Fast Break

The day after North got back from Colombia they went to school for exactly one day and then it was spring break. The break was shorter than usual this year, because of the Governor’s order dictating when the school year has to start and end. Instead of the usual ten days, it was six (from the Wednesday before Easter through Easter Monday). Between that and the fact that we’d all been traveling a lot recently, we decided not to go anywhere over break this year.

So the break was short, but eventful. North attended Gretchen’s spring break drama camp, which they’ve never done before because we’re usually gone. It was just three half-days and culminated in a performance of two songs (with choreography) from Dear Evan Hansen. North had a solo in one of the songs, just a few lines, but no one had any long solos, as there wasn’t much material and there were fourteen kids. Eight of them were singing Evan’s lines. North was one of two Zoës and even danced a little, as much as their crutches would permit. (Gretchen never goes easy on anyone. I think that’s one of the things North likes about her.) Most of North’s friends were out of town, so in the afternoons after camp they amused themselves by dying their hair blue-green and making brownies.

North also spent a lot of time on the porch in the sky chair, watching the mourning dove nest. Two doves built it in late March and the chicks hatched while North was in Colombia. I’d been worried about the nest because last year the doves built a nest in the exact same place and it was attacked by some kind of predator, which killed the chicks, leaving a bloody mess behind. But that happened almost as soon as they hatched and these two chicks were bigger and already venturing to the edge of the ledge and flapping their wings by the beginning of break. (The picture is of the dove sitting on the eggs. I didn’t want to get close enough to the little ones to take their pictures.)

Meanwhile, Beth, Noah, and I were all working for most of break. I kept more or less my normal hours, but Beth had Good Friday off, so Noah decided to take it off, too. He went into break behind in a couple subjects—possibly because of our back-to-back trips to visit RIT and Ithaca the two previous weekends—and he spent the five other days catching up.  Well, I’m not sure how much he worked Thursday, what with all the distracting commentary on the Mueller report there was to read.

But we made the most of that day off Friday. I read several chapters of The Handmaid’s Tale to him in the morning. After attending North’s performance in the early afternoon, we split up, and went to two different movies. Beth took North to see Fast Color, which they both gave good reviews. Noah and I went to see Us, which I recommend if horror is your thing (but I don’t if it isn’t—it’s bloodier than Get Out.) At the bus stop as we waited to go home, Noah and I discussed possible allusions to The Time Machine and the film’s treatment of class. I am really going to miss this kid.

Saturday we dyed Easter eggs. I made the two-toned ones on the ends of the line, the yellow/green and pink/purple ones. One of North’s eggs, partly pink and partly blue, was inspired by the trans flag. Beth did the one in the floppy hat. A long time ago we got a kit with these hats and we’ve been re-using them ever since then. Noah did the one that looks like it’s sticking out its tongue, but he actually clipped an ear off a bunny sticker. It represents the creatures that eat rabbits in Us. It reminded me of the time I was a teenager making gingerbread cookies with my family and I made one in the shape of Marie Antoinette, beheaded and holding her head. (I used tic tacs for the blood.) Come to think of it, this egg is a lot more subtle.

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Sunday Beth and I spent much of the day working in the yard, taking down weed trees, tearing vines off the fence, mowing the lawn and preparing garden plots. I planted peas in one of them, possibly too late, seeing as how they already have pea shoots at the farmers’ market—and parsley and cilantro seeds in pots the next day, so now I guess I can say the garden is started. (We’ve also got rosemary that survived the winter and mint, oregano, and sage coming back from last year with no help from me.)

The next day Beth went back to work but the kids were home for one more day. North’s big project for the day was making whole-wheat bagels. It was Earth Day so on my daily walk through the neighborhood, I decided to photograph the flowers and flowering trees that bloom so exuberantly this time of year.

We’d encouraged Noah to make a decision about college over break and it was the last day so at dinner on Monday we asked him what he thought. We went through the pros and cons of the three schools he was considering and by the end of the meal, he’d decided. He’ll be going to Ithaca. I’m happy for him and very proud of his hard work in three different magnet programs over the past nine years. Sometimes it seems hard to believe that after thirteen months, nine colleges visited, seven initially notified of his scores, four applied to, and two visited a second time, the decision is finally made. The next part of his path is visible and waiting for him.

Tuesday the kids went back to school and I discovered the dove’s nest was abandoned. This wasn’t surprising as I’d seen one of the fledglings out of the nest, walking around the porch floor a few days earlier and then it was back up on the ledge later, so I knew it could fly, even though I never saw it. It’s been four days now and they haven’t come back. I am glad the young birds are launched into their new lives, but it does seem as if whoever is in charge of the symbolism of my life got a little heavy-handed here. I mean, a literal empty nest on my porch? It’s five years and several months until mine is empty, but it’s seeming a lot more close and real these days.

Suburban Maryland Wants to Be Western New York, Part 2

Late Friday morning, after just four days at home, Beth and I were pulling into the parking lot of Noah’s school to pick him up halfway through the school day, for our last college trip. We were going to Admitted Students Day at Ithaca College. I asked Beth if she would sometimes like to know if North will go to this high school so she knew exactly how nostalgic she should feel about the fact that Noah will be finished attending it in just over a month. She said no. Turns out that’s just me.

We rolled into Ithaca around dinner time. It’s a slightly shorter trip than Rochester and we didn’t have to make a detour to the airport this time. We found our AirBnB, which was in a neighborhood of stately old houses in eclectic architectural styles, many of them slightly shabby but cheerfully decorated with strings of lights or Japanese lanterns or Tibetan peace flags or colorful woven hammocks on the porches. The yards were dotted with flowers or yard signs supporting liberal causes, pretty much the same ones you’d see on a stroll through Takoma Park.

We walked a few blocks to a pizza place, where we got pizza, Stromboli, and garlic knots. While we were standing in line to order, there were some college kids behind us in line, talking about how they were meeting friends at ten, so there should be time to go to the gym after dinner and before that. It took me back to my younger days when plans could conceivably start at ten. Now if they end at ten, it feels like a late night. It made me hope when Noah’s up late a year from now, it’s not always because he’s working.

Noah wanted to watch a movie, so after some discussion we settled on A Serious Man and watched the first half before bed around ten, because though I might like to reminisce about late nights in college, I don’t actually want to relive them.

In the morning, we had breakfast at the AirBnB and headed over to the college. We registered and settled in at one of the tables set up in the middle of the stadium. There was a student activities and services fair going on around the perimeter. Beth went and collected some brochures and freebie pens while Noah set up his laptop and tried to get some work on his Chaucer PowerPoint presentation done. Like hobbits, we had a second breakfast of muffins and bagels. Eventually it was time to move to the folding chairs set up at the front of the stadium floor. A dance club performed and then some administrators spoke and then the admitted students left to go hear a panel discussion of current students while the parents stayed behind and heard more administrators and a student speak about Ithaca. Beth said she thought it was a good idea to split the kids off from their parents in case they had questions they didn’t want to ask in front of the their parents.

Indeed, Noah came back claiming they’d all been sworn to secrecy, but he did mention the current students gave tips about which dorms were quiet ones and which one were more party-oriented. (Meanwhile, the parents were listening to the administrators talk about how drug use isn’t endorsed anywhere despite the existence of a substance-free house. This discussion went on for quite some time, apparently because New York may be legalizing recreational marijuana soon.) Noah also had some restaurant recommendations and was informed there are so many hills on campus, the student all develop “Ithacalves.”

There was a buffet lunch set up in the stadium and the vegetarian options were much better than what we ate at RIT. There was cheese tortellini, baked tofu, salad, fresh fruit, and cupcakes.

After lunch, it was time for the academic presentations. We went to the Park School of Communications, where we started off watching video presentations and speeches by faculty and students. There are ten majors in the school—Noah was accepted to Emerging Media—but what struck me was how much interaction between them and flexibility within them there seems to be. This was something that concerned Noah at RIT. He thought the Motion Picture Sciences major seemed like it might be too narrow. There also seems to be a lot of institutional support and encouragement for undergraduates to attend conferences or get travel funds to film events or meet sources for documentaries.

Two of the students who spoke had oddly specific things in common with Noah. One had two moms and was making a documentary about meeting her donor and half-siblings. Another travelled to the Women’s March and filmed it with a 360-degree camera, which is also something Noah’s done (even with the same kind of camera) while assisting CWA’s videographer. It almost seemed like a sign. Of course, when the singers at RIT sang a song called, “It’s Your Puzzle,” that also seemed like a sign, because Noah’s Common App essay was about puzzles. And the RIT mascot is a tiger and when he was two, he loved to wear his tiger costume and insisted on being addressed as Mr. Tiger when he did so. (It was also the mascot of his first elementary school.) When you’re trying to see the future, signs are everywhere.

Next we had a chance to meet with the director of Emerging Media and two current students in the major. We had a surprisingly long and detailed talk with them. One of the students is a double major with Computer Science—Noah is very interested in the intersection between computing and film. Noah got some handouts outlining the requirements for the major and different tracks you can take within it and asked some questions about how his AP credit in calculus and computer science will count as coursework. The director asked what other schools Noah was considering and while he, of course, favored Ithaca, he said RIT was a good choice, too. He was somewhat dismissive of Boston University, which he said was more focused on graduate students and wouldn’t offer the same kind of opportunities for undergrads. It reminded me how at BU, the tour guides seemed to think highly of Ithaca, but not RIT. Everyone has a different opinion, but hearing a few of them can help a composite picture emerge.

Before we left campus, Noah posed by the display of Rod Serling’s Emmys, which are housed at Ithaca because Serling taught there. (Noah’s merit scholarship is named after Serling.) We could have gone on to see dorms and dining facilities, but we were all kind of tired, so we went back to the AirBnB, where Noah and I read the second act of A Doll’s House and then I napped while he worked on the Chaucer presentation until it was time to leave for dinner.

We ate at Moosewood when we visited Ithaca in August and Noah wanted to go again and I certainly had no objection. I had a samosa wrap, Beth got a vegetable soup and a cheese plate, and Noah had pasta with asparagus in a cream sauce. We stopped at an ice cream parlor on our way home and watched the rest of A Serious Man.

While not as unfortunate as the besieged protagonist of the film, Noah is a serious young man and not prone to quick decisions. He’s going to make a pros and cons chart over spring break, which started today. He’s behind in a couple classes and he worked on statistics all day today, but I hope he has a little space over the next few days to relax and to weigh his options.

Suburban Maryland Wants to Be Western New York, Part 1

It wants to have a family business in sheet metal or power tools, 
It wants to have a diner where the coffee tastes like diesel fuel, 
And it wants to find the glory of a town they say has hit the skids, 
And it wants to have a snow day that will turn its parents into kids, 
And it’s embarrassed, but it’s lusting after a SUNY student with mousy brown hair who is 
Taking out the compost, making coffee in long underwear.

From “Southern California Wants to Be Western New York,” by Dar Williams

The children persist in growing up. Late Friday morning we dropped North off at BWI airport to join thirty-six of their classmates in the Spanish immersion program who were embarking on an eleven-day trip to Bogotá. The trip takes place every other year—you go in seventh or eighth grade—and in the alternate years, the French immersion kids go on their own trip.

We’d hoped North would be off crutches by the time they left and the fracture is healed, but despite twice-weekly physical therapy, they still have pain when they put weight on that leg, so the crutches went to Colombia with them. That meant we needed to stay in the airport for an hour or so, until their suitcase was checked. Not that we were the only parents lingering. Apparently sending your twelve-to-fourteen year old off to a foreign country without you is a little unnerving. But the first couple days they were gone we received a steady stream of texts and pictures. It’s slowed down, but we’re still getting dispatches from them and we also got a nice email from their host mom, so we don’t have to wonder how they’re doing. They seem to be having a great time. More on North’s adventures in a later post.

After we tore ourselves away from our jetsetter and collected Noah from the bench where he was working on computer science homework on his laptop, the three remaining members of the family got lunch at Panera and then hit the open road. We were headed for an Admitted Students Day at RIT. (Next weekend we’ll be back to New York state again, for Ithaca’s version.)

We arrived at our hotel around 9:30,  after a long drizzly drive. As we drove north, I could see spring receding. The flowering trees disappeared and there was even a dusting of snow on the ground at the highest elevation, near the Pennsylvania/New York border. We had dinner at a brick oven pizza place about one hundred miles from Rochester. For much of the ride, Beth and listened to podcasts—Throughline, Invisibilia, Hidden Brain, and Desert Island Discs while Noah disappeared into his headphones to listen to his own podcasts and watch television on his laptop.

In the morning we had breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast room was crowded with teenage boys in track suits, some kind of high school sports team from Montreal, we gathered. They were well behaved—which isn’t always the case for large groups of teens in hotels—but it made for tight quarters. There were also a couple teen boys with middle-aged parents I thought might be going where we were.

When we arrived at RIT, we were greeted by the pep band, wearing orange and white hockey jerseys, standing on the steps of the building where the event started, and playing a cheerful tune. I noticed there were a lot more young men than women streaming into the building. (We later learned from a tour guide the student body is 70 percent male.) When we took our seats in the stadium where there was a mostly female a cappella group performing. I joked to Beth they were there to convince all these young men that there are women at RIT.

There were some speeches by administrators and then we were split up by schools. We followed a student carrying a School of Film and Animation sign to the brand-new MAGIC Spell Studios building, which opened this fall. We started in an auditorium where the interim director and other faculty gave an overview of the different majors within the school. It was during this presentation we realized that co-ops (paid, full-time, semester or summer-long internships required by most majors) are not required in the School of Film and Animation. For me, the co-op opportunities had been one of RIT’s draws.

When it was time to tour the building, we went with the Motion Picture Sciences guide. This is the program Noah applied to. It’s an engineering-based program that covers the technical aspects of film. We saw studios for color correction, sound mixing, a big green screen (but not the biggest one they have) and a couple grip cages full of equipment. Noah said later it was a really impressive facility and he’d know.

Lunch was provided, but the vegetarian option was a sad, sparsely filled roasted vegetable sandwich that was mostly lettuce and peppers. It was similar to lunch at UMBC, actually. I wondered if they use the same catering service. There was fresh fruit and brownies, though, and I had smoked almonds in my bag, so I supplemented my lunch with those.

Next we took a residence hall tour. The guide showed us a standard dorm room and lounge. The most interesting feature of the tour was the network of tunnels that connect the dorms to each other and to the academic buildings. It’s a nice feature on a campus with harsh winters, but they’re in use all year. There are student-painted murals on the walls, some dating back to the nineties, but there’s still blank space you can request to paint. There are laundry rooms and mailrooms in the tunnels under each dorm, and even a convenience store. It’s a whole hidden, underground part of campus.

In Noah’s information packet there was a coupon for the Ben and Jerry’s in the student union, so we were forced to go get ice cream. After that, we went to Disability Services and learned how Noah can pick up his ADHD medication and to Spectrum Services to talk to two very nice administrators about what kind of support and social and organizational coaching they offer. For those of you who weren’t reading this blog back in the day, we had Noah tested for Asperger’s when he was nine. He didn’t quite meet the criteria, but the psychologist who tested him said he had a lot of the same characteristics and challenges kids on the spectrum have. And you don’t need an official diagnosis to use Spectrum services, so it’s nice to know there’s a built-in support network if he cares to take advantage of it.

That appointment was our last stop of the day so we went to the bookstore to use another coupon to buy A Handmaid’s Tale (because Noah and I are thinking of making it our next mother-and-son book club book and I’ve lost my copy) then back to the hotel room so Noah could research a paper about Chaucer for a few hours. But before he started to work, we debriefed a little. He was concerned that the Motion Picture Science major might be too technical and not creative enough. He’s interested in technology and skilled with it, but he is interested in the bigger picture of storytelling, too, so to speak. We talked about how he’s eligible to take other classes in the School of Film and Animation that might be more on the creative side, even if they’re not requirements. He seemed pensive and unsure. I think this is going to be a hard decision for him, but maybe the visit to Ithaca next weekend will put the schools side to side in a helpful way.

When Noah’s laptop ran out of power we went into Rochester proper for a late dinner at a Asian noodle restaurant. As we walked down a residential block where we parked the car, I noticed snowdrops and crocuses in people’s yards, underlining the fact that we’d driven into an earlier, more tentative phase of spring than we’re having at home, where there are daffodils everywhere and the cherry blossoms are past peak, and there’s a sprinkling of early tulips. (Rochester still had big piles of melting snow in parking lots.)

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was late, so I had a shower, Noah had a bath, and we all went to bed. In the morning, we ate breakfast and hit the road again. Beth and I listened to more podcasts, mostly Hit Parade, a music history podcast about—you guessed it—songs that have been in the Hit Parade over the decades. In an episode about songs that peaked at #2, there was a snippet of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Shop Around,” and Beth and I sang along with the line “My mama told me, you better shop around.”

It’s true, both Noah’s mamas advised him to shop around, but the time for that is almost over. There’s just one more college to visit and sometime in the next few weeks, he’ll make his choice.

Teenagers, Part 2

As of Saturday, I’m now the mother of two teenagers. This wasn’t exactly a surprise. I knew it was coming. Here’s how it all went down.

The Week Before

North remembered that the week before Noah’s last birthday, I made him pasta for dinner every night for four nights in a row, so they wanted to menu plan dinners from Monday to Thursday the week before their birthday. That’s why we had a vegetarian pot pie topped with tater tots for dinner on Monday, mac and cheese from a box with broccoli on Tuesday, cheese fries with broccoli on Wednesday, and bean and cheese tacos on Thursday. Basically, we ate a lot of potatoes, broccoli, and cheese. Could be worse, right? Each meal had at least one vegetable and some protein. (This was the nutritional baseline I set for them.) North helped cook most nights and Wednesday made dinner entirely on their own. On Friday we went out for pizza. This was supposed to be a get-together with a couple of their elementary school friends, but, sadly, neither of the girls North invited was free that night.

The Big Day

Saturday morning, I made cheese grits for North’s breakfast, another culinary request. Before I even got out of bed, I knew Noah had gotten into Boston University because it was the day you could check the portal and Beth did. We didn’t say anything to him, though, so he could discover it on his own. BU was the last school on his list to notify him and he got into every school where he applied. Later in the day he wondered if that meant he should have aimed higher, but I think he has a good group of schools to consider. Plus given the trouble he’s having deciding—it’s a three-way tie and he only applied to four schools—it might be a good thing he didn’t apply to more. (The official letter pictured arrived a few days later.)

At breakfast North opened presents: summer clothes and pajamas, a card from Noah that said he’d purchased Dr. Who series 11 so they could watch it together, a necklace, and a wallet with spending money for Colombia in it.

Late in the morning, Beth, North, and I headed out to Silver Spring to have an early lunch at Mod Pizza and to get their ears pierced. The manager at Mod apparently had recently had his own leg injury and in solidarity, offered North a free milkshake. And he didn’t even know it was their birthday.

From there we proceeded to the tattoo and piercing shop. Beth and North had been there ahead of time and North mentioned being a little unnerved by all the devil artwork on the walls (paintings, not sample tattoos). And it’s true there was a painting of the Hindu goddess Kali, holding a severed head over a blood-filled basin right near the display case of jewelry. But devils aside, the space was clean, well-lit, and professional looking. Beth filled out the paperwork and North picked out three studs in two different sizes. They were getting a double piercing in one earlobe and single in the other.

We accompanied North into the piercing room. The man who did it had a reassuring manner. He explained everything very thoroughly and took care to make sure the piercings were exactly where North wanted them. Overall it was a good experience and they are already planning to go back there when and if we let them get a helix and/or industrial piercing (and to get a tattoo when they’re eighteen and we no longer have any say in it). We had celebratory drinks at Starbucks—North complained on the way there that the wind hurt their ears—and then headed home.

North had guests arriving soon, but there was time for one for item on their turning thirteen checklist before they were due, so Beth helped North set up an Instagram account. (They waited a few more days to get a Facebook account and the main purpose of that one is so they can keep tabs on Beth and me.) They followed their preschool on Instagram and a result now some teachers and classmates are following them. I think it’s like the early teen version of when adults get onto Facebook and suddenly find a bunch of high school classmates they haven’t been in touch with for years.

Zoë and Cam arrived in the late afternoon and the three kids hung around eating candy from goody bags (North had reluctantly concluded thirteen was too old for a piñata but they still wanted the candy) and then they had root beer floats and North opened presents—rainbow striped socks and a rainbow cat necklace.

A little later we went out for hibachi. I’ve never done this before so it was interesting to watch the chef cook theatrically on the grill in front of us. Beth, Noah, and I ordered off the menu because of concerns about eating vegetables or noodles that were on the same grill as meat, but North ate noodles from the grill and didn’t get sick. And now that I’ve seen how it’s done—noodles and veggies first and meat and seafood last and the grill cleaned, actually sterilized with fire, in between groups of diners—I might not worry next time.

Noah got on a bus and went home after dinner, but the middle schoolers and Beth and I went to see Five Feet Apart. It’s about two teenagers with cystic fibrosis who fall in love in the hospital, sort of like Fault in Our Stars but with a different disease. It was North’s first PG-13 movie in a theater and they loved it so much they want to buy it and “watch it over and over” when it’s available, so that was a success.

At this point I left to catch a bus home while the rest of the party proceeded to Dave and Busters to play arcade games for a little while to kill time until it was time to go to Highwood Theater. North’s friend Sadhbh was acting in Titanic that night and was coming to our house for the sleepover portion of the festivities after the show. (North’s original plan for the evening was to go to the play with their guests, but it sold out.) The reason I was taking the bus home was that there wasn’t enough room in the car for everyone, but I just missed one and had to wait forty minutes for the next one so I got home just barely ahead of everyone else.

We got the kids set up in the living room in their sleeping bags and we went to bed. They were pretty quiet and I didn’t hear anything from them after 11:30, although North said they were up about an hour past that. Sadhbh’s fourteenth birthday was the day after North’s so North wanted to stay up so everyone could sing “Happy Birthday” at midnight. It must have been during this time that Sadhbh gave North a giant stuffed Peep and North gave Sadhbh stuffed dolls from a video game that they play.

In the morning, we served everyone bagels (with candles for the two birthday kids), strawberries, and watermelon and everyone was gone by ten a.m. Sadhbh had another show in the afternoon was off to a late morning call time.

The Week After

So North’s been thirteen almost a week now. The week after their birthday was busy, as most of their weeks are. They went to physical therapy Monday, sang at a chorus festival Tuesday, attended a school play rehearsal on Wednesday, and a Rainbow Alliance meeting on Thursday. Tomorrow morning they’re going to the orthopedist and in the afternoon they’ll be back in the physical therapist’s office. The sprained ligaments in leg they broke back in February have been slow to heal and we’re all hoping they improve in the next week or so they can keep up with their classmates during the school trip to Colombia.

After many months of parent meetings and fundraising, the seventh and eighth grade Spanish immersion students will be leaving for their trip in just over a week. It seems like a fitting adventure to usher in North’s teen years because this kid has always wanted to go places. And the very day we drop them off at the airport, we’ll be hitting the road for Rochester, to attend an Admitted Students weekend, which should help Noah eventually decide whether that’s the place he’ll be going.

Our Funny Valentine

“This will be a memorable Valentine’s Day, even if it’s not the best one,” North commented as we ate our Valentine’s Day dinner of tomato, cabbage, and rice soup with heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches. They were wearing a large new brace with a hinge and a cutout for the knee on their left leg.  They fell on some wet pavement in front of their school Monday morning and fractured the growth plate at the top of their left tibia, though it took several days to get the right diagnosis.

At first we thought it was a sprained knee and not even a severe sprain as they could put a little weight on it. But it wasn’t better after two days and a night and they needed a doctor’s note to keep using the elevator at school, so Beth took them to urgent care on Tuesday night. The doctor there thought it was a fracture, but the radiologist who read the X-rays the next day disagreed. By Thursday morning, we had a more definitive opinion from an orthopedist who had examined North and person and seen the X-rays and he said it was fractured in a different place than where the urgent care doctor had thought. This was the same orthopedist we saw when North was breaking bone after bone in fifth grade (with some sprains thrown in for variety). I desperately hope we are not on the cusp of another series of orthopedic injuries, but in case we are I’m glad the doctor is familiar with North’s case history.

North was out of school for the first two periods at the orthopedist the morning of Valentine’s Day, so they missed getting candy from any friends who brought some in because apparently it was all distributed by the time they got to school. I wasn’t that sorry for them as North hadn’t brought any candy to school for anyone else and they got white chocolate-strawberry truffles and gummy cinnamon hearts at home later in the day.

North’s gift to the whole family was a bouquet of four yellow roses, one for each of us. We’d discussed this plan before they were injured so I decided to go to the florist and buy them myself while I was out on Valentines-related errands on Tuesday morning because I thought when they got home from school they’d rather rest, rather than going out into the cold rain on crutches in search of flowers.

In lieu of their normal chores, I had them do KP for dinner every night from Monday to Thursday, seated at the dining room table with a big cutting board, a knife, and a pile of vegetables, fruit, and/or herbs. Some days I didn’t need much chopped and this was a very short chore, but on Valentine’s Day it was more involved. They chopped vegetables for the soup, including a big pile of cabbage, and then they juiced half an orange and sectioned five and a half more, grapefruit-style, to get the flesh free of the membranes. (The only reason I didn’t have them zest two more oranges was that I forgot I needed those until after they’d left the table.)  I was making an orange pound cake with chocolate whipped cream as a Valentine’s dessert.

We exchanged cards and gifts after dinner. Some of the cards were funny like the one from me and Beth to Noah of waffles holding hands that said, “We love you a waffle lot,” and some sweet, like Beth’s to me with stars in a heart shape that said, “You are the stars in my sky.” In addition to the roses, there were three pairs of socks with hearts on them for North, a long sleeve tie-dyed t-shirt for Noah, a Starbucks card for me, a loaf of chocolate-cherry bread for Beth, and candy for everyone. So there was some sweetness in the day for everyone, despite our youngest being hobbled again. And North didn’t let the injury stop them from going about their normal routine at school, rehearsal for the school play, honors chorus rehearsal, therapy, practice for their youth TED talk, or church. It would take more than a broken leg to slow down this child.

It was a good week for Noah, too. He got into RIT, which Beth knew before anyone else because she has access to the email account he uses for communications from colleges. (This was the first time an email has come in advance of the letter. When you open it you see the letter that’s coming in the mail with confetti graphics streaming across it. It was quite festive.) Beth was waiting for him to discover it on his own, but she finally suggested he check his mail on Wednesday evening. The official letter came on Friday.

On that same day he got another letter informing him he was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, which was welcome news indeed, because it will probably mean money for college, and possibly significant money, depending on how the college he eventually chooses rewards that distinction. I’d been forcing myself not to open the National Merit letter since it arrived that morning, five hours before he got home from school, so of course when he did get home, he drew out the suspense by opening it after a Valentine from my mom and the RIT letter, which had “We have some good news for you” printed right on the envelope, in case he’d forgotten the email.

So now he just needs to hear from BU and to find out whether he was admitted to the honors college at RIT and more about scholarships and need-based aid at various colleges and he’ll have all the information he needs to make his choice. Some days it seems strange that we’ll know where he’s going to college in a two and a half months at the latest and other days it seems that’s a long time to wait, given that this whole process started in March of last year.

After opening all that happy mail, we read a little of our new book, Welcome to Night Vale, and then he drummed for an hour and a half. Practicing that long is usually a sign he’s in a good mood, so I was happy to hear it. Second semester continues to be a slog for him—it’s looking like it’s not going to be an easy one after all—so it’s good for him to see the tangible rewards of all his hard work.

We’re two days into a long weekend. Noah’s been working most of the time, of course. What else would he do? But we’ve also enjoyed a few small pleasures. We all watched the penultimate episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Friday night; Beth, North and I watched One Day at a Time last night; and the kids watched Dr. Who together this morning. I had a nice talk with my sister on the phone yesterday and swam some extra laps at the pool today. Beth made soft tacos with homemade queso and avocado cream for dinner tonight and she’ll make pancakes or waffles for President’s Day breakfast. It’s a tradition. We have a lot of those in our everyday life, and when you’re in the right frame of mind, those comforting rhythms can seem like a valentine, sometimes a funny one, sometimes a sweet one.

We Are Headed North (Again): College Tours, Installment #5

Before Boston

Noah skidded into the end of first semester in a blur of late work and later nights. He never did finish all his English assignments, because they’d gotten backed up behind other work, but what’s done is done (or not done, I guess). Then the kids had a three and half day weekend (early dismissal Friday and Monday off) to allow teachers to complete their end-of-semester grading. This was really nice for Noah, who had almost no homework. He practiced his drums or bells every day and we read so much of Crooked Kingdom that we almost finished it. On Monday I gave both the kids some chores around the house and yard and Noah sawed up some weed trees Beth had felled earlier so they could be bagged with the yard waste. He also helped me make baked ziti for dinner.

And then the next week barely happened. The kids went to school on Tuesday, but snow was forecast, so they had an early dismissal. It did sleet and then snow, about an eighth of an inch on my official measuring table, and it was over by early evening, so of course there was a snow day on Wednesday and a two-hour delay on Thursday. Yes, there was an inch or two in other parts of the county and yes, the delay was not for snow, but for morning temperatures in the single digits. I was still exasperated, because it meant we went over our limit of snow days for the year before January was even over. The school district has added a day in June and can add one more before we come up against the Governor’s absurd last-day limit. After that they either start chipping days from our already shortened spring break or they apply to the state for a waiver. I’m not enthusiastic about either of these options, to put it mildly. As a work-at-home mom, I really like getting those days back later in the year, but I’d also like for the kids to have a spring break. It was also too bad one of North’s Honors Chorus rehearsals was cancelled, because it only meets for two months.

On Friday morning, it was snowing again and I was surprised the kids went to school on time. But, puzzlingly, there was an early dismissal, which had the buses on the road at a time of day when it was actually snowing harder than it was when they would have normally come home. But never mind. I no longer expect any of this to make sense. I took advantage of having the kids home to make them shovel the walk, because this snow (about an inch and a half) actually required shoveling, unlike anything that fell earlier in the week.

Meanwhile, my friend Nicole who lives in Calgary, reports that her ninth-grader went on an outdoor education field trip that same week. It started with the kids skiing twelve kilometers uphill and staying for two nights in their choice of either a “backcountry cabin,” which I’m thinking was probably unheated or a snow shelter they built themselves. Let’s think about that contrast for a moment and hope the Canadians never invade, because, as Beth observed when I told her about this trip, if they do they’re going to kick our American butts.

Well, moving on…The next weekend was something of a relay race because Beth and Noah and I left on two separate trips. One of Beth’s cousins died unexpectedly (and quite young, in his mid-thirties) and she went home to Wheeling for the funeral. She left straight from work on Friday and flew home Sunday morning. Shortly after she got back, Noah and I left for Boston for a quick trip to visit Boston University.

Boston

Between March and August of last year we visited eight schools with Noah. He applied to three of those, plus BU, which he got interested in late in the process. He’s been admitted to Ithaca and UMBC (and the honors college at UMBC), but he’s still waiting to hear from R.I.T. and BU. He was having trouble ranking his choices without having visited BU, so we decided to make one last first-round college visit. Ironically, we were in Boston (to visit Emerson) on our very first college road trip almost a year ago, so it feels as if we’ve come full circle. We could be travelling a lot more this spring, though, for admitted students days, (and if he makes the first cut for a scholarship he applied to at Ithaca, for an interview there).

Getting to Boston turned out to be a little more exciting than anticipated, at least at the very beginning of the trip. We had a late afternoon flight on Sunday and around ten in the morning, when I decided to re-arrange all the cards in my wallet so everything I needed would be handy, I discovered my ID was missing.

So, a half hour later when Beth got home from her emotionally draining trip (which she made with a bad cold), I met her at the front door crying and she had to calm me down. She helped me look for the card for another half hour and then we gave up and she investigated flying without state-issued ID. She found you can sometimes, at TSA discretion, if you undergo extra screening, so I brought a long-expired passport (issued in 1987) with me and hoped for the best.

When we got to the airport, I showed the agent the passport, my voter ID, and my debit card. She asked if I had anything else with my name on it, like an insurance card. But I get my health insurance through Beth’s job so the card has her name on it but not mine. I showed it to her anyway and pointed out that Beth’s last name is the other half of Noah’s and oddly, that seemed to do the trick. I was taken aside to be patted down, but they let me through security. I’m not sure that would have happened if I hadn’t been a middle-aged white woman.

The flight itself was uneventful. We took a shuttle to the hotel, found a nice little crepe place for dinner, and were back at the hotel by eight. I needed to decompress and I considered whether a swim or a reading Crooked Kingdom with Noah would be more relaxing. I went with the reading. We finished the book and then I read The Night Ocean on my own while he watched something on his laptop until ten o’clock, when we went to bed.

It was the night of the Super Bowl and we were in Boston, but I didn’t hear any celebration. There was a police presence in the lobby of the hotel and we saw four busses full of police officers going down the street—bound I don’t know where—so I guess it wasn’t quiet everywhere in Boston that night.

In the morning we had breakfast at the hotel and headed for the university for an information session and tour. The information session was pretty standard. When the administrator running it asked all international students to identify where they came from, in order to determine who had come the farthest, he seemed surprised at how many of them were from China. I wondered if Chinese students take advantage of their lunar new year break to visit colleges abroad.

The tour was next. It was a beautiful day for it, in the high forties and sunny. The sidewalks were wet with snowmelt and everything looked washed and shiny with it. We’ve been to a couple urban campuses and this one was more like Carnegie Mellon than Emerson, by which I mean there’s a defined campus set down in the middle of a city, rather than being tucked into a couple adjacent office buildings. It’s bordered on one side by the Charles River, which was partly frozen, and the T runs down that street, which I imagine is convenient. Some of the buildings are brick and concrete rectangles, but there are more pretty Victorian and Gothic buildings, though very little green space. Some of the dorms are huge towers (one houses 1,800 students in three interconnected towers) but there are also converted brownstones that house fifteen to sixty students each. The dorm room they showed us was in one of the tower-style dorms (not the biggest one), which I guess was honest, because more students end up in those.

After lunch at an Asian noodle place we’d spied on the general tour, we took another tour, this one of the School of Communications. It was our own private one—with three tour guides! They talked a lot about how state-of-the-art the facilities and equipment are, which is important to Noah. I’m no judge of this, but Noah seemed to agree with that assessment. Also, the fact that professional broadcast journalists regularly use their studios is impressive. When the guides asked him where else he’d applied, they said a lot of people who apply BU for communications also apply to Ithaca and Emerson, so that made me feel he must have visited and applied the right schools for what he wants to study. 

One discordant note, though, was that all three guides kept making jokes about how communications students don’t like math, not just once, but over and over again. And Noah’s very good at math. It got to the point where I wanted to mention he took AP Calculus BC in his junior year and aced the exam, that he got an almost perfect score on the math SAT and that he’s taking magnet math this year, even though he’s not in the math magnet, just to make them stop. It’s actually relevant because it made me suspect there’s not as much cross-fertilization between film and computer science as Noah would like. That collaboration between departments is one of the reasons Ithaca and R.I.T. both seem like good fits for him.

Noah didn’t have much to say after the tour, which isn’t unusual for him. He often needs time to let experiences settle before he makes a judgment. After the School of Communications tour, we had a couple hours before our shuttle to the airport. It would have been nice to explore Boston or the campus a little more, but he had homework, so we got a chocolate milkshake (him) and a strawberry smoothie (me) at a café where we meant to stay so he could work there, but it was playing sports radio at a pretty loud volume, so we headed back to the hotel lobby where he wrote responses to two chapters of Brave New World and I charged my phone and worked on this blog post. Back at the airport, I managed to get through security yet again, and we had dinner at Sbarro (him) and Friendly’s (me) before getting onto the plane and flying back to a busy week for both of us.

After Boston

We’ve all been hoping this will be an easier semester for Noah, because he swapped Logic for Statistics and the CAP Senior Seminar for Health. It’s hard to judge right now because we’re only two weeks in and they’ve both been irregular, disrupted weeks. He’s struggling to catch up from having been out Monday (and to be honest, I was, too, for a few days). He entered this weekend behind in three subjects. But whether second semester is easier or not, in four months he’ll be done with high school and looking forward to starting a new chapter in his life, somewhere north of here.

Officially Done

Well, I said I’d tell you how the snow day went if there was one and you knew there’d be one, right? The snow picked up again late Sunday afternoon and evening. We had eleven inches by the time we went to bed that night and after that there was no more accumulation. School was cancelled Monday and there was a two-hour delay on Tuesday. Because the cancellation was announced on Sunday afternoon and the roads were messy, North asked to stay over at Zoë’s house, where they’d been since morning. They came home late Monday afternoon with tales of sledding and making snow sculptures and toting a bag of chocolate chocolate-chip cookies they’d baked with Zoë.

Beth’s office was closed, so she worked at home, and I did, too. Noah kept plugging away at his two Ithaca scholarship application essays and finished them. He’s now all done with applications, though he and I might be taking a trip to visit Boston University next month, as that’s the only school he applied to without visiting.

Champlain College, one of schools we visited last spring (though he didn’t end up applying there), sent an “Officially Done” sticker in one of their mailers, with the suggestion that he wear it when he finished all his college applications. I stuck it to his shirt when he submitted the application and he gamely agreed to let me post of picture of him wearing it on Facebook. Then he took it off and stuck it to his bedroom door, right next to the “2019” sticker he got during one of many gun control protests last winter and spring. It represents the year he can vote in federal and state elections. (In Takoma Park, the voting age for municipal elections is sixteen.) But it’s also the year he leaves for college, so it makes sense for those two stickers to keep company.

He didn’t have much time to celebrate, though, because he had an oral presentation and Logic homework due the next day. He didn’t end up finishing the Logic, but he put a dent in it. I’d been camped out in his room for a couple hours, still reading Jack London (short stories now, having finished The Call of the Wild the day before) and occasionally offering opinions when he’d get stuck with the essays. Once he switched over to homework, I went for a long walk in the snowy woods by creek and through a tangle of side streets in our neighborhood I’d never explored. I actually got a little lost, so the walk was longer than I intended, but I was home in time to make a mushroom and kale frittata for dinner, which we followed up with brownies Beth made earlier in the day. I won’t complain about the snow day. It was okay. I didn’t get as much work done as I would have if I’d had the house to myself, but was good for Noah to have more time to work. That’s a common trade-off.

I was glad there was school on Tuesday, even if it was an abbreviated day. One reason was that it meant North’s winter chorus concert would go on as scheduled. North found out about a week before the concert that they had a solo and they were excited about that, so I gently nudged Noah into coming to the concert, even though he had work to do (including the now overdue Logic). He’s already been accepted to two colleges and he’s missed a lot of his sibling’s performances over the years. Now that there are only a few left it seems more important that he be there. North was happy he came. And perhaps thirty-seven years from now, the two of them won’t be having social media exchanges like this one I had with my sister when I mentioned he was at the concert:

Sara: Just like when you stopped your homework to watch my one 5th grade performance of P.T. Barnum. Oh wait. No you didn’t. #notbitter

Me: He has skipped probably more performances than we could count for homework. I skipped one.

Sara: Yeah, but it was THE ONLY ONE.

Me: That’s not true. I remember going to a District Chorus concert. And various gymnastics performances and field hockey games.

Sara:  I mean the only performance of P.T. Barnum. And I had the lead. And a solo.

Sara: WHY DO YOU STILL NOT LOVE ME???

Anyway… We all had an early dinner and drove out to the high school where the concert was taking place. (North’s school has no auditorium.) The performers had to be there forty-five minutes before concert time so we took our seats and Noah opened up his laptop and worked on his oral presentation until the concert started.

There were three groups singing—the Glee Club, the sixth-grade chorus, and the Advanced (seventh- and eighth-grade) Chorus. North’s in the Glee Club and Advanced Chorus and because the soprano and alto sections of the Advanced Chorus joined the sixth-grade chorus for one of their songs, they were singing eight of the ten songs.

Their solo was in the very first song of the concert, “Remember Me,” from Coco. In fact, it was the first few lines of the song. So the concert opened with Mr. N introducing North and North stepping up to the mike and singing:

Remember me
Though I have to say goodbye
Remember me
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart

It was lovely. We were very proud.  The next Glee Club song was “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman. Apparently, there was a movie music theme.  There was also a songs-in-foreign languages theme, as the sixth-grade chorus sang in German, Hebrew, and Spanish. (Mr. N said they were putting the “International” into Silver Spring International Middle School.) And later the Advanced Chorus would sing a Polynesian song and one in Zulu.

Toward the end of the concert, the Advanced Chorus sang three poems set to music. “Night Fall,” by Roger Emerson, “Dreams,” by Langston Hughes, and a section of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells.”  While they sang “Dreams,” the lyrics were projected on two screens to either side of the stage.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Mr. N made some comments about how the day of the concert was Martin Luther King’s actual birthday and how if he could be there he’d be pleased to see kids of different races and social backgrounds all making music together.

“The Bells” is a particular favorite of mine. I used to teach it. They sang the first stanza, while one student accompanied the singers with jingle bells.

Hear the sledges with the bells—
Hear the sledges with the bells—
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

North said this song was their favorite and I liked it, too. I thought the music was well suited to the words and the singing was fast but delicate and precise, just like bells.

The whole concert was over in less than an hour. It was nice North got a solo because next quarter they’re switching their Wednesday afterschool activity from Glee Club to Drama Club and only Glee Club members got solos, so chances are they won’t have a chance for that at the spring concert.

As we left, I was thinking a little sadly about how my father, who died nine years ago on the day of the concert, will never be in the audience for one of North’s concerts or plays. Not that he’d be traveling down from New York for school concerts if he were still alive, but if North gets their way, they may someday have a performance in his adopted home town. And depending on where North’s adventures take them years from now, I may not make every single performance either, but I know I am far from officially done watching my youngest on stage.

Orange You Glad?

The new year is almost two weeks old. On the first day of 2019, Beth and I went for a hike at North Point State Park. We invited the kids, but they both declined. (They’d both been up to see in the new year and we had not, having left the neighbors’ New Year’s Eve party early in favor of a regular night’s sleep.) There was an organized First Day hike at the park, but high winds felled a big tree, which caused the rangers to re-route the hike off the trails, and along the park road and down a pier into the Chesapeake Bay. The rangers had said it wasn’t actually forbidden to walk the trails and it didn’t seem that windy, so we rambled in the woods a bit and then went home. That night I made a pot of black-eyed peas for good luck, but I ended up burning it. I salvaged just enough so everyone could have a scoop on brown rice with smoked cheddar on top and vegetarian sausage on the side. Still, I had to wonder if the fallen tree and burned peas were some kind of bad omen. 

It certainly could have been, if Beth or I were federal workers, but luckily our livelihood doesn’t depend on the President’s tantrums. My friends who work at the Department of Justice and the Smithsonian aren’t so fortunate. Even though I had work, I was out of sorts, a bit of post-holiday letdown, I guess. (Even the swearing-in of the new Democratic majority in the House didn’t help much.) I’m in the habit of taking a short walk every weekday I don’t have some other errand getting me out of the house and I’ve noticed since I started doing this a little over a year ago, it improves my mood, so I decided longer walks were in order. I tried to get off sidewalks and onto the muddy paths by the creek at least a couple times a week and I found even a half hour walk in the gray and brown winter woods can be restorative. Truth be told, though, the chocolate chip cookies I made one evening were even more cheering, if less healthful.

Our wedding anniversary was Friday. It’s been twenty-seven years since we committed ourselves to each other in the living room of our D.C. apartment, in front of friends and family, and six years since we made it legal in the living room of our Takoma Park house, in front of the kids and an officiant. 

Every year I make the same spice cake we had as a wedding cake on both those days. The first time around, it had white frosting with little purple frosting violets, but I’m not much of a cake decorator, so ever since then I’ve made a lemon glaze for it. But this year, I switched to orange, because my gifts to Beth had an orange theme. I wasn’t originally planning this. I got her a bottle of orange-olive oil that caught my eye in a catalog and then I saw a bar of orange-infused dark chocolate at the co-op and that was when I knew I had to go all the way, so I found an orange, pink, and white striped gift bag and a card with a still life that I think included an orange—it’s an orange fruit anyway, so I’m calling it an orange—and put it in an orange envelope. This is what I wrote on the card:

Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Orange
Orange who?
Orange you glad you married me?

North was unimpressed with my reasons for switching to the orange glaze from the traditional lemon one. “How could you?” they asked, right before I made it, and then demanded, “Does Beth know about this? It’s her anniversary, too.” We are all a little set in our ways sometimes and I am certainly no exception, so I can’t blame them. Anyway, I finished the cake with orange sprinkles. It was pretty. I should have taken a picture for you, but I forgot.

I ordered pizza and hoped it would arrive around the same time as Beth, but it was a half hour late. When it finally came we ate and then exchanged gifts. Beth got me a pair of rain boots, which I very much needed, as my old ones were in bad shape, with multiple cracks in the rubber around the ankles. 

After dinner, we ate cake in front of the television, watching the second episode of the new season of Series of Unfortunate Events. We probably could have watched two before North’s bedtime, but this is the last season, so we are trying to savor it.

A snowstorm was predicted to start late Saturday afternoon and it arrived on schedule. When the snow started, I stood at the window and watched it a long time, trying to see the beauty in it, because my bad attitude about snow doesn’t do anyone any good. It even worked, at least a little. It’s undeniably pretty.

We woke to six inches of snow and it kept falling on and off throughout the day today. There was a cascade of cancelled events, including a dinner party friends of ours were throwing Saturday night and church the next morning. The pool and the library (my normal Sunday afternoon destinations) were closed. North was supposed to have a meeting at the theater about a talent show they’re directing (they won this opportunity in an auction) that was also rescheduled.

When I got up this morning and couldn’t find the newspaper, which was never delivered, I gave up on the day having any semblance of normalcy and I decided to forget about breakfast for a while and went back to bed with The Call of the Wild, which North’s reading for school, and read the last four chapters. Later in the day when North asked what I’m glad about, I could say, in all honesty, that I’m glad I’m not a sled dog in the Yukon.

By this morning, eight surrounding counties had already cancelled school for tomorrow, but there’s no word yet from our county. I am trying to resign myself to a closure so if the kids go to school on time, or with a two-hour delay, it will be a pleasant surprise and if school’s cancelled I will greet this news with equanimity. I’ll let you know how that goes. It wouldn’t be a bad day for Noah to miss school, actually. He had a ton of homework this weekend, including but not limited to two oral presentations, and a chapter in his logic book with questions, and he’s working on an scholarship application for Ithaca that requires two five-hundred word essays. It seems unlikely he will finish all that today. So I know he’d be glad of an extra day.

And I’m glad of a lot of things other than not being a sled dog: that I married Beth and we have two great kids chief among them, but I’ll also be glad when Noah walks to the high school bus stop and the middle school bus pulls up to our curb, whether that’s tomorrow, Tuesday, or sometime after that. 

Little Cabin in the Big Woods

Saturday: Arrival

We arrived at the cabin at Blackwater Falls State Park around five, after a drive that featured heavy traffic at the beginning and driving through snow on untreated roads with very little visibility at the end. YaYa was already there. She’d laid out crackers and cheese with a little container of honey mustard as a welcome. We snacked and rested a little between unpacking and setting up the Christmas tree that had made the journey from Maryland with us on top of our car.

This was our third Christmas in a row at Blackwater, but the first one (at least with the kids) in one of more rustic cabins that Beth and her family stayed in when she was a child and where Beth and I spent a Christmas with her family a couple years before Noah was born. The older cabins are a little smaller, wood-paneled, and quite charming.

YaYa wanted to hear the recording of Noah’s winter band concert, so we played the three Wind Ensemble’s three songs, while Noah pantomimed playing the different percussion instruments he’d played in the concert so she could hear which sounds he’d made.

North and I started dinner—grilled cheese and soup—and almost immediately North cut their finger badly on a soup lid. It looked deep and Beth and I were afraid we were going to be heading back out into the snow to drive to the nearest urgent care, which is forty-five minutes away in good weather. But ice, pressure, and elevation stopped the bleeding, so I resumed cooking and we ate dinner, watched Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, and called it a night.

Sunday: Settling In

In the morning Beth strung the lights on the tree and we hung ornaments on it. We had brunch at the lodge, and browsed the gift shop, where YaYa bought me a Blackwater Falls State Park windbreaker as an early Christmas gift. Back at the cabin we collected sticks for kindling so we could have a fire later and the kids explored the teepee previous guests had left in the woods behind the cabin. Later I kept seeing these all through the park and I wondered if there had been a teepee making tutorial at the nature center recently.

Beth and YaYa went grocery shopping and the kids and I made gingerbread cookies with dough I’d made at home on Friday. I was using my mom’s gingerbread recipe, the same one I use every year. In fact, when I’d called her on Friday to thank her for the Christmas gifts we’d opened early to lighten our load in the car and to celebrate the solstice, she was in the thick of making gingerbread cookies with my five-year-old niece, Lily-Mei. They seemed to be having fun but also “’xasperating” each other in Lily-Mei’s words.

When Beth and YaYa got back from the grocery store, the gingerbread was done and the kids were watching an episode of Dr. Who. North then launched into a solo baking project, chocolate-peppermint cookies, while Beth and I took a short walk through the snowy woods to the top of the sled run. There wasn’t anyone sledding—it must have been between sessions—and there was a truck grooming the snow.

After we returned from our walk, YaYa got out the tinsel and she and North put the finishing touches on the tree, while YaYa reminisced about hanging tinsel on the Christmas trees of her youth and how her father insisted on all the tinsel being perfectly straight. North listened with interest and said they were glad YaYa was more relaxed about it. Then they sang a song from Peter and the Starcatcher at YaYa’s request.

People split up to read, commune with their electronic devices, and nap for the rest of the afternoon. The kids collaborated on dinner—fettucine with tomato sauce, broccoli, and Greek olives. The olive were among the treats my mom bought us on her travels in Greece this fall. When the kids started cooking I wondered why I’d never given them joint responsibility for a meal before. Then they started squabbling about whether the water was boiling sufficiently to add the pasta and whether it was “naughty” to sample more pasta than strictly necessary to test for doneness… and then I remembered. But they did put a decent meal on the table, with no adult help, so perhaps we’ll try it again someday.

After the dinner dishes were done, we watched Christmas is Here Again, which was longer than I remembered so North was up late, but Beth reminded me, “It’s vacation,” and so it was.

Monday: Christmas Eve

It snowed overnight and in the morning there was seven to eight inches accumulated on the picnic table behind the house and our bedroom window was fringed with icicles. The longest one was probably eighteen inches long.  There were even bigger ones out the kitchen window. I asked Beth what she wanted to do that day and she said she hoped to read, make a pot of black bean soup, work on a puzzle with Noah, and not leave the house except maybe to take a walk. That sounded pretty good to me, though North opined “that doesn’t sound very exciting.” I think that was the point, actually.

And that’s basically how the day went. Beth didn’t leave the house, even to go for a walk, though North and I took a walk down the park road to the end of the cabins. Beth made soup, which simmered in the crock pot for most of the day, and she worked on the puzzle with Noah. It was a jumble of different images of Santa Claus. Beth, Noah, and YaYa watched The Last Jedi. I finished a Joni Mitchell biography I’ve been reading since October and listened to David Sedaris’s “The Santaland Diaries.” We had the NORAD Santa tracker (muted) on the television screen most of the day. Every now and then someone would glance at it and comment on Santa’s location and the number of gifts delivered. In the evening we watched Frosty the Snowman and Frosty Returns.

After that, North wanted to open one present each. This is a tradition Beth had growing up and I didn’t. North likes it and Noah doesn’t, so we made it opt-in. I decided to sit it out with Noah as I’d already opened my gifts from my mom on the solstice and then I’d received the jacket from YaYa early, too. YaYa opened a calendar Beth made with pictures of the kids (always a popular grandmother gift). Beth opened a fleece jacket and North got a t-shirt that said, “Stay Bold.”

It was a nice, low-key day, except for the fact that the cat sitter called to tell us the heat was out at our house and Beth had to make and receive a lot of calls, as she tried to coordinate a time when the cat sitter could let the heating company technician into the house. And then the tech called the house phone instead of Beth’s cell or the sitter’s to say he was coming, so of course he was locked out and he left. When he came back he needed a part and left without fixing the furnace. The sitter set up a space heater in our bedroom, the cats’ favorite hangout spot. It wasn’t too cold outside, mostly in the forties, and the house has thick walls and holds its heat for a couple days, which is good because the heat was still out when we got home three days later, despite Beth’s persistent efforts to convince the oil company to send someone to the house.

Tuesday: Christmas Day

By eight a.m., everyone was awake and ready to open presents. Most of us had already opened our stockings. A great many gifts were exchanged while we ate clementines, nuts, and candy and Noah took pictures. Noah got camera equipment, including a new lens and a camera bag. North got a certificate to get their hair dyed and a weighted throw blanket with cats on it. Everyone got at least several of these things: books, socks and other clothes, tea, mugs, soap, scented candles, Amazon gift cards, and tiles.

I knew this ahead of time because I saw it unfold during our Christmas shopping trip to Rehoboth, but Beth and North got each other the same pair of fuzzy blue socks because when North was showing them to Beth to gauge if she liked them, Beth thought North was dropping hints that they wanted them. Not exactly a “Gift of the Magi” situation because nobody sold their feet to buy the socks, but still a bit of Yuletide irony.

North made breakfast, a skillet pancake with lemon curd and homemade cranberry syrup. But before we ate Noah wanted to try out his TARDIS mug. When you fill it with warm liquid, the image of the TARDIS fades from one side and appears on the other. It’s a pretty cool effect. One of Noah’s other gifts was Crooked Kingdom, the sequel to Six of Crows, which we’d just finished on Christmas Eve, in a serendipitous bit of timing. So we read the first two chapters of that.

When we’d finished, Beth and I hiked the Balanced Rock trail. The trail was covered with snow, but well-marked with orange blazes. We had to step carefully because you couldn’t tell what was under the snow. It could be rock, a spongy layer of wet leaves, mud, or an inch of ice covering another inch of water. It was a lovely walk, though, with evergreen boughs and rhododendron leaves covered in snow. We had the trail nearly to ourselves—there were no footprints other than ours, except near a place where the trail crossed another trail—and just once, I glimpsed another person ahead of us on the trail. We had to scramble and crawl at the end when it got steep near the two boulders, one atop the other, that give the trail its name. When we got up there it was so quiet we could actually hear the snow creaking as it shifted on branches and showered to the ground. That was the only sound, other than the occasional cawing of a crow.

Beth and I had leftover black bean soup for lunch with crackers, cheese, and olives, and the cranberry sauce that was the byproduct of the syrup North made. Beth, North, and YaYa went swimming at the lodge after lunch. I would have gone, too, but I’d forgotten to pack my suit. I was sorry to miss it because the pool is in a room with big windows and I enjoy being in the pool or hot tub, looking out at the snow.

But having the afternoon free in the cabin meant I could read Elevation, one of my Christmas presents, in one sitting (it’s only 146 pages and they are small pages) and make a batch of peanut butter-chocolate kiss cookies. They were just going in the oven when the swimmers came home. Beth made a fire and I relaxed in front of it while YaYa made her signature spinach lasagna for Christmas dinner. After dinner, we all watched a Dr. Who Christmas special from a few years back.

Wednesday: Boxing Day

The next day was our last full day at Blackwater and there were a lot of things we hadn’t done yet that people wanted to do. In the late morning we went to the sled run and the adults watched the kids sled. North had neglected to bring their waterproof gloves (purchased last year at the sled run gift shop/snack bar) or any gloves at all, so the adults all lent them our cotton or fleece gloves in turn, each pair getting soaked as they used their hands to brake. After three runs, they were out of gloves, so they quit. Noah did a fourth run and then the session was closed. It was a beautiful, sunny day, the snow was sparkly, and there was a bonfire going at the foot of the hill (behind a barrier so no one can sled into it).

From the sled run we drove to the White Grass Café where we had lunch. On the drive there and back the kids were alternating songs from North’s favorite musical, Dear Evan Hansen, and Noah’s, Hamilton, while North expounded on plot and characterization in Dear Evan Hansen for YaYa, who hadn’t heard of it. We dropped YaYa off at the cabin and then the four of us were going to hike down to see Blackwater Falls, but halfway down the series of stairs and platforms, they were closed due to packed snow and ice. Beth was disappointed because the falls are special to her, especially in winter when they’re partially frozen. We could still see them, but we weren’t right up next to them. It looked like there was just a little ice on the falls, with water pouring around it. We drove to the other side of the canyon to take a different trail that affords another, more distant, but less obstructed view, and took some pictures. Watching the falls made me think about the last waterfalls we visited, in Ithaca, and wondered if we’ll be making regular visits to any of them in the next several years.

North would have liked to go to the pool again but the roads were slushy and Beth was afraid they’d ice up as afternoon temperatures fell, so we settled into the cabin to read and work on the puzzle, which Beth and Noah finished. This turned my mind to college, too, because Noah wrote his main Common App essay on puzzles, how he likes to do real ones, and also enjoys the puzzle-like aspects of film editing and computer programming. I was glad to see writing and re-writing that essay several times has not ruined puzzles for him.

Noah’s also become more interested in still photography lately and he’d taken a lot of pictures on this trip. Using his laptop to project them on the television screen, he showed them to YaYa so she could pick the ones she wanted. Then he set up her new tiles on her purse, phone, and wallet.

Beth made one last fire, we had a supper of leftovers, and set to work taking decorations off the tree and packing. We had a discussion about whether to rent a modern or rustic cabin next year. Beth voted for rustic, because they remind her of her childhood, the kids voted for modern, I abstained because I prefer the look of the old cabins, but I missed having a washer/dryer. YaYa cast the deciding vote for modern because it’s more convenient to have two bathrooms.

Thursday: Departure

In the morning, there was the usual end-of-vacation scramble to clean out the fridge and pack the car. Actually, more than the usual scramble. We are still discovering things we may have left there—a thermos of Beth’s, a shirt of Noah’s, an almost full box of Greek pastries and candy. But we were on the road by ten thirty and home by three. When we got home we found the house cool but habitable. It really hadn’t been that cold outside and with the space heater going our bedroom was sixty-two degrees, with the other rooms maybe ten degrees cooler.

Sorting through the mail we found many Christmas cards and another merit scholarship offer, (from UMBC) and a somewhat disappointing statement from Ithaca about Noah’s total aid package there. We went out for Chinese food, after having decided we’d rather eat in a heated restaurant than have take-out in our unheated dining room. After dinner, Beth dropped us off at the house and went to the hardware store for another space heater to put in North’s room that night.

Friday and Saturday: Home

Over the past couple days Beth succeeded in getting someone to come fix the furnace and ran errands, I did an endless stream of laundry (five loads so far) and blogged. Noah applied to RIT—his last application—and did some homework, but only for an hour on Friday and a few hours on Saturday. One nice thing about our vacation was that Noah didn’t have to work at all while we were gone. North met up with a friend from Peter and the Starcatcher Saturday morning and in the afternoon we went to see Mary Poppins Returns and then went out for tapas. We’ve got few more days to ease into our normal routine, and while there’s an orthodontist appointment, a visit to the MVA, and a mammogram on the agenda on Monday, I hope we’ll find time for fun as well.

Taking Flight, Part 2

We’ve had a very exciting few days around here. Noah got his first college acceptance letter on Friday, North’s show wrapped up on Sunday, and then Noah got his second acceptance letter on Tuesday.

College Letter #1

Noah applied early action to UMBC and Ithaca College. The UMBC application was due earlier—he was working on it on Halloween before and after trick-or-treating—and the notification was supposed to be in “late December,” but I’d seen so many of you posting pictures of your kids’ college acceptance letters I wondered if it might come early and it did.  There was no mystery about what was inside. “YES” was printed in gold letters on the outside of the envelope. The mail came late that day and Beth brought it in with her when she came home from work.

We took it in to Noah’s room, but he wasn’t that excited about it, as UMBC was his safety school. In fact, Beth had to prod him to open it so we could see if there was anything about aid in the package. There wasn’t. I was happier than Noah was, not because I’d been in much suspense about whether he’d get in to UMBC, but because it felt like the ball was rolling now. And UMBC is a solid, affordable choice, if maybe a little too close to home.

Closing Night

Two days later we went to closing night of Peter and the Starcatcher to see North in the younger cast. These actors were in third to seventh grade, so the performances were not as polished as those from the older cast, but the play was still fun. The principal characters, Peter and Molly, were well acted. The actor playing Peter brought out a whole different side of the character and his growth over the course of the play. And we all loved North’s melodramatic death scene as Slank.

This is what he says as he drowns:

Oh, the waves swallow me up in a great shroud of sea. And the sharks start nibbling at me feet, just like me mother’s kisses. Mother! You left me on the steps of a tattoo parlor, wrapped in a half-eaten bag of fish and chips, round me neck a note: Orphan Bill Slank, too wicked to end well!

They delivered these lines just perfectly as they flailed on the stage floor under a strip of undulating blue fabric meant to represent waves.

Beth pointed out later that North had a good almost-death scene as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast a couple summers ago. And I added if they want to do it again, Highwood is doing MacBeth next spring and no matter what role they play they have a decent chance for an on-stage death.

North was also quite animated and charming as Fighting Prawn, though the whole native-culture-as-comic trope bothers me, even though F.P. is sympathetic and given good reasons for his hostility toward the English. The script does comment critically on British colonialism during the time the story takes place and it’s definitely an improvement of the treatment of the Indians in Peter Pan, but still…

After the show, North was a bit sad about not seeing their friends in the cast for a while. There’s always a bit of a letdown afterward, but we’re all enjoying getting to bed on time and having North home in the evenings. Well, at least until Honors Chorus starts next month, but that’s only one evening a week.

College Letter #2

On Tuesday, I brought in the mail and noticed a large, plain envelope from Ithaca. Because Noah had only applied there a couple weeks earlier—while we were at the beach for Thanksgiving—and wasn’t supposed to hear from them until early February “at the latest,” which I took to mean sometime in January at the earliest, I thought it was just more in the stream of college mail he gets more or less constantly and in envelopes of all sizes. Most of these he never looks at, so I opened it in case it had anything interesting in it. (Boston University recently sent some relevant information about scholarship opportunities for National Merit semifinalists that sat unopened for a long time before I opened it.) 

Anyway, you know what was in the envelope because I told you in the first paragraph of this blog post. He got in to Ithaca. I told him when he got home. And this time he was happy because Ithaca is tied with R.I.T. for his top choice. He gave me a big hug and we did a little dance together. It wasn’t even until about fifteen minutes after he got home that we noticed another letter behind the first one in the folder, offering him a merit scholarship for students in media, named after Rod Serling, who used to teach at Ithaca. His archives are there as well. It would cover about a third of his tuition. If he goes there, we will have to call it his Twilight Zone scholarship. (It’s better than Agent Orange scholarship, which is what a college friend of mine who majored in chemistry and had a scholarship from Dow Chemical called his.)

Noah’s also applied to Boston University—he just sent that one in last weekend—but now he’s considering winnowing down his list. He may just apply to R.I.T. and forget the rest, which would make for a more relaxed winter break and January. Either way, he’s taking flight, as we watch fondly and proudly.