Sixteen So Far: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 68

Pre-Birthday: Opening Night

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

“Good,” they said.

“Was it a good audience?”

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

“Were there any wardrobe malfunctions?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faux Birthday: Act 1

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

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

“What’s your favorite trig function?”

“I hate them all!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Birthday: Act 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Birthday: Closing Night

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

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

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


Spring Colors: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 37

Tuesday: Easter Eggs (Blue, Green, Pink, Yellow, Purple, Orange)

The second night we were back from Deep Creek was a Tuesday, which is family activity night, and it was Beth’s turn to choose. She went with dyeing Easter eggs. Last year when Noah was unexpectedly home for this endeavor, I told him it was nice to have him here, but I hoped he wouldn’t be doing it with us next spring. Oh, naïve early pandemic self… I think I said the same thing when we carved jack-o-lanterns in October, by which point I should have known better. So this time I didn’t jinx him and I did not comment on his presence or speculate on when he might go back to school. It’s strange starting the second round of annual milestones, like the spring birthdays and Easter, but that’s where we are, at least for now. I have to say, though, being vaccinated and seeing the numbers of vaccines administered go up every day does make it seem like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, even though I know there’s still a long way to go.

We dyed the eggs a wide spectrum of pastel and deeper shades and then we decorated them. We have a collection of little felt hats we put on Easter eggs and three of our eight eggs sported those, with stickers for facial features. A couple of the eggs were adorned with stickers of butterflies, ladybugs, flowers, and the sun, for a spring theme. North made a trans flag egg, for International Trans Day of Visibility, carefully dyeing each stripe and letting it dry before applying the next one. It came out really well.

Wednesday: Vaccinations (Red, Gold, Black and White)

The next day, Beth and I set out around 9:40 to drive to Hagerstown. Our appointments were at 11:30 and 11:45 and we didn’t want to be late. It started to rain about halfway through the hour and fifteen minute drive to the mass vax site, a big empty room that used to be a furniture store showroom. We waited in the car for a while to avoid arriving too early (per the instructions), but around 11:10, we went inside, where we progressed through various checkpoints where our QR codes were scanned and our identification checked, and we answered some health-related questions. The QR code was scanned at every stop, at least three times, maybe four. I guess they didn’t want anyone without an appointment sneaking in. There was virtually no wait, other than going through the stations, even though we were early. In fact, we were moving along so briskly I slipped and almost fell on the wet floor where people had tracked in the rain. By 11:25, Beth and I were both vaccinated and sitting in folding chairs in the post-vaccination observation area. We were out of there in forty minutes total, including a visit to the restroom afterward and a stop at the selfie station. The letter O in the GoVax sign is in the colors of the Maryland flag, for all you non-Marylanders.

It was still raining when we left the shopping center. We’d planned to have a picnic lunch and we were going through with it, 55-degree, rainy weather and all. Beth had located a state park with tables under shelters. We got drive-through Greek food and ate our veggie gyros, cheese pie, Greek salad, and baklava, while watching the rain fall on the lake at Greenbrier State Park. We could see fish jumping out of the water and three ducks swimming and a gull circling around over the lake. The whole time we were there I saw one other person, a man walking alone on the beach in the distance. It was a very covid experience.

Back on the road, Beth saw a sign for a Krispy Kreme and remembered you can get a free doughnut if you show them your vaccination card, so it seemed incumbent on us to do that. You should know you don’t get a choice of flavors if you’re planning to take advantage of this offer. It’s all glazed. I saved mine for later, as I’d already had dessert and Beth gave hers to the kids to split when we got home. There was a Starbucks and a Mom’s Organic Market in the same shopping center, so I got a honey-almond milk flat white and Beth got a few groceries we needed.

I had only very mild soreness in my arm that evening, not bad enough to stop me from sleeping on my side. I was kind of foggy-minded the next day, but it might have been because I was up earlier than usual two days in a row. Beth said she had some aches and pains but nothing outside the usual range, so neither of us knew if we had any side effects. And because it was the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, we don’t need a second dose.

On Thursday, Governor Hogan opened preregistration to all Marylanders sixteen and up, and Noah registered that very day.

Saturday: Cherry Blossoms (White and Pink)

The cherry blossoms in D.C. peaked the weekend we were in Deep Creek and we weren’t able to get to the National Arboretum to see them until the following weekend. We’d decided not go to the Tidal Basin because the path is quite narrow and it’s really impossible to avoid close contact with other people when it’s crowded. And it’s almost always crowded when the cherries are in bloom, unless you’ve missed the peak by quite a bit or it’s pouring rain. The Park Service was discouraging people from going down there, although as far as I know, they didn’t actually close it off, like they did last year.

We found the National Arboretum an acceptable substitute last year, so we went there again this year. Beth wanted to go in the morning and when the teens were unenthused about her plan to leave the house at 9:30 on a Saturday morning, she bribed them with the promise of Starbucks. Now you know what to offer my kids if you want them to do something–they’ll do it for an iced almond milk latte with toffee syrup, a doughnut, and some lemon poundcake.

There are more kinds of cherry trees at the Arboretum than at the Tidal Basin, so the bloom is less synchronous. Beth printed out information about the different kinds of trees for a self-guided tour and sure enough, the trees the pamphlet identified as early bloomers were all finished and leafing out, the middle ones were either at or past peak, and the late bloomers were still tightly budded. We walked for over an hour among the pretty white and pink blooms in the bright sunshine of an April morning.

It’s been a very cheering week. I hope you are feeling of some of the hope of early spring, too. Happy Passover and Happy Easter!

Everything Has Changed: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 2

I was listening to Taylor Swift’s Red yesterday and the line “Everything has changed” from the song of the same name struck me hard. It really has, hasn’t it? Every passing week seems so distant from the last one. I wonder how long it will be like that.

So, the first day with everyone home was Monday, six days ago. Here’s a tally I put on Facebook at the end of the day:

2 out of 2 people with jobs worked
0 out of 1 person with schoolwork did any (due to technical difficulties, now solved)
1 out of 1 person who plays a musical instrument practiced
3 out of 4 people spent some time outside 
No one yelled at any one else
No one cried (as far as Steph knows)

Let’s take these one by one:

2 out of 2 people with jobs worked

Beth and I both worked from Monday to Friday (and she worked over the weekend, too). On Monday, she had a workstation on the dining room table, but by Tuesday she’d moved into our bedroom, as my desk is in the living room and there are no doors between those two rooms. Between my liking (almost needing) to play music while I work and her not being able to concentrate with it on and the fact that she’s on the phone a lot, it’s better for both of us to be at opposite ends of the house.

The new arrangement required moving a fair amount of clutter out of the bedroom and installing a new desk in its place. I’m hoping there’s a long-term improvement in the appearance of the room once we no longer need the desk, which is kind of wedged between the bed and a bookcase. If so, it will be thanks to Beth, who did almost all of the reorganization work.

For me, working from home with everyone else here too has been harder than it seems like it should. After all, I have no little kids. Everyone is capable of entertaining themselves and the kids are pitching in with the extra housework. They do yardwork, fold laundry, vacuum, clean the bathroom and kitchen, and cook, and Noah cleaned the bottom third of the fridge the other day. (God, the dishes, though! There are so many dishes! Sometimes it seems as if I’m doing them all day long. Maybe that’s why it’s harder to get work done.)  And I’m used to having the place to myself during work hours, so it just seems as if my concentration is always being broken. Plus, I’m frequently interrupting myself to check on North and make sure they’re doing something productive and not stuck to screens all day.

0 out of 1 person with schoolwork did any (due to technical difficulties, now solved)

Speaking of North, they’ve been working on the review assignments they have for school, but there have been some ongoing technical blips that make some of the work hard (or maybe impossible) to do. It’s understandable. The teachers had to throw it all together at the absolute last minute and it shows. This should in no way be taken as a criticism of the teachers, who did their best under trying circumstances. Meanwhile, the school system sent out a message today saying it was unlikely that students would be returning to school a week from now– no surprise there– and that a more formal system of online learning will take effect then. I’ll welcome that, as North could use the structure.

Meanwhile, Ithaca closed for the rest of the semester on Tuesday. Online classes start tomorrow. I don’t check on Noah much because he’s technically an adult and if he wants to watch movies all day, that’s his business. But theoretically, he’ll have more to do soon, though it’s hard to figure out how his audio production class and band will work remotely.

1 out of 1 person who plays a musical instrument practiced

After finding out he wouldn’t be going back to school, Noah stopped practicing his drums. “What’s the point?” he said. “There’s not going to be a concert.” He’s also wishing he’d brought his camera and other filming equipment home with him. We won’t be allowed on campus to clean out his room until May. I’m sorry he doesn’t have the creative outlets of music and filmmaking right now, but he is taking photographs with his phone and I’m hoping once the sting of the missed concert fades, he’ll start drumming again. The drums are still in the basement, waiting for him.

We did have a musical event here on Wednesday night. On the evening when we would have gone to see Billie Eilish, North organized an in-house concert. They asked for glow-sticks and we ordered some online for them. I was expecting we’d each have one to wave while we watched Billie Eilish videos, but North had something more extensive in mind. There were fifty glowsticks in the package (plus necklaces and rings) and North laid them on every horizontal surface of the living room, and they strung little white lights on the television cabinet. There was a concession stand with pretzels, Cheetos, and Sprite. Everyone got a hand-painted concert t-shirt and an assortment of glow sticks. We danced briefly and then settled in to watch a selection of videos. It was kind of magical. North really knows how to bring the party.

3 out of 4 people spent some time outside 

Taking a walk is part of my daily routine and that hasn’t changed. North’s been walking a lot, too, because of our “you can only socialize outside” rule. They meet up with Zoë most days and they roam around for hours. They read their step counts off their phone to me today and they’re definitely walking more than any of us. Noah will occasionally go on walks if someone invites him. Beth’s not getting out as much as she’d like, but she goes for walks sometimes, too. Other than Noah clearing weed trees out of the garden plot and North planting some flower seeds, we haven’t done much in the garden.

I’ve been taking a lot of nature pictures to keep my spirits up. That’s not hard, with bumblebees landing on daffodils in my front yard, mourning doves brooding on a new nest on the porch, and cherry trees, redbuds, and magnolia trees in bloom. Occasionally I find the exuberance of early spring in the Washington metro area jarring, under the circumstances, but mostly I find the beauty to be a comfort.

We didn’t know if we’d be able to go see the Tidal Basin cherry trees (which reached peak bloom on Friday) and practice social distancing at the same time, because the paths around the water are pretty narrow, and it can get very crowded. But there are two dozen cherry trees on the block just around the corner from us we’ve been enjoying.

We were also considering doing a Tidal Basin driving tour today. However, after crowds of people flocked there Friday and Saturday, city authorities closed Metro stops and roads that lead to the Tidal Basin, so we switched plans and went to the National Arboretum. It turned out to be a good choice. It’s much bigger, so people were spread out enough for it to feel safe, and it was lovely. The cherries there seem to be of more varied species, so the bloom is not as synchronous as at the Tidal Basin, but plenty were in bloom. They are also taller, have more slender trunks, and are planted in more wood-like groves.

No one yelled at anyone else

We’ve been doing pretty well on this count. There was some snapping on the first day, but we pulled back from the brink.

No one cried (as far as Steph knows)

I don’t know about anyone else, but I didn’t cry until Friday. It was before I got out of bed that morning, and I don’t even remember what set me off because that was two days ago– who can remember that far back these days?  I guess the stress was getting to me. I had an infected cold sore on my lower lip late in the week. I never get cold sores, so I was looking them up online and learned that they can be brought on by stress. So, okay, that makes sense. It was looking pretty bad for a while and Beth thought I should do a video consult with an urgent care doctor, but then it cleared up.

Overall, though, we are lucky. Beth and I both have jobs that can be done from home. We’re all together and life goes on, even in a crisis. North turns fourteen tomorrow, without a party, but as with the concert, they’ve figured out a way to approximate a party. I’ll tell you all about that soon.

Lovely Blossoms: Spring Break Report #1

On the first day of spring break June asked me some questions about her donor for a family history school project and I dug out his file, which I hadn’t looked at in years. I noted he’d taken a personality test and was an extrovert. I don’t think I paid much attention to this at the time we selected him, but it certainly explains a lot. For instance, we were looking at the file soon after June got home from back-to-back play dates, one at Megan’s house and then she and Maggie arranged to meet at the playground. Afterward, completely without irony, she said she hoped she had more to do the next day than she’d had to do that day because there had been too much down time. So it was a good thing we took her on a five and a half hour-excursion to the Tidal Basin the second day of spring break.

June wanted to dress like a cherry blossom for the occasion. She found pink sweatpants, socks, and crocs, but she had no pink shirts, so she settled on a white one, reasoning that some of the blossoms are white. She finished the outfit with a pink headband with white dots. Later on Facebook, Beth’s mom opined June made a “lovely blossom.” I have to agree.

Meanwhile, Beth wore a long-sleeved t-shirt with pictures of actual cherry blossoms she bought during some previous Cherry Blossom Festival. This was good, but Noah and I were in various shades of blue, brown, and gray and completely without floral design. Beth said I looked like a dead, dried up cherry blossom in my gray turtleneck, and June thought this was pretty funny. And actually, I had been feeling kind of like a dried up blossom for at least a week, headachy and easily fatigued.

We left a little before ten, took a bus to the Metro and then stopped at the Starbucks in Union Station for treats. Still in the cherry blossom spirit, June got a Cherry Blossom frappuchino. Beth tasted it and thought it was actually strawberry. I thought it might be raspberry, but I looked it up and she was right. It also had a green tea drizzle, either to evoke the stems or to give it an Asian twist. I decided to get into the spirit, too, and I got a cherry-oat bar and a hot green tea. Soon after I drank the tea, the caffeine chased my headache away and it didn’t come back the next morning as I feared it might.

From Union Station we took a circulator bus to the Tidal Basin. It was raining as we got off the bus and we’d elected not to bring umbrellas, which was seeming like a bad idea at the moment, but it wasn’t raining too hard and it stopped after ten or fifteen minutes so we didn’t get drenched.

We picked just the right day to go. We mainly picked it because Beth had the day off for Good Friday and the crowds would be less than over Easter weekend, but it happened to be the peak bloom day. All the trees were covered with puffy pink and white blooms, the slender saplings and the gnarled old ones. We walked all the way around the Tidal Basin, stopping at the MLK, Jefferson, and FDR memorials, reading the quotes carved in stone.

We lingered at the FDR Memorial the longest, because it’s the most interactive, with the most things to look at and read. I like the MLK memorial, but Beth and I were talking afterward about how they could have made it about the whole civil rights movement in the way the FDR memorial is about the Depression and WWII. From June’s point of view, the FDR memorial is the best because it has big blocks of stone to climb. Unfortunately, she slipped on the wet stone and banged the back of her head so hard it made an audible crack. Beth and I were checking her for signs of concussion the rest of the day but she seems to be okay.

On the way home, we had a late lunch at Union Station. The kids got pasta from Sbarro and I had a spinach Stromboli. Beth got avocado toast from Le Pain Quotidien and then June got candy from the Sugar Factory, and the rest of us got cupcakes from Crumbs. I thought the Cherry Blossom one, with pink frosting and cherry jam inside was the only choice, but they did have a wide selection of Easter-themed cupcakes, with jelly beans or Peeps on top. Noah got a chocolate one with yellow squiggle of frosting meant to evoke a chocolate egg.

By the time we got home it was almost three thirty. Noah and I read To Kill a Mockingbird and June did a phone interview Mom for her family history project and then we went out for pizza and gelato. It was a Good Friday indeed.

Southland in the Springtime: Part III, Williamsburg, VA and Washington, DC

We arrived in Williamsburg on Friday evening after an afternoon of driving in and out of rain. Beth had found us a suite, which meant we weren’t all crowded into the same hotel room, quite the luxury. There was a living room area between the kids and us, so we stood a chance of sleeping past six. We even had a king bed.

There was a kitchen, too, but no time to cook. It took a long time to check in and we wanted somewhere quick to eat so we were happy to find a Noodles & Company nearby. This is one of the kids’ favorite chains and it’s somewhere they’d both get vegetables and protein. We’d opted to visit Busch Gardens on Saturday instead of Friday because of the weather and sure enough we could see the rain coursing down the windows as we ate, but we were lucky to get out of and back into the car during breaks in the storm. We went back to the hotel and everyone went to bed. The kids did let us sleep until around seven. There was a breakfast bar downstairs, so we ate and headed for the park.

If you’re not from the East Coast, Busch Gardens may require a little explanation. It takes the theme in theme park seriously and the theme is Western Europe—specifically the British Isles, Italy, France, and Germany. (There’s also an area devoted to New France, or French Canada. Beth guesses they needed somewhere to put the frontier-themed rides all amusement parks seem to have.) The park is quite pretty. It’s no Cedar Point, of course, as it lacks Lake Erie, but it does have a lot of trees and flowers. Daffodils and tulips were everywhere. And the admirable adherence to the theme means there’s a lot of hokey scenery. Classical architecture and statues in Italy, big beer barrels marked Oktoberfest in Germany. You get the picture. We took a lot of cheesy photos, especially in Italy because my sister has spent of a lot of time there (in the real Italy) and I thought she might get a kick out of it. I liked the little touches—graffiti in Latin on the walls near the food court, fake ironwork on the bathroom stalls in Germany, etc.

No one but June had a strong opinion about what to do first, so after we entered the park, in England, which was strung end to end in Union Jacks, we headed for Germany and the Curse of the DarKastle ride, pausing only to get a dolphin painted on her face. The artist used a stencil and spray paint, which I’d never seen before. I thought $10 was a bit steep for face paint but it really lasted. It was still there three days later when June finally asked me to scrub it off because it was a little smudgy.

When we got to the castle it wasn’t open yet, so after admiring the icicles that hung from it and other details, the kids and I went and rode the swings twice and then it was open. The DarKastle, as you might guess, is Busch Gardens’ version of a haunted house. You wear 3D glasses and the effects are all computer-generated. Call me old-fashioned but I prefer a haunted house with actors or material props and scenery. June, however loved it and wanted to go right back on as soon as we got off, so I took her on again while Beth and Noah waited for us.

Next, after a long line that wound through what looked like a stone passageway in an Irish castle, we rode Europe in the Air, a flight simulator, with views of various icons of Western Europe (Stonehenge, the Coliseum, etc). It’s similar to an IMAX film, except the seats tilt and shake as if you were flying. It made both Beth and me a little ill.

We had lunch in shifts, Beth and Noah and I had crepes in France before Europe in the Air, and then June and Noah had pasta in Italy after it (yes, he did have lunch twice) while Beth and I got gelato.

The kids also rode a ride that looked like a gondola in Italy and that was about all we did, other than buy a t-shirt for Noah (who has outgrown most of his from last year) and ride the sky ride to get from one place to another. We would have liked to try one of the water rides (Escape from Pompeii looks fun) but it wasn’t quite warm enough to get soaked. We also considered riding the sightseeing train that circles the park, but there wasn’t time as we had a long drive back to Maryland and we needed to leave mid-afternoon.

We enjoyed our trip to Busch Gardens but part of day seemed almost long enough. We all agreed it’s not as good an amusement park for us as Cedar Point or Hershey Park. What we all missed was any moderate coasters. There were kiddie rides and big thrill rides, but nothing that fit our niche. I am not the daredevil I was (briefly) in my teens and early twenties, but I do still enjoy a classic roller coaster and there was nothing like that. I thought Noah, who’s a little braver than me, could probably handle Loch Ness Monster, but he took a look at it and said no.

So, we bid adieu to Europe and drove back to Maryland. We almost always go out for Indian when we return home from vacation, so we did that. We weren’t quite finished being tourists, though, because the cherry blossoms were in bloom and we went to see them the next morning.

We were lucky to catch the peak this year, as it only lasts several days, and we’d been gone over a week. It was the latest peak since 1993, according to the National Park Service, occurring about a week past the average date.

It was also a beautiful Sunday morning, in the low seventies and sunny, so we expected crowds, both for the blossoms and for a ten-mile race that was taking place along the Tidal Basin. Our friend Tom (June’s friend Talia’s dad) was running and we looked for him as we watched the race go by, but we didn’t see him. Getting across 15th Street to get from the Metro stop to the blossoms turned out to be quite the challenge, with the race going down it. We waited around ten minutes for a break in the race and were just about to sit down on the curb and eat our picnic breakfast right there when suddenly a bunch of other people who were also waiting to cross the street made a break for it and we all dashed through the middle of the race.

We walked the whole perimeter of the Tidal Basin, something I almost but not quite take for granted now, after years of having kids too little for that hike. Anyway, it was lovely. And June had fun climbing the rocks at the FDR Memorial, as always.

We’ve been home almost a week now and are well into the routine of work and school. The cherry trees along the streets in Takoma Park are well past their peak. We keep seeing the white petals blowing through the air (the other day Noah came home from school with his curls full of them) and little green leaves are replacing the flowers. Our dogwood is budding, the daffodils are almost finished, and there are tulips in our back yard. The flowers and flowering trees of home are sweet reminders of the flowers of the road—at the altar at YaYa’s church on Easter morning and in the gardens of the Biltmore and along the highway in North Carolina and in the plantings of a theme park version of Europe.

Icons of Spring

Have I mentioned we had ten snow days this year, six over the limit of built-in school days and the school district is only making up two? I have?  Oh, yes, of course. What I haven’t mentioned is that despite the fact that there are five contingency days clearly scheduled on a calendar sent home at the beginning of every year, that when the school district decided to make up the measly two days, only one of those two make-up days was on one of the contingency days?  The other one came out of spring break.

Now it could have been worse, we could have been faced with the horrifying prospect of school in session while we had a beach house rented, but it was just the tag end of spring break, Easter Monday, which fell two days after our return.  But the fact remained that Beth had made an orthodontist appointment and a dentist appointment for Noah on Monday and June had more exciting plans, in the form of two tickets for the White House Easter Egg Roll Beth received from a colleague.

We decided to stick with our plans and kept Noah out of school. June went to school in the morning, but I picked her up around noon to take her into the city.  So despite my letters to the superintendent of schools and to state officials about how the school year should be extended, I ended up in the seemingly hypocritical position of only sending one kid to school for a half day on the first make-up day.

But perhaps you wanted to hear something about the Easter Egg Roll itself?

Crowded would be one description. While we were standing in one of many lines I heard someone say there were thirty thousand people there. I checked later and it’s true, although they weren’t all at once—thirty thousand tickets were issued in five time slots. We were in the fourth slot, 2:30-4:30.  After a picnic lunch outside the Takoma Metro stop where Beth dropped us off en route to Noah’s dentist appointment and a train ride into the city, we arrived at the Ellipse and got into line around 1:40. I did consult my map when we got off the Metro, but if I’d misplaced it I could have just as easily followed the hoards of dressed up children heading in the direction of the White House.

It took an hour and ten minutes to go through security, get our wristbands, and wait in line to enter the South Lawn.  As we inched along, I read How to Cheat A Dragon’s Curse to June until we got closer to the front of the line where music was playing and it was no longer possible to read without raising my voice. As we approached the White House June wanted to know exactly when we’d crossed into White House property. We were walking along the sidewalk, next to a wrought iron fence and I told her the squirrel on the other side was on the White House lawn. She seemed thrilled to be that close.

Once we got inside we had to choose from all kinds of activities, but we headed straight for the Egg Roll itself because that’s the classic event and our time was limited. The line there was pretty short and soon June was pushing an egg across the grass with a long wooden spoon right in front of the South Portico of the White House.  Next we headed for the snack area where we shared an apple, some baby carrots in a kefir dipping sauce, and bottled strawberry-kiwi smoothies. We peeked at the White House vegetable garden and noticed that their kale is doing better than ours.

June had a hard time deciding between the story-telling stage where Miss America would be reading stories or the obstacle course. We stood in line for ten minutes outside the roped off storytelling area before realizing that at the rate it the line was moving (not at all) we’d be admitted after Miss America was finished and Debbie Reynolds had begun and as June had no idea who Debbie Reynolds was, we left the line and headed for the obstacle course.

Next we headed to a booth where she did a science experiment, making hypotheses about which objects from a jumble on the table would sink and which would float in a tub of water and then testing her hypotheses and filling out a checklist of her results.  By the time she finished, it was time to hit the restrooms and get in line again to exit.  We were issued a box of Peeps and a commemorative wooden Easter egg as we left.

It had been fun and exciting but also kind of exhausting between the sun and the crowds so when June asked if she could get a soft pretzel from a street vendor the idea of sitting down on the grass and eating seemed attractive so I bought it for her and an eggroll for myself before we got back on the Metro and headed home.

I’m glad we went, though, because although we’ve been to the White House several times—once for a Christmas tour pre-kids, once on a regular tour when June was in preschool (“All The Presidents’ Pictures,” October 19, 2010), and once for a garden tour a year later-—we’ve never been to the Easter Egg Roll and it’s an iconic Washington springtime event, just like the cherry blossoms.

We did go to see the blossoms this year, the Friday before we left for the beach.  They are often a logistical challenge, mainly because of the short peak bloom period, which is difficult to predict more than a few days ahead of time, and parking issues.  We ended up going in the evening after June’s violin recital and pizza dinner because Saturday was busy with June’s kung fu lesson and packing for the beach. It was a hurried trip and not ideal in some ways, but beautiful as always. And the kids did seem to enjoy the novelty of going at night. As we left Noah surprised me by saying, “This was fun. We should do this more often.” I pointed out we go every year. “No, in the dark, in the rain,” he said.

I probably wouldn’t want to go the Easter Egg Roll every year, even if such a thing were possible and it isn’t; most people who go win their tickets in an online lottery, which is a better system than we first moved to the Washington area and I’d read in the newspaper about people camping out overnight in line for tickets. I might also need to give up the tradition of always going to the cherry blossoms, because it is hard to manage some years, especially for Beth, who has to drive and park if we don’t end up taking the Metro. Still, I do feel fortunate to live here, among the symbols of democracy and the fragile pink and white blossoms that herald the arrival of spring each year.

Ripeness is All

If you blog, this has probably happened to you: you are anticipating an event and shaping it into a blog post before it even happens and then it goes differently than you thought it would, in a big or even in a small way, and then you’re not sure how to present it.

Anyway, we had out-of-town relatives visit this weekend and went to see the cherry blossoms and June has her first loose tooth.  Both events were long anticipated.  The original prediction for peak bloom was the last week of March and we thought we might miss it while we were out of town, but then we had a long cold spell and it was pushed back not once but twice, all the way to last weekend, which coincided with a visit from my mother, aunt, cousin and cousin’s son.  It seemed like the stars were aligning for my mom, who has never seen the cherry blossoms in full bloom despite several tries. We did come awfully close last year, though (“Cherry Blossom Baby,” 3/25/12).

Meanwhile, June has been watching her friends lose their teeth for years (the first kid she knew to lose one was a preschool classmate) with jealousy and impatience and the occasional spurious claim that she had a loose tooth of her own. But then on Wednesday evening she was eating a banana and when she bit into it she said her tooth hurt.  A little later she said it was loose and I asked her to wiggle it and sure enough it wasn’t just loose but nearly ready to come out, from what I could tell.  She showed it to her friends at school the next day and Megan, who has experience with loose teeth, predicted it would be out by Sunday at the latest.

Friday I spent the day with my Mom, while the kids were at school, Beth was at work, and my aunt Peggy was at her conference.  (Peggy being at the conference was the inspiration for my mom flying out from Oregon and Peggy’s daughter Emily and grandson Josiah coming down from Brooklyn to visit us this particular weekend.  We’d just missed Emily and Josiah during our New York weekend, so it was nice they were coming to D.C.)

I had a dentist appointment in the city in the morning to reattach a crown that popped off while I was eating saltwater taffy earlier in the week so after that Mom and I met at the Phillips Collection and spent several hours there. I’d almost forgotten it was possible to spend so much time in a museum, rather than rushing in and out so the kids won’t get antsy. I’d picked it mainly out of convenience because it’s close to my dentist. But that didn’t matter, almost any museum would have done.

At this one there was an exhibit on three abstract expressionists, one of Italian photographs, and another one consisting of rubber sculptures that were “meditations on the brevity of life.”  (This sounds weird, but I recommend it. You really have to see it to get it.)  We listened to a gallery talk on Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party” and went into a new, permanent installation, a closet-sized room whose walls have been coated with beeswax.  It smells wonderful and it’s quite soothing to step into it.  We also saw part of a Jacob Lawrence series of Northern migration of African Americans, and a good bit of the permanent collection, including Van Gogh, Cézanne, O’Keefe, and many other familiar artists. In between we had lunch at the museum café and browsed in the gift shop.

Mom came back to Takoma with me and once the kids and Beth were home we went out for pizza and then gelato at Dolci Gelati, which has a new location in Takoma.  We made arrangements to meet the next morning for brunch with the whole gang (Emily and Josiah got in that evening.)

At brunch we learned Josiah also has his first loose tooth and I told Emily we might have just the thing for it—some saltwater taffy we’d bought for them at the beach. After all, it took a tooth out of my mouth, albeit a fake one. I’d forgotten to bring it to the restaurant, (the taffy, not my crown) but I promised to bring it to our next rendezvous. Surely one of these kids is going to lose a tooth this weekend, I thought.

After brunch and some playground time (during which Noah seemed to have as much fun pretending the big climbing/slide structure was a ship going to France and then Indiana as the younger kids did) we split up so the out-of-town folks could go to Air and Space while we stayed home for homework, grocery shopping, and a birthday party. We met up again in the city for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant, very close to where we used to live in DC. This mural really took me back when we exited the station. Seeing all those painted people was like re-encountering long-lost friends.

Mom and Beth had a difficult time convincing me to agree to this outing because I am a stick in the mud and I didn’t think the kids would eat anything and I knew even an early dinner would keep us out later than I’d like.  I was wrong on the first count.  Noah actually liked the food and said he wants to go back some day. June mostly ate tomatoes we picked out of one dish and the spongy bread, but it was okay because she was still full from birthday cake at her friend’s party.  After dinner, Josiah tore into the taffy, but his tooth did not exit his mouth.

Sunday was the main event: cherry blossoms.  I mentioned this on Facebook Saturday evening and a friend of mine said she’d been there that day and the blossoms were not in bloom yet, although she said they looked “ready to burst.”  Sometimes a day can make a big difference, so I hoped for the best.

We all met at the Smithsonian metro stop and walked toward the Tidal Basin.  I warned my mom ahead of time about what my friend said, and it was probably a good thing I did because they just weren’t there yet.  A few trees here and there were in bloom (we found one for the group photo), but mostly they were just as Kathryn had said, “ready to burst,” but not bursting.

Still, it was a lovely spring day, a bit chilly in the morning, but sunny and warmer as the day progressed.  We walked all around the Tidal Basin, stopping to admire the MLK Memorial and to look at the statues and waterfalls and climb the rocks at the FDR Memorial.  We picnicked on fried rice and eggrolls from the Asian food stand and everyone seemed to have a good time, even without the blossoms.

Emily and Josiah needed to leave for the airport after our Tidal Basin hike, and everyone else was pretty tired, so in lieu of another city activity, Mom and Peggy came back to Takoma with us, where we had gelato again and then went home where Mom and I played Birds of Summer with June, and Mom read her a Club Penguin pick-your-path book and we all listened to Noah practice percussion, and Beth cooked a delicious enchilada casserole for dinner and then drove Mom and Peggy back to their hotel. (This was not the first time she helpfully shuttled my relatives around during the weekend.)

Anyway, the moral of this blog post was going to be about the exuberance of spring and kids growing up and waiting for things and being rewarded, but the blossoms didn’t cooperate and neither June nor Josiah lost a tooth, so I guess it must be about something else.  Of course the blossoms will bloom, whether we make it down there at the right time this year or not, and those wiggly teeth are going to come out sooner or later. So maybe it’s about patience and enjoying what you have while you wait for other things, and doing that with equanimity rather than just managing keep a grip.  That’s often a good strategy for life anyway.

Cherry Blossom Baby

On Thursday morning I put June on the school bus with the instructions, “Have a good last day of school as a five year old,” and she flashed me a brilliant smile.

June is six now.  She was born right before the cherries bloomed on the Tidal Basin. She was six weeks early, and developed a bad case of jaundice so she had to stay at the hospital three days after I was released.  I hated being separated from her, even for those three days. We were constantly shuttling back and forth between the hospital and home, with bottles of pumped milk in tow.

The hospital was just around the corner from the Tidal Basin so one day either on the way to the hospital or on the way home, we made a drive-by visit. Beth dropped me and Noah and YaYa off to walk around a bit while she circled in the car (parking is often impossible when the cherries are in bloom).  We were just a little too early, but we found a couple of blooming trees for a quick photo-op and then we hopped back in the car.

The trees bloomed in earnest soon after and I wanted to go back, but once we got June home, she had to be wrapped in a phototherapy blanket round the clock, allowed out only to nurse, and we just couldn’t make it. Even though we didn’t take her that first year, I still associate the cherry blossoms with the surprising, chaotic days after her birth. We call her our cherry blossom baby, just as Noah is our iris baby.

At 6:35 a.m. on Friday the phone rang.  I wondered if it was a wrong number or an early-rising relative wishing June a happy birthday.  Instead it was Baskin-Robbins, seeking advice of the frosting color of the ice-cream cake we’d ordered for June’s party. The whole cake-buying experience was bizarre.  June had fallen in love with this cake because it had real half-sized ice cream cones on top but Beth had customer service challenges placing and picking up the order and in the end we got a cake that said “Happy June Birthday” instead of “Happy Birthday, June.”  So, just a word of warning if you’re local and you don’t like receiving business calls before dawn or scrambled messages in icing–consider another vendor.

After Beth confirmed that pink frosting was fine, we all went to the living room where June’s wrapped presents were arrayed around her new two-wheeler.  “A bike,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I like the bike.” Then she tore into the other presents.  We got her a cat-themed math game, Rat-a-Tat Cat, partly because her party theme was cats and partly because it looked fun.  Noah got her a bell for her bike and a pair of headphones (she uses headphones to watch television or play on the computer while he’s doing homework and he thought she’d like her own pair). Everything else was clothes.  My aunt Peggy sent Hello Kitty pants, we got her a Hello Kitty t-shirt, a numeral six t-shirt and other summer clothes and pajamas. There were clothes from YaYa, too, including a pair of ladybug rain boots.  It was only after all the presents were opened that June really focused on the bike and decided she wanted to ride it right then.  I told her she needed to eat breakfast and get dressed and ready for school first.  In the end, she had about five minutes practice in the driveway before I put her, clad in her number six t-shirt and new leggings, on the school bus.  “Have a good day, six year old,” I told her. Again, she grinned at me.

When she got off the bus, she was holding a cardboard crown.  Her teacher does not allow birthday treats to be sent in from home, but birthday celebrants get a crown and everyone sings “Feliz cumpleaños” to them.  I’m used to more elaborate school celebrations, both at preschool and in elementary school, but June seemed satisfied.  She wanted to practice riding her bike again–she’d do it three times before the day was out and she got a little better every time.  (By Saturday morning she could pedal up a slight incline and her turns were impeccable.) She said she thought we could take the training wheels off. I counseled her to wait.

My mom arrived for a weekend visit around 4:15, and there were more presents to open.  A pair of summer pajamas with cats on them had arrived during the day (“The cat’s pajamas” I told Beth—how could I resist that joke?), as had a rubber bracelet from Auntie Sara.  It has holes in it and it has letters you can fit into the holes to spell words.  It came bearing the words Junie Dell. (Dell is June’s middle name, and mine, too. I used to call her Junie Dell when she was a baby.  It was one of those baby nicknames that didn’t stick except with Sara, but I like that Sara has a special nickname for her.)  The next day, June changed the words to “I love you.”  Mom brought all kinds of presents—a giant wooden Pinocchio marionette, a tiny vase with a purple ceramic cat attached to it, a paint-your-own tea set kit, and of course, clothes.  June selected the belt from one outfit and decided to wear it with the other outfit (a hot pink t-shirt and leggings to go under a blue sundress with pink flowers) at her party the next day.

I gave June an early bath because we were going out for pizza at Roscoe’s and I wasn’t sure what time we’d be home. It was a warm evening so we sat on the patio, eating wild mushroom crostini, marinated olives (I let June go over her olive quota for the day), salad and pizza.  They were out of gelato because their freezer was broken, so we headed over to Capital City Cheesecake for cheesecake and cannoli.  When we got home, it was June’s bedtime and her big day was over.

But the next day was probably just as exciting because it was her birthday party.  We spent the morning and early afternoon running birthday errands, cleaning the house, assembling gift bags and getting the porch ready for the pin-the-tail-on-the-cat game and the piñata. I’d originally envisioned these as front and back yard games, but rain was predicted, and sure enough it started drizzling around 11:30. Beth and June went out to pick up the “Happy June Birthday” cake and to buy yellow roses and six balloons in varying designs. One has a cat wearing a birthday hat and sunglasses.  Another is the exact Dora balloon June got for her birthday last year. When you tap it, Dora sings “Happy Birthday” in English and Spanish. The sound of the song was still etched deeply into my brain, and Beth’s, too, so she set some strict ground rules about under what circumstances one might tap the balloon to hear the pint-sized bilingual songstress go at it.

The party was at 3:00 and her friends arrived between 2:50 and 3:15.  Maggie, who is June’s only friend who attended both her preschool and her elementary school, made introductions, while the girls selected instruments from the bin and there was an impromptu concert (most of June’s parties seem to start this way).  Once everyone had arrived, we gathered the guests onto the carpet to listen as Mom read them a story The Leprechaun Under the Bed. June remembered Mom reading at her party last year and wanted her to do it again. I’d suggested The Cat in the Hat, but she knew as soon as we checked this book out of the library and read it the first time that it was the one she wanted read at her party. (Spoiler: the leprechaun turns into a cat at the end of the story.)

Next we moved out to the porch for pin-the-tail-on-the-cat.  Last spring June attended a classmate’s birthday party that had classic games as the theme–pin-the-tail-on-the donkey, sack races, etc, and it occurred to me that though you don’t see kids play them much any more, these games are classics for a reason. It was a really fun party.  So I tucked that idea away in the back of my mind, and when June came up with the cat theme for her party I was all ready with pin-the-tail-on-the-cat. June was all over it, especially since she could make the cat and the tails herself.  One by one, I blindfolded the guests and gently spun them around six times each and let them go, sometimes with a subtle correction if they left my hands going in the wrong direction.  The kids laughed hysterically as the tails went onto the cat’s face or the air above its body.  A couple of them got the tail on or pretty close to the cat’s rump—I think Talia’s was the best placed.

Back inside, it was time for games.  We had two and let the girls divide into groups and choose which one they wanted to play.  The first one was The Cat in the Hat, I Can Do That.  In this game, you lay cards together to form instructions for a task to perform with props from the story and you get points if you complete it. June got this game for Christmas and was more interested in playing her new game and most of her guests followed her lead, but I supervised a game between Talia and Megan and then started another round with Talia, when Megan had lost interest and Talia wanted to keep playing.  Beth says she wished she’d thought to get a picture of me trying to wriggle my way under a low foam arch, while balancing the fishbowl in one hand.

Mom and Noah had played Rat-a-Tat Cat with June earlier the in day so they could get the hang of the rules, and Emelia already knew them because she had the same game at home, so the card game went smoothly. Beth said they all seemed to get the hang of it pretty quickly and enjoyed it.  When the games were over, we set everyone up with paper and crayons and asked them to draw cats, as a souvenir.  Some of them drew the Cat in the Hat, others drew Hello Kitty and others went with non-branded felines.  Keller divided her paper into three sections and did one of each.

We had cake next.  The kids thought “Happy June Birthday” was hilarious, an improvement on “Happy Birthday June” really, and as Beth divvied up the little cones they were agreeable about not all getting their first choices in ice cream (each cone was a different flavor).  As we ate cake, Mom sat on the couch with Morgan’s mom and baby brother and got acquainted with her, finding out she went to Oberlin—Beth’s and my alma mater. She even lived in Noah Hall, the dorm where Beth and I met, and after which we named Noah.

I gathered up the goody bags so the guests could stash their piñata booty in them and we headed back out to the porch to smash it.  All the kids had at least two turns.  When a hole opened but no candy fell out, Megan tried to tilt the piñata (or maybe enlarge the hole) by poking her stick in the hole.  It was Noah who finally sent the candy cascading to the floor with some mighty whacks.  Morgan’s mom commented that older brothers have their uses.

June wanted to know if we could have some music while we waited for parents to come collect the guests.  When Beth put on Blue Moo, June asked Talia quite formally, “Talia, will you dance with me?” and Talia did. They danced joyfully around the living room as June’s birthday party wound down to a close. It was cute to watch, especially since I am so very fond of Talia, whom I’ve known since she was not quite two.

After the guests left, June opened her presents–a book, three stuffed animals (including a cat of course), a mermaid magnet set, and a Lego café kit.  June wanted to assemble the café right away, but we went out for Indian first, and then she set to work on it. It was hard to tear her away to go to bed. She finished it the next afternoon, following all thirty-three diagrams–less than twenty-four hours after receiving it, and impressing Mom with her small motor skills and her tenacity.

The final adventure of June’s birthday weekend was an expedition to the cherry blossoms and the new MLK memorial.  The peak bloom period is short and notoriously difficult to predict.  Mom has never caught it, though she often visits us around June’s birthday.  For awhile the predicted four-day peak period spanned the weekend and we thought luck was with us, but then a few eighty-plus-degree days accelerated the blooming and the peak period moved back, ending Friday.  I thought if we went Friday it would be too hard to get back by bedtime, and going on Saturday before the party would make for a stressfully jam-packed day, so we waited until Sunday.

Now I will say that given the choice between a few days before the peak period and a few days after I would choose after every time. There are drifts of petals on the ground and blizzards of them in the air with every breeze; there are petals in muddy puddles and on the rippling water of the Tidal Basin, and there are damp petals stuck to every horizontal and vertical surface.  In its way, it’s almost as magic as the classic picture postcard puffy pink and white blooms.  It looks like confetti strewn on the street after a particularly wild party.  So in a way it was a fitting end to June’s birthday celebration, an after party of sorts. She got to christen her new boots in the puddles, eat hot edamame from a stand, admire the trees (solemnly telling us “all trees are beautiful”), run through the paths between the tulip beds at the Floral Library, take pictures with Beth’s phone, joke with her brother, give her grandmother countless hugs, hold hands with everyone and seize the joy and the beauty of the moment and of being six.

Postcard Perfect

Somehow, against all odds, we picked the exact right day to go see the cherry blossoms this year. Peak bloom was predicted from Tuesday to Friday and the kids had Thursday off school—there’s always a day off in between marking periods—so our original plan was for me to bring the kids to Beth’s office in the late afternoon and to go from there. But Thursday ended up being a very complicated day. There was a fundraiser for June’s school at a local Mexican restaurant and the first meeting of my new book club was at 7:30. A late afternoon downtown outing did not seem feasible. As Beth put it, there were “too many moving parts” for any plan to work.

So I suggested we go in the morning instead but Beth said if she was going to go in late and leave early she might as well not go to work at all and she was too busy for that so we decided to do it Friday after school instead. On further consideration, we realized that by the time June had gotten home from school and napped, it would be pretty late and dragging her on a long walk when she wanted to be asleep was not the best idea either. It’s also worth noting that it was cold and damp and overcast all day Thursday and Friday and high winds were predicted for Friday.

So, Saturday morning it was. I was worried that Friday’s windstorm would blow all the blossoms away and that we’d miss the best few days of the ephemeral blooms, but there was really no other way.

By this time I was thinking nostalgically about how when we lived in the city we used to just walk to the Tidal Basin from our apartment and scheduling the trip around two people instead of four was so much easier. It didn’t help that Friday morning I had a dentist appointment in Dupont Circle with the dentist I’ve been seeing for almost twenty years and I’d spent the rest of the morning down there drinking coffee and reading some medical abstracts for a project I’m going to do for Sara and watching people come and go out of the Circle. I started to get very wistful about my younger and comparatively simpler days, not that they seemed simple at the time. Life never does.

The book club meeting the night before may have primed me for this dissatisfaction. It’s run by the Takoma Park Library and it’s called the Great Big Books Club–big in both senses of the word. I’ve never been before but they’ve read War and Peace, Middlemarch, Moby Dick and The Brothers Karamazov over the past two years. This time around it’s Bleak House (“a cakewalk,” someone at the meeting commented). Here’s the flyer that sucked me in: Overall it’s a good thing I’m doing this. I’ve been interested in this book club for some time but it always seemed impossible. It meets in the evenings and I was always so tired and getting home after dark could be tricky, etc. And then June started sleeping through the night in January and after a couple months of that, I started noticing I feel better, not just physically but emotionally, too. I feel lighter somehow, more optimistic. So I was reading about the book club on the library web site and found out that another mom from June’s school was quoted in the article. I got in touch with her to ask some questions and before I knew it she was offering me a ride and all of a sudden it seemed as if I might actually be able to do this thing.

Aside from fatigue and logistics the other thing that held me back from joining a book club was my fear that I’d want to the be professor in the room and I’d try to take it over. But this book club has an actual professor who comes to lecture at the first meeting to help put the book in context for future meetings. He was very good, informative and affable and good at engaging the eclectic crowd. At one point I found myself admiring his shoes, lace-up oxfords, and thinking they make those for women, too, maybe I should get a pair some day when I realized I didn’t want his shoes, I wanted his job. And then I got a little depressed. But I managed to fight it back. I’m good at that. I do it all the time.

So, about those blossoms… this is a post about the cherry blossoms, right? That’s what the pictures seem to imply at any rate. We left the house at 8:40 on Saturday morning. Both children had complained of stomachaches earlier in the morning but ate breakfast and felt better. We picked up coffee and pastries for a snack to eat there and drove down to the Tidal Basin. Our first sight of the blossoms from the car window was promising. The trees were covered in big, puffy clumps of blossoms. It looked like a postcard of Washington, D.C. The high winds predicted for Friday had never come and the trees were just perfect.

We found parking without much trouble and didn’t even need to use the remote lot. The weather was odd. It was cloudy early and then cleared right before we left the house and then got cloudy again and it just kept doing that all morning until there was a brief downpour, but that was after we’d left. It was chilly but we’ve been to the blossoms on colder days. Late March and early April are most unpredictable so we’ve been to see the blossoms in everything from winter coats to shorts.

We walked all the way around the Tidal Basin for the first time in a few years, maybe since before June was born. Noah had a map and acted as our tour guide, identifying the different species of trees and regaling us with facts about them. He was a bit put out that we didn’t get the map right away so he didn’t have it for the whole walk (and we refused to go back to our starting point to accommodate his desire to do the whole route with the map). Still, considering that no-one got sick, it wasn’t raining, no one fell into the water (despite June’s best efforts) and we had two hours to meander around the Tidal Basin, all decked out in its April finery, I think it was just about as close to postcard perfect as real life gets.

Rites of Spring

Spring has now unwrapped the flow’rs,
Day is fast reviving,
Life in all her growing pow’rs,
To’rds the light is striving.
Gone the iron touch of cold,
Winter time and frost time
Seedlings working through the mould,
Now wake up for lost time.

From “The Flower Carol,” Folk Song

April Fools Day
No one played any April Fools jokes on me this year but the representative from Washington Gas might have thought I was playing one on him when I called to report a gas leak in our basement that turned out to be…nothing.

Thursday morning I was putting a load of laundry in the dryer when it wouldn’t start. A half hour later I was back in the basement when I thought I smelled a faint odor of gas near the dryer. I called the emergency line and took June out to play in the yard while we waited for someone to come check out the situation. We had to wait about an hour and while I was sitting and watching June collect the tiny white wildflowers in the yard, I noticed the grass was starting to get long so I decided to give the lawn its first mowing of the year. I got the front and side yards done and pruned the butterfly bush, which suffered a lot snapped branches when it was buried under three feet of snow back in February.

Around noon I proposed a picnic lunch to June and right around then the service rep showed up. I took him down to the basement. As we approached the dryer I noticed the smell was completely gone. He turned on his meter, which detected nothing. He checked all around the basement and found nothing. Then he left and though he was very professional and told me to call again if I smelled gas again, I couldn’t help feeling a little foolish.

I should mention a peculiar thing about myself here. I sometimes smell things that aren’t there. It happened most often in my late twenties and it was usually pleasant smells like baking cookies. It still happens occasionally but not often and since the dryer was broken and I was under the impression it was a gas dryer (turns out it’s electric) it seemed logical and it never occurred to me it might be one of my olfactory hallucinations.

June was still excited about the picnic so I went through with it. I made a pitcher of lemonade (“the bestest lemonade in the world” June told me), laid a beach towel out on the lawn and we ate vegetarian salami, American cheese, saltines and sliced strawberries amid the damp clothes hanging on the drying rack and draped over the slide, the soccer net and our lawn furniture.

There were errands I’d planned for that morning that didn’t get done but I did get an hour and a half outside on a warm, sunny day, a half-mowed lawn and two loads of laundry with that incomparable dried-outside smell. Maybe I wasn’t so foolish after all.

Good Friday
“Is the beach talking to you?” Beth asked me. We had just gotten back into the car after a pit stop at for lunch at the Taco Bell near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

“Yes,” I answered.

“”What is it saying?” she wanted to know.

“Why on earth did you take that job?” I said. We were headed to Rehoboth for weekend getaway in the middle of Noah’s week and a half long spring break, but I would need to spend a few hours of it at the computer working on an article for Sara about an enzyme derived from fermented soybeans that has cardiovascular benefits. I’d hoped to have it mostly finished before we left, but due to the cats keeping me up half the night howling one night and only being able to find a sitter for one morning when I hoped for two, I’d only gotten about a third of the way through it and Sara needed my draft by Monday.

We arrived at our hotel around 4:00. There was a hold up getting into our room, but by 4:45 the kids and I were on the beach making sand castles. June preferred to decorate hers with shells while Noah elected to tunnel under his until they collapsed. He has loved doing this for years, ever since he learned it was an authentic medieval siege technique.

The last time we came to the beach in April it was so cold the kids wore their winter coats, but it was sunny and almost 70 degrees and we were all in bare feet. The warm sand felt good under my feet. Even the shocking little frisson of the frigid water felt good, too, as I fetched bucket after bucket full of water for the kids. I almost never feel so alive and present in my body as I do at the beach.

After a visit to Candy Kitchen (Noah got gummy teeth; June got a foot-shaped lollipop—what’s up with the body parts, kids?) and a pizza dinner, we bathed the kids and put them to bed. I slipped down to the hotel lounge for a half hour’s work on the article and then the sea called me and I answered.

A fog had fallen and the wind was whipping it around the beach in tatters. The air was cold and wet. Even in corduroys and a fleece jacket I was soon chilled and my hair hung damp around my face. I watched the waves crash over the remains of someone else’s sand castle and then, thrilled and joyful, I walked back to the hotel.

It was a Good Friday indeed.

Let’s Go Fly a Kite
We saw the Easter Bunny on Rehoboth Avenue after breakfast on Saturday, or rather a person in an Easter Bunny costume, as June was careful to correct me when I said, “Look! It’s the Easter Bunny.” Much to my surprise, she went right up to the Bunny and selected a Starburst from the basket of candy and even posed for a picture with the big rodent.

Beth took the kids to play miniature golf while I holed up in the room and worked. In the afternoon, after June’s nap, we took June’s new Barbie kite to the beach. Yes, you read that right. One of June’s friends gave it to her for her birthday. The picture on it could be worse—it’s just her head, but still… Barbie has breached the perimeter.

The morning had been cold and foggy so we’d put off the kite-flying expedition until afternoon, hoping the fog would burn off, but it didn’t. Still, Beth got the job done, getting the kite into the air. I never thought I’d see Beth flying a Barbie kite on the beach, but now I have. The amusement factor made it almost worth owning a Barbie kite. Almost.

The kids awoke Easter Sunday to find the Bunny had left two chocolate bunnies (milk chocolate for June and white chocolate for Noah) on the bedside table in the hotel room. It was a down payment on the candy they’d find in their baskets once we got home.

The day was warm and sunny. June and I played for hours on the beach and took a long walk down the boardwalk. She tested my hypothesis that no matter how many buckets of water I carried to her she could not make a puddle that would stay. She rode the car with the clown on the boardwalk that used to scare her. She made multiple attempts to talk me into another visit to Candy Kitchen, each as if the previous conversation had never taken place. She admired the “eagles,” as she calls them.

I could tell when church let out because all of a sudden the beach and boardwalk filled up with little girls in fancy dresses and boys in polo shirts and khakis or madras shorts. All the people in their finery gave the scene a festive feel. It was the kind of day when cold weather was such a recent memory and warmer weather seemed so imminent, that we saw people in everything from winter coats to bikinis. The sartorial diversity was a truly glorious thing.

We left Rehoboth after a boardwalk lunch and drove home. The first hour of the ride was pleasantly quiet. June was sleeping and Noah was reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. We met up with YaYa and Aunt Carole in Silver Spring. They’ve come for a brief visit to see the cherry blossoms. We ate on the patio at Eggspectations ( They kept getting our orders wrong, but we made do with what we got and when they comped us a free dessert and brought the wrong one, it was just too funny to be annoying. (I did make them bring the right one, though, because it was a slice of Smith Island cake—– a Maryland tradition I’ve heard of but never sampled and which I’d spied in the dessert case when we arrived.)

We all came back to the house to dye Easter eggs and eat Easter candy. YaYa and Carole talked about how they loved the simplicity of dyeing eggs and discussed plans to make their own dye from onion skins one year. They left for their hotel before we applied the stickers with eyes, noses and mouths and taped little hats to the tops of our now not so simple colored eggs.

We got the kids bathed and in bed. Beth fell asleep in her clothes on the bed before I got June settled down. It had been an eventful weekend.

Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry Now
I love the cherry blossoms, enough to go every year despite the hassles, and there are hassles no matter how you go. Parking is hard to come by, the shuttles from the remote parking lots are not particularly convenient and going by Metro adds a lot of time to an already long trip. We decided on Metro this year but it was clear from our discussion of logistics that morning that there was no way we could get home by noon, which is the latest I like to get June home from a morning outing.

We left the house at 8:15 drove to Silver Spring and met YaYa and Carole at their hotel. From there we walked to Starbucks, picked up some snacks and boarded the Metro. It was already 10:15 when we arrived at the Tidal Basin. June was complaining she was tired before we even arrived. We’ve been stroller-free for about two months (the big storm that left sidewalks impassable for weeks was the impetus) and on some days it’s been harder than others. I had a feeling this was going to be one of those days. I told Beth I didn’t think we were going to make it all the way around the perimeter. We rested and ate for ten minutes or so by the water before we starting walking. We set a goal of reaching the FDR memorial, which was slightly less than half way around.

Noah had a map and pretended to be a tour guide as he read to us about the points of interest we passed along the way. June kept stopping to collect petals from the ground. When YaYa and Carole planned their trip, the peak blooming period was supposed to extend into this week, but warm weather caused the blossoms to open early and we’d missed the peak. More than half the blossoms were already off the trees, but it was still lovely. It’s always lovely. We admired the Jefferson Memorial across the water and posed by the stone lantern. As we approached the FDR memorial, it was eleven and June was really dragging. We didn’t go through the whole thing because it was so late, but the kids enjoyed seeing the waterfalls.

On the way back I picked June up and carried her every time we got significantly behind the others. I would carry her until we caught up and then I’d put her down again. We proceeded this way, with June whining, “I want my nap!” over and over again until Beth made threats against her Easter candy if she continued. She continued to whimper from time to time, but she didn’t say the word nap again after that. As we passed the Department of Agriculture, we saw a landscaping crew digging up some tulips that hadn’t even finished blooming yet. Who knows why? The way they are constantly changing the plantings down on the mall is irritatingly wasteful. Anyway, the gardener must have thought the same thing because he offered a bunch of tulips (with two bulbs still attached) to June. June ran to show them to Beth, arriving before I could with the explanation and Beth gasped, thinking (naturally) that June had yanked them out of the ground. We carried them home to put it water and I will try planting the two bulbs in the yard. We have crocuses, daffodils, hyacinth, irises and tiger lilies but no tulips, so it was a fortuitous gift.

Our first train was delayed for ten or fifteen minutes by a sick passenger on another train ahead of us on the track so it was a relief to finally get moving and to transfer to the second train, where we could sit down and rest our weary feet. I was positive June would fall asleep on the train and ruin her nap but some how she stayed awake not only on both trains but in the car, too, though it was a close thing. In fact, when Beth asked me if she was asleep and I said no, June insisted that she was and she didn’t seem to be playing a game.

We got home at 1:15 and June dawdled over lunch so it was nearly two by the time she fell asleep. She then slept for almost two hours. I was intending to lie down for just a little while and then get up and work but I fell asleep and slept for almost a half hour. Spring can be exhilarating, but it’s also exhausting.