This is Halloween

Saturday: Halloween Parade 

Fifteen minutes before we need to leave for the Halloween parade is always a hectic time at our house and this year was no different. June’s costume had been pretty much finished for a week, but the paint was still damp on Noah’s. This is how it usually goes.

So at 12:30 on Saturday afternoon, Beth was spraying hairspray on June’s hair and teasing it into a mad scientist style, while I was cutting painted emojis out of poster board for Noah’s costume, carefully because the paint was still tacky. Meanwhile, Noah was using the paper cutter to cut up the business cards June was going to pass out along the route.

Maybe by now you’re wondering, what the kids were going as? June was the Tongue Twister, a character of her own invention. She wore a lab coat with tongue twisters and graphics of a tongue tied in knots on it. She had the aforementioned crazy hair and a big pair of glasses that distorted her eyes and she carried two wrenches in which she was twisting a rubber tongue. (Did you know you can order rubber tongues from the Internet? Now you do.)

Noah was a Samsung Galaxy 7 Note phone on fire. The flames are my favorite part of this costume and they were a group effort. Noah printed a model for tracing onto the poster board and he and June traced the shapes with pencil. Then he painted them with three layers of paint—yellow, then orange, then red. Then he and I cut them out and he and Beth glued them to the front of his costume with spray glue. Halloween inspires us to teamwork.

We had some Halloween-themed temporary tattoos, so though I wasn’t in costume, I got into the spirit by decorating my face with a witch, a vampire, and a ghost and the backs on my hands with a black cat and a mummy. Beth wore a necklace of plastic skulls that light up red, but it was too sunny for the lights to show. It was an unseasonably warm day. I was in a black turtleneck and a denim skirt with no tights or leggings and I was a little warm. I was glad June had opted for a camisole under her lab coat instead of a warmer shirt.

We got to the Co-op parking lot around 1:15, fifteen minutes after the festivities started. There’s usually a lot of milling around before the contestants divide into groups for the judges. June guessed how many plastic spiders were in a jar and played some games. Beth, Noah, and I people watched and waited for the contest to begin.

There were the usual adorable babies and toddlers in bee, lion, and bunny costumes. A boy who used to be in Kindermusic with June was either the Grim Reaper or a Dementor on a skateboard. A girl from her drama camp was the Phantom of the Opera and a girl from drama class was a Minecraft dragon. I think that’s what she was—neither of my kids has been much into Minecraft.

I saw an unusual number of zombies this year—including zombie cheerleaders, a zombie prom queen, and some standard zombies. There were also several individuals and groups, male and female, going as Ghostbusters. My favorite version of this had a baby in a white snow suit with a sailor hat and collar as The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, though I was a little afraid he or she was going to overheat in that get-up.

Noah thought his most serious competition for Most Original in the teen and adult category was the house from Up. The house wasn’t that detailed, though. Just cardboard rectangle and roof painted yellow.

It’s an election year so I expected some political costumes and there was both a Hillary Clinton (accompanied with Secret Service agents) and a Donald Trump in June’s age group. The girl dressed as Clinton had a photo of Clinton’s face blown up and held in front of her own face and she wore a pantsuit. The boy dressed as Trump had a “Make America Great” hat and a blazer on, and there was money sticking out of his blazer pocket. There was an adult Nasty Woman and a Basket Full of Deplorables, which I never saw but I heard about later from Beth and Noah. I’d predicted someone would do that, but Beth and Noah said it wasn’t done the way I would have guessed. It was a man with a basket attached to his rear. I would have preferred it as a group costume with multiple people in a big basket.

Speaking of group costumes there was a group of adults I think was going as decades. There was a flapper, Elvis, a hippie, etc. I liked that idea. People were walking around taking pictures of each other and both kids had their pictures taken by a representative from the Recreation Department and by strangers.

Around two it was time to divide by age. I went to march with June and the nine to twelve year olds and Beth went with Noah in the teen and adult area. Usually the judges circulating through the crowd only ask a few people’s names and if they ask yours there’s a good chance, but not a guarantee, that you’re going to win. It at least means you’re under consideration. But this year the nine-to-twelve judge was asking every kid’s name and it took a while for her to get them all down. Then later, once we were marching, she came back and asked June for her name again. June thought that was a good sign.

We marched to downtown Takoma and June did pretty well with her boot. When anyone commented on her costume, she handed them one of the business cards she had in her jacket pocket. They have a picture of her on the front and tongue twisters on the back and they say, “You’ll be tongue-tied by the time I’m finished.”

While we were waiting for the contest results to be announced, I commented to Beth, “It’s not too cold for gelato,” because we were standing right in front of Dolce Gelati. She didn’t care for any, but I bought some for myself and the kids.

As we were eating the gelato, June realized she didn’t have her tongue. I went back into the Dolce Gelati and downstairs to the bathroom in the basement where we’d just been but I couldn’t find it.  Shortly afterward, a friend of hers (the one dressed as the Phantom of the Opera) came up to us and said, “I found your tongue” and handed it to her. It was black from being on the ground, but she was glad to have it.

“That’s why it’s handy June knows everyone,” I said to Beth.

The Grandsons, a local band that always plays at this event, was up on stage playing. There’s usually a pretty long wait for the results, but sooner than I thought, they were announcing results for the four and unders, and then the five to eights, and then the nine to twelves, without pausing for music between results, as they often do.

In June’s age group, Most Original went to Hillary Clinton, which was a bit of a surprise as Presidential candidates in Presidential election years are not really unexpected. Consider this—in the Family Circus in the Sunday comics, Dolly was Clinton and Billy was Trump. I think we can all agree that it’s in the Family Circus, original is probably not the right characterization.

Scariest went to Donald Trump, another surprise because I didn’t think a contest run by a municipal government would go there. We waited for Funniest, because June had strategically tried to design a costume she thought could win any of those three categories. And they never announced it. They just took a break for a musical interlude before the teen and adult results.

Well, we were all sad for June because it was a good costume and she really wanted to win, as did Noah. For whatever reason, both kids have latched onto this contest and it means a lot to them. Nonetheless, she took it pretty well, even if she was surprised. I think after her name was taken a second time, she thought she had it in the bag. I’ll admit, I kind of thought she did, too.

After another song or two, they announced Most Original for teens and adults and it was one of the Ghostbusters. Scariest went to one of the zombies, a good one with a lot of elaborate makeup and Funniest was…the Samsung phone. The M.C. made a joke about asking him to stay away from the stage, but Noah went up and collected his prize, a $25 gift certificate for Busboys and Poets. He was happy to win, though I think he would have preferred Most Original. Unlike June, he has a clear preference for that category.

While we waited for Beth to fetch the car, Noah kept telling June the judging was really bad this year. I was touched by that because I didn’t feel that as her parents Beth and I could say too much about it or we’d be modeling poor sportsmanship. However, he was better positioned to comment on it, both as her brother and someone who had just won.

We headed home, made popcorn and watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, because June had been wanting to do that. Then I read Serafina and the Twisted Staff to her, while Noah did some homework. Around six, we dropped June off at her friend Claire’s house for their annual Halloween party where she met friends dressed as an archer, a fallen angel, a vending machine. Once we’d dropped her off, Beth, Noah, and I went out to dinner at Noah’s favorite Italian restaurant.

Monday: Trick or Treat

Getting the kids out the door for trick-or-treating was nearly as rushed as getting to the parade. Right before it was time to leave, I realized I needed to do June’s hair because Beth wasn’t home yet, and the kids remembered I hadn’t gotten the Frankenstein’s Monster head candy bowl from the basement and we hadn’t set up either the little coffin with a skeleton and colored mist coming from it, or the bigger fog machine. I got the candy bowl and filled it and set Noah to work on the fog machines.

Plus, there were some Halloween decoration we never got around to putting the batteries in—despite June’s frequent reminders. And I never made a replacement Halloween playlist to play while waiting for trick-or-treaters.  Over the years I’ve made two of these, both of which got accidentally deleted for some reason.

The kids left around 6:40 with Noah was protesting it was too early and no one would be home and Beth and me telling them to go already because June was slow with her boot and he was slow in his costume and I wanted them home by eight because June would need to wash the hairspray out of her hair and he had undone homework.

I did the dinner dishes and waited by the door for trick-or-treaters. I heard one group making their way through the fog on the way to the door saying, “I forgot about this house,” so I guess we were decorated enough, even without all the batteries.

The kids came home a little after eight, and Megan came to the door around 8:20 while June was about to get in the bath, so she came to the door in a bath robe, with her crazy hair. Megan had called that afternoon to invite June to trick or treat with her, but between their more ambitious route and June’s ankle and Noah not having plans to go with anyone else, it seemed best not to change plans at the last minute.  We promised June they could go together next year, maybe without adults, if it was okay with Megan’s folks. June and Noah tried to hit Megan’s house while they were out but no one was home, so I’m glad they at least got to see each other, however briefly. Megan had on a Mexican dress and a Day of the Dead mask and skeleton tights. 

This is Halloween for us. We decorate the porch and the yard and carve pumpkins, the kids make costumes and march in the parade. Sometimes they win the contest and sometimes they don’t. They come home on Halloween night with bags full of sweets and plans for next year.

Of Pumpkins and Presidents

We live pretty near the Maryland/Virginia border but we don’t go to Virginia often. We’re more often in the District, where Beth works and where our doctors and dentists are. However, in the past week, we’ve visited our sister state twice, or at least June and I have.

1. Pumpkins

Late last Saturday afternoon we drove forty-five minutes to Potomac Vegetable Farm, our traditional source for jack-o-lantern pumpkins. There are certainly closer places we could get pumpkins or pumpkin farms with more bells and whistles in terms of activities, festivals, etc. But we started going to Potomac Vegetable Farm before the kids were born because the family of a friend of ours from college ran it, and now it’s a sacred tradition. We’ve only missed one year when we all had a stomach bug.

On the way there I noticed Northern Virginia is Clinton/Kaine country, if yard signs are any indication. And that’s good, because unlike reliably blue Maryland, Virginia is a swing state, or it often is, in a normal year. (It went for Obama twice, but Bush twice before that.) It’s looking pretty safe for Clinton at the moment.

Noah was working on the script and storyboard of his dystopian trailer before we left and it was hard to pull him away from it, but I’m glad he agreed to come because it turned into a pretty fun family outing. We picked out some decorative gourds and our jack-o-lanterns—I opted to go with a white pumpkin this year—took the traditional pumpkin farm photo of the kids, and stocked up on cider and fall produce. I got beets, squash, a sweet potato, and some late cherry tomatoes to cook with and Beth got a couple green tomatoes, which would supplement our garden tomatoes when she made her signature fried green tomatoes for dinner on Sunday.

From the farm, we headed to Sunflower, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant we’ve never tried before and which we all enjoyed. If you go, I recommend the fake shrimp. I also appreciated the owners’ commitment to sunflowers in the décor. There were real sunflowers growing outside the restaurant (dead now of course, but I’m sure it was pretty when they were in bloom) and sunflowers decorations everywhere you look inside.

As we finished our meal, we discussed dessert options. June’s been wanting to try bubble tea for a while now and Beth looked on her phone and found a (mostly) Asian dessert place nearby that carried it. June got mango and I got coconut and Beth and Noah went for chocolate cake and raspberry cheesecake respectively. As we drove home, sipping our sweet drinks and listening to Halloween music and catching glimpses of the enormous full moon that kept popping in and out of view, I felt deeply content. Over the next week, whenever I glimpsed the little pumpkin and yellow and green gourd on my desk, it kept reminding me of that pleasant day.

2. Presidents

Almost a week later, on Friday, I chaperoned a fifth grade field trip to Mount Vernon. I signed up because the last field trip I went on to Saint Mary’s City last spring was fun. But as happened last time, I didn’t really expect to be chosen because there are often more parents who want to chaperone trips than there are slots. But when June came home the next day with a form about a new online training about child abuse and neglect all school volunteers have to complete and I asked if I could wait to see if I was chosen before I did it, she said, “Oh, you’re in.”

So I did the training, and it was kind of annoying, because near the end I lost all my progress due to a computer glitch and then I had to start over. But I persevered and Friday morning found me at June’s school.

We almost didn’t go on the trip because on Wednesday at recess June twisted her ankle and on Thursday morning she still couldn’t put any weight on it, but she really wanted to go so we decided to give it a try.

We got a ride to school with Megan’s mom, who was dropping off her younger daughter. The buses left the school at 9:40 and crossed the Maryland/Virginia border about twenty minutes later. It was a pretty drive. The leaves are just starting to change and we passed the Washington Monument, National Airport, and drove through charming Old Town Alexandria with all its colonial architecture. I noticed some water birds in the Potomac. And then about 10:35 we arrived at Mount Vernon. As we disembarked from the bus, Zoë noticed the Clinton button on my backpack and said, “I like your button.”

Chaperones were allowed to wander with their groups until our tour of the mansion at 11:30. I was sharing a group of eight girls with the father of one of June’s friends, but it soon became clear June couldn’t keep up on her crutches, so I told him I was going to peel off with her so we could go at her pace. We made our way slowly toward the mansion, stopping to rest on benches and to read short bits of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows while her classmates went to explore the farm and gardens.

June was a trooper with the crutches, but she was getting tired and red-faced, so when we got to the mansion, I left her with her math teacher—I couldn’t find my co-chaperone or her social studies teacher—to go see if I could get a loaner wheelchair. In retrospect, I should have done this at the entrance, where they have more wheelchairs, but we were still trying to keep up with the group then and there was no time to stop and ask. They only had an adult size wheelchair at the mansion. The wheels were too far apart for June to comfortably maneuver it by herself but all we needed was some respite from walking for her and I could push her.

She rode in the wheelchair through the line to get into the mansion and then we stowed it outside because she wanted to go up to the second floor. During their reading about George Washington and his family she got especially interested in his step-granddaughter Nelly and she wanted to see her room, so she hopped up the stairs while I held the crutches.

There were a lot of school groups visiting that day (or maybe every day) and so they really hustle you through the house, but you can explore the out buildings at your leisure. We peeked into the smokehouse, the stables and carriage house, the storehouse, the clerk’s office, and the paint storage cellar. They used a lot of paint at Mount Vernon because even though the mansion looks like it’s made of stone, it’s really made of wood carved to look like masonry and painted with paint mixed with fine sand, to give it the glitter of mica in stone. Anyway, it needed frequent repainting. We got shooed away from the ice house because we’d gotten too close to a private tour group, so we never saw inside it.

Reading the signs, I noticed they almost never used the word “slave.” Instead it would say “enslaved gardeners,” “enslaved cooks,” “the enslaved population,” etc. It made me reflect on how this shifts the concept from slavery as a state which is continually forced on a person rather than a slave being something he or she inherently is.

I asked June what else she wanted to see and she said the Washingtons’ tomb so I pushed the wheelchair carefully down a pebbly hill to see George and Martha’s white marble sarcophaguses housed a big brick tomb that also houses the remains of other relatives as well. I would have liked to go see the slave memorial and the wharf but I was afraid of going even further downhill with the wheelchair. I learned later from the Mount Vernon website we were only fifty yards from the slave memorial at the time, but I didn’t know that, just what direction the signs said to go. It was hard pushing the chair back up the hill so when a passerby asked if he could help I accepted his offer. Thanks, stranger!

We peeked into a vegetable garden and an orchard on our way back to the museum but we didn’t go into them, as there were stairs. At the museum we toured exhibits about Washington’s childhood, the French and Indian War, and the Revolutionary War. It was nice to have a flat surface for the wheelchair. We didn’t have time to see the 4-D movie we later heard June’s classmates extol, but maybe we’ll go back some day.

We returned the wheelchair and re-joined June’s classmates for a late picnic lunch on the lawn near the driveway. As we ate the sky clouded over, the temperature dropped dramatically, a terrific wind kicked up, blowing leaves everywhere, and it started to sprinkle rain. By the time we were gathered to wait for the buses, it was raining in earnest. I helped June into her raincoat and urged her to go slowly on the wet pavement. (She’d fallen twice on wet restroom floors in the museum.)

We ran into traffic on the way home and there was a lot of water on the road the bus pushed up in sheets and the drive that took less than an hour getting there two hours and fifteen minutes getting back. We were an hour and twenty minutes late returning to school and the whole fifth grade missed their school buses. (Something similar happened on the way home from St. Mary’s last spring so I wasn’t surprised.) I’d been hoping to put June on her school bus and walk home by myself, but we got a ride with another chaperone. Thanks, Mindy!

During the bus ride, I asked June if she was glad she went and she said, “Yes. Are you?” I said I was glad to have gone and also to have been there to help her get around. “I wouldn’t have gone without you,” she said, leaning against me and resting her head on my shoulder. She was so tuckered out she actually fell asleep for fifteen minutes or so.

I have a piece of paper on which I jotted down these words, a quote from Washington, which were painted on the wall in the museum: “That the Government, though not absolutely perfect, is one of the best in the world, I have little doubt.”

Our democracy was far from perfect then, as I’m sure the enslaved population and many of the women would have attested, and it’s still far from perfect, but it’s gradually getting closer to fulfilling its promise and I think it’s quite a lot better than near-apocalyptic vision of one of the Presidential candidates. It was moving to visit the home of our first President near the end of the second term of our first African-American President and on the eve, I hope, of the first term of our first female President. It makes me wonder what other almost unimaginable changes will take place in my children’s lifetimes.

Visitation Day

Monday

Monday was Columbus Day and that means we spent the day at the kids’ schools. The schools all have open houses that day because many parents have the day off work, plus by that point the kids have been back to school for six weeks, more than half of a marking period, so everyone is or less back in the swing of the routine. We choose to visit Noah’s school in the morning, because that’s when he has his CAP classes and June’s in the afternoon because that’s when she has her only accelerated class (Math 5/6).

At we got out of the car in the high school parking lot, Noah said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Yes, we did. I’ve always found these visits instructive, ever since the kids were in kindergarten. There’s no substitute for seeing your kids’ classes in action.

Normally Noah has most of his classes every other day, but so parents can see any class there are shortened versions of all nine periods on visitation day. (Doesn’t that make it sound as if the kids are in juvy? Or maybe expecting the Virgin Mary?).

We stayed for four periods—Journalism, Media Production, English, and AP Government. The lesson in Journalism was a discussion about interviewing sources—basically dos and don’ts and the reasons behind them. In Media Production, they were working on their biggest project for the fall—producing trailers for imaginary dystopian films. The teacher talked about the assignment for a while and then they broke into their groups to work on their proposals for the assignment. I occasionally approached his group, and hung around, trying to get close enough to hear but staying far away enough so he didn’t die of mortification. When I wandered away, I admired the posters from last year’s dystopian trailers on the wall.

In both of the next two periods there was a chance we’d see him present something, a speech and a skit, but we didn’t know if his turn would come while we were there, so there was a bit of suspense. The speeches in English were part of their unit on 1984. They had to write a short persuasive speech using ethos, pathos, logos, and at least three propaganda techniques. They’d drawn their topics from two piles of index cards, one of possible audiences and one of proposed actions. This resulted in some amusing combinations. Noah’s favorite was “Convince the RNC to buy tutus.” (Beth said she thought if someone told the RNC Donald Trump would disappear if they’d wear tutus, they’d all be sporting them.)

Noah’s assignment was to convince soccer moms in his school’s PTSA to join his high school’s (imaginary) painting club. We didn’t get to see him give it at school, though we’d both heard it at home—I thought he made especially good use of the slippery slope, by arguing that if moms didn’t spend quality time with their kids this way, the kids would do poorly in school and end up homeless. We did get to hear kids try to convince Santa’s elves to buy English textbooks, nudists to purchase juice with probiotics, single women to adopt cats, and business executives to shave their head to benefit children’s cancers. The kids were smart and funny—they knew how to keep it fun without losing sight of the assignment’s objectives.

In AP Government, the kids were presenting their mock campaign ads. Again, they’d been randomly assigned their candidates and ad formats. Noah’s group was doing what used to be called a “man on the street” ad for Clinton, though Noah said they call it “real people” now. This time we did get to see his group go. I thought Noah had the best line: “I pay my taxes. Hillary Clinton pays her taxes. I mean, that’s something we have in common.” His delivery and timing were just right. Most of the kids chose a skit format, as they hadn’t had much time to prepare their ads, but one group did a video for Johnson, with a student pretending to a little kid talking to his (real) father about the election.

We left Noah’s school around eleven and went to the Sears repair center to drop off our malfunctioning microwave, then out to lunch, and then home for just long enough to do the breakfast dishes and start some laundry and then to June’s school to see her math lesson.

June’s class has been working on multiplying and dividing fractions. The teacher went over a few problems on the Promethean board, covering both the mechanics of different ways to do the problems and also engaging the kids in discussion about why these methods work. Then the students broke into groups to rotate through activities.

June started on a laptop, doing an online review unit on multiplying three-digit numbers by two-digit numbers. Next she played a game with a boy, that involved drawing flat sticks with fraction multiplication problems written on them from a cylinder. They’d take turns solving the problems while other student checked their answers from an answer key. Each time a student correctly solved a problem, he or she would keep it and whoever had more sticks at the end won. The twist was some of the sticks said, “Zap” on them and if you drew that one, you lost all your accumulated sticks. Next June and six other students met with the teacher for small group instruction. The only activity she didn’t get to do was watching videos about multiplying and dividing fractions. The class seemed thoughtfully taught and the kids were engaged.

This was my last Columbus Day observing an elementary school class. Middle school is on the horizon. October is the month fifth graders have to decide if they are applying to any magnets and if so which ones. If June had her way she’d be applying to the performing arts magnet but it’s far away and there’s no bus provided, so we’ve regretfully ruled it out, as we did for Noah.

Of the schools she can apply to, June was adamant for a long time that she only wanted to apply to the humanities magnet Noah attended and not to the math and science one and we’d agreed that was fine. However, when her fourth grade PARCC scores came home last week and her math scores were higher than her reading and writing scores, I said, half-jokingly, “Are you sure you don’t want to apply?”

She surprised me by saying, “I don’t know. Maybe I will.” And later that day, she said she’d decided she would apply to both. I’m glad she’s keeping her options open. If she doesn’t get into either or chooses not to attend one, she’ll go to our home middle school, where she could continue in Spanish immersion. It’s only a quarter of the school day—two periods in Spanish and six in English– but that’s about how her school day breaks down now and it’s another good option to have. I think she could do well at any of those three schools.

Wednesday and Thursday

The kids had Wednesday off school for Yom Kippur and June started working on the application essay for the humanities magnet. As she did so, she spoke somewhat glumly of the odds of getting in (they expect 650 applications for the 100 spots available).  “Have some confidence,” Noah said. It was an odd, and touching, moment of role reversal for them.

We’ll be visiting all three middle schools this month, and going to current elementary school to hear a panel of alumni reporting back on each of the schools. The first information session was Thursday evening at the Humanities magnet. They divided the kids and parents up for separate presentations so I’m not sure what she heard, but it must have been very convincing, because when we were re-united she said, “I really want to go here.” We saw a lot of people we knew—I think there were at least five kids from her preschool class alone—not to mention kids she knows from elementary school and extracurricular activities.

It made the idea of June and her peers actually in middle school somewhat less theoretical and abstract. And if we needed any reminder we’re about to leave elementary school behind for good and have two kids in secondary school, this month will be a loud and clear one.

When We Grow Up

Three and half weeks ago, while we were still at the beach, I received the sound files and lyrics for the songs June needed to learn for her musical drama camp production of Matilda. But she was too busy having fun to practice much while we were on vacation. As tryouts were the first day of camp (a few days after our return), the day we left I urged her to listen to the songs in the car and sing along “for as long as you can stand it.” Little did I imagine she’d sing for nearly the whole drive home. She put a lot of heart into it, especially certain lines like, “If you’re little you can do a lot./You mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you.” I think she identified.

But there were other lines that resonated with me during the two weeks she was at camp and I was hearing a lot of them. Here’s a bit of “When I Grow Up,” I particularly like: “When I grow up/ I will be strong enough to carry all/the heavy things you have to haul/ around with you when you’re a grown-up.” There have been a lot of those things lately, haven’t there? Multiple high-profile police shootings, both police on civilians and vice versa, a terrorist attack in Nice and another one in Kabul, an attempted coup in Turkey and the Turkish government’s response to it, the shooting in Munich, and the truly alarming spectacle of the Republican National Convention.

I had more personal worries as well. It may seem small in light of national and international events, but our cat Matthew has lost weight and he passed some bloody stool and I went on the Internet and found it could be anything from constipation to cancer, and so for a while I was very worried about him. We took him to the vet twice and they palpated his belly, and took blood the first time and urine the second time. Everything came back normal, but one of the times I was at the vet’s office there was a father with two girls there collecting the body of their cat, who had been put to sleep during exploratory surgery for cancer, so it felt like a near miss indeed. And we’re still not sure what’s caused his symptoms, so I have some lingering unease, even though he’s acting normally.

Meanwhile, while June was at drama camp, Noah was home most of the time doing his summer school computer science assignments, as well as summer homework for pre-calculus and English, and helping me with housework and yardwork.

This year we let June walk to and from drama camp. She did this with another day camp nearer to the house last year, but this represented an expansion of her roaming range and it also involved crossing a slightly busier street than she’s ever crossed before. I took her to camp the first day because I needed to turn in a form, but that afternoon she came home red, sweaty, and proud of herself. About half the time, I ended up taking her on the bus in the mornings, but most afternoons she came home alone, sometimes buying herself a snack at a convenience store on the way.

Auditions were on the first day and for the first time in six summers of attending musical drama camp, June tried out for the main character. She had a reason for not doing this before. The camp director divides the main role up between various actors to spread the acting out more evenly across the group. Nonetheless, June prefers to own her role. But there wasn’t anyone except Matilda she really wanted to be, besides possibly Lavender, Matilda’s best friend. She found out on the second day she got the part. In fact, twelve of the twenty kids in her age group were playing Matilda. (In addition, there was a chorus of nine younger kids who sang along with June’s group but didn’t play individual parts. In the video, they’re the ones in the vests.)

The last few days of drama camp Beth was away for a several days at Netroots Nation in St. Louis. This conference was inconveniently timed because she wasn’t available to drive Noah to his summer school computer science midterm in Gaithersburg, she missed our twenty-ninth dating anniversary, and worst of all, she would miss Matilda.

Noah successfully took a cab to his midterm, which inexplicably turned out to be a mid-class review session and not the test they were told they would have. Then he found his way home on public transportation on an unfamiliar route (bus to train to bus). Even though he was irritated that there was no test and felt like the whole thing was a waste of half a Saturday, I thought it was a good life skills experience. As a kid with a non-driving parent, he’s had to be pretty self-sufficient about getting around, but the cab was a new twist.

As for the anniversary, Beth and I exchanged gifts after she got home, a couple days after she got home actually because she was pretty busy. Before she left on her trip, she told me she’d had a good idea for me and forgotten it, so I asked if she’d been planning to get my Birkenstocks resoled because they need it and she’s done that before. No, it wasn’t that, she said, while Noah stage-whispered, “Go with it.” She took his advice and gave me a card with before and after pictures of Birkenstock soles tucked inside. I got her some wind chimes she’d admired. My aunt Peggy got us some at the beach as well, so now we have two new sets on the porch.

On the day of the performance, we met June’s best friend Megan in the auditorium. She was going to watch the show and come home with us for an extended play date, which would start at our house and then switch to Megan’s house for a sleepover. Noah set up his video camera on his tripod and I reminded Megan, who kept up a pretty constant running commentary during the Frozen performance last year that she had to keep quiet because unlike last year, we were all sitting together and she was near the camera. Megan promised she would and she was true to her word. She whispered everything she had to say.

The first song was “Miracle,” in which a group of spoiled children sing “My mummy says I’m a miracle” and other expressions of parental overindulgence, to be contrasted with Matilda’s sadly singing, “My mummy says I’m a lousy little worm/My daddy says I’m a bore.” The kids were in different costumes, a ballerina and a soldier are called for in the lyrics, but for some reason June wore a dog costume. She was not able to offer much of an explanation for this, but I think it must have been meant to indicate a child whose whims are humored. The choreography in this number was more complicated and ambitious than they’ve tackled in previous years. In some of the other pieces they used parts of the Broadway choreography, but this was the camp director’s invention.

June had her solo in the first lines of the next song, “Naughty.” The camp director, Gretchen, complimented her after the show for “setting the tone” well in this song. Here’s a clip of the first two songs of the show.

For the rest of the show she was singing along with the group, with an occasional line of dialogue. June especially liked the part where they rode scooters up and down the aisles of the theater. The show was well done, as usual. This year the girl who really stole the show was one of the director’s daughters, who was playing Miss Trunchbull, the evil headmistress. Lottie really nailed that role.

This camp is always a highlight of June’s summer, but the kids’ artistic endeavors were not over. The next week Noah volunteered at a day camp at the kids’ old preschool and he filmed and edited a zombie movie there, with the campers as actors. It was unscripted and pretty much consisted of him filming their play. He played it for them on the last day and it was a hit. This is a link to the camp director Lesley’s blog post about the whole zombie experience. The movie is included in two parts.

That same week June was away at Girl Scout camp and the theme of her program was “Artistas,”so she came home with a lot of art, including a tie-dyed t-shirt, a lot of ceramics, and a bracelet she made for Megan.

It was her second year at sleep-away camp and it was considerably easier to drop her off and drive away, both for her and for us. I did miss her while she was gone, though, and I was happy to pick her up on Friday. We drove to camp straight from the settlement of our newly refinanced mortgage to beat the rush hour traffic and settled down to wait for pickup time in a nearby Starbucks. On the drive down through Southern Maryland, I noted a lot of flags at half-mast, and wondered if they were all down for the same reason and if so what it was—there are so many possibilities—and also observed the predominance of Trump yard signs with unease. (My friend Onika later informed me the flags were lowered for the police officers in Baton Rouge, there’s an official website you can check.)

We were there at five on the dot, and when they called June out of the dining hall where the girls were waiting, she barreled out to give us hugs. Her hair had been French-braided by a counselor, no mean feat given how short it is, and even better, the counselor managed to do it so that most of the faded blue and pink left in her hair from having it dyed two months ago was is contained in one of the braids. It was a cool effect.

On the drive home and at dinner—we stopped at Pizza Hut and then Rita’s for Italian ice and frozen custard—she told us about camp: she’d been canoeing and had done archery once each, they did an art project and swam every day. She’d been in the lowest swim group for the second year in a row, despite having taken swim lessons this spring to avoid this fate. She mostly liked the food, and tried Apple Jacks for the first time ever, but the vegetarian lasagna was worse than last year—it had eggplant instead of noodles! (Beth surmised it was doing double duty as the gluten-free option.) She learned the camp is inhabited by mermairies, mermaid/fairy hybrids who grant wishes. She made a wish (to find her missing swim bottoms) and it came true. She thought she might have spotted a mermairy’s head in the pond while canoeing. One of her best camp friends lives in Silver Spring and she got her phone number so they can have a play date. She missed us but she didn’t get homesick.

All in all, June was very happy with her camp experience and we are happy to have her back. Even if she’s grown up enough to spend a week away from us without much worry or fuss, it’s still good to have her home.

Fifteen

Noah’s birthday was on Tuesday and Tuesdays are so busy we had to make a plan two days ahead of time to determine when the four of us would all be home and awake at the same time in order for him to open his presents and eat cake.

We settled on before school for the presents if he could be ready before his usual leaving time of seven. June has before-school running club practice on Tuesdays but she leaves for that at 7:20 so it wasn’t really a factor, or it wouldn’t have been if she hadn’t also needed to squeeze a fifteen-minute violin practice in before the running club meeting. The next day was Bike-to-School Day and she wanted to participate so she needed to take her violin to school on Tuesday and leave it in the music room for her Wednesday lesson and I didn’t want her missing practice two days in row. (She would also be unable to bring the violin home on Wednesday because she’d be biking home as well, so it wouldn’t get home until Thursday.)

Beth’s been working long hours for the past few weeks because of the Verizon strike so there was only a slim chance of her getting home by the time June would leave for Girl Scouts at 6:20, so cake would have to wait until June got back from Scouts, even though that would probably keep her up past her 8:30 bed time.

On the big day Noah was ready by 6:50 so we gathered while he opened his cards and presents: a new phone case, an Amazon gift card, a couple t-shirts, the last two novels from the Chaos Walking trilogy, and a subscription to the Zingerman’s Bread-of-the-Month Club. Noah is a big fan of bread in general and this catalog in particular. (The first loaf, a mix of wheat, rye, and cornmeal came the next day and it was really good.) He seemed happy with everything and headed off to school. And June managed to get her violin practice done before her ride to running club came. Everything was going according to plan.

When Noah got home from school there was a birthday card and check from my mom that had arrived in that day’s mail. (She was surprised it came on time because she and my stepfather are on a long tour of Western national parks and she’d had trouble finding a mailbox and had mailed it only the day before, from Utah). To our surprise and amusement, it was the exact same card Beth’s mom got for him. Over the course of the day both grandmothers also called with birthday greetings. He didn’t have much homework so he was able to have an unhurried conversation with each of them and to play his drums. He’s been playing a lot recently, which I like to hear because when he does I know he’s doing something he enjoys.

Noah had asked if we could go to Noodles and Company for his birthday dinner—because if there’s a food he likes more than bread it’s pasta—but time didn’t permit, so we told him we’d go over the weekend. In the meanwhile, I tried to recreate the dish he often gets—egg noodles with marinated tofu, broccoli, matchstick carrots, and grated Parmesan. I even did some online research about the Noodles and Company marinade. Of course, the official recipe is not available, but people have made guesses and posted them. I also found a message board with someone purporting to have worked at Noodles and Company, who provided the main ingredients (soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar) but not the proportions. I did my best with the information I had.

The tofu wasn’t exactly right, everyone agreed, but I did my best and Noah gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for making me Noodles and Company.” We were eating when Beth got home. She actually arrived before June’s ride to Scouts came, but only by five minutes and she hadn’t frosted the cake yet, so we waited for June to come home before we ate it.

Then the girl in the Girls Scouts carpool Beth usually takes home didn’t go to the meeting that night, so Beth and June were home earlier than expected and we didn’t have to rush through the cake and ice cream. The cake was one of Beth’s specialties—strawberry cake with strawberry frosting and we had a couple pints of Ben and Jerry’s to go with it. We sang “Happy Birthday” to him, loudly and enthusiastically.

Noah’s birthday was the day of the Indiana primary and that night Ted Cruz dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, essentially handing it over to Donald Trump then and there, rather than waiting for the inevitable. After June had gone to bed, Noah and I discussed the race briefly. He, like so many Americans, is alarmed by the turn it has taken. I tried to reassure him that Clinton’s going to win the general, but he said, rather emphatically for my even-keeled son, “But how do you know that?” I don’t, of course. I wished his birthday could have ended on a better note.

But we weren’t quite finished celebrating it. We went out to zPizza and Cold Stone on Friday night and we’re going out for Noodles and Company tonight, both at Noah’s request. While we were at Cold Stone last night, I checked out their ice cream cakes and picked one out for my own birthday next week. It seemed like the efficient thing to do and I’ve had that red velvet-strawberry ice cream cake before and it’s good.

When I learned shortly before Noah’s birthday that there was a Taylor Swift song called “Fifteen,” I looked up the lyrics, wondering if there would be anything applicable. There wasn’t much actually. It’s about starting high school and he did that eight months ago and it’s about falling in love and if he’s done that, he hasn’t mentioned it to us.

But the line, “This is life before you know who you’re gonna be,” jumped out at me. I wondered how true it is. When I think of myself at that age, I see a lot of who I am now. I was a bookish, shy fifteen year old then and I’m a bookish, shy (almost) forty-nine year old now. I fell in love with a girl for the first time the spring I was fifteen and now I’m married to the second girl I fell for (just five years later).

So how much will Noah change over the years? Some, no doubt, maybe a lot; some people do change a lot from the teen years to adulthood, so I guess it’s true we don’t know who he’s going to be yet. But I’m pretty sure that the man he grows into will appreciate bread and pizza and pasta and making music. And I don’t think he’ll be voting for Donald Trump, if he ever runs for President again.

Totally

June got home from a week at Girl Scout camp last night. Right before she left for camp, Beth had a business trip to Phoenix and was gone for four days so it’s been a long time since the four of us have been together for longer than half a day. I was very happy to have everyone under the same roof again. In fact, I made a peach-blackberry cobbler this afternoon to celebrate our first dinner all together in eleven days. And then the kids fought all through dinner prep and dinner itself, making me wonder if I ought to send them to sleep-away camp on alternate weeks for the rest of the summer.

Anyway, backing up a bit, the week Beth went out town the kids went to tinkering camp at their old preschool. June was a camper and Noah was volunteering. The theme this year was Bushcraft, so they worked on plant identification, went geocaching, and learned to tie knots, use a hatchet, and set fires. For each skill they learned, they earned a badge. June earned at least a half dozen, plus two “extensions” for going above and beyond. On the day she started a fire with kindling, cotton balls and one match, June told me with some resignation, “I suppose I won’t be allowed to do that at home.”

Beth left on a Wednesday. It was our summer anniversary, commemorating twenty-eight years since we started dating. (We also celebrate a winter anniversary—of our commitment ceremony and wedding, which were conveniently on the same day, if twenty-one years apart.) Noah had an orthodontist appointment that morning so June walked the mile or so to camp by herself—she was very excited, as it was the first time she’s made this particular walk alone—and Beth took Noah to his appointment and then dropped him off at camp.

It had occurred to me that we could have a brief date in the interval between when Beth returned to the house and when she had to leave for the airport, but I thought she’d be too busy packing or too stressed out, so I didn’t say anything. I was surprised and pleased when she suggested going out for lunch after we’d exchanged gifts. (I got her a t-shirt from Café A-Go-Go she’d admired in Rehoboth and a bar of Ecuadorean chocolate from the Folk Life Festival. She got me gift certificates for two local bookstores.) We went to eat at Busboys and Poets, where we used one of the gift certificates for the meal. It was a bit of a tight squeeze for her to leave for the airport, but it was nice to touch base with her before she left.

Did you hear about the dust-up between Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders, and Black Lives Matters activists at Netroots in Phoenix? If our Facebook feeds are at all similar you did. Beth was in the room when it happened. You’ve probably read all about it already, but if you want her take on it, she said O’Malley came off looking bad and Sanders was worse.

Late Saturday night (or actually in the wee hours of Sunday morning) Beth returned from her travels. I might have given her a sleepy hug and kiss when she came to bed, but I can’t say for sure. The next day was a whirl of regular weekend chores and getting June off to camp. I’d gotten June mostly packed the day before—and I only got teary when I watched her addressing envelopes for letters to send home—but there was more packing to do and Beth had to iron name tags onto all her clothes and go to the farmers’ market because it’s the time of year you just can’t miss it. After lunch we left to drive June to Southern Maryland, after coaching Noah on how to get to the house of the family friend who was driving him to band camp orientation (along with her own son who was going to play the euphonium in the fifth and sixth grade band).

On the drive to camp June was full of nervous energy, but she grew quieter as we got closer. After we got off the highway and onto narrow roads with names like Girl Scout Camp Road and Juliette Low Lane and then pulled into the grassy parking lot, she said, “I bet I’m the only one in the car with a knot in their stomach.” Even though she likes to try new things, she often gets nervous right before hand.

I’d been nervous about sending her away all week. She’s never been away from home not in the care of relatives before (and Noah’s first time was a five-day school trip to New York last fall) so I don’t have a lot of practice handing her over to strangers and walking away. But we did just that—and quickly, too. Lingering was not encouraged. We signed her in, put her suitcase and sleeping bag in a pile of other girls’ things outside the cabin and soon she was digging through her bags for her bathing suit, towel, water bottle and sunblock because she needed to line up to go to the pool for her swim test. We hugged her goodbye and drove away.

As we did I wished we’d managed to make it to orientation last month so I could have toured the camp. I wanted to see the insides of the cabins, the dining hall, the pond where she’d be canoeing and kayaking and catching frogs. But Beth had been in Detroit that weekend and although I found another mom who was willing to drive us in the end I decided I didn’t have time that weekend. June did know three girls who’d be at camp that week and one of them, her friend-since-preschool Maggie, was in her bunk. So she wouldn’t be completely alone.

I was mulling this over when Beth, who often knows how to cheer me up, suggested we stop at Starbucks. Back in the car I noticed the huge stacks of cumulus clouds. It was just a classic summer sky and looking at in while alone in the car with Beth made me think of all the road trips of our younger days and made me wish briefly that we were going somewhere other than home.

But we did go home. That week Noah went to band camp, Beth went to work, and I worked at home alone, possibly for the last week in the summer both kids would be occupied at the same time. In addition to working, I finished a novel I’d been reading for more than a month (Finders Keepers, I’d stopped in the middle for couple weeks to read a book club book) and made some headway weeding the garden, at least enough to find the errant watermelon vines, cut their tendrils off the vegetation to which they’d attached themselves and get them back into their patch. I also discovered the family of rabbits that’s laying siege to the garden has almost completely wiped out the carrots. June and I have very different feelings about these rabbits.

In the evenings we watched movies. Noah chose Back to the Future and Back to the Future 2, which were fun, although I wished they were less sexist. It was 80s week at our house apparently, because one of the numbers Noah was working on for band camp was a medley of 80s hits. He made a playlist of the original versions of the songs and played it for us one evening after our movie was over. I have to say I find Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” deeply evocative of the mid-eighties. The other songs have either picked up other associations for me because I’ve heard them often in the past three decades (“Thriller”) or just weren’t that important to me start with (Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.”)

It was nice to have time to focus on Noah, but I did miss June. One morning before she left for work Beth found me watching the videos of her Frozen performance and yes, maybe crying a little. When I did laundry and put it on the line, I couldn’t help noticing the colors were drabber than usual. There were a lot of whites and grays and blues and greens but not much in the way of pink, purple, or pastel. It helped that the camp sent updates about what they were doing each day, along with photos, and we sent her letters and email. (She was too busy to write more than one letter and she never mailed that one so we read it when she got home.)

The week passed and soon it was Friday, the big day. Noah’s concert was in the afternoon and June was coming home. The concert conflicted with her camp pickup so we arranged for Maggie’s family to bring her home with them.

Band camp is for kids entering fifth to tenth grade and they divide them up into three age groups. It was Noah’s first year in the oldest group. There were about fifty-to-ninety kids per age group and they have a week to learn five or six songs, so it’s an intense experience. They also take electives. Noah took composing and movie music.

When we got to the auditorium and sat down I started to feel very sleepy. I hadn’t slept well the night before because our room was too warm and I’d been weeding out in the sun for almost two hours earlier in the day. Plus the seats were comfortable and the building was air-conditioned but not over air-conditioned. I did manage to stay awake, however. It helped that the kids were great, all three groups. I always find it a little amusing to hear band arrangements of “Simple Gifts,” (which the fifth and sixth grade band played) because nothing fifty kids play all together with at least ten kinds of instruments can be said to be simple, but there you go. The seventh and eighth grade band played the Pink Panther theme in a medley of Henry Mancini tunes, which was fun.

The ninth and tenth grade band came on last. Noah played a lot of different instruments, including wood blocks, bells, bass drum, and a big set of chimes that looked like it belonged in a steampunk film. (You can see another kid playing it at the back left of the photo.) I thought it looked like fun to play but Noah wasn’t happy with his performance on that instrument. He was more satisfied with the 80s flashback piece. He played cowbell in the “Thriller” section and tambourine in most of the rest. During “Thriller” the camp faculty shambled across the stage like zombies, which was a nice touch.

After the concert we stopped for a few slices of pizza but as we were eating we got the call that June was almost home, so we left with our drinks and crusts still in hand so we could be home when Maggie’s folks delivered her.

June was tanned and happy and full of many, many facts about camp. She sang us songs she learned and told us about how they intentionally capsized the canoes so they would know what to do if one did overturn and about the food in the dining hall and the dance and the campfire and one special new friend she made who lives not too far away. When Beth asked if she wanted to go next year she said “Totally” and when I was putting her to bed she said wistfully, “It went so fast…”

It does go fast, I thought, as I settled this girl who is now old enough to go away from us and come back, into her own bed and told her goodnight.

The Waiting (is the Hardest Part)

One result of voting early was that I didn’t have much to do on Election Day and I had a lot of time to fret. The kids had the day off because some schools are polling places.  They’d had the day before Election Day off as well because there’s always a grading day for teachers between the quarters. Taking into account the hurricane, these two days off, teacher-parent conferences next week, and Thanksgiving the week after that, the kids have a whopping six full days plus three half-days off in November. Basically, they’re barely going to school and when they are in school, I am usually at the dentist. I broke a tooth several weeks ago and I am in the midst of six (yes, six!) appointments to perform a root canal, reshape the remaining tooth and put a crown on it.  Appointment number four was today.

Monday the kids and I had a remarkably pleasant and productive day.  June tidied up the kids’ room and I set Noah to work cleaning old school papers off the computer desk he and Beth most often use. Then June and I weeded along the fence line of our property. June did a little raking, too, because it seemed to her a more seasonally appropriate activity. Noah answered some essay questions about Animal Farm and practiced percussion.  June had a play date with a nursery school friend and while she was thus occupied Noah and I read a couple chapters of Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian. By 3:30 everyone was ready for a movie, so Noah made popcorn and we watched Mulan II.  I picked the last of the basil in the garden (a half-cup gleaned from a half dozen plants) for tortellini with pesto-cream sauce.  The kids barely argued all day and I felt calm and content.

Well, we couldn’t have two days like that in a row.  It would have upset the balance of the universe or something. The kids were fighting almost as soon as Beth was out the door on Tuesday.  I took them to Starbucks thinking an outing might do us all good.  They decided to order a bagel with cream cheese (June) and a tomato-mozzarella panini (Noah). “It’s not really a panini – it’s just a sandwich,” he proclaimed. And he was right- there’s no press involved.  I praised them for picking healthier options than pastry and Noah pointed out he had a lot of Halloween candy left and he needed to pace himself.  Starbucks was packed, but I noticed hardly anyone was wearing an “I voted” sticker (though I did see one on the sidewalk outside the shop). I wondered why. Surely my deep blue town was not going to fall down on the job. We had a President to re-elect and gay marriage to legalize.  Of course, I wasn’t wearing an “I voted” sticker either, having voted a week and a half previous.

Back at home, Noah did more homework, we read more Artemis Fowl, June re-watched Mulan II and we did more yard work. I weeded; Noah raked and used the wheelbarrow to transport leaves to the back of the yard where he made a pile I could use for composting. I was feeling antsy and wanting to leave the house again but we needed to wait for the plumber to come fix a leaky toilet and for delivery of new mattresses for the kids’ bunk beds. Before their windows of arrival I snuck in a nap in case I felt like staying up past my bedtime watching election results.

It wasn’t a bad day by any stretch of the imagination.  The kids fought more than on Monday, Noah was less focused and had more trouble completing his homework and I was unable to secure a play date for June so she kept saying she was bored but they didn’t kill each other and the homework got done and June found ways to occupy herself.  She did a craft from Spider Magazine.  She made a fan and pretended to be a Chinese princess. She went down the block looking for neighbor kids to play with and ended up watching two older boys playing soccer. Mostly I was just impatient for the day to be over, to know the answers.  And I missed Beth all day. I felt it would be better when she was home.

I made a green tomato casserole with most of the remaining green tomatoes in the garden. While I prepared it, NPR played a snippet from Tom Petty’s “The Waiting (is the Hardest Part).” Now there’s just about the most appropriate musical selection they could choose, I thought.  Beth brought in the mail when she came home and there was a wedding catalog. She said she hoped it was a good omen.

After June was bathed and in bed I asked Noah if he’d like to watch a little election night coverage and he said yes, seeming surprised.  Beth and I hardly ever watch television.  We barely even watched the Olympics this summer (which I regret) but I wanted to experience this together, not in different rooms, all looking at different computer or iPad or phone screens the way we so often do in the evenings. However, I also did not want to turn on the television until his backpack was packed and he was ready for bed because if he got sucked into the television those things would never get done.

I got impatient waiting for him and started watching the results come in on NPR’s live blog around 8:15.  There was nothing too surprising. Virginia, Ohio and Florida were all yet to be called. Beth said the precinct reports for marriage in Maryland were uncomfortably close.  I decided not to look.

Noah was finally ready at 8:40, five minutes before his bedtime. We let him stay up until the first wave of 9:00 results was reported. None of the states were surprising to Beth or me, but as Noah knows less about how states lean, it was interesting to him.  “How late should we stay up?” Beth asked once he was in bed.  We are an early-to-bed-early-to-rise family, especially now that Noah’s in middle school and gets up at 5:45. Beth and I usually go to bed at 9:30. We decided to stay up a little past ten, so we could see the 10:00 results.  Wisconsin and New Hampshire had been called for Obama by that point but none of the high stakes swing states.  Marriage was still too close to call.

Beth is the online communications director for her union, so she was expecting a text telling her to post an email to the membership when the Presidential election was called.  Sure enough around midnight, I woke and noticed she was out of bed but I drifted off before I could get up and find out what happened. She came to bed again around one, and said, “Obama won. Marriage won. Everything is good. Will you gay marry me?”

“I will,” said, kissed her and went back to sleep.

In the morning, I told June that marriage passed, and we’d be getting married.

“Legally,” she corrected, because as we’ve told her many times already, we are already married in our hearts. She immediately turned to the wedding catalog and started flipping through it.  She found some personalized lollipops she thought we should buy.

Suddenly there are a lot of decisions to make, and not just about lollipops with our names on them.  We have not discussed the logistics of getting married in much detail because we didn’t want to jinx it or get our hopes up too high. We don’t even know if we’re inviting people or making it a family event, or whether we’re going on a honeymoon. But we’re hoping to be able to do it in mid-January on the twenty-first anniversary of our commitment ceremony.  Now, after what I sometimes call a very long engagement, and many legal twists and turns (Turn! Turn! Turn! 9/23/07), the waiting is over.

The Gathering Storm

The line for early voting at the Silver Spring Civic Center on Saturday was long, jaw-dropping long.  It snaked through the plaza in front of the building, around the corner, down a block, around another corner and past the Whole Foods and it was still rapidly growing in the direction of the parking lot once we found the end of it.

My mother, who was visiting for the weekend, predicted in dismayed tones that it would take two hours to vote if we got into the line.  Beth offered to drive Mom, June and me home and return. She was determined to vote because she was afraid Hurricane Sandy, due to arrive on Sunday or Monday, might cancel the rest of early voting and she didn’t want to stand in long lines on Election Day, a work day for her.

I hesitated, and suggested everyone but Beth go to Starbucks to buy some time to consider our plan.  We’d see how far Beth had progressed when we were finished and decide how to proceed from there. I wasn’t going to make Beth get out of line after a long wait, but the rest of us could go home on the bus, an option that was looking attractive as I considered the line. Mom was amenable to the Starbucks plan because she hadn’t had any coffee that morning. We’d been rushing to get out of the house by 8:45 for June’s gymnastics class and the coffee pot Beth and I never use had been temporarily mislaid.  So Mom, who suffers from insomnia and had not slept well the night before, was in need of caffeine and I’m never one to say no to a latte so we left Beth and went in search of coffee, chocolate milk and pastries.

We took our time and when we got back Beth was almost to the plaza so I decided to stand in line with her for a little while and see how things went.  Mom and June settled down to sit on a low wall. Mom started reading a Ladybug magazine to June. (I have been gradually handing these down to my cousin Holly’s four-year-old daughter since June reads Spider now, but we still have a few around and she does still like them.)

By the time we could see the blue no-electioneering-beyond-this-point line up ahead I knew I couldn’t turn back even if the line inside the building was also long. I went to confer with Mom about whether she wanted to stay or take the bus home.  In Starbucks, she’d just told me a long, detailed story about getting lost between a parking spot and a nearby restaurant and ending up the wrong borough on recent trip to New York with her sister, which made me hesitate just slightly about putting her on a bus with June, but the 17 goes right from the block were they were sitting to our doorstep and June knows the route so I would have let them go.

She asked what I thought they should do. She didn’t seem set on going home so I suggested they swing over to the farmers’ market that was in progress just steps away and buy some apples and we’d meet them back there.

Eventually, Beth and I breached the perimeter of the Civic Center.  The line did twist around in there, too, but it didn’t take too long to get in sight of the voting booths.  Because throughout most of the experience I’d been considering bailing and voting another day and I was preoccupied with the decision and the logistics of who would stay and who would go and how they’d go I had given very little thought to what I was actually doing.  It was the sight of those booths that jolted me into remembering. I was here to vote, on various offices and ballot questions, but most importantly for the re-election of President Obama and for Question 6, which would allow gays and lesbians to marry in Maryland.

After we voted, I found Beth in the lobby and, holding hands, we walked outside into the festive atmosphere of a warm October Saturday afternoon in downtown Silver Spring with the flea market and farmers market in full swing and crowds of our fellow Marylanders in line for their turn to exercise their franchise.  Mom was right. It did take two hours to vote. It was worth every minute.

After lunch at Panera–“Does this make us Panera voters?” I asked Beth — we went home to put the finishing touches on June’s lion costume (she sewed the tail herself!) in time for the Halloween parade that afternoon and to carve jack-o-lanterns. Mom participated in the pumpkin carving and used a pattern for the first time.  (Hers is the arch-backed cat.)  I decided to go with a quicker, traditional jack-o-lantern face so I could get a jump on dinner preparations.  The parade starts at five, which always presents us with a dinner timing challenge.  Do we want to eat at 4:30, or after June’s bedtime?  Some year we should make sandwiches to eat as we walk, but this year we were having pumpkin pancakes. Noah and I cook together on Saturday nights and he picks the recipes. He’s been on a pumpkin kick recently—pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread and now pumpkin pancakes, always with fresh pumpkin, never canned.  I decided the thing to do was make the pancakes ahead of time, feed June before the parade and have everyone else eat reheated pancakes after she was in bed.

We drove to the start of the parade route and everyone but Beth got out of the car, while she drove it to the end of the route and walked back.  Mom took June to the area where the five-to-seven year olds were assembling and I accompanied Noah to area for the eleven and twelve year olds, and silently sized up the competition.  It’s the smallest age group so I thought he might have a chance at reclaiming his costume contest glory of last year (“The Curse of the Mummy’s Hand” 11/1/2011).  There was a kid dressed in the trademark Steve Jobs black turtleneck and jeans with a poster board iPhone screen full of app icons hanging from his neck, another one in a big rubber horse mask wearing a fedora and a trench coat, but no other serious contenders for Most Original.  And Original is the prize you’re gunning for if you show up dressed as a metronome.  A few ninjas and knights came over to Noah and asked him what he was.  He got that question quite a few times (and he was nice enough to give a patient, age-appropriate explanation to a curious preschooler). There were a few people who guessed without prompting however, some took his picture, and a girl in his age group wearing silver face paint said “A metronome. Awesome.”

The parade made its way through its initial loop up and down one block, which is where the judging takes place. No official asked Noah or June for their names so we had a pretty good idea they were not in the running for a prize.  Noah didn’t seem too disappointed.  He’s easy-going that way. The parade then made its leisurely way through the streets of Takoma Park, to the local elementary school where the Halloween party is held.

We heard the Grandsons perform and waited to hear the contest results. I watched June’s face as the winners in her age group were called and I thought I saw a flash of disappointment when she didn’t win anything, but there were some pretty good costumes in her group, including a boy who had a shirt rigged up so he appeared to be carrying his own head.  The horse, a horse detective apparently, took the original prize in Noah’s age group.  I liked the iPhone and thought if Noah couldn’t win, he should have but those are the breaks. (Later when this boy won the contest to guess how many candy corns were in jar I was surprised to learn it was his best friend from preschool—still lanky and blond but so much older than the last time I’d seen him as to be unrecognizable.)

The group costumes are always fun. The two most memorable winners were the family that came as a power outage and another one that came as the debates.  The members of power outage family (which included a classmate of June’s) were dressed in black, one of them was a darkened light bulb, another was an open freezer full of melting food and one was a utility company worker. They won scariest, which was appropriate, considering Sandy is headed our way. The debates had people in Obama and Romney masks, a little girl dressed as Michelle Obama. Big Bird, and, of course, a binder full of women.  On the way out the door, we picked up cups of apple juices, cookies and small bags of candy on and another Halloween parade was over.

Mom left this morning, and we spent much of the day preparing for the storm. We did two loads of laundry, ran the dishwasher, roasted pumpkin seeds and froze jugs of water. Noah vacuumed and we all charged our electronic devices and Noah and printed the papers we needed to do homework and work once the power goes out. Beth and June secured loose items in the yard, re-arranged items in the basement in case of flooding, and with great sadness, took down our elaborate collection of Halloween decorations so they could live to grace our yard another year.  And then we all watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown while we still had a working television.

It’s looking like a big one. School is canceled for Monday and Tuesday and Metro is shutting down some time tonight, so Beth’s not going to work tomorrow. I have been joking that perhaps this hurricane is the gathering storm the right wing warned about in those silly, anti-gay marriage ads.  If it’s a sign Question 6 is going to pass, though, I’ll take the storm, however inconvenient.

As much as possible, we are ready for the storm, whatever it brings. And as June pointed out, seeking reassurance, I think, even if Question 6 does not pass it will be okay because we’ll still be a family.  And we will, no matter what scary things the weather or politics blow our way.

Yes We Can

Guest Blog by Beth

The tickets! I was going through my mental Inauguration Day checklist as Noah and I were waiting for the bus. Noah and I had gotten out of the door by 7, a good start. But I’d left the tickets inside. I made a quick dash into the house to retrieve them. Almost leaving the tickets behind actually came as a relief to me. I have a superstitious belief that if you’re leaving on a journey and have nearly forgotten something major but remember in the nick of time it means you haven’t forgotten anything else.

After a short wait, we caught our bus to the Metro. Takoma Station was busy, but not over-crowded. As we waited on the platform, three trains came and went, all too packed to board. The next train seemed like it might have room for two more to squeeze in, so squeeze we did. The car was filled with teenagers from Arizona, in town with their history teacher for the big event. The whole car was filled with excitement and energy. As we lurched our way down the tracks, one of the passengers who had been on his way to work decided to call in sick so that he could participate in the festivities. The history teacher from Arizona took charge, explaining the situation and asking all of us to be silent while he made his call. Miraculously, everyone did quiet down, then erupted in whoops and cheers after he finished.

We got off the train a stop earlier than planned, at Union Station, because Noah was starting to get antsy from being squeezed in so tight. As we left the station we found several streets blocked off for vendors selling anything and everything, all adorned with the name or face of the new President. I promised Noah we’d return later so that he could shop, and hurried him along. It was about 8 by this time, we were still making good progress, but I didn’t know what lay ahead.

I couldn’t believe the crowds of people on the streets near my office – streets that are usually nearly empty. The crowds began to thicken as we headed toward the 3rd Street tunnel. Normally a high-speed funnel for crazed commuters headed toward I-295/I-395, the tunnel had been closed for the day to provide a route for pedestrians to travel from one side of the mall to the other. It was fun to take over this space usually reserved for cars. We emerged on the other side, and crowded onto 3rd St., SW. Time check: 9:20. Not bad. I could see the gate for Silver Ticket holders about a block away. Surely we’d be through security and onto the mall in an hour or so.

I broke out the hand and toe warmers I had purchased the day before and stuffed them into Noah’s crocs and his gloves. We continued to shuffle slowly forward. Occasionally we’d come to a halt as officers stopped us to clear Independence Avenue for official vehicles. By 10:00 we had made it across Independence. Then…nothing. The crowd just stopped. After about 15 minutes rumors made it to us that people without tickets had “broken through” and taken over the Silver area. But there was no-one official around to confirm this. Some turned to leave, planning to make their way further West to at least have a chance to get into a non-ticketed area of the Mall.

Noah began to complain. He was cold. I was cold. Both of us we getting buffeted by the confused crowd, some still trying to push forward, some trying to leave, some joining hands and slicing horizontally through the throng. I was starting to doubt the wisdom of even attempting this. Maybe we should have stayed home to watch on TV with Steph and June. Thank goodness June wasn’t here – she would have been crushed! Why weren’t there any police around with bullhorns to explain what was going on and what to expect? Time was ticking away. The sea of people was gradually inching toward the mall, filling in the spaces of those who had left. I could glimpse the Capitol thorough the trees.

Suddenly, at 11:20, the crowd rushed forward. (For a view of the crowd just before the breakthrough, see http://specials.washingtonpost.com/inauguration/satellite/.) I could see the nearly empty security gates. Noah and I dashed for a line and after a few short minutes were were there. On the Mall. Our view of the jumbotron was somewhat obscured by the trees and the sound wasn’t the best, but we could see the Capitol in the distance and feel the energy of the crowd.

Noah had forgotten about being cold and tired of being pushed around. He danced. He cheered when the crowed cheered for Carter and Clinton. He chanted Obama’s name. He looked at me when the crowd began to boo Bush. I shook my head no. It just didn’t seem right to boo. Partly it didn’t seem in the spirit of the day. But it also seemed to reduce Bush to a comic-book villain, divorced from the reality of what his decisions have meant for millions of people across the globe. The program began. Some in the crowd around us waved rainbow flags as Rick Warren spoke. We cheered for Aretha and her fabulous hat and for Joe Biden after he took his oath.

Then it was time. I hadn’t been able hold Noah up so he could get a better view for the whole thing; he weighs nearly 60 pounds now. But, as tears ran down my face, I lifted him up to see Barack Obama take the oath of office and become the 44th President of the United States

Want to feel like you were there? Check out this awesome Gigapan photo: http://gigapan.org/viewGigapanFullscreen.php?auth=033ef14483ee899496648c2b4b06233c . The resolution is so amazing that you can zoom in to see Yo-Yo Ma using his iPhone.

1-20-09

Beth came home later than expected from her yoga class on Saturday afternoon. I was at the computer and as I glanced up at her walking in the front door, I saw she was waving two pieces of stiff paper with silver borders. Then I remembered. She’d mentioned she was going to check her email while she was out to see if her office would have inauguration tickets to issue, and if they had them, she’d go pick them up. Somehow I’d forgotten. And now our inauguration dilemma was even more complicated because there are four of us and there were only two tickets.

The tickets were for the silver area. Still not close enough to really see much, but close enough to see the Capitol building and possibly even make out some tiny people moving around in front of it.

We were all in the study. Beth was staring at the tickets. I kept looking back and forth between the tickets and the kids, who were absorbed in a game on the other computer. I’d wanted us to experience the inauguration all together, whether it was out on the mall, or at home in front of the television.

“I feel like a won a golden ticket,” Beth said. I knew what she meant. It might be too good to pass up. After all, Charlie Bucket couldn’t take his whole family into the chocolate factory, but he still went. We might have to split up. But how? Later that afternoon, away from the kids, we conferred. Should we try to find a babysitter and go ourselves or should one adult take one kid? Beth said she wanted to offer the tickets to her mother and aunt first but that she didn’t think they’d want to brave the crowds, especially if it meant traveling in inclement weather. A mix of snow and rain was predicted for Sunday and Monday. She was right. Her mom declined. Beth’s next proposal was for her to take Noah. I was disappointed at the thought of staying behind, but it made sense. Noah’s old enough to remember this historic occasion; June is probably not. And the tickets did come from her office, a reward for the work her union did campaigning for Obama.

In the back of my mind I was trying on the idea of taking June to the unticketed area myself, but the logistics of traveling down to the mall with a nap-deprived toddler among crowds numbering in the millions on a cold winter day without another adult to help seemed daunting. Just that morning I’d taken June for a walk and she’d gotten too tired and cold too far from home. I had to carry her and then put her down and coax her to walk a little on her own then pick her up and carry her again as she sobbed for twenty-five minutes. It was miserable. I imagined doing that for hours or trying to soothe her on a windy Metro platform as train after packed train passed us by. Maybe watching it on television wouldn’t be too bad.

As our plans shifted, I found myself re-evaluating my position on Sunday afternoon’s pre-inaugural concert. Earlier Beth seemed to want to go (she’s a big Springsteen fan), but I’d been lukewarm at best because I didn’t want to drag everyone out into the madness twice. But now that it looked likely that June and I would stay home on Tuesday, part of me wanted to go down to the mall and be part of the festivities, if not the main event. But in the end, we decided against it. We were swayed, in part, by the weather forecasts of temperatures in the high thirties and rain. (As it turned out, the rain never materialized.) I was a little annoyed that the concert was not broadcast live on NPR. Concerts on the mall are always on NPR. I maybe have grumbled a little about federal property and our taxes dollars and so on. We don’t have cable, so I watched part of the rebroadcast online Sunday evening. I missed Springsteen and Pete Seeger singing together, but I did get to see James Taylor and Stevie Wonder (and Michelle Obama dancing to Stevie Wonder). So, I’m curious– does anyone else think that John Mellencamp singing “Pink Houses” was a tad off-message? (http://www.lyricsfreak.com/j/john+mellencamp/pink+houses_20074447.html).

We decided that one thing we would definitely do this long weekend was to participate in the creek clean-up Noah’s school was sponsoring on Monday in conjunction with the National Day of Service. We could walk there and back. There were no logistical hurdles and it was something community-minded we could do to mark these extraordinary few days.

“I don’t want to pick up trash,” Noah announced at breakfast on Monday. Beth said the spirit of Martin Luther King wanted him to. He looked at her skeptically, and then she said President-elect Obama wanted him to. He didn’t answer, but at 9:45 we got bundled up and walked down to the creek as snowflakes drifted lazily in the air around us. I thought how scenic the inauguration would be if the snow stuck. Much to Beth’s consternation, we’ve gotten to mid-January with no snow, other than the occasional tease of a flurry. It didn’t even snow while we were in Wheeling for Christmas.

“Let’s sing the snowflake song,” I said to June and to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” I sang:

Snowflakes, snowflakes all around
Snowflakes, snowflakes on the ground
Snowflakes, snowflakes in the air
Snowflakes, snowflakes everywhere
Snowflakes, snowflakes all around
Snowflakes, snowflakes on the ground

We learned this song at the library Circle Time recently. For good measure, I also sang “I’m a Great Big Snowman” (to the tune of “I’m a Little Teapot”) but the snow was not encouraged and it started to taper off.

At the playground we collected garbage bags and gloves and were assigned the territory between the two footbridges closest to the playground on both sides of the creek. We scoured the underbrush for trash. June kept dashing ahead. Noah progressed more slowly and was most interested in fetching the pieces of trash that required him to scramble down the steep banks of the creek or lean over the water gurgling under a thin layer of ice.

“Litterbugs smoke a lot,” I observed, dropping an empty pack of cigarettes into the bag.

“And drink, too,” Beth said. She’d found a nest of at least a dozen empty beer bottles.

There were sadder finds as well. When I found the razor and white athletic socks crumpled into a frozen ball I wondered, should I take these? Is someone coming back to use them again? I threw them into the bag, but when I found a futon high up on the ridge, I left it there and didn’t report it to anyone.

We watched as bigger kids walked out onto the thicker parts of the ice, nonchalant about the risks, and as two men triumphantly freed a shopping cart and a bike from the ice and dragged them up to the path. Someone observed that the Reverend King could have chosen a warmer time of year to be born.

Finally, we called it quits, sampled the free doughnuts, played for a while on the playground and near the edges of the frozen creek and went home. As we walked home, Noah said he didn’t want to go to the inauguration. I told him this would one of the most important things that has happened since he was born. He looked surprised and might have begun to reconsider at that moment. Beth said she saw him reading articles in the Post about the inauguration later that day.

About a block from home, June, who had gotten chilled after an hour and a half outside, started to wail. Inside I took off her mittens and rubbed her icy hands. “Still thinking of going to the inauguration?” Beth asked.

The next morning it was January 20th. When those “01-20-09: Bush’s Last Day in Office” bumper stickers started appearing on cars all over Takoma Park the date was so far in the future (two or maybe even three years) I found them more depressing than inspiring, And then the date got a little closer and then we elected a Democrat and then it was a lot closer and suddenly it was here. It was real day, cold and sunny.

It started earlier than usual for us. Beth and Noah were both up and about by 6:10. He was unusually co-operative about putting on warm clothes—two pairs of socks, snowpants, a t-shirt and wool sweater, coat and gloves. They gathered up the essentials—snacks, camera, phone, SmarTrip cards and hand-warmers and they were out the door at 7:00 at the dot. At 7:01 they were back. They forgot the tickets! Tears stung my eyes as the door slammed shut the second time. I really wished I could have gone.

As I folded laundry, I listened to coverage on NPR. Over and over again the reporters announced that it was cold and crowded on the mall and that everyone was in a good mood. Beth sent me an email at 8:56 a.m., letting me know they had arrived and were waiting to go through security. That’s all the message said, but if the radio is to be believed I’m pretty sure they were cold and surrounded by a lot of other people and in good spirits*. I started getting June and myself into our coats.

“Where are we going?” June wanted to know. “To Savory and the library,” I told her. It’s our normal Tuesday morning routine. Somehow it seemed wrong to me to do what we always do today, but on the other hand, staying home seemed worse, so we went out.

Circle Time was deserted, but Ms. Karen read a picture book of simple quotes from Obama speeches called Yes, We Can and led everyone in a circle dance to a song about Martin Luther King (http://www.amazon.com/Martin-Luther-King/dp/B0010VLK20). On our way home, a young woman with an Indian or Pakistani accent approached me wanting to know if the buses were running today. It was 11:15 and she wanted to go to the inauguration. I told her as gently as I could that she was too late and if she had nowhere close to go and didn’t want to miss it completely, she could go to the community center just across the street where it was being shown on television. She didn’t listen and said she’d try to make it down to the mall. I can’t help but wonder what happened to her.

June and I got home around 11:35 and I switched on the television. I went to the kitchen to get us some lunch and I heard June cry out, “I see Bwack Obama!” June loves to spy Obama, and these days his image can be seen everywhere from t-shirts to commemorative cookies at the supermarket. After the first thrill of seeing him, though, she became bored. “I don’t wike Bwack Obama movie,” she complained. “It’s a gwownup movie.” She wanted to know if we had returned Mr. Rogers (her usual after-library fare) to the video store or the library. (She’s fuzzy on the difference between movies we rent or borrow and broadcast television.) Eventually she calmed down. When Aretha Franklin began to sing, she said in an authoritative tone of voice, “That’s not Bwack Obama.” (The size of Aretha’s hat was also cause for commentary.)

As Chief Justice Roberts was administering the oath of office, I heard our front gate slam. It must have been our diaper delivery person, an African-American man. I was sorry he was missing the swearing-in and I jumped up to invite him in to watch it, but I was too late. The bag of clean diapers was there, but he was gone. The slam must have been his departure and not his arrival.

As President Obama began his inaugural address, June asked me, “Is it Barack Obama’s turn? Is he talking to us?”

“Yes,” I told her. He’s talking to us. It’s his turn. May he use it wisely and well.

*Stay tuned for a special guest blog by Beth and Noah on their big inauguration adventure!