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.


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 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: . The resolution is so amazing that you can zoom in to see Yo-Yo Ma using his iPhone.


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? (

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 ( 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!

Let Freedom Ring

The morning after Thanksgiving we took Noah to see the Liberty Bell ( Last year in first grade they studied symbols of our country. That’s why we went to see the Statue of Liberty when we were in New York City to visit my dad last December. Then when we visited my mom last May for Mother’s Day, he wanted to go see the Liberty Bell, but we didn’t have time. First grade is long gone, but Noah was still interested, so on Friday morning, we left June with Mom and drove into the City of Brotherly Love.

Even with increased security, the lines were not as long as I remembered from my childhood when every out-of-town visitor and his brother wanted to go see the Bell. Either I was less patient then, or the Bell is less popular now, or we hit a lull. Once inside its spiffy new digs (, we went straight to the Bell. We took some pictures and Noah asked a ranger about the rivets at the top and bottom of the crack. Then we watched a movie about the significance the Bell has had to different people over time.

People active in a lot of liberation movements—abolitionists, suffragettes, and members of the civil rights movement—have all claimed the Bell as a symbol. I wondered briefly if the gay rights movement ever has, but if so, I’m not aware of it. (Before HRC adopted the equal sign as its logo—back when it was still HRCF—their torch logo was probably meant to evoke the Statue of Liberty. I still have a couple t-shirts that date back to those days.) My thoughts were interrupted by a clip of Martin Luther King giving the “I Have a Dream” speech; they showed the very end:

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

I’ve seen this speech so many times I expected to watch it with respect for its importance in American history and with admiration for the oratory, but not with much emotion any more, so I was surprised to find myself crying. Not just getting a little teary-eyed either, but with lines of tears streaming down both cheeks. I guess it’s going to be like this for a while. Until the reality of our first African-American President really sinks in (and who knows how long that will take?), these sudden flashes of astonishment and gratitude are just going to keep taking my by surprise.

We came back to Mom and Jim’s house for lunch and June’s nap. I lay down with her and slept deeply for forty-five minutes of her hour-long nap. (We’ve all been clobbered by an evil upper respiratory infection over the past couple weeks. It’s just the latest installment in our family’s Autumn of Infirmity. Anyway, it’s really wiped me out.) Fortified by the nap, I had the energy to leave the house again. Beth and I went to see Milk. If you exclude Wall-E, which Beth saw with Noah, and Horton Hears a Who, which I saw with him, Beth and I haven’t seen a movie in a theater since Brokeback Mountain (or was it Rent?). Either way, it’s been a long time. This was an event.

We got a bit turned around and missed the 4:30 showing. Beth was unsure about staying for the 5:40 one as it meant an extra hour of babysitting for Mom and Jim, plus putting the kids to bed, which wasn’t in the original deal. But I couldn’t get this close to seeing an actual movie in an actual theater and not do it so I called Mom and left a message with the kids’ bedtime instructions. I figured they were out at the video store. They had big plans involving making caramel apples, and getting movies and takeout pizza. I thought they’d be fine.

It has to be a coincidence, but the timing of the release of this film, which builds up to the defeat of a particularly virulent anti-gay proposition in California couldn’t be more poignant, coming so close on the heels of our recent loss of marriage rights in California after the passage of Proposition 8. On the one hand, it all seems so familiar, the long string of defeats, the raw anger, the frustration. On the other hand, the thought that we even had marriage rights in the first place would have seemed unimaginable to many of the 70s-era activists in the film. (Perhaps not to Milk, though. He was a visionary after all.) Gays and lesbians all over the United States did take to the streets again after the passage of Proposition 8, just as they did time after time in the movie. Beth’s and my days of attending every gay protest/rally/candlelight vigil have long passed, but we were planning to attend this one, even though it was at 1:30, smack dab in the middle of June’s nap. But when a cold hard rain fell that day, we reconsidered. Depriving a two-year-old of her nap and hoping she will drowse in the stroller is one thing. Expecting her to put up with all this and get drenched in the bargain seemed cruel and unusual, so we stayed home.

When we got home at 8:40, Mom and Jim had just finished putting the kids to bed. It was the first time anyone other than Beth or me has successfully put June to bed at night. She was again up at 9:50, but I had an hour and ten minutes to heat up and eat a couple slices of pizza and take a shower before I had to go lie down with her. This was an unexpected bit of freedom as well.

The inauguration is a noon on January 20, another nap disaster in the making and Montgomery County schools do not have the day off (at the time of writing—it’s become an issue of hot debate here in the ‘burbs). Beth and I attended the first Clinton inauguration so we know unless you have tickets, you don’t see anything but Jumbotron screens and the parade. Still, we are seriously considering pulling Noah out of school and June from her nap to take them down to the mall, to stand with our fellow Americans as history is made. When they’re grown up I’d like them to be able to say they heard freedom ring that January day when they were seven and a half and almost three. They may never have another opportunity like it.

Out of the Haunted House

Three days before the election, we drove out of Obama territory into McCain country. Noah had a four-day weekend, thanks to a teacher grading and planning day on Monday and the election on Tuesday. (His school is a polling place.) The kids hadn’t seen Andrea since our visit to Wheeling at the beginning of Noah’s summer break so it seemed like a good opportunity to meet up with her. We chose to stay at the Wisp ski resort ( in Western Maryland, which is located in the scenic Laurel Highlands somewhere between our neck of the woods and Andrea’s. Andrea insisted on paying for everyone and said she didn’t want “to hear any backtalk.” So, I’ll just say thanks.

The transition from Obama-land to McCain-land was not subtle. Either that or I missed it while I dozed briefly as June napped in her car seat and Noah watched downloaded episodes of his favorite shows on Beth’s phone. Before I closed my eyes there were Obama-Biden signs everywhere. When I opened them it was nothing but McCain-Palin as far as the eye could see, including those annoying ones that say “Country First.”

When I commented on the shift, Noah looked out the window long enough to spot one. “That’s the first McCain sign I’ve seen in my whole life,” he noted. He wanted to know why it is that people who support one candidate or the other tend to live clustered together. We didn’t have a good answer for him.

Sometimes Noah has seemed indifferent to the election. He told us a few weeks ago he didn’t care who won. Other times, he was interested in how the electoral college worked and how voters make their choices. When his morning class had an election recently, he considered running for office, though he ended up deciding against it. (Sasha was elected class secretary.) For a while, he was pretending to run for President of the United States against Beth. They both wrote a stump speech. His was remarkably civil and even-handed, perhaps because he was running against his mother. Here it is:

I think we might be better off as a country if all candidates for elected office were half as generous.

It was late Saturday afternoon by the time we got to the hotel. We socialized in Andrea’s room for a bit, then we ate dinner at the hotel restaurant. Noah was impatient to tour the haunted house set up on the hotel grounds near the ski slopes. (There was also a haunted coaster going down the slope, but he had not interest in that.)

We asked at the front desk if the haunted house was appropriate for a seven year old. The clerk said she hadn’t been through it herself but she’d heard it was more family-friendly in the opening seven to eight hour of each evening. We were encouraged by this, but we asked again at the ticket counter. The man with the chainsaw directing traffic in the parking lot had given us pause. One young staffer with a simulated bullet hole in her forehead said her four-year-old sister had been through both before and after eight and did fine.

In retrospect, we were asking the wrong question. It should have been– is this appropriate for a seven year old who has been sheltered, who only watches PBS kids’ shows and who has never seen a PG-rated movie and whose reading material is monitored? Then again, maybe we didn’t really need to ask at all. One look at Mr. Chainsaw and Ms. Head Wound probably should have told us all we needed to know.

I overrode my gut feeling because Noah really wanted to go and because I’ve played the heavy a few times recently about things like this, most notably when I refused to buy him the blood-spattered zombie costume he saw in a catalogue and wanted for Halloween. Beth thought it was ironic I am the stricter parent here because I am a horror fan and she isn’t. But it’s because I’ve read and seen and taught so much horror that I take it seriously as a meditation on the nature of good and evil. (When it isn’t, it’s mostly just exploitation.) I think it’s wrong, and possibly even dangerous to let kids get desensitized to violence at a young age. But on the other hand, I also think facing and conquering fears through encounters with fictional, symbolic monsters in various forms can be empowering for kids. It’s all a matter of timing and temperament. Maybe it was time to let Noah test his limits. After all, we’ve read him the unvarnished versions of fairy tales since he was a preschooler and he’s on a spooky story kick right now. He’s always gotten a thrill from stories that are just scary enough. I do, too.

I asked him one last time if he was sure he wanted to do it. He said yes and Beth bought two tickets, one for him and one for me. We agreed on a code word he would use if he wanted me to take him out of the house early. It was “volcano.” We boarded the shuttle bus. The windows were draped with heavy fabric and the interior of the bus was lit with red light bulbs. The driver gave warnings about how we might not make it back. Noah giggled. He was just scared enough. But I was noticing with unease that our group consisted entirely of adults, teens and Noah.

A man in a torn and bloody shirt divided us into smaller groups and ushered us into the maze in front of the house. I made sure Noah and I stayed behind the two other people in our group so nothing would jump out at us first. There was nothing in the maze except a wrecked car with a dummy in the driver’s seat at the very end. It wasn’t a very realistic dummy and Noah seemed unfazed by it.

We walked through the door into the house itself. Immediately, a light flashed on and a man in a cage came forward brandishing some kind of power tool and shaking the bars. I didn’t get a good look at him because I was hurrying Noah away from the cage.

We climbed a narrow staircase, holding hands. The interior of the house was lit with more flickering red light. The staircase twisted and turned. Nothing jumped out at us. There were no spooky noises.

I think in the end it was the suspense that got to Noah. He forgot all about his code word. “Let’s go,” he said suddenly and urgently. “I don’t like this place! Let’s get out of here!”

“Okay,” I said in what I hoped was a calm and reassuring voice. “We’ll just go back the way we came. It’s not very far and we know what we’ll see since we’ve seen it already.”

We turned and headed down the stairs. “Let’s go,” he kept saying in a panicky voice. I squeezed his hand and kept talking. When we passed people on their way up the stairs, they made way for us. The man in the cage was silent and still as we passed.

We passed the wrecked car and wound backwards through the maze. Noah was worried we wouldn’t be able to find our way out but it wasn’t hard.

The empty shuttle bus was parked outside the house. “Are you going back?” I asked the driver. He said yes, took one look at Noah and flipped on the bus’s interior lights. It looked like a normal bus again. He spoke kindly to Noah, calling him “Buddy” and confiding to him that he didn’t make it through the house either. I have no idea if it was the truth, but it was a nice thing to say.

We rejoined Andrea, Beth and June who were waiting for us by a bonfire, drove back to the hotel and got the kids ready for bed. As I lay down with Noah he said he thought he might have nightmares about the haunted house. I told him if he did he could come into our room. (We had a suite and Noah was sleeping on a Murphy bed in the living area.) I almost never make this offer. It took Noah so long to learn to sleep through the night and June doesn’t do it more than once in a blue moon so I’m protective of my sleep. But I led him into the haunted house, so it was up to me to get him out if any little part of him was still in there.

Noah did wake up around ten-thirty, feeling sick to his stomach and calling for Beth. She got up with him (he seems to prefer her when he’s sick) and she kept him company while he vomited. I’m not sure if it was the lingering effects of the illness we’ve all had or if it came from overeating at dinner and his subsequent scare, but afterwards he went back to his bed and slept the rest of the night with no nightmares.

On Sunday we took a walk by the lovely shore of Deep Creek Lake ( in the morning and swam in the hotel pool in the afternoon. Sometime in between I told Beth that she was either being very sneaky or quite restrained about checking the polls on her phone. Over the past couple weeks I’d gotten into the habit of checking the Washington Post tracking poll as soon as I picked up the paper in the morning, but I didn’t follow any other polls. Too much information can be confusing and crazy-making. Beth was unable to resist temptation, however. Sometimes she stayed up late checking poll after poll online, Now, though, she was trying to be on vacation. As we drove from one place to another, I told Beth all the McCain-Palin signs were scarier than the haunted house. I thought better of the comment once it was out of my mouth, though. As strongly as I feel about the election, I know that the supporters of each candidate are sincere about their choices. Given the demographics of the area, it’s likely the kindly bus driver was a McCain voter. We’re all trying to put country first in our own way, as we think best.

Monday morning at breakfast, Noah was telling Andrea about Mrs. E, the retired teacher who volunteers in his afternoon class on Wednesdays. “She’s older than you,” he told her. Here he paused for dramatic emphasis. “She’s older than John McCain,” he said, sounding as if it was a wonder Mrs. E managed to get out of bed in the morning and go about her business. And that did make me chuckle.

Later that day we took a short hike to Muddy Falls in Swallow Falls State park ( June was entranced by the roaring, falling water. “The water is slipping down,” she kept saying. After a lunch of leftovers from our dinner the previous night, we ate Noah’s half-birthday cupcakes. They were marked-down Halloween cupcakes we found at the grocery store, decorated with plastic spiders and spider webs on top. He composed the following song about them:

Happy Half-Birthday to Me
My age is over three
I love my cupcakes
‘Cause they’re so creepy

Monday afternoon we drove home and Tuesday morning, we voted. Before we left the house, Noah was singing “Barack Obama” over and over again to a tune I didn’t recognize. We had some trouble getting him out of the house. It was unseasonably warm and he wanted to wear shorts. Beth compromised with him and let him wear short sleeves and crocs with no socks provided he took a jacket along. At 8:35, we walked out the front door. “Let’s go vote for Barack Obama!” Beth said.

The lines weren’t too long and we were finished in plenty of time to hit Circle Time at the library at ten. That night after dinner, we ventured out into the rainy night to get our free Election Day ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s. During the drive over, Noah asked us to explain again how the “electrical college” worked and wanted to know why in Nebraska and “New Hamster” they didn’t use a winner-take-all system for their electoral votes.

The line at Ben and Jerry’s was out the door but it was a warm night and we were under an awning, so we didn’t get wet. The line moved quickly and within fifteen minutes we were seated and eating our ice cream. It was a festive scene inside. The crowd was diverse–black, white and Asian, young and old, gay and straight. An Orthodox Jewish family discussed which flavors might be kosher. A woman pushed an infant with Downs’ Syndrome in a stroller.

After the kids were in bed, Beth and I settled in front of the television to watch the election results come in. I folded laundry and read the Health section of the Post and clipped relevant articles for Sara during the lulls in coverage. When I started watching around nine o’clock Obama had one hundred seventy electoral votes already. I considered staying up until he went over the top, but by 10:15, he was only a little over two hundred. June had been up a few times the night before with croup and I was exhausted so I gave up on seeing history made and went to bed.

At 12:40, I woke and noticed Beth wasn’t in bed yet. I stumbled out to the living room to see if it was all over yet. It was, but Beth was still sitting on the couch, searching for Proposition 8 ( ) results on her phone. It didn’t look good.

We woke up to different country today. June’s music teacher ended class this morning by talking about how full of hope she was for all the children in the room. Sometimes I feel that hope, too, though sometimes I wonder if we’re expecting far more than any one person can accomplish from our charismatic new President. I guess we’ll find out. I have to say I don’t envy President-elect Obama. (However much I like typing that phrase.) He didn’t lead the country into the haunted house where we’re currently lost, but he’s the one we’re asking to gather us all up and lead us out.