Clues: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Somewhat Normal: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 14

Pirates of Penzance

On the second Wednesday of July, North knocked on the door of Noah’s room, where he and I were reading in the air conditioning. When I yelled, “Come in,” they lunged into the room brandishing a wooden sword they’d just finished covering in aluminum foil.  It was a prop for their role as Frederick, the reluctant pirate in a half-day, outdoor drama camp production of Pirates of Penzance.

The camp was two weeks long and held in a park, with socially distanced blocking and choreography. Because there was only half the time as usual to prepare for the show, campers were making some of their props and costumes at home and the performance would be more of a revue of selected songs than a shortened version of the play.

There were contingency plans for rain, including rescheduling camp hours during the weekend or on July 3 (which they had off because it was a federal holiday), rehearsing in bathing suits, or rehearsing at home on Zoom. However, there was no morning rain the first week and this pattern held for most of the second week. By Wednesday evening, however, the director, Gretchen, had become concerned about forecasts for all-day thunderstorms on Friday, performance day. After hurried consultation with all the families of the campers (half as many as usual to keep distancing manageable), she settled on a plan of having an extra rehearsal late Thursday afternoon and to perform Thursday evening, rather than Friday morning.

This meant North was at camp from nine to noon, at a physical therapy appointment in the city at 1:45, then at another camp session that started at five and lasted until the performance began at seven, which was followed by a distanced cast-parent pizza party in the park. This is a normal level of activity for North in non-pandemic times, but quite unusual these days.

At showtime, the audience set up our blankets and chairs in family groups. The show began with a song with complicated choreography using parasols. All the actors were double-cast as daughters of the Major General and as pirates. I was glad the kids and I had watched a 1983 film version of the show—with Kevin Kline as the pirate king, Angela Lansbury as Ruth (the lady pirate), and Linda Ronstadt as Mabel—the night before camp started because I had no familiarity with the show and otherwise I would have had trouble following it.

There were nine actors, aged thirteen to sixteen, and two were Gretchen’s daughters. Gretchen used the fact that the sisters could stand next to each other to help fill in holes in the blocking in more natural-looking ways, to the extent anything in a show like Pirates is natural. (Gretchen had them work on operatic gestures and other techniques of melodramatic acting.) Here’s a clip of North’s first scene as Frederick, reassuring the frightened maidens that he’s no longer a pirate and therefore not a threat.

The scene that got the most laughs was probably the one in which the pirates are hiding behind rocks and there was one pirate left without a rock and when he tried to share one, the other pirates whipped out their swords and admonished, “Six feet!”

It was a fun show and pleasant to watch outdoors as the heat of the day began to ebb. One of the moms had organized a big pizza order and it wasn’t until shortly before it arrived that Beth and I realized we each thought the other had conveyed our order to her. So Beth had to place a separate order for us and go get it, but we were eating pretty soon after everyone else. We were seated within conversational distance of the mom of a girl North’s known since preschool and Zoë had come to watch the performance, so we all had people to talk to while we waited.

Something Gretchen said while she was introducing the play stuck with me. She was talking about the camp experience and how nice it was to have “a little semblance of something somewhat normal.” That’s why we let North attend this camp, though so much time unmasked and with other people, even standing far apart, did make me nervous.

Ithaca 

We did another somewhat normal thing the next day—we set out on a summer road trip. The official purpose of the trip was to clean out Noah’s dorm room (which he finally had permission to enter) but we decided to make a long weekend out of it.

Beth was scheduled to work Friday morning because we’d expected North to still be in camp, so she did, and we left around noon. We had a picnic lunch about an hour north of home and arrived in Ithaca about 7:30. At the house we met the two friendly resident cats, a calico named Opal and an orange tabby named Leo. By the time we’d unpacked, procured some pizza, eaten it at the house, and cleaned up from dinner, it was time for bed, past time actually. We were up until about eleven, which for me is late. We’d had a longish wait in the rain outside the pizza place, but while we were waiting a passerby informed us and the other little clusters of people that it was “the best pizza in town,” so that was encouraging.

No one slept well because it’s an odd feature of the AirBnB that none of the windows had any dressings except blinds in the bathroom and a sheer bit of fabric on our bedroom window. So we were mostly up with the sun.

We had breakfast in the house and in the late morning Beth and Noah headed to his dorm, while I had a nap. Only two people per family were allowed in and the appointments were spread out so they didn’t see another family the whole time they were there, except one heading into another dorm. (Noah did hear one on another floor of his dorm.) When they came back to the house, Beth said the whole process was “easy peasy.” They brought take-out back with them and Noah was so happy to be reunited with his camera that he started taking pictures of North eating their lunch before he had his.

We spent the afternoon in a series of parks. We hiked part of the trail to Taughanook Falls, but North got tired, so we turned back and drove to the overlook instead. Before we left the trail, though, we waded into the almost dry river, scrambling over the pocked riverbed, full of puddles.      

At Ithaca Falls, there was deeper water to wade and swim in so we stayed there a long time. This was the third or fourth waterfall of the day and it was here Beth said, “There’s another beautiful waterfall around every damn corner.” It’s true. Ithaca is ridiculously lovely. There a reason they said “Ithaca is gorges.” (I swear I’m going to buy that t-shirt someday.) There was a conveniently located log in the water that afforded a nice view of the waterfall so we sat there awhile and Beth said, “This is the best log I have ever sat on.”

We went back to the house where Noah showed us his photos of the trip so far and he and I read a chapter of Homeland. Then we got sushi and ate it at Stewart Park in a pavilion with a view of Cayuga Lake. On the way home we picked up ice cream from Purity, Ithaca’s most famous ice cream parlor and a family favorite.

Everyone slept better because we draped a quilt over the curtain rod in our room and piled pillows in front of the windows in the kids’ room. We had another outdoorsy day planned, but first we fortified ourselves at Waffle Frolic, which is the sort of restaurant where you can get ice cream, Nutella, or frosting on waffles. There are also healthier options, but that’s what we went with, though we did use buckwheat waffles as a base and added fruit and eggs on the side, so the meal was not devoid of nutrition. There were outdoor tables and it was our first time eating at a restaurant during the whole pandemic. It was hard to hear the staff calling out names to pick up food at the counter, but once we got our food it was quite pleasant.

We visited the Ithaca farmers’ market and the food co-op where we gathered food for a picnic. The farmers’ market is under a long wooden roof, with built-in stalls. It’s less extensive than the Takoma Park farmers’ market in terms of produce on offer, but there were more craft stalls. It’s always interesting to see another town’s market.

Next we drove around looking for a place we could swim. It had rained hard the night before so a lot of swimming places were closed because of presumed poor water quality. We ended up at Long Point State Park, also on Cayuga Lake. When we entered the park, and we asked if swimming was allowed, the young man in the booth said, “We can’t say you can, but we can’t say you can’t, and we won’t come get you if you do.” This was a surprising response, as we’d gotten a clear-cut no at the last park we’d tried. A little ominous, too, given what happened later, but we decided to go for it. We ate our lunch at a picnic table and then swam in the pebbly-bottomed lake, ringed with ridges of evergreen trees.

As at all the parks, Noah took a lot of pictures. I’d been thinking about how film and photography help him to connect to nature. In other words, it answers the question “What is the purpose of this activity?” he asked us at this very lake about a year ago.

We’d planned to move on to another park, one where drones are allowed, so around two p.m. North and I started to get out of the water. (Beth and Noah were already out.) Once I was out, North called me back to the water, to help them get to their feet, but when I pulled them up, their legs wouldn’t hold them.

To be continued…

Airplane Mode: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 8

Noah’s finished with his first year of college. His last exam was an oral presentation he gave on Thursday afternoon. The class was Media Industries and he and his partner chose to design Buzzfeed-style quizzes about television shows they watched as children. His quiz was on Cyberchase, which he loved in elementary school. He said watching old episodes to make the quiz was a nostalgic treat (and I think he may have watched more than he strictly needed to make the quiz). But sadly, none of his classmates watched this show in their younger years, so even though a classmate volunteered to take the quiz to demonstrate its use, the poor kid had to guess the answers at random. I imagine the point was the graphic design, however, and not how well his peers could score on it.

Noah had been conscientious about wearing clothes for his classes for most of the seven weeks of remote learning, but toward the end his standards slipped and he gave his final presentation in pajamas. (I suppose I should mention the top looks like a black sweatshirt and based on my college teaching days, I guess that’s dressy enough for a final.)

That same day, we had a pop-up café in the house. We made up menus the night before and the parents cooked for and served the kids lunch, which we ate in the living room, and the kids served the parents dinner, which we ate in the back yard. Grilled cheese was the most popular lunch entree and fried-chicken style tofu was the most ordered dinner. This activity was, of course, North’s idea. As is often the case, they had to talk us into it, but it ended up being fun. Afterwards, we played Settlers of Catan, or everyone but North did, as they don’t care for that game.

Friday we got pizza from Roscoe’s. I told Noah he could choose since it was his first day of summer break, but he sweetly pointed out I never got a chance to choose pizza for my birthday, so we chose together. I also got to choose the movie for family movie night and I went with the Dead Poets Society. I’d never seen it and I have to say, parts of it have not held up well, the sexual politics in particular, but parts of it still appeal.

On Saturday afternoon, Beth and Noah and I went to fly his drone again. This time it didn’t feel as strange to get in the car, as I’d done it six days earlier, but it seemed to make both Beth and me happy and expansive. We talked about things we’d like to do someday, both fantasies that are unlikely to come true (a mustang convertible for her, a beach house for me) and things we might actually manage (visiting Provincetown during some future Memorial Day weekend, as we did many times in the 1990s and meeting up with the friends from we used to see there).

Noah was the car’s DJ and he was playing Airplane Mode. He’d been playing this band the last time we went to fly the drone and I asked him if this was his theme music for this activity. He said no, it was just a coincidence, but then he said he’d search for another thematically named band for the return trip. I suggested Jefferson Airplane, in jest—I doubt he has any Jefferson Airplane on his phone.

On our way out, we stopped at a UPS store so I could return a duplicate birthday gift. I so seldom run errands these days it feels unsettling, but everyone in the store wore masks and stood behind the pieces of tape on the floor, marking out six-foot increments. There’s a Starbucks in that plaza, so we got treats. I tried out the iced pineapple matcha drink. I recommend it, if you like that kind of thing. It’s a pretty green color and it felt very festive to sip in the car.

This trip we visited the Triadelphia reservoir. There are a number of little recreation areas along the shore where you can launch a boat, fish, or picnic. We stopped at two of them. There was a playground in a wooded area at the first one, closed off with snow fencing, and Noah sent the drone in there and flew it between the chains of a swing. He also landed it on a trash can and tested the limits of how high it can go. The second location was more open. There were some people grilling and picnicking but the tables were pretty far apart and we went to the back of the field to distance ourselves further and give Noah room to fly without bothering anyone. At one point I saw a bird heading straight for the drone, but when it got close it did a 180, possibly disconcerted by the loud buzzing noise it makes.

Flying the Drone from Noah Lovelady-Allen on Vimeo.

It was fun to get out of the house again and hang out in a pretty place on a warm May day and watch Noah take enjoyment in his new gadget and imagine ourselves traveling even further someday.

On the way home, Noah played twenty one pilots.

Updates: we know a little more about move-out at Ithaca. It will start in early June and last for six weeks. New York state residents will go first, then people who live within a four-hour radius of the college, and then everyone else, but it’s all contingent on conditions where you live. (There are benchmarks to meet.) If we get to go, we’ll be in the last group, so sometime in July. Sign-up slots become available next week. It all seems reasonable and prudent, but given that it will be awhile before Noah gets his things, we bought him some more summer clothes and a fan for his room to replace the one he left in Ithaca.

Also, the stay-at-home order in the District has been extended until June 8, so it will be June 22 at the earliest before Beth goes back to her office, not that she’s in any hurry.

Vault Year

Two leap years ago North was in kindergarten in a Spanish immersion program and I wrote a blog post, called “Leap Year” about how kindergarten is a year of social, cognitive, and physical leaps. That year North learned to spend a longer day away from me than in preschool, they learned to speak Spanish, and they learned to read and write in both English and Spanish. Plus they learned to jump rope and pump on the swings. It felt like a big deal.

Then one leap year ago Noah was in ninth grade and I wrote another blog post, called “Hop Year” about how the transition from middle school to high school had gone smoothly and how being in a high school humanities-based magnet program wasn’t that different from being in a middle school humanities-based magnet program .

Well, here it is, four years later and Noah’s in the midst of another transition, this one bigger than starting elementary or high school. He’s living away from home, managing his own life, taking the first steps of young adulthood. I thought I should write a leap year blog post about that. “Vault Year” seemed appropriate, given the magnitude of the changes.

The problem, of course, is that he’s not here, and while we do text, he’s not what you’d call forthcoming with detail, so I’m not sure I know enough about his life to fill up a blog post. (Maybe that’s why when the Ithaca College magazine comes, I read it with more curiosity than my own alma mater’s magazine.) But here I am, giving it a try.

By the way, if you’ve got your own college student or soon will, my blog friend, Swistle, has two sons in college and recently wrote about communicating with college students. Here’s her take on it.

Here are some things I know:

  1. He applied to be a video editor at ICTV, the college television station. He got his pick of several shows and chose two—one he describes as “a Ghostbusters knockoff” and another one that’s “a sitcom about artists.” But there are so many editors he hasn’t had a chance to work on either show yet, which is frustrating. Something similar happened last semester. He may have only edited one episode. When he worked on his high school’s news show during his junior year, he was editing it on a daily basis. I wish he was getting more hands-on experience outside of the classroom.
  2. He’s playing percussion in a band for non-music majors. It meets once a week and he says the band teacher is “less intense” than his high school band teacher, who used to send them and the parents extremely long, online pep talks every week that contained gems like this: “How do you make a strong, sturdy blade? …… You have to plunge it into the fire and Keep Hammering…” (I’ve kept some of the messages in my email for their entertainment value.) Noah’s been practicing in his room with just his drumsticks and when he comes home for break he wants to bring his portable practice pad—which he used in elementary school before he got his own drum kit— back to school with him to facilitate this.
  3. His favorite class is Intro to Media Industries, which, according to the course catalog, is about the ethical, legal, technological, economic and creative issues raised by new media. He says it’s interesting. Overall, his workload is lighter than last semester.
  4. Left to his own devices, he’s most likely to spend his free time watching movies or television in his room. But he’s got a couple friends and one of them is able to convince him to go out and do things once in a while, like go to an Oscars viewing party.

I think that’s it. I’m tapped out. But that’s kind of the point of this year. He’s making his own way and we don’t know every little detail of what’s going on with him. And I think it’s going well. He seems happy, his grades were good last semester, and I expect the same this semester, though I haven’t asked. I think he’s still considering taking next semester off to volunteer for a campaign (either for whoever wins the Democratic primary or maybe something down ballot), but I’m not sure.

I can ask him in person soon because he’ll be home for spring break in a week. I’m looking forward to seeing him. We have no big plans, because North will be school that week, but we’re thinking of going to a maple sugar festival at Cunningham Falls State Park the Saturday before he goes back to school. It’s a little ironic, as Western New York is more maple sugar country than Western Maryland is, but it sounded fun.

Meanwhile, North thinks I should do my next leap year blog post about their senior year of high school, even though it’s the last year of something and not the first. It’s the year before the leap, they pointed out. It’s possible by then they’ll know where they’re going to college, or at least have it narrowed down to a few choices. It seems a lot closer and more real than it did when Noah was in middle school and I was barely thinking about college. Now that we’ve launched one kid, it seems like something that actually happens, not some abstract theoretical concept.

Of course, there’s still high school to get through. Thursday after school North proposed a walk to Starbucks because they didn’t have an afterschool activity and it was a sunny day, if a bit chilly, and we both had Starbucks gift cards from Valentine’s Day burning holes in our pockets. While we were there we talked about the pros and cons of the school they were assigned in the lottery, their first-choice school, and the Visual Arts Center. They won’t hear the results of the second chance lottery for a month and the VAC will be accepting students off the waitlist for another two months, so nothing has changed since the last time I wrote about this. North is simultaneously impatient to know where they’re going and sanguine about all the options. No matter how it turns out, I’m looking forward to seeing how their high school years unfold. I know now how fast they will go by.

Mixed Pie

Noah seems to be doing well at school. He reports his work load feels more manageable than it was in high school and he has some free time, which he’s used partly for socializing. He’s mentioned playing cards and going out to dinner in town with people. He’s also involved in an extracurricular activity—he applied for and got an editing position for a show on ICTV, the student-run television station. This all makes me really, really happy.

It still seems strange and often hard not to have him here, particularly when we went to the Takoma Park Folk Festival without him two weeks ago, after having gone with him almost every year since he was a toddler. But we went and it was still fun. Plus, I can’t say I really minded having only one Back-to-School Night to attend.

Having fewer meetings is just as well as I have been really busy lately with work. Both jobs picked up at the same time—I’m back on retainer with Sara– and even though it still adds up to part-time work, it feels like a lot. It seems I’m always rushing to prepare for a conference call or an in-person meeting at EPA. (Okay, I’ve only had two of those, but I haven’t been to a work meeting in ages, so it was a notable event for me.) I’m also spending a lot of time running North to aqua therapy or physical therapy at the rehabilitation hospital or appointments at the gender clinic, which are both in the city and something of a schlep.

We’ve had some time for recreation, too, though. Last weekend we went to a housewarming at Zoë’s folks’ gorgeous new house, where we saw a lot of people we know, unsurprisingly, as North and Zoë have known each other since kindergarten. And this weekend North entered the annual Takoma Park Farmers’ Market pie contest.

North’s entered this contest every year since they were seven or eight years old. They won “most unusual” pie when they were ten with their cantaloupe pie, but not since then. This year they decided to try a savory pie, a mushroom one. The filling was button, cremini, oyster, portobello, and shiitake mushrooms with a gravy-like sauce and the crust was whole wheat with parmesan.

We had some fun trying to name it. On Saturday, I told North, “It’s tempting to call it Magic Mushroom Pie, but you probably shouldn’t.”

“No!” North exclaimed. My next suggestion was “Marvelous Mushroom Pie,” but they thought that still sounded “druggy.”

Later North was talking about how high the mushrooms were piled in the skillet, so I suggested, “Mile-High Mushroom Pie,” and North said to Beth, “I think Mommy wants people to think there are drugs in my pie!”

In the end North called it “North’s Mixed Mushroom Pie with Cheesy Crust” and it came out very well. The filling was well seasoned and moist without being too wet to hold together when it was sliced and the crust was hearty enough to contain the filling. The judges must have thought so, too, because there was a tie for first place in the kids’ category and the Mixed Mushroom Pie was one of the winners. We actually found out before the winners were announced because the judges set the winner cards next to the winning pies ahead of time. But when they announced the winner, North got their picture taken with the mayor, and was awarded a ribbon, a free farmers’ market tote bag, and two five-dollar tokens to use at the market.  Then we got in line and bought six slices of pie, three for lunch, and three for dessert. We all got North’s pie for our first course, then I had a slice of peach pie, Beth had lemon custard with blueberries, and North had chocolate cookie pie.

It’s always nice to win something, but this one came at a particularly good time for North. They’ve been saddened and stressed by a few things lately. Highwood, the theater where they’ve been acting for the past couple years seems to be imploding. Of the two main staff people, one got another job and moved away and the other one was fired, and then most of the board quit. It’s unclear if it will be able to rise from the ashes or not, but there’s no fall musical in rehearsal right now, and North had been planning to try out for that. Highwood is a big part of North’s social world and it “leaves a hole,” as Beth said in discussing it with another Highwood parent. North’s taking an acting class at the rec center (the same one they’ve taken a few times before) and I’m sure they’ll enjoy it but it’s not the same thing as being in a full-scale production of a play. I’ve been suggesting they join the drama club at school, too, but it hasn’t started up yet.

There’s been some small progress with their leg pain—the aqua therapists at the rehabilitation hospital are impressed with their stamina in the pool and they’re using a cane instead of crutches on their better days—but it’s not as much progress as any of us would like. Some people’s reactions aren’t helping. North didn’t participate in gym class for nearly the whole second semester of seventh grade and at our request, their current gym teacher is having them walk around the track while other students are running or playing games. It’s not ideal but it’s an improvement over sitting and watching. So it was quite annoying that one day last week when they were walking around the track a fair distance behind their own class and another class came running by them the teacher for that class (who was North’s gym teacher in sixth and seventh grade) said “everyone knows” that they’re faking. And there have also been occasional comments along this line from students. North is sensitive about these accusations so that’s getting them down. But I’m happy to report when we told North’s counselor what happened she spoke to the teacher and he apologized to North. (The counselor is kind of fierce and we all think she may have read the teacher the riot act.)

So overall the beginning of eighth grade has been something of a mixed bag. On the plus side, North, who’s been negative about math for a couple years, likes their geometry teacher and her class, which is great and North’s also enjoying taking art for the first time since elementary school and having Zoë in some of their classes, unlike last year when they didn’t have any together.

Today is both the fall equinox and North’s half-birthday, so after dinner we had the traditional half-birthday cupcakes. We picked them up at a bakery over the weekend. I got carrot cake, Beth got chocolate chip, and the celebrant got red velvet. The weather is still hot here. The predicted high for today is 92 and I see a lot of 88s and 89s in the extended forecast, but I know eventually it will get cooler and the leaves will start to turn and it will feel like fall. I hope as that happens we see some other turning points at the theater and in North’s recovery.

August and Everything After

In August and everything after/I’m after everything
From “August and Everything After,” by Counting Crows

Sunday: Camp and Cousins 

“I’m ready if you are,” I said to Beth around 9:30 on Sunday morning. We were packing up the car for a four-day trip during which we’d pick North up at camp, spend a little time in Ithaca together as a family, and then drop Noah off at college. As soon as the words were out of my mouth I wondered if I really was ready for this trip, but ready or not, it was time.

We arrived at Camp Highlight around 12:30. Beth and Noah packed North’s things into the already full car while North drifted around the crowd saying goodbye to campers and counselors. It wasn’t goodbye for long, though, as we saw some of them again almost immediately. A bunch of campers and their families were meeting up at diner for lunch and North successfully lobbied us to join them. Beth, Noah, and I got our own table, while North went to sit with a big group of campers. Camp Highlight is a camp for kids of LGBT+ parents, which made me wonder if the staff noticed the sudden influx of middle-aged gay and lesbian couples along with their eight-to-fifteen-year-old kids in red t-shirts, but maybe it happens every year. It was difficult to peel North away and get back on the road, but eventually we did.

Our next stop was a few hours north at my cousin Holly and her daughter Annie’s house, near Wilkes-Barre. Holly grew up out West, but in the four years she’d been living in Pennsylvania, we hadn’t seen each other. In fact, we hadn’t seen each other in twenty-one years. I’m sorry about that, as I never got to meet her husband Mark, who died last November of cancer.

Holly’s house is a charming old farmhouse painted pale yellow and filled with old furniture and eclectic decorations, including her own paintings. We had what Holly called “a quick but lovely visit.” We chatted and ate. Holly set out a huge spread—cheese, olives, fruit, green beans, hummus, chips and salsa, and chocolate. We hardly needed dinner that night. And that was a good thing because we got to our Air BnB outside Ithaca later than expected. There was food provided for guests in the fridge, so North had eggs and potatoes, Noah made a baked potato, and I just had a bowl of cereal and we all went to bed.

Monday: Lake Cayuga

The next day we explored our surroundings. The house had a big yard with a hot tub (broken, sadly), a koi pond with goldfish and frogs, and a hammock. There was also a garden with vegetables you could pick and an apple tree with a couple of ripe apples and many unripe ones. There was a meditation room with a curved glass wall and ceiling overlooking the nearby hills, which you could also see from the porch. It was really delightful. We are already thinking about staying there again.

We were about a half hour from Ithaca and we drove into town to have breakfast at the famous Ithaca Bakery, which we hadn’t managed to hit on our previous two trips there. Beth got the rosemary-salt bagel on the recommendation of friend whose kid is a sophomore at Ithaca and she didn’t regret it. Next we hit Wegman’s for groceries and some prescriptions for Noah that Beth had ordered to arrive there. And sure enough, they were waiting for us.

We went back to the house, where we relaxed (the kids watched an episode of Dr. Who, finishing a season they’d been watching for months). Then we packed a picnic lunch and went swimming at Cayuga Lake. Shortly after we arrived, Noah, who’s not exactly the outdoorsy type, asked “What is the goal of this activity?” He did wade a little and throw rocks in the water, which he always enjoyed as a little boy. Mostly, though, he sat in the shade and looked at his phone while the rest of us swam. We stayed until late afternoon and then returned to the house.

Noah and I finished up Pet Semetary, the last book in our mother-and-son book club, at least for a while, and then Beth fried some green tomatoes from the garden and we had green beans (also from the garden) and deli macaroni and cheese with it. We ate out on the porch, enjoying the view and the pleasant temperatures. It had been quite hot and humid at home, so Western New York was a welcome change. After dinner, we drove into Ithaca to have dessert at Purity Ice Cream.

That night we had our last family poetry reading, a bedtime tradition we’ve had since Noah was in first grade. I don’t know why this was harder for me that finishing our book, maybe it was because the end of Pet Semetary isn’t all that suited to melancholy nostalgia, what with all the violent death and ill-fated resurrections. Or maybe finishing our last summer novel (of seven) and our last poetry book on the same day was just too much. The book was Honeybee, by Naomi Shihab Nye, and the last poem we read (out of order because it was seven pages long and we’d skipped it the night before when we were pressed for time) was called “Last Day of School.” It’s about a woman revisiting her old elementary school and it ends, “there will never, never be a last day of school.” After Noah finished reading the poem, I dissolved into tears and Noah gave me a long hug.  I know most fifty-something moms’ and teens’ reading lives are not as entwined as mine and Noah’s have been, and it could seem odd, but for me it’s been a beautiful gift.

Tuesday: Move-In Day and Robert H. Treman State Park

The next day Noah packed up all his belongings and we drove up to the college, with a pit stop for breakfast at Waffle Frolic on Ithaca Commons. Noah stood in lines to get his i.d. and his dorm room key and then we moved him into his room. It was a very smooth process and there were a lot of orientation staff there for the express purpose of helping carry things up to the rooms. We met his roommate and the roommate’s brother and mother, but only briefly because you’re only allowed to park in the small lot for fifteen minutes so we had to leave pretty soon after they arrived. We did some on-campus errands, including getting a photo by the famous fountain and buying a lot of Ithaca College swag at the campus store: a t-shirt for Beth’s mom and sweatshirts for me and North; I also felt I needed a mug, pencils, and a car magnet. We went to Student Health to see about the process for having Noah’s ADHD meds shipped to campus and visited the mail room for small packages and the other mail room for large packages—he had both. The large package was a box fan for his window.

Later on the Ithaca parents’ Facebook page we heard people complaining about the heat on move-in day, which made us shake our heads and decide that these people were definitely not from the Washington, D.C. area. It was a little warm in Noah’s third-floor room, but I didn’t even break a sweat carrying things up there. The roommate brought a narrow, vertical fan that stands in the middle of the room and Noah had his fan, so I think they’ll be fine until it gets cool, which I hear happens pretty quickly. (We almost returned Noah’s fan because he and his roommate initially couldn’t fit it into the window, but the next day they moved some furniture so it could tilt it into the window frame.)

Noah didn’t want lunch—we’d had a late breakfast and his was a waffle sundae that to his regret he couldn’t finish, so we left him there to unpack and attend a hall meeting and a dorm cluster meeting. Left to our own devices for the rest of the day, we ate lunch at the house (North opted for Taco Bell drive-through) and then went to Robert H. Treman State Park where you can swim in a bitter-cold swimming hole with a waterfall at one end. We’d been there last year on our visit to Ithaca but North wasn’t with us then and we thought they’d enjoy it. Well, they enjoyed it, to put it mildly. They swam for two hours in the 64-degree water, swam against the current to the waterfall and back three times, and did countless handstands. It was good to see them so active in the water and it made me hopeful about their aqua therapy, which was set to start later that week.

While we were discussing dinner plans, North pointed out we’d eaten at the house two nights in a row and we were on vacation. Beth asked what they’d like to eat and North found a sushi place on the Commons where we had a feast of bubble tea, hot and sour soup, seaweed salad, edamame, agedashi tofu, and of course, sushi. We got cucumber rolls because they’re North’s favorite and a kind that had thinly sliced mango and avocado on the outside and sweet potato inside. We walked to Sweet Melissa’s for ice cream afterward, though I skipped dessert because the bubble tea had been pretty sweet and there was leftover mochi at home.

Wednesday: On Our Way Back Home

There were events for parents most of the next day, but we decided we’d attend a couple before lunch and be on our way. Breakfast was provided, so we ate in the gym and Noah joined us after he’d had breakfast in the dining hall. We listened to some speeches from college administrators together and then the students were divided into small groups and left while we listened to more speeches—mostly about how not to be helicopter parents— and then we ate a buffet lunch. I’m not quite sure what the students did in their groups because we didn’t get a chance to talk to Noah much after that. He had a pretty tight schedule. We were initially hoping to go back to his room so we could drop off some clothes he’d left at the Air BnB (he’d put a few things into the week’s worth of camp laundry I did for North on arriving there and I hadn’t taken the clothes out of the dryer). Anyway, there was never time for that, so we brought the bag of clothes to give him as he was entering a session for new students of the School of Communications. We said goodbye quickly in the hallway outside the auditorium.

In the weeks and months before Noah left for college I’d imagined that moment of parting many times and it wasn’t anything like I expected, rushed and without tears. For a while it looked like we might not be able to find him at all and we’d have to leave without saying goodbye. He might have preferred that—he tried to say goodbye via text—but that would have been more than I could have borne.

After

Leaving a kid at college is hard to describe, such a mix of happiness and sadness. It’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced. We had two days at home as the threesome we’ll be most of the time for the next five years. North went to their first aqua therapy session, finished their summer reading homework, and made soft pretzels. Beth and I worked, North and I walked to Little Caesars and brought home a pizza (something they’ve been wanting to do all summer) and we all watched a movie called Lemonade Mouth. Then yesterday morning, Beth drove North to Wheeling, where they’ll spend the last week of their summer vacation with Beth’s mom. I stayed behind, alone in the house, which was sometimes lonely and sometimes restorative. I read the newspaper, had lunch out, mowed the lawn, cleaned the kitchen, went to the farmers’ market, and wrote this. Beth got home this afternoon and she and I will practice being empty nesters for a work week, until we leave on Saturday to spend Labor Day weekend in Wheeling and collect North.

I miss Noah terribly. How could I not? But I’m also proud and excited for him as he steps away from us and finds out what August and everything after will look like.