We’ve had two weeknight excursions recently, which is unusual for us these days. We used to have more school events (concerts, plays, meetings), but between being down to one kid and covid, these are now either online or rare occurrences. But this month, we patronized the arts, taking in an outdoor art exhibit and a concert.
Outing #1: Winter Lanterns
On the first day of February, the Lunar New Year, we went to the Kennedy Center to see the Winter Lanterns display. It’s the second time we’ve done it. The last time was two years ago, shortly before covid struck. I think it was cancelled the next year. We considered going the weekend before or after when there would have been food trucks, but it was supposed to be warmer during the week and the idea of going on the actual date of the new year appealed, so that’s what we did. I made a tofu, fennel, and shiitake soup and a cabbage-Asian pear slaw from a Korean vegan cookbook North got for Christmas, so we were not without culturally relevant sustenance before we left. It was a more involved dinner than I usually make so I had to knock off work a little early to prepare it.
I wasn’t sure if it would be the same lanterns as the first time we went or new ones. The answer was a mix. We wandered around the terraces outside the Kennedy Center looking at the colorful flowers, butterflies, pandas, sea creatures, and birds lighting up the night. I especially liked the owls, flamingoes, jellyfish, and turtles. One of the rectangular pools was frozen solid, which surprised me because it had been up in the forties that day—North poked it with their cane to verify. It was all very beautiful. It’s a shame Noah’s always at school when it happens. I think he’d like it and he’s the best photographer in the family.
Two nights later, still on the new year theme, North made a spicy tofu stew and udon with black bean sauce from the same cookbook. Afterward we watched an online information session about the culinary arts program at another high school in our school district. (This is one of those meetings that would have probably been in person in the Before Times.) North applied and got in through a lottery and was trying to decide whether to attend during their junior year. It’s a one-year, half-day program. If they went, they’d have their academic classes at their current school in the morning, take a bus to the other school, and attend the culinary arts program in the afternoon. During the last quarter of the school year the kids run a restaurant other students, faculty, and staff patronize. North was initially torn, but is leaning against attending, as they’re feeling they don’t want their days split between two schools.
The weekend was pretty quiet. Zoë came over on Friday after school and we had homemade pizza and watched Vita and Virginia. It occurred to me as we watched it that I’ve passed from being willing to awkwardly power through sex scenes in television and movies with my older child, to doing it with my younger child, to doing it with a friend of my younger child. In case that’s a milestone, I will note here it happened when my youngest was not quite sixteen.
Beth went ice skating on Saturday and I went for a longer than usual walk and saw snowdrops in a yard a block or two from the Co-op. I was glad to see them, because I always welcome little heralds of spring in February. We have a little cluster of purple crocuses in our side yard, which we didn’t plant, probably relocated by a squirrel. The dozens of daffodils in our front yard have poked their heads up out of the ground as well, though for their own sake, I hope they stay shut for several more weeks.
Outing #2: Billie Eilish Concert
We went to see Billie Eilish on Wednesday night. We bought tickets for this concert, which was supposed to take place in March 2020, for North’s fourteenth birthday. When the concert was originally postponed, North was so sad they organized an at-home concert, complete with glowsticks, concessions, and homemade concert t-shirts to cheer themselves up. Beth was able to find her shirt and she wore it to the real concert.
Even now, almost twenty-three months later, I had some trepidation about going to a big, inside event with omicron still circulating, but it’s on the downswing where we live and proof of vaccination and masking were required. Plus it was now or never. Sadly, North’s not even as much of an Eilish fan as they used to be, though they do still like her. They’re more excited about the Girl in Red concert they’re going to with Zoë and some other friends next month.
We had an early dinner and then drove to the Metro stop and took the train into the city. We all have the Clear app on our phones, downloaded for this event, because it was the first time since we were vaccinated last spring that we had to provide in-person proof of vaccination. We showed it to the guards at the door and we were admitted. It was all pretty efficient. We walked by concession and merch stands with long lines. North didn’t ask for a $45 t-shirt or anything to eat, so we didn’t buy anything. I wondered if we would have gotten some souvenirs two years ago. I noticed every restroom I saw in the arena had been converted to a women’s room, with laminated signs covering up the regular ones and plastic sheeting covering the urinals. I guess there must have been a men’s room somewhere but I didn’t see one and there probably wasn’t need of many, as the crowd was overwhelmingly female, also young—most concert-goers were in their teens and twenties, with a sprinkling of preteens and a fair number of middle-aged parents, mostly moms, accompanying kids.
It was re-assuring how universal masking was. You had to be masked to get in, but it would have been easy to remove your mask once seated and no one I saw was doing that, except briefly to eat. I think in the whole evening, I only saw one person wearing a mask below the nose in that great mass of humanity.
My other worry about the concert, other than being in a crowd of twenty thousand people, was being out late on a school night. Beth and I are early-to-bed people. We’re usually in bed by ten, ten-thirty at the latest and we weren’t sure how late we’d be out, so I was happy when the lights went down for the opening act, Australian rapper Tkay Maidza, relatively promptly at 7:35. I was surprised to recognize one of her songs, a cover of the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” late in her set, and I had to tell first Beth, then North, “I know this song!” Neither of them was particularly impressed with my familiarity with late eighties popular music, but you’ve got to go with what you have.
After the opening act, there was almost an hour to wait before Eilish came on. I was impatient and kept checking my watch and re-calculating when we might get to bed, but finally a trapdoor opened on the stage and she came bouncing out. I think a trampoline must have been involved. She was wearing an oversized black t-shirt, bike shorts, kneepads, and sneakers and she had her hair dyed black and she wore it in pigtails. In keeping with her entrance, her energy was high throughout the show.
She opened with “Bury a Friend” and I was immediately surprised by how loud the song was. I mean, I knew she was playing in a hockey stadium and not an intimate little coffeehouse, but her recorded music has a quiet if intense vibe, and I was expecting it to be something like that, amplified enough for everyone to hear, of course, but not much more than that. But instead of quiet and intense, it was loud and intense. There were a lot lights crisscrossing the stadium and smoke and visuals on the screens behind her. Once it was cars seeming to speed toward her as a traffic lane lines appeared on the stage. Sometimes a shark swam behind her or a giant spider appeared. Toward the end there was a montage of home movies from her childhood and there was another of images related to climate change. So there was a lot to take in. At one point she got into a cherry picker and it swung her around, close to different parts of the crowd. She also orchestrated a wave of cell phone lights in the crowd by pointing to different parts of the stadium. North and I participated in that. It reminded me of the glowsticks at our makeshift concert two years ago.
I did not know as many of the songs as I expected. Even though North played Billie Eilish in the car for all the time for years, maybe from the age of twelve to fourteen, they haven’t done that recently for two reasons. First, they are listening more to other artists. Second, they don’t play music in the car for everyone to hear much anymore, preferring to use their headphones. And as it turns out, Eilish has written some new material in the two years I haven’t been paying much attention.
If you want to read more about the concert, here’s a review. One thing that struck me was how cheerful her stage presence and banter was, in contrast to a lot of her lyrics, which tend toward the gloomy. Beth said she was probably happy to be performing again. And the name of her newest album is Happier Than Ever (even though in the cover photo she’s crying).
In the end we got home and into bed by 11:40, which was better than I feared. It was a fun outing, but I couldn’t help thinking it wasn’t the same experience it would have been two years ago, when North was over the moon about going.
There are so many things we can’t get back, most of North’s ninth grade year and all of Noah’s sophomore year of college for starters. But I never lose sight of how lucky we were and are. We didn’t get sick or lose any loved ones and there was a sweet coziness to the time we all spent in our bubble of four that I can imagine being nostalgic for some time in the future. Right now, I’m grateful the kids are back to considerably more normal school and social lives. North is back in the theater, working as costumes manager for the spring musical and looking forward to having people inside the house for their birthday next month, after two years of outdoor birthday parties. Meanwhile, Noah is pulling together a crew and actors for a movie he’s making for his advanced cinema production class and his junior project is to make an app that lets you mark what you think is a good take as you’re filming so you can find them more easily as you edit. They’re both back to doing what they love. What parent wouldn’t want that?
After the Outings: Weekend and Valentine’s Day
We had another quiet weekend. We watched the Olympics on Friday night. We’ve been watching more than usual, which is nice because I always enjoy it when I think to watch it. I like the figure skating best, but we’ve watched some speed skating, ski jumping, snowboarding, and skeleton, too.
On Saturday night, we watched the first two-thirds or so of Hair, which I haven’t seen since I was twelve and I nominated for family movie night out of curiosity to see how it would hold up. First, I can see why my mom was so mad at my dad for taking an twelve and eight year old to see this film, with all its celebration of drug use and the sexually explicit lyrics, and I can see why it would have seemed like a lot of fun to a kid to imagine be a hippie dancing and singing in Central Park, which is how I responded at the time. The sexual politics leave something to be desired— especially the way Berger appeals to Sheila by storming past all her boundaries. And the attempts to be transgressive and liberated about interracial love are just cringy now. “Black Boys/White Boys” made North exclaim, “What is this song?” more than once. And I don’t even know what’s going on with the officers of draft board all seeming to be gay. I think that must have gone over my head the first time I saw it. But despite all this, I have to admit I am still fond of this movie. I guess I imprinted on it.
On Sunday North made a Black Forest cake as a Valentine’s Day treat. It was very complicated, involving layers of chocolate mousse, cherries, and whipped cream inside the cake and more mousse and cherries on top and shaved chocolate on the top and sides. We decided to eat the cake and exchange presents when North got home from school on Monday instead of after dinner because it helps me spread out my blood sugar rises not to have dessert right after a meal. Also, we weren’t sure if North would be up at dinner, because in the past few months they’ve taken to napping in the late afternoons and early evenings and then staying up late, so it’s hit or miss whether they eat with us.
That day at lunch North cut their apple slices and vegetarian Canadian bacon into heart shapes to get in the mood and then put together a pink and purple outfit for the next day. When they couldn’t find any pink socks I almost gave them one of their Valentine’s Day presents early, but they found some. After they’d gone to bed (earlier than us that night), Beth attached a heart-shaped balloon she got at the grocery store to North’s chair at the dining room table to greet them in the morning.
When North got home from play practice, Beth and I took a break from work to eat the cake and to open presents. Everyone got a little candy; I got a big bag of loose fruit-and-hibiscus tea; Beth got marshmallow-scented lotion, and a biography of Walt Whitman (an item from her Christmas list she never got); and North got two pairs of socks (one pink with strawberries and one with rainbow stripes on a black background). I told North I was going for a Rainbow Goth look. (Lest anyone worry Noah was left out, we mailed a box of fundraiser candy from North’s school and a card to him.)
Does it go without saying that the cake was delicious? Well, just in case it doesn’t I will say it—it was excellent. I decided before we ate that it was a special occasion and I was willing to go up near the top of my target blood sugar range, which is more or less what happened. (I had to delay dinner while I waited for it to come down.) Dinner was tomato-lentil stew with feta and fresh mint and parsley from my indoor herb garden. I also made little heart-shaped toasts. We ate this festive meal in shifts, as North was asleep and I couldn’t eat yet when it was ready.
Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you had some sweetness in the day and after dark, too