Mothers’ Days: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 72

Mother’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother and Child Reunion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From “18 21” by the Slants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Midst of Life We Are in Death

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

RIP, Diane Adele Higgins Bolles.
1946-2022

Sixteen So Far: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 68

Pre-Birthday: Opening Night

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

“Good,” they said.

“Was it a good audience?”

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

“Were there any wardrobe malfunctions?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faux Birthday: Act 1

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

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

“What’s your favorite trig function?”

“I hate them all!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Birthday: Act 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Birthday: Closing Night

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

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

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

 

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

Second Week Begins

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

Anniversary #30/9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the Second Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Week, So Far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Road to the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 57

Friday: Return of the Not-So-Prodigal Son

The day before Noah came home for Thanksgiving week North and I were discussing whether they’d come with us to pick him up the following evening in a mall parking lot just north of Baltimore. I was asking again because the first time I thought the bus was coming in a couple hours later than it actually was. They said they thought they could wait until he got home.

“He’s not your child,” I said. “You miss him, but you don’t feel like part of your heart is missing.” They agreed. Then I went on to say I was glad the kids aren’t twins, because then they would have left at the same time and I prefer to do this separation one kid at a time.

“Someday you will have two parts of your heart missing,” they said cheerfully. 

True, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Right now both my chicks are in the nest and I’d like to savor that.

We arrived at the mall around 8:30, ten minutes before Noah’s bus was due so I went inside to use the restroom. The stores had all been closed for a half hour, but there was still a curiously large number of people ambling about, plus workers closing up stores. About three-quarters of store employees were masked, but almost no customers were, perhaps just me, out of dozens of people. It’s always startling to leave our county and see bare faces indoors.

It took me a while to find an open restroom (some were closed) and then when I tried to exit from the door where I’d entered the mall, it was locked. I asked a young woman who’d just ducked out of a store as the security gate came down how to get out and she directed me to a fire exit. There’s no alarm, she assured me. I went down a sketchy looking hallway and out into a fenced area. I thought I was stuck inside the fence until I turned a corner and saw the end of it and I made my way back to the car.

That whole adventure took fifteen minutes and Noah’s bus arrived shortly after that. I met him getting his luggage out of the storage compartment and gave him a quick hug.  He hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was almost nine, so we set out in search of dinner for him. There was a Panera nearby, but it was closing, so we went to a Taco Bell drive-through. As we drove home, he ate and answered our questions. I tried not to overwhelm him with too many, but I learned he’s going to take the test to be an FAA-certified drone pilot in early December. That was probably his most interesting piece of news.

When we got home, North emerged from their bedroom, where they’d just awoken from an hours-long nap. (Getting up at 5:30 on weekdays for in-person high school is wearing them out and they are prone to falling asleep in the late afternoons.) They sat down to eat the pizza we’d left for them on the dining room table.

“How have you been?” Noah asked them. 

“Fine. How have you been?” they returned.

“Fine,” he said. 

There was a long pause, and I coached them. “There are other things you can say. ‘I was in a play’ or ‘I’m in the drone club.'”

North said, “You were in a play?”

Noah said, “You’re in the drone club?”

Beth and I went to bed and left them to whatever conversation they could manage on their own. North said when they went to bed he was on the couch, watching television and cuddling with the cat, who apparently also missed him.

Pre-Thanksgiving Weekend

We didn’t do anything too exciting over the weekend, but it was very satisfying nonetheless. Just having everyone under the same roof made me content. Noah did a little homework on Saturday and more on Sunday. On Saturday morning he and I took a short walk to see the neighbors’ giant skeleton they have had in their yard since mid-September. I am starting to think it is going to be a permanent fixture. 

In the afternoon the kids and I made a Starbucks run. As we walked there, Noah told us about the classes he’s going to take next semester (an advanced cinema production class he’s pleased to have gotten into, a computer science class, a research methods class, and his Emerging Media junior project).  I got a latte and the kids got various autumnal or holiday treats (an iced pumpkin spice latte and a pumpkin muffin for North and a chestnut praline crème drink and a cranberry bliss bar for Noah.)  As we walked home, we talked about the Odyssey, which North is reading in English and as we approached the creek where Noah was stung by bees in August, we vowed never to climb over a deadfall in it again. As we crossed the footbridge that spans the creek I sang:

Over the creek and through the woods
To the Lovelady-Allen house we go
We have no horse, we have no sleigh
There’s no white and drifted snow

The kids appeared mildly amused, but they did not join me in song.

Noah and I made a vegetable-macaroni soup for dinner Saturday, but when we had almost finished both Beth and North were asleep. They woke up pretty soon after, though, and we had the soup with toast and string cheese and then we watched Silkwood. We’d had to check it out of the library because it’s not available to stream. I hadn’t seen it in almost forty years and pretty much all I remembered was the terrifying shower scenes. You never know how a film you saw as a teenager will hold up, but I’m here to say it’s worth watching again.

Sunday my mom called so she could talk to me and both kids, but Beth had taken Noah to get his covid booster so he had to call her back. Beth made a green tomato chili, in an effort to use up some more of our green tomatoes, but while she was cooking it, I went outside and picked another cup of green cherry tomatoes. I probably didn’t even get all of them. We had some extremely prolific plants this year and though we’ve had a few nights below freezing starting the first week in November, the plants only died a few days ago. We’ve been eating stuffed green tomatoes, and green tomato-goat cheese tart, and salsa verde all month.

Monday: One Last Work Day

North had just two days of school this week and they were both half-days. I decided to take Tuesday off to get ready to leave for Rehoboth, so Monday was my only work day of the week, not that I actually worked much. I had to go into the city for some diabetes-related bloodwork and it took most of the morning to get there and back. Plus, I didn’t actually have much pressing work until some arrived late in the afternoon, so I rode the exercise bike, wrapped Beth’s birthday presents, did three loads of laundry, folded one and left the other two for the kids to fold, and read a little before starting to research a blog post on berberine I’ll write after Thanksgiving. 

While I was out of the house, Beth went to North’s school to attend a meeting called Brownies with Brown. It was a chance for parents to ask the principal questions. His last name is Brown and brownies were served. When that meeting was over and school let out, Beth collected North and took them to the county courthouse to file the papers applying to legally change their name. North had asked for this as a sixteenth birthday present and it’s a multi-month process, so we’re starting now. In some ways it was not a difficult decision because they’ve been using the name North for over four years now and they seem pretty set on it, unlike some of their friends who change the names they go by frequently. (One in particular used five different names in two years—I’d be hesitant to take legal action in that case.) In other ways it was very difficult, but it came down to the fact that the way they feel about their name is fundamentally more important than the way we do.

Beth and North returned a little before I started working and for a while I was at my computer in the living room and Beth and North were across from each other at the dining room table in the next room while Beth took work calls and North answered questions about the Odyssey. They asked for help with some of the allusions, which gave me the opportunity to share my strongly held opinion that Clytemnestra was entirely in the right killing Agamemnon after he sacrificed their daughter for favorable winds. (In a strange coincidence, it was the second time in a week I’ve made this argument as it came up in my book club discussion of Vanity Fair. You never know when a liberal arts education with a healthy dose of classics will come in handy.)

During all this, the door to Noah’s room was closed, so I assume he was working, too, at least until he came out to practice drums for his upcoming band concert. It was pleasing to think of everyone busily tying up loose ends before the holiday. (Well, not Noah, as he continued working at the beach.)

Tuesday: A Birthday and a Road Trip

When we went to bed on Monday, I said, “Happy birthday eve.”

“Fifty four is out the door!” she responded.

And it is. We were going to pick North up at school when they got out at 11:30 and hit the road, so we decided to have Beth open her presents in Rehoboth. With a stop to pick up a fundraiser pumpkin pie from Food and Friends in Silver Spring, we were soon on our way. We stopped at the Taco Bell near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is our traditional lunch stop and my first dietary challenge. I haven’t traveled with diabetes yet, so there would be a lot of navigate. I got a salad and stole a few chips from the kids (as well as a few bites of their ice cream at DQ.) 

Once in Rehoboth, we got the keys from the realty and swung by the bakery where I’d ordered four chocolate cupcakes with 55 written in the icing. We unpacked a little and Beth and I went for a walk on the boardwalk. It was getting dark by then, with the last of the sunset fading from the sky and it was cold, but it’s always invigorating to walk by the ocean. When Beth went back to the house, I walked down to the sand to watch the waves and the lights of the ships at sea.

Beth had picked an Indian restaurant in the neighboring town of Lewes for her birthday dinner. It was a very nice place, slightly fancy and in a pretty Victorian house. We all shared an appetizer of delicious fried okra. Beth and I got two curries to share (spinach and lentil) and there were two kinds of bread. Noah got a plate of samosas and North had a tomato curry and they both had mango lassis. I considered the carbs in front of me and decided on a little rice, a little of the whole-wheat paratha, and a few sips of lassi. Because it was Beth’s birthday, the waiter brought a slice of chocolate cake and I had a bite of that, too.

We were very pleased with our meal, but when we got in the car to leave, my door stuck on the curb, because the car was tilted ever so slightly. We’d gotten a tire low pressure message on the way there and we thought it could wait until the next day, but apparently it couldn’t. We had a flat and were stuck there until Beth’s car service could get someone to come out and change it. It took more than a half hour to get even an estimate of how long that would be and when we did get one, we were told to expect another hour’s wait. Beth insisted the three of us go home in a Lyft. We attempted to dissuade her, as it was her birthday and we didn’t want to abandon her, but no one else drives and someone had to stay with the car and she didn’t see the point in everyone staying, so we left in the car of the chattiest Lyft driver I have ever had. He was in favor of getting Beth something from Starbucks when we started discussing with each other whether she’d be able to redeem her birthday reward, and we explained to him we couldn’t use someone else’s reward, but he didn’t seem to get it, explaining he was not that into Starbucks.

As it turned out, the service came earlier than anticipated, and after Beth swung by the grocery store for ice cream and some food for breakfast, she came back and everyone but me had a cupcake (I saved mine for later, based on what fried okra, rice, and bread had done to my blood sugar) and she opened her presents. I got her some kayaking gloves and a t-shirt from our favorite pizzeria she’d admired, Noah got her some fancy olive oil and a loaf of chocolate-banana bread, and North got her some bars of dark chocolate. She was very pleased with it all and said it was a nice mix of things she’d asked for and surprises.

Even with a small bump in the road, we’d made it to the beach and completed our first celebration there. But three more days of holiday festivities awaited us…

Pivoting: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 56

It’s been a week of small milestones.

Firstly, thanks for the well wishes for my mom. She’s been back home since Tuesday. She and Sara managed the drive home from Seattle in one day so they didn’t have to stay in a motel. Mom has an inclining bed she got when she got her hips replaced years back and she thought that would be more comfortable. Jon has moved in with her and her friends are bringing meals to the house. She can get around with a walker and is looking forward to getting out of the house soon, though she hasn’t tried it yet.

Noah’s half birthday was also on Tuesday. Ever since the kids were toddlers we’ve gotten them cupcakes on their half-birthdays and Noah’s first year of college we had cupcakes from a bakery in Ithaca delivered to his dorm. And of course, last year he was home, so we had grocery store cupcakes while half of us watched and half of us avoided watching the Presidential election results. That was a nail biter, wasn’t it? Hard to believe it was only a year ago. Anyway, I ordered cupcakes from the same bakery in Ithaca—one chocolate, one vanilla, and one carrot cake– with the numerals 2, 0, and .5 written in the frosting.

I’ve been wondering for a while how long this half-birthday cupcake tradition will last. I’ve thought maybe until each kid graduates from college, but next year if all goes as planned Noah will be in Australia (or possibly Scotland) in the fall and getting cupcakes to another continent or paying for delivery from a local bakery in foreign currency seems like a logistical challenge, so maybe this was the last hurray for him.

Later in the week, the weather took a turn and we had a couple nights just below freezing. We turned on the heat, I put flannel sheets on our bed, and Beth and I brought in the vulnerable garden produce. We had pots of chives, mint, rosemary, and thyme on the kitchen floor for a couple days until it got warmer and I took everything back outside. I picked most of the zinnias and split them into two bouquets for my desk and the dining room table. The few I left survived the frost, so I may have acted prematurely. They are cheerful, though, and the first day they had a sweet smell I’ve never noticed outside. Beth and I also picked the last of the eggplant and an enormous amount of green tomatoes, searching the sprawling plants with a flashlight after dark. We’ve never had so many green tomatoes—the ones in the picture are only about half of them—and we’re not quite sure what we’re going to do with them, but we’ve been eating them diced in scrambled eggs, and Beth fried some for dinner tonight and I am going to stuff some with cheese and breadcrumbs for dinner Tuesday, and I guess we’ll make a big batch of salsa verde. If you have a favorite way to eat green tomatoes that’s not too high-carb, feel free to chime in.

Beth recently got an Apple watch and so I inherited her Fitbit. I started wearing it Friday evening and I can see why people get obsessed with their steps. I did not make my goal on Saturday, the first full day I was wearing it, and I was surprised because Beth and I spent an hour and twenty minutes taking down our Halloween decorations and packing them in boxes and carrying those boxes down to the basement, which I thought would entail more steps than it did. But today I had a library book to return and it was a nice day so I walked there and later I mowed the front yard one last time and I reached the step goal in the late afternoon. Pro tip: take off your Fitbit if you are trying to take a nap so it doesn’t vibrate and ask you to get up and walk 166 steps to complete an hourly goal.

The school play, Puffs, is in the middle of its run. There were two shows this weekend and there will be three next weekend. North was at rehearsal until ten o’clock for four nights in the days leading up to opening night, even on Thursday, which was a day off school because it was the day between first and second quarter, which is a grading day for teachers.

We went to the show on Saturday night and brought North’s friends Norma, Miles, and Maddy. (We’d made a donation to the theater program and we got some free tickets.) The play’s subtitle is Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic. It’s the Harry Potter story as imagined from the point of view of the Hufflepuffs (some original characters like Cedric Diggory, but mostly new ones). It’s a fun show, especially if you’re familiar with the books. I read them first on my own and then to both kids when they were nine or ten, but Beth has not read them and though we’ve seen the films, the plot is not really in her head, so she was often lost. Of course we paid attention to the costumes because North was the costumes manager. Since the Harry Potter series takes place in the 90s, there was a lot of flannel and scrunchies. It’s kind of a shame North will never get to see the play in its entirety because they’re always backstage helping with costume changes.

Today they enjoyed some downtime at home, with no show or rehearsal. There’s a touch up rehearsal on Wednesday afternoon, but they don’t have to stay late. We’re all glad about this, but especially Beth because North’s school is a half hour from our house and Beth’s been doing a lot of driving up and down University Boulevard to drop them off and pick them up.

The normalcy of North being involved with a full-length play for the first time since 2019 has been comforting. In another cheering development, I’ve enjoyed seeing pictures on Facebook of your under-twelves getting vaccinated this week. It’s nice to think of your specific kids being protected and the increased protection everyone will gain from having fewer vectors. This time of year always feel like a hinge, as we turn from early to late fall. The leaves are peaking, Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is on the horizon, and we’ve switched back to Standard Time so it gets dark early. With covid, anything could happen and the number of people dying every day is still much too high, but the current trend is downward and I hope we’re pivoting in this, too.

Secrets of the Sea: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 47

Who can guess the secret of the sea?
Who can guess the secret of the sea?
If you can guess the secret of my love for you
Then we both could know the secret of the sea

From “Secrets of the Sea,” by Billy Bragg and Wilco

Saturday

On the morning of our first day at the beach, while Beth went for her walk, I corralled people into putting food on the grocery list so she could grocery shop when she got back. While she was shopping, Sara, North, Lily-Mei and I went to the beach. (Noah stayed at home because he was editing the film he’d helped shoot the previous week. He ended up working on it from just after breakfast until dinnertime, when he finished it, so he was free the rest of vacation.)

Sara had decided it was the year for Lily-Mei to learn to dive under waves. Their home ocean is the Pacific, and while they have a vacation house on the coast, the water is so cold neither Sara nor Dave ever want to take her past wading depth, so she’d never done it. Lily-Mei was quite enthusiastic about this project and kept yelling “This is amazing!” after diving under each wave. We were all having a good time jumping in the waves and spotting the occasional dolphin or osprey circling above with fish in their talons.

The waves were moderate-sized for the most part but after Dave came to join us and he was with Lily-Mei a big wave knocked them both over and separated them. From where Sara and I were in the water, too far away to help, we could see the panic on his face. They both got up, though, not much worse for the wear, though Lily-Mei did talk a lot later about the wave that was “like a tsunami.”  After a while, everyone got out of the water and Lily-Mei started to dig a hole with my kids’ old shovel I’d brought for her.

After lunch I went into town to get a gift certificate to Browseabout Books for my mom’s birthday, which was the next day. On the way home, I got myself an iced café con leche at Café A-Go-Go, as it’s not really a beach trip without at least one, and I ran into Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei outside Candy Kitchen. Lily-Mei had a spiral lollipop in her mouth. They’d just rented bikes, so we made our separate ways home.

When I got home, Beth, North, Lily-Mei and I headed to the beach. Beth got her legs wet and then retreated to her towel while the rest of us got in the water. The surf was rougher than it had been in the morning, the waves about the same size but closer together, so there wasn’t much time to rest. Lily-Mei was not as ebullient as she’d been in the morning, instead she looked very serious and focused as we ducked under and jumped into waves. We were getting tugged northward out of the lifeguards’ range, so after the second time we’d gotten out and re-entered the water further south, I told Lily-Mei the next time we got near the red flag, we’d get out of the water for good. In response she started swimming south against the current so we’d never reach the flag. “She’s a problem solver,” I said and North agreed. Around this time, Dave and Mom arrived, so Dave took my place in the water and I went to rest and talk to my mom.

When the lifeguards blew the 5:30 whistle signaling they were going off duty, Dave and Lily-Mei got out of the water. When the guards dragged their chair away Lily-Mei was drawn to the big pile of sand it left behind and decided she wanted to eradicate it by stomping and pouring water on it out of her watering can. This project occupied her and Dave for some time.

Mom and North were on dinner duty that night and they made a nice pasta salad with mozzarella, a tomato-cucumber salad with feta, and corn on the cob. Dave had put on a yacht rock station, partly to rib Sara, I think, but it lead to a spirited discussion of what constitutes yacht rock. Beth had listened to an episode of Hit Parade about this and was particularly well informed.

Noah and I cracked open a new book, The Gods of Jade and Shadow, which is about a young woman who accidentally brings a Mayan god back to life and joins him on a quest. It seemed like it would be a fun read. I just counted on Goodreads and we’ve read twenty-eight books together since he came home in March of 2020. This one won’t be the last, but whenever we start a new one now I wonder how many more we’ll finish. My guess is two or three (counting the current one). It feels strange for this number to be so finite and so small.

Secret of the Sea #1: It’s good to have multiple ways to deal with each wave as it comes at you.

Sunday

In the morning I hung around the house talking with people and then went to the boardwalk where I settled into the shade of one of the gazebos and starting blogging until it was time to go pick up my mom’s birthday cake at the bakery. When we got back North was teaching Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei to play Sleeping Queens, a card game my kids loved in elementary school (and that we played a lot last summer when North was in the hospital, maybe for its comforting nostalgia factor).

I took my mom out for a birthday lunch at a boardwalk restaurant where we often go. We were seated inside at the back of the restaurant, where the tables are on a platform so you can look right out over the rest of the tables out to the sea. I got steamed clams in one of my very occasional beachside departures from vegetarianism and she got a crab cake sandwich and we had a nice conversation.

After lunch we met up with the rest of our party on the boardwalk and got ice cream because Beth had mentioned several times in a casual sort of way that Sunday was National Ice Cream Day and I got the idea she’d like to celebrate this fine holiday. She did an excellent job herding six people to the boardwalk on short notice when I texted her. Beth told me I was living dangerously eating ice cream in a white polo and sure enough it soon had a pistachio green stain on the front. While we were eating our ice cream I remembered I’d forgotten to give my mom her birthday card and the gift certificate at lunch, so I gave it to her then.

Sara, Noah, and Lily-Mei went to the beach straight from the boardwalk, changing in the restrooms near Funland. Mom and I went back to the house to change and eventually joined them. When we arrived they were on the sand after a swim and Lily-Mei was making repairs to a pool she’d dug in the sand and was hoping the ocean would fill, but she’d dug it when the tide was going out and she was glum that no waves were reaching it, until suddenly a rogue wave did and she was jubilant.

Everyone but Mom went (back) into the water. The waves were breaking closer to shore than the day before, which made for a rough entry, but overall the water was calmer than the day before. While we were in the water, Lily-Mei started to experience a stinging sensation Sara had noticed the day before and they found tiny gray creatures on her skin. Research revealed they were jellyfish larvae, which can get caught in tight-fitting bathing suits and sting when that happens. (Later Sara and Dave got Lily-Mei a rash guard and some board shorts, which mostly solved the problem.)

I stayed longer than anyone else and I only got out of the water because I thought the lifeguards had blown the 5:30 whistle, but it was just for someone out of bounds. It was 5:20 by then and I didn’t want to get in just to have to get out again in ten minutes so I stayed on my towel. Sara, Noah, and Lily-Mei were packing up to leave, but Mom and I stayed almost another hour. It was that beautiful golden early evening time at the beach when the light is just lovely and the day was warm but not hot and it was actually kind of hard to convince ourselves to leave, but we did.

Sara and Dave made tofu and veggie-filled lettuce wraps for dinner and they were a big hit, as was the chocolate cake with raspberry puree and custard between the layers. That night my kids and Lily-Mei had a sleepover in the room with two bunk beds. They stayed up late (for Lily-Mei) and watched a movie and played Truth or Dare. In Lily-Mei’s version of this game, if you chose truth, instead of having to answer a question, someone tells you a truth about yourself.

Meanwhile, all the adults except Beth and me watched a different movie, while we elected to take a walk on the boardwalk and beach and watch the heat lighting. It felt like a little date.

Secret of the Sea #2:  The celebrations you plan are important, but the little, spontaneous ones are, too. 

Monday

I slept in the next morning, which for me means I was asleep until almost eight. North was still asleep but Noah and Lily-Mei were snuggled on the couch, playing Truth or Dare. He chose truth every time but from the bedroom I couldn’t quite hear what truths he was receiving, so I asked him later and he said that his nails are long, his arms are big, his pajama top is funny looking, and that if he shaved off all his hair it would be enough to cover his face. Next Lily-Mei wanted to look at his phone and they had the following exchange:

“What’s the bird?”
“Twitter.”
“What’s Twitter?”
“People talking to each other.”
“What’s this?”
“Reddit?”
“What’s Reddit?”
“Also people taking to each other.”
“Your phone is boring.”

So he found her some cat videos and she was happy.

The kids wanted Grandpa Mac for lunch, but the original, walkable location is closed, so we ordered it to the house from the location up on Route 1. While we were waiting for the food to arrive, I went to the boardwalk gazebo closest to our house to read The Secret to Superhuman Strength.

Mom and I went to the beach in the mid-afternoon. The ocean was very calm. I swam twice and in between Mom and I had a long talk and read and ate plums and watched a school of bluefish swim up the coast. They made a dark band in the water and you could see the fish jump out of the water occasionally and the seagulls following the school. The lifeguards cleared the water to let it pass.

We got Japanese for dinner, again ordered to the house. We’d hoped to go and eat on the beautiful rooftop deck of the Cultured Pearl, but we couldn’t get a reservation. We needed to eat in the house or outdoors because Lily-Mei is not vaccinated yet and I guess a lot of people with under twelves are in the same boat because outdoor reservations are tough to get.

Secret of the Sea #3: If you seek the truth, you must accept it.

Tuesday

The much anticipated kayak trip was Tuesday morning. Sara, Dave, Lily-Mei, Beth, and I all got up early. My kids were going to come, but opted out when they found out we were leaving the house at 7:30. Something went wrong with our reservations for the dolphin tour, so we ended up renting kayaks and going out on the Bay without a guide. There were small waves, so small Sara called them “undulations,” so it was almost as calm as kayaking in a lake, and I’d learned enough on my two practice trips not to embarrass myself. Sara said, “I wouldn’t call your kayaking bad,” but she went overboard at one point, so I’m not sure how high her bar was.

We paddled toward a lighthouse on a seawall because the young man who rented us the kayaks thought that was our best bet if we wanted to see dolphins. He was hesitant for us to go around the wall because no one from shore would be able to see us, but Sara convinced him we’d be okay. The Bay was very pretty and we saw horseshoe crabs in the shallows, and jellyfish and a variety of sea birds nesting on the seawall. We did see dolphin fins near a fishing boat (I imagine they were after the same fish), but it was pretty far in the distance, no closer than I saw from the ocean most days. It was still a nice excursion, though I think Lily-Mei liked the ice cream she got at the snack bar afterward best.

In the early afternoon, Noah, Lily-Mei and I went to the beach. We swam and then we took a walk up the beach. Lily-Mei was stamping her footprints into the damp sand, circling them and adding her initials all the way from lifeguard stand 15 to 19. She was hoping to see some of them on the way back but the ocean had erased them all, much to her dismay. When we got back to our towel she started to build an elaborate village of sand castles, crisscrossed and surrounded by moats and walls. She’d been working on this for about forty minutes, while I alternately read and watched her, when a boy a little older than her accidentally trampled part of it and then he and his mother helped repair it. Soon, the kids were deep in conversation about how to improve the village. It’s so interesting the way kids will lose themselves in a project like this. They played together a long time and I don’t think they even introduced themselves. (They did establish their ages, however. He’s nine and she’s eight.)

Sara worked at least a little every day and when she finished for the day, she came down to the beach, and Noah and I left to make a quick stop at Candy Kitchen to get fudge for the house. Then we went home. I needed to get back early to help Beth make her signature beach dinner—gazpacho, salt-crusted potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, bread, a plate of fancy cheese, and olives. She makes it every year and all the adults, including me, look forward to it. We were cooking in pairs all week and in addition to anticipating the meal, I was also glad not to have to plan any meals and to just have a set of discrete tasks like picking cilantro leaves off the stems, cutting slices of cheese, etc.

Shortly before dinner Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei came back from Funland and Lily-Mei was saying she’d seen Frankenstein and it took me a while to put two and two together to and realize she’d been in the Haunted Mansion. It was her first time.

Noah and I read for forty-five minutes after dinner and then there was an expedition to the boardwalk for ice cream and frozen custard. We left while Sara and Dave were putting Lily-Mei to bed, and I thought Sara, who tries not to eat much sugar, would be glad to be spared the temptation, but it turned out she was disappointed to miss the outing. On the way home we saw several boys in the street riding contraptions they had rigged up by attaching beach chairs to skateboards. I ended up seeing them several times during the week and they always drew a lot of attention. (One day I saw a police officer direct them off the boardwalk—where skateboards are not allowed—and then as soon as she was out of sight they went right back.)  I also saw a little frog in the grass by the sidewalk and when I got too close it jumped into the street and then I had to catch it and return it to the grass because I was afraid it would get hit by a car. The eventually successful rescue effort also drew an audience.

When we got back everyone hung out in the living room and talked until late in the night. Well, late for us. I went to bed around eleven and it was past twelve before Beth came to bed.

Secret of the Sea #4: Lose yourself in exploration and play.

Wednesday

Wednesday morning my mom went to have coffee with my stepfather’s cousin who lives nearby and Beth and Dave took my kids and Lily-Mei to the water park. I headed out to a boardwalk gazebo to blog again.

When Lily-Mei asked if I was going to Jungle Jim’s, I told her it was against my religion. “She likes the real water,” Lily-Mei concluded, correctly, and Sara said yes, that was it, and Lily-Mei, said, “Well, she’s missing out.” Maybe I was, but before we all went our separate ways I didn’t miss out on seeing Sara, Noah, and Lily-Mei play zoo. Sara played the zookeeper, Lily-Mei’s ever-growing collection of stuffed animals from Funland were zoo animals, Lily-Mei was a vicious cheetah who was prone to escape from her cage and Noah was a series of five hapless zoo visitors slaughtered by the cheetah. (The cheetah also captured and devoured many of the other zoo animals.)

While I was at the gazebo, my mom passed by on her way home from the coffeeshop. Jim’s cousin hadn’t showed (she wasn’t sure he was going to because their communication had been confusing). She stopped for a while to sit with me and then went back to the house. I followed eventually and had lunch.

In the afternoon while I was at the beach, swimming and finishing The Secret to Superhuman Strength, the annual beach week puzzle was finished, only a day after it was started. This one had a design of postage stamps. YaYa fitted in the last piece, though it was Noah and Dave who had put most of it together, with some assists from YaYa, North, and Lily-Mei.

YaYa and Noah made linguine for dinner, but it was a small crowd because North was in bed with a headache (they came down and ate later) and Sara and Dave were out on a dinner date. Right before they left Lily-Mei was begging to go to the Haunted Mansion while they were gone and her wish was granted. Sara said yes and North and I took her.

The whole walk there she was chanting, “Haunted Mansion,” alternating with “Frankenstein,” which was clearly the monster that resonated most with her. I’d heard her say to Sara earlier in the day, “Mama, Frankenstein doesn’t have a square head. You know how our heads have no corners? His has two at the top, but not four.” When North was that age, it was the zombie that impressed them most, and Noah has always been fond of the room full of tiny floating skulls because he realized early that the trick was done with mirrors and he liked that idea. As you can see, the Mansion is an important rite of passage in our family and I was glad to be there for Lily-Mei’s second trip through it.

Funland was crowded and we had to wait in line for tickets and then for the mansion itself, but finally it was time to board. I wasn’t sure if the three of us (plus North’s crutch) would fit into one car, but we did. It was the same as it always is, the room of spiders, the skeletons holding a hose that seems like it will spray you but doesn’t, the devil launching into a real estate pitch for hell, the truck that suddenly appears, horn blaring. (Lily-Mei said later she didn’t like that.)

The doors that sometimes open to let you see out of the ride and onto the boardwalk opened this time. Lily-Mei was uncharacteristically quiet for most of the ride, but every now and then she’d squeak when something spooked her. Afterward she was on that joyful and proud post-Mansion high I remember well from when my kids were eight to ten or so.

Secret of the Sea #5: Face your fears.

Thursday

Mom and Sara’s family were leaving a day early because they had an early afternoon flight out of Philadelphia on Friday (all except Sara who was driving up to Northeastern Pennsylvania to visit our cousin) and they were worried about getting caught in traffic on the way there. I realized I hadn’t had any time alone with Sara all week, so I invited her out for coffee, and even though she was busy with packing and hoping to get some work time in, she said yes. We went to Café-a-Go-Go and had a long talk, mostly about parenting.

Afterward, I read to Lily-Mei, about half of a chapter book about a girl who is trying to track down both a vampire and a werewolf in her house, which must be about par for the course when you live in a place called “Spookie House.” It was the fourth book in series and I was reading a big chunk out of the middle, but it was still fun, as it was the kind of book I used to read to my kids, though we hadn’t read this particular series.

Right after that, Beth managed to wrap up some work (I was the only non-retired adult who did not work on this vacation) and we left for a late lunch, a belated anniversary celebration. We went to Green Man and got juice from the juice bar—she got the cantaloupe kiss and I got the love potion (peach-strawberry-orange). She also got a sandwich and I got a piece of quiche and salad. We took it to the boardwalk to eat and then we got ice cream cones from Royal Treat. It was fun to get away with her, even for a short while.

Mom, Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei hit the road around five-thirty. Noah and I read for about an hour, then we had a makeshift dinner of leftovers, and Beth, YaYa, North, and I went for an evening swim. Well, North and I swam, while Beth and YaYa watched from the sand. When we turned to the shore we could see the sun going down behind Funland and the orange-gold light was really beautiful on the water. There were other people in the ocean but it was less crowded than in the daytime and it felt kind of magical to be swimming at sundown. YaYa went home after we got out of the water, and Beth and I took North to Funland for one last time. They went on the Freefall, the Sea Dragon, and the Graviton. They probably would have gone on the Paratrooper, but the line was insane.

It was quite crowded there, even more so than the night before, and I wished I’d brought a mask, even though I never wear one outside any more. After wearing one to go up to the counter at Dairy Queen on the drive to the beach, I hadn’t even been wearing one inside. I think being on vacation made me relaxed, also there was no visual cue, as hardly anyone was wearing one anywhere, even in line for the Haunted Mansion where there were a lot of under-twelves standing right up next to each other for upwards of twenty minutes. (Lily-Mei was masked.) I’m going to get back in the habit of always wearing a mask inside public places, though, because of the delta variant and because North’s sleepaway camp is urging caution and I want to be a team player.

After Funland, we went to Candy Kitchen and North got a funnel cake with Nutella and strawberries and whipped cream on it. It was something else. I helped them finish it and then Beth and North played Skee-Ball at an arcade, which we chose because there was less of a line there than at Funland, but it was also considerably more expensive, because you have to buy a twenty-five dollar swipe card. With luck, we’ll remember to bring it to the beach next year, though it could take a few years to use up that much arcade money, as no one plays anything but Skee-Ball.

The moon was almost full and very beautiful as we walked home. It was nice to spend some two-mom, one-kid time with North. We haven’t been doing that much, with Noah at home. It was almost ten when we got home, which is quite a late night on the town for us.

Secret of the Sea #6: Be a responsible citizen. 

Friday

Friday we packed up the house and it seemed to be going more smoothly than usual, with less angst about what food will fit in the cooler and what has to be thrown out, but then the cleaners showed up at ten on the dot while we were still scrambling to get the last few things out of the house, so I didn’t make my last-minute check of all of the rooms for stray items and I ended up leaving my laptop charger in our bedroom.

Beth, YaYa, and Noah went to the Verizon store to go phone shopping for YaYa, while North and I made one last stop at Café a-Go-Go, where we each got a cold drink and split a piece of coffeecake. Then we went for one last swim and met up with the rest of our party on the boardwalk and got our traditional last day lunch of fries, crepes, and orangeade. While Noah was waiting in the crepe line, I made a quick stop at the tea and spice shop to get enough of my two favorite teas to last until Thanksgiving.

We’ll be back then, with a smaller group, to discover more of the secrets of the sea.

Secret of the Sea #7: It’s easier to leave when you’ve made a plan to come back.

Before the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 46

Greetings from the beach! We just arrived yesterday so I’m not here to tell you about our seaside adventures. But never fear, there will be a long post about that eventually. Right now I’m here to tell you about a few things we did before we got here.

Cat

Xander had a checkup two Fridays ago. His skin and ear infections were improved but not completely cleared, so he got an antibiotic shot and Beth gave him eardrops for another week and he seems to be healed up. While he was there they took blood and did a workup to get a general sense of his health. His thyroid is fine, his liver and pancreas enzymes are elevated, but pretty good for an eighteen-year-old cat. His blood sugar was a little high, but the vet thought it could be the stress of a vet visit. He has a heart murmur and a galloping heart, however, and we are considering taking him to a feline cardiologist to see if it’s something that can or should be treated. The fact that Matthew died of heart disease and they were brothers made the vet suggest that.

Kayaks

The next day, the Saturday before we left, Beth, Noah, and I went kayaking again. It was a pleasant outing, this time at Seneca Creek State Park. We saw a heron, a big black bird we couldn’t definitively identify (but I think it might have been a cormorant), dragonflies and turtles galore, and a beaver dam. And there were wild blackberries at the edge of the parking lot to eat when we’d finished.

I’m still not great at getting the boat to go in the direction I want it to—I’m always drifting off to one side or the other and having to correct course and that slows me down so I lag behind Beth and Noah. Still, I think I improved over the previous week. And given my difficulty moving objects through space in general—I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was nine and I still can’t drive despite efforts to learn in my teens and again in my thirties—I think I’m as ready to kayak with the dolphins as I’m going to get.

Camp

Starting Monday, North spent a week of mornings and early afternoons as a junior counselor at tinkering camp, at the kids’ old preschool. My kids have been students, campers, and now volunteers at that school on and off since 2005. The theme for the week was journeys so the campers, aged five to eleven, went on daily field trips to ramble in nearby woods or to sled down the hill by the hospital (did you know you can sled on grass?). They made a time capsule to be opened in fifty years, a sort of imaginative journey through time. They also learned to start a fire with a magnifying glass. I’m not sure how that fit into the theme but from my experience sending my kids to this camp when they were in elementary school, I can say that if there wasn’t fire and/or sharp tools it wouldn’t be Tink camp. The week’s activities also included making ice cream sundaes, a water fight, melting Starbursts over a fire, and plenty of free play.

One of North’s preschool classmates was also a junior counselor and two of the campers were younger siblings of North’s peers.  In addition to playing with the campers, North was helping Lesley catalogue the preschool’s library of eight hundred books. North enjoyed their time at Tink and is considering doing it again next summer, when they might be paid in money instead of student service learning hours (an MCPS graduation requirement.)

Cure (Temporary)

My first mumbled words to Beth after her six a.m. alarm went off on Thursday were “no more itchy spots.” Almost a week earlier I’d gotten a poison ivy rash on my left hand and right arm while weeding in our front yard, between the fence and the dogwood tree. There’s so much undergrowth there I didn’t even see the demon vine.

About five days after I got the primary rash, on Wednesday, I’d started breaking out in itchy welts all over my body and I thought the rash was spreading. But when I considered the fact that the welts would appear and then disappear and then I’d have a whole new set somewhere else, I started to think I was having a separate problem, maybe hives, as a secondary effect of the poison ivy. I took an antihistamine at bedtime and I’d woken the next morning itch-free. (Even the poison ivy blisters were relatively quiet.) That lasted only lasted a few hours, though, so I took another antihistamine and it quelled the new hives. I’m still taking it because the welts keep coming back.

Commemoration

Beth’s first words to me that same morning were “Happy anniversary!” It was the thirty-fourth anniversary of our first date, back when we were mere lasses of twenty. I was actually exactly Noah’s age, twenty years and two months, on that fateful day.

We exchanged anniversary gifts after we’d both returned from our respective morning walks. I was curious to see what Beth had gotten me because a few weeks ago we confided to each other that we each had an idea (me) or two (her) but that we wondered if the other might buy the same thing(s). So we told Noah our ideas and he was supposed to tell Beth which of the two things to buy. He said if there was overlap, he would have Beth buy the gift that wasn’t the one I was getting and if there was no overlap, he’d flip a coin to choose one to tell her to buy. He seemed pleased to be asked to perform this service and said it was “like a cryptography challenge.”

So, I got her Alison Bechdel’s The Secret of Superhuman Strength, which as it turned out was on her list, too, and she got me Anna Sales’ Let’s Talk About Hard Things. The Bechdel seemed like a romantic choice to me, because like Beth and me, Alison Bechdel went to Oberlin (graduating several years before we arrived) and that’s sometimes reflected in her work. Beth and I also both listen to Sales’ podcast Death, Sex, and Money, which I recommend if you’re not already listening to it. We were not planning any other anniversary commemorations because we were leaving for the beach the next morning, but we are hoping to go out to dinner one night while we are here.

Commencement of Travel

In addition to our anniversary, Thursday was the day people in our party from parts West began to travel our way. My mother, sister, brother-in-law, and niece flew from Medford, Oregon to Phoenix to Philadelphia, where they would stay the night before driving to Delaware. Beth’s mom flew from Pittsburgh to National Airport, arriving in the afternoon. Beth and Noah picked her up and let her settle into her hotel room before we went out to dinner.

Code

For the rest of the afternoon, everyone went about their business: work, pre-trip laundry, packing, drumming. Noah was waiting for Mike to drop by with a hard drive containing footage from a short fictional movie about the misadventures of someone buying cryptocurrency. Mike and Noah had been on the film crew the week before—Mike was the director of photography and Noah was his assistant. The film is called Pass Code. The director hopes to shop it around at festivals. Noah was supposed to edit it our first few days at the beach. Even though the timing wasn’t great, I was still glad Noah has some work, because before the film shoot he hadn’t had any since the middle of May (when he did a big video editing job during finals week). He did put in some long days at the shoot, though. He was gone fourteen hours the first day and fifteen the second, though I understand some of that was hanging out at the end. I’m just as glad for him to have the opportunity to socialize (with other people who love film) as for him to have paying work.

Cosmopolitan Dining

Mike’s van pulled up to our house just as we were leaving for dinner and he handed off the drive. We met YaYa in Silver Spring, where we went out for tapas. She said when she visits the DC metro area, she feels the dining options are enticingly sophisticated. Over salmon, a cheese plate, torta española, several vegetable dishes, flan, tres leches cake, and churros, she renewed her ongoing but so far unsuccessful campaign to get North to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and we discussed movies we’ve seen recently. Then we went back to the house to pack some more.

Continuation of Travel 

The following day North went to camp, but only for part of the day. We picked them up at 11:30 (two hours early) and hit the road. By five we were at our beach house. Mom, Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei arrived while we were still unpacking the car. Once we’d gotten everything inside the house and sorted out who would sleep in which room, we ordered pizza and while we waited for it to arrive, Mom, Sara, Lily-Mei and I took a walk to the beach, put our feet (well in Lily-Mei’s case more than her feet) into the ocean and enjoyed each other’s company for the first time in two years.

Bow Down to Her on Sunday, Salute Her When Her Birthday Comes: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 40

Bow down to her on Sunday
Salute her when her birthday comes
For Halloween, buy her a trumpet
And for Christmas, get her a drum

From “She Belongs to Me,” by Bob Dylan

Noah’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and my birthday are all clustered together. Depending on when Mother’s Day falls in any given year, it’s three celebrations in a span of nine to twelve days. North has commented more than once that they are the only one in the family who does not get any presents during this span of time. I clean up, with presents from multiple people on two occasions. No one actually bowed down or saluted me, but that would have been weird, and sufficient tribute was paid.

Mother’s Day Weekend: Friday and Saturday

Friday was Noah’s last day of classes and he was finished by mid-afternoon so he had time to read and vacuum and play his drums before dinner. We got pizza and gelato and watched the beginning of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds, which we drew out of the pile of index cards with the titles of films we’ve agreed to watch. There’s a complex nomination and veto process but I won’t go into that now. Coincidentally on a celebratory day for him, it was one of Noah’s picks. He’s interested in the works of Hayao Miyazaki. This the fourth of his films we’ve seen this year. (The others were The Castle of Cagliostro, Spirited Away, and Ponyo.) Anime tends toward the weird, which is part of the charm, but this one was probably the strangest of the four. I think as a whole, Miyazaki leans into the fact that it’s animation, so anything can happen. It was a little hard to follow in places, but very imaginative and visually appealing, and it had pacifist, environmental themes I appreciated.

Saturday Beth worked in the garden, digging up a weed tree stump and daffodil and tulip bulbs we’ll relocate so she could make space for a new tomato bed. North spent much of the day in Zoë’s back yard (and porch when it rained). Noah and I read about thirty pages of The Light Fantastic, one of his birthday books, from the Discworld series—over the course of the weekend we read almost half of it—and watched the last available episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. I made oatmeal-raisin muffins because we had some leftover oatmeal from breakfast and then I made some progress on The Sympathizer, which I’m reading for book club. Noah and I made vegetarian Bolognese for dinner. (Crumbled cauliflower stands in for the beef and the sauce is made rich with butter, milk, and parmesan and salty with tamari.) And then we all watched the end of Nausicaä, which was a fun way to end the day.

Mother’s Day Weekend: Sunday

We scheduled the opening of Mother’s Day’s gifts for Sunday evening because Beth had a busy day. She went grocery shopping in the morning, leaving before the kids were up, and she was home just long enough to drop off the groceries and eat lunch, then she was out of the house from one p.m. until eight p.m., because she was taking a kayaking class at Seneca Creek State Park. It’s a new kind of outdoor exercise for her and something she’s wanted to try for a while. Later she told us she saw a lot of blue herons and turtles (these were the children’s symbols at their nature-based preschool—North was the Great Blue Heron and Noah was Painted Turtle) so the kids were there “in spirit.”

While she was gone, I finished putting away the groceries, made myself a nice lunch—farmers’ market strawberries and Brie I’d put on the grocery list for just this occasion on crackers with apricot jam—and then I read the Outlook section of the Post, continued to chip away at The Sympathizer, and did some cleaning in the kitchen, not as much as I intended, but hey, it was Mother’s Day. Beth picked up takeout Burmese on her way home. I told her to choose the restaurant because my birthday would be in two days and I’d be choosing then. The restaurant was quite backed up with people waiting for takeout orders and she had to wait almost an hour.

But she finally got home with the food. When I unpacked it we found we were short a noodle salad and two orders of sticky rice. Beth called and the restaurant agreed to deliver the rest of the order. We ate our entrees and while we waited for the rest of the food to come, Beth and I opened our presents from the kids. Beth got two dark chocolate bars, coconut-almond and plain—from one of her favorite chocolate companies and a tofu press. I got a Starbucks gift card and Stephen King’s latest, Later. Because my book had gotten bent during shipping, Noah put it in the tofu press in an attempt to flatten it. Just as we were finishing, there was a knock on the door and the rest of our food arrived.

After dinner, Beth, Noah, and I watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is our normal Sunday evening activity, but also my favorite part of most weekends. (In fact, I announced at dinner that part of what I’d like for my birthday on Tuesday, was to watch an extra episode of Buffy, not on a Sunday, which seemed like a luxury.) Beth teased me right before we started the show, asking if I really wanted to watch it, saying sometimes she couldn’t tell. I maintain there’s nothing wrong with being clear about what you want.

The Day Between: Monday

Monday North went back to school, after a week at home. There continues to be no yoga in yoga, but students had the option to walk around the track and some of them, including North, did. They struck up a conversation with a girl who was also walking laps and in history, they apparently had a lot to say about redlining. In-person school is so much better for their personality and learning style—I’m happy they’re going in, even if it’s only four days out of every ten.

Another notable thing that happened that day was the Brood X cicadas started to emerge. Beth mentioned seeing some shells on the yard waste bags she’d put out for collection when she went for her early morning walk. When I went for my mid-morning one I saw a few shells on our fence and a nearby telephone pole, and a freshly emerged white cicada on a cherry tree trunk. I also saw direct and indirect evidence of cicada predation. Little sparrows were flying around with cicadas nearly as big as their heads in their beaks and the sidewalk was littered with cicada bits from messy eaters. It wasn’t until I got home, though, that I saw that in our side yard, in the little wildflower meadow I’ve instructed Noah not to mow, nearly every daisy stem had a shell or a live cicada (some turned black, some still white) on it. It was quite a sight.

I took pictures and sent Noah out with his camera to take more. When I revisited the flowers an hour or so later, it was like a buffet, with birds were swooping in from all directions and taking their lunch to the sidewalk along the side of the house to eat. The cicadas don’t seem able to fly yet, so I’ve only seen them either where they shed their shells or lumbering clumsily along the ground or sidewalk.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the Pfizer vaccine was approved for twelve-to-fifteen year olds that afternoon. Beth was right on it when she saw the notification and she thought she’d managed to snag an appointment for North after school on Wednesday. However, the system cancelled it because apparently they weren’t making appointments for under-sixteens yet. (But just a couple days later Beth was able to make another appointment for this afternoon, at Six Flags. Now between us, we’ve been vaccinated in an out-of-business furniture store, a stadium, and an amusement park.)

Beth baked my birthday cake and the frosting in the afternoon and that evening North frosted it. I’d requested a chocolate cake with cookies and cream frosting and that’s what Beth made.

Birthday: Tuesday

North went to school again on Tuesday (which still seems novel enough to mention explicitly), bearing their Japanese tea bowl, an in-progress ceramics project. Even though in-person school has meant the disappearance of yoga in yoga class, it has meant the introduction of ceramics in their ceramics class. Up to now it’s been a sculpture-with-found-materials class. I’m not quite sure why the students couldn’t have been working with clay before now, as there have been occasional days when the school distributed materials for various classes on a drive-through basis, but I am focusing on the positive. North is working with clay, which was their reason for signing up for this class. And the teacher even asked if they were an experienced potter and when North said no, he said they had a knack for it.

I had a fairly normal, if abbreviated work day. I read a Raymond Carver story on the porch for book club, rode the exercise bike, finished a blog post about a line of stress relief and sleep products. I knocked off early and Noah and I walked to North’s bus stop, which is several blocks from the house and more to the point, about halfway to a Starbucks, and I claimed my birthday reward (and bought a bunch of other items, as the kids were with me). North had to be back at the house by four for therapy and I thought the timing would all work out pretty well, but then the bus was ten minutes late, so we had to hustle. We got home with our booty (I got a chai latte and a blueberry scone) with a minute or two to spare. When North was out of therapy we watched an episode of Locke and Key, because it was dinner-making time and I wasn’t making dinner.

We ordered takeout Mexican. I didn’t even have to tell Beth I wanted the spinach enchiladas because that’s what I always get, but we also had plantains, and I got a virgin mango daiquiri, which isn’t part of my usual order. North tried one, too.

As happened on Sunday, part of the order was missing, so we ate in courses and while we waited for the rest of it to arrive, I opened presents. North made me this lovely painting of cherry blossoms (there are real dried blossoms incorporated into it), Noah got me Gods of Jade and Shadow, and Beth got me Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s Love Over and Over (which disappeared off Apple Music last summer or fall and I’ve been missing ever since) and two more books, Pull of the Stars and Station Eleven. I did ask for more books about pandemics, in case you’re wondering.

My mom called while we were eating dinner and we had a brief conversation, during which I thanked her for her gift, a Starbucks card, and she thanked me for my Mother’s Day gift, a gift tray of nuts, and later in the evening, my sister, brother-in-law, and niece called and serenaded me with their rendition of “Happy Birthday” and enquired about my day.

Beth instructed the kids to take care of their own dishes (I am the family dishwasher) and she did hers and mine and after a break for digestion, we had the delicious cake. Beth got the frosting just right, I have to say. It tasted just like the inside of an Oreo, maybe because of all the mashed up Newman’s Os in it.

And then we watched Buffy, just like I wanted.

Now the Boy is Twenty: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 39

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through

From “The Circle Game,” by Joni Mitchell

Noah’s twenty, as in two decades, as in not a teenager any more. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Okay. Ready to proceed?

This is how I opened Noah’s birthday blog post last year:

So, back in the Before Times, we thought it was sad Noah would be at school for his nineteenth birthday and we were wondering whether to order him a cake from a local bakery or if it would be better to have the cake late, but at home, where we could all partake. So, that’s a decision we won’t have to make until next spring. (He’ll be at school a year from now, right?)

Well, that decision got kicked back another year. Noah’s at home, has been at home for almost fourteen months. And it does seem as if his college experience has lost some grandeur coming true so far, but there are two years left and he will be back on campus next year. He’s registered for classes and he has a housing assignment. He’s taking Cinema Production II, Media Law and Politics, Utopias and Dystopias in Emerging Media, and Band for non-music majors.

The loss of a year plus half a semester on campus makes me glad we encouraged him not to graduate in three years. He had enough AP credit to do it, but the timing of the required classes for his major would have made it difficult. All that work taking AP classes in high school wasn’t for nothing, though. It got some requirements out of the way and allowed him to take the classes he wanted to take right off the bat, plus he can take a slightly lighter class load, which is good for our deep but slow thinker. His thirteen-credit schedule for next semester reminds me of when he was in seventh grade and having a challenging year academically and Beth asked him what his ideal class schedule would be and he said, “All media and band.” So, eight years later, he’ll be living the dream.

He’ll be living in an on-campus apartment with a roommate. He’s never met the roommate– they were matched by the college. All he knows about him is that he’s a non-smoker from New Jersey. It will be nice for him to have a little more space and a kitchen, though he’s going to stay on the meal plan at least for the fall semester.

Noah’s birthday was yesterday. The timing wasn’t ideal. It’s the last week of classes before finals and Monday is his busiest day. All four of his classes meet, the first one starting at nine a.m. and the last one finishing at 8:30 p.m., so it makes for a long day. In the morning I asked him if he thought he could take a break to go for a walk get his Starbucks birthday reward from the one closest to our house and he said no, so I offered to pick it up for him if he ordered it on the app, as I had to go to the post office and that would take me near a different Starbucks. While I was there getting his guava-passionfruit drink and lemon pound cake, I got myself a birthday cake pop, because it was someone’s birthday, if not mine. But I didn’t get a drink because I wanted to get a Thai iced tea from Kin-Da. Beth and I had Thai for dinner the night I went into labor with Noah (two decades ago!) and now I have Thai food on or near his birthday whenever I can. Since I can no longer have caffeinated drinks at dinner if I want to sleep at night, I usually steer clear of Thai iced tea, even though I am fond of it. So I was pleased to have an opportunity to have it around noon instead.

Around 5:35, at my encouragement, Noah took a study break and went down to the basement to practice his drums for twenty minutes. He’s taking online lessons at the local music school and doesn’t practice as much as when he was in a highly ranked high school band with a driven teacher, but I’m always glad when he does because I think it’s good stress relief for him.

For dinner we got takeout from Noodles and Company because it’s one of Noah’s favorites. I got the Pad Thai, of course. He got buttered noodles with broccoli and tofu, which is his standard order (well, sometimes he gets carrots instead of broccoli). Then he opened his presents. He got a fancy tripod with flexible legs that you can wrap around irregularly shaped things like tree branches, gift cards for Amazon, Starbucks, and Panera, and five books: The Magicians trilogy, (which I thought would be fun, since we watched the television series early in the pandemic), the second book in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and The Space Between Worlds. When we were done, he went back into his room to attend his last class of the day.

After he emerged, we had cake and ice cream. Beth made the cake, chocolate with fresh strawberry frosting, a family favorite, and North frosted it. It was delicious, as always. My mom, who has now been a grandmother for two decades, called to convey her birthday greetings shortly after we finished eating.

Noah got his second shot last Friday (in the Ravens’ stadium again), so by the time he’s finished his finals a week and a half from now, he’ll be fully vaccinated. He’ll be heading out to Wheeling to visit Beth’s mom until Memorial Day for some well-deserved R&R.

When he gets back, I hope he leaves the house more often than he has been. At the very least he’s got some money to spend at Starbucks and Panera. I also hope we’ll go back to hiking in nearby parks and flying the drone on the weekends like we did last summer and fall because I really enjoyed that, and he did, too. And he may have a summer job, assisting the local filmmaker who he worked with on Hugo Cabret’s Big Fix last fall. Mike is married to one of Beth’s colleagues at CWA and Noah’s worked with him on a few other small projects over the last several years, starting with filming the CWA contingent at the Women’s March in 2017. When Beth ran into Mike at a rally in support of the PRO Act (to protect the right to organize) last weekend, Mike said he was short-handed and he thought he could employ Noah. It’s not for sure yet, but I’m hoping it works out. It sounds like the perfect way to spend his last few months at home.

And when he goes back to school, he’ll have new dreams, maybe better dreams to pursue.