Every summer I write at least one blog post about how summer discombobulates me, the different camps every week, with different locations and different drop off and pick up times that mean I need to construct a new routine from scratch every week, only to start a another one once I get into the rhythm of the current one.  (Although two Fridays ago, on June’s last day of art camp at our local community college, I had so successfully turned my mind to the next week that I went much too far on the bus to pick her up because I was thinking of drama camp in Silver Spring, which was the next week.)

Then on the weeks when June doesn’t have camp, there’s the scramble for babysitting and the stress of trying to work while she’s at home.  I haven’t actually had that kind of week yet this summer because June’s been in camp five weeks out of six and we were on vacation the other week.  But as of Friday she’s finished her last camp.  Noah has one more week (a week of theater design, starting Monday). While he’s doing that, June will be having a three-day visit with Beth’s mom in West Virginia and then the next week we all head to Oregon to see my folks.

The last two weeks of break neither kid has camp.  I’ll be working, but fewer hours and I think knowing it’s the very end of break I’ll be more motivated to be the kind of summer mom I often wish I could be, full of fun projects and outings or lazy afternoons reading or playing cards on the porch.

Transportation was my main challenge this week. Early in the summer Noah was volunteering at June’s tinkering camp (located at their old preschool) and he walked her to and from camp most days.  It worked out so well I had him handle about half her drop-offs and pickups to musical drama camp the next week and a couple of the art camp drop-offs the week after that.  The first day they walked off the front porch steps together, June thrilled to be heading out into the world alone with Noah, and Noah seeming quietly pleased at the responsibility, I had to stop myself from running down the block after them.  But it was amazing how quickly I got used to the convenience.  Soon they were stopping at a pizzeria on their way home and bringing home pizza for dinner, and riding on public transportation together as if they’d been doing it for years.  And this week, when he had band camp and couldn’t pitch in with June’s transportation, I really missed the help.  I had to remind myself that when he was eight, I would have been getting him at camp every day while wrestling with a stroller, a diaper bag, and a nap-deprived tantrumming preschooler on the bus.  So it really does get easier, I assure you, if you are currently raising small children.

That said, I will note for the record that my circumnavigations between June’s drama camp, the library, June’s music school, and one trip to Noah’s band camp took me on twenty-two buses and six trains this week. And some of them were late, as is inevitable when you take that many buses and trains. Yet I was never late for a pickup or a drop off (well, once, by about three minutes, but does that really count?) and I only lost one SmarTrip and one umbrella. I think that’s a decent score.

But what I really intended to write about here was band camp, or mostly the band camp concert, as I was there but I was not at band camp.  Camp started on Sunday afternoon with a three-hour orientation. In addition to daily sectional practice with the other percussionists, Noah was taking three electives—technology, movie music (his friend Sasha was in this one with him), and composition. He was glad to get into that class because he’d wanted to take it last year.

Camp lasted from nine to four Monday to Friday and ended with a ninety-minute concert (thirty minutes for each age group) on Friday afternoon. The truly impressive thing about this camp is how they pull together a polished-sounding concert in just a week.

On Sunday night at bedtime, Noah said, “I should have practiced.” I asked if they’d been instructed to and he said no, but he thought he should. I was heartened to hear this, as he hadn’t touched his drums all summer and I’d hoped he would, if just to fool around with them. Anyway, for the rest of the week after a full day of band camp, he practiced, mostly on his orchestra bells, which were standing in for the marimba and vibraphone he’d play in the concert. He didn’t tell me much about camp and Beth, who was driving him and Sasha there every morning, said they were not talkative in the car either, but he seemed happy.

Friday afternoon I picked June up from drama camp an hour early to take her to Noah’s concert. She had to miss her own performance but we’d decided earlier in the summer that each child would have one performance that everyone in the family would attend. For her it was Cats; for Noah it was band camp.  Because the campers spent the afternoon rehearsing skits June would not perform in, the counselors gave her an “assistant director” role. She sat in the back of the room and told actors when they needed to speak more loudly.  She seemed pleased with this duty.

We met Beth at the College Park Metro stop, where she’d left the car in the morning and we drove to the performing arts center on campus. I really like this auditorium (especially when compared to listening to concerts on folding metal chairs in a middle school cafeteria). The seats are comfy, the ceiling soars and is a pretty golden color and an interesting shape, and best of all, there are risers on the stage so you can see the percussionists. We had fifteen minutes to wait, so I read June part of a chapter of The Wide Window, (book three in The Series of Unfortunate Events.)

The fifth and sixth grade band went first.  Among their numbers were “De Colores,” which made Beth and me smile because if you have two children attend a Spanish immersion elementary school you get to know this song very well.  They also did “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” which I thought would be June’s favorite, but she said she liked “Creatures in the Attic,” which was full of spooky sound effects.

We finished our chapter while we waited for the seventh and eight grade band to take the stage. The conductor came on stage holding a large goose puppet. Noah later explained he did it so if any of them made a mistake they would know they were not the only ones who were embarrassed.

As I mentioned, we could see Noah better than usual, although I couldn’t always make out what he was playing if it was at waist level. The triangle and cymbals were pretty visible. (He’s the one playing cymbals in both pictures.) Consulting with him later I found he’d also played cabasa, wind chimes, and vibraphone. He liked “The Falling Rain” best.  He played cabasa and wind chimes in this one and there was audience participation—we had to snap when the conductor signaled for it. I liked “Cyclone,” but maybe just because the week I’d just had felt like one.

I was thinking as they played about a question a friend recently asked me about Noah and percussion.  I’d been explaining Noah’s slow processing and how it causes him difficulty at school sometimes.  Kevin wanted to know how he plays drums if it’s all about timing and doing things at exactly the right time.  I said I thought it was practice, that by practicing a piece over and over he learned how to come in at just the right place, which might be part of the reason he finds it satisfying, as coming in at the right time can be challenging for him, say, in class discussion, and you don’t get do-overs then.

I remember how when he was just starting to play, when he was nine, how every new song used to frustrate him—sometimes to the point of tears—because he wanted to be able to play it right immediately and he couldn’t. He’s still a perfectionist and could tell you every mistake he made in concert if you wanted to know, but he takes it in stride now. He knows mistakes come with the territory.  Plus there was a grown man with a goose puppet on stage, so how could he be embarrassed?

The ninth and tenth graders finished up the concert. Their last piece was called “Instant Concert” and consisted of snippets of well-known songs all strung together. “Thirty melodies in three minutes,” the conductor said. Hearing “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” in July made June laugh, but every familiar tune was fun to identify.  Here’s the full list.

After the concert we had pizza at a place I used to frequent when I was in grad school at the University of Maryland and then ice cream.  And so began a busy weekend featuring getting our middle-aged long-haired cat Xander shaved because he can’t reach his back to lick it any more and he had gotten mats in his fur, our annual berry picking expedition (always to the same berry farm) and my annual blueberry kuchen baking that follows said berry picking expedition, the kids running a lemonade stand/bake sale to benefit endangered species—June’s friend Megan helped with this—and music lessons for both kids.

In fact, on Friday night, going to bed, Noah said he thought he’d play his drums in the morning.   The next morning he had his first summer drum lesson—one of several he’ll have at June’s music school over the next few weeks to tide him over between band camp and the beginning of the school year.  Even though he’d been playing percussion all week he’d never actually played a drum and he said he felt rusty. Sure enough, Saturday morning around nine-thirty, I heard the controlled chaos of Noah’s drumming rising from the basement.

Noah and I are alike in many ways. I know my tendency to get rattled by admittedly small changes to my routine and my (closely related) need to think everything through carefully is just a milder version of his emphatic need for routine and his information processing challenges.  Even one of our cats, Matthew, can’t bear change.  Ever since Xander got shaved, Matthew’s been hissing and running away whenever he sees him, which leaves Xander looking completely baffled because it’s not their usual dynamic. I’m hoping it’s just the lingering smell of the shampoo the groomer used because his fur won’t grow back completely for four to six months. By then, I will be out of the cyclone and back in my comfortable school year routine and Noah will still be providing the steady back beat in the soundtrack of our lives.

A Teenager in the House

On my thirteenth birthday, I woke at my father’s house, hearing my stepmother exclaim to him, “Steve, there’s a teenager in the house!” She meant me, of course, but I was only half awake and easily confused and I thought someone had broken into the house. It seems like so many stark transitions happen in the space of just a year or two to kids that age: preteen to teen, middle school student to high school student, not to mention puberty. It can be hard to take in sometimes.

And so it was that Wednesday evening, three days before Noah turned thirteen, Beth and I attended an informational meeting about high school choice for parents of seventh-graders. The assignment process begins in the fall of eighth grade, so apparently it’s time to start thinking about this.

The meeting occurred on a day of torrential rain and a couple major roads were closed because of flooding. Our basement was also flooded and Metro was single tracking so Beth’s commute home took longer than she expected and I was downstairs bailing water when the babysitter arrived.  The drive was another a challenge. We had to change routes several times because traffic was backed up due to the road closures and even though Sligo Creek Parkway was open, the creek had overflowed its banks and there was standing water close enough to the road to give Beth pause about continuing that way.

Despite all these setbacks, we were only ten minutes late. I learned a few things at the meeting. The first is that there are even more specialized programs in our area high schools than I realized (they number in the dozens) and that the process for getting into them (a mix of lottery and application programs) is even more complicated than I realized, even though I was expecting a lot of programs and complication. Also, I knew this already, but you have to choose an academy within a high school. It’s a like a major. No one just goes to his or her default school. You have to choose, both the school and the academy within it.

We need to do more research and we are scheduling a meeting with his school counselor to discuss his options, but we know we are probably not interested in pursuing either the accelerated humanities or math and science magnets at our home high school. Noah’s been in academic magnets since fourth grade and up to this year it’s been a good experience for him, but this year had just proved too much. He is quickly burning out and we need to get him off the fast track so he has a reasonable chance at maintaining his love of learning and maybe even having enough free time to enjoy his teen years. Given his mix of giftedness and slow processing, the trick will be keeping him challenged without overwhelming him. Too easy work is as deadly for his motivation as too much work. I’d like to learn more about the performing arts magnet because more drumming and less homework sounds like a healthy change to me.

Noah’s birthday was low-key.  He didn’t want a party, didn’t even want to invite a friend or two to come to dinner with us as he did last year, despite my perhaps too frequent encouragement to do so. I got him a card that said, “Let us celebrate your existence with cake, and possibly ice cream,” and we did that. Beth made him a strawberry cake with strawberry frosting at his request and there was ice cream, too.

And there were presents, of course. He opened them in order of size, so the first box contained a lightning cable.  We are always searching for cords to recharge various devices and Beth has been saying Noah should have his own dedicated cable so he stops swiping hers, so now he has one.

There were several books, including one by the author of the Fablehaven series, which he enjoyed reading last summer and fall. (This was June’s present to him.)  He also got The Hunger Games trilogy because he and his classmates have been collaboratively writing a massive piece of online fan fiction based on the novels, with themselves as characters.  He’s been participating even though he has not read the novels so I thought he might get more out of the experience if he read the books. My mother was surprised I’d get him such violent books, as I have always been strict about media exposure. June’s only recently been allowed to watch most PG movies and I still say no to some of them.  But I reminded Mom that when I was Noah’s age I was reading Dracula and The Shining. I’m not suggesting we go on a slasher film binge together, but I think he’s old enough for any of the young adult dystopian fiction his peers are all reading.

The rest of his presents consisted of film equipment.  From us and from Beth’s mom, he got a new tripod, a lighting kit, a green screen and a frame and clamps to hold it. Noah has always enjoyed making movies. He takes a media class every year as part of the Humanities program. It’s his favorite class and he’s made a number of short films for school and for fun.  He’s working on a documentary about food processing right now (for school). The big project in eighth grade is a biographical documentary.  This involves a five-day field trip to New York and the resulting films are screened at The American Film Institute for family and friends. It’s the defining experience of the eighth grade year and we hope he enjoys it more than his ten-page research paper on product liability law that was his biggest seventh-grade project.

In Noah’s birthday card, I wrote the url for the Eastern Shore Writers’ Association blog, because I’d submitted an excerpt of my blog post about our trip to the beach last month, edited to focus on him and it had been accepted. You can read it here if you like ( It’s the kind of present not every teenager would appreciate, but he seem pleased when he read it. I’d also emailed him a link to Dar Williams’ song “Teenagers Kick Our Butts,” after he went to bed the night before.  It’s worth a listen if you’re not familiar with it:!/s/Teenagers+Kick+Our+Butts/2J28Vl?src=5 Then, to emphasize the point, I sent a separate message titled “the important part” with these lines:

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

I didn’t send this to him, but my other favorite line from the song is in the chorus, “Tell us what the future will bring.”  That’s the question always on your mind if you have kids, or teach kids, or love someone else’s kids.  Sometimes you get glimpses. For instance, at a local third to fifth grade elementary school (not one either of my kids have attended but within walking distance of our house), there’s a club called the Young Activist Club.  They have been trying to convince the schools to stop using Styrofoam trays in the cafeteria since Noah was in kindergarten. One of the founding members was the older sister of one of his nursery school classmates, a girl who is now in high school.  Because I knew some of the kids in the club and I sympathized with their cause, over the years I followed them on Facebook and cheered when I saw them at Fourth of July parades carrying trays with environmental messages written on them in marker. To a casual observer, though, it never looked like their campaign was getting any traction. Then I recently heard the whole school system is changing over to compostable trays, staring next year. The last publicity photo I saw was of a girl speaking on stage. She also went to my kids’ preschool, and is only a year older than June.  (She was the one playing guitar at June’s music school recital.) It took eight years, almost three cycles of students through that three-grade school, and it’s still not clear the compostable trays will actually be composted, but I know those kids will keep organizing if they aren’t, and that makes me feel hopeful about what my kids and all their peers can accomplish.

Noah asked if he could have a day without homework for his birthday and I really wanted to say yes, but when Beth and I looked at his assignments for the weekend, it just didn’t seem possible. He did do less than he would usually do on a Saturday. He did some algebra in the morning and then we took a break while Beth and June were at kung fu to finish And Then There Were None. When the murderer was revealed Noah said, “I thought it was him and then I didn’t,” which is usually how it goes when you read a mystery.

When Beth and June returned, we left for lunch because Noah had also asked if he could have lunch and dinner out and this time we said yes. We went to Noodles & Company, a favorite of Noah’s. I got Pad Thai because that’s what I had for dinner the night before I went into labor with him and for a long time we had a tradition of going out for Thai the day before his birthday, though we don’t do it any more.  In search of dessert afterward, we spotted a crepe cart at the Fenton Street market, and we got Noah a banana-pecan crepe, because after noodles, crepes are one of his favorite foods. (He’s all about the carbs.)

We ran into traffic on the way home because Commencement had just ended at the college around the corner from our house.  Watching the young people walking down the sidewalks in their caps and gowns I was thinking about middle school graduation a year from now, high school in five years, and college perhaps, in nine (unless he takes a gap year or graduates on the five-year plan). Either way, it suddenly seemed nearer than it had the day before.

Back home, Noah went back to factoring quadratic equations, with some help from Beth, who was in between the steps of making his cake. He and I took another study break to read the first two chapters of The Hunger Games on the porch because he asked if we could, and how could I say no on his birthday?

Later that afternoon Noah read Act II, scene I from A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream while I had coffee with a friend from college and his partner, who were visiting from out of town.  When I came back, we left for dinner at Vicino’s, an Italian restaurant in Silver Spring. The food was good but I’d forgotten how slow the service is there, so when we got home we had cake and ice cream and put June straight to bed, a half hour late and without her bath. Noah had to practice on his practice pad instead of his real drums, so she could sleep. He was up past his bedtime, too, finishing his percussion practice. So he and Beth and I all went to bed at the same time, ten, on the first night we had a teenager in the house.

Midway Through Middle School

The kids have just finished a five-day weekend, or five and a quarter if you count the delayed opening today. They had Monday off for MLK Day and Tuesday was the teacher grading and planning day they have at the end of every quarter and Wednesday was a snow day. Third quarter (finally!) starts today and this means Noah is midway through middle school. Last week was exam week. I actually like midterms because the teachers assign a lot less homework, so even though he has to study, his load is lighter than usual. Nonetheless, he’s had a lot going on. There was a band concert last Thursday, he’s been swamped with homework ever since exams ended, and he got braces Tuesday.

Before the Long Weekend: Wednesday and Thursday

Thursday was a really nice day for me, if busy, which I appreciated because Wednesday was not.  It was the fourth anniversary of my father’s death, so I was little down all day, and I had a computer problem that stopped me from working on a day when I was already behind, and the fire alarm kept beeping because it needed new batteries and I couldn’t figure out how to get the old ones out of the darn thing, and then I got a mild scare when Noah was a half hour late because he missed the Metro bus after band practice and he didn’t call to tell me or answer my call because his phone was dead.  It was that kind of day.

Thursday on the other hand was reasonably productive on the work front, and once the kids got home they were full of appealing requests.  June wanted to go down the block and play Horse at our neighbor’s basketball hoop and then she actually asked to hear a chapter of The Secret Garden.  We have been limping our way through this book, which I loved a child but she’s lukewarm about at best, for over a year. It was the second day in a row we’d read from it, but we haven’t since then.

Because of his band concert that evening, Noah didn’t have much time for homework, so he asked me if I could read Things Fall Apart to him because it’s generally faster for me to read to him than for him to read to himself.  I am never one to turn down a request to read a classic, so we read chapters two to four (and I went back later and read the first chapter on my own).

Noah also had a couple pleasant revelations.  “I accidentally won the geography bee,” he told me when I asked how school was.  He had not realized there was a geography bee and had not studied for it, but he won nevertheless, which is just classic Noah. He’s a little disgruntled about having to advance to the next level (competing against the winners of other social studies classes at his school) because he thinks she should study this time, but I pointed out that not studying seemed to work out pretty well last time.

The big news, though, he kept to himself.  At dinner Beth asked if he’d gotten his IDRP back and he said, yes, and then casually, “I got an A on it.”  Because he got a C on the rough draft, we were not expecting this. I’d already told him that I didn’t care what grade he got on the final paper because he’d worked hard and I was proud of that regardless of the grade. I meant it, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy to hear he’d done that well. It’s good to have your work recognized.

So we were feeling celebratory as we headed off to the winter concert. We took June for the first time since she was in preschool.  Because she napped back then, she actually had a later bedtime than she does now. Last year the winter concert was pretty short, though, and we thought we’d try bringing her to this one.  We may not be doing it again any time soon because they have a new band teacher now and he does a lot of things differently, and one of them is that the winter concert is approximately twice as long. June was leaning against me for much of the concert and she did not get to bed until and hour and a half past her bedtime. I think she enjoyed it, though, especially when the orchestra was on stage and she could imagine when she will be old enough to play violin in a concert.  She’s particularly interested in the concept of being first violin, a distinction not available to percussionists.

Speaking of the percussionist, we could sometimes see him, more often his hair than his hands or sticks, but he says he played snare drum, triangle, crash cymbals, suspended cymbals and tambourine and I believe him. Their last number was “Bolero,” which is always fun to hear.  Because the percussionists don’t take their instruments home they are supposed to return them to the music room but the other three musicians abandoned the job to Noah so Beth and I helped him in the interest of getting home.  I had a lot of reasons to be proud of him that day, but the fact that he would never, ever think to leave the instruments on stage and assume someone else would take them where they belong was one of them.

Long Weekend: Original Four-Day Version

Friday Noah got to relax because Fridays are a no-homework zone, no matter how much homework he has, and he did have a lot. I read to him before leaving for June’s basketball practice and then again after she was in bed. We finished the last book in the Fablehaven series, Keys to the Demon Prison. We’d been reading these books since around Labor Day, so that was satisfying. When we came home from basketball, he was practicing his drums, without my having reminded him, which was also satisfying.

Saturday morning Noah and I picked up another series we’re also reading, The Norumbega Quartet, where we’d left off, with book #4, The Chamber in the Sky, and then he did algebra and media homework.  I wanted him to get all his non-social studies homework out of the way because he had to write rough drafts of the annotated bibliography and a process paper for his National History project.  They have to turn their IDRP into a new format, so he’s making a documentary about product liability law, or he would be making it if he didn’t have so many preparatory assignments getting in the way.  By Sunday afternoon he was ready to start on the annotated bibliography and he worked on it until Monday afternoon.

A great many parents told me it would be better after IDRP and I’m not really in a position to judge yet, as it was five weeks ago that they turned it in and they were on winter break for almost two weeks of that time, and then they barely went to school this week…but National History Day is a pretty big project, too. I hope once Noah gets to actually making the film, he will enjoy it more, but right now while he’s fleshing out his research, it’s kind of a slog.

Beth and I both have a very strong desire for Noah to have more free time than he does right now, so we’ve been considering his options for high school and thinking more and more seriously of encouraging him not to apply to any of the academic magnets, although a performing arts magnet is a possibility.  He’s been in magnets since fourth grade and in general the rigorous curriculum has been good for him, much better than when he was in third grade, bored, unchallenged, and unhappy. But his ADHD and slow processing make the work harder for him than for many of his peers, and I think this year he may have hit the point where just working harder than everyone else is becoming a less viable strategy. Also, once he’s in high school it will be easier to piece together a schedule with enough AP classes for him to be challenged but not so many that he’s doing homework all the time. That’s what we hope anyway.

Monday morning Beth took Noah to the orthodontist to get spacers in preparation for the braces, and then she took him back as soon as they got home because one of them had popped out of his mouth. He’d been complaining that one felt wrong all along and I guess he was right. Beth gave him some painkiller before the procedure and he didn’t seem to be in much pain. In fact, he got himself a bowl of tortilla chips in the afternoon, which helped me decide not to bother pureeing the cauliflower soup for him at dinner.

On the way to the second trip to the orthodontist, Beth dropped June and I off at Value Village so we could brave the 50% off MLK Day sale. Value Village is a huge thrift store, think big box size, not particularly well organized, and crazy busy on a sale day, but it’s also very cheap and June’s outgrown a lot of clothes recently.  We went in with a list of thing we hoped to find: basically leggings and long-sleeved tops, including turtlenecks and sweaters. I told her we were there for practical school clothes that fit now, nothing out of season and not anything to grow into because her style changes. Given that as we walked in the door, she was saying, “How about a party dress?” I think I was lucky we walked out with two pairs of fleece pants (there were no leggings, at least none I could find), three tops, and a white knit poncho. The poncho was not on the original list, but I decided it could serve the same function as a cardigan, so I relented. She loves it so much that when we went to Starbucks immediately afterward and wanted a hot chocolate and I said she could have one but she’d have to take off the poncho to drink it, she opted for water.  All these purchases, plus a pair of snow pants for Noah, cost less than seventeen dollars.

At home, I ran a load of laundry, the third one of the day, this one consisting of other people’s size 6 and 14 clothes that are now my kids’, mixed in with a bunch of baby clothes they once wore, which I’m giving to a pregnant friend. I am so sentimental about the kids’ baby clothes that I still have a lot of them, though fewer all the time, because I give some away every time someone I know has a baby. Before I put them down the laundry chute, I looked at them all, and marveled that my quickly growing man-child, who’s taller than me and who has a deepening voice, and has sprouted hair on his legs and a strange shadow on his upper lip, ever wore those tiny onesies and sleepers and footed leggings, but he did.

Tuesday morning Beth took Noah to the orthodontist again for the actual braces while June and I made banana bread and muffins, and watched the snow come down outside. Noah came home with braces.  They caught me off guard every time he smiled, and he did smile, which I don’t think I did the day I got braces.  He didn’t seem to be in any pain, ate raw carrots at lunch and didn’t take any painkiller. This is very different from how I remember this experience. I’m not sure if there have been advances in orthodontia since the early 80s or if he was having a mercifully tactile under-sensitive day.

Noah worked on his process paper most of the rest of the day. June and I delivered the banana bread, along with the baby clothes to Wakako. She lives just far enough from a bus stop that it felt like an adventurous trek in the snowstorm but not so far that it was arduous.  June looked sleepy on the bus home, but she stayed in the yard sledding and making snow angels when we got home.  Shortly before we left, June noticed that all the radiators were cold. Beth called for a boiler repairperson and fortunately it was an easy fix, because it was supposed to be frigid the next day, with highs only in the low twenties.

Beth took June for a walk in the woods by the creek later in the afternoon and while they were gone I buckled down to work, which I had been doing only sporadically for the past couple days.  I had deadlines and the threat of a school closure the next day had put the fear of God in me. When Beth and June got home, Beth had a conference call and June took it upon herself to shovel a good bit of our long walk. She did a great job, but it was still snowing, so it got covered again soon and then Beth did the whole walk and then it got covered yet again.  Shortly after dinner, Beth got the notice that school was closed the following day.

Weekend Coda: Snow Day

When we woke up, the house was freezing. The radiators were cold again so the morning was a rush of calling the heating oil company (Beth once, me twice) to get a service call, going to the hardware store and buying some space heaters (Beth), and trying to shovel the icy walk and then giving up (me). Then Beth drove June over to Megan’s house and left for work, and Noah and I holed up in the study to work. He had a series of essay questions to answer about his film topic. When we turned on the new heater, it registered the temperature in the room as 43 degrees, but over the course of several hours it got up to 69 degrees.  Not bad, considering that outside it had been in the single digits overnight and didn’t get past 15 during the day.

The repairperson came around noon and by one, he was finished and the radiators felt faintly warm. I fetched Megan and June and brought them back to our house where they continued their seven-hour play date. When we came home, I found Noah asleep in his computer chair. He woke when I came into the room and said he had a headache and stomachache, so I put him to bed.

I salted the walk, ate a late lunch of grilled cheese and black bean soup, and then went in to check on him. I asked if he wanted me to read to him, and he did, so I read for an hour and twenty minutes.  Then he was feeling better and he went back to work while I took a long-handled ice scraper to the ice on the sidewalk and chipped away most of it. By the time I came in, tired, cold, and sore, and discovered the lentils I’d left simmering on the stove had burned, I was feeling as if the day, or maybe the whole endless weekend, had really been too much.  And I learned from my friends on Facebook, that there was a two-hour delay the next day.

But the next morning the kids went to school, Noah frustrated he had never completed his essay questions. I tried hacking at some of the more stubborn icy spots on the sidewalk, cleared the toys off the living room floor, read just a tiny bit of a new novel (Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam) and sat down to tackle my own backlog of work in a quiet house. It’s a new semester and time to make a fresh start.


Every year we go to the beach for a weekend in early to mid-December, to Christmas shop and for me to get an off-season beach fix. When I wrote my speech about our family traditions for our wedding last January, this one was prominently mentioned. It’s right up there with going a little crazy with Halloween decorations and always going to see the cherry blossoms even if they bloom at an inconvenient time.  It’s part of our family culture, so much so that both of my children have believed (and one still may) that the Santa in the little house on the boardwalk is the real Santa and any others they might see in the weeks leading up to Christmas are fakes.

So a week ago, on Thursday morning I was in the kitchen with June singing a Christmas song—I don’t remember which one—except I kept substituting “Beachmas” for “Christmas.” This was because we were leaving for the beach the next day. I’d been cheerful all week contemplating this trip, but I also had some trepidation.

Last year we considered not going on this trip, to save money, but in the end we went because I couldn’t bear the idea of not going.  This year I was more worried about time, Noah’s time that is. It was the second to last weekend before IDRP is due and I didn’t know if going away was a good idea.  But I knew if we cancelled a long-standing tradition on account of his workload we’d all be sad, including, maybe especially him—Noah thrives on tradition—so I didn’t even tell Beth I wasn’t sure if we should go, and we went.


We got a late start Friday afternoon, largely because Noah had not had time to pack beforehand and it was past four-thirty before he was ready to go. We ended up in rush hour traffic on a rainy afternoon, and our progress was excruciatingly slow.  I told Beth I wasn’t going to worry about getting the kids to bed on time, and she said that was good, because there was no chance of it.

We had an audiobook (one of the ones we couldn’t listen to over Thanksgiving because there’s a CD stuck in the drive) downloaded onto a device, but we decided rather than listen to it we’d all be quiet so Noah could read and take notes on the Holocaust memoir he had to re-read because he (along with half the class) failed the test on it. This was less fun than listening to a book together or singing along with Christmas music would have been, especially for June who can’t read in the car without getting sick and was bored and restless.  We decided it was best for Noah, though, and because of his workload and his learning challenges (his ADHD-NOS and his slow processing speed being most relevant here) often what’s best for Noah determines what we all do.

We arrived at the hotel around 9:15, June having slept around a half hour in the car. After we unpacked and June was tucked into bed, I slipped out for a walk on the beach. It was misting and 43 degrees according to the big thermometer on Rehoboth Avenue, with a fierce wind blowing.  I wore my raincoat, rather than the warmer fleece jacket I’d brought, largely to keep myself from yielding to the temptation to stay on the beach too long.  When I came back to the room fifteen minutes later my boots were sandy, my cheeks were tingling with the cold and I felt lighter, more alive, the way I always do after my first trip to the beach in any given visit. Noah still wasn’t in bed and June was awake, too.  It was probably ten-thirty before we all fell asleep.


We didn’t sleep well. The room was over-heated and Beth and I both woke several times during the night and then the kids were up and whispering to each other by five-thirty. I stayed in bed until seven, hoping for more sleep, but I didn’t get any.

The kids and I got dressed and went down to play on the beach while we waited for Galleria Espresso, our favorite breakfast spot, to open at eight.  It was colder than the night before, 38 degrees, but it felt a little warmer because it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t as windy.  June dug in the sand a bit and the kids made a perfunctory sand castle—June filled the bucket with sand and Noah turned it over carefully and then immediately stomped on it because that’s what he does with all his sand castles.

We met Beth at the restaurant and were met with the unwelcome sight of it dark and bare inside.  There was a sign saying it was re-locating to Route 1, which meant it would no longer be accessible by foot, and we’d be unlikely to go there much anymore.  We were all disappointed (no pumpkin crepes for breakfast!) and with the nearby Café-A-Go-Go closed for the season, it was unclear where we should eat. We are creatures of habit, all of us (except maybe June).  As it was we were already staying it a different hotel than we usually do because our preferred hotel was partially under renovation and full of runners for a marathon being held that day. We were quite discombobulated. Beth had the idea to eat in the restaurant of the fanciest hotel on the boardwalk, The Boardwalk Plaza, and knowing it has an ocean view, I readily assented.

After breakfast I was ready to get started on my Christmas shopping mission with June while Noah stayed in the room working on homework.  But June wanted to swim in the hotel pool. She was actually the only one of us happy to be in a new hotel, because of the pool, so I said okay.  We had it to ourselves, possibly because it was raining in there. No, really. They seemed to be having a problem with condensation all over the hotel.  There was water pooling on the windowsill of our room and water dripped from the glass ceiling of the pool area.  I covered our clothes with our jackets so they wouldn’t get too wet while we swam.

By the time June and I had finished and had showers it was almost time for lunch, but we made a quick stop at the tea and spice shop.  June was a shopping dynamo, focused and decisive as she picked gifts for immediate and extended family.  We had lunch at a boardwalk restaurant, which I chose again mainly for the view because we’ve had bad service and mediocre food there in the past. I knew Beth and Noah were unlikely to set foot in there again so it seemed like my best chance to eat a salad and sweet potato fries while I watched the gray waves crash against the shore. June ordered fried pickles for an appetizer, and they were about what you’d expect fried pickles to be like. As we were leaving I thought I’d lost my phone and they were really nice about pulling the booth apart into its component parts to look for it and then I discovered it was in my shirt pocket all along.

Our next stop was going to be the bookstore, but we needed to go back to the hotel first because I had a gift certificate I’d forgotten to bring with me. I came into the room and greeted Beth and Noah cheerfully, but it was soon apparent something was wrong.  Noah had started his homework with Spanish and algebra because those are two of his easier classes and he wanted to get them out of the way, but he got unexpectedly snagged on both assignments.  He was frustrated and tearful and he didn’t want to stop working and go out for lunch because he just wanted to break through the impasse.

I was pretty sure his difficulties stemmed in part from the fact that he hadn’t slept well and it was two o’clock and he hadn’t had lunch.  I felt a stab of guilt for coming to Rehoboth at all, when he might have been able to work better at home.  Meanwhile June said she was going to pretend Noah was laughing and not crying because she didn’t like to hear him cry.

In the end Beth coaxed him to the cheesemonger’s for a lunch of fancy cheese and crackers, while June and I continued our shopping until it was time to see Santa. Noah has not believed in Santa since he was six, but up until this year he has gone for June’s sake (and for many years when she was too shy to speak to Santa he conveyed her wishes for her).  This year, though, he declined.  We didn’t push it. He’s twelve and that is a bit old for sitting on Santa’s lap.

The three of us watched as June went into the little house and whispered to Santa and just so all her bases were covered, she left a note in his mailbox. She’d composed and sealed the note several days earlier.  Uncharacteristically, Beth decided to pry open the envelope and read it, largely because being Santa, she wanted to know what June was expecting of Santa. The note was cryptic saying June knew Santa already knew what she wanted but even if he didn’t provide it she would still believe in him.

After Santa we switched kids and Beth and June went shopping while I stayed in the room with Noah. I thought maybe if I read the Holocaust memoir to him it would go more quickly but he was stopping me so often and taking such detailed notes I soon realized the notes were what was making the reading take so long and I wasn’t helping much.  This was frustrating because I had proposed this as a way he could finish something and feel better about the day and we ended up giving up on it and on working any more that day.

We had dinner at Grotto Pizza, his favorite, and as always Beth gave the kids money to donate to whatever charity they thought had the best Christmas tree in the restaurant. Noah seemed in better spirits.  Earlier in the day Beth had seen a sign outside a locked public restroom that said, “Restroom closed. Use Rehoboth Ave,” and we were all joking when I needed to go use the restroom that as the restaurant was on Rehoboth Avenue, perhaps I should just go outside and pee on the street. We’d been making this joke all day in various forms, but it had not gotten old. That’s how it is with family sometimes.

We went back to the hotel room and watched Frosty the Snowman, which we’d brought with us, and after June was in bed, Noah drummed quietly on the side of our bed with his drumsticks for an hour or so until it was time for him to go to bed.  This helps him decompress sometimes and I thought it was just what he needed.

Meanwhile, I went to the beach again. It was clearer, a beautiful night, and I could see Orion and the Big Dipper. But it was still cold and I didn’t stay long.


The next day an ice storm was due to arrive so we left in the late morning, rather than after lunch as we usually would. I took June to the beach while Noah worked a bit.  We found a post in the sand someone had decorated, wrapping it with red tinsel and affixing tiny ornaments and a big bow to it. I was quite taken with it, a little bit of Christmas there on the beach.

Eventually June got too cold to stay on the beach. I can’t complain about her hardiness because although I’d packed snow pants and boots, I’d forgotten to bring any of her winter jackets and she wore a windbreaker all weekend, sometimes over a sweater, sometimes not. We went to the lobby of a nearby hotel as ours didn’t have one and we read until Beth called and said Noah was ready to eat. We had a nice breakfast at Green Man, and Beth and Noah did some shopping while I took June back to the room and packed to go.

The kids and I went down to the beach for one last time before we left, to say goodbye to the ocean. There was a lot of foam on the sand, as there often is when it’s windy, and the kids had fun stomping on it.  Then we let the waves run over our feet, thirteen times Noah decided, because it was 2013 but actually waiting for 2,013 waves would take too long. June and I were wearing rain boots and our feet stayed dry, but we discovered Noah’s snow boots were not as waterproof. Also, he tripped over his own feet and fell into a retreating wave and got his pants all wet and sandy.  But he was laughing, which was good to hear. Like June, I’d rather hear him laugh than cry.

The ice storm came, as predicted, and it was a tricky drive home for Beth. Noah started editing his paper that evening, having not worked on it all weekend.

Monday and Tuesday

In an extraordinary stroke of luck for Noah the next two days were snow days. He did go out and enjoy the snow, but he spent most of those two days at the computer re-writing his IDRP.  He still has a lot of work to do on it this weekend, but by next Thursday it will be done, for better or for worse.

I’m glad we went to the beach, despite the cold and all the time Noah had to spend working.  He go to go to Grotto’s and shop a little and play on the beach twice so it wasn’t a total loss for him. It wasn’t my ideal Beachmas, but we were all there together, doing what we always do as a family. That’s what holds us together and helps us laugh in the bad times and makes the good times even better.

Tuesday Afternoon is Never-Ending

Monday was Veteran’s Day, which in our area means a lot parents have the day off and kids have a half-day. Our school district takes advantage of parents’ availability by scheduling parent-teacher conferences on that day (and the following day, which is also a half-day for the kids). We scheduled a meeting with June’s morning teacher in the early afternoon, soon after school let out, deciding a meeting with the afternoon teacher was unnecessary as I’d been in her classroom to observe during the Columbus Day Open House, and just the week before to attend the second-grade publishing party.

Our meeting with Señora J was pleasant and uneventful.  June’s doing fine in her class and her grades are very good. The only thing Señora J had to suggest was that she check her work more carefully and speak up in class more.

In middle school you don’t make appointments, you just show up and stand in the lines that snake from the tables where the teachers sit in the gym and the cafeteria. So that’s what we did. We hit the gym first and eyed the huge lines for Noah’s English and World Studies teachers. For a five-minute chat with each of them, we’d be in that windowless room two hours—I got out of line briefly to talk to Noah’s Spanish teacher, who had almost no line, before re-joining Beth in the English teacher’s line. His algebra teacher wasn’t too swamped either so after we talked to the World Studies and English teachers, we saw her too.

It was no surprise the seventh-grade magnet English and World Studies teachers had mammoth lines.  It’s IDRP season—that stands for Interdisciplinary Research Paper. It’s due in a month and if the attendees of parent-teacher conferences are any gauge, the parents are nearly as stressed about it as the kids.

We told most of Noah’s teachers about his slow processing.  (See “His Different Mind” 7/20/11.) And we explained how it might affect 1) his class participation—it’s sometimes hard for him to formulate his thoughts quickly enough to participate in lively discussions—and 2) homework completion—sometimes it’s just impossible for him to finish.  We understand his grades will reflect what he produces and don’t expect anything else, but we wanted the teachers to know he’s not blowing things off; he’s doing his best. Noah’s first quarter grades were actually quite good, almost all As, but I think it’s helpful for his teachers to know a bit about his learning style. For some of the teachers, it seemed to be just the piece of the puzzle they need for Noah to make sense.  Right before I explained why Noah sometimes doesn’t talk in class, the Spanish teacher said he often appears to be daydreaming, but “he knows everything,” sounding a little baffled as he said it.

By the time we’d finished in the gym, it was time for the teachers’ break and we still had three teachers to go. We had to kill forty-five minutes so we took June, who’d been patiently (and then not so patiently) reading and drawing for two hours, to Starbucks for a treat before we headed back and saw Noah’s science, media, and band teachers in a little over a half hour. The media teacher said Noah is a good independent learner and “isn’t afraid of technology.”  When Beth asked about the procedure for trying out for honors band the band teacher explained the application was due a month ago (at which point the kids got their audition music) and auditions were the very next day, so he couldn’t audition.

Beth and I were both disappointed, because Honors Band was such a great experience for Noah last winter. When we asked him about it, he dug around in his band folder and found the band teacher’s invitation to apply, the form, and the music he had not practiced. He said he’d just assumed he wouldn’t have time to play in two bands. This seemed especially sad because recently when Beth asked him what his ideal class schedule would be he said all media and band.

Over the course of the afternoon spent standing in line we chatted with other parents, and in two cases mothers mentioned in a casual sort of way that school (academics, not social aspect) frequently make their children cry. One said she would count the evening as a win if her daughter didn’t cry hysterically while working on her IDRP outline and wasn’t up until one a.m.  Here I considered the fact that while Noah’s often up past his 8:45 bedtime on school nights, we never let him stay up half the night, no matter what he’s done or hasn’t done. Sometimes Beth will drive him to school in the morning so he can carve out a little work time before school and sometimes he just doesn’t finish his work, although he usually does.  I can’t imagine letting him stay up until one a.m. He’s only twelve, and growing like, well, like a twelve-year-old boy. He needs his sleep more than he needs a perfect grade on the IDRP.

So, what is this IDRP? It’s the biggest project in seventh grade and from what I’ve heard from parents whose kids have finished the Humanities program at Noah’s middle school the most difficult project during the whole three years. Parent after parent has told me, “It will be better after IDRP,” and I believe it (partly because of all the parents who told me, correctly, that fifth grade is easier than fourth at the Highly Gifted Center). Sixth grade was intense, but usually manageable and often fun, especially their GreekFest projects (See “All the World’s A Stage” 5/7/13). And in eighth grade, the payoff year, they take a five-day trip to New York City and make a documentary film, which I’m confident Noah will enjoy.

Meanwhile, we have IDRP, the middle child of the Humanities program, an eight to ten-page research paper, researched partly at a university library. The kids took a two-day field trip to the University of Maryland last month (and then Beth took Noah back so he could have more time with his sources). Noah’s topic is product liability law. He took an interest when we visited Cedar Point last summer and he and Beth had a discussion about amusement parks’ liability when something goes tragically wrong on a ride. The two of them have talked a lot about his paper and she says he’s very engaged and knowledgeable about the topic when you talk to him about it.  He’s just not so keen on communicating his knowledge in written form.

It’s been a big week for IDRP.  Noah had to turn in his second set of thirty-five note cards on Monday, and then an outline with an introductory and a concluding paragraph the very next day. Knowing how close these assignments were spaced, we’d hoped for him to finish the note cards a week ahead of time so he could have the whole weekend to work on the outline, but it didn’t happen.  In fact, he didn’t finish the note cards until the very end of the weekend before they were due.

I kept thinking he was almost done, when he’d reveal another requirement of the assignment he had not mentioned previously. So, when he was almost finished with the thirty-five cards (five to go), he reported that the cards needed to cover ten sources and he’d only done five.  And when he’d almost finished covering ten sources, we learned he was supposed to have five primary sources and he only had two. The finish line kept retreating further away the closer he seemed to get to it.

So, the note cards were completed and turned in on Monday (minus one primary source), but even a whole afternoon and evening courtesy of the half-day was not enough time to write the outline and the two paragraphs. (Go ahead and guess when we found out it wasn’t just an outline due Tuesday? Did you guess Monday? You’re right!)  We let him stay up past ten and he turned in a solid introductory paragraph and an outline but no conclusion.

All this time Noah had, understandably, been letting some of his other work slide. He didn’t do his math on Monday and there was a big World Studies reading with questions due on Wednesday.  Yes, Wednesday, right after grueling back-to-back assignments for this very class on each of the two days previous. (I joked while standing in line for the World Studies teacher that we should open with, “Why are you tormenting my child?).

Anyway, Tuesday was another half-day so I thought he could get it done. He got home around one and buckled down to work.  About an hour and half, he told me he’d just realized he’d been reading the wrong chapter.  He didn’t seem that upset, but I had that familiar feeling of progress dissipating, like a mirage retreating back to the horizon.  And this was when the line from “Lady Madonna,”—“Tuesday afternoon is never-ending” flitted through my mind and I posted it on Facebook.

“Noah, I’m so sorry,” I said. And then I advised him to save his answers in case they had to read that chapter later.  Oh, they did, he said. That one was due on Friday.  Okay, an assignment for Friday was half done. I felt a little better. Noah got to work on the right chapter and worked on it until five-thirty, shortly after June and I got back from her violin lesson. Then it was time for the rest of his homework.

Through the rest of the week, I kept hoping Noah would be able to write the overdue conclusion, but he didn’t. He doesn’t get home until four-thirty most afternoons because he has band practice and of course he had homework in other subjects. He wrote it this weekend, though, because the rough draft of the paper is due the week after next and he wants to take the conclusion to his conference with his English teacher this week.

This weekend we excused him from vacuuming and cooking dinner so he could work. As of last night, he’d done a math packet, practiced drums, and written two pages of rough draft, including the introductory and concluding paragraphs. I thought I saw light at the end of the tunnel, but then he spent four hours on Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., writing a thirty-second speech for media and he still had more media assignments to do before he could even go back to IDRP. It will all get done somehow, and my worrying about it doesn’t help, but I think it’s going to be a long month.

A Lousy Birthday

Beth’s birthday is always the week of Thanksgiving, usually before the holiday. She often says she likes this because it seems to usher in the holiday season. The timing has a potential downside, though, of swallowing or overshadowing her birthday. I was determined that wouldn’t happen this year. The kids and I did our birthday shopping early just in case my first plan didn’t work. We were in good shape, even with a few crazy days before Beth’s birthday, but then things got even crazier.

To pick up where we left off, wasn’t I just telling you a story about how I was asked to bring June home from school early on a day when I had nothing urgent to do I and didn’t do it? Oh, the irony. Tuesday of last week I’d started work on a project that was much more difficult than I anticipated. By Thursday I was wondering how I was going to make the deadline, which was the day before Thanksgiving and co-incidentally Beth’s birthday. So of course in the wee hours of Friday morning, without any previous sign of illness, June woke up vomiting. Obviously, she’d need to stay home from school.

I did squeeze in several hours of work in between snuggling with her in bed, reading book after book to her and playing game after game of Chutes and Ladders, but it set me back. I told Beth I’d need to work over the weekend. I had a very productive day on Saturday until I started to feel queasy at the computer in the late afternoon. I’ll spare you the details but I spent the rest of the day and most of the following morning in bed. Noah fell sick a few hours after I did and he actually seemed worse off. I could hear him moaning in his bunk off and on all night. He slept most of the next afternoon. By that time I was recovered and back to work, probably running on adrenaline since I’d slept so poorly the night before. I was really glad I’d taken the kids to get Beth’s gifts the previous weekend because there was no time this weekend when all three of us would have been up for an outing at the same time and I don’t know when we would have managed to shop for her.

But luckily we’d already taken care of this errand. Beth had asked for some reusable cloth produce bags so I decided to buy two at the Co-op and let the kids fill them up with treats for her. I have to say it was possibly the most satisfying buying-gifts-for-other-people experience I’ve had with the kids. They accepted guidance readily but had enough of their own ideas that it didn’t feel like me making all the decisions and paying for it to boot and then saying, perversely, that the presents were from the kids, yet at the same time we didn’t buy anything completely random and inappropriate either. They each picked three items. Four out of the six contained chocolate (chocolate-covered pretzels, a dark chocolate bar, a black and white cookie and a box of chocolate toaster pastries). This is about the right ratio of chocolate to non-chocolate gifts to buy for Beth, I think. We also picked up a wedge of Brie and some rosemary crackers. I had renewed Beth’s subscription of Brain, Child ( weeks earlier so her birthday gifts were in the bag, so to speak. Potential crisis averted.

By Monday everyone was well enough for school and work and it seemed like we were back on track. Except Tuesday morning, Noah was feeling poorly again and he stayed home. I worked and read him a few chapters of The Emerald Atlas and then around noon, heeding a nagging inner voice, I made a phone call to June’s school. June had been complaining about her head itching since mid-October. Lice had occurred to me immediately and I knew Lesley does lice checks periodically at preschool so after school on the very first day June mentioned the itching, I took her over to the Purple School for a visit and an impromptu lice check. Lesley didn’t see anything. I checked it off my mental list of possibilities and then for weeks we wondered why June’s head was itching/ We stopped using her detangling spray and considered trying all new hair care products. Finally, I started to think we should get her checked again, just in case.

You know where this is going, right? I must have taken June to Lesley before the lice really got settled in her hair because the nurse pulled June out of class to check her and called me back at 12:45 with the news that she did indeed have lice and I needed to come get her immediately. So, I brought her home and that was the end of the school week for both kids.

Later that afternoon, we had 504 meeting for Noah with the disappointing outcome that he did not qualify for any accommodations under his ADHD-NOS diagnosis but that might under his dysgrahpia diagnosis, but that will require input from an occupational therapist and possibly yet another meeting (our third this fall) to determine. I think we might have been more upset by this if not for the lice.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was a blur of activity. There was bedding to wash in hot water and dry at the highest setting, brushes and combs to soak in rubbing alcohol, and hair to rub with smelly lice-killing shampoo and then comb out with the nit pick. We spent hours on the kids’ hair but sometime during Noah’s, which surprisingly turned out to be much worse than June’s, we started to think we might need the services of a professional. I found a few companies online, made some calls, conferred with Beth and made an appointment.

So the next morning the kids stayed home from school and Beth stayed home from work and at nine a.m., a professional nit-picker walked in our door. Beth said making sure we were all properly deloused was her birthday present to herself. We all had our hair combed and picked (and we all did have lice, in varying degrees). It took about three hours for her to do all four of us. She said Noah was in the worst shape and had probably had them longest. Since he never itched (no-one did except June) who knows how many months he was walking around with lice? I don’t like to think about it.

I did four more loads of hot water laundry, and made Beth’s birthday cake (with some help from June) and some brandied sweet potatoes to take to YaYa’s for Thanksgiving. Beth made vegetarian stuffing and gravy. All day we ate well. Beth shared her chocolate toaster pastries at breakfast and her Brie and crackers at lunch. In the afternoon she ran some errands and got herself a free birthday cupcake at Cake Love (to save for later). For diner we got Burmese takeout and then ate cake and ice cream. The can of pink frosting I was using for accents turned out to be almost empty and created more of a graffiti paint splatter effect than the roses June and I were originally going for, but I liked it.

It was that kind of birthday, not what we expected, but with its own sweetness. We did get an extra day all together before the holiday weekend, so I hope it was lousy only in the most literal sense of the word.

His Different Mind

This post is part of the National Parenting Gifted Children Week Blog Tour, hosted by SENG (—Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted. Here’s a list of all the participants:

I’ve had this book, Different Minds: Gifted Children with AD/HD, Asperger Syndome and Other Learning Defecits ( on the bookshelf by my bed for almost a year now, but I’ve never read it. We got it from an educational psychologist who evaluated Noah for Asperger syndrome last summer after a particularly difficult third-grade year. I keep meaning to read it but with a preschooler at home and a big to-read list, I never seemed to have enough time, especially since it no longer feels urgent. Noah is much happier now than he was a year ago and has been for most of that time.

I would read it differently now than I would have a year ago, too, because Noah was evaluated the psychologist said he did not have Asperger’s, even though she saw some “Asperger’s characteristics” in his behavior. This is how it goes with him.

Last August I wrote:

“Noah is a quirky kid, no doubt about it. Over the years we’ve considered or various teachers, his pediatrician, and therapists we’ve consulted have suggested the following diagnoses: OCD, Tourette’s, Sensory Processing Disorder, Asperger’s and ADHD. But with the exception of Sensory Processing Disorder, he’s always fit some of the criteria but not enough for a diagnosis. (And even SPD diagnosis he received at the age of six was a borderline one.)”

It’s a pattern. We think we might have figured out what makes him so different, aside from or in conjunction with his giftedness, then read a bit or consult a professional and discard the diagnosis, or in the case of SPD, learn he has a mild case that requires only minimal intervention. When he got the SPD diagnosis, we bought him a bouncy castle (like the ones you see at carnivals) and a hopping ball to provide him with the deep muscle stimulation that often calms him. The bouncy castle is gone, now, having been broken beyond repair by years of hard use and being out in all weather. We replaced it with a mini-trampoline we keep in the basement. (He also has a pogo stick he refuses to try because he’s afraid of falling off. His daredevil little sister is eager to inherit it when she’s big enough, though, so I’m confident it will get some use.)

Shortly after the SPD diagnosis, we were intending to get Noah set up with an occupational therapist, but during the summer between kindergarten and first grade, all his disturbing misbehavior disappeared, even as the clumsiness and difficulty reading his body’s signals persisted, albeit at a milder level. We suspect that his symptoms had been magnified by an unsympathetic teacher and that once he was out of her class, they receded to a more manageable level. So, we never took him to the therapist.

Flash forward three years. During the spring of his third-grade year Noah was drifting away from his best friend of several years; he was being teased and ostracized at school, and saying, “no-one likes me” with disturbing frequency. Around his ninth birthday I wrote:

“Noah is such a puzzle to many people. He seems simultaneously older and younger than his years. He reads at least two years above grade level, but he still sucks his thumb and he calls me Mommy, while many of his peers have switched over to calling their mothers Mom. He charms many adults with his cheerful demeanor and intelligent conversation, but in the past couple of years he’s had trouble making and keeping friends. He often plays alone at recess (or does yoga). And a lot of adults are just baffled by him. He’s so smart, that his absent-mindedness, his social awkwardness and even his physical clumsiness seem like things he should be able to overcome if he just put his mind to it. But Beth and I suspect there might be more to it than that, possibly even more than his sensory issues can explain. We’ve been considering having him tested for Asperger’s syndrome ( When I read the descriptions I go back and forth between thinking, that sounds like Noah all right and, wait, he’s not nearly that impaired. So it might be good to find out, so we can have more guidance on how to be better parents to him for the next nine years.”

At the same time, he was not being sufficiently challenged academically and he was bored with school. This was new, as his first and second grade teachers were very skilled at working with kids at different levels and keeping him engaged. That fall we applied to a gifted magnet school for fourth and fifth grade. He got in, off the waiting list, the last week of third grade.

The new school was a very good fit for Noah, both socially and academically. He’s still the same quirky kid he always was, but he’s never been teased or excluded from lunch tables or playground games. He invited eight kids to his tenth birthday. When he turned nine, he could barely think of three he wanted to invite and one was a boy who had been unkind to him on occasion. We never sent him to the social skills group in which we had considering enrolling him because things looked up for him almost as soon as he started fourth grade at the new school.

Over the course of the year our concern shifted from his social skills, which seemed adequate to his new environment, to his mental processing speed. One piece of information that came out of Noah’s evaluation last summer was that he’s a slow processor. Here’s how I put it back then:

“What he has and as far as I know there’s no official name for it, is a big gap between his intelligence and his executive function. Or to put it simply, he’s really, really smart and he’s also a really, really slow worker. He excelled on a verbal IQ test (in the 99.6th percentile) but on a writing speed test he scored in the 20th percentile. This wasn’t news to us. Noah’s teachers have been telling us he takes a long time to complete his work ever since kindergarten. Whether they interpret this as laziness or an intrinsic part of the way his mind works often determines what kind of relationship they have with him and how effectively they can teach him. We’re scheduling a meeting with Mrs. B, his fourth-grade teacher, to discuss the report and the psychologist’s recommendations in hopes that she can make some accommodations for him, though the lack of any official type of diagnosis at this point means we don’t have any legally binding action plan. I’m okay with that for now. I’d rather just talk to the teacher and say this is what we think he needs and see how it goes.”

After a year of accelerated work, which has been fun and enriching and challenging and also quite exhausting for Noah, we’re ready to see if we can find that official diagnosis that would entitle him to extra time, and possibly other accommodations when he needs them. His teachers were understanding for the most part this year, but Noah was often behind. He was forever bringing home class work that he had to do on top of his already sizable homework load. One of the standardized tests he took this year was untimed. When he was tested at the fourth grade level he completed it in the amount of time expected, but when he was tested at the level of math he was actually taking this year (sixth grade) he got a decent score, but it took him two and half times as long as the rest of the class to complete it. On the timed MSA (Maryland’s version of the high-stakes tests mandated by No Child Left Behind) he scored in the advanced range for reading and math, but not by much and we know based on his placement and his teachers’ impressions of him that he ought to be close to the very top.

His math teacher told us at an end of year meeting we requested, that his inability to finish his work was why he got a C in math in the fourth quarter. Math has always been one of Noah’s best subjects and we are considering applying to a math and science magnet for middle school, so we were concerned. If we decide that the accelerated path is just too much for him, or if we apply to middle school magnets and he doesn’t get in, he’ll be back in regular classes, and possibly, bored and alienated again. Although, maybe not. We live in an excellent school district and good teachers abound at all schools. As with so many things in life, a lot depends on the luck of the draw. But we want to give him the best chance at being fulfilled and happy at school we can.

So Noah will undergo another battery of tests in early August in hopes of getting a 504 plan in place for him for fifth grade. An ADHD diagnosis is one possible outcome, which I why when I finally read Different Minds (and I think I will when the kids start school) I imagine I will pay more attention to the ADHD sections and less to the Asperger section than I would have a year ago. I would not be surprised, though, to find out that he doesn’t have ADHD, or that he does but just barely. No diagnosis ever seems to fit him quite right.

Noah’s home this week for the first time after three weeks of day camps and a week at YaYa’s. At first he was a little unsure how to occupy himself because it’s been a long time since he’s had so much downtime at once, but he’s reading 39 Clues books and The Washington Post and listening to NPR and music and playing on the computer and watching television and practicing his drums. He and June helped me make a blueberry kuchen on Monday afternoon and he had a drum lesson this afternoon. The late afternoon lesson was scheduled at the very last minute so I had to abandon my somewhat involved dinner plans. We ended up eating out at Roscoe’s ( On the walk from the restaurant back to the car, the kids played with the kinetic musical bicycle sculpture on the sidewalk nearby. It the kind of wonderful loony thing one’s always seeing in Takoma Park.

Noah and I have had the past three mornings alone together as this is the only week this summer when June has camp and he doesn’t. It’s been pleasant, so pleasant that my plans for splitting the time between hanging out with him and working have pretty much gone out the window. (It helps that last week I turned down a brochure-writing job for unrelated reasons). We’ve been taking walks together, going to coffee shops– Starbucks on Monday, Mayorga ( yesterday, browsing at Radio Shack and Ace Hardware, which is something that I would never, ever do on my own, but it seems to make him happy. I read two or three chapters of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban aloud to him every day because he still likes me to read to him and I will keep doing it until he doesn’t want me to anymore. We talk about global warming and whether a planet orbiting two suns at once would have an orbit in the shape of a figure eight, and what his favorite vacuum cleaner attachments are. He doesn’t mind if I sing along to the radio in public. (And really, who could resist “Love Potion #9”?) He reaches out to hold my hand as we walk down the sidewalk.

I was watching him eat his banana bread at Mayorga yesterday morning and maybe the light was just right or something, but I was struck by one of those moments of mother-love: I was momentarily stunned by how beautiful his hazel eyes are, how the green and gold seem to be shining out from under the brown. I want to help the green and gold in him shine out always. I want a school environment for him that will keep doing that. I don’t know if I’d be happy with an ADHD diagnosis because it might give us a peg on which to hang the help he needs or if it will make me worry about the difficulties he faces, but Robert Frost notwithstanding, I want the gold to stay.

Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Dust off the sun and moon and sing a song of cheer

From “Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer”
By Charles Tobias and Hans Carste

“Are you going to the puppet show?” Maura’s mom asked us when she spotted Beth and me sitting in the Starbucks a few blocks from Noah’s school. She was eyeing the line and thinking maybe she didn’t have time to pick up a coffee after all.

“It filled up all of a sudden,” I said.

She joked that maybe everyone was going to the fourth-grade puppet show. While the entire clientele of Starbucks did not follow us to Noah’s school when we left, the puppet show was a big production. The kids have been working on it for months. They read folktales and had to rewrite them by changing the setting and the characters. Noah’s group reworked an African tale about convincing a man not to cut down a tree because of all the animals that would be affected into a story about convincing an oil company not to drill in a coral reef. Noah played the narrator and a sea turtle. The kids researched coral reef eco-systems, made the puppets and the set (which was a drawing projected on a screen behind them), wrote the script, practiced and performed it, along with the rest of the their classmates, who were doing a few more tales. On Tuesday they performed their skits for the third and fifth grades. On Wednesday, the second to last day of school, they did it for the parents.

It was definitely a feel-good event. The puppets were lovely; the kids were endearingly enthusiastic. I particularly liked the last skit, “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears” transformed into “Why Crabs Pinch People’s Toes.” The kids in that group did a great job making the characters come alive. I did leave wondering why so many of Noah’s classmates chose to have their animals speak in seemingly random accents. There were a couple of British animals and one who spoke in a Texas drawl, but I guess that was just part of the fun.

The end of the school year was full of fun, there was field day and the kids watched movies (Tangled and Gnomeo and Juliet) and had ice cream sundaes on Thursday, the last day. That day was a half-day, but Noah didn’t get home until 4:45 because he went straight from the bus stop to Sasha’s annual last-day-of-school pool party. I made blueberry pancakes for dinner at his request to celebrate the end of fourth grade.

Even though he didn’t get home early, Noah was at loose ends for a while trying to figure out what to do when he didn’t have hours of homework. “I don’t think my brain can take it,” he commented. He hadn’t actually had much homework for the past two weeks or so, but he still hasn’t quite adjusted yet to the idea of free time.

Today Beth offered to take Noah to work with her, which is something he usually enjoys but he decided to stay at home. I had a very busy day hosting June’s play date with the Mallard Duck, then taking our poor flea-bitten cat to the vet (a two and a half hour adventure I won’t go into here), then reading to Noah (we’re almost finished with the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series), then taking the kids on a walk and in between all that doing enough laundry for our upcoming trip to West Virginia (more on that later). Noah took a scooter ride in the morning and came along on the walk, but he spent most of the day holed up in his top bunk finishing book 2 and starting book 3 of the 39 Clues series, pausing occasionally to play “Ode to Joy” on the recorder. He forgot to eat breakfast (well, I forgot to make him what he’d requested and he forgot I never gave it to him) and he didn’t eat lunch until almost two, he was that absorbed. I was a little jealous, but I’m glad he got to have a lazy first day of summer break, reading in bed. He deserves it after all his hard work this year.

About two weeks before school ended we had a meeting with Noah’s main teacher and his math teacher to discuss his difficulty finishing work in class and paying attention. We came out of the meeting having decided to get Noah tested for ADHD this summer, by the same psychologist who tested him for Asperger’s last summer. It’s something we’ve thought he might have for a long time, years actually, but since he always did well in school, we never took any action on it. But now that he’s in a program that’s actually designed for kids of his intelligence, his slow processing is starting to hold him back, especially in math. We think the accommodation of extra time, if it turns out he’s entitled to it, could be a big help to him and now’s the time to get a plan in place, before middle school. Everyone from his teachers to other parents seems to agree on that.

We also came out of the meeting feeling like he’s in the right place. His teachers seem to understand him and what makes him tick. When we mentioned his social troubles of last year, they said from what they observe, he fits right in with his quirky classmates. The main teacher told me he seemed especially close to one girl we’ve never met, and that they were always helping each other with their work. (Ironically, she was the one who didn’t come to this birthday party because she lost the invitation and forgot to tell her mother about it.) I’m glad he has another year left in elementary school and at this elementary school in particular. I think before the summer’s out we’ll invite his new friend over. I’d like to meet her. I have a feeling she’s probably a very interesting person.

Tomorrow, after June’s t-ball game, we are driving to Charleston, West Virginia to attend a ceremony at Beth’s father’s grave. We’ll spend some time with Beth’s mother, brother, sister-in-law, uncle and aunt, and on Sunday YaYa will take Noah back to Wheeling with her for a week of fun and grandmother-style spoiling. We’re calling it Camp YaYa. It will be the longest I’ve ever been separated from Noah, but he keeps saying he wishes he could stay longer, so I think that’s a good indication it’s a good way to usher in his summer vacation.

So roll out those lazy hazy crazy days of summer. Noah doesn’t like soda and I think we’ll pass on the beer, but I’m good with the pretzels and the song of good cheer.


Last Wednesday morning we left the kids with a new babysitter so we could meet with the educational psychologist who evaluated Noah earlier this month. The sitter asked the kids when they’d be starting school. Neither knew, so I told her September 7 for June and August 30 for Noah.

“That’s soon!” Noah exclaimed in surprise. We’d been telling him school started soon, of course, but I remember how when you’re a kid the summer seems endless. It just goes on and on until all of a sudden, and quite surprisingly, it’s over.

Later that morning, as I walked out of the appointment, I told Beth, “It’s what they always say about him.” Noah is a quirky kid, no doubt about it. Over the years we’ve considered or various teachers, his pediatrician, and therapists we’ve consulted have suggested the following diagnoses: OCD, Tourette’s, Sensory Processing Disorder, Asperger’s and ADHD. But with the exception of Sensory Processing Disorder, he’s always fit some of the criteria but not enough for a diagnosis. (And even SPD diagnosis he received at the age of six was a borderline one.) So, this is a long way of saying the psychologist doesn’t think he has Asperger’s, even if she does she recognize some Asperger’s characteristics in his behavior. She thinks ADHD is a possibility, but she wasn’t ready to make an official diagnosis of that either.

What he has and as far as I know there’s no official name for it, is a big gap between his intelligence and his executive function. Or to put it simply, he’s really, really smart and he’s also a really, really slow worker. He excelled on a verbal IQ test (in the 99.6th percentile) but on a writing speed test he scored in the 20th percentile. This wasn’t news to us. Noah’s teachers have been telling us he takes a long time to complete his work ever since kindergarten. Whether they interpret this as laziness or an intrinsic part of the way his mind works often determines what kind of relationship they have with him and how effectively they can teach him. We’re scheduling a meeting with Mrs. B, his fourth-grade teacher, to discuss the report and the psychologist’s recommendations in hopes that she can make some accommodations for him, though the lack of any official type of diagnosis at this point means we don’t have any legally binding action plan. I’m okay with that for now. I’d rather just talk to the teacher and say this is what we think he needs and see how it goes.

The week before school started was busy. As I mentioned earlier Noah had play dates with Sasha, Maxine and a pair of twins who will attend his new school and he also attended Sasha’s end-of-summer pool party. On Tuesday morning I let Noah walk to Sasha’s house alone for the first time. This is something we’d been mulling over for a long time, but since he will need to walk home from the bus stop by himself this year (June’s school schedule rules out my getting him), we thought we should start letting him practice walking places by himself. As I stood on the porch and watched him set out, I could tell by the set of his shoulders and the way he held his head how proud and grown-up he felt. And it felt right to watch him go.

The next play date was Wednesday. The dynamic of meeting two new kids at once was a little challenging. At first one twin seemed more interested in playing with Noah while the other hung back, and then the twins played together with Noah left out until their mom suggested we move the play date from the playground to an inside space where it might be easier for them to interact. An inside space, of course, meant our house, which was nearby but in no condition for guests, particularly guests I’d never met before. So I just said, “Well, I didn’t clean,” and she said not to worry so we went home and as it turned out they did play better when they had something more structured to do. (They played Monopoly.) Monopoly was the game of choice again on Friday when Maxine came over. She stayed from 9:30 to 1:30 and they actually finished the game, which was satisfying to Noah since the twins had to leave mid-game.

I had the chance to watch Noah at Sasha’s party since it was a parents-invited potluck. At the beginning when it was only Sasha, Sean and Maura playing in the pool he did pretty well. He splashed in the pool, played with the squirters and ate chips when the kids got out of the water and hit the buffet. But as the party got bigger he started to hang back. I encouraged him to join the other kids when the herd of nine-year-olds moved to the trampoline because he likes bouncing, but he stayed on the screened porch with the grownups. By the time the activity had switched to sword fighting with sticks, I didn’t even mention joining them anymore because I know he’s not comfortable with that kind of play. He’d gone back to the pool to anyway. He was alone but he seemed to be having fun. We haven’t been swimming much this summer and he ended up spending almost the whole three hours and fifteen minutes we were there in the water. I think it was okay, given how big crowds of kids overwhelm him. He spent a lot of time alone but he did socialize some, too.

Of course, in addition to the play dates and party, there were school events, too. The ice cream social was Wednesday night. The principal and the teachers played Two Truths and a Lie. Each one had a Power Point slide with two true facts and a lie about himself or herself and the parents and kids had to guess which one was the lie. We didn’t know which teacher he had yet at the time but I think Mrs. B was the one who has gone bungee cord jumping from a crane. Or maybe she was the one who once parachuted out of a plane. In any case, she did not try out for the Olympic Track and Field team. I know that for sure. After learning about the teachers there was a human treasure hunt in which you had to find people in the room who met certain characteristics. (For instance, I signed a lot of people’s sheets as their vegetarian.) Beth and I both find these kinds of icebreakers tedious, so we were happy when it was finally time to line up for ice cream. We did see a few families from Noah’s old school and get to talk a bit, which was nice.

We were back at school on Friday afternoon to meet Mrs. B and tour her classroom and see who Noah’s classmates are. Samira, who has been at the same school as Noah since nursery school days, is in his class, along with Maura who he has been friendly with on and off since kindergarten. There was also a boy who recognized Noah from Improv camp (though Noah couldn’t remember where they’d met until the boy told him) and one of the twins. So there should be plenty of familiar faces.

I studied a flow chart about the writing process and noticed there was a great quantity of books on the bookshelves and a beanbag chair nearby. “Can I come here and sit in the beanbag chair and read?” Beth asked me. A couple of the kids did just that, picking out a book from the shelf and settling in to read.

There was also a display on the wall about different kinds of ecosystems. I said it looked like they were going to study ecosystems and Noah, standing right in front of the wall, said, “Why?”

Then they all had to ask the teacher a question before they left the room. After giving it a tremendous amount of thought, Noah asked why the wall of cubbyholes was filled with two-liter bottles. For a science experiment was the answer. On our way out we bought a car magnet with a wolf on it, as this is his new school’s mascot.

On Saturday afternoon Noah practiced walking home from the bus stop. He and Beth walked there together and then she waited five minutes to follow. Sure enough, they both got home, five minutes apart. I asked him if he felt confident about walking home and he said yes. After a pause he added, “But it was a little scary walking alone.”

On Sunday I made him copy his summer reading log over again because it had gotten wet at some point during the summer and the bottom was all raggedy. More importantly his handwriting was nearly illegible. He made a new grid on the computer, printed it and filled it out by hand, somewhat more neatly. As he was doing this he realized he had not actually finished one of the books he wanted to put on the log, so he spent most of the evening doing that. After he finished he paced around the house, seeming nervous and keyed up, but he went to sleep pretty quickly after going to bed at his new bedtime of 8:45. (We moved his bedtime back when we made June’s earlier. He thinks going to bed fifteen minutes later and having a bedtime after his little sister’s for the first time in his life is “awesome.”)

He slept until 7:00, which qualifies as sleeping in for him. Beth made him his requested lunch of shredded cheddar cheese, saltines, mango slices and grape juice. I took his picture at the gate and (he wanted to pose as an old man) and at 8:10, he and Beth walked off to the bus stop. Fourth grade, I thought. That is old.

June and I went about our day. I took her to Great Kids Village ( to see Banjo Man (, who has a Monday morning gig there, and we had a picnic lunch nearby before getting back on the bus to come home. She fell asleep during Quiet Time for the second day in a row. (She would do it the next day as well.) We’d just finished reading several chapters of James and the Giant Peach when Noah walked in the door at 4:25.

“The first day was good,” he said, before I could even ask him and he gave me two thumbs up. He likes his teacher. She had students from her last class write letters to her current class to tell them what to expect. “You shouldn’t be dreading all the homework people say you are going get. True, there are long-term projects but they are usually fun. Mrs. B is an awesome teacher and you are lucky to have her,” begins the letter Noah received. They are doing a lot of get-to-know-you activities right now. For homework he had to write five interview-style questions for the teacher, which she will answer at a mock press confererence and he had to put several objects in a “memory bag” he’ll bring to class and explicate. (So far he has a magnet in the shape of West Virginia and a potholder he made at his old school in the bag.) They have a whiteboard that you write on and what you write is projected onto a screen. They painted on a real canvas in art class. He played with other kids at recess. He said it was less scary walking home by himself the second time. He seemed really, really happy talking about his day.

I don’t know what Noah’s first year as a Wolf will be like. Of course, there’s a lot I could worry about from his uneven social skills to his wandering mind to the logistics of getting him to school and back and the question of how he will respond to the increased workload. But I have a lot of hopes, too, hopes of fun and challenging assignments and kids to whom he can more easily relate. Wolves are pack animals after all. Most of all, I hope he finds his pack.