About Steph

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

Teenagers, Part 1

Teenagers, kick our butts. Tell us what the future will bring.

From “Teenagers, Kick Our Butts,” by Dar Williams

Sometime in late February, North presented us with a list of things they wanted to do for their thirteenth birthday. Get an ear pierced and see a PG-13 movie were on the list. (They’ve only seen one, School of Rock, that we let them watch in sixth grade because they were acting in the play.) They also wanted to go out for hot pot, because about a year ago Beth, Noah, and I went without them and they’d wanted to try it ever since then.

While most of the festivities will take place closer to their birthday, the date for hot pot was Saturday, two weeks before their birthday. The reason was that North was giving a TEDx talk that day, and a friend from Peter and the Starcatcher was coming to watch it and they thought it would be fun to have Cam come over afterward and then go to dinner with us.

TEDx talks are locally organized events, loosely affiliated with official TED talks. This one was for young people (middle school to college-aged) from Takoma Park. North, at not quite thirteen, was the youngest speaker and the oldest was nineteen. North’s been writing, editing, and practicing this speech, with coaching at occasional Saturday meetings at the community center, since last spring.

We arrived at the auditorium and took our seats. North was up first. Their topic was assumptions, different situations in which people might make false assumptions about each other and the importance of asking questions instead of assuming. Of course, gender was their central example because people generally assume boy or girl when they meet North. (The exact ratio seems to vary with their hair length. They got it cut about a week and a half ago and I recently heard someone call them “he” for the first time in a while.) As I watched North and then the other speakers, I thought about how hard public speaking can be, and how North makes it look easy.

After North, there were three more speakers: a high school sophomore who spoke about immigrating from Ghana and made an argument for pro-immigration policies, a senior who advocated for more student-focused pedagogy in schools, and a college student who spoke about finding one’s purpose and succeeding in school. There was also a breakdancer and a couple of singers, one of whom sang “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” while accompanying herself on the ukulele, which is apparently a thing kids do now. The kids’ presentations were interspersed with videos of two adults and one kid (Greta Thunberg, the Swedish girl who’s on a school strike for climate change) giving their own TED and TEDx talks. The MCs read poetry about gun violence and climate change before the talks on those topics. It was kind of a hodgepodge, but the point was to showcase what’s on the mind of Takoma youth, so it was probably a good representation of that. And hearing teenagers speak out always gives me hope. After all, it shows us what the future will bring.

Shortly before the event, Representative Jamie Raskin met with the speakers and MCs backstage, a fact we might never have found out if he hadn’t tweeted a picture of himself with them because North didn’t think meeting a Congressman was worth mentioning. It can be hard to impress kids who live near D.C. sometimes.

Cam had an appointment and couldn’t come straight home with us, but came over later in the afternoon and joined us for hot pot and frozen yogurt. There was a lot of giggling coming from North’s room while they were in there and the two of us them were singing Billie Eilish songs all the way to the restaurant, which is about a half hour away. North was happy to finally experience cooking their own noodles and veggies on burners set into the tables and grabbing ingredients from the conveyor belt that runs between the tables.

I managed to get my taro cooked all the way through this time and tried quail eggs, which I’ve never had before. (They taste pretty much like chicken eggs, but tiny.) It was a fun outing, but it’s just the beginning of the celebration. North is fond of birthdays and thirteen is a big one. Here’s a little advice for my almost-teen. I gave Noah the same advice, from Dar Williams’ song, on his thirteenth birthday. It still holds.

Find your voice, do what it takes 
Make sure you make lots of mistakes 
And find the future that redeems 
Give us hell, give us dreams 
And grow and grow and grow

In Concert

This is why we sing, why we lift our voice
Why we stand as one in harmony
This is why we sing, why we lift our voice
Take my hand and sing with me.

From “Why We Sing” by Greg Gilpin

North just had three concerts in the space of a week. The first two were at Highwood Theatre and the last one was with the Montgomery County Middle School Honors Chorus.

Friday: Fine Arts Night

Every month or so Highwood has an event called Fine Arts Night, which serves as a preview of  songs and scenes from upcoming plays as well a talent show for the kids who act there. North’s not in a show at Highwood right now, but they were set to give a solo concert just two days later and one of the administrators suggested they sing one of their concert pieces at Fine Arts Night, as practice and to promote their concert. It was a good idea, even if it did come only one day before Fine Arts Night. North’s pretty game for this sort of thing, though, so they said yes. 

The solo concert was an opportunity they won at an fundraising auction for the theater last fall. After a period of enthusiasm, they had cold feet for a while, especially when the friend who agreed to perform with them backed out. But they had a few coaching sessions at the theater to go over logistics, rehearse, and get performance feedback, and that helped.

Highwood’s next show is Titanic, so there were a few scenes from that. One of North’s friends from Peter and the Starcatcher, Sadhbh, is in it, so chances are we’ll be seeing it. Various kids sang or played instruments. There was everything from a nine or ten year old boy playing Bach on the keyboards to Sadhbh singing David Bowie’s “Life on Mars.”

North performed near the end. I accompanied them to the stage because they can’t carry their ukulele while on crutches. Once they were settled on the stool with the uke, I leaned in and whispered, “I’d say break a leg, but you already did,” which made them laugh. (And then they used the line at the concert two days later.)

They sang “Forget,” one of their original songs. It starts:

Forget the unforgettable
It’s kind of in the past
All those stories, all those secrets
Yeah, you know they’ll never last
So forget the unforgettable
Things done inside your mind
And just come with me tonight

I enjoyed the first half of the song, but there was an Improv Night going in one of Highwood’s other performance spaces, right next door, and in the middle of the song, it got noisy over there and it was hard to hear. North assured us afterwards that at the solo concert, there would be a mike.

Sunday: Solo Concert

Sunday afternoon we were back at Highwood. I wasn’t sure how many people would come and I was a little nervous about that because while the theater promoted the show on its Facebook page, North hadn’t told too many people about it. But there were ten or twelve people in the audience (including Beth, Noah, and me). A friend of North’s from Tri-M was there, plus North’s friend (from elementary school, Scouts, and basketball) Leila and her mother and brother, and the rest were Highwood friends. While people were filing in, Noah set up his camera to film the concert.

North sang eight songs, two of which had backing tracks Noah made for them. Four songs were originals, including “Chasing Stars,” the song North and Noah made into a music video last summer, plus some newer ones, “Trampoline,” “Eyes,” and “Forget.” They also sang Halsey’s “Without Me,” Billie Eilish’s “Bellyache,” Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” (which they apparently only know from the Twenty-One Pilots cover), and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Of the originals I liked “Forget” best and this time I got to hear the whole song, though of course “Chasing Stars” will always be close to my heart because of the video. Of the covers, I liked “Hallelujah” best maybe because they’ve been noodling around with it since last summer and I’ve been able to hear it develop or maybe just because I really like Leonard Cohen. I thought the Presley tune might be a hit with the grandmothers, though, when they see the video.

Here’s a lyrics video Noah and North made for “Trampoline” over the Thanksgiving weekend and winter break and a clip of North singing “Forget” and “Hallelujah” at the concert. They’re about a minute and a half and seven minutes long.

After it was over Leila’s mom said to us, “I look forward to hearing North’s first album,” only half-joking, I think. Afterward, we presented North with a bouquet from Beth’s mom and their friends crowded around them in the hallway and said the kind of things theater kids say to each other after a show. If you were ever a young performer, you may know what I mean. Sadhbh asked if she could take North out for tea at a café down the street and then over to her house and that’s what they did.

Thursday: Honors Chorus Concert

Just like last year, the county Honors Chorus concert had two weather-cancelled practices, so they had only six rehearsals instead of the planned eight. I guess if they really want eight rehearsals it shouldn’t meet in January and February.

The concert was at 7:30 but the singers were supposed to arrive at six, so I fed North a frozen pot pie at 4:40, and then they got into their black and white clothes and we hit the road a little after five. Montgomery County is a large county, and we live at the southern edge of it so the centrally located practices and concerts are always a schlep. While North was rehearsing, Beth, Noah, and I went out for Japanese at a restaurant that turned out to be a bit further away from the school where the concert was taking place than we intended to go, but we got back in time.

The auditorium was large and set up in a steep amphitheater. North had previously complained about getting up and down those steps on crutches. Speaking of crutches, North told us right before we dropped them off that four of the sopranos were on crutches, all with broken tibias. The four injured singers came out first and sat on chairs in front of the risers and someone came and took their crutches away. The crutch-wrangler was busy throughout the concert bringing crutches back and taking them away because there was one song that was just tenors, basses, and baritones and one that was just sopranos and altos and kids kept exiting and returning to the stage, and re-arranging themselves on the risers. Another mobility complication was a song with a Zulu folk dance, which the kids did partly on the risers and partly on the stage in front of them. For that dance, those who were incapacitated stayed seated and waved their arms rhythmically.

There were seven songs. One in Latin (“Dies Irae,” which is part of Mozart’s Requiem), the Zulu song “Amavolovolo,” “Dawn’s Awake,” (based on a poem from the Harlem Renaissance), a Spanish lullaby, “Crióme Mi Madre,” “I Sing Because I’m Happy,” (a gospel-style adaptation of the hymn “His Eye is On the Sparrow”), “I’ll Make the Difference,” and “Why We Sing,” which is the traditional closing song for honors chorus concerts. I can’t choose a favorite song. They were all lovely. The program explained the theme of the concert was different roles music plays in our lives: music as change, music as expression, music as hope, music as comfort, music as joy, music as inspiration, and music for all.

This is what Beth said about the concert on Facebook:

Great to see these middle schoolers doing something they love last night. It’s not easy being a member of the honors chorus. Weekly practices were at a school that’s 45 minutes away, started at 7 and lasted an hour and 45 minutes after a long day at school. The directors pushed the kids hard. But each week North would leave practice happier than when they arrived, filled with the joy of working toward a common goal. So grateful for the teachers who work so hard and care so much about helping our kids learn and grow.

During the concert, which will be our third of five school concerts this year (two band concerts and three chorus concerts), I had the startling realization that because Noah will be at college next year and North wants to switch their elective from chorus to art in eighth grade, next year there will probably be none. North’s been drawing and painting more recently, so it makes sense to take a class to explore that, but I will be a little sad to give up my seat in the audience after nine straight years of school concerts. Music has changed my kids, helped them express themselves, given them hope, comfort, joy, and inspiration. And listening to them play instruments and sing has given me those things, too. That’s why I hope Noah will continue to drum in college. And of course, North’s not finished singing. Chances are there will be musicals and maybe concerts outside of school venues in their future. I should have plenty of opportunities to see them in concert.

Our Funny Valentine

“This will be a memorable Valentine’s Day, even if it’s not the best one,” North commented as we ate our Valentine’s Day dinner of tomato, cabbage, and rice soup with heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches. They were wearing a large new brace with a hinge and a cutout for the knee on their left leg.  They fell on some wet pavement in front of their school Monday morning and fractured the growth plate at the top of their left tibia, though it took several days to get the right diagnosis.

At first we thought it was a sprained knee and not even a severe sprain as they could put a little weight on it. But it wasn’t better after two days and a night and they needed a doctor’s note to keep using the elevator at school, so Beth took them to urgent care on Tuesday night. The doctor there thought it was a fracture, but the radiologist who read the X-rays the next day disagreed. By Thursday morning, we had a more definitive opinion from an orthopedist who had examined North and person and seen the X-rays and he said it was fractured in a different place than where the urgent care doctor had thought. This was the same orthopedist we saw when North was breaking bone after bone in fifth grade (with some sprains thrown in for variety). I desperately hope we are not on the cusp of another series of orthopedic injuries, but in case we are I’m glad the doctor is familiar with North’s case history.

North was out of school for the first two periods at the orthopedist the morning of Valentine’s Day, so they missed getting candy from any friends who brought some in because apparently it was all distributed by the time they got to school. I wasn’t that sorry for them as North hadn’t brought any candy to school for anyone else and they got white chocolate-strawberry truffles and gummy cinnamon hearts at home later in the day.

North’s gift to the whole family was a bouquet of four yellow roses, one for each of us. We’d discussed this plan before they were injured so I decided to go to the florist and buy them myself while I was out on Valentines-related errands on Tuesday morning because I thought when they got home from school they’d rather rest, rather than going out into the cold rain on crutches in search of flowers.

In lieu of their normal chores, I had them do KP for dinner every night from Monday to Thursday, seated at the dining room table with a big cutting board, a knife, and a pile of vegetables, fruit, and/or herbs. Some days I didn’t need much chopped and this was a very short chore, but on Valentine’s Day it was more involved. They chopped vegetables for the soup, including a big pile of cabbage, and then they juiced half an orange and sectioned five and a half more, grapefruit-style, to get the flesh free of the membranes. (The only reason I didn’t have them zest two more oranges was that I forgot I needed those until after they’d left the table.)  I was making an orange pound cake with chocolate whipped cream as a Valentine’s dessert.

We exchanged cards and gifts after dinner. Some of the cards were funny like the one from me and Beth to Noah of waffles holding hands that said, “We love you a waffle lot,” and some sweet, like Beth’s to me with stars in a heart shape that said, “You are the stars in my sky.” In addition to the roses, there were three pairs of socks with hearts on them for North, a long sleeve tie-dyed t-shirt for Noah, a Starbucks card for me, a loaf of chocolate-cherry bread for Beth, and candy for everyone. So there was some sweetness in the day for everyone, despite our youngest being hobbled again. And North didn’t let the injury stop them from going about their normal routine at school, rehearsal for the school play, honors chorus rehearsal, therapy, practice for their youth TED talk, or church. It would take more than a broken leg to slow down this child.

It was a good week for Noah, too. He got into RIT, which Beth knew before anyone else because she has access to the email account he uses for communications from colleges. (This was the first time an email has come in advance of the letter. When you open it you see the letter that’s coming in the mail with confetti graphics streaming across it. It was quite festive.) Beth was waiting for him to discover it on his own, but she finally suggested he check his mail on Wednesday evening. The official letter came on Friday.

On that same day he got another letter informing him he was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, which was welcome news indeed, because it will probably mean money for college, and possibly significant money, depending on how the college he eventually chooses rewards that distinction. I’d been forcing myself not to open the National Merit letter since it arrived that morning, five hours before he got home from school, so of course when he did get home, he drew out the suspense by opening it after a Valentine from my mom and the RIT letter, which had “We have some good news for you” printed right on the envelope, in case he’d forgotten the email.

So now he just needs to hear from BU and to find out whether he was admitted to the honors college at RIT and more about scholarships and need-based aid at various colleges and he’ll have all the information he needs to make his choice. Some days it seems strange that we’ll know where he’s going to college in a two and a half months at the latest and other days it seems that’s a long time to wait, given that this whole process started in March of last year.

After opening all that happy mail, we read a little of our new book, Welcome to Night Vale, and then he drummed for an hour and a half. Practicing that long is usually a sign he’s in a good mood, so I was happy to hear it. Second semester continues to be a slog for him—it’s looking like it’s not going to be an easy one after all—so it’s good for him to see the tangible rewards of all his hard work.

We’re two days into a long weekend. Noah’s been working most of the time, of course. What else would he do? But we’ve also enjoyed a few small pleasures. We all watched the penultimate episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Friday night; Beth, North and I watched One Day at a Time last night; and the kids watched Dr. Who together this morning. I had a nice talk with my sister on the phone yesterday and swam some extra laps at the pool today. Beth made soft tacos with homemade queso and avocado cream for dinner tonight and she’ll make pancakes or waffles for President’s Day breakfast. It’s a tradition. We have a lot of those in our everyday life, and when you’re in the right frame of mind, those comforting rhythms can seem like a valentine, sometimes a funny one, sometimes a sweet one.

We Are Headed North (Again): College Tours, Installment #5

Before Boston

Noah skidded into the end of first semester in a blur of late work and later nights. He never did finish all his English assignments, because they’d gotten backed up behind other work, but what’s done is done (or not done, I guess). Then the kids had a three and half day weekend (early dismissal Friday and Monday off) to allow teachers to complete their end-of-semester grading. This was really nice for Noah, who had almost no homework. He practiced his drums or bells every day and we read so much of Crooked Kingdom that we almost finished it. On Monday I gave both the kids some chores around the house and yard and Noah sawed up some weed trees Beth had felled earlier so they could be bagged with the yard waste. He also helped me make baked ziti for dinner.

And then the next week barely happened. The kids went to school on Tuesday, but snow was forecast, so they had an early dismissal. It did sleet and then snow, about an eighth of an inch on my official measuring table, and it was over by early evening, so of course there was a snow day on Wednesday and a two-hour delay on Thursday. Yes, there was an inch or two in other parts of the county and yes, the delay was not for snow, but for morning temperatures in the single digits. I was still exasperated, because it meant we went over our limit of snow days for the year before January was even over. The school district has added a day in June and can add one more before we come up against the Governor’s absurd last-day limit. After that they either start chipping days from our already shortened spring break or they apply to the state for a waiver. I’m not enthusiastic about either of these options, to put it mildly. As a work-at-home mom, I really like getting those days back later in the year, but I’d also like for the kids to have a spring break. It was also too bad one of North’s Honors Chorus rehearsals was cancelled, because it only meets for two months.

On Friday morning, it was snowing again and I was surprised the kids went to school on time. But, puzzlingly, there was an early dismissal, which had the buses on the road at a time of day when it was actually snowing harder than it was when they would have normally come home. But never mind. I no longer expect any of this to make sense. I took advantage of having the kids home to make them shovel the walk, because this snow (about an inch and a half) actually required shoveling, unlike anything that fell earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, my friend Nicole who lives in Calgary, reports that her ninth-grader went on an outdoor education field trip that same week. It started with the kids skiing twelve kilometers uphill and staying for two nights in their choice of either a “backcountry cabin,” which I’m thinking was probably unheated or a snow shelter they built themselves. Let’s think about that contrast for a moment and hope the Canadians never invade, because, as Beth observed when I told her about this trip, if they do they’re going to kick our American butts.

Well, moving on…The next weekend was something of a relay race because Beth and Noah and I left on two separate trips. One of Beth’s cousins died unexpectedly (and quite young, in his mid-thirties) and she went home to Wheeling for the funeral. She left straight from work on Friday and flew home Sunday morning. Shortly after she got back, Noah and I left for Boston for a quick trip to visit Boston University.

Boston

Between March and August of last year we visited eight schools with Noah. He applied to three of those, plus BU, which he got interested in late in the process. He’s been admitted to Ithaca and UMBC (and the honors college at UMBC), but he’s still waiting to hear from R.I.T. and BU. He was having trouble ranking his choices without having visited BU, so we decided to make one last first-round college visit. Ironically, we were in Boston (to visit Emerson) on our very first college road trip almost a year ago, so it feels as if we’ve come full circle. We could be travelling a lot more this spring, though, for admitted students days, (and if he makes the first cut for a scholarship he applied to at Ithaca, for an interview there).

Getting to Boston turned out to be a little more exciting than anticipated, at least at the very beginning of the trip. We had a late afternoon flight on Sunday and around ten in the morning, when I decided to re-arrange all the cards in my wallet so everything I needed would be handy, I discovered my ID was missing.

So, a half hour later when Beth got home from her emotionally draining trip (which she made with a bad cold), I met her at the front door crying and she had to calm me down. She helped me look for the card for another half hour and then we gave up and she investigated flying without state-issued ID. She found you can sometimes, at TSA discretion, if you undergo extra screening, so I brought a long-expired passport (issued in 1987) with me and hoped for the best.

When we got to the airport, I showed the agent the passport, my voter ID, and my debit card. She asked if I had anything else with my name on it, like an insurance card. But I get my health insurance through Beth’s job so the card has her name on it but not mine. I showed it to her anyway and pointed out that Beth’s last name is the other half of Noah’s and oddly, that seemed to do the trick. I was taken aside to be patted down, but they let me through security. I’m not sure that would have happened if I hadn’t been a middle-aged white woman.

The flight itself was uneventful. We took a shuttle to the hotel, found a nice little crepe place for dinner, and were back at the hotel by eight. I needed to decompress and I considered whether a swim or a reading Crooked Kingdom with Noah would be more relaxing. I went with the reading. We finished the book and then I read The Night Ocean on my own while he watched something on his laptop until ten o’clock, when we went to bed.

It was the night of the Super Bowl and we were in Boston, but I didn’t hear any celebration. There was a police presence in the lobby of the hotel and we saw four busses full of police officers going down the street—bound I don’t know where—so I guess it wasn’t quiet everywhere in Boston that night.

In the morning we had breakfast at the hotel and headed for the university for an information session and tour. The information session was pretty standard. When the administrator running it asked all international students to identify where they came from, in order to determine who had come the farthest, he seemed surprised at how many of them were from China. I wondered if Chinese students take advantage of their lunar new year break to visit colleges abroad.

The tour was next. It was a beautiful day for it, in the high forties and sunny. The sidewalks were wet with snowmelt and everything looked washed and shiny with it. We’ve been to a couple urban campuses and this one was more like Carnegie Mellon than Emerson, by which I mean there’s a defined campus set down in the middle of a city, rather than being tucked into a couple adjacent office buildings. It’s bordered on one side by the Charles River, which was partly frozen, and the T runs down that street, which I imagine is convenient. Some of the buildings are brick and concrete rectangles, but there are more pretty Victorian and Gothic buildings, though very little green space. Some of the dorms are huge towers (one houses 1,800 students in three interconnected towers) but there are also converted brownstones that house fifteen to sixty students each. The dorm room they showed us was in one of the tower-style dorms (not the biggest one), which I guess was honest, because more students end up in those.

After lunch at an Asian noodle place we’d spied on the general tour, we took another tour, this one of the School of Communications. It was our own private one—with three tour guides! They talked a lot about how state-of-the-art the facilities and equipment are, which is important to Noah. I’m no judge of this, but Noah seemed to agree with that assessment. Also, the fact that professional broadcast journalists regularly use their studios is impressive. When the guides asked him where else he’d applied, they said a lot of people who apply BU for communications also apply to Ithaca and Emerson, so that made me feel he must have visited and applied the right schools for what he wants to study. 

One discordant note, though, was that all three guides kept making jokes about how communications students don’t like math, not just once, but over and over again. And Noah’s very good at math. It got to the point where I wanted to mention he took AP Calculus BC in his junior year and aced the exam, that he got an almost perfect score on the math SAT and that he’s taking magnet math this year, even though he’s not in the math magnet, just to make them stop. It’s actually relevant because it made me suspect there’s not as much cross-fertilization between film and computer science as Noah would like. That collaboration between departments is one of the reasons Ithaca and R.I.T. both seem like good fits for him.

Noah didn’t have much to say after the tour, which isn’t unusual for him. He often needs time to let experiences settle before he makes a judgment. After the School of Communications tour, we had a couple hours before our shuttle to the airport. It would have been nice to explore Boston or the campus a little more, but he had homework, so we got a chocolate milkshake (him) and a strawberry smoothie (me) at a café where we meant to stay so he could work there, but it was playing sports radio at a pretty loud volume, so we headed back to the hotel lobby where he wrote responses to two chapters of Brave New World and I charged my phone and worked on this blog post. Back at the airport, I managed to get through security yet again, and we had dinner at Sbarro (him) and Friendly’s (me) before getting onto the plane and flying back to a busy week for both of us.

After Boston

We’ve all been hoping this will be an easier semester for Noah, because he swapped Logic for Statistics and the CAP Senior Seminar for Health. It’s hard to judge right now because we’re only two weeks in and they’ve both been irregular, disrupted weeks. He’s struggling to catch up from having been out Monday (and to be honest, I was, too, for a few days). He entered this weekend behind in three subjects. But whether second semester is easier or not, in four months he’ll be done with high school and looking forward to starting a new chapter in his life, somewhere north of here.

Officially Done

Well, I said I’d tell you how the snow day went if there was one and you knew there’d be one, right? The snow picked up again late Sunday afternoon and evening. We had eleven inches by the time we went to bed that night and after that there was no more accumulation. School was cancelled Monday and there was a two-hour delay on Tuesday. Because the cancellation was announced on Sunday afternoon and the roads were messy, North asked to stay over at Zoë’s house, where they’d been since morning. They came home late Monday afternoon with tales of sledding and making snow sculptures and toting a bag of chocolate chocolate-chip cookies they’d baked with Zoë.

Beth’s office was closed, so she worked at home, and I did, too. Noah kept plugging away at his two Ithaca scholarship application essays and finished them. He’s now all done with applications, though he and I might be taking a trip to visit Boston University next month, as that’s the only school he applied to without visiting.

Champlain College, one of schools we visited last spring (though he didn’t end up applying there), sent an “Officially Done” sticker in one of their mailers, with the suggestion that he wear it when he finished all his college applications. I stuck it to his shirt when he submitted the application and he gamely agreed to let me post of picture of him wearing it on Facebook. Then he took it off and stuck it to his bedroom door, right next to the “2019” sticker he got during one of many gun control protests last winter and spring. It represents the year he can vote in federal and state elections. (In Takoma Park, the voting age for municipal elections is sixteen.) But it’s also the year he leaves for college, so it makes sense for those two stickers to keep company.

He didn’t have much time to celebrate, though, because he had an oral presentation and Logic homework due the next day. He didn’t end up finishing the Logic, but he put a dent in it. I’d been camped out in his room for a couple hours, still reading Jack London (short stories now, having finished The Call of the Wild the day before) and occasionally offering opinions when he’d get stuck with the essays. Once he switched over to homework, I went for a long walk in the snowy woods by creek and through a tangle of side streets in our neighborhood I’d never explored. I actually got a little lost, so the walk was longer than I intended, but I was home in time to make a mushroom and kale frittata for dinner, which we followed up with brownies Beth made earlier in the day. I won’t complain about the snow day. It was okay. I didn’t get as much work done as I would have if I’d had the house to myself, but was good for Noah to have more time to work. That’s a common trade-off.

I was glad there was school on Tuesday, even if it was an abbreviated day. One reason was that it meant North’s winter chorus concert would go on as scheduled. North found out about a week before the concert that they had a solo and they were excited about that, so I gently nudged Noah into coming to the concert, even though he had work to do (including the now overdue Logic). He’s already been accepted to two colleges and he’s missed a lot of his sibling’s performances over the years. Now that there are only a few left it seems more important that he be there. North was happy he came. And perhaps thirty-seven years from now, the two of them won’t be having social media exchanges like this one I had with my sister when I mentioned he was at the concert:

Sara: Just like when you stopped your homework to watch my one 5th grade performance of P.T. Barnum. Oh wait. No you didn’t. #notbitter

Me: He has skipped probably more performances than we could count for homework. I skipped one.

Sara: Yeah, but it was THE ONLY ONE.

Me: That’s not true. I remember going to a District Chorus concert. And various gymnastics performances and field hockey games.

Sara:  I mean the only performance of P.T. Barnum. And I had the lead. And a solo.

Sara: WHY DO YOU STILL NOT LOVE ME???

Anyway… We all had an early dinner and drove out to the high school where the concert was taking place. (North’s school has no auditorium.) The performers had to be there forty-five minutes before concert time so we took our seats and Noah opened up his laptop and worked on his oral presentation until the concert started.

There were three groups singing—the Glee Club, the sixth-grade chorus, and the Advanced (seventh- and eighth-grade) Chorus. North’s in the Glee Club and Advanced Chorus and because the soprano and alto sections of the Advanced Chorus joined the sixth-grade chorus for one of their songs, they were singing eight of the ten songs.

Their solo was in the very first song of the concert, “Remember Me,” from Coco. In fact, it was the first few lines of the song. So the concert opened with Mr. N introducing North and North stepping up to the mike and singing:

Remember me
Though I have to say goodbye
Remember me
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart

It was lovely. We were very proud.  The next Glee Club song was “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman. Apparently, there was a movie music theme.  There was also a songs-in-foreign languages theme, as the sixth-grade chorus sang in German, Hebrew, and Spanish. (Mr. N said they were putting the “International” into Silver Spring International Middle School.) And later the Advanced Chorus would sing a Polynesian song and one in Zulu.

Toward the end of the concert, the Advanced Chorus sang three poems set to music. “Night Fall,” by Roger Emerson, “Dreams,” by Langston Hughes, and a section of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells.”  While they sang “Dreams,” the lyrics were projected on two screens to either side of the stage.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Mr. N made some comments about how the day of the concert was Martin Luther King’s actual birthday and how if he could be there he’d be pleased to see kids of different races and social backgrounds all making music together.

“The Bells” is a particular favorite of mine. I used to teach it. They sang the first stanza, while one student accompanied the singers with jingle bells.

Hear the sledges with the bells—
Hear the sledges with the bells—
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

North said this song was their favorite and I liked it, too. I thought the music was well suited to the words and the singing was fast but delicate and precise, just like bells.

The whole concert was over in less than an hour. It was nice North got a solo because next quarter they’re switching their Wednesday afterschool activity from Glee Club to Drama Club and only Glee Club members got solos, so chances are they won’t have a chance for that at the spring concert.

As we left, I was thinking a little sadly about how my father, who died nine years ago on the day of the concert, will never be in the audience for one of North’s concerts or plays. Not that he’d be traveling down from New York for school concerts if he were still alive, but if North gets their way, they may someday have a performance in his adopted home town. And depending on where North’s adventures take them years from now, I may not make every single performance either, but I know I am far from officially done watching my youngest on stage.

Orange You Glad?

The new year is almost two weeks old. On the first day of 2019, Beth and I went for a hike at North Point State Park. We invited the kids, but they both declined. (They’d both been up to see in the new year and we had not, having left the neighbors’ New Year’s Eve party early in favor of a regular night’s sleep.) There was an organized First Day hike at the park, but high winds felled a big tree, which caused the rangers to re-route the hike off the trails, and along the park road and down a pier into the Chesapeake Bay. The rangers had said it wasn’t actually forbidden to walk the trails and it didn’t seem that windy, so we rambled in the woods a bit and then went home. That night I made a pot of black-eyed peas for good luck, but I ended up burning it. I salvaged just enough so everyone could have a scoop on brown rice with smoked cheddar on top and vegetarian sausage on the side. Still, I had to wonder if the fallen tree and burned peas were some kind of bad omen. 

It certainly could have been, if Beth or I were federal workers, but luckily our livelihood doesn’t depend on the President’s tantrums. My friends who work at the Department of Justice and the Smithsonian aren’t so fortunate. Even though I had work, I was out of sorts, a bit of post-holiday letdown, I guess. (Even the swearing-in of the new Democratic majority in the House didn’t help much.) I’m in the habit of taking a short walk every weekday I don’t have some other errand getting me out of the house and I’ve noticed since I started doing this a little over a year ago, it improves my mood, so I decided longer walks were in order. I tried to get off sidewalks and onto the muddy paths by the creek at least a couple times a week and I found even a half hour walk in the gray and brown winter woods can be restorative. Truth be told, though, the chocolate chip cookies I made one evening were even more cheering, if less healthful.

Our wedding anniversary was Friday. It’s been twenty-seven years since we committed ourselves to each other in the living room of our D.C. apartment, in front of friends and family, and six years since we made it legal in the living room of our Takoma Park house, in front of the kids and an officiant. 

Every year I make the same spice cake we had as a wedding cake on both those days. The first time around, it had white frosting with little purple frosting violets, but I’m not much of a cake decorator, so ever since then I’ve made a lemon glaze for it. But this year, I switched to orange, because my gifts to Beth had an orange theme. I wasn’t originally planning this. I got her a bottle of orange-olive oil that caught my eye in a catalog and then I saw a bar of orange-infused dark chocolate at the co-op and that was when I knew I had to go all the way, so I found an orange, pink, and white striped gift bag and a card with a still life that I think included an orange—it’s an orange fruit anyway, so I’m calling it an orange—and put it in an orange envelope. This is what I wrote on the card:

Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Orange
Orange who?
Orange you glad you married me?

North was unimpressed with my reasons for switching to the orange glaze from the traditional lemon one. “How could you?” they asked, right before I made it, and then demanded, “Does Beth know about this? It’s her anniversary, too.” We are all a little set in our ways sometimes and I am certainly no exception, so I can’t blame them. Anyway, I finished the cake with orange sprinkles. It was pretty. I should have taken a picture for you, but I forgot.

I ordered pizza and hoped it would arrive around the same time as Beth, but it was a half hour late. When it finally came we ate and then exchanged gifts. Beth got me a pair of rain boots, which I very much needed, as my old ones were in bad shape, with multiple cracks in the rubber around the ankles. 

After dinner, we ate cake in front of the television, watching the second episode of the new season of Series of Unfortunate Events. We probably could have watched two before North’s bedtime, but this is the last season, so we are trying to savor it.

A snowstorm was predicted to start late Saturday afternoon and it arrived on schedule. When the snow started, I stood at the window and watched it a long time, trying to see the beauty in it, because my bad attitude about snow doesn’t do anyone any good. It even worked, at least a little. It’s undeniably pretty.

We woke to six inches of snow and it kept falling on and off throughout the day today. There was a cascade of cancelled events, including a dinner party friends of ours were throwing Saturday night and church the next morning. The pool and the library (my normal Sunday afternoon destinations) were closed. North was supposed to have a meeting at the theater about a talent show they’re directing (they won this opportunity in an auction) that was also rescheduled.

When I got up this morning and couldn’t find the newspaper, which was never delivered, I gave up on the day having any semblance of normalcy and I decided to forget about breakfast for a while and went back to bed with The Call of the Wild, which North’s reading for school, and read the last four chapters. Later in the day when North asked what I’m glad about, I could say, in all honesty, that I’m glad I’m not a sled dog in the Yukon.

By this morning, eight surrounding counties had already cancelled school for tomorrow, but there’s no word yet from our county. I am trying to resign myself to a closure so if the kids go to school on time, or with a two-hour delay, it will be a pleasant surprise and if school’s cancelled I will greet this news with equanimity. I’ll let you know how that goes. It wouldn’t be a bad day for Noah to miss school, actually. He had a ton of homework this weekend, including but not limited to two oral presentations, and a chapter in his logic book with questions, and he’s working on an scholarship application for Ithaca that requires two five-hundred word essays. It seems unlikely he will finish all that today. So I know he’d be glad of an extra day.

And I’m glad of a lot of things other than not being a sled dog: that I married Beth and we have two great kids chief among them, but I’ll also be glad when Noah walks to the high school bus stop and the middle school bus pulls up to our curb, whether that’s tomorrow, Tuesday, or sometime after that. 

Little Cabin in the Big Woods

Saturday: Arrival

We arrived at the cabin at Blackwater Falls State Park around five, after a drive that featured heavy traffic at the beginning and driving through snow on untreated roads with very little visibility at the end. YaYa was already there. She’d laid out crackers and cheese with a little container of honey mustard as a welcome. We snacked and rested a little between unpacking and setting up the Christmas tree that had made the journey from Maryland with us on top of our car.

This was our third Christmas in a row at Blackwater, but the first one (at least with the kids) in one of more rustic cabins that Beth and her family stayed in when she was a child and where Beth and I spent a Christmas with her family a couple years before Noah was born. The older cabins are a little smaller, wood-paneled, and quite charming.

YaYa wanted to hear the recording of Noah’s winter band concert, so we played the three Wind Ensemble’s three songs, while Noah pantomimed playing the different percussion instruments he’d played in the concert so she could hear which sounds he’d made.

North and I started dinner—grilled cheese and soup—and almost immediately North cut their finger badly on a soup lid. It looked deep and Beth and I were afraid we were going to be heading back out into the snow to drive to the nearest urgent care, which is forty-five minutes away in good weather. But ice, pressure, and elevation stopped the bleeding, so I resumed cooking and we ate dinner, watched Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, and called it a night.

Sunday: Settling In

In the morning Beth strung the lights on the tree and we hung ornaments on it. We had brunch at the lodge, and browsed the gift shop, where YaYa bought me a Blackwater Falls State Park windbreaker as an early Christmas gift. Back at the cabin we collected sticks for kindling so we could have a fire later and the kids explored the teepee previous guests had left in the woods behind the cabin. Later I kept seeing these all through the park and I wondered if there had been a teepee making tutorial at the nature center recently.

Beth and YaYa went grocery shopping and the kids and I made gingerbread cookies with dough I’d made at home on Friday. I was using my mom’s gingerbread recipe, the same one I use every year. In fact, when I’d called her on Friday to thank her for the Christmas gifts we’d opened early to lighten our load in the car and to celebrate the solstice, she was in the thick of making gingerbread cookies with my five-year-old niece, Lily-Mei. They seemed to be having fun but also “’xasperating” each other in Lily-Mei’s words.

When Beth and YaYa got back from the grocery store, the gingerbread was done and the kids were watching an episode of Dr. Who. North then launched into a solo baking project, chocolate-peppermint cookies, while Beth and I took a short walk through the snowy woods to the top of the sled run. There wasn’t anyone sledding—it must have been between sessions—and there was a truck grooming the snow.

After we returned from our walk, YaYa got out the tinsel and she and North put the finishing touches on the tree, while YaYa reminisced about hanging tinsel on the Christmas trees of her youth and how her father insisted on all the tinsel being perfectly straight. North listened with interest and said they were glad YaYa was more relaxed about it. Then they sang a song from Peter and the Starcatcher at YaYa’s request.

People split up to read, commune with their electronic devices, and nap for the rest of the afternoon. The kids collaborated on dinner—fettucine with tomato sauce, broccoli, and Greek olives. The olive were among the treats my mom bought us on her travels in Greece this fall. When the kids started cooking I wondered why I’d never given them joint responsibility for a meal before. Then they started squabbling about whether the water was boiling sufficiently to add the pasta and whether it was “naughty” to sample more pasta than strictly necessary to test for doneness… and then I remembered. But they did put a decent meal on the table, with no adult help, so perhaps we’ll try it again someday.

After the dinner dishes were done, we watched Christmas is Here Again, which was longer than I remembered so North was up late, but Beth reminded me, “It’s vacation,” and so it was.

Monday: Christmas Eve

It snowed overnight and in the morning there was seven to eight inches accumulated on the picnic table behind the house and our bedroom window was fringed with icicles. The longest one was probably eighteen inches long.  There were even bigger ones out the kitchen window. I asked Beth what she wanted to do that day and she said she hoped to read, make a pot of black bean soup, work on a puzzle with Noah, and not leave the house except maybe to take a walk. That sounded pretty good to me, though North opined “that doesn’t sound very exciting.” I think that was the point, actually.

And that’s basically how the day went. Beth didn’t leave the house, even to go for a walk, though North and I took a walk down the park road to the end of the cabins. Beth made soup, which simmered in the crock pot for most of the day, and she worked on the puzzle with Noah. It was a jumble of different images of Santa Claus. Beth, Noah, and YaYa watched The Last Jedi. I finished a Joni Mitchell biography I’ve been reading since October and listened to David Sedaris’s “The Santaland Diaries.” We had the NORAD Santa tracker (muted) on the television screen most of the day. Every now and then someone would glance at it and comment on Santa’s location and the number of gifts delivered. In the evening we watched Frosty the Snowman and Frosty Returns.

After that, North wanted to open one present each. This is a tradition Beth had growing up and I didn’t. North likes it and Noah doesn’t, so we made it opt-in. I decided to sit it out with Noah as I’d already opened my gifts from my mom on the solstice and then I’d received the jacket from YaYa early, too. YaYa opened a calendar Beth made with pictures of the kids (always a popular grandmother gift). Beth opened a fleece jacket and North got a t-shirt that said, “Stay Bold.”

It was a nice, low-key day, except for the fact that the cat sitter called to tell us the heat was out at our house and Beth had to make and receive a lot of calls, as she tried to coordinate a time when the cat sitter could let the heating company technician into the house. And then the tech called the house phone instead of Beth’s cell or the sitter’s to say he was coming, so of course he was locked out and he left. When he came back he needed a part and left without fixing the furnace. The sitter set up a space heater in our bedroom, the cats’ favorite hangout spot. It wasn’t too cold outside, mostly in the forties, and the house has thick walls and holds its heat for a couple days, which is good because the heat was still out when we got home three days later, despite Beth’s persistent efforts to convince the oil company to send someone to the house.

Tuesday: Christmas Day

By eight a.m., everyone was awake and ready to open presents. Most of us had already opened our stockings. A great many gifts were exchanged while we ate clementines, nuts, and candy and Noah took pictures. Noah got camera equipment, including a new lens and a camera bag. North got a certificate to get their hair dyed and a weighted throw blanket with cats on it. Everyone got at least several of these things: books, socks and other clothes, tea, mugs, soap, scented candles, Amazon gift cards, and tiles.

I knew this ahead of time because I saw it unfold during our Christmas shopping trip to Rehoboth, but Beth and North got each other the same pair of fuzzy blue socks because when North was showing them to Beth to gauge if she liked them, Beth thought North was dropping hints that they wanted them. Not exactly a “Gift of the Magi” situation because nobody sold their feet to buy the socks, but still a bit of Yuletide irony.

North made breakfast, a skillet pancake with lemon curd and homemade cranberry syrup. But before we ate Noah wanted to try out his TARDIS mug. When you fill it with warm liquid, the image of the TARDIS fades from one side and appears on the other. It’s a pretty cool effect. One of Noah’s other gifts was Crooked Kingdom, the sequel to Six of Crows, which we’d just finished on Christmas Eve, in a serendipitous bit of timing. So we read the first two chapters of that.

When we’d finished, Beth and I hiked the Balanced Rock trail. The trail was covered with snow, but well-marked with orange blazes. We had to step carefully because you couldn’t tell what was under the snow. It could be rock, a spongy layer of wet leaves, mud, or an inch of ice covering another inch of water. It was a lovely walk, though, with evergreen boughs and rhododendron leaves covered in snow. We had the trail nearly to ourselves—there were no footprints other than ours, except near a place where the trail crossed another trail—and just once, I glimpsed another person ahead of us on the trail. We had to scramble and crawl at the end when it got steep near the two boulders, one atop the other, that give the trail its name. When we got up there it was so quiet we could actually hear the snow creaking as it shifted on branches and showered to the ground. That was the only sound, other than the occasional cawing of a crow.

Beth and I had leftover black bean soup for lunch with crackers, cheese, and olives, and the cranberry sauce that was the byproduct of the syrup North made. Beth, North, and YaYa went swimming at the lodge after lunch. I would have gone, too, but I’d forgotten to pack my suit. I was sorry to miss it because the pool is in a room with big windows and I enjoy being in the pool or hot tub, looking out at the snow.

But having the afternoon free in the cabin meant I could read Elevation, one of my Christmas presents, in one sitting (it’s only 146 pages and they are small pages) and make a batch of peanut butter-chocolate kiss cookies. They were just going in the oven when the swimmers came home. Beth made a fire and I relaxed in front of it while YaYa made her signature spinach lasagna for Christmas dinner. After dinner, we all watched a Dr. Who Christmas special from a few years back.

Wednesday: Boxing Day

The next day was our last full day at Blackwater and there were a lot of things we hadn’t done yet that people wanted to do. In the late morning we went to the sled run and the adults watched the kids sled. North had neglected to bring their waterproof gloves (purchased last year at the sled run gift shop/snack bar) or any gloves at all, so the adults all lent them our cotton or fleece gloves in turn, each pair getting soaked as they used their hands to brake. After three runs, they were out of gloves, so they quit. Noah did a fourth run and then the session was closed. It was a beautiful, sunny day, the snow was sparkly, and there was a bonfire going at the foot of the hill (behind a barrier so no one can sled into it).

From the sled run we drove to the White Grass Café where we had lunch. On the drive there and back the kids were alternating songs from North’s favorite musical, Dear Evan Hansen, and Noah’s, Hamilton, while North expounded on plot and characterization in Dear Evan Hansen for YaYa, who hadn’t heard of it. We dropped YaYa off at the cabin and then the four of us were going to hike down to see Blackwater Falls, but halfway down the series of stairs and platforms, they were closed due to packed snow and ice. Beth was disappointed because the falls are special to her, especially in winter when they’re partially frozen. We could still see them, but we weren’t right up next to them. It looked like there was just a little ice on the falls, with water pouring around it. We drove to the other side of the canyon to take a different trail that affords another, more distant, but less obstructed view, and took some pictures. Watching the falls made me think about the last waterfalls we visited, in Ithaca, and wondered if we’ll be making regular visits to any of them in the next several years.

North would have liked to go to the pool again but the roads were slushy and Beth was afraid they’d ice up as afternoon temperatures fell, so we settled into the cabin to read and work on the puzzle, which Beth and Noah finished. This turned my mind to college, too, because Noah wrote his main Common App essay on puzzles, how he likes to do real ones, and also enjoys the puzzle-like aspects of film editing and computer programming. I was glad to see writing and re-writing that essay several times has not ruined puzzles for him.

Noah’s also become more interested in still photography lately and he’d taken a lot of pictures on this trip. Using his laptop to project them on the television screen, he showed them to YaYa so she could pick the ones she wanted. Then he set up her new tiles on her purse, phone, and wallet.

Beth made one last fire, we had a supper of leftovers, and set to work taking decorations off the tree and packing. We had a discussion about whether to rent a modern or rustic cabin next year. Beth voted for rustic, because they remind her of her childhood, the kids voted for modern, I abstained because I prefer the look of the old cabins, but I missed having a washer/dryer. YaYa cast the deciding vote for modern because it’s more convenient to have two bathrooms.

Thursday: Departure

In the morning, there was the usual end-of-vacation scramble to clean out the fridge and pack the car. Actually, more than the usual scramble. We are still discovering things we may have left there—a thermos of Beth’s, a shirt of Noah’s, an almost full box of Greek pastries and candy. But we were on the road by ten thirty and home by three. When we got home we found the house cool but habitable. It really hadn’t been that cold outside and with the space heater going our bedroom was sixty-two degrees, with the other rooms maybe ten degrees cooler.

Sorting through the mail we found many Christmas cards and another merit scholarship offer, (from UMBC) and a somewhat disappointing statement from Ithaca about Noah’s total aid package there. We went out for Chinese food, after having decided we’d rather eat in a heated restaurant than have take-out in our unheated dining room. After dinner, Beth dropped us off at the house and went to the hardware store for another space heater to put in North’s room that night.

Friday and Saturday: Home

Over the past couple days Beth succeeded in getting someone to come fix the furnace and ran errands, I did an endless stream of laundry (five loads so far) and blogged. Noah applied to RIT—his last application—and did some homework, but only for an hour on Friday and a few hours on Saturday. One nice thing about our vacation was that Noah didn’t have to work at all while we were gone. North met up with a friend from Peter and the Starcatcher Saturday morning and in the afternoon we went to see Mary Poppins Returns and then went out for tapas. We’ve got few more days to ease into our normal routine, and while there’s an orthodontist appointment, a visit to the MVA, and a mammogram on the agenda on Monday, I hope we’ll find time for fun as well.

Taking Flight, Part 2

We’ve had a very exciting few days around here. Noah got his first college acceptance letter on Friday, North’s show wrapped up on Sunday, and then Noah got his second acceptance letter on Tuesday.

College Letter #1

Noah applied early action to UMBC and Ithaca College. The UMBC application was due earlier—he was working on it on Halloween before and after trick-or-treating—and the notification was supposed to be in “late December,” but I’d seen so many of you posting pictures of your kids’ college acceptance letters I wondered if it might come early and it did.  There was no mystery about what was inside. “YES” was printed in gold letters on the outside of the envelope. The mail came late that day and Beth brought it in with her when she came home from work.

We took it in to Noah’s room, but he wasn’t that excited about it, as UMBC was his safety school. In fact, Beth had to prod him to open it so we could see if there was anything about aid in the package. There wasn’t. I was happier than Noah was, not because I’d been in much suspense about whether he’d get in to UMBC, but because it felt like the ball was rolling now. And UMBC is a solid, affordable choice, if maybe a little too close to home.

Closing Night

Two days later we went to closing night of Peter and the Starcatcher to see North in the younger cast. These actors were in third to seventh grade, so the performances were not as polished as those from the older cast, but the play was still fun. The principal characters, Peter and Molly, were well acted. The actor playing Peter brought out a whole different side of the character and his growth over the course of the play. And we all loved North’s melodramatic death scene as Slank.

This is what he says as he drowns:

Oh, the waves swallow me up in a great shroud of sea. And the sharks start nibbling at me feet, just like me mother’s kisses. Mother! You left me on the steps of a tattoo parlor, wrapped in a half-eaten bag of fish and chips, round me neck a note: Orphan Bill Slank, too wicked to end well!

They delivered these lines just perfectly as they flailed on the stage floor under a strip of undulating blue fabric meant to represent waves.

Beth pointed out later that North had a good almost-death scene as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast a couple summers ago. And I added if they want to do it again, Highwood is doing MacBeth next spring and no matter what role they play they have a decent chance for an on-stage death.

North was also quite animated and charming as Fighting Prawn, though the whole native-culture-as-comic trope bothers me, even though F.P. is sympathetic and given good reasons for his hostility toward the English. The script does comment critically on British colonialism during the time the story takes place and it’s definitely an improvement of the treatment of the Indians in Peter Pan, but still…

After the show, North was a bit sad about not seeing their friends in the cast for a while. There’s always a bit of a letdown afterward, but we’re all enjoying getting to bed on time and having North home in the evenings. Well, at least until Honors Chorus starts next month, but that’s only one evening a week.

College Letter #2

On Tuesday, I brought in the mail and noticed a large, plain envelope from Ithaca. Because Noah had only applied there a couple weeks earlier—while we were at the beach for Thanksgiving—and wasn’t supposed to hear from them until early February “at the latest,” which I took to mean sometime in January at the earliest, I thought it was just more in the stream of college mail he gets more or less constantly and in envelopes of all sizes. Most of these he never looks at, so I opened it in case it had anything interesting in it. (Boston University recently sent some relevant information about scholarship opportunities for National Merit semifinalists that sat unopened for a long time before I opened it.) 

Anyway, you know what was in the envelope because I told you in the first paragraph of this blog post. He got in to Ithaca. I told him when he got home. And this time he was happy because Ithaca is tied with R.I.T. for his top choice. He gave me a big hug and we did a little dance together. It wasn’t even until about fifteen minutes after he got home that we noticed another letter behind the first one in the folder, offering him a merit scholarship for students in media, named after Rod Serling, who used to teach at Ithaca. His archives are there as well. It would cover about a third of his tuition. If he goes there, we will have to call it his Twilight Zone scholarship. (It’s better than Agent Orange scholarship, which is what a college friend of mine who majored in chemistry and had a scholarship from Dow Chemical called his.)

Noah’s also applied to Boston University—he just sent that one in last weekend—but now he’s considering winnowing down his list. He may just apply to R.I.T. and forget the rest, which would make for a more relaxed winter break and January. Either way, he’s taking flight, as we watch fondly and proudly.

Taking Flight

Act I, Thursday Morning: CAP Presentation

“It was a big day for Noah,” Beth said when it was all over.

“It was,” he agreed.

It started with him dressing up in a suit for the first time ever. There have actually been a lot of occasions when we considered buying Noah a suit—mostly notably when he was in sixth grade and we got legally married, and for various oral presentations he’s made in high school. The C in CAP stands for Communication, so there have a been a lot of presentations over the past few years. But we got married in our living room, and he had a school-issued tuxedo shirt for band that year, so a suit seemed like overkill and then he had a habit of saying, “I really should have a suit for this,” a day or two before or he needed to make a presentation so we never bought one.

This time he thought to ask well ahead of his senior CAP presentation. The senior presentation summarizes five school assignments—two required and three of the students’ choosing—and explains what the student learned in them and in CAP in general. Noah spoke about and played clips from the movie he made this fall about the process of making his Halloween costume, the podcast of interviews with parents and alumni of his preschool, a dystopian film about social media, a paper comparing 1984 to the Trump campaign, and a research paper about a local hospital’s plans to move and the impact of the move on the community. The assignments spanned his four years of high school and gave a nice overview of his skills as a researcher, writer, audio technician, and filmmaker. It’s also the last big assignment he has in a CAP class because in their senior year, CAP students mostly take classes outside of CAP. The senior seminar will focus on interview and resume skills before it ends in late January and his AP Lit class will last until the end of the school year, but other than that, he’s finished with CAP.

Around one o’clock in the afternoon of his presentation day, there was a bomb threat at his school and everyone had to evacuate and stand out in the cold for an hour and a half until the time school would normally be dismissed. I think it’s telling that, after hearing from the school, texting him and ascertaining he was alive, the first thing Beth and I both thought of was to be grateful it happened after his presentation, which was during the second period of the day. While they were standing around and chatting, his senior seminar teacher told him he’d passed. (Anyone who fails gets a phone call from a teacher that evening and has to do the presentation again, a possibility much dreaded by CAP students.)

Act II, Thursday Evening: Winter Band Concert

Afterschool activities were cancelled while the police searched the building, but they completed their search in time for evening activities to go on as scheduled, which was nice because Noah had his penultimate high school band concert that night. He got home at his usual time and studied for a King Lear test before we had an early dinner of spinach quesadillas with black beans and corn on the side (which North ate an hour before we did before hopping on a bus to play rehearsal). By six o’clock, we were on our way to his school.

There are five bands at Noah’s school: two jazz bands, the ninth-grade Concert Band, Symphonic Band, and the Wind Ensemble. Noah plays percussion in the Wind Ensemble. There were a couple seasonal nods in the jazz selections. The Jazz Combo played “Autumn Leaves,” and “Let it Snow! Let it Snow Let it Snow!” The non-jazz bands play in order of expertise, so they get better as the concert goes along, not that any of them sound bad. Blair has a great music program.

So, the Wind Ensemble played last. Noah got to play drum kit in their first song, “Ride.” That’s a rare treat, though it also makes him a little nervous because it’s more visible than most percussion roles. He played snare, triangle, and chimes in the next piece. The real showstopper (and I guess it literally stopped the show, being the last song of the concert) was the “1812 Overture.” They played a version arranged without strings and also without cannons. Later Beth and I both made the joke that on a day with a bomb threat the cannon-free version might be better. But even without cannons, they rocked it. Noah played snare drums, triangle, and tambourine. And he got a chance to do it again the next day when they gave a shortened version of the concert for a group of visiting preschoolers. (He says the preschoolers were an appreciative audience, clapping every time the music stopped, even if the musicians were only warming up and doing scales.)

After the concert, Noah noted that at his next band concert, the band teacher will be calling him up to the stage and announcing where he’s going to college. It’s a spring concert tradition for all the seniors. It was something to think about as we drove to the theater to pick North up from their last rehearsal before Peter and the Starcatcher opened, because that happened the next day…

Act III, Friday Evening: Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter and the Starcatcher is a prequel to Peter Pan. I’d seen North play Peter in a scene during their acting class showcase last month and few more scenes done by the whole cast at a preview event a week before opening night, but other than that, I didn’t know much about it. North is playing four roles, two in each of the rotating casts. In the older cast, they are Alf (a sailor) and a mermaid. In the younger cast, they are Slank (the captain of one of the two ships), and Fighting Prawn (the king of the fictional island of Mollusk). Being in two casts meant North had to be at nearly every rehearsal for two and a half months. It’s been intense and it’s meant a lot of late nights.

Opening night featured the older cast, who are (mostly) in seventh to twelfth grade. The set was beautiful and quite elaborate, featuring two ships with moving parts and an alligator that runs along the ceiling. North’s part as Alf was bigger than I thought from what they’d been saying and I also didn’t know Alf had romantic scenes with a character played by an eighteen-year-old boy in drag. But that’s part of why we go to the theater—to be surprised.

Later North told me they’d been assigned some of another sailor’s lines at the last minute because of an illness that caused several parts to get re-arranged and there was supposed to be a kiss but the director nixed it because of the age gap between North and the actor playing their love interest. “Did you want to kiss him?” I asked and their eyes got big and they said, “No!”

It was a fun show, with good acting in many roles, but especially the girls playing the pirates Black Stache and Smee, who had excellent chemistry with each other. North’s often cast in comic roles and Alf was no exception. They’re playing more against type in the other version of the show, at least with Slank, who is something of a villain. Fighting Prawn is comic, too (though I think the script’s attempt to re-write the Indians of Peter Pan only partly succeeds in erasing the racism of the original).

As I write, North’s at the second of five shows this weekend. They will be at the theater from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. today and from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. tomorrow. And then they will do it all over again next weekend, with five more shows. We’ll go to closing night so we can see North in their younger cast roles.

You might expect flying in a show about Peter Pan, and other than the alligator and a stuffed cat, there isn’t in this one, but nevertheless, the theater’s announcements about the upcoming show said it was “taking flight.” It’s been quite an exciting few days here, watching our kids test their wings in endeavors academic, musical, and theatrical.

From Twelve to Fifty-Two

At the trans kids’ parents’ support group on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving people were talking about holiday plans and extended family who were less than supportive of their kids. When asked, Beth and I reported that we were spending Thanksgiving at the beach, just the four of us (and Christmas with an accepting grandmother). Some people were a little jealous. We’ve spent four of the past five Thanksgivings in Rehoboth. It’s a nice tradition that certainly inspires thankfulness.

Thanksgiving

I was out the door of the rental house headed for the beach around 3:30, about an hour after we’d arrived. (I was disciplined enough to unpack, get food in the fridge, and make our bed first.) I promised to return between 4:30 and 5:00 to help put the finishing touches on the dinner we—well, mostly Beth—had made at home the day before and transported with us.

I swung by Café a-Go-Go for a café con leche before I hit the beach. It was cold, 31 degrees. But my coffee was warm and the late afternoon sun was turning the dry beach grass gold, the sea silver, and the clouds and sea foam faintly rosy.

After a short stay on the beach, I headed back to the house to trim and roast Brussels sprouts and to heat up the brandied sweet potatoes. Beth had everything else under control and after we’d made our traditional centerpieces (turkeys made from apples with feathers consisting of raisins and dried cranberries stuck on toothpicks and olives for heads), we sat down to feast on the aforementioned vegetables, plus a tofurkey roast, stuffing, mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, cranberry sauce, and rolls. Later we ate pumpkin and apple pie and watched an episode of Blackish.

Beth’s Birthday & Black Friday

Beth turned fifty-two the next day and we brought her presents while she was still in bed. The kids got her toffee and a chocolate coffeecake. I got her gift certificates from AFI and the promise of a dessert date. We ate the coffee cake with breakfast before North and I headed out to Christmas shop.  People always assume we’re headed for the outlets when we say we’re Christmas shopping in Rehoboth and while we do sometimes visit them, we mostly stick to the downtown shops. The bookstore and the tea and spice shop are favorites of ours.

Actually, for me it was more watching North shop than doing any of my own. They were a shopping whirlwind, getting all of their shopping done in one day, most of it that morning. Our last stop was the bakery for Beth’s birthday cake, which I’d pre-ordered. It was a chocolate cake with coffee frosting, which is what I usually make for Beth’s birthday but since I wasn’t going to be the one decorating, I thought it I should have the bakers do something beyond my capabilities—so I asked for a playing card made out of frosting, specifically the Queen of Hearts. Can you guess why? It was because there are fifty-two cards in a deck and she’s the queen of my heart. (North had known about this plan for a few weeks and they were quite taken with it.) It was a long hike out to the bakery, which is up near Route 1, and then back to the house so I was glad to have North with me to wear the backpack full of gifts while I carried the cake box. We even managed not to slip and fall on the ice-slicked sidewalk near the canal.

We had Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch, followed by birthday cake and ice cream. Then Noah, who’d been at the house that morning doing Logic homework, came shopping with me and North. After that, I took a solo walk on the beach and saw a ragged V of geese flying south before going back to the house to collect everyone and walk back to the beach for our Christmas card photo shoot. Beth used Noah’s camera to take pictures of the kids standing on a jetty and some of them jumping or doing cartwheels (that was just North) on the sand.

From the beach we walked to Grotto, where we had pizza, and then to the bandstand for the holiday singalong and tree lighting. It was still pretty cold, probably near freezing, so a half hour seemed about right for this activity. Beth had a hot chocolate in a thermos she’d procured earlier from Starbucks for her free birthday drink. She was pleased it had stayed warm. The kids tried to get hot chocolate at a nearby coffeeshop but the line was crazy so they gave up.

The singalong started with “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and then proceeded through the usual selection of secular Christmas songs, plus “Let it Go,” (which we all agree is not a Christmas song). While we were singing “The Christmas Song,” when it got to “kids from one to ninety-two, I nudged North and sang, “kids from twelve to fifty-two” instead, because that’s us and it’s the last year it will ever scan because it’s North’s last year with a one syllable age.

We walked home via the boardwalk. The moon was either full or close to it and it made a gorgeous white column on the black water. Back at the house, we warmed up with leftover pumpkin pie (and cake) and inaugurated our Christmas special viewing with A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas because those are Beth’s favorites.

It was a nice day, with the tail end of Thanksgiving, the beginning of the Christmas season, and Beth’s birthday all rolled up into one. Beth says she likes it best when her birthday falls on the day after Thanksgiving. (It’s usually before.)

Saturday

The next day wasn’t quite as busy. I knew it was going to rain in the afternoon so after breakfast at Victoria’s (a boardwalk hotel restaurant), I got in some more shopping, and then settled myself on the sand with an apple-carrot-beet juice to drink while I watched the choppy, gray waves. It was much warmer than the previous two days, in the fifties, so it was pleasant to sit still and just be.

North and I met up for lunch at the Greene Turtle, which I patronize mainly for the view. It’s on the boardwalk, one story up, and we got a corner table, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling window on two sides, so I could watch the panorama of boardwalk, beach, and ocean while I ate my apple-pecan salad and split an order of mozzarella sticks with North. Afterward we took a walk on the boardwalk and beach and I took them to a juice bar for an açai bowl. While there I realized I didn’t have my debit card and North exclaimed, “Again?” because I’d just finished telling them a story about how I’d lost one at the Greene Turtle years ago. So I gave North some cash and went back the restaurant in hopes of retrieving it. And luckily, they had it and they didn’t even make me feel like an idiot, saying cheerfully they had a pile of them in the office as people left them on the tables every day. By the time I left the restaurant the second time, the rain had started, only sprinkles, but it was supposed to get heavy so I headed back to the house.

We spent a cozy afternoon variously playing Connect-4, reading King Lear and Six of Crows and the New Yorker, and working on college applications. Noah sent off his Ithaca application and started his Boston University one. By dinnertime it was pouring rain and windy, but Beth and North braved the elements to pick up takeout from Grandpa Mac’s. We ate our pasta bowls in front of the television, watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Sunday

In the morning we packed and had breakfast at Egg (where for some reason I was the only one to order their scrumptious pumpkin-pecan French toast) and came back and packed some more, and left the house. Noah helped clean out the fridge by eating ice cream, garlic bread, cranberry sauce, and drinking milk and eggnog. It’s handy sometimes having a teenage boy.

The kids headed for a hotel lounge where they could squat and watch Dr. Who on a laptop while Beth and I went to sit on a bench on the boardwalk and enjoy a lovely sunny day. Beth read while I wrote most of this blog post by hand in a composition book because I am cutting edge like that.

Being slightly more up-to-date than me, North had been vlogging our trip all weekend, constantly recording themselves narrating what they were doing. I find it a little odd, but who I am to talk, really?

After I finished writing I took a short walk on the beach and then we all met up on the boardwalk having acquired fries, pizza, and a smoothie for a makeshift lunch. (I also fetched cheese, fruit, and water from the nearby car.) After a trip to Candy Kitchen, the kids and I went down to the water and got our feet wet. They accomplished this by wading barefoot into the water. I was wearing rainboots but I might as well not have been because the very first wave went over the tops and soaked my feet. As I removed the boots, turned them upside down, and peeled my sodden socks off my feet, I regarded the holes in them and decided to just throw them in a trashcan on the boardwalk.

As we drove home, I wondered how often they empty those trashcans off season and how long that little part of me will still be there, near the sea and the sand.