noticed I wasn’t getting hives too often, so I stopped entirely the first week of February. Now I just take one when I have a breakout, which has only happened four times this month. The last time was in mid-February and three of the four times, the hives were very faint and not too itchy. Fingers crossed, maybe it’s over. We never did figure out what was triggering them.

Speaking of skin, Xander’s skin infection is back. It’s confined to a small patch on his stomach and because we caught it early, the medicated wipes seem to be stopping it from spreading, though it’s been a few weeks and it’s not getting better either. It doesn’t seem to be bothering him much, but he’s a good-natured cat, arthritis, deafness, irritated skin and all, so it can be hard to tell. He turned nineteen the week of Valentine’s Day, and after his health scares last summer, we’re all happy for all the time we have to cuddle on the couch and bed with him (and to give him a small fraction of the cat treats he requests).

One last medical update—as I mentioned above, my mom is still recovering from breaking her neck in October. She got her brace off in mid-January and is in physical therapy. She has some lingering pain, especially late in the day, and she has a limited range of motion in her neck, which impedes her ability to drive. That’s why she needs to travel with Sara and Dave.

It feels odd to have a roundup of medical issues and not mention North, but they’re pretty stable right now. They still have pain, but they’re able to get around where they need to with their cane most days. The pain psychologist they were seeing ended up not being a good fit, so after a few sessions, we decided not to continue. They’re happy about this, because they’d rather just get on with their life, without talking so much about this aspect of it.

And there’s a lot for them to get on with, the play, their birthday next month, a road trip to meet a new relative, and two beach weeks with kin they’ve known all or much of their life.

After Dark: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 65

We’ve had two weeknight excursions recently, which is unusual for us these days. We used to have more school events (concerts, plays, meetings), but between being down to one kid and covid, these are now either online or rare occurrences. But this month, we patronized the arts, taking in an outdoor art exhibit and a concert.

Outing #1: Winter Lanterns

On the first day of February, the Lunar New Year, we went to the Kennedy Center to see the Winter Lanterns display. It’s the second time we’ve done it. The last time was two years ago, shortly before covid struck. I think it was cancelled the next year. We considered going the weekend before or after when there would have been food trucks, but it was supposed to be warmer during the week and the idea of going on the actual date of the new year appealed, so that’s what we did. I made a tofu, fennel, and shiitake soup and a cabbage-Asian pear slaw from a Korean vegan cookbook North got for Christmas, so we were not without culturally relevant sustenance before we left. It was a more involved dinner than I usually make so I had to knock off work a little early to prepare it.

I wasn’t sure if it would be the same lanterns as the first time we went or new ones. The answer was a mix. We wandered around the terraces outside the Kennedy Center looking at the colorful flowers, butterflies, pandas, sea creatures, and birds lighting up the night. I especially liked the owls, flamingoes, jellyfish, and turtles. One of the rectangular pools was frozen solid, which surprised me because it had been up in the forties that day—North poked it with their cane to verify. It was all very beautiful. It’s a shame Noah’s always at school when it happens. I think he’d like it and he’s the best photographer in the family.

Between Outings

Two nights later, still on the new year theme, North made a spicy tofu stew and udon with black bean sauce from the same cookbook. Afterward we watched an online information session about the culinary arts program at another high school in our school district. (This is one of those meetings that would have probably been in person in the Before Times.) North applied and got in through a lottery and was trying to decide whether to attend during their junior year. It’s a one-year, half-day program. If they went, they’d have their academic classes at their current school in the morning, take a bus to the other school, and attend the culinary arts program in the afternoon. During the last quarter of the school year the kids run a restaurant other students, faculty, and staff patronize. North was initially torn, but is leaning against attending, as they’re feeling they don’t want their days split between two schools.

The weekend was pretty quiet. Zoë came over on Friday after school and we had homemade pizza and watched Vita and Virginia. It occurred to me as we watched it that I’ve passed from being willing to awkwardly power through sex scenes in television and movies with my older child, to doing it with my younger child, to doing it with a friend of my younger child. In case that’s a milestone, I will note here it happened when my youngest was not quite sixteen.

Beth went ice skating on Saturday and I went for a longer than usual walk and saw snowdrops in a yard a block or two from the Co-op. I was glad to see them, because I always welcome little heralds of spring in February. We have a little cluster of purple crocuses in our side yard, which we didn’t plant, probably relocated by a squirrel. The dozens of daffodils in our front yard have poked their heads up out of the ground as well, though for their own sake, I hope they stay shut for several more weeks.

Outing #2: Billie Eilish Concert

We went to see Billie Eilish on Wednesday night. We bought tickets for this concert, which was supposed to take place in March 2020, for North’s fourteenth birthday. When the concert was originally postponed, North was so sad they organized an at-home concert, complete with glowsticks, concessions, and homemade concert t-shirts to cheer themselves up. Beth was able to find her shirt and she wore it to the real concert.

Even now, almost twenty-three months later, I had some trepidation about going to a big, inside event with omicron still circulating, but it’s on the downswing where we live and proof of vaccination and masking were required. Plus it was now or never. Sadly, North’s not even as much of an Eilish fan as they used to be, though they do still like her. They’re more excited about the Girl in Red concert they’re going to with Zoë and some other friends next month.

We had an early dinner and then drove to the Metro stop and took the train into the city. We all have the Clear app on our phones, downloaded for this event, because it was the first time since we were vaccinated last spring that we had to provide in-person proof of vaccination. We showed it to the guards at the door and we were admitted. It was all pretty efficient. We walked by concession and merch stands with long lines. North didn’t ask for a $45 t-shirt or anything to eat, so we didn’t buy anything. I wondered if we would have gotten some souvenirs two years ago. I noticed every restroom I saw in the arena had been converted to a women’s room, with laminated signs covering up the regular ones and plastic sheeting covering the urinals. I guess there must have been a men’s room somewhere but I didn’t see one and there probably wasn’t need of many, as the crowd was overwhelmingly female, also young—most concert-goers were in their teens and twenties, with a sprinkling of preteens and a fair number of middle-aged parents, mostly moms, accompanying kids.

It was re-assuring how universal masking was. You had to be masked to get in, but it would have been easy to remove your mask once seated and no one I saw was doing that, except briefly to eat. I think in the whole evening, I only saw one person wearing a mask below the nose in that great mass of humanity.

My other worry about the concert, other than being in a crowd of twenty thousand people, was being out late on a school night. Beth and I are early-to-bed people. We’re usually in bed by ten, ten-thirty at the latest and we weren’t sure how late we’d be out, so I was happy when the lights went down for the opening act, Australian rapper Tkay Maidza, relatively promptly at 7:35. I was surprised to recognize one of her songs, a cover of the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” late in her set, and I had to tell first Beth, then North, “I know this song!” Neither of them was particularly impressed with my familiarity with late eighties popular music, but you’ve got to go with what you have.

After the opening act, there was almost an hour to wait before Eilish came on. I was impatient and kept checking my watch and re-calculating when we might get to bed, but finally a trapdoor opened on the stage and she came bouncing out. I think a trampoline must have been involved. She was wearing an oversized black t-shirt, bike shorts, kneepads, and sneakers and she had her hair dyed black and she wore it in pigtails. In keeping with her entrance, her energy was high throughout the show.

She opened with “Bury a Friend” and I was immediately surprised by how loud the song was. I mean, I knew she was playing in a hockey stadium and not an intimate little coffeehouse, but her recorded music has a quiet if intense vibe, and I was expecting it to be something like that, amplified enough for everyone to hear, of course, but not much more than that. But instead of quiet and intense, it was loud and intense. There were a lot lights crisscrossing the stadium and smoke and visuals on the screens behind her. Once it was cars seeming to speed toward her as a traffic lane lines appeared on the stage. Sometimes a shark swam behind her or a giant spider appeared. Toward the end there was a montage of home movies from her childhood and there was another of images related to climate change. So there was a lot to take in. At one point she got into a cherry picker and it swung her around, close to different parts of the crowd. She also orchestrated a wave of cell phone lights in the crowd by pointing to different parts of the stadium. North and I participated in that. It reminded me of the glowsticks at our makeshift concert two years ago.

I did not know as many of the songs as I expected. Even though North played Billie Eilish in the car for all the time for years, maybe from the age of twelve to fourteen, they haven’t done that recently for two reasons. First, they are listening more to other artists. Second, they don’t play music in the car for everyone to hear much anymore, preferring to use their headphones. And as it turns out, Eilish has written some new material in the two years I haven’t been paying much attention.

If you want to read more about the concert, here’s a review. One thing that struck me was how cheerful her stage presence and banter was, in contrast to a lot of her lyrics, which tend toward the gloomy. Beth said she was probably happy to be performing again. And the name of her newest album is Happier Than Ever (even though in the cover photo she’s crying).

In the end we got home and into bed by 11:40, which was better than I feared. It was a fun outing, but I couldn’t help thinking it wasn’t the same experience it would have been two years ago, when North was over the moon about going.

There are so many things we can’t get back, most of North’s ninth grade year and all of Noah’s sophomore year of college for starters. But I never lose sight of how lucky we were and are. We didn’t get sick or lose any loved ones and there was a sweet coziness to the time we all spent in our bubble of four that I can imagine being nostalgic for some time in the future. Right now, I’m grateful the kids are back to considerably more normal school and social lives. North is back in the theater, working as costumes manager for the spring musical and looking forward to having people inside the house for their birthday next month, after two years of outdoor birthday parties. Meanwhile, Noah is pulling together a crew and actors for a movie he’s making for his advanced cinema production class and his junior project is to make an app that lets you mark what you think is a good take as you’re filming so you can find them more easily as you edit. They’re both back to doing what they love. What parent wouldn’t want that?

After the Outings: Weekend and Valentine’s Day

We had another quiet weekend. We watched the Olympics on Friday night. We’ve been watching more than usual, which is nice because I always enjoy it when I think to watch it. I like the figure skating best, but we’ve watched some speed skating, ski jumping, snowboarding, and skeleton, too.

On Saturday night, we watched the first two-thirds or so of Hair, which I haven’t seen since I was twelve and I nominated for family movie night out of curiosity to see how it would hold up. First, I can see why my mom was so mad at my dad for taking an twelve and eight year old to see this film, with all its celebration of drug use and the sexually explicit lyrics, and I can see why it would have seemed like a lot of fun to a kid to imagine be a hippie dancing and singing in Central Park, which is how I responded at the time. The sexual politics leave something to be desired— especially the way Berger appeals to Sheila by storming past all her boundaries. And the attempts to be transgressive and liberated about interracial love are just cringy now. “Black Boys/White Boys” made North exclaim, “What is this song?” more than once. And I don’t even know what’s going on with the officers of draft board all seeming to be gay. I think that must have gone over my head the first time I saw it. But despite all this, I have to admit I am still fond of this movie. I guess I imprinted on it.

On Sunday North made a Black Forest cake as a Valentine’s Day treat. It was very complicated, involving layers of chocolate mousse, cherries, and whipped cream inside the cake and more mousse and cherries on top and shaved chocolate on the top and sides. We decided to eat the cake and exchange presents when North got home from school on Monday instead of after dinner because it helps me spread out my blood sugar rises not to have dessert right after a meal. Also, we weren’t sure if North would be up at dinner, because in the past few months they’ve taken to napping in the late afternoons and early evenings and then staying up late, so it’s hit or miss whether they eat with us.

That day at lunch North cut their apple slices and vegetarian Canadian bacon into heart shapes to get in the mood and then put together a pink and purple outfit for the next day. When they couldn’t find any pink socks I almost gave them one of their Valentine’s Day presents early, but they found some. After they’d gone to bed (earlier than us that night), Beth attached a heart-shaped balloon she got at the grocery store to North’s chair at the dining room table to greet them in the morning.

When North got home from play practice, Beth and I took a break from work to eat the cake and to open presents. Everyone got a little candy; I got a big bag of loose fruit-and-hibiscus tea; Beth got marshmallow-scented lotion, and a biography of Walt Whitman (an item from her Christmas list she never got); and North got two pairs of socks (one pink with strawberries and one with rainbow stripes on a black background). I told North I was going for a Rainbow Goth look. (Lest anyone worry Noah was left out, we mailed a box of fundraiser candy from North’s school and a card to him.)

Does it go without saying that the cake was delicious? Well, just in case it doesn’t I will say it—it was excellent. I decided before we ate that it was a special occasion and I was willing to go up near the top of my target blood sugar range, which is more or less what happened. (I had to delay dinner while I waited for it to come down.) Dinner was tomato-lentil stew with feta and fresh mint and parsley from my indoor herb garden. I also made little heart-shaped toasts. We ate this festive meal in shifts, as North was asleep and I couldn’t eat yet when it was ready.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you had some sweetness in the day and after dark, too

Ten-Year Challenge: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 64

About a week ago, Nicole posted about the ten-year challenge. Here’s her first paragraph:

Recently I’ve seen a lot of “ten year challenge” posts on social media, which is one of those strange phenomena of our time. A challenge, in my mind, is to be ninety-seven weeks into a global pandemic and to still get out of bed every morning, putting one foot in front of the other and keeping hope and optimism in day to day life. A challenge is to parent effectively when there are constant disappointments and changes that are out of anyone’s personal control; a challenge is to keep making dinner, day in and day out, with no end in sight and nothing exciting to anticipate. What about the “ten year challenge” is a challenge, exactly? Is the challenge in finding photos that are a decade apart? Or does the challenge actually lie in the posting of photos that are a decade apart, forcing us all to face the changes that ten years have brought and the vast improvements in our ability to take photos with good lighting and posing? I feel like it’s the latter.

I commented:

This made me go back to my blog archive and see if there were any pictures of me from January 2012. There was one of me and Beth in front of a gay bookstore in Philadelphia, where we were having a weekend getaway while my mom kept the kids.

What’s changed (not just physical):

My mom doesn’t live in that area anymore
I only have one kid at home and that one is almost old enough to be left alone for a weekend (maybe?)
Beth and I were both heavier then

What hasn’t:

I’d still consider a bookstore a fun date destination
I still have the coat and the sweater I’m wearing in the picture
My hair is in a ponytail, which is still how I wear it about half the time

I’m starting to wonder if I could get a blog post out of this.

Nicole encouraged me to go for it, so here we are. The end of January seems like a good time for this post, as we’ve just come through the month named after Janus, the god of beginnings, who has one face looking forward and the other back.

If you have kids, the biggest changes that occur in ten years are going to be in them. In January 2012, my kids were in kindergarten and fifth grade. Now they are a sophomore in high school and junior in college. How did we go from both in elementary school to one in college and the other getting mail from colleges almost every day? Time is relentless, people. Also of note, ten years ago North identified as a girl and they no longer do.

I blogged four times that month. In the first post, we visited the neighborhood in the city where Beth and I lived for ten years before Noah was born and one year after that. We had lunch and bought some books at Kramerbooks and then took in a Degas exhibit at the Phillips Gallery. (This actually happened in December, but I wrote about it in January.) Here’s what I had to say about it:

June enjoyed the ballerina paintings (and looking at herself in the mirrored wall with a barre) but she went through the exhibit at her usual brisk pace, which meant we could not linger as long as the adults might have liked.  Noah liked the sculptures best and was also interested in the computer images of what lies under the visible layer of paint.  When we finished with Degas, we visited some other parts of the museum.  We went into the Rothko room, much to the alarm of the guards, who insisted that June’s hand be held at all times.  (The paintings in that room are not under glass.) June gave the guard an exasperated look when she heard this.  Clearly he did not know how well behaved she is and how many tiger paws she has (twenty-three, third place in her class- not that she’s keeping track).*  For a while the kids played a game of Noah’s invention called “Guess the Medium,” in which he’d have June guess whether a piece of art was done in paint, chalk, water color, etc. I caught a glimpse of them spontaneously holding hands in front of a painting (though later Noah claimed he’d done no such thing).  It was a lovely, lovely day, just like old times, except completely different.

*Tiger paws were slips of paper with a drawing on a tiger paw on them, redeemable for prizes and given as rewards at North’s elementary school. Just a few weeks ago I found a bunch of unredeemed tiger paws from third grade in a drawer. They got less exciting as North moved through the grades apparently. Noah was always pretty indifferent to them.

I haven’t been a museum since pre-pandemic times. During that hopeful stretch last summer when we went to see movies in theaters, and ate inside restaurants, and I’d sometimes go inside stores unmasked, I would have, if I’d thought of it. I don’t know how long it will be until I do again. Next month we’re going to a Billie Eilish concert (rescheduled from March 2020, it was North’s fourteenth birthday present) and that’s more of a risk than going to a museum, but we’d have to forfeit the tickets if we didn’t go, and we are all vaccinated and boosted so we’re crossing our fingers and going.

In the second post, I chronicled the first-ever Panda basketball practice and game.

The Purple Pandas were playing an all-boy team in green t-shirts.  Malachi and one of June’s former preschool classmates were playing on that team and they both got baskets.  (Ram also got a “bleedy nose,” as June put it later.  I didn’t see how it happened but I saw him crying and comforted by several adults and later I saw someone come to clean the blood up off the court.) Actually Malachi didn’t just get a basket, he got the majority of his team’s baskets.  I knew he liked sports and now I know why.  The kid’s got game.  The green team shut out the Purple Pandas, who often looked shocked when the green players knocked the ball out of their hands, despite having been warned by Mike both Friday and today that this would happen, that it wasn’t rude or mean, it was just part of the game.  As the game progressed the girls got better at running to defend their basket when they lost control of the ball, instead of just standing there looking shocked. So that was progress.  A few of them, including Sally (formerly known as the Raccoon*) and her first-grade sister showed some hustle by the end of the game.

*North’s preschool used insect, plant, and animal symbols to identify the kids on their artwork, cubbies, attendance charts, etc. and I used those as pseudonyms for North’s classmates.

North played on the Pandas for six years, from kindergarten to fifth grade, and the team stayed together another three years after that until the pandemic cut their last season short. North’s current extracurricular activity is the spring musical. They will be costume manager again. Rehearsals just started last week. North and Beth are also thinking about taking an art class together either at the rec center or our local community college.

The third post was about Beth’s and my anniversary getaway.

We drove everyone up to Mom and Jim’s house on Saturday afternoon after June’s basketball game, dropped the kids off and enjoyed two nights and one day to ourselves in the City of Brotherly Love.  We had two very nice dinners at the Kyber Pass Pub and Cuba Libre. If you go to the first, the vegetarian meats (BBQ and fried chicken Po Boys) and the fried vegetables (okra and sweet potato fries) are very good. If you go to the second, you must order the buñuelos con espinaca. We visited Reading Terminal Market and had lunch there.  I got a vegetarian cheesesteak at a stand where the service was so bad it crossed over from aggravating to comic, but the cheesesteak was not half bad once I finally got it. We browsed at Giovanni’s Room and came out with a few books. We spent a lot of time in our hotel room and in a local coffee shop reading. We saw a non-animated, R-rated movie, the lesbian coming-of-age film The Pariah, which was well acted and a good story, though there were some odd things going on with the camera work, probably meant to indicate the protagonist’s emotional state.  Our room had a gas fireplace and a Jacuzzi and we employed them both.

We’ve actually taken a lot of road trips during the pandemic, at first just moving our bubble of four from one place to another, enjoying outdoor activities and eating takeout, then after everyone got vaccinated, visiting relatives in West Virginia or meeting up with them at the beach. We might be hitting the road in April during North’s spring break to meet one of their half-siblings whom they met through the Donor Sibling Registry and who lives in Michigan with their two moms. As for a weekend alone, as I mentioned in my comment on Nicole’s post my mom doesn’t live nearby anymore and we don’t feel quite ready to leave North alone for a weekend, but the empty nest is less than three years from now, so I guess by then the world will be our oyster.

The last post was about a day the kids had off school. They always have a day off between second and third quarter. North had two playdates so Noah and I spent the morning together, taking a walk to Starbucks and reading a historical novel, Forge, until his sibling came home.

When June came out of her room forty minutes later she had a stack of Dora books she wanted me to read to her and even though Dora is not my idea of quality children’s literature, the idea of cuddling up in bed and having some one-on-one time with my younger child in between her many social engagements seemed appealing.  Before I read to her I reminded Noah of the items left on his list (homework, percussion practice, typing practice) and I made him lunch. I fixed him some leftover ziti with butter and grated parmesan and a bowl of applesauce with cinnamon sprinkled on top.

“Ziti with parmesan and butter. What could be better than that?” Noah said with satisfaction as I placed his lunch in front of him.

“A castle with princesses and ponies,” June piped up.

You’re going to eat princesses and ponies for lunch?” I said in mock surprise and soon she was over at the toy castle, pretending to be a dragon munching on the royals.  But I was thinking silently that I know something much better than noodles or princesses: a morning with my firstborn as he stands on the threshold of midterms and whatever else middle school has to offer.

Well, middle school is long over for both kids. But Noah does still love pasta, and he plays percussion in a band for non-music majors at school, and we still enjoy sharing books together. North’s taste in books runs more to gay and lesbian romance than Dora these days, and they’ve been digging into the books they’re reading in English class, reading more of the Odyssey than was assigned and dipping into the Iliad as well, just for fun. They read The Shining recently and they’re thinking of reading Dante’s Inferno, so I’d say they’re becoming a rather eclectic reader, after several years of not reading much for pleasure.

That was January 2012. In between then and now, Beth and I got legally married, my mother and stepfather moved to Oregon, my stepfather died, my sister adopted my niece and married my brother-in-law, and North came out as non-binary. We lived through the Trump presidency and a global pandemic. Our lives ten years from now are as unfathomable to us now as our current lives would have been then. It’s not impossible that we could have a grandchild, but not if my kids both wait as long as I did to have children or choose not to have kids. There’s only one way to find out what lies ahead and that’s to live through the next ten years. I am up to that challenge.

Second (and Third) Week: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 63

Second Week Begins

After the week that was mostly cancelled for snow, North had another short school week. Monday and Tuesday they were suffering after-effects from their covid booster and stayed home from school and Wednesday was a half day. I’m not sure why, but if it was teacher planning I am not going to begrudge the teachers anything they need.

Anniversary #30/9

Beth’s and my anniversary was a week ago Tuesday. It’s been thirty years since our commitment ceremony and nine years since our legal wedding. Both ceremonies took place on the same date, the first one in the living room of the apartment in D.C. where we lived when we were in our mid-twenties to mid-thirties and the second one in the living room of the house in suburban Maryland where we’ve lived since 2002.

I like to give anniversary gifts based on the traditional materials. Thirty is the pearl anniversary and this was tough one, because as Beth let me know ahead of time, she did not want a string of pearls. (There wasn’t much danger I would have gone in that direction anyway. It’s not really her style.) This is what I did get—a card with a shell on the front, a confection called licorice pearls (because Beth is on a licorice kick), a cultural biography of Pearl Buck (which I thought might be of interest because she was from West Virginia and Beth has a lot of West Virginia pride), and a gift certificate to Main Street Pearl, a bubble tea place in downtown Takoma. Beth doesn’t care for bubble tea (or any kind of tea), but they do have pastries, including a pretty good chocolate chip cookie. I got it for $9 so it would symbolize both anniversaries.

North accompanied me to the Co-op to get the card and to Main Street Pearl to get the certificate the Saturday afternoon before our anniversary because I promised to get them a bubble tea if they’d walk with me. It was a pleasant outing on a cold but sunny day. I got a warm milk tea with boba. (“You got it warm?” Beth said later, “That makes it even worse.”) We sat outside and drank our tea in subfreezing temperatures and because Main Street Pearl is gay-owned and decorated with rainbow flags year round, North made me take an online quiz about various Pride flags on their phone. I was doing pretty well at first but it got harder as it went along and I ended up with a score of nine out of fourteen. But in my defense, pride flags have gotten a lot more complicated than when I was a baby dyke and in some ways I am stuck in my youth.

Back to the anniversary… because our commitment ceremony was a homemade affair, we made our own cake and I’ve made it almost every year since on our anniversary. It’s a spice cake. The original had white frosting with purple frosting flowers (to match the potted African violets we gave away as wedding favors). However, every other time I’ve made this cake I’ve made the lemon glaze that’s included in the recipe (except the one year I made an orange glaze and North almost lost their mind). This year, as a concession to diabetes, I made even more drastic changes, cutting the recipe in half and making muffins instead of a cake, with no glaze or frosting. I made breakfast for dinner to go with them—kale and mushroom omelets, various kind of vegetarian breakfast meat, and grapefruit.

Earlier in the day Beth and I took our separate morning walks and worked—she had back-to-back meetings all afternoon and I was working on a white paper about vitamin K2—and I read several chapters of Odds Against Tomorrow, the dystopian cli fi (climate fiction) novel I was reading for book club. I had a Zoom meeting with my diabetes nurse during which she watched Beth apply a new sensor to my arm to see if the problem with the monitors is faulty application, but she said Beth’s technique looked perfect.

North emerged from their room in the late morning, took a rapid covid test, ate some chia pudding, and went back to bed. All the students in their school had received tests they were supposed to take the day before, but as North was absent the day before, Beth had gone to the library where they are distributing free tests so she could submit test results (negative) online before North goes back to school.

Once I’d finished working for the day, Noah and I finished The King of Scars, which we’d been reading since a few days after Christmas and then I started making the muffins and the rest of dinner. The cake recipe works pretty well for muffins, it turns out. North said next year I should add a little lemon juice to the batter to give it the lemony taste the glaze gave the cake. I had half a grapefruit and half a muffin at the same meal, which is a splurge for me these days, but it was a special occasion.

Beth and I exchanged gifts after dinner. She tried one of the pearls, which are coated in white chocolate, and she said the licorice filling was salty and intense and she liked it. She got me a gift certificate for Takoma Beverage Company, a coffeehouse in downtown Takoma, and made Saturday lunch reservations in the garden at Zinnia, a new restaurant on the site of an old one in a rambling old house, with a big garden. (Mrs. K’s Toll House, if you’re local.) Now the high temperature on Saturday was predicted to be in the twenties, and while we considered canceling the reservation and doing it on a milder day, in the end we decided to go as there were heaters and it had been much too long since we’ve had a date.

After I’d done the dinner dishes, Beth, Noah, and I played Settlers of Catan because we hadn’t played the whole month Noah was home and this game was a pandemic staple for us the year and a half he was home. Beth won. She almost always does.

The Rest of the Second Week

When North finally went back to school their bus arrived and it continued to arrive for the rest of the week. (The county has asked for National Guard troops to fill in for all the absent bus drivers. We’ll see if that happens.) At school, the promised KN95 masks had not materialized and North wasn’t called in to receive a rapid test to take at home the way kids who had been absent were supposed to be. I guess it’s a good thing Beth had already taken matters into her own hands and procured tests while North was absent. (This is the kind of planning at which she excels.)

In other medical disappointments, my new sensor seemed not be any more accurate than the last two, both of which I removed before they expired. I didn’t take it off, but I started checking it with finger pricks, which is suboptimal, because one of the main reasons to wear one is not having to do that. Instead of running consistently low, sometimes it was a little low and sometimes it was way too low. (I still have it on because I got some better readings from it and I just didn’t want to make Beth deal with the rigamarole of getting a replacement or do it myself, but it’s still not as accurate as I’d like.)

Also in medical updates: Thursday I went to see the allergist, who still doesn’t know why I break out in hives if I don’t take a daily antihistamine. He advised me to start taking it every other day to see if the reaction is lessening. He says 50% of mystery cases like mine resolve themselves within a year, so it’s a good idea keep checking to see if the medication is still needed. It’s been about six months. He also reviewed the results of my allergy tests from September and said if I wanted I could try going off nuts, as those were some of the biggest reactions after soy, which we’ve already ruled out. It was kind of a tepid suggestion and nuts, like soy, are an important protein source for me to manage my diabetes, so I haven’t decided if I even want to try that. (I have peanut butter for breakfast two to four times a week.) I’m not going to try it until I’ve been on the every-other-day antihistamine schedule for a while, as I don’t want to change more than one variable at a time. (On my no medication days so far, I’ve only had hives one of three days, so that’s interesting—maybe they are tapering off.)

My book club has gone back to virtual meetings, which is half sad (because I like it better in person) and half a relief because I was thinking I probably shouldn’t go in person anymore and the hybrid format is awkward, especially for the folks at home. Anyway, we had a meeting on Thursday, to discuss Odds Against Tomorrow. I realized after it was over that I’d only spoken twice and both times it was to disagree with someone, and then I felt guilty about that and then I wondered if that was a gender-conditioned reaction.

After book club we all stayed up later than three out of four of us (those of us who weren’t still on break) probably should have to watch the last two episodes of Dickinson, because there are lot of shows we wanted to finish before Noah left on Sunday morning.

Friday night we got pizza and since it was his last pizza night at home, we let Noah choose and we got Roscoe’s. It was also our last family movie night with him home, but as everyone else had already had a turn during his month at home, Beth chose and we watched Love and Friendship. She said she wanted something light.

Third Week, So Far

On Saturday morning Noah and read longer than usual in an attempt to finish the short novel (Equal Rites from the Discworld series) we’d optimistically started four days before his departure. We got about halfway through what we had left and decided to pick it up later in the day. Then Beth got home from grocery shopping and we hurriedly put the perishables in the fridge and left the rest on the kitchen floor because we had lunch reservations.

Yes, we did eat our anniversary lunch outside in twenty-one-degree weather. But there were propane heaters by the tables and I spread my cashmere scarf on the metal chair before I sat down on it and it wasn’t too bad. We didn’t even avail ourselves of the blankets the restaurant provided. And we weren’t the only ones dining al fresco. There were people making S’mores over fire pits and a lot of bundled up kids tearing around the garden, and music making the scene festive. I got devilled eggs made with pimento cheese instead of mayonnaise, a Caesar salad, and Oolong tea. Beth got hot chocolate, spinach-potato soup, sweet potato fritters, and we shared a cheese board. It was quite a spread and we had a lot of food to bring home. While I probably would not have chosen to dine outside on a colder than average day in mid-January pre-pandemic, it made me glad we can be hardy and flexible. That’s not a bad thing to consider while celebrating one’s thirtieth anniversary.

In the mid-afternoon, Beth took Noah for the first of two covid tests he needed to return to school. But instead of the PRC test he registered for, he got a rapid antigen test and those are only accepted if taken within twenty hours of a students’ move-in date, so it was basically useless. So he’ll take two more rapid antigen tests in Ithaca. (The first test was negative, by the way.)

While Beth and Noah were gone, I cut several springs from my rosemary plant and pulled the needles off and put them in one of the little glass spice jars my sister got Noah for Christmas, so he could take a bit of home with him to Ithaca. Then Beth and Noah got back, we read some more, and then made pho together. It was kind of a complicated recipe for a noodle soup, but we’ve been making Saturday dinner together ever since he was in sixth grade, and for the past five years we’ve always done it while listening to my friend Becky’s show on Takoma’s community radio station, so that was a comforting thing to do.

After dinner, there was a flurry of television viewing and book reading. Beth and Noah have been watching a Star Wars cartoon and they got in a couple episodes while I did the dinner dishes. Then the three of us watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We were unable to finish a season in the month he was home, but we got to the midpoint of season 3, which was kind of satisfying and may also make it easier to remember where we left off. After that, against all odds, Noah and I finished Equal Rites, which pleased us both. We immediately started to discuss what path we want to take as we continue through this forty-one-book series, which has several sub-series, and therefore no set order. I doubt we’ll read the whole thing, so the order is an important consideration.

It was a very nice last day of having Noah home, just about perfect.

Beth and Noah left a little before ten a.m. Sunday, around the same time North left to go meet Zoë at Starbucks. I found myself alone in the house for the first time in I don’t remember how long. Even though I had a to-do list, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, being agitated and overcome with emotion. Sadness, yes, but also happiness, because the spring semester seems to be happening and Noah’s got a good course schedule and a job I think he’ll be good at and enjoy. College is going well for him and it’s important for him to get back to his fledgling adult life.

Eventually I settled down, stripped his bed before it seemed unbearable to do it, ate some of the leftover fancy cheese from Zinnia, and started blogging. Then I had lunch, took a bus to the library to return a book, walked home through the falling snow, had a nap, tackled the pile of newspapers that piled up while I was trying to finish my actual book club book and my mother-son book club book, and listened to a couple of podcasts, which have also been piling up on my phone. North returned from Zoë’s while I was napping and that evening they watched Love, Simon on a Hulu watch party with a couple friends.

The snow had all but melted, except in patches where it’s shady or the piles the plows made in parking lots, when we got two more inches on Sunday afternoon and evening, but Monday was MLK day, so it did not result in any additional snow days.

I told Sara I’d work Monday even though it was MLK day because she’s got a lot of projects, so I did that, working on web copy for a vitamin D product. But I also shoveled our slushy walk, took a walk by the creek, and saw kids sledding (successfully) on what was more mud and wet leaves than snow. North wrote a short essay on the role of women in the Odyssey, which in their words is “to take the blame for things men do.” After dinner, North and I watched It, cuddled up the couch with Xander. North leaned against me during the scary parts, sometimes reaching over me to pet the cat.

Tuesday North woke up with a sore throat and a cough and stayed home from school. Remember, the whole reason North and I didn’t go to Ithaca with Beth and Noah, a trip I really wanted to make, was so North could go to school on Tuesday, so this was a frustrating turn of events.

Beth texted me that Noah was covid-tested, cleared, and checked into his apartment around 11:00 a.m. She took him grocery shopping and they went for a hike to see Buttermilk Falls in the snow—they got a foot there to our rapidly melting two inches—and she left Ithaca around 2:30. (She made it home by a little before nine, which is good time for that drive.) Over the course of the afternoon I finished the vitamin D copy and started some for a stress relief product.

And speaking of stress… that afternoon it was announced some more schools in our county are going remote, starting Thursday, but not which ones, so that was an exciting bit of uncertainty. By evening the schools (mostly elementary and middle schools) were identified, and North’s school is still in-person for now. My friend Megan, whose daughter Talia attends the same school, texted me “looks like we won the lottery…today anyway!” Not that North went to school today, as they were still feeling under the weather. (Rapid antigen test says it’s not covid.) This makes three weeks in a row they’ve gone to school two and half days or less, because of weather, vaccine effects, or illness. Plus, it’s supposed to sleet or snow tomorrow right before the morning rush hour, so who knows if there will even be school tomorrow?* There are still some bumps in the road of this new year, even though I’m glad Noah’s settled into it.

The certificate for North’s legal name change arrived yesterday. This was a happy moment for them, but a melancholy one for me. It’s been hard for me to give up their old name, which I loved, even though they haven’t used it for over four years. It was the right thing to do, though. It’s their name after all, and this stage of parenting seems to be a long process of letting go, which, ultimately, is a good thing.

*Update, 1/20: It was rain, not even sleet, and school was cancelled.