About Steph

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The Middle of the Middle and the End of the End

The Last Few Days of Summer

Well, it happened again. The seemingly endless summer break that stretched out before us in mid-June ended. Today Noah started his last year of high school and North embarked upon the middle year of middle school.

Friday

I took the kids on our traditional end-of-summer creek walk. We splashed through the creek, observed the spider webs that span it and the crawfish that crawl on the bottom. There were a couple of deer on the bank near where we got in and they were seemingly unimpressed with us and disinclined to run away until we were quite close. I could see the velvet on the male’s antlers. 

North swam in the deeper spots, but Noah stuck to wading, maybe because we discovered when we set out that his bathing suit was missing (left we thought in the changing room at the swimming hole in Ithaca or in the hotel in Altoona) so he was dressed. As I moved slowly and cautiously through the creek and over the fallen logs that blocked our way, mindful of the bad fall I took two years ago in the creek, Noah started to point out slippery rocks and good handholds to me. It felt like a role reversal, and a sweet one.

Saturday

We left the house at nine a.m. and drove to the Kennedy Center. Highwood Theatre was having its season preview in a small performance space there and North was singing in three numbers, one each from Peter and the Starcatcher, The Wedding Singer, and Footloose. They don’t actually know which fall show they will be in yet. They’re trying out for an audition-only production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder in about a week so we’ll know shortly after that. The preview consisted of songs and scenes from several plays, including The Glass Menagerie and Sweeney Todd. It looks like it will be an interesting season. I’m sure we’ll be seeing many of the shows. North didn’t have any solos but they were one of two featured backup singers in “It’s Your Wedding Day” and when the other kid forgot a line it turned into a solo.

Sunday

North was busy making a test run of the strawberry-yogurt parfait and cucumber-tomato-fresh mozzarella concoction they are assembling in mason jars for school day breakfasts and lunches. Noah spent most of the day editing podcast audio and updating his journal about the experience.

Monday

Beth made pancakes for breakfast, as she traditionally does on the third morning of three-day weekends. North was busy decorating their school supplies, making stripes on the binder with duct tape and affixing stickers of musical notes to it. In the afternoon Beth and North went to a church pool party and we had picnic dinner in the backyard. Beth asked the kids what they wanted out of the coming year. Noah said to graduate and get into college. Beth predicted he would get into one or more. North wanted to have their friends in their classes and to make new friends.

After dinner we all went to Ben & Jerry’s for last-night-of-summer ice cream, another family tradition. We let Noah choose the venue because it’s his last year of high school. It would have felt a little more celebratory if he was finished his essay about the podcast (and essay I didn’t know about until that morning) but you can’t have everything. As it was he was up late working on it. The podcast itself turned out really well.

Tuesday: First Day of School

The big day came and the kids went to school. Noah found his errant bathing suit while he was packing his backpack and was on his way to the bus stop at seven and forty minutes later North went to meet their bus (and then waited twenty minutes because it was late). I went about my day and I was startled when Noah came home about an hour early at 2:55.

“Why are you home?” I asked.

“This is when I get home now,” he said cheerfully. For the first time in his high school career he doesn’t have a ninth period class, which was happy news. He was pleased with his schedule, too, because he’s in Silver Lens (which produces longer films than the ones he made last year for the school television station) and the highest level band (where he’s percussion section leader) and while he didn’t get the teacher he wanted for the CAP senior seminar, he also didn’t get the one he’d least like to have. This teacher is awful, so he really dodged a bullet there. The other two are both good. He’s had all three before. (And even better he didn’t know the objectionable teacher was teaching the class so he didn’t have to worry about it all summer.)  He had no homework due the next day so we read The Book of Dust, which we’d just started over the weekend and then he took a nap.

North got home and reported they don’t have any classes with Zoë or Giulia, but their day was good otherwise. They also had no homework. We read Serafina and the Splintered Heart until it was time for me to start making dinner.

About a week before my kids went back to school, my niece Lily-Mei (aka Lan-Lan) started kindergarten, or the beginning of the beginning of her K-12 education, at a nature-based public charter school. Here’s to a great school year for my kids, my sister’s kid, and your kids, whether they are at the beginning, the middle, or the end.

We Are Headed Northwest: College Tours, Installment #4

The Friday before our big summer college road trip Beth left work early and met me in Silver Spring where we caught a matinee of Desert Hearts at the American Film Institute. The timing seemed serendipitous because we first saw this movie as college students at Oberlin and Oberlin was on the itinerary of our upcoming trip. How did we get from students to a prospective student’s parents? Tempus fugit.

Sunday: Takoma Park, MD to Camp Highlight (Central PA) to Wheeling, WV

We left Sunday morning and drove to central Pennsylvania. Our first stop was Camp Highlight, where we were reunited (briefly) with our younger child who was going to spend a week with Beth’s mom while we were on the road. North was happy to see us but sad to leave all their new camp friends. When I asked if they were ready to go, they said, “I have to hug all my friends,” so that took a while.

As we waited, one of the counselors told me “You’re doing it right with this one,” after relaying the story of a kindness North did another camper who was feeling left out on Twin Day. (North managed to get their scant hair into pigtails, which is how the girl wore her hair, so they could be twins.)

We had lunch in nearby diner, then settled in for the long drive to Wheeling. During the ride we listened to North talk about camp, and sing camp songs, and tell the camp ghost story until they wound down, leaned against the car door looking worn out and disappeared into their headphones. Then we played a Pride playlist Beth found and the Desert Hearts soundtrack.

It was almost nine o’clock when we got to Beth’s mom’s house where her aunt Carole and cousin Sean were waiting for us. Beth’s mom had made a blueberry-raspberry pie, but I wasn’t feeling well so I went to bed around ten while everyone else stayed up to talk and eat.

Monday: Wheeling, WV to Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) to Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH) 

I had a slice of the pie—it was delicious—for breakfast in the morning, along with a couple veggie sausages. After saying goodbye to North a mere twenty-one hours after camp pickup, Beth, Noah and I hit the road mid-morning and drove to Pittsburgh.  Carnegie Mellon was our first college stop. There were no organized tours available that day because it was orientation for first-year students, but we walked around a little, took in the campus, picked up some materials from the computer science department, and had lunch in a noodle bar in the computer science building. Unlike Emerson, which kind of melts into a block of office buildings near Boston Commons, Carnegie Mellon has a more traditional campus feel, with pretty red brick buildings from the early twentieth century and a quad. Without someone selling the school to us, I didn’t feel I got a good sense of it, but as I ate, I tried to imagine Noah eating noodles in the sunny atrium after his morning algorithms class.

One thing we all noticed is that the campus had a slightly unfriendly vibe. The two different servers we encountered in the noodle bar were gruff and unhelpful. Then we sat in the admissions office a long time, going over our materials and maps and trying to decide what parts of campus to visit, not really needing any help, but given how long we lingered I thought it was odd the woman behind the desk never asked if we needed help. I’d expect admission staff to be the most friendly people on campus. But it’s possible we were all reading too much into small interactions because there was no presentation or tour to focus our attention on the school’s good points.

From Pittsburgh we drove to Oberlin, stopping for Dairy Queen along the way and listening to a playlist of Billboard hits from 1984. This was the year Beth started college and the year I was Noah’s age, so it seemed a fitting soundtrack for our journey to our alma mater. We checked into our AirBnB, an apartment in the back of a blue-gray Victorian house with dark blue and cream trim and an interesting history. It was built as an investment for a college President (Fairchild for you Obies) and one of the early owners was Conservatory director (Rice). It was also a dorm in the 1960s and then faculty apartments.

After we settled in, we took Noah on our own version of the walking tour, not a complete one because he’s been to Oberlin a few times already and there would be the official one the next day. But we took his picture outside of his namesake dorm, as we always do, and I directed his attention to points of interest (dorms where I’d lived, class buildings where I’d taken classes). “How do you remember all this?” he wanted to know, but the classes I took all those decades ago seem like not that long ago sometimes, and never more than when I’m at Oberlin.

We had dinner at a fusion restaurant that’s now on the old site of Campus Restaurant, where I’d worked as a busser and a waitress. I had goat cheese and chive ravioli in a sweet and sour sauce. It was very good and very different from anything you could get at Campus, whose idea of vegetarian fare was lettuce and tomato on a hamburger bun. (Remember the Meatless Fred, anyone?) Next we got dessert and ate it on a bench in Tappan Square, listening to the cicadas and watching dark fall slowly among the stately tall trees.

Tuesday: Oberlin, OH to Niagara Falls, NY 

Noah slept in a bit the next day so I sat on the back porch and wrote. It was cool and raining on and off and pleasant to be enclosed there. We had a late breakfast at another restaurant that wasn’t there when we were in college, but it was the kind of place where you can get smoked tempeh instead of bacon with your pancakes, so we felt right at home. Our table was right by the rain-streaked window, so I explained the term “lake effect” to Noah.

Next we showed Noah the house where I was living the summer Beth and I started dating and where we had our first kiss and the movie theater down the street where we saw Raising Arizona on our second date, the very next night. Noah was polite enough to pretend to be interested. We headed to the library, where we stopped by the computing center where Beth worked—both as a student and full-time for a year while she waited for me to graduate—and to the scholar studies students doing honors projects are assigned, though I couldn’t remember which one was mine.

Our library tour complete, we settled into the womb chairs to read or use electronic devices until it was time for the presentation.

The presentation highlighted some of what makes Oberlin special—the Conservatory, its active arts scene, student-run housing and dining co-ops, ExCo (the Experimental College, which consists of student-taught classes). I could walk around Oberlin’s lovely and architecturally eclectic campus all day, the tour was fun for me. Beth was hoping we’d get to see Noah Hall (where we met) and she even asked the tour guide if he could get us in there when it seemed we might be the only family in his group, though eventually three other families joined us. But his keycard was only programmed for one dorm (right next door to Noah Hall!).

We’d had breakfast late and no lunch so we had either a very late lunch or a very early dinner at Lorenzo’s, a pizza place that was open during our college days, and which I remembered with some fondness. It was fun to eat there again.

It was later than we intended when we hit the road and almost ten by the time we checked into our hotel room near Niagara Falls. We could see the end of the nightly firework show from our window. 

Wednesday: Niagara Falls, NY to Rochester Institute of Technology to Trumansburg, NY 

We wanted to see Niagara Falls before we needed to leave for RIT and it was a struggle getting out of the hotel on time, so much so that as we were pulling out of the hotel lot and I realized I’d left a really nice insulated water bottle in the room, I decided not to say anything about it and just keep going. (I found a replacement at the Niagara Falls gift shop and considered it $18 well spent.)

I’ve never been to Niagara Falls before and it’s quite impressive, though it didn’t look like my mental picture of it. We wandered around and viewed the various rapids and falls and walked out on the observation deck, but we didn’t have time for the boat ride or to take the elevator down to the series of decks near the bottom of the falls.

It was close to our information session time when we got to RIT and the campus is big and kind of confusing, so we only had time for quick snacks from a convenience store in lieu of lunch and we just made it to the session in time.

At the information session, we heard the things you usually hear at these events. One interesting thing about RIT is that most majors require several co-ops (full-time paid employment the school helps you find) interspersed throughout your education. It makes most undergraduate degrees take five years rather than four to complete, but you don’t pay tuition when you’re not on campus, and you graduate with almost a year of work experience.

The school is strong in both computer science and film, which appeals to Noah. He usually plays his cards close to his chest for a while after these visits, but while we were still there he said cheerfully, “All the schools seem good. I want to go to them all,” which was not a comment directly about RIT, but presumably something about the school inspired him to say it. I told him that was good because he’d be happy with his choices once he knew where he’d been admitted. Beth and I both noticed he seemed to be in a good mood there and he asked to have his picture taken with the statue of the mascot (a tiger).

The tour itself was long (an hour and a half) and tiring after having hiked around the Niagara in the morning. It looks a lot like UMBC, a lot of rectangular red brick buildings. They were both built in the 1960s, though RIT is older, having relocated from another campus in downtown Rochester. There’s not much green space, though there’s some in the residential areas. There are some decorative touches—most notably sculpture. There’s also a series of underground tunnels connecting buildings, but we didn’t get to go into them. It was orientation week so there were first-year students all over in matching t-shirts. Apparently, some schools can handle prospective tours and orientation at the same time.

We were pretty hungry after the tour and the main dining hall opened for dinner at four, so we headed over there and ate. The dining hall was not as pretty at the one at St. Mary’s, but it did have a whole wall of windows that looked out on some woods. Beth said it would be pretty in the fall.

Next we drove to our AirBnB near Ithaca. We got there about 7:45 and it was nice to have an evening to relax, do laundry, and write. Beth ran out for a few groceries so we could have breakfast at the house. 

Thursday: Trumansburg, NY to Ithaca College and Back 

The next morning we drove to Ithaca College, where we had not only the usual information session and tour, but another tour of the School of Communications, where we saw a bunch of film and television studios. Noah said later he was glad we went on the add-on tour because he wasn’t that interested before seeing the studios and hearing about the major in Emerging Media, which would combine his interests in film and computers. By the end of the second tour, he was quite interested. Like RIT, Ithaca is an older school that relocated in the 1960s, but it has more green space and architectural variety. Like Oberlin, it’s a selective liberal arts college with a strong music program. It started out as a conservatory and the School of Music is the biggest school within the college, with the School of Communications second.

After being on our feet for the better part of the three-and-a-half hour program, we were hungry and tired and we considered getting some food on campus, but decided to head into town because Ithaca is known for its restaurants. We had lunch at a ramen/dumpling place. Thus fortified, we took a hike to Taughannock Falls, “the tallest single-drop waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains,” according to a brochure at the AirBnB. It’s taller than Niagara, but much narrower. Beth, who is fond of waterfalls, called it “a little piece of paradise” and it was very pretty.

Back at the house we relaxed and read until dinnertime when we ate at Moosewood Restaurant. I’ve been cooking from several different Moosewood cookbooks for thirty-plus years and I even recognized the striped awning from one of the covers. It was a beautiful, mild evening so we ate outside under said awning. We started with a plate of local cheeses and salads. My entrée was a ragout of summer vegetables on saffron whole-wheat cous cous with grated Gruyere on top. Beth and I both had the iconic fudge brownie (served every day since 1973 according to the menu) a la mode.

Friday: Trumansburg, NY to Altoona, PA

We stayed in Ithaca part of the next day, leaving the house late in the morning and picking up provisions for a picnic lunch at the local food co-op. Do you love going to co-ops and natural food stores in new towns? I do. It feels so much more like an adventure than going to the co-op at home, which basically feels like grocery shopping. Anyway, we got cheese and crackers, and curried tempeh salad, and tortilla chips to go with a yellow watermelon, which our host left for us at the Airbnb. Beth and I got chocolate cookies with chocolate and vanilla frosting in the yin-yang pattern, sort of a hippie black-and-white cookie and Noah got a brownie.

Before we ate, we went to the swimming hole at Robert Treman State Park. It’s right under a waterfall and there’s a diving board and a lifeguard. I would have jumped off the diving board but the water was very cold, between sixty and sixty-five degrees according to three different chalkboards we saw in the area; I couldn’t bring myself to wade in past the bottom of my ribcage. Beth wishes it to be known she went in the deepest and stayed in the longest. After our swim, we ate our picnic lunch and hit the road.

We drove to Altoona, where we stayed the night. I told Noah to find us the best pizza in Altoona and he might have just googled that phrase because we ended up getting takeout from a place called Bestway Pizza. After dinner I swam for almost an hour in the hotel pool. I’d had a dizzy spell earlier in the evening and during the swim I started to feel sick to my stomach, so after a quick shower, I went straight to bed.

Saturday: Altoona, PA to Wheeling, WV 

In the morning, I felt better. We had breakfast in the hotel and drove to Wheeling. On the way we finished Making Obama, a six-part podcast about Obama’s early political career we’d been listening to on and off throughout the week. I thought hearing his voice so often would make me cry, but it didn’t, so I guess I’m tougher than I thought. I do recommend it, if you think you can stand thinking about the sheer sadness of how things turned out after Obama. (We listened to a lot of podcasts on this trip, mostly Making Obama and The Truth, a podcast of radio play-style fiction with a Twilight Zone feel, which was one of Noah’s contributions. We also listened to a couple episodes each of podcasts of people playing text adventures and The Moth, plus single episodes of a few more. Everyone was generally pleased with each other’s choices except I had the bad luck to offer the group the only gory episode of Spooked that I’ve ever heard—I swear it’s usually very gently spooky—and Beth didn’t care for that.)

When we got to Beth’s mom’s house YaYa and North and Beth’s aunt Carole were out to lunch so we had our picnic and pizza leftovers and read until they returned. When they got back Carole shared the news that she’s going to be a great grandmother again and we saw videos of North on the rock climbing wall at the pool. When you get to the top, you just drop off into the water. It looks fun. We also saw all the clothes and school supplies YaYa bought for North. I’d already bought North some clothes, so it’s possible they may be all set for school. Thanks, YaYa!

We spent the rest of the day socializing. A couple of YaYa’s friends came by in the afternoon. They were in town for a seventy-fifth birthday party their high school class was holding (because they all turn seventy-five this year). So in the evening, YaYa went to that and Beth’s high school friend Michelle, who’s recently relocated to the area from New York, came by and we got Chinese takeout and got caught up on each other’s lives. Michelle’s come home to be closer to her mother and she’s going to be in a show in Pittsburgh this fall.

Sunday: Wheeling, WV to Takoma Park, MD

We left Wheeling mid-morning and made the long, last drive home. The kids couldn’t watch Dr. Who together as planned because the iPad was out of battery and no one had a charger for it. And Beth and I had run out of podcasts, so it was a quiet drive.

Post-Trip

We’ve been home four days now. The kids had a pediatrician appointment; North invited Xavier for dinner one night and met Zoë at the playground another day; I took North to Chuck E Cheese for lunch one day; and North had two audition coaching sessions at Highwood plus a rehearsal for a performance Highwood students are having at the Kennedy Center on Saturday. It’s a preview of songs from the upcoming season’s shows. Noah had a drum lesson and he’s been finishing up his summer homework—reading Johnny Got His Gun, writing about it, and making a podcast of interviews with families of kids who went to the kids’ co-operative preschool back in the day.

School starts Tuesday. It will be a slightly bittersweet back to school, I think, because it will be Noah’s last one while still living at home. But I am happy to have had this trip with him, both for the time alone with my first-born, and because it really did help him narrow down and rank his list. Ithaca and R.I.T. are his current favorites, but he’s still considering Champlain and Oberlin, and he thinks he needs more information on Carnegie Mellon and UMBC because he didn’t get a full tour at either of those schools. Because UMBC is only forty-five minutes away, we’re headed back there in a week and a half. Emerson and St. Mary’s are off the list.

Someone I know who just sent her son to college advised me to cherish every minute of Noah’s senior year. I’m sure I won’t manage that. It’s a tall order for any year and there will be stress and frustration, but I am going to try to enjoy this last year with my boy at home, because I know it won’t come around again.

The Sweetest Place

We’re taking two road trips this month. We got back from the short one—a weekend getaway to visit Hershey Park and drop North off at sleepaway camp—on Sunday. Next Sunday we’ll be picking North up at camp and dropping them off at Beth’s mom’s house for a week-long visit while Beth, Noah, and I tour colleges in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York.

Before Hershey Park

The week before the Hershey Park trip both kids were home. This is the hardest kind of week for me during the summer, but not because it’s impossible to work with the kids at home. It’s not. They don’t interrupt me as often as they did when they were younger. It’s more I interrupt myself to make sure they’re doing chores, or summer homework, or reading, or doing anything vaguely creative or wholesome instead of staring at screens all day long, which is what they really want to do. So it’s hard to get into a good workflow because I am constantly monitoring them.

Still when mid-August approaches, I often start to feel nostalgic for the summer that’s not even over yet and I don’t mind working with two twelve-year-old kids playing Battleship on the living room rug right behind my desk and one seventeen year old playing drums in the basement, as I did one day last week when North had their friend Edwin over.

Tuesday afternoon when I didn’t have much work both kids and I tried to take a creek walk, but a thunderstorm scotched the plan before we’d been in the water for five minutes. So we came home and I tried to get one or both of them to make a peach-blackberry cobbler with me, but neither of them felt like baking that day. Noah did think to inquire if there would still be cobbler to eat if they didn’t help or if it was “a Little Red Hen situation.” It wasn’t. I made the cobbler and let them eat it.

I also tried to spend some one-on-one time with North, as they were about to be away from home for two weeks. We played a couple games of Clue and watched Alexa and Katie together on Wednesday. Thursday we cooked together—they made brownies for brownie sundaes while I was making veggie burgers and sautéed green beans with pine nuts for dinner. 

Hershey Park 

Saturday morning we left the house a little after eight and drove to Hershey Park. It’s only two hours away so we got there fifteen minutes after the park opened. Even so it was already crowded. We usually go on weekdays to beat the crowds but I guess there’s no beating the crowds on a Saturday in August. (Although, I have to say it didn’t seem to get any more crowded over the course of the day, so it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be when we first got there.)

As soon as we arrived, we went to the measuring station because North wanted to see if they were a Twizzler yet. They didn’t actually want to go on any rides you need to be that tall for, but it was the principle of the thing. Most of their friends are already Jolly Ranchers. And yes, they are a Twizzler now.

We split up immediately so both kids could get to the their top-priority rides early in the day. For North, that’s the Laff Track, an indoor coaster with a funhouse theme. I won’t ride that one because it goes backward and I can’t even sit backwards on Metro trains without getting sick. So Beth stayed with North and Noah and I went to the Comet, an old-fashioned wooden coaster that’s probably my favorite ride in the park. Noah likes it, too.

Over the course of the day we hit all our favorites. We all rode the Coal Cracker (a log flume), the Trailblazer (a mine ride), the Wild Mouse, a little coaster with a lot of sharp turns but no big drops and the Sky View, a tram I like because it gives you a good view of some of the more daring coasters I will never ride. One of those is the Great Bear, which Noah really likes and rode earlier in the day. It’s a twisty hanging coaster with multiple loops. The only looping coaster I’ll ride is the Sooper Dooper Looper, which has just one relatively small loop near the beginning of the ride. The kids and I always do that one. I even have a t-shirt that says, “I Survived the Sooper Dooper Looper.”

After lunch, the kids wanted to sample one of the more bizarre sweets you can get in the park—BBLz, which are concoctions made of made of different flavors of soda with frosting on top and candy in it. Beth and I got ice cream instead. I got a Reese’s sundae and she got an ice cream cookie sandwich. While we were eating our treats, Beth told me about an article she’d read recently about how Hershey recruited dairy workers to violently break strikes at their factories in the 1930s. At the time we were seated in front of a wall that said, “The Sweetest Place on Earth,” so that seemed a little ironic. (Somehow this got omitted from the detailed Hershey timeline we saw the next day at Chocolate World.)

Late in the afternoon, Noah needed a break, so he went to sit somewhere air-conditioned and listen to podcasts. The rest of us headed to the water park. It wasn’t a particularly hot day but it was muggy and we were all pretty wiped out, so the wave pool and the lazy river seemed more appealing than the water slides. The river was very pleasant and relaxing—we went around twice.

By the time we left the water park and reunited with Noah it was starting to get dark so we rode the Ferris Wheel and watched the lights come on all over the nearby rides. Then we headed to Chocolate World and had a very late dinner. The original plan was to do some shopping in the candy store and take the factory tour ride, but it was already nine-thirty and the adults were done in, so we decided to return in the morning. I was too tired to even get dessert.

At our hotel we slept and woke and had breakfast and Beth and North visited the pool before going back to Chocolate World for the delayed shopping trip and factory ride. By the time we’d finished there, it was time to drive North to camp.

Camp Highlight

Last fall, shortly after coming out as non-binary, North started asking if they could go to a camp for trans and non-binary kids this summer. The one they had in mind was in New Hampshire, which posed a transportation challenge. Also, at the time, Beth and I were still kind of reeling from North’s disclosure and we weren’t entirely sure they would still be identifying as non-binary this summer. After doing a little research, Beth found a camp for kids of LGBT+ parents within easy driving distance in Pennsylvania. We figured it was a pretty sure bet that North being from a lesbian-headed family wasn’t going to change and the camp seemed welcoming to gender non-conforming kids. It has gender-neutral cabins, which was very attractive to North, who was uncomfortable with the gendered sleeping quarters at Outdoor Education last fall, a problem which would presumably extend to most sleep-away camps.

We arrived at the camp, which uses a YMCA facility, in the early afternoon. It was a lot bigger than the Girl Scout camp North attended the last three summers, and fancier, too. I saw a horse corral and a big climbing wall. Beth said she had seen the climbing wall but not horse-riding on the list of activities, though, so the horses might be for another camp. (Several different camps use the facilities at once.)

The counselors were outgoing and apparently excited to meet all the new campers and greet returning ones. That’s another difference from North’s old camp. They loved it, but because it ran one-week sessions for most of the summer, it wasn’t the kind of place where returning campers would see many of the kids who were in their session the year before. And the counselors were mostly different from year to year, too. This camp is small—just about sixty campers—and only meets for one week a year, so it seemed a lot of kids and counselors knew each other. It made me think it could be a comfortable place for North to return for the next few years, if they like it. I hope they do.

After we signed in, we bought North a water bottle with the camp logo, and headed to their cabin. It was high-ceilinged, with partitions between the bunks, so there was some privacy for the ten or twelve kids bunking there. We left soon afterward. North seemed happy and not nearly as nervous as the first time we left them at sleepaway camp when they were nine. They’re a pro at this now, I guess, and it seemed like a good place for them, full of friendly, outgoing people.

Still, I’m looking forward to picking them up in five days and hearing about all their camp adventures as we drive them to their next sweet place of grandmotherly spoiling, while Beth, Noah, and I set out on a journey that may lead us to find a sweet place for him.

Hear the Turtle, Believe in the Retriever: College Tours, Installment #3

UMCP Choir Camp: Monday to Thursday

North’s choir camp performance was Friday, which means after two plays and a concert, the performance-intensive part of the summer is over. North came home from the last performance of My Fair Lady late last Sunday evening, went to bed, slept, got up and went straight to their first day of choir camp Monday morning. And I say their first day of camp instead of the first day because they actually missed the orientation which took place Sunday afternoon because the My Fair Lady actors were required to stay at the theater between the matinee and the evening show.

Beth ran by the orientation to pick up North’s sheet music and elective class assignments. They were in Music and Movies, Theatre, and A Cappella Singing. North couldn’t remember how they’d ranked the myriad choices many months ago and so they didn’t know whether they’d gotten their top choices or not, but they were pleased with those classes.

Before Beth got the music North said they hoped all the songs would all be in English this year, because last year there was one song in French and one partly in Samoan. Well, this year only one song was in English. The rest were in Cherokee, French, German, and Latin. I think it’s good experience because choruses so often sing in foreign languages, but North was exasperated, especially about the German piece. However, the song in English was “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen and North is semi-obsessed with this musical, so that might have been sufficient compensation.

Monday I picked North up from camp. They’ve been getting around Takoma and Silver Spring on public transportation by themselves for about a year, but getting home from this camp involves taking a bus from College Park to Langley Park and then crossing a street with six lanes of traffic and I’m not quite ready for them to do that alone.

I asked if there were any problems from missing the orientation and they said they did feel a little behind learning the choir songs and that the a cappella class’s location was different than what was printed on their identification badge (which had been presumably announced on Sunday), but other than that everything was fine. On the last day of camp, in addition to the concert for friends and family, the elective classes were going to perform for each other. The movie music class picked a scene from Coco to set to music and the a capella class started learning a song. North said the theatre class did warm-up games and hadn’t started working on their scene yet.

We stopped at Starbucks on the way home, then read a few chapters of Still Life, the last book in the Books of Elsewhere series, and they helped me make corn and spinach fritters for dinner. Noah and North worked some more on their video after dinner. That was the night they finished it. Thanks to all of you who watched it or commented on Facebook or YouTube.

The rest of the week passed a lot like Monday.  North dressed up for all the spirit days, wearing a 2016 music camp t-shirt on alumni day, part of their Tongue Twister Halloween costume for July-oween, a tank top and scarf worn sarong-style over bike shorts on Summer day, and a gold shirt and shorts on Maryland colors day (you could pick any one of the four colors or a combination). Never say North’s not a team player. They tried out for a solo in “You Will Be Found” on Wednesday, but they didn’t get one. There were around seventy kids in choir camp and only three solos, so the odds were long.

Beth drove North to camp most mornings, except Wednesday when she had an early meeting so I took them. Noah and I split the afternoon pickups. Whoever was bringing North home usually stopped at the Starbucks near the Takoma-Langley transit center, though one day I brought Oreos from the 7-Eleven to camp. North and I usually read after camp and then they helped me cook dinner most nights, except Thursday when they were cleaning their room and packing for their upcoming weekend camping trip with Beth.

UMBC Summer Preview: Friday Morning

Friday we all piled into the car at eight a.m. and drove North to camp, leaving them there fifty minutes early because we needed to be at another University of Maryland campus, UMBC, by 8:45. Beth noted on Facebook we were having “a very Maryland day.”

University of Maryland Baltimore County was having a summer preview day, similar the open house St. Mary’s had last spring. UMBC is on Noah’s list because I asked him to add another state school, so we have a couple financial safety schools. He chose UMBC because its computer science department is well regarded. Noah’s interested in computer science and has dabbled in it from a young age, but he’s mostly self-taught because he’s been in humanities magnets since sixth grade and hasn’t had a lot of room in his schedule for electives. He’s thinking of majoring in computer science or film or majoring in one and minoring in the other.

We arrived, stopped at the breakfast buffet, and took our seats in the gym for the opening presentation. There were a lot of balloons in Maryland’s state colors—red, gold, black, and white—and a banner that proclaimed UMBC an “honors university.” You’d think by the end of the morning it would be clear what this meant, but it really wasn’t. There’s an honors college within the university but a lot of universities have those, including UMCP, Maryland’s flagship campus. After a while I developed a theory that it’s a combination of the Honors College and a cluster of Scholars Programs in different disciplines.

For the breakout sessions we went to hear an overview of the College of Engineering and Information Technology, then another one about the Honors College, then we split up with Beth and Noah hearing a student panel on Engineering and Information Technology while I went to the Admissions panel. I was impressed with the Honors College presentation. It sounds like a supportive, tight-knit community that would be good for Noah. Most of the students live in the same dorm their first year, they take small seminars, and they have an Honors College advisor in addition to their regular advisor, who help them find internships and other opportunities. Noah thought it sounded like it could be a good fit, too.

We grabbed a bite to eat at the catered lunch in the ballroom. The vegetarian selections weren’t fabulous but we didn’t have time to look for food elsewhere on campus. We also didn’t have time for a campus tour because we had to get back to College Park for North’s choir concert. I would have liked to do a tour because I always find those interesting, but UMBC’s only forty-five minutes from our house and they have tours every weekday and some weekends, so it won’t be hard to get back if UMBC is high on Noah’s list after our big New York-Pennsylvania-Ohio college road trip later this month.

Before we left, I made sure to get a picture of Noah with a statue of the school’s mascot, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, named True Grit. There was a short line to do this. When I said St. Mary’s was really into its mascot (the sea hawk) I may have misspoken. That dog is all over campus, on flags in the parking lot, on signage (look in the background of the picture to the right), just everywhere. The student union is called the Retriever Activity Center. The dining hall is called True Grits. We saw a banner in one of the buildings that said, “Believe in the Retriever.”

When I stopped to think about it, UMCP is similarly enamored of its mascot, the terrapin (a species of turtle native to Maryland). I just don’t notice it because I was in grad school there for six years and then taught there as an adjunct for a while longer, so I just don’t notice the omnipresent turtles any more when I’m on campus.

UMCP Choir Camp Concert: Friday Afternoon

Speaking of the terrapin, the music camp both kids have attended for years changed its name this year from Summer Youth Music Camp to Terrapin Music Camp. If you look very carefully at North’s shirt, you may see a small turtle to the left of the word terrapin. Terrapin Music Camp’s hashtag is #heartheturtle, which will sound funnier to you if you’re from these parts and know “Fear the Turtle” is the University’s slogan. Noah kept teasing North all week by calling it the Terrible Music Camp. This might have hurt their feelings if not for the fact that Noah attended band camp there for four years so he obviously didn’t mean it.

We arrived in time for the concert and found seats. It was a joint orchestra camp/choir camp concert and the two orchestras (fifth to seventh grade and eighth to tenth) went first. I scanned the program for names of kids we might know in orchestra camp, but none of North’s friends who’ve attended in years past were there this year. They didn’t know anyone at choir camp either, except one girl who acts in Highwood shows.

The choir sang five songs. The first one was a very pretty Cherokee song, then two madrigals, one in French and one in German. The Latin song, “Festival Sanctus” was lively and complex. “You Will Be Found” was last and they did a very nice job with it. It really is a lovely song and sentiment, though if you know something about the plot of the musical—which I do because I hear the soundtrack almost every time we’re in the car and North also turned our dinner-making that week into informal seminars on plot and characterization in Dear Evan Hansen—there’s some irony there.

We’d promised North ice cream after the concert. The ice cream shop in the student union food court uses milk from the University’s dairy farm and we like to go there at least once during music camp weeks. It was a challenge to find parking, though, because of construction on campus, and then there was a long line, which we had to wait in twice in different combinations of people. Noah was off getting eggrolls at Panda Express because he hadn’t had much lunch and when we got to the front of the line the flavor he’d asked Beth to get was sold out and North couldn’t decide what they wanted so Beth got her ice cream and mine and then got straight back into the line. As a result, the ice cream was not as celebratory as it could have been.

Once we got home, Beth and North started packing the car to leave for their weekend camping trip, because the two of them had one more stop left on their very Maryland day.

With a Little Bit of Luck

My Fair Lady just finished its six-performance, four-day run yesterday. The two weeks before the performances neither kid had camp, which was probably good for North because the two weeks they were rehearsing Into the Woods and My Fair Lady at the same time were exhausting. And going to camp during the week when they had evening rehearsals or performances running until at least ten p.m. and some nights past eleven would have been even harder.  So it was nice for them to be able to sleep in a little and not have to worry about going anywhere during the day. (On Sunday they slept until almost eight-thirty, which might have been the latest they’ve ever slept in their life. I don’t know how long they would have slept if Noah hadn’t woken them up for their traditional Sunday morning viewing of Dr. Who.)

I think it was actually harder on the grownups staying up past our bedtimes and getting up around the same time as usual for six days in a row. (On Saturday afternoon Beth crashed and slept for almost two hours. That same night I gave up on staying up until Beth brought North home and I’d been asleep for an hour when they got back.)

As for the daytime, it was a bit of a challenge working in my corner-of-the-living-room office with both kids home. I had to keep telling people to turn off the television or watch it with headphones on, and both kids were watching a lot of television—Anne with an E, Liv and Maddie and recorded episodes of Late Night With Stephen Colbert. I’ll let you guess who chose what. But they weren’t complete sluggards. Noah finished a rough draft of a college application essay and he started shadowing a friend of Beth’s who’s a filmmaker and both kids worked on the video they started filming the week we were at the beach and they finished it. Here it is:

North wrote and performed the song and Noah filmed it and edited it and added some stock footage and the piano music.

I put the kids to work around the house, too. The kids cleaned the bathroom, Noah vacuumed and mowed, North mopped the kitchen floor and ran errands for me, and we all weeded a lot. We put a dent in what grew during an almost solid week of rain but at least the ground was so soggy the weeds came right up. North had a couple friends over, but it took quite a few inquiries to find even two people who weren’t out of town or at a day camp. North and I went on a bit of a dessert-making spree. We had a lot of berries from our recent berry-picking expedition so I made a blueberry kuchen and a blackberry sauce for ice cream and North and I collaborated on a blueberry-ricotta-hazelnut cake. North made tapioca pudding, too.

Beth, North, and I also attended our first support group for trans and non-binary kids and their parents (two separate groups that meet at the same time) at Children’s National Medical Center. We’ve had a series of appointments there recently for intake purposes. This was our fourth time there in three months. The groups were sparsely attended– apparently they always are in the summer– but it was interesting. It was just Beth and me and two other moms (of two different kids) but it seemed all three families were in very different places when it came to adjusting to their kids’ identities.

As opening night drew close, to prepare ourselves for the show, we all watched the film version of My Fair Lady. It’s three hours long and we never had three hours free all at once, so we watched it in installments over the course of three nights. It turns out North has a very firm opinion on Julie Andrews v. Audrey Hepburn as Eliza. They’re on Team Andrews all the way. They also think Eliza should not have gone back to Henry at the end. We were all in agreement about that but North was the most emphatic of all of us. It made me reflect how it was just a year ago that North listened to Beth’s and my thoughts about the troubling nature of Belle and the Beast’s relationship with patient resignation but zero interest. A lot has changed in the past year.

Finally it was time for the show. On Thursday afternoon around four I was working and North came into the living room and said, “Don’t I have to be on a bus in twenty minutes?” and I said no, it was an hour and twenty minutes and they pointed out it wasn’t a rehearsal today it was the actual show and they needed to be at the theater at five. I don’t know how I forgot. All I can say is I’d been up past my bedtime two nights in a row by that point and I don’t function well when I’m short on sleep. I threw together something for them to eat (a couple veggie dogs and some microwaved new potatoes) and they were out the door on time to catch their 4:25 bus.

North had been getting themselves to the theater on rehearsal days for six weeks. It all went smoothly except one day last week when they got accidentally on an 18 instead of a 17. After a frantic text exchange with me they got off before the routes of the two buses diverged and then got on the next 17. They were only ten minutes late, but the directors were a little testy about it because it was tech week.

Beth, Noah, and I attended the second performance of the play on Friday evening, after a quick stop for a bouquet of sunflowers, red roses, and sea lavender and another stop for dinner at Mod Pizza. This time I remembered North’s dinner in time—I ordered them their own delivery pizza to eat before leaving for their call time.

We arrived and took our seats in the little theater. Highwood has three performance spaces in the same building. My Fair Lady was the same room where we’d seen Godspell the weekend before. (We go to a lot of shows at Highwood because North always wants to see their friends perform.) Because we’d recently seen the film, I knew North’s character, or rather their characters—they were playing three—wouldn’t appear for a while. Their biggest part was Jamie, one of Alfred Doolittle’s drinking buddies, so they had five lines of dialogue with Alfred over the course of the play and they sang in “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” Alfred is a comedic role (and coincidentally the one North tried out for) and Jamie only appears with Alfred so North’s scenes allowed them to use their gift for comic facial expressions. They had to dance a lot, too, and even though they like acting and singing more than dancing, they did great with the dances, which involved a lot of leaps. North also played a servant in the Higgins household, singing in the “Servants’ Chorus,” and a guest at the ball.

The ball was performed in the second-floor hallways ringing the atrium just before intermission. The members of the audience were asked to leave their seats and stand against the walls while the actors ascended the staircase that winds up from the first floor and they were announced by name and then waltzed past the audience. I thought it was creative staging that took advantage of the somewhat eccentric layout of the building.

As always, it was an impressive show. The two leads were fantastic. The girl who played Eliza did a decent Cockney accent, had a lovely, delicate singing voice, and she even looked a tiny bit like Audrey Hepburn. The girl who played Professor Higgins has been attending drama camps with North since North was four and Anna was five. (The first one was at their preschool. More recently, Anna was the witch in the Into the Woods at the rec center and Patty in School of Rock at Highwood.) Anna really inhabited the role of Higgins in all its arrogance. And she did some impressive ad libbing when another actor missed his cue. I didn’t even realize something had gone wrong until North told us later.

Seeing Anna and North in the same show inspired me dig around to find this photo of that long-ago drama camp at their preschool. Look carefully at North’s shirt. It doesn’t say Dairy Queen—it’s Drama Queen. I’m still in touch with the moms of several of these kids and none of them were even in Noah or North’s class. It’s that kind of school, a tight-knit community where kids make friends that last for years. And with a little bit of luck, we’ll be seeing North and their friends—old and new—perform together for many years to come.

I Wish

Cinderella:

I wish
More than anything
More than life
More than jewels

Jack:

I wish
More than life

Baker and His Wife:

I wish
More than anything
More than the moon

From “Prologue,” Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rock Around the Clock, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 a.m. 

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

8 a.m.

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

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

9 a.m.

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

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

10 a.m.

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

11 a.m.

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

Noon

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

1 p.m. 

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

2 p.m. 

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

3 p.m.

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

4 p.m.

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

5 p.m. 

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

6 p.m.

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

7 p.m.

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

8 p.m.

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

9 p.m. 

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

10 p.m.

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

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

The Whole Sand Castle

Day 1: Saturday 

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

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

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

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

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

Day 2: Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3: Monday

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

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

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

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

Day 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 5: Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 7: Friday

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

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

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

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

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

Day 8: Saturday Again

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

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

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

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

Rainbow Ribbons

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

From “Cyprus Avenue,” by Van Morrison 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Concert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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