Hear the Turtle, Believe in the Retriever: College Tours, Installment #3

UMCP Choir Camp: Monday to Thursday

North’s choir camp performance was Friday, which means after two plays and a concert, the performance-intensive part of the summer is over. North came home from the last performance of My Fair Lady late last Sunday evening, went to bed, slept, got up and went straight to their first day of choir camp Monday morning. And I say their first day of camp instead of the first day because they actually missed the orientation which took place Sunday afternoon because the My Fair Lady actors were required to stay at the theater between the matinee and the evening show.

Beth ran by the orientation to pick up North’s sheet music and elective class assignments. They were in Music and Movies, Theatre, and A Cappella Singing. North couldn’t remember how they’d ranked the myriad choices many months ago and so they didn’t know whether they’d gotten their top choices or not, but they were pleased with those classes.

Before Beth got the music North said they hoped all the songs would all be in English this year, because last year there was one song in French and one partly in Samoan. Well, this year only one song was in English. The rest were in Cherokee, French, German, and Latin. I think it’s good experience because choruses so often sing in foreign languages, but North was exasperated, especially about the German piece. However, the song in English was “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen and North is semi-obsessed with this musical, so that might have been sufficient compensation.

Monday I picked North up from camp. They’ve been getting around Takoma and Silver Spring on public transportation by themselves for about a year, but getting home from this camp involves taking a bus from College Park to Langley Park and then crossing a street with six lanes of traffic and I’m not quite ready for them to do that alone.

I asked if there were any problems from missing the orientation and they said they did feel a little behind learning the choir songs and that the a cappella class’s location was different than what was printed on their identification badge (which had been presumably announced on Sunday), but other than that everything was fine. On the last day of camp, in addition to the concert for friends and family, the elective classes were going to perform for each other. The movie music class picked a scene from Coco to set to music and the a capella class started learning a song. North said the theatre class did warm-up games and hadn’t started working on their scene yet.

We stopped at Starbucks on the way home, then read a few chapters of Still Life, the last book in the Books of Elsewhere series, and they helped me make corn and spinach fritters for dinner. Noah and North worked some more on their video after dinner. That was the night they finished it. Thanks to all of you who watched it or commented on Facebook or YouTube.

The rest of the week passed a lot like Monday.  North dressed up for all the spirit days, wearing a 2016 music camp t-shirt on alumni day, part of their Tongue Twister Halloween costume for July-oween, a tank top and scarf worn sarong-style over bike shorts on Summer day, and a gold shirt and shorts on Maryland colors day (you could pick any one of the four colors or a combination). Never say North’s not a team player. They tried out for a solo in “You Will Be Found” on Wednesday, but they didn’t get one. There were around seventy kids in choir camp and only three solos, so the odds were long.

Beth drove North to camp most mornings, except Wednesday when she had an early meeting so I took them. Noah and I split the afternoon pickups. Whoever was bringing North home usually stopped at the Starbucks near the Takoma-Langley transit center, though one day I brought Oreos from the 7-Eleven to camp. North and I usually read after camp and then they helped me cook dinner most nights, except Thursday when they were cleaning their room and packing for their upcoming weekend camping trip with Beth.

UMBC Summer Preview: Friday Morning

Friday we all piled into the car at eight a.m. and drove North to camp, leaving them there fifty minutes early because we needed to be at another University of Maryland campus, UMBC, by 8:45. Beth noted on Facebook we were having “a very Maryland day.”

University of Maryland Baltimore County was having a summer preview day, similar the open house St. Mary’s had last spring. UMBC is on Noah’s list because I asked him to add another state school, so we have a couple financial safety schools. He chose UMBC because its computer science department is well regarded. Noah’s interested in computer science and has dabbled in it from a young age, but he’s mostly self-taught because he’s been in humanities magnets since sixth grade and hasn’t had a lot of room in his schedule for electives. He’s thinking of majoring in computer science or film or majoring in one and minoring in the other.

We arrived, stopped at the breakfast buffet, and took our seats in the gym for the opening presentation. There were a lot of balloons in Maryland’s state colors—red, gold, black, and white—and a banner that proclaimed UMBC an “honors university.” You’d think by the end of the morning it would be clear what this meant, but it really wasn’t. There’s an honors college within the university but a lot of universities have those, including UMCP, Maryland’s flagship campus. After a while I developed a theory that it’s a combination of the Honors College and a cluster of Scholars Programs in different disciplines.

For the breakout sessions we went to hear an overview of the College of Engineering and Information Technology, then another one about the Honors College, then we split up with Beth and Noah hearing a student panel on Engineering and Information Technology while I went to the Admissions panel. I was impressed with the Honors College presentation. It sounds like a supportive, tight-knit community that would be good for Noah. Most of the students live in the same dorm their first year, they take small seminars, and they have an Honors College advisor in addition to their regular advisor, who help them find internships and other opportunities. Noah thought it sounded like it could be a good fit, too.

We grabbed a bite to eat at the catered lunch in the ballroom. The vegetarian selections weren’t fabulous but we didn’t have time to look for food elsewhere on campus. We also didn’t have time for a campus tour because we had to get back to College Park for North’s choir concert. I would have liked to do a tour because I always find those interesting, but UMBC’s only forty-five minutes from our house and they have tours every weekday and some weekends, so it won’t be hard to get back if UMBC is high on Noah’s list after our big New York-Pennsylvania-Ohio college road trip later this month.

Before we left, I made sure to get a picture of Noah with a statue of the school’s mascot, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, named True Grit. There was a short line to do this. When I said St. Mary’s was really into its mascot (the sea hawk) I may have misspoken. That dog is all over campus, on flags in the parking lot, on signage (look in the background of the picture to the right), just everywhere. The student union is called the Retriever Activity Center. The dining hall is called True Grits. We saw a banner in one of the buildings that said, “Believe in the Retriever.”

When I stopped to think about it, UMCP is similarly enamored of its mascot, the terrapin (a species of turtle native to Maryland). I just don’t notice it because I was in grad school there for six years and then taught there as an adjunct for a while longer, so I just don’t notice the omnipresent turtles any more when I’m on campus.

UMCP Choir Camp Concert: Friday Afternoon

Speaking of the terrapin, the music camp both kids have attended for years changed its name this year from Summer Youth Music Camp to Terrapin Music Camp. If you look very carefully at North’s shirt, you may see a small turtle to the left of the word terrapin. Terrapin Music Camp’s hashtag is #heartheturtle, which will sound funnier to you if you’re from these parts and know “Fear the Turtle” is the University’s slogan. Noah kept teasing North all week by calling it the Terrible Music Camp. This might have hurt their feelings if not for the fact that Noah attended band camp there for four years so he obviously didn’t mean it.

We arrived in time for the concert and found seats. It was a joint orchestra camp/choir camp concert and the two orchestras (fifth to seventh grade and eighth to tenth) went first. I scanned the program for names of kids we might know in orchestra camp, but none of North’s friends who’ve attended in years past were there this year. They didn’t know anyone at choir camp either, except one girl who acts in Highwood shows.

The choir sang five songs. The first one was a very pretty Cherokee song, then two madrigals, one in French and one in German. The Latin song, “Festival Sanctus” was lively and complex. “You Will Be Found” was last and they did a very nice job with it. It really is a lovely song and sentiment, though if you know something about the plot of the musical—which I do because I hear the soundtrack almost every time we’re in the car and North also turned our dinner-making that week into informal seminars on plot and characterization in Dear Evan Hansen—there’s some irony there.

We’d promised North ice cream after the concert. The ice cream shop in the student union food court uses milk from the University’s dairy farm and we like to go there at least once during music camp weeks. It was a challenge to find parking, though, because of construction on campus, and then there was a long line, which we had to wait in twice in different combinations of people. Noah was off getting eggrolls at Panda Express because he hadn’t had much lunch and when we got to the front of the line the flavor he’d asked Beth to get was sold out and North couldn’t decide what they wanted so Beth got her ice cream and mine and then got straight back into the line. As a result, the ice cream was not as celebratory as it could have been.

Once we got home, Beth and North started packing the car to leave for their weekend camping trip, because the two of them had one more stop left on their very Maryland day.

Rock Around the Clock, Part 3

When we woke up on the fourth of July, I discovered I wasn’t that enthused about any of our normal Independence Day traditions—going to the parade, the backyard picnic, the fireworks. I tried to remember how I’d felt last year and I couldn’t but then Facebook Memories helpfully reminded me:

Steph asked Beth at 7:30, before they were even out of bed, if she thought they could just enjoy the parade and their picnic dinner and the fireworks and not get depressed about the state of American democracy and Beth said no. But Takoma’s parade is so quirky and spirited, it was cheering, and Steph and Noah made a tasty sour cherry sauce for ice cream, and now the whole family is in a big crowd waiting for fireworks so the day does not seem entirely tragic. Not even mostly tragic. Maybe 30/70.

I re-posted it with the caption, “About 70/30 today.” Things just seem so bleak right now. But I decided if going through the motions helped last year it might help this year. Cutting to the chase, it didn’t, but at least it didn’t make me feel worse, which seemed like a real possibility. It a was hot day and we arrived late to the parade and missed some of it, but I always like its small town, community-spirited feel. Afterward we got eggrolls, fried rice, and fried plantains from people who were probably first or second generation immigrants at a food stand and it made me think about immigration and how central it is to America’s identity.

We had our picnic, with the same foods we usually have except Beth made homemade potato salad instead of buying it at the grocery store and I made devilled eggs.  North husked the corn and helped chop potatoes, and Noah pitted cherries for the sour cherry sauce, so it was a whole family effort.

We went to the fireworks and they were pretty, but they go off very close to where you watch them and maybe something about the wind was different this year because we were showered with grit all through the show, which was alarming. I was on edge and half-afraid we’d end the night at an urgent care with an eye injury.

Anyway, I didn’t come here to talk about the fourth of July, I came to tell you about the second. Truly dedicated readers may remember my “Rock Around the Clock” posts. In 2008 and 2013 I kept a record of what I was doing every hour on July first. While I’m writing these, they often don’t seem compelling, but I’ve discovered these slices of life are interesting to look at years later (for me anyway) because so much changes in five years. Just for starters, my daughter is now my non-binary child, a change I’m still adjusting to, ten months after they told us.

It’s time to do it again, but this year I pushed it forward a day so it would be a week day, like the other two posts. This made it fall on what would have been my father’s seventy-fifth birthday, but I didn’t mark it. He’s been gone about eight and a half years and some years I feel his birthday, or the day he died, or Father’s Day keenly and other years less so. Another sad change since 2013 is that my stepfather also died, sixteen months ago.

Though these posts are mostly personal, in 2013 I wrote a little about the political changes our country had recently undergone. Everything seemed so hopeful back then, didn’t it? The contrast is startling and sad but it makes me wonder how quickly the tide could change again. Blue wave, anyone?

7 a.m. 

Beth’s alarm had gone off a half hour earlier and she was getting ready for her first day back at work since vacation, probably eating breakfast. I was still in bed, looking at Facebook on my phone and enjoying the air conditioning for a little while longer before emerging from the bedroom. Specifically, I was reading Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America,” which one of my friends had posted. Noah was asleep. I don’t know whether North was awake or asleep because one of the changes in my life since the last time I wrote one of these posts and especially since North’s bedroom is now across the house from mine, is that I don’t always know the instant my youngest child is awake. This is a freedom I would have found astounding ten or even five years ago.

8 a.m.

Beth had left for work, without enthusiasm. I was loading the dishwasher, after having looked up bus schedule information for North, who was getting ready for the first day of a two-week drama camp. They’d packed a lunch and were making breakfast, a reheated grilled cheese sandwich from the farewell lunch at Busboys and Poets we’d had the day before with Beth’s mom and her aunt Carole. (YaYa and Carole drove home from the beach with us on Saturday, went out for Lebanese with us, stayed overnight in Silver Spring, and flew home Sunday afternoon, after breakfasting at the hotel buffet and attending church with Beth and North, then shopping at the farmers’ market, where I joined them and went out to lunch with them.)

Noah had just finished eating a bowl of cereal and had retreated back to the air-conditioned part of the house. We have two new-to-us, less leaky window units this year, one that cools North’s room and one that cools our room, Noah’s, and the bathroom. The living room, dining room, and kitchen have no A/C. But on Beth’s advice I was intending to try closing the windows, opening the door to North’s room, positioning a fan in the doorway, and seeing if the cool air would reach my desk in the corner of the living room because the high on that day was 99 and if you’ve ever been in the mid-Atlantic in July, you know it’s not a dry heat.

9 a.m.

North had left, more happily than Beth. Having two kids who get themselves around on public transportation is a pleasant feature of this phase of life, though when North’s in chorus camp later this month Beth, Noah and I will probably drop them off and pick them up because the camp is at the University of Maryland and the trip involves crossing many lanes of traffic on University Boulevard and navigating a busy transit center.

Noah was still in the cool part of the house, watching something on his phone. I’d eased myself back into my work week by reading the copywriting e-newsletters I’d missed while on vacation. I was thinking of getting up from my desk and prodding Noah to do something productive.

10 a.m.

Noah was researching colleges, specifically Denison. I know that because I saw it on the computer screen in his room when I came in and handed him a pile of clean laundry. While I’d folded it, I’d been listening to a podcast (NPR’s Embedded) about President Obama’s Syria policy, which was a small corrective to romanticizing the past, I suppose.

11 a.m.

I was back in Noah’s room, getting a fan for the Make-Steph’s-Work-Area-Less-Sweltering Project. He said was leaning toward visiting Ithaca College, Carnegie Mellon, and University of Maryland-Baltimore this summer. (Oberlin was already on the list.) I was pleasantly surprised at his decisiveness and his offer to set up the visits himself. (I set up the spring break ones.)

Noon

Noah was in the kitchen, making pasta for his lunch. I was at my desk, working on August Facebook posts for a skin care company. My own skin was less sweaty since I’d set up two fans, one to draw air out of North’s room and one to blow directly on me.

1 p.m. 

Noah was installing software on the computer in his room. I was eating a lunch of cheese, crackers, and apricots while reading a newspaper that arrived while we were gone because the paper had arrived most of the days we were gone (even though we’d cancelled it) and our paper that day had gone into the bushes, (not to be discovered for three more days).

2 p.m. 

Noah was cleaning the basement bathroom. I was reviewing background material for a supplement company newsletter.

3 p.m.

I’d moved on to the first newsletter article. Noah was still cleaning the bathroom, which was puzzling because it’s a small bathroom, but if there’s ever a time to just let him work at his own pace, it’s a Monday in early July, so I didn’t investigate or try to hurry him along.

4 p.m.

I was reading The Dark Tower to Noah. We’d finished Song of Susannah the day before and embarked directly upon the last volume of the Dark Tower series. North had come home, watered the garden, and was reading, too, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

5 p.m. 

North was eating dinner—salad with cantaloupe and veggie bacon—early because they had an evening rehearsal for My Fair Lady and needed to be at the bus stop by 5:20. I made it for them and then kept them company while they ate and discussed how Into the Woods auditions had gone at camp. They reported that auditions went well, but they thought another camper did a better job trying out for Little Red, clearly wanted the part, and would probably get it. North said Gretchen had them try out for Jack as well as Little Red and Rapunzel and seemed most pleased with the audition for Jack. I said Jack was a pretty good part, and since most of the kids at this camp are girls Gretchen might want to use North for a male part. North’s been playing all male parts since coming out as non-binary, though they try out for male and female ones. (Sure enough, they found out the next day they’d been cast as Jack. Although they weren’t originally considering it, they’re happy with this role.)

6 p.m.

Beth was home, unusually early because she’d had a headache all day. I was making dinner, a version of the salad I’d made for North but with a homemade oil and vinegar dressing. It seemed like a good day for a dinner that required no more cooking than crisping up veggie bacon in the microwave.

7 p.m.

Having finished making, eating, and cleaning up from dinner, and having discussed the possibility of adding R.I.T. to our summer college tour in late August with Beth and Noah, I was checking Facebook prior to my last work task of the day, collecting the month’s clippings to mail to Sara the next day. I always throw in some stickers and temporary tattoos for Lan-Lan. Slowly, I’m emptying the drawer that used to overflow with stickers when the kids were little. This makes me happy and sad at the same time.

8 p.m.

I was working on my previous blog post, the one about our beach trip. Beth and Noah were in the back of the house. Noah was watching something on the iPad and Beth was lying in bed listening to a podcast.

9 p.m. 

Beth had picked North up from rehearsal and North had gone to bed. I was still blogging.

10 p.m.

I’d given up on finishing the beach blog post. Beth and I were in bed, but not sleeping because we were lamenting: 1) the lack of leverage the labor movement has in this historical moment; 2) the President’s petty refusal to lower flags to half-mast for those killed at the Capital Gazette, (a decision he later reversed); and 3) the loss of the Supreme Court, perhaps for a whole generation.

Noah was still up, moving around in his room and the bathroom so we could hear doors opening and closing and see lights going on and off—our bedroom door and his have to stay open when the A/C is on.  We’d also recently seen North, who’d gotten up to use the bathroom and to get “bonus” goodnight hugs from everyone. I think it was at least forty-five minutes before I got to sleep, but eventually I did and the second day of July 2018 was over.

We Are Headed South: College Tours, Installment #2

Saturday morning I was out of bed by 6:45, which is earlier than I usually am on a week day. The reason was that Beth, Noah, and I were going to an Open House at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, which, despite the name, is not a Catholic school. It’s Maryland’s public honors college, located in St. Mary’s city in Southern Maryland. After visiting two professionally-oriented schools over spring break, we thought a liberal arts college would be a good next step. That it’s close, affordable, and rigorous all make it an appealing school to have in the mix.

It takes about two hours to drive to St. Mary’s, a little less on a Saturday morning if you leave the D.C. suburbs just after 7:30, a little more if you are driving back on a Saturday afternoon and hit a little traffic re-entering said metro area. We got to the campus at 9:30 on the dot, parked, registered, picked up a free t-shirt for Noah, sampled the pastry buffet, and found seats on the bleachers in a gym. The floor space was taken up with tables where more teens and parents sat. Noah commented that each presentation crowd gets bigger and he was a little scared of what it would be like at the next college. (At Champlain an administrator made his pitch to just us and one other family; at Emerson there were maybe fifty people. Here there were probably a few hundred.) I started to explain how this was a special event, not just a tour you can sign up for any day and Beth stopped me because he knew that already—he’d just been joking.

We listened to presentations from administrators and a panel of current students. It was a little more detailed than the presentations at other schools and I liked getting the students’ perspective. From there we went to an information fair where the academic departments had booths under a big tent. It was crazy crowded in the tent, so we just picked up some brochures, one for Theater, Film, and Media Studies and one for the music department. I pointed out it would be easier for him to take music classes here, as neither Emerson nor Champlain has a music department, (though Emerson has an arrangement that allows students to take classes at Berklee College of Music).

We strolled about campus a bit before lunch, taking in the scenery, watching students fencing on a quad, and visiting the book store. I was charmed that it had a selection of musical instruments for sale (guitars, ukuleles, and bongo drums) and a whole aisle of art supplies and that there were a lot of books outside the assigned books section. The campus is quite pretty—red brick buildings, a fair amount of green space, woods, and ponds. It’s right on St. Mary’s river. There’s a boat house with boats you can take out on the water and it’s only about a ten-minute drive from the Chesapeake Bay.

We had tickets to eat lunch in the dining hall so we did. Noah wasn’t pleased that there was no pasta on offer at that particular meal and he didn’t care much for the pizza he got. I didn’t try the pizza but what I got seemed decent for cafeteria food. The dining area is an airy space with a soaring wooden ceiling and a lot of light.

We had a campus tour next. Our attention was attracted to the guide by the person in the Sea Hawk costume dancing around near her. (They are serious about the mascot at this school. At Champlain the guide pointed to a beaver weathervane and told us the beaver was the mascot and at Emerson we never even learned if they have one, but those sea hawks are everywhere.) The guide took us to the boat house, a dorm room, and a lecture hall. The rooms can’t compete with the Victorian mansions at Champlain, but the room we saw had a view of a pond and the lecture hall was fairly small (it only seats about sixty), which I think was the point—even your big intro classes won’t be that big here. The campus is so lovely I kind of wish I’d taken some pictures, particularly down by the boat house, but I didn’t want to be the embarrassing mom, so I didn’t.

The whole visit, as we walked around, I was thinking of one of my best friends, Joyce, who went to college at St. Mary’s. It was strange to think we were walking down paths she’d probably walked countless times as a young woman, long before we met as a graduate student (her) and an adjunct (me) sharing a tiny office with five other grad students and adjuncts at George Washington University. Joyce and I both had babies several years after that. Her daughter Gwen is a year younger than Noah. And now they’re in high school, Noah soon to be in college. It hardly seems real sometimes that we could all be so much older, except when it seems very real indeed.

We were back on the road by 1:40, heading back to weekend homework and chores. It was hard to get Noah to say much about what he thought of the school, but that’s par for the course. He rarely makes snap judgments, he needs time to ponder things. When I pressed him at dinner that night, he said he thought Champlain was still his favorite, though everything’s preliminary at this point.

We’re probably done looking at schools until summer, when we’ll visit Oberlin and maybe some other schools in that area. Oberlin is my alma mater and Beth’s; many of you already know we named Noah for the dorm where we met. If I felt pleasantly sentimental yesterday for Joyce as she was a decade before we even met, just imagine that trip.

We Are Headed North: College Tours, Installment #1

Load the car and write the note
Grab your bag and grab your coat
Tell the ones that need to know
We are headed north

From “I and Love and You” by the Avett Brothers

Monday: Takoma Park, MD to Lake George, NY

“I don’t know why they call it a resort,” North said as we drove into Lake George after a long day of driving. “It makes it sound like staying there is your last resort.”

Staying in the picturesque little town on a mountain lake in upstate New York was hardly our last resort. Beth chose it because it was most of the way to Burlington, Vermont, where we’d be touring Champlain College the next day and because of the mountains, although the hokey, brightly colored statuary (Santa Claus, Paul Bunyan, etc.) you often see in family-oriented summer resorts was a bonus.

We had a late dinner at a Chinese/Japanese restaurant and then it was time for showers for two of us, a bath for one of us, and for bed for everyone. North was disappointed it was too late for a swim in the hotel pool, especially since for them hotel pools were one of the selling points of the first portion of the trip, which would be focused squarely on their college-bound brother.

Tuesday: Lake George, NY to Burlington, VT

Beth and North managed to squeeze in a swim the next morning between breakfast in the hotel restaurant and a brief walk to the mostly frozen Lake George, where the kids stood on a dock and threw rocks at the thin edges of the ice. When they ran out of rocks, Noah ran back to shore for more. It reminded me so strongly of how much both kids loved to throw rocks at ice when they were little (and Noah’s complicated scoring system for this activity) that I couldn’t help but smile at Beth. It was like getting a fleeting glimpse of our little boy before we spent two days imagining our young man.

We got coffee and tea from the hotel coffee bar and hit the road at 9:30. We took the scenic route around Lake George but it was hard to tell when it ended because the whole drive to Burlington was scenic, full of tall evergreen trees rising from the snowy woods and mountains ringing lakes.

We got to Burlington in time for a very tasty lunch at a ramen place and then reported to Champlain College for a presentation by an admissions office administrator and a tour of campus by current students. We opted to take the shuttle down to a lakeside part of the campus where the Emergent Media Center is located because Noah is interested in both the film and computer science programs.

Champlain is a small college in a stunningly beautiful location, in the mountains very near Lake Champlain. The larger University of Vermont is in the same town so Burlington has a nice, funky college town feel. The campus is lovely, too. First-year students live in nineteen Victorian mansions. The rooms are all different shapes and a far cry from your standard cinder block-walled dorm room.

We knew Champlain had a pre-professional focus but I don’t think any of realized how pre-professional it was until we heard the presentation. That could be a plus or a minus (or both) but it’s definitely something to think about.

We were done by three-thirty, so we headed back to the hotel room and North, who had sat patiently through a boring (to them) presentation and walked around campus a bit hobbled from a twisted ankle got to swim for the second time that day. Beth and I partook of the pool as well—I swam laps for almost an hour in the tiny pool—and we all used the hot tub.

We had dinner at a fabulous vegetarian restaurant. Everything was good but the highlight was probably one of the two entrees Beth and I ordered to share—seitan with garlic mashed potatoes and spinach, though the sweet potato-mushroom soft tacos were very good, too, as was the guacamole in wonton wrappers. We all got different flavors of cake for dessert and shared bites with everyone else. Mine was maple because we were in Vermont and it seemed the thing to do. (We also got a tin of maple syrup at the college bookstore.)

Wednesday: Burlington, VT to North Truro, MA, via Boston MA

We hit the road shortly before nine and drove to Boston where Beth navigated heavy traffic amid confusing directions from Siri. We arrived in time for a quick lunch at a taqueria around the corner from Emerson College. Then we did the admissions presentation/tour thing again.

Being in downtown Boston, Emerson has a very different, more bustling feeling than Champlain, so that made for a nice contrast. The buildings that house the classrooms, labs, offices, and dorm rooms are all high rise buildings interspersed with non-college buildings along one city block. There’s no real campus, but it is right on Boston Common, so there’s nearby green space. Like Champlain, Emerson also has a pre-professional focus, but in addition to the communications, media, and film classes that attracted Noah there’s a robust performing arts program that piqued North’s interest. They’d been prepared to be bored again but by the end of the tour, which was conducted by two very animated performing arts majors, they were saying they would like to go to Emerson.

Noah was more reserved. It takes him a while to form opinions but he seems mildly positive about both schools, not sure if he’ll apply or not, but considering it. Of the two, he had a slight preference for Champlain. He thought it had a broader curriculum outside the majors. (I had the opposite impression, which just goes to show you how different people walk away from these presentations with different impressions.)

All week I’d been seeing Facebook posts from people I know with high school juniors who were doing exactly what we were doing, which made it feel like a communal experience. (Going into Emerson we also ran into a boy who’s been in all three magnets Noah’s attended, ever since fourth grade. I guess it’s not too surprising, as the last two magnets have been communications-focused.)  Some families had more ambitious itineraries than we did—we know one family that did seven schools in five days, but two felt like enough for now. Our next school will probably be St. Mary’s (Maryland’s public honors college) later this month, so Noah can see a more traditional liberal arts school, but for this trip we were done touring schools. It was hard for Noah to get started choosing schools and I was just glad he’d begun the process. Now we could relax a little with the R&R portion of our trip.

We left Boston immediately after the tour because we were heading for Cape Cod, where we’d spend the next three nights and two days. On the way to the Cape, we stopped to see Plymouth Rock and to eat dinner at Friendly’s. We were staying in North Truro, which is close to Provincetown.

Provincetown is a special place for Beth and me. We road tripped out there the spring break of my junior and her senior year of college, exactly thirty years ago, and then in the nineties and in 2000, we spent several Memorial Day weekends there because Beth was working for HRC and their retail store used to open for the season that weekend. Beth would help set up the computers in the store while I wandered the town and the beach. Often we stayed in houses with friends of hers from HRC. It was always a fun time. The last time we were in Provincetown, Beth wasn’t working at HRC anymore, but we came up again for Memorial Day weekend in 2004 when Noah was three, to hang out with HRC folks during their off hours and to play with Noah on the beach.

Thursday and Friday: North Truro, MA and Provincetown, MA

The first night we were in our beach house the thermostat went haywire and sent temperatures in the house soaring to ninety degrees. We had to open the windows in the middle of the night (it was in the thirties outside) to try to get the house down to a reasonable temperature until Beth could apply herself to the problem the next morning. She did fix it and the house, a charming, low-ceilinged, nineteenth-century home, was comfortable the rest of our stay. That morning while we were waiting for the house to cool down, the kids and I enjoyed the somewhat cooler enclosed porch.

Sadly, Noah didn’t get to relax as much as the rest of us. While we were on the road, he hadn’t done any schoolwork and he had a lot, so most of the time we were on the Cape, he was working. Beth and I went for a walk along a pond and down to the nearby bay beach about a mile from the house while he worked on an overdue AP biology chapter. North stayed at the house, too, wanting to rest their ankle. (North did get Noah to try out the backyard hammock.)

It was a sunny day in the forties, but it felt warmer. There was mist over the water that made it hard to see where the land on either side of the water ended and also where horizon was. We walked along the sand a bit and then got supplies for a picnic at a little corner grocery near the house. All four of us got in the car and drove to the Truro Lighthouse, where we ate bread, cheese, pickles, olives, chips, macaroni salad, one orange shared between us, and chocolate-covered cashews, all spread out on a bench on an observation platform at the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean.

Next we drove to Head of the Meadows beach where we rambled on the beach, finding pretty rocks until Noah asked to go back to the house and Beth drove him there, then swung back to get me so Beth, North, and I could wander through Provincetown, window-shopping in the mostly closed stores. We did find an open bakery (not the Portuguese bakery we used to frequent—it was opening for the season in two days) but somewhere we could get hot drinks and baked goods. And then we found a candy store where we needed to buy chocolate rocks, and molasses taffy, and lemon and maple fudge and I don’t know what else. As we were sitting outside the store, a passerby informed us Spiritus (our favorite pizza place in P-town) was having its annual free slice day. We were too full to have a slice each, but we walked over there and got one to split between the three of us. We also visited the long causeway of boulders that goes to the beach. I used to love this walk (which takes about forty-five minutes each way) but North wasn’t up to it, so we walked far out enough to inspect a recent shipwreck and turned back.

We went back to the house and I tackled the laundry we’d accumulated thus far on the trip and then we all went out to dinner at a nice restaurant where we got vegetable alfredo, mushroom ravioli and curried tofu with apple chutney.

The next morning I was out of bed early, by 6:35, because rain was predicted to start as early as ten and possibly last all day and I wanted to go for a walk on the beach. Well, it never did rain, other than a few sprinkles, so I got in three walks. The first two were at the bay beach. It was called Cold Storage beach. I’m not sure why. I wondered if people dug root cellars into the sandy cliffs back in the day.

It was a cloudy, windy day even though it didn’t rain, and it felt colder than the day before. I had to keep moving so as not to get chilled. In between the two walks I went back to the house to warm up and fold laundry. When I returned, the tide had come in considerably and there wasn’t much room to walk between the water and the base of the cliffs. I found a platform in front of one of the boarded up shacks (storage units? changing rooms? showers?) on the beach. It was satisfying to be standing there as the biggest waves went right under the boards where I stood, as close as I could get to being in the water this time of year.

On the way back to the house, I stopped by the little grocery store and got a baguette and some maple-smoked cheddar cheese that had tempted me the day before. With these additions, we had a smorgasbord lunch of picnic and restaurant leftovers.

After lunch, for my third beach jaunt of the day, Beth drove me to Race Point and dropped me off so she and North could go browse the shops in Provincetown again. I spent over two hours walking and sitting. It’s a broad beach on the ocean side with a lighthouse and big dunes. After I’d walked a bit, I found a cleft in them and I thought it might be sheltered from the wind in there and a good place to sit if you could still see the ocean, but it turned out to be windier than the beach. I was intrigued by the shapes the wind had sculpted into the sand there and I considered exploring, but sand was blowing in my face, so I left.

When Beth and North picked me up North showed me a button they’d bought that had a unicorn and the word Queer on it. They’d seen a t-shirt in the window of the HRC store they liked, but the store wasn’t open for the season yet, so Beth ordered it for them online. Beth was disappointed, too, because she wanted to see if anyone she knew would be working there. We swung by a coffee/ice cream shop where I got a latte to help warm myself up and Beth, who hadn’t been walking on a windy beach got ice cream. (North got a bagel.)

Back at the house, I folded more laundry, and then Beth and I went back to Provincetown to pick up pizza from Spiritus to eat at home in front of the television because it was the day the second season of Series of Unfortunate Events was released. We’ve been waiting for this for over a year, so we settled in with our pizza and Easter-themed cupcakes (they had Cadbury mini eggs in the frosting and a whole Cadbury egg baked inside each one) to watch the first two episodes, which correspond to the novel The Austere Academy. It was highly satisfactory. The actress playing Carmelita is spot on. One addition I particularly liked was that the mascot of the Prufrock Prep is a dead horse and at pep rallies, the students chant: “What can’t be beat? A dead horse!”

Once North was in bed, Noah and I read a little bit of Wolves of the Calla. We’d been so busy we hadn’t read much (only once in the hotel in Lake George) so that was nice.

Saturday: North Truro, MA to Takoma Park, MD

In the morning we packed and left. There was a chalkboard in the kitchen where I’d written “SDL was here,” with a peace sign underneath shortly after we arrived. I added “Now she’s not,” with a frowning face underneath. Shortly before we left I regarded the stones I’d collected on the beach,  a couple that were translucent white and peach when wet but didn’t look as impressive dry and a few speckled ones. I decided to leave them at the house.

We went into town and picked up pastries at the Portuguese bakery, which had just opened that morning. I knew I used to have a regular order there but it’s been nearly fourteen years so I wasn’t sure what it was. I remembered it was one with a Portuguese name, so I chose two, a tiny tart filled with ground almonds and a sweet potato-filled pastry. We drove out to the causeway to eat. Once I bit into the sweet potato pastry I knew I’d picked the right one. We lingered a bit, walking out on the rocks, inspecting the shipwreck up close again and admiring the water and the dunes. No one was in a hurry to get on the road, but a little before ten we did and after a seven-state, thirteen-hour, too-many-podcasts-to-count drive, we were home.