Ready for Fifteen: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 35

A few weeks ago, North said that sometimes when they have a birthday they feel as if they just had one, but now “I feel like I’ve been fourteen forever. I’m ready for fifteen-year-old North.”  Well, fifteen-year-old North is here, as of Tuesday.

They did not have a slumber party this year, just as they did not last year, for the obvious reason. The first time it happened we felt really sorry for them, thinking their birthday poorly timed, and we made promises about a make-up slumber party later, even as they celebrated with their friends, who came one at a time to visit with them on the porch and eat cake. Now that everyone in the world has had a pandemic birthday, it doesn’t seem like as much of a hardship, although I suppose those of us with spring (and summer?) birthdays will have the misfortune of having two pandemic birthdays. Anyway, North traded the make-up slumber party for an outdoor half-birthday party (with several guests allowed to come simultaneously) in late September, when it had become apparent that restrictions weren’t ending any time soon.

Saturday Afternoon: S’mores

For North’s fifteenth birthday, they had two small celebrations. Over a month ago, Beth made a reservation for one of Montgomery County’s Picnic in the Parks Warm Up Days for the Saturday before North’s birthday. You can rent a portable firepit and up to six chairs or a picnic table with a patio heater for an hour and a half in one of two parks. County employees come by periodically to tend the fire for you.  The program started in February and the last one is next Saturday. I think all the slots are reserved, but it might be worth checking for cancellations if you’re interested. There was one empty firepit when we were there and neither of the tables was in use.

North decided they wanted the whole family to attend. That left two more people and after Zoë, they couldn’t think of anyone they wanted to invite without leaving other people out, so we were a party of five. When Zoë’s dad dropped her off, North yelled across the parking lot, “Look, it’s my best friend!”

Wheaton Local Park is a narrow field between Georgia Avenue and the Wheaton Public Library parking lot. Its winter-brown grass was dotted with campfires ringed with people. At first it felt funny to have a campfire so close to a busy thoroughfare and not a more sylvan location, but eventually you forgot about the traffic and focused on being outside on a beautiful day with a fire to watch (or I did). We didn’t really need the fire for heat, though, as the day was sunny and in the fifties. Most of us didn’t even wear jackets and Zoë was in a t-shirt.

We’d brought takeout from California Tortilla and so we ate that, and then we made S’mores. The fire was really hot, which made it hard to toast the marshmallows without burning them. My first attempt was black and bubbly on the outside and reasonably melted inside and my second was perfectly browned on the outside and raw inside. North achieved perfection after abandoning their first, burned marshmallow, which Zoë deemed good enough to eat. Noah busily made and ate more S’mores than I could count.

Noah took some pictures and when I told North and Zoë to put their masks back on so they could get closer, I said something I sometimes say to my kids when I take a picture of them together—“Look like you like each other.”

“We do like each other!” North exclaimed. And they do. They’ve know each other since they were on a kindergarten basketball team together, the Pandas, as long-time readers may recall. (Zoë was only on the team that first season, but North was a Panda through fifth grade and the team went on to play for three more years.) North and Zoë became good friends after attending basketball camp together the summer they were six and they’ve been best friends since sixth grade. While we sat by the fire, they reminisced about the Spanish immersion trip they took to Colombia the spring of seventh grade and talked about which classes they like this year and which ones they don’t like and what they will take next year in tenth grade. A (mostly fond) conversation about the mother of a mutual friend left me wondering if North’s friends ever talk about me, and if so, what they say.

If they do, they probably say that I am very strict about what movies and television North can watch. North mentioned that when they turn fifteen they can watch some carefully selected R-rated movies and Zoë said they watched Spinal Tap when they were ten, but she didn’t understand it. I said Noah’s first R-rated movie was probably something he watched for school because he was assigned to watch a lot of movies when he was in a communications magnet in high school and he said, yes, it was The Matrix, which he watched in ninth grade. North went on to list their first PG-13 movie, School of Rock, which I let them watch when they were eleven because they were acting in the play (they had to wait two years to watch any others), and their first PG movie, which was Frozen, which they had to wait to see for several months after it came out because they weren’t eight yet, even though all their friends had already seen it. I think this kind of deprivation helps build character or perhaps it will fuel their art when they return to acting.

Tuesday Morning: Caramel Macchiato

Three days later, North turned fifteen. They dressed for the occasion in a lavender long-sleeved t-shirt and a short gray jumper, both of which are hand-me-downs from me. I recently let them shop my closet because I have a lot of clothes I don’t wear anymore, but it’s still startling to see them in those clothes, especially the jumper, which I mostly wore during the Clinton administration. It drives it home how much closer they are to being in their twenties than I am.

In between their sculpture and biology classes, we walked to Starbucks so they could claim their birthday reward. They had their first cup of coffee, another new fifteen-year-old privilege. They got a caramel macchiato and a doughnut. I had a latte and a birthday cake pop because I can be literal like that. On the walk there we talked about past birthdays, when they were two and had an Easter birthday (which they say they remember), when they were five and the birthday theme was butterflies and birds and we took their birthday party guests on a birdwatching walk, and their first slumber party, when they were eight. They said wistfully that they hope to have another slumber party someday.

Tuesday Afternoon and Evening: Cake

After school, Zoë, Miles, and Maddie came over for cake. It was another warm and sunny day, which was a stroke of luck as the weather can be iffy this time of year. The guests arrived at three and around three-thirty, Beth, Noah, and I joined them in the back yard for cake, ice cream, and lemonade. The cake was strawberry with strawberry-cream cheese frosting and as I was setting out plates, forks, glasses, etc., Zoë was talking up Beth’s cake, saying she always makes good cakes for North’s birthdays. I guess she’d know, having been to all of North’s birthday parties since first grade. While they ate the cake, North and their guests reminisced about Rainbow Alliance at the middle school North and Zoë used to attend and Miles and Maddie still do (well, virtually). They were all members and it’s where they became a friend group. After we’d finished our cake, the mothers and brother went back inside.

I made a tater tot-topped vegetarian chicken casserole for dinner, because it’s a favorite of North’s. They opened presents after dinner. They’d already received money from both grandmothers. First they opened a set of scented candles from one of their friends: lavender, fig, lemon, and spring. Noah wanted to know if that last one smelled like asparagus, but North said it was floral. Next they opened a graphic novel from my sister and chocolate frogs from Noah, which he got because North liked the ones they got for Valentine’s Day (they come with Harry Potter character trading cards), a tie-dyed t-shirt in rainbow stripes, some red-and-white striped summer pajamas, and a rose and black modest bathing suit from me and Beth. But the big hit was a membership to the Donor Sibling Registry, which they can use to locate and contact half-siblings from their donor. This is something they’ve been wanting to do for a while. That evening the kids had seconds on cake while we watched the first hour of Boy Erased, North’s first rated-R movie. We’ll try to finish it sometime this week.

After two low-key birthdays, North says for their sixteenth birthday they want to “go all out.” I’m not sure what that means, but I guess we have a year to find out. Still, there was plenty of sweetness in this one and not just the sugary treats.

By the Numbers: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 31

So…. there’s certainly been a lot going on, but as you can probably get all the political analysis you need elsewhere, I’ll stick to our domestic goings-on for the most part. In between the shocking assault on the Capitol and the inauguration, we had a small celebration and a weekend getaway.

Anniversary: 01-11-21

On the second Monday of January, North looked up from their computer screen and asked me why I was so dressed up. For the record, I was wearing a white button-down shirt and tan corduroys. That’s what passes for dressed up around here. “It’s a special day,” I said, and gestured for them to turn their attention back to their English class.

Around lunchtime, they asked again. Apparently, my first answer wasn’t good enough. It was Beth’s and my winter anniversary, the double one, twenty-nine years since our commitment ceremony and eight years since our legal marriage. I didn’t notice this until after the fact, but the date, 01-11-21, makes a pleasing pattern.

But as North pointed out, we weren’t going anywhere. Beth and I would be working in separate rooms and she “would barely see” me.

Anniversaries during covid are tricky, or they have been for us. This was our second one as we celebrate our dating anniversary in July. (Not wanting to have three anniversaries was part of the reason we got married on an existing one.) During that last one, North was hospitalized (the first hospitalization of three last summer) and we basically skipped it, exchanging gifts well after the fact. All we had planned for this one was cake—I make the spice cake we had at our commitment ceremony every year—and presents, but at least these would be exchanged on the actual day.

I made sautéed Brussels sprouts and white beans for dinner because these are two of Beth’s favorite foods. North helped me with the cake frosting and in between dinner and cake, we opened gifts. I got Beth a mortar and pestle because she’d recently said the one we had is too shallow and she got me Red Hot and Blue, an album we used to have that wasn’t available until recently on Apple Music. It’s a thirty-year old collection of Cole Porter remakes that was an AIDS benefit. I’d been missing Annie Lennox’s version of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” for years. I played part of the album while I did the dishes, and then we all played a text adventure. Normally, we’d go to dinner or a movie (or both) to celebrate our anniversary, but as we got married in our living room, maybe that was an appropriate place to end the day, with everyone who was there (minus the officiant).

Ocean City

Friday: 21842

Four days later we were on the road and the reason was indirectly related to North’s aforementioned health troubles. In August, my friend Megan offered us a three-day, off-season stay in an oceanfront condo in Ocean City she’d won at a school fundraising auction. She said we deserved a get-away after all we’d been through last summer—North’s paralysis and seizures, the car that crashed through our fence, our cat’s death. Beth was a little reluctant to accept such an extravagant gift, but she said it was up to me, and my answer to Megan was “Hell yeah!”

Speaking of North’s health, I haven’t done an update in a while, so here’s the current situation in a nutshell: They’ve been able to walk normally for a few months, but have pain that was recently diagnosed as fibromyalgia, so on longer walks they sometimes use crutches or the walker. They are trying to exercise every day for a half hour. The urinary issues have been cleared up since early November. They still have non-epileptic seizures, sometimes several a day, but often none for several days in a row. Overall, they seem to be getting less frequent. For the past couple months, they’ve also had some verbal tics, in which they involuntarily say things like “woo hoo” “hello there,” or “good morning.”

So, back to the beach. We arrived at the condo a little after six and after we’d explored it, admiring the stunning ocean views in the upstairs bedroom and the living room and bay views in the kids’ bedroom, Beth went out to get some groceries and pick up pizza for dinner. While we were trying to figure out if we in a delivery area for Grotto we needed the zip code and had to look it up. Only later did we notice Ocean City’s zip code—21842—was on a piece of art on the kitchen wall. I found this amusing.

I unpacked food and distributed linens while Beth was procuring more food. After we ate, I sat on the balcony, nineteen stories up in the air, and watched the waves crash on the shore for a half hour until I got chilled and had to come in and watch the ocean from my bedroom window instead. While I was doing this, Beth and North watched The Fosters.

Saturday: 99th to 119th & Inlet to 3rd 

The next morning all I had to do was reach out and part the drapes to see the ocean. I didn’t even need to get out of bed. I did eventually, though, and ate breakfast and went down to the beach for an almost two-hour walk. It had been foggy when I first woke up, but eventually the sun broke through the clouds. When it hit the sea foam on the sand it turned it opalescent with pinks, purples, and greens. I watched a seagull hunt and eat a fish, or part of a fish, as it set it down too close to the water and its meal was swept away before it could finish. I actually saw this exact same thing happen twice. It made me wonder why they don’t take their prey to the dunes the way I often see osprey do.

Ocean City is a lot different than Rehoboth, architecturally speaking. It’s high rise after high rise, with the occasional smaller building tucked between or in front of the mammoth ones. When I set out on my walk, I studied our building, so I wouldn’t miss it on my way back, but this turned out to be an overabundance of caution, because 1) there are regular signs that tell you what intersection you’re at, and 2) the buildings are more different than I thought, both in height (ours at twenty-five stories was one of the taller ones), color, and materials, but also shape. Most are rectangular, but one was in a horseshoe shape and a couple were wedge-shaped, to allow for units with side views. At one point while I was looking at the buildings and comparing them, I did something I would have told the kids never to do, at least not in January. I turned my back on the ocean while quite close to it and got soaked almost to my knees. I considered going home at that point, but it wasn’t that cold—mid-forties and sunny—so I kept going.

I discovered a path that ran for a long stretch parallel to the ocean, between the dunes and the high rises, with regular intersecting paths for beach access. I found a snack bar and public restrooms (both closed) and various playgrounds and empty swimming pools, most of which wasn’t visible from the beach. It was like a little secret world and I was pleased to discover it. At one point the path rose slightly and you could see over the dunes. I noticed a surfer in a wetsuit, so I stayed and watched him ride the waves for a while. By this point I’d come twenty (very short) blocks, from 99th street to 119th, so I turned back.

At home I changed into dry pants and socks and left my wet things on the balcony and had an early lunch since my walk had left me hungry.

In the afternoon, Beth, North, and I went to the boardwalk. Noah had a paper to write for his film and philosophy winter term course, so he stayed at the condo. We weren’t sure what, if anything, would be open, as we’ve only been to Ocean City twice before, both times in the spring. The answer was, surprisingly, a lot of indoor entertainment (arcades, Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium, and the mirror maze), but not much food. I would have guessed the other way around since many of the stalls are open air and seem safer. Anyway, we didn’t go into any arcades or Ripley’s, though North said wistfully they would like to go back there someday.

Thrasher’s was one of the few food vendors open and I could have gone for some hot, vinegary fries, as I’d put my still-damp shoes back on and I was feeling chilly. Also, we didn’t get fries on the boardwalk when we were at the beach over Thanksgiving and it felt like a missed opportunity. But I have never seen such a long line for Thrasher’s, maybe half a city block long, and I didn’t want fries that badly. We did find a funnel cake place and North got one.  There was an open Candy Kitchen, too, and I popped in to get some treats for everyone, after waiting in line outside because only ten customers could be inside at once. Beth was hoping to find ice cream and for some reason (it was a cool, cloudy afternoon in January perhaps?) no ice cream stalls were open, so we stopped on the way home at an ice cream place on the highway and she got a sundae. There were at least two signs near the window where you order that said “No profanity” which made us wonder what had happened to make that necessary. Beth joked about ordering “fucking coffee ice cream with god-dammed Oreos.” 

The whole time we were on the boardwalk, I kept remembering the time the kids got lost there, when they were six and almost eleven. Everything reminded me of it—the benches where we sat and ate ice cream right beforehand, all the sunken restaurant patios where I looked for them in a blind panic. This was a less eventful visit and I did not mind that one bit.

At home, Noah continued to write his paper and North did a little homework and drew Harry Potter characters with a drawing program they like while Beth read The New Yorker and I read The Winter Soldier, which my book club is discussing tomorrow. It takes place in WWI field hospital and does a good job of making you really glad you never worked in a WWI field hospital.  We ordered Italian takeout for dinner and then Noah and I finished I, Robot and after that Beth, North, and I watched an episode of The Gilmore Girls.

Sunday: 99th to 79th & 40 Feet 

It was clearer when the sun rose the next day and the light that came through the gap at the top of the curtains threw a vivid orange triangle on the wall, near the ceiling and filled the room with a rosy glow. I pushed the fabric aside and saw orange-red ball that seemed to rise out of the water.  Beth and I were both awake by seven-thirty but we lazed in bed for a while before we got up. I made myself a hearty breakfast—a broccoli and Monterrey Jack omelet, veggie bacon, grapefruit, and orange juice. Fortified, I went for another long walk on the beach.

Since I’d gone twenty blocks north the day before, I decided to go twenty blocks south this time, down to 79th Street. Noah said he was going to follow me with the drone and I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not, but I didn’t see it. Later he told me by the time he got it set up it was too windy to fly it as far away as I’d gotten.

On my walk I saw a building that looked like a Mayan pyramid and one that looked like a spaceship, also a Little Free Library at a dune crossing, which is about the most delightful location for a Little Free Library I have ever seen. In the last five blocks or so of my walk the high rises petered out and there were more two and three-story buildings. Coming back, I found a beach chair someone had left around 84th Street and sat in it for ten minutes or so, watching the ocean.

Back at the house, Noah and I read the first seven chapters of Trail of Lightning, a story about a Navajo monster hunter operating in a post-apocalyptic landscape. (Psst, Allison, I think this might be up your alley.) Beth made a Chipotle run because North wanted a burrito, but everyone else ate leftovers or other food we had in the condo. 

A little before two, we left for Assateauge Island National Seashore in search of the famed wild horses and some pretty trails to hike. We’ve been to this park twice before (the last time on the same trip when the kids got lost on the Ocean City boardwalk) so I was confident we’d find both. There were plenty of signs forbidding feeding the horses or getting closer than forty feet to them, but we saw people doing both. Some people were throwing apples out their car windows and we saw a half-eaten pumpkin and some stubs of carrots left along one of the trails.

We hiked the marsh, forest, and dune trails. North only felt up to one and chose the forest trail, waiting for us in the car while we were on the other trails. They chose wisely as it was the only trail where we saw a horse. Or more likely, they just got lucky because based on the presence of horse poop, the horses roam all three trails, and the roads, and the parking lots and pretty much everywhere in the park. The horse in question was reddish-brown with a shaggy coat and a flaxen mane. It was grazing in a marshy area just outside the forest.

Even though we didn’t see horses on the other trails, we saw some very lovely landscapes. As we drove across the narrow bridge off the island, looking at the late afternoon light on the water, I felt a little drunk with the beauty of the world.

We picked up Starbucks on the drive home. At the condo, North worked on Japanese, and then we watched Locke and Key, while Beth made Pad Thai for dinner. This was the first installment in what qualifies for me as tv/movie bingeing. After dinner, Beth, Noah, and I watched Predestination, which he needed to watch for class. The professor is on a time-travel movie kick. They’re also studying The Time Traveler’s Wife, Back to the Future, and Time Crimes. It’s enough to make me wonder if she wrote her dissertation on time travel films. Anyway, have you seen Predestination? It’s something else and I can’t explain why without major spoilers. We rounded out the evening with an episode of Buffy because it’s our Sunday show and Noah didn’t want to skip a week.

Monday: Countless Gulls & 21 Waves 

The next morning when I pulled aside the curtain to peek at the sunrise, there was a band of dark clouds on the horizon, but you could see where the rising sun was because threads of reddish orange light leaked through cracks in the clouds. It looked like molten lava under black rock.

Usually on the morning we leave a beach house, it’s all hustle bustle, but we had no set checkout time, so we were more relaxed. After breakfast, Noah flew his drone off the balcony again and then we read a chapter of our monster-hunter book. We packed up everything but the kitchen, since we’d be eating lunch at the condo, and then Noah and I took a walk through a bayside neighborhood intersected with canals. There was no beach access except through private property, but we were able to get pretty close to the water and we saw an egret in a marshy area. There was a huge flock of seagulls floating on the water and we could hear their cries, even from far away. As we were walking back the sound changed to a loud rustling. We both turned around to see the whole flock rising into the air. Noah was quick with his camera and got a shot of them.

We ate lunch and finished packing up and moving out. (North was quite taken with the building’s garbage chute.) We drove to the boardwalk and found the line for Thrasher’s much shorter so I got in it, while Beth went to get funnel cake and some dark chocolate almond bark, and we sat on a bench and ate our treats. Beth walked on the boardwalk and along the edge of the closed-for-the-season amusement park while North and I went down to the water. We’d had a long discussion about whether the kids should put their feet in the water, per the Lovelady-Allen Goodbye-to-the-Ocean ritual, because none of us was sure whether this was just a Rehoboth tradition or if it applied to other beaches. I think we might have come to a different conclusion if it wasn’t January and if had been able to locate my rainboots before this trip, but North and I decided we’d stand at the shore and count twenty-one waves without actually standing in them, and I put my hand in the water for the first and last one, thinking more than that would pretty much guarantee I’d soak the shoes that had just dried out.

Around three o’clock, we left the boardwalk and drove home. We crossed the Bay Bridge around 5:25, just as the sunset was starting to fade. I felt very content. But there was more happiness just two days later, because of course, the number that has most of our attention now is forty-six.

Inauguration: 46

Beth, North, and I watched the inauguration together. North had an early dismissal and was finished with classes around 11:25, but Noah’s 11:30 class went on as scheduled, so he had to miss it. We turned on the television during Amy Klobuchar’s speech and we watched the rest of the ceremony: Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Garth Brooks singing the national anthem, “This Land is My Land,” and “Amazing Grace” and the startling youthful and talented Amanda Gorman reciting “The Hill We Climb.” We spotted many former Presidents in the audience. We watched Justice Sotomayor swear in Vice President Kamala Harris and Chief Justice Roberts swear in President Joe Biden.

Let’s just pause and take in those last three words—President Joe Biden. It was an unusual inauguration, even more heavily guarded than usual, sparsely attended as these things go, with the audience all masked and on the lawn at least, seated in distanced clumps. The parade was tiny. There will be no inaugural balls tonight. But in the end, the pomp of an inauguration isn’t the point, it’s the peaceful transfer of power from one President to another. And after January 6, I was not taking the peaceful part for granted.

In other ways, it was a completely normal inauguration. In his address, our new President sounded hopeful and determined, coherent and rational. He sounded like a President. That’s something we haven’t heard in a long time. I was more than ready for it.

Tonight Beth and I watched the inaugural concert on the mall on television, eating chocolate-peanut butter ice cream because we read somewhere that’s Biden’s favorite flavor. At the very end, when Katy Perry sang “Firework,” we could actually hear the fireworks that were going off behind the Washington Monument. The broadcast must have been on a delay because we heard them start before they did on tv. It reminded me that on January 6, we could hear the helicopters heading for the Capitol. That’s the distance we’ve travelled in two weeks.

 

Go Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 27

Saturday

When we passed the statue of Jesus with his arms raised at the intersection of Piney Branch and New Hampshire Avenues, I said softly to Beth, “Go beach.” We pass that statue just five or ten minutes in the trip to the beach and North always said that when they were little and we’d drive by it, even though most of the times we passed it we were not in fact headed for the beach but on some more mundane errand.

It had been stressful for Beth getting out of the house, figuring out how to fit everything we’d need for a week in the car around the wheelchair, walker, and shower chair. She wasn’t in the best mood, but she gave me a little smile anyway.

But as the kids disappeared into their headphones, she and I listened to a playlist of 60s hits from a podcast she listens to and by the time we got to the Taco Bell and Dairy Queen just past the Bay Bridge around 2:15, she seemed more cheerful. We got a late lunch from the drive-through windows and ate it at the picnic tables outside the DQ. This is our new pandemic beach drive tradition. I guess it’s a tradition, as we’ve done it twice now and as a family we form traditions easily. Noah and I got pumpkin pie-flavored confections because this was a Thanksgiving trip. (Though the kids both had classes through Tuesday and Beth and I were going to work, too, so it was going to be something of a busman’s holiday.)

We rolled into Rehoboth about 4:45, picked up the keys for the house in a box outside the realty, and drove to the house. It’s the same one where we stayed in July, so the wood-paneled walls and soaring ceiling in the dining room were a familiar and welcome sight. I knew just where the hook was to hang my mask when I walked in the front door.

After we’d unpacked, North and I walked down to the beach for a quick hello. I stood briefly with the toes of my rain boots in the foamy water, but stepped back so I wouldn’t end up with soaked feet, as they were ankle boots. It was cloudy but we could still see a lot of stars and something golden in the sky that might have been a planet.

Beth went out to pick up some groceries for breakfast and Grandpa Mac’s for dinner. I got the mac-n-cheese with broccoli, celery, and mushrooms mixed in; I never get anything else, though I vary the vegetables. We watched the middle third of The Castle of Cagliostro, an anime film we’d started the night before at home.

Sunday

The next morning we ate breakfast and menu planned for the week so Beth could go on the main grocery shopping trip of the week. She wanted to try out their curbside delivery system but after she’d filled out the form it said there were no pickup slots available, so that was disappointing. Before she left to go shopping, she went for a walk on the boardwalk.

North and I took also took a walk around the same time. It was a nice day, mild and sunny. North wore a sweater and I was wearing jeans and a wool shirt; neither of us needed a jacket. It’s a short walk from our house to the beach, only a block, but I was still encouraged they’d made it down there twice without any mobility device because they’ve had some setbacks with pain recently, which is why we had to bring the wheelchair and the walker. Beth’s making an appointment at the pain clinic soon. I have a feeling a new round of physical therapy may be in their future.

When North was ready to go back to the house, I walked them there and then turned back to the beach because I wanted a longer walk. I spent almost two hours rambling down the beach and boardwalk and then sitting on the sand with my back resting against the fence the divides the beach from the beach grass. It wasn’t too crowded and virtually everyone on the boardwalk was wearing a mask—it’s required there. On the beach, where it’s not, it was more like half and half.

I was particularly charmed by two little girls who winter hats on but were barefoot and barelegged up to the knees, wearing matching flowered capris. They were running up to the water, getting their feet wet, running back to the sand and jumping in a big puddle the tide left there. Their joy (and constant movement) reminded me of my own kids when they were small and on the beach and made me a bit nostalgic for those days.

I went back to the house to eat lunch and read three chapters of The Fated Sky and watch a couple episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale with Noah. By 4:15, I was ready to hit the beach again and North wanted to come, too. This time we took the walker and went further down the boardwalk. And again, when they wanted to go home, I walked them home and went right back. I was out until well after dark, sitting on a bench on a stretch of boardwalk where the dry grass was short enough to see over and watching the white tops of the waves shining in the glow the streetlights cast on the beach.

Beth made chili and cornbread for dinner, then we finally finished The Castle of Cagliostro. My favorite thing about it was the setting of the castle, which is very well realized. Then we watched a couple episodes of Blackish. We’re at the end of season 3, just about up to the part where Zoey goes to college.

And speaking of college, the day before we left for the beach, Noah had to decide whether to go back to Ithaca in the spring. Three of the four classes he registered for are meeting entirely online, the cafeterias are going to operate on a grab-and-go basis, and his best friend is not going to be on campus, so he decided to stay home. One thing that made the decision hard was the one in-person class was Cinema Production II, which can be hard to get into and which is important for his course of study. Still, it didn’t seem worth a semester of taking classes and eating meals mostly in his dorm room when he could be taking classes from his room at home, where the food’s better and he’d at least have his family to keep him company.

I’m really sad for him, not being on campus for a quarter of his first year of college and the whole second year. I just hope with two (or is it three now?) new vaccines on the horizon and the promise of real leadership at the federal level, he’ll be able to go back for his junior year next fall. He’s already decided if he goes abroad it will be in his senior year so he can have a whole, uninterrupted year on campus. And I hope he gets into CP II again, so he can get more use out of the film studios that drew him to Ithaca in the first place.

Birthday

Monday was Beth’s birthday and it was such a complicated day we needed to write down the schedule. Everyone had work or school, but in addition, North wanted to go out for bagels for breakfast, I had to pick up the birthday cake I’d ordered for Beth’s birthday from the bakery, we were going to get takeout Italian for lunch and have a picnic, plus go to Starbucks for Beth’s birthday reward. In the afternoon, we had a virtual teacher-parent conference with North’s new English teacher (the original one quit early in the school year and they had a medium-term sub until a long-term sub was hired). After that, we were going to do a Christmas card photo shoot on the beach. Finally, I was making breaded tofu sticks and applesauce for dinner, which Beth had requested for her birthday dinner, followed by cake and presents.

So the day went more or less like that, with some minor variations. North and I left the house for the bagel place at eight, shortly after I rolled out of bed, so they could be home by nine for their English class. But it turns out it’s only open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the off season, so we came home without bagels. I can’t say I minded much as a morning walk on the boardwalk is never amiss and I was just as happy to eat cranberry granola at home.

I worked on a technical sales sheet for a blood pressure supplement on the screened porch in the morning and then Beth drove me to the bakery to get her cake—a chocolate cake with cookies-and-cream frosting and mini Oreos on top. I might have gone to get it in a sneakier fashion, but while we were still in Takoma the bakery returned my call and she’d picked up the phone, so there wasn’t much point in secrecy after that. Soon after Beth and Noah went to pick up the Italian takeout, which took longer than we expected to be ready so there wasn’t time for a picnic before our parent-teacher conference. We’d requested one because the teacher was new and we wanted to explain more about the accommodations in North’s 504 plan. He seemed very nice and was impressively fluent with North’s pronouns.

After that, Beth and North walked to Starbucks and brought home treats for everyone. I got a latte and a doughnut. I worked some more and then took a walk on the beach and Noah and I read a little before I started cooking dinner. (We didn’t do our Christmas card photo shoot that afternoon because Noah wanted to use his drone to take some of the pictures and it was windy.)

After we’d eaten dinner, we had cake and ice cream and Beth opened her presents. I got her a pair of pajama bottoms with Peanuts characters on them, Noah got her a bottle of fancy olive oil, and North got her some French drinking chocolate. She seemed pleased with the cake and presents. She just turned fifty-four, so I’m hoping her fifty-fifth year will be better than this past one (on many fronts). I’m feeling optimistic that it will be.

The birthday girl chose the evening’s entertainment, so we watched The Animaniacs before splitting up to watch The Handmaid’s Tale (Noah and me) and The Crown (Beth). Beth and North also took a walk down to the beach to look at the stars in a clearer sky than when North and I took our night walk.

Tuesday

Beth, North, and I went on another breakfast expedition at eight, this time to Café a-Go-Go, where we got takeout coffee, hot chocolate, and pastries and had a nice walk on the boardwalk. It was well past sunrise when we set out, but the light still looked new and golden and where it touched the swelling waves it turned them a translucent green.

We ate at home, supplementing our sweets with eggs, yogurt, and banana. I settled into my corner-of-the-porch office again to work. North’s last class for the week was over around eleven and Noah’s just before three, which was around the time I finished the sales sheet. The kids still had homework, but I was finished with work for the week, and happy about it.

It was less windy, so once North woke from an afternoon nap, we headed down to the beach and Beth and Noah took turns taking pictures of us in pairs or all together (using the drone for the group shots). It was a sunny day and the sea was a brilliant blue. I’d told the kids to pack red or green clothes but I hadn’t said anything to Beth because often the photos on the card are just the kids. When I decided it would be nice to have all of us, I was pleased that I happened to have a red flannel shirt and Beth had a green sweater, so we made a festive mix. We did some photos with masks because I thought it said something about the past year, but in the end we decided not to use any of those. After we were finished, Noah and I strolled up the boardwalk to Funland so he could fly the drone over it because North wanted to know what it looked like in the off season.

North made Mushroom Wellington for dinner, which other than Thanksgiving, was the fanciest dinner we had all week. After dinner we looked at the drone footage and noted with interest which rides at Funland have been stored off the premises and which are still there but partly disassembled. The drone is really the gift that keeps on giving. Beth made a fire and we roasted marshmallows for S’mores and watched the last episode of season 3 of Blackish, the one in which DeVante is born. Sorry for the spoiler if you, like us, are three and a half years behind in this show.

Wednesday

Wednesday was a little less busy than the last two days. We ordered takeout from Egg for breakfast (I got pumpkin praline French toast) and Japanese for lunch (I got seaweed salad and udon noodles with vegetables and tofu). While we were still at home and planning the trip, Beth and I decided we’d only get takeout for dinner two nights and cook all the other nights, but we failed to specify how many times we’d get takeout for breakfast and lunch and once we were there everyone had favorites they wanted to have, so we ended up getting takeout more days than not and sometimes twice in a day. It might have been because we weren’t going to do a lot of the things we often do on this trip, like going to the holiday sing-along or shopping in the downtown stores on Black Friday, so this was something we could do.

In between breakfast and lunch, Noah and I read a couple chapters of our book, and after lunch and a conference call Beth had to attend, we made a foray into downtown Rehoboth. Beth, Noah, and I got pumpkin-cinnamon frozen custard at Kohr’s stand and North got ice cream on a some kind of European pancake-like confection. We made stops at several stores we decided we would visit: 1) Candy Kitchen where I went in alone with a list of what everyone wanted, 2) the bookstore, where Noah and I had placed orders for Christmas gifts online ahead of time and picked them up at the counter, and 3) a store or maybe two North wanted to visit and could not identify because it was to get something for me, but Beth approved and accompanied them.

I was in and out of the bookstore pretty quickly, but I was there long enough to see the store had gone all in for its native son President-elect. As I stood at the counter which also had a big display of President Obama’s new book and some RBG merchandise, I heard one harried sounding staff member tell another she had to go to the “Biden table” to see if they had sold out of “I’m a Biden Girl” hats. I also spied Biden earrings (in case you wanted his face dangling from your earlobes) and—I swear I am not making this up—Joe Biden scented candles. I was trying not to touch things I wasn’t buying so I didn’t find out what it smelled like, but the label said it was “just like that weird dream you had.” Later I read this article in the Post about how Rehoboth, where Biden has a vacation house, has gone kind of Biden-crazy and I learned the candle smells like orange Gatorade, which I’m guessing is a favorite of his. Anyway, if you’re fond of Rehoboth or Biden, the article is worth a read. It was fun to hear the owners of so many businesses we frequent (Browseabout, Egg, the soap store) talk about him.

Noah and I headed back to the house, laden with candy and books, and he did some homework while I puttered about for a while, attending to the three loads of laundry I had going, and just before dark headed down to the beach to watch the sunset. It was a cloudy afternoon and when I got there the sky was white and light gray, gradually darkening to slate with a smudge of pink at the horizon. I sat on the sand for about a half hour and then walked a little on the boardwalk, watching the moon’s bright edge occasionally slip out from behind the clouds and then slide back.

Noah made pasta for dinner and afterward he needed to work on an assignment for his audio production class that was due that evening, so Beth and North watched The Fosters while I curled up on the couch with a comforter and some escapist fiction. I’ve been reading this rather long book for two months and I’m only about two-thirds of the way through it so maybe I will still be reading it at Christmas.

Thanksgiving

North made pumpkin cinnamon rolls with maple-cream cheese frosting for breakfast, which we ate with veggie sausage. The morning and early afternoon were rainy and Noah was taking a day off from homework, so we spent a few hours reading our book and watching The Handmaid’s Tale. We are close to the end of the third season and if you’ve seen it you know some episodes are almost unbearably suspenseful. When we finish it’s going to be hard to wait for the new season, which doesn’t even have a release date yet, though it’s supposed to be sometime next year, maybe spring.

I went down to the beach to sit and watch the ocean for a bit before it was time to cook. In the space of about forty-five minutes, I saw a family, and then a lone woman get into the ocean and swim (albeit briefly). It was a very warm day for late November, in the high sixties, but I can’t imagine the water was warm, so that was surprising. On the way back to the house I was noticing all the footprints in the sand—human, canine, and avian—and how the afternoon shadows filled them.

Back at the house, we made our traditional turkey centerpieces out of apples, toothpicks, raisins, dried cranberries, and olives and everyone pitched in to make a feast of tofu roast, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, and rolls. Before we ate we shared our gratitudes and there was a lot of overlap—family, the ocean, and the changing of the political tide.

After dinner, Beth, North, and I took a walk down to the beach. The light reflecting off the undersides of the cresting waves was so bright that at first North thought it was phosphorescent seaweed. Then we came home and watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Mayflower Voyagers.

Black Friday

I knew Black Friday was going to seem strange because we had no plans to shop or to attend Rehoboth’s holiday sing-along and tree lighting. The origin of this traditional off-season beach trip was an annual Christmas-shopping-and-see-Santa-on-the-boardwalk weekend in early to mid-December we used to take when the kids were small. Then, six years ago it became a long weekend over Thanksgiving, so we could have a little longer at the beach, and we’ve come at Thanksgiving every year since then except one. This year’s week-long trip is probably a one-time thing, made possible by the fact that no-one has to go to work or school anymore to do work or school.

But ironically, even though we probably had time to most or all of our shopping, we only did the very little we did on Wednesday.  Instead of shopping on Friday, we took three walks.

In the morning North and I walked to Dave & Skippy’s to get a bagel and an iced tea for them and to Greene Man to get an apple-beet-carrot-ginger juice for me. Or rather, I walked and North wheeled. Over the course of the week, they ended up using the wheelchair for all trips that were more than a few blocks long. We ate and drank on a boardwalk pavilion right next to the tent under which television news reporters had been camped out since Wednesday. Beth suspected they were using the boardwalk as a background for stories about Joe Biden, who was in town for Thanksgiving, though they weren’t broadcasting while we were there.

When we got back, I hung the laundry up on the clothesline behind the house and Noah and I read. Then we had a lunch of Thanksgiving leftovers before Beth, Noah, and I headed out on the second walk of the day, Gordons Pond Trail, which goes through a salt marsh. The trail is just over three miles long. We walked about half of it and then turned back, stopping along the way at an observation platform. We usually see a lot of water birds here, but this time there weren’t any except ducks. Beth pointed out we usually come in the summer. Noah was going to fly his drone over the water, but the airspace was restricted, possibly because Biden’s house is quite close. In fact, we were hoping to drive by it on our way home, but the street was closed off. It made me think with some sympathy that it’s going to be harder for the President-elect to enjoy his favorite places in Rehoboth for the next several years, though I hear that shortly after the election he did manage to take a bike ride on the same trail we’d just hiked.

The combination of a big lunch and a long walk made me sleepy so when we returned to the house, I had a nap and surprised myself by sleeping pretty deeply for almost an hour.  We got pizza delivered for dinner. The night of the holiday sing-along we usually have Grotto pizza and then wander through the restaurant, looking at little Christmas trees local charities decorate and deciding which ones to donate to, but not this year. It’s possible Grotto is open for inside dining and the trees are there. I didn’t check, but we noticed a lot of restaurants in town were serving people inside, though others were outdoor seating or takeout only. (Greene Man had someone taking orders on the porch and passing the food around a plexiglass divider.)

The sing-along was canceled, not that we would have gone if it was taking place. Scroll down to the color photo with the bandstand if you want a look at how crowded it often is. We are probably somewhere in this photo. We were there that year. For our third walk of the day, Beth, North, and I went to visit the lit up tree, sans singing crowds. They were playing recorded music from the Nutcracker in the vicinity of the tree. It was a little sad to be there without people singing or families lining up for a chance to visit Santa’s little house on the boardwalk, which was not there this year, not even the letterbox. The boardwalk lights were not up this year either, maybe to discourage crowds, though Beth and I have noticed the display seems to get smaller every year, so maybe they’re phasing it out by attrition as the lights break down.

Even so I wasn’t too sad to have a pizza dinner, a walk with my wife and youngest on the boardwalk with the moonlight glinting off the waves again, and a pretty tree to admire. One thing 2020 has taught us is how to appreciate what’s at hand, even when it’s not what we usually have. Back at the house, we watched our first Christmas specials of the year, A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Saturday

We packed up and left the house in the morning. The kids and I went down to the beach one last time while Beth returned the keys to the realty. They stood barefoot at the waterline and let twenty waves wash over their bare feet, while I stood a little behind them in my rubber boots, trying not to get my socks or jeans’ cuffs wet. The number of waves in this ritual is determined by the final digits of the year. The kids got into a discussion about whether it was the last two or the last three and if in 2100, they will need to stand barefoot in freezing cold water for one hundred waves or none. I pointed out that in 2100, they will be ninety-four and ninety-nine and, maybe, just maybe, it won’t be an issue. “We’ll still be coming to the beach,” North assured me. I guess they really are my kids.

I know if I’m still around when I’m ninety-nine, I will still want to go beach.

Sky Full of Stars: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 26

Well, that was a wild ride, wasn’t it? I mean a four-day wait to find out who won the Election shouldn’t seem that long when I lived through five tense, stressful, and eventually heartbreaking weeks to see who won the 2000 election. But that was twenty years ago and while the stakes in the Bush/Gore contest seemed high at the time, we had no idea how high they could get.  It’s satisfying that the baby I was pregnant with back then just voted in his first Presidential election and that it was such a momentous one.

I had to think hard about what to serve for dinner on Election night. In 2016, we had tacos—because of the memes about taco trucks on every corner if Clinton won—and I have not eaten a taco since then, much to North’s distress because they really like tacos. (I did consent to make them on their birthday every year since, though I always ate something else.) North advised me not to make anything anyone particularly liked. Then I was listening to a podcast about the history of voting in the U.S. and I learned that George Washington, when he was running for local office in Virginia, used to throw big parties to sway his neighbors to vote for him. This was in the days of voice voting, so he’d know how his guests had voted after he fed them. Anyway, one of his favorite things to serve was barbequed beef and corn pudding. Now I do like barbequed seitan, but I thought since it was a food choice that wasn’t inspired by this particular election, if Biden lost, I wouldn’t have such a strong negative association so I chanced it. And corn pudding is not in my regular rotation, so there was no real risk there.

Dessert was more obvious. Tuesday was Noah’s half-birthday and we always have cupcakes on the kids’ half-birthdays. This year we had a selection of red velvet and cookies and cream cupcakes from the grocery store. We ate them separately because we ended up splitting into two groups on Election night. North and Beth chose not to watch the returns come in and watched The Fosters instead in hopes that it would be less anxiety-inducing. Noah and I watched MSNBC. He started while I was still doing the dishes and when I came into the living room at 7:20, two states had been called: Indiana for Trump and Vermont for Biden. I won’t go through the blow-by-blow because either you watched it or you didn’t, but either way, you know how it went. By eleven (an hour past my normal bedtime), it was clear it wasn’t going to be decided any time soon and probably not that night, so I went to bed, jittery but holding on to hope. Noah stayed up until 12:30. I woke up around the time Noah was going to bed and checked the count on my phone, but when I woke again at four, I resisted the urge. It was better than four years ago when I was waking up every hour, checking my phone and being sick in the bathroom.

In the morning I heard Beth telling North it wasn’t decided yet but she thought Trump might win a second term. I listened, considering the fact that because of her work, Beth knows on a more granular level than I do what the returns in various places mean, but also considering the fact that Beth has a tendency to catastrophize and trying to weigh these two facts about my wife.

Then something completely unexpected and unrelated to the election happened on Wednesday. North spontaneously regained the ability to urinate normally, after two months of only going through a catheter. We have no idea why it happened, but as North said, it was “a good thing about today.” It’s been five days now and so far, so good. We’re all very happy about this.

And then the days dragged on. We went to bed without knowing the outcome again on Wednesday and then again on Thursday. But as time passed, it began to look better and better. When Biden pulled ahead in Pennsylvania on Friday morning, Beth texted me “Ice Cream Time!!!!!!” This was because we’d saved the emergency/celebratory ice cream until we had an answer and she intended to eat some whatever time of day that happened. North had gone to the bathroom during their Japanese class and walked by our bedroom (where Beth works) and Beth called out to them that Biden had won.

North, still wearing their headset and carrying their laptop, came into the living room (where I work), crying and almost unable to speak, but when they did, they said, “He did it! He won!” This time I was the cautious one, saying the chances were very good but it wasn’t for sure yet.  Beth was on the phone a long time but eventually came down to the basement to fetch the ice cream from the chest freezer. I was on the exercise bike down there and we had a long hug.

We thought it might be called later that morning, but it wasn’t. North finished their Japanese class, and attended History and Biology, while Noah attended Computer Science, Ethnomathematics, and Philosophy and did some work for ICTV, and Beth and I worked and still nothing. North had a tempting one-day-only star offer on their Starbucks app and talked Beth into a Starbucks run. Noah was still in class, so he didn’t come, but we picked up an iced tea lemonade and a cake pop for him.  We got takeout pizza for dinner and watched the first half of Emma, after which Noah and I read a chapter and a half of Quichotte. We were close to finishing the book at ten, but I was exhausted and went to bed.

The next morning, while Beth was off for a long walk in Wheaton Regional Park (which has become a Saturday morning habit for her in recent weeks) and Noah and I were watching The Handmaid’s Tale, she texted me again, no words, just her bitmoji blowing a noisemaker, surrounded by confetti. I knew what it meant. The race had been called for Biden.

That afternoon, we went on a family outing. We went to Catoctin Creek Park in Frederick County, which is further from home than we usually go, but it had a couple things to recommend it. There was a paved loop trail, which was convenient because North’s been having more pain the past several days and wanted to use the wheelchair. And it’s near Catoctin Mountain Orchard, which has a farm market with a lot of baked goods. (We visited it once before, on our way home from a Unitarian retreat in Catoctin Mountain Park last fall.)

As we drove, we counted Biden/Harris signs and Trump/Pence signs. Frederick County is more purple than our home county, Montgomery. (It went 55% for Biden, versus 83%.) Eventually we lost track, as we passed back over some of the same roads, but I think it was pretty even. My main observation was that the Biden signs were somewhat more numerous, but tended to be smaller (and Beth added, not in all caps).

We’d gotten a later start than we intended so we could only spend about forty minutes in the park if we wanted to get to the market before it closed, but that was long enough for Noah to fly his drone, for Beth and me to amble down to a peaceful stretch of the creek surrounded by boulders covered with lichen and trees with yellow leaves glowing in the sunlight, and for everyone to draw joyful noise from the percussion instruments along the trail.

At the farm store we got three pies to freeze for Thanksgiving (pumpkin, pecan, and apple), and some treats to eat over the next few days (apple cider doughnuts, apple dumplings, apple caramel bread, and popcorn). We found a picnic table near a covered bridge and drank cider and ate doughnuts. Even though we’ve been exploring parks in the Maryland suburbs and exurbs ever since Noah got his drone, at first weekly, now more like once a month or so, this outing felt different, suffused with deep relief and joy.

We got home around seven, so dinner was on the late side, but no one was starving after those doughnuts. Noah and I made sauteed gnocchi with Brussels sprouts and brown butter. I think it was really good, but who knows? Anything might have tasted good that day. We’d hoped to finish Emma before watching Vice President Elect Kamala Harris and President Elect Joe Biden give their acceptance speeches, but there wasn’t time, and no one really minded. I don’t need to describe the speeches. You watched, right? You saw Harris looking radiantly happy in her white suit, telling people “While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last,” and you heard Biden sounding coherent and rational and compassionate.

After the speeches, we watched the sky over Wilmington, Delaware light up in red, white, and blue stars. The country is still in the midst of a pandemic that’s killed 237,618 Americans, economic uncertainty, and what I hope will be a true reckoning with systemic racism. There’s a lot of hard work ahead, and I do still have my worries and sorrows for my country, but at least right now, every now and then I feel as lit up as that sky. I hope you do, too.

Also, tomorrow we’re having tacos for dinner, with blue shells.

Clues: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 15

When you last left us, almost two weeks ago, North was sitting in the shallow water at the edge of Cayuga Lake, in Ithaca, New York, and they were unable to stand, even with support. They’d lost control of their thigh muscles, though they had some strength in their hips, glutes, calves, and feet. Though a combination of pushing with their lower legs and us guiding them they could scoot on their bottom and we got them to the picnic table just feet from the water where we’d eaten lunch, though the pebbly incline was a challenge.

North had been complaining of occasional muscle weakness prior to this incident, but nothing on this scale. We hoped it would pass, like the other times, which never lasted more than a half hour, but in the meantime, we needed to get them back to the house. The car was parked in a lot that was in sight, but with North unable to walk, it might as well have been on the moon. There was a service road that came close to the table so Beth went to ask the staff at the park entrance if she could drive on it, but they weren’t authorized to let her (they were young and seemed afraid to break rules).

Beth returned to the table just as a park police officer drove by and after she explained the situation, he (rather reluctantly) said she could drive on the road. Here Beth got annoyed because he wasn’t a teenager with a summer job and he didn’t have to make it hard. Anyway, we got North from the table to the car—I honestly don’t remember how—and drove back to the house.

After some time passed and North’s condition did not improve, we had to decide whether or not to go the ER. You may find it strange that we didn’t for another two days, but we’ve been through a lot of mysterious maladies with North and Beth and I both thought it would be better to get home and take them to Children’s where they’ve been going since they were eight years old. The doctors in neurology and at the pain clinic have the big picture—the month and a half of not speaking (third grade), the year of broken bones (fifth grade), the complex migraine that left their hands and feet paralyzed (also fifth grade), the fracture that left them on crutches for nine months (seventh to eighth grade). We wouldn’t have to try to explain the whole saga to someone new. Also, having had two overnight ER visits with North over the past few years, no one was eager to repeat that experience.

So that’s why we decided to stay at the house. We switched beds so Beth could sleep with North in our bed and I slept in North’s bed. The next day, North still couldn’t move their legs. Beth went to a medical supply store (two actually) while North attended the first and second sessions of an online summer school class they’re taking. Beth returned with a walker, the kind with a seat, that we could use to transport North to restrooms on our drive home. The car was too packed with the contents of Noah’s dorm room to fit a wheelchair.

We left our AinBnB in the early afternoon. “Goodbye, Ithaca. Hope to see you again soon,” Beth said, as we pulled out of the driveway.

“Goodbye, Ithaca,” Noah said, sounding wistful.

A quick diversion on that topic: since we left Ithaca, Maryland has been put on the list of states from which New York will not accept visitors unless they quarantine for two weeks on arrival. Ithaca College’s current policy is that students from these states cannot return to campus until their home states come off the list, which now consists of thirty-one states. I wonder if the list continues to grow if Ithaca will go entirely online for the fall, but as of right now the plan is still a rolling schedule of arrivals from early September to early October, and hybrid classes you can attend in person or remotely. (And while we’re talking about school, our K-12 school district is completely online at least through late January, we recently learned.)

But back to this story… We got home Monday evening. While we were driving, we’d gotten a call back from the doctor who manages North’s case at the pain clinic, or rather a call from someone else saying she was in surgery and couldn’t call back until the next day.

When she did call, late Tuesday morning, she said to go to the ER at Children’s rather than get an appointment at the pain clinic. Beth and North went and to our surprise, because it’s never happened before when we go to the ER, North was admitted. They got a COVID test (negative) and a series of exams and around eight p.m., they got a room. It was a really nice room, spacious because it’s usually a double, and with a view of the Washington monument and the Capitol. Beth came home to get some things for North and then she returned and spent the night in a fold-out chair in the room.

All the next day, North saw more medical personnel and had more exams. I got to the hospital just in time for the MRI. Only one parent per patient is allowed in the hospital at a time and I’d come to relieve Beth. To get there I had to take public transportation (a bus, a train, and a shuttle), which I hadn’t done since March (well, until the previous day when I’d taken a bus to go get some groceries from the Co-op in Beth’s absence).

The MRI took a long time because it was actually two MRIs, one with contrast and one without and they had to change North’s IV in between because it wasn’t working. It was freezing cold and very loud in the room, but North didn’t complain and it was much louder (and hot) in the machine, so I won’t either.

After the MRI, North felt a migraine coming on, probably from the noise, and because it took an hour and a half and two requests to get a nurse to come with painkiller, it developed into a full-blown one, which I haven’t seen in years. (They’ve gotten very good at detecting them and heading them off.)

After they’d recovered, we had dinner in the room and played Sleeping Queens until Beth came to take me home and then return to the hospital. She said as I’m the lighter sleeper I’d never get to sleep with all the lights and noise of a hospital, which was generous of her.

Wednesday was also the thirty-third anniversary of our first date, which we usually celebrate, but we didn’t really this year. As she was leaving the house either the first or second time she went to the hospital that day, Beth said it was not the anniversary either of us would have envisioned, but then she paused and noted we were talking about kids pretty early on in the relationship (even though we took a long time to have them) so maybe it was appropriate.

We found out the next day the MRI hadn’t turned up any physical reason for North’s immobility. This didn’t surprise us or the neurological team. They concluded it was a similar to the misfiring that causes North’s chronic pain, but this time in response to stress, rather than an overreaction to a physical injury. Possible stressors include: the pandemic, the physical and psychological toll of being in pain since February, the car that crashed into our fence in late May (North was just a few feet away), and Matthew’s death. 

That all seemed to make sense on the surface, but as North pointed out, when it struck, they were swimming, and actually feeling pretty relaxed, as any kind of water is their happy place. I find it interesting that it’s their legs that are affected because that’s what happened to Matthew and North was the one who found him half-paralyzed. The doctors (who are not literature Ph.Ds) find the symbolism less compelling. More to the point, they think that physical therapy can get their brain and their legs communicating again. If that happens, all the clues and theories don’t really matter.

Beth and were texting and talking about all this on the phone all day. When I returned to the hospital in the afternoon, not much was going on by that point, except people coming to take North’s vital signs and a social worker who dropped by. We played Clue and Sleeping Queens again and were just about to try ordering dinner again (the line had been busy earlier) when a nurse came by with discharge papers. We were surprised as we didn’t think that was even on the table until the next day, and last we heard, the neurological team was debating discharge to home or to a rehabilitation hospital.  Also, we had a prescription for physical therapy (starting the next day) but not for a medication that had been discussed. And we didn’t have the signature we needed for a handicap parking permit. But we were all eager to have North home and Beth had already acquired a wheelchair, a grab bar for the shower, and a shower stool. So we decided to call with our outstanding questions the next day and just get out of Dodge. (We did order and eat our dinner while we were waiting for some more paperwork.)

Weighing on our minds all through this was the fact that we had a house in Rehoboth one block from the beach rented for a week, starting Saturday. We decided Beth would discuss it with the physical therapist the next day and I joked we were a flight risk. “We are so a flight risk,” Beth said. That evening, with North in our custody, it was starting to seem possible we would actually go.

To be continued…

Happy Mother’s Day, Happy Birthday: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 7

“Happy Mother’s Day”

Sunday morning Beth and I exchanged Mother’s Day greetings hours before we saw either of the kids. Beth set the alarm for 6:45 and she was out the door to go grocery shopping by 7:30. She likes to get there early, before it’s too crowded. Noah emerged from his room around 9:50 and said “Hi” to me.

“What’s the first thing you should say to me today?” I whispered in his ear, despite the fact that there was no one else in the room.

“Happy birthday?” he guessed.

“No, that’s tomorrow,” I said.

“Happy Mother’s Day!” he said and then in his own defense, “I just woke up.”

The kids were watching Portlandia a little while later and I reminded them that if they had anything they needed to wrap, they should do so. They both needed to wrap. Shipping delays waylaid North’s Mother’s Day gift to Beth and Noah forgot to change his default address when he ordered mine so it got sent to the Ithaca College mailroom, from which he is valiantly trying to rescue it. But luckily North’s gift for me and Noah’s for Beth arrived so we each had something to unwrap. I certainly can’t complain about late presents, given that the last of the books I got Noah came today and his new pajamas haven’t come yet and his birthday was nine days ago.

Anyway, I got a coffee table book about growing and cooking with herbs from North. This was nice because over the years my gardening has gotten more herb-centric, as I lose patience with other plants and their pests and diseases. Noah got Beth a jar of cherry salsa (a favorite of hers) and bottle of cherry syrup to use for homemade soda or ice cream topping. 

In the afternoon Beth and I took Noah out to fly his camera drone. It felt really strange to get in the car, as I don’t think I’ve been inside it since March. It was even stranger when the car started moving and I was suddenly more than a mile from my house, an area which apparently still exists. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see Interstate 270. The ever-present signs saying “STAY HOME/SAVE LIVES/ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY” gave me only small twinges of guilt.

First we tried a state park about twenty minutes from home, but when we got to the entrance it was blocked by park police cars and there was a sign that said PARK CLOSED. We’d checked before we left and the web site it was open, so Beth guessed they were only letting a set number of people inside at a time and it was at capacity. Whatever the reason, we needed to find another place to fly. We tried a nearby air park for model airplanes and drones, but you have to be a member or be admitted as a guest and no one there was authorized to admit a guest, so we left. We passed by a county park with park police in the parking lot. Finally, the fourth place we stopped, a little county park, was unguarded and didn’t look too crowded. It consisted of a field big enough to accommodate two soccer fields (the goals were still there, but without the netting) and a path that led into the woods where people were running, walking, and biking.

One family was picnicking at the far side of the field and a man was tossing a baseball to a boy with a bat at the other end. We found a spot in the middle far away from either of these groups, and Noah set up the drone and practiced flying it and filming with it. It was a beautiful sunny day and the footage he got came out very clear, even when the drone was high above us. He practiced takeoff and landing a few times, maneuvered it through one of the soccer goals, and took a picture of the three of us with it. After he was done, we took a walk on the path through the woods. It was a nice outing.

“Happy Birthday”

The next day was my birthday. Celebrating our third semi-quarantined birthday in the span of seven weeks (fourteen, nineteen, and fifty-three) made me think about my own fourteenth and nineteenth birthdays. The fourteenth was memorable. It happened during a trip my mom and ten-year-old sister and I took to Disney World and the Gulf coast of Florida with my mother’s boyfriend and his son, who was my sister’s age. I think it was a test run to see how we’d be as a family. This turned out to be moot, as Mom and Bill eventually broke up. (She married my stepfather Jim three years after the Disney trip.) Even though the relationship didn’t last, I remember it as a happy trip.

I have no real memory of my nineteenth birthday, but it must have been unsatisfactory because I complained so much about having a birthday that was always going to fall either during reading period or exams for all four years of college that my friend Jim threw me a surprise birthday party four months to the day before my twentieth birthday.

I suppose fifty-three will be memorable in its own way. It began with Noah enthusiastically greeting me, “Happy birthday!” seemingly pleased to have gotten it right. I didn’t have a lot of work, so I spent the morning doing laundry, reading Jeanette Winterson’s Passion on the porch, and riding the stationary bike in the basement.

We decided to have cake and presents after lunch so we could have dessert after lunch and dinner. “That’s a great idea!” Beth exclaimed when I proposed it. She’d made the cake—a lemon cake with strawberry frosting—the day before so it was ready. I almost forgot I’d asked Beth to buy supplies—brie, apricot jam, and rosemary crackers—for a special birthday lunch until I was already heating up leftovers and Beth reminded me. We all ate our separate lunches and then I opened my presents, which were mostly books from Beth and my mom: Stephen King’s If It Bleeds, Theodora Goss’s European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, and Philip Roth’s Nemesis. (Later in the day Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad arrived.) Noah printed out a down-payment on his gift, the first five chapters of The Island of Dr. Moreau, which is on its way. North got me a color-changing mug. It’s black but when you put a warm beverage in it, you see the boy in the yellow slicker and the balloon from It. It was a nice collection of gifts. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a big stack of books you want to read, especially now.

After we’d eaten the cake (delicious as always), Beth went back to work and the kids and I walked to the Starbucks in Langley Park, which just re-opened last week. It’s carryout only and you order on the app. We carried everything home because you can’t go in the store. They’ve put a table in the doorway and you pick up your order there. The walk was about as long as my usual morning walk (a half hour round trip) but it felt longer because I was actually going somewhere, not just wandering. When we got home I sat on the porch again, scrolled through Facebook birthday greetings on my phone, and sipped my first latte since March, very slowly to make it last.

My mom called with birthday wishes and then I did a little work, writing a blog post about coffee and heart health, and then Noah and I read a chapter of The Martian (a book we started before either of our birthdays) and watched most of an episode of The Magicians. Dinner arrived before we’d quite finished. It was a feast of Mexican food—I had tortilla chips with salsa, salad with mango and avocado, spinach enchiladas, pineapple juice, and tres leches cake (I was so full had to save the cake for later in the evening).

Noah had an evening class to attend (his last of the semester) and the rest of us watched an episode of Gilmore Girls, which we recently started.

Now we are finished with the spring birthday season at our house. This is what we know about the rest of the spring and the summer:

  • North won’t be going back to school, at least not middle school. We found out last week that the rest of the school year will be online. North’s sad about not getting a chance to say a proper goodbye to their teachers, their school, and their classmates who will be going to different high schools.
  • We still don’t know when Noah can get his belongings out of his dorm room. There was an online meeting about it on Thursday and Noah attended but he said he didn’t learn much. We know some things about how it will work—it will be done over the course of a few weeks, you need to make an appointment, you can only have one person beside yourself in your room helping you pack—but we don’t know when it will be, which is, of course, what everyone cares about the most. (Meanwhile Noah turned in his last assignment—an infographic about climate change for his environmental science class—yesterday and took his first exam today. He has two more this week and then he will be finished.)
  • Beth’s office has pushed back the date she’ll be going back to the office a couple times, from early May to late May to two weeks after Washington, DC lifts its stay-at-home directive, whenever that is.
  • Takoma Park has cancelled its Fourth of July parade and fireworks. This decision was made largely for financial reasons, because of the strain the pandemic has put on the city budget. Apparently something similar happened during WWII.
  • My sister’s wedding has been postponed until summer 2021. We are sorry, but not surprised, as airline travel this summer seems pretty dicey. Meanwhile North’s been wanting to shave their head and I was making them wait until after the wedding, so now we’ve ordered clippers and Beth’s going to do it when school’s out, as a way of marking the end of the middle school.
  • Two of North’s camps (chorus camp in late July and sleep-away camp in mid-August) have cancelled. Drama camp (in early July) might still happen, but honestly, it seems unlikely. The one North was really hoping to attend was sleep-away camp, as it’s the only time they see those friends, but the camp is planning some online events so campers can connect. It’s also insisting on calling it an “intermission” instead of a cancellation. This seems a little precious to me.
  • Because we no longer need to find the money for four airline tickets to Oregon this summer, we decided to look into renting a house at the beach. However, when I contacted the realty we usually use and asked what kinds of circumstances the travel insurance would cover, the answer was you can only get a refund if someone in your party has covid and can’t travel because of that. Beach closures and/or travel bans aren’t covered unless you purchased the insurance in January or earlier. Considering the beach in Rehoboth is closed now, it didn’t seem prudent to go ahead and rent a house, despite the realtor’s assertion that everything would probably be back to normal by mid-June. (My interpretation of this was that it was wishful thinking on her part or maybe just what her bosses are making her say.) We may revisit this question later, if the situation improves in Maryland and Delaware and we feel safe traveling late in the summer. From the realty website, it looks as if there are more vacancies than usual this time of year, so it might be possible to get a house even if we wait.

As for the fall, your guess is as good as mine, but I hope the kids will go back to school (unless Noah decides to take the semester off to volunteer for a campaign, which he was already considering pre-corona). The school district is considering a bunch of different options, including a hybrid in-person and remote schedule, with various plans for staggered attendance. 

One little wish I have for fall is that on Beth’s fifty-fourth birthday in November we can go out to dinner, if that’s what she wants.

Hey, Nineteen: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 6

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?)

Instead we had another quarantined birthday to celebrate. We started two days early, on Friday when we were ordering takeout pizza and Beth offered to let him pick the restaurant, since it was almost his birthday. He chose Mama Lucia. We ate at the backyard table, right before we walked around the Maypole.

I guess I should back up a little here. It was May Day (Beltane) and North is celebrating the Wiccan holidays these days. The night before Beltane was their night to cook, so they made a meal of traditional Beltane foods—bread with honey butter, onion and goat cheese tarts, and strawberries. They also wanted to make a Maypole. They weren’t sure if they could entice any of the rest of the family to actually dance around it so they asked if we’d walk around it and we all consented. Beth helped construct the pole, by chopping down a weed tree from the back of the yard and making a garland of buttercups to top it.

After a leisurely dinner of garlic knots, fried mozzarella, sautéed spinach, and pizza, North played a Beltane song about the May Lord and the May Lady on their phone and we took turns walking around the pole and wrapping the ribbons around it. It was fun.

We ate in the yard again the next night. We often get Thai the night before Noah’s birthday because Beth and I went out for Thai the night before he was born, three weeks early. We told the story he’s heard many times—how it was the last day of classes that semester and I went to the obstetrician later in the day and he said, “This baby’s not coming any time soon,” and I thought that was good, because I had a pile of final papers to grade. Beth and I had dinner on the balcony of a Thai restaurant near our apartment in the city. (A crowded little balcony, close to other people! The mind reels.) That night, around eleven-thirty, my water broke. When I mentioned we were in bed but hadn’t yet fallen asleep, North exclaimed at us being up so late. It’s true, we used to go to bed at eleven or later, which would be quite a late night for us now. Noah was born around six o’clock the following evening. I graded some of the papers in the hospital.

On Sunday, Beth went grocery shopping early in the morning to avoid the crowds, as is her wont these days. She was out the door before anyone else was out of bed. It was a successful run; she found tofu and Noah’s preferred brand of pasta sauce, both of which have been scarce lately. Because he asked, we’re having pasta for dinner all next week, so we needed the sauce. Beth said it was “a birthday miracle” for Noah.

After she’d returned, I’d put the groceries away, and Noah had eaten breakfast, he opened presents. He got a book called Cinemaps, which consists of maps of the sets of thirty-five movies, with color-coded lines showing where each character goes over the course of the movie. North chose it for him and it’s really cool. He also got an Amazon gift card, an iPad cover, and his big present—a camera drone.

He has more presents coming. Some of his gifts from relatives haven’t arrived. And due to a miscommunication, I only discovered he had a wish list of books two days before his birthday, so none of the ones I ordered arrived on time, but I’d been wanting to buy him books and I went a little crazy and ordered seven novels for him. Finally, he left all his summer clothes and pajamas at school when he thought he was leaving for a week (way back in early March). He has a bunch of t-shirts he left  at home when he left for college and we bought him shorts already, but he still needed short pajamas. There’s a certain brand he likes (and he owns five pairs—all at school) so I was waiting to see if we could possibly get up to Ithaca before it gets hot here. But right before his birthday we found out the date students can come collect their belongings from dorms has been pushed back from mid-May to sometime in June at the earliest. So I ordered two pairs of pajamas to tide him over.

Over the course of the day, the birthday boy talked to my mom, Facetimed with Beth’s mom, watched Portlandia with North and The Magicians with me, and then I read the last twenty-five pages of A Gentleman in Moscow to him. (We agreed to wait for his birthday books to begin arriving until we start a new book, unless nothing gets here by next weekend.) Then he completed a short online training so he could be licensed to fly a drone.

It turns out you can’t legally fly a drone within fifteen miles of Washington, DC, for security reasons, and we live a mile or two from the border, so Beth had to research where you can fly a drone near here. She located a park near Gaithersburg with a dedicated field, but by that time it was mid-afternoon and she was busy making his birthday cake (chocolate with strawberry frosting) and birthday dinner (spinach lasagna), and he wanted to watch a movie after dinner so we decided to go next weekend. We haven’t left the house to go anywhere except to go for short walks around the neighborhood, to the grocery store, or to run other household errands since late March, so driving out to a field to watch Noah try out his drone seems pretty darn exciting. I just hope it’s not too crowded, so we can stay.

Noah asked if he could pick a movie to watch without North getting veto power over it (as they have different taste in films, with just a little overlap) and we said yes. He chose Inception and we watched most of it. We’re going to finish it tonight.

It’s possible a day at home watching television and movies, and reading, and eating lasagna and cake and ice cream is close to the birthday Noah would have chosen for himself. He’s more of a homebody than his sibling and easy to please. It was nice to have him home today and not to have to be separated from him on his birthday for the first time. But it’s like what I told him a few weeks ago, when we were dyeing Easter eggs. “It’s nice to have you home for this and I hope next year you’re not here.”

You Say It’s Your Birthday: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 3

You say it’s your birthday
It’s my birthday, too
They say it’s your birthday
We’re gonna have a good time

“Birthday,” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

When we were returning from the National Arboretum two Sundays ago, we noticed some across-the-street neighbors having a family dance party in their front yard, with a Beatles tune blaring from the car in their driveway. It wasn’t until I was inside the house that I realized what song it was—“Birthday”—and that seemed auspicious since it was North’s fourteenth birthday the next day.

North couldn’t have a party, of course, so just as with the Billie Eilish living room concert, they came up with innovative solution. They’ve been doing this a lot. When their trans kids’ support group March meeting was cancelled, we walked to Starbucks—this was almost two weeks ago, when Starbucks was still open—and they got an iced chai. This was because right before group we often stop at the coffeeshop in the atrium of the hospital where it meets and they always get either a mango smoothie or a chai. And once they’d had their chai, they texted someone from group and chatted a bit.

North’s birthday celebration was what we dubbed a “slow-motion party.” One, or in one case two, friends at a time came over for a brief visit and a slice of birthday cake on the porch. It actually started two days before their birthday because two friends couldn’t come Monday. The cake wasn’t baked yet on Saturday, so North cut down a cupcake recipe and made three cupcakes, one each for Jay, Miles, and themselves. Jay and Miles are twins, so figuring they only bring one family’s worth of germs, we’ve let North see them together. They brought a big stuffed bee for North, who is fond of bees.

On the night before their birthday, we tasked Noah (who’s always the last one up at night) with blowing up the balloons of the “Happy Birthday” banner and hanging it up, so North could see it as soon as they woke up. I missed them spotting it because I went outside to fetch the newspaper right before they emerged from their room, but apparently, they came into the kitchen and started talking to Beth and Noah, angled in such a way that they couldn’t see it for quite a while, as Beth and Noah waited and waited for them to see it. When they did, they were very excited about it. It was shiny and extravagant and just right.

That morning North got a birthday email message from the eighth-grade class administrator at their school. That’s never happened before, so I guess they are sending them to all the kids whose birthdays fall during the school shutdown, which is a nice gesture.

In the morning, Charlotte came, bearing a Venus fly trap, and had her slice of cake with North on the porch. Casper came in the early afternoon. Zoë was the last guest, and she stayed a few hours, even though it was as damp, chilly day. At dinner time, Beth, Noah and I joined them and we ate a dinner of tacos and fruit salad together, spread out on our spacious porch.

After eating, North opened their present from Noah, a battery-powered flour sifter, and from us, a little pot of mixed succulents. Both of these things were on their list, but they were surprised to get a gift from us, as we’d told them the Billie Eilish tickets (which will be honored at a future, unspecified date) were expensive enough to be their only gift. We cracked, though, under the pathos of all the postponed birthday fun. We’ve also promised North a birthday party sometime in the future. I thought it would be fun to do it three months after their birthday, because 14 ¼ would look cool on the invitations. But if that’s not possible, maybe a half-birthday party is in their future.

By coincidence, a lot of North’s guests also have March or April birthdays. Zoë’s having a party in a park with just three guests (we made an exception to the one-friend-at-a-time rule so North can attend this event because Zoë is North’s best friend).* Miles and Jay are having a virtual party via video conferencing and are promised a trip to a resort with a few friends during the Time After we’re all wistfully awaiting.

After Zoë left, we let North pick the television and they chose Blackish, so we watched a couple episodes and then their birthday was over. Well, sort of over. We left the banner up all week and I let North menu plan dinners for the whole week, starting one day before their birthday—we had lasagna, tacos, breaded tofu sticks with applesauce, tater-tot-topped pot pie, fettucine alfredo with broccoli, pizza, and tortellini with broccoli. Gifts continued to arrive in the mail throughout the week, too. My mom sent a box of bee-themed gifts, which included a ceramic honey pot in the shape of a beehive my grandmother made in a ceramics class she took in the seventies. I didn’t remember it when Mom told me about it, but I recognized it as soon as I saw it. There was also a honey dipper, an oven mitt with bees on it, a beehive ornament, and a book about bees.

And in non-birthday related news…

On Tuesday, Beth’s office announced everyone would keep working from home through the end of April. Beth said it would be nice if they really go back on May Day, since she works for a union. Speaking of Beth’s work, she’s been slammed because there are so many health and safety issue for employers and the union to negotiate. I’ve been busy, too. Turns out health writers are in demand during a pandemic. Go figure. Actually, the busyness is partly coincidence. Only one assignment—a completed newsletter that switched topics from detoxification to immunity and had to be rewritten on short notice—was spurred by current events. The rest has to do with my other job, as the editing for EPA has picked up.

Noah completed his first week of online classes Friday. The more lecture and discussion-based classes (Environmental Studies, Media Industries, and Computer Science) are translating better to a remote format. More hands-on classes like Audio and band just aren’t going to be much like they were intended to be. Audio is turning into a discussion class with some optional assignments for students who own the program they use. (Some students didn’t buy it and were using it in the lab on campus.) I’ve encouraged Noah to do these assignments, not for his grade, but because it’s probably a better way to get the practical skills he needs out of this class. Meanwhile, and most disappointingly, band has turning into a writing-about-music class. I’d hoped the teacher would have them record themselves playing at home, or something like that, but that wouldn’t work because some students left their instruments on campus when they thought they were leaving for a week, rather than for months.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday our school district announced schools would be closed for at least four more weeks. Online classes start for North this week. During the two-week hiatus in between school closing and online school starting, they worked on some review assignments for English, history, and science the school district provided. They didn’t do any geometry because those assignments were in a subfolder and they didn’t see them (we just discovered this snafu) and there was no Spanish because their Spanish immersion classes have a unique curriculum that I guess serves too few students for the district to accommodate. They brought home a sketch book from art class and drew in it, too.

Overall, though, the work was pretty minimal. I’m hoping when formal online school commences on Wednesday, they will have more to do. As the only extrovert in the family, it’s hard for them being in a house full of very to moderately busy people and not having much to do themselves. (I am going to require them to do the geometry on Monday and Tuesday, in addition to the learning-to-use-the-software assignments they have those two days.)

Meanwhile, spring continues to progress. We had a very mild winter, especially in February and March, so all the flowers seem to be blooming in a compressed time period, the ones we usually have now, like daffodils and cherry blossoms (these past peak, but still pretty), plus tulips which we usually see in April and even irises, which are usually make a late April or early May appearance. It’s unsettling if I think too hard about what it means about climate change, and maybe we all should be thinking about climate change in addition to our current predicament, but for now I’m not going to look a gift tulip in the mouth.

*Update: I wrote this over the weekend and things have changed. This morning the governor issued a stay-at-home directive that takes effect tonight. Marylanders are not supposed to leave the house except for essential work or to shop for food, pick up prescriptions, or take short walks (alone or with people in our households). So, North and Zoë are getting together one last time this afternoon, and Zoë’s party in the park is scotched, (as are our tentative plans to drive to the Bay next weekend).

28/7

Noah’s still home and as a result, we’ve been trying to watch all the things with him, in different combinations. We all went to see Little Women last weekend (four thumbs up), and he and I went to see Parasite a few days ago (thought-provoking and recommended if you’ve got the stomach for some violence—the end is a bit of a bloodbath). On the small screen, the four of us continue to make incremental progress on the first seasons of both Speechless and Blackish, both of which we’ve been watching for years; Beth, Noah, and I have started Dickinson (which is very strange and very good); and Noah and I are nearing the end of the fifth and final season of the crazy complicated and addictive drama Orphan Black, which we started last summer. Noah and I are reading, too. We finished American War and we’re more than halfway through The Testaments. I think we’ll manage to finish it before he goes back to school on MLK day.

We had a little snow in the middle of last week, about a half inch, that resulted in an early dismissal and a two-hour delay, but North went to school for at least part of the day every day, which I count as a win this time of the year. Plus, it was the kind of snow that clings prettily to tree branches, and turns lawns white, but doesn’t stick to the sidewalks, so there was nothing to shovel. Noah and I took a lovely walk through the falling snow on Tuesday afternoon and ended up at Starbucks, where I got a mocha and he got his standard winter drink—the caramel apple spice. He enjoys the idea of hot apple juice with whipped cream (and the reality, too).

And speaking of things that happen in January, Beth and I had an anniversary this weekend. On Saturday it was the twenty-eighth anniversary of our commitment ceremony and the seventh anniversary of our legal wedding. This means we’ve now been married for a quarter of the time we wanted to be. I am looking forward to watching that fraction get bigger with time.

Beth was awake and looking at her phone before I woke up on Saturday and when I started stirring she told me Facebook had made us an anniversary video, which means it wished us a happy anniversary before either of us had wished to each other. Ah, modern life…

Beth took North to therapy and then they ran some errands while Noah and I watched Orphan Black. In the late morning, I started making our anniversary cake, which we served at our commitment ceremony and I’ve made on almost all our anniversaries since then. (In the early years I forgot once or twice.) It’s a spice cake, with a lemon glaze. Last year I mixed things up by making an orange glaze and there were protests. North went over to Zoë’s house around noon and after the remaining three of us had lunch and Beth did a little work, we watched three episodes of Dickinson, then Noah and I read a couple sections of The Testaments and I frosted the cake, adding some red sugar, leftover from Christmas baking.

Beth and I left around four o’clock to go on our anniversary date—Harriet and dinner at a Burmese restaurant. It was interesting to see this movie when we did because on New Year’s Day, Beth, Noah, and I went on a first day hike on an Underground Railroad trail at Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park. It’s a guided hike, with two interpreters providing background about the Underground Railroad in Montgomery County as you walk through the woods. I recommend the hike, if you’re local. It’s usually not done in the winter, though—they added a New Year’s Day hike this year—so you’ll have to wait until spring if you want to do it. It’s not dramatized, but it’s full of interesting stories and it really makes you think about what it would be like when you’re walking in the very place escaped enslaved people once did. I also enjoyed the film, despite some hokey moments. Harriet Tubman’s story is a truly amazing and inspiring one. (Beth said it made her annoyed all over again that she’s not on the twenty-dollar bill yet.)

After the film we went to dinner at Mandalay, which is one of our stand-by restaurants. There was a surprisingly long wait, but once the food came it was delicious, as usual, and the wait gave us time to talk. It was a very nice date.

We returned to the house to find Noah, North, and Zoë (who was sleeping over at our house) watching a movie in the living room. It had fifteen minutes left, so Beth and I exchanged cards and gifts while we waited for the teens to be available to eat cake. I got Beth a new wallet, and she got me two books, The Girls and My Sister, the Serial Killer, both of which look good, plus a roll of postcard stamps. I asked for these, to help me get back on track writing for Postcards to Voters. I imagine it’s going to be a busy year for that. When I opened my card from Beth, she asked me if she’d gotten it for me before. I said yes, that I’d kept it on the windowsill near my desk for a long time.

It wasn’t until the next morning, when I opened the old card that I noticed that inside she’d written:

Happy 26/5
Beth

And in the new card, she’d written:

Happy 28/7
Love,
Beth

When I showed it to Beth and North, North said “You’re so basic.”

Beth protested she wasn’t basic, she was “unchanging, like a rock.”

“You’re my rock,” I told her, giving her a hug. And then she said she supposed this was going in my blog, and of course, she was right.

At dinner that night, I showed the cards to Noah and the teasing began anew. I noted she had changed a word, adding “love” in this year’s card. Beth said it was evidence that her “ardor has increased.” And then she predicted, “Two years from now it will be “lots of love.”

Stay tuned to see if that’s how it turns out. I’m pretty sure we’ll be eating the same cake.

Celebrations

Friday: Mothers and Child Reunion

We’ve had a lot to celebrate the past few days because Noah came home for Thanksgiving break on Friday and that was the day before Beth’s birthday. Actually, he got home so late it was almost on her birthday, but I’ll get to that.

That morning was gray and rainy but I was cheerful as I set out for the 7-11 to get a bottle of cranberry juice and a ginger ale. Back when I was teaching, I always used to assign a paper due the class before Thanksgiving break. I’d collect them and take the stack to the snack bar, which was usually deserted so close to break, so it was a nice quiet place to work. I’d get a cranberry juice and a ginger ale and mix them together in a mug I’d bring from my office and I’d drink this concoction as I started to grade the papers. Every now and then I still get a craving for it and it always brings back that feeling of mingled industry and holiday anticipation. Knowing Noah was attending his last class before break and would soon be on a bus heading south put me in the mood for it.

Noah and I exchanged occasional texts throughout the day, but despite the distraction I had a pretty productive day, writing about a third of an article I’d been struggling to research and outline much of the week. North was at a play with Lyn and then sleeping over, so I asked Beth if she’d like to go out for pre-birthday pizza and she said yes. We met at Roscoe’s and discovered there were no free tables and two parties on the waiting list ahead of us. I heard the hostess tell the people in front of us it would be a half hour, so presumably for us it would be longer. This was the first part of the evening to go slightly awry.

After thinking it over a bit on a bench outside the restaurant, we decided to order to go, as that would probably be faster than waiting for a table. Eventually, we were on our way to the bus stop with our eggplant crostini, mushroom pizza, almond brownie, and chocolate-peanut butter cookie. We needed to heat up the crostini and pizza, but as I told Beth as we finished our meal, it wasn’t as fancy as going out but it was more fancy than eating frozen pizza, which was the original plan.

Meanwhile, Noah was having an interesting ride. The bus driver forgot to stop at Philadelphia and had to circle back when some passengers who wanted to disembark there informed him he’d passed the city. While the bus made its way through the City of Brotherly Love, someone threw a rock at it and cracked a window. (Perhaps the bus driver hadn’t forgotten to stop there after all, but had a premonition.) Anyway, that caused another delay while the driver stopped to assess the damage. Eventually he decided it was safe to continue, but the bus, which was due to arrive at Union Station at 9:40, didn’t pull in until 11:10. Fortunately, Noah was keeping us updated with occasional texts and Beth was tracking his phone’s location so we got there just about the right time and didn’t have to hang out in the bus bay for an hour and a half.

It felt strange to be leaving the house at 10:50, a time when we’re usually fast asleep, but as we drove through residential and commercial streets of D.C., I noticed a lot of lights on inside houses and restaurants and the streets were not exactly deserted either, so maybe not everyone goes to bed at ten on a Friday night in the city. Who knew?

We found the bus, with had “Adventure Tours” painted on its side—a little truth in advertising there—and through the open door of the luggage compartment, we could spy Noah bending down to get his bag on the other side of the bus. I refrained from running around the bus and waited until he reached us to hug him.

In the car we told him about the art show we’d attended the previous night and how North’s been completely off crutches and cane for a few weeks now and he talked about school. I asked how an audio project he’d been working on for his cinema production class at Hershey Park turned out. (He’d recorded people screaming on several of the rides as he rode.) He said the professor said it was “epic.”

When we got home, Beth and I went to bed. It was almost midnight, so I told Beth “Happy birthday,” and she noted it was two minutes early, so I waited and said it again a few minutes later. Noah was up a while, until at least 1:15. Every now and then I could hear him opening and closing doors or rummaging around in the kitchen making himself a bowl of cereal. It was comforting hearing him moving around the house and knowing he was home.

Saturday: You Say It’s Your Birthday

Beth had to take North to therapy in the morning and Noah didn’t emerge from his room until just before they got home, around 10:15. The kids greeted each other and pretty soon North was gone again, off to see Frozen II with Zoë and Norma, but we had time to gather around the table and talk a bit while Noah ate his oatmeal.

After North left, Noah wrapped his birthday present for Beth and he and I started to read Little Brother, which he’s reading for Emergent Media. It was published in 2008 and imagines a post-9/11 future in which U.S. citizens are even more surveilled than they currently are. The protagonist is a teen hacker and his friends who are cutting school and find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time when a new terrorist attack occurs and they get swept up into government custody. It’s more like something Noah would choose to read on his own than the novels he reads for school generally are.

Later in the afternoon, I had a nap to recover from my late night and then got up and made Beth’s birthday cake. It’s a dark chocolate cake with coffee frosting and I’ve made it for her birthday so many times the page in the cookbook is stained brown with cocoa powder. When I’d finished that I asked Noah if he’d like to help me make dinner, baked mac-and-cheese from Beth’s mom’s recipe, veggie burgers, and green beans. He said, “I guess it is Saturday,” (his old night to cook dinner) and agreed. He played Lindsey Stirling on his phone while we grated cheese, chopped onions and green beans, and stirred the sauce. It was nice to be reading and cooking with him again.

After dinner, Beth opened her presents. I got her a set of Fiestaware mixing bowls because I’d recently broken one. Ironically, the broken mixing bowl was a birthday present from Noah and me nine years ago when he’d broken a mixing bowl. It made me remember how that same birthday, North got Beth a mug from the same company, and gave her the following hint: “It’s purple, and it has a handle, and you can drink from it, and it’s called a mug.” This has become a family joke.

To go with the new mixing bowls, which are blue and pale green, the kids each got Beth a baking mix with the promise to bake—whoopie pies in North’s case and chocolate doughnuts in Noah’s. When he placed the order he didn’t realize you need a doughnut pan to make them so he ordered one at the last minute, too. I see a lot of doughnuts in our future. Beth seemed pleased with her gifts.

After I finished the dishes, we watched two episodes of Speechless, which we haven’t watched since Noah left for college. North, Beth, and I were all in bed by 9:45, but Noah’s keeping college student hours now. North reported the next day, somewhat indignantly, that when they got up at one a.m. to use the bathroom he was taking a bath.

Come Sunday

North made banana pancakes for everyone for breakfast, but we ate without Noah, who was sleeping in again. Beth was out at the farmers’ market before he got up and when he did, at 11:40, it was only because North set off the smoke detector making a quesadilla roll-up. He had his pancakes then and we read some more Little Brother.

In the afternoon, Beth took North and their friend Jade ice skating and I went swimming. Noah stayed home and when I got home, he was watching CNN impeachment coverage. I warned him against getting his hopes up and after we both talked to my mom on the phone, we read again. (The book is longish and we’re hoping to finish it or come close in a week.) Beth, North, and Jade (who was staying for dinner) came home, and Beth made ravioli and sautéed spinach.

This week North’s got two and a half days of school and Beth’s working from home so we could more easily take North to the pain clinic for a post-physical therapy assessment this afternoon and so we can leave for the beach Wednesday afternoon. I am looking forward to more family togetherness both here and in Rehoboth. I don’t have to wait until Thursday to feel grateful to have everyone under one roof, though. I already am.