Before the Holiday

Monday afternoon at 2:40, Beth and I left the house together. She was headed to pick North up from their partial hospitalization facility, and I was headed to pick Noah up from the airport. Beth dropped me off at the Metro stop, where I shared an elevator with someone who didn’t see fit to extinguish his joint during the ride, so the elevator filled with pot smoke. I was annoyed, but it didn’t diminish my excitement to see Noah for the first time in three and a half months.

Despite what I said before about not taking pictures of the Great Barrier Reef, Noah did end up sending me some cool ones, taken from the air when he was returning to Robina, where he lived this fall (well, spring). He had a two-week stretch between the end of classes and his homecoming. Aside from the trip to the reef, he visited the beach, did some Christmas shopping, and then travelled to Sydney a couple days before his flight home. He sampled noodle dishes in Chinatown and went to see the harbor and the Sydney Opera House.

Noah’s phone battery died on the plane home, so he didn’t know I was waiting for him at the baggage claim, but we managed to find each other. He was travel-weary and didn’t want to contend with all his luggage on the Metro, so I called a Lyft. We had some trouble finding the driver and when we did connect, the driver was irritated with me and rude and accused me of wasting his time. Then in the car when I cracked the window because he was unmasked, he rolled it back up. Also, he was vaping the whole time. It was the first time in my many times in a Lyft I didn’t tip the driver, but I didn’t report him either because I didn’t want to be a Karen.

In the car I alternated between peppering Noah with questions and letting him be. He looked very tired after a journey across the Pacific and the United States. I thought he might want to go straight to bed, but he consented to stay up long enough to eat the lentil-noodle-chard soup I’d made, to keep me company and chop cilantro as I put the finishing touches on the soup, and even to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas after we ate.

Once he did crash, though, it was an epic sleep. He went to bed at 10 p.m. and didn’t get up until 8:40 the following evening. When Beth and I left in the early afternoon to go to participate in multi-family group therapy at North’s facility and then bring them home for the day, I thought for sure he’d be up when we got back but he wasn’t. And because North had a migraine that night, it was just Beth and me eating the broccoli-cheddar-quinoa fritters I’d made because everyone likes them. By the end of the day, I was checking on him every couple of hours to make sure he was still breathing.

Having slept that long, Noah couldn’t sleep Tuesday night, and he ended up with this sleep dysregulated for several days, but I told him he needed to be up by late afternoon on Wednesday because we had a family activity planned.

It was the solstice and when we travel for Christmas (which we almost always do) we have a tradition of opening a few presents on the solstice to lighten our load a little. We’re spending the holiday with Beth’s mom, brother, and sister-in-law, so once North got home for the day we opened presents from my side of the family. We gathered in the living room, cheerfully lit with lights on the mantle and in the Christmas village I just inherited from my mom (who’s downsizing), and ate butter cookies decorated with red and green sugar and butter-pecan snowballs I bought at the bakery for the occasion while we unwrapped gifts. Beth got a set of pumpkin-carving tools she’d been wanting and fancy chocolate bars. I got two books and three jars of unusual nut butters. Noah got a book and a camera strap, and North got a check.

Beth, North, and I had a virtual family therapy session and after that, we had tofu-veggie bowls for dinner and then we went to Brookside Gardens to see the light display. We’ve done this a few times, but it’s just as magical every time to walk along the wooded paths, admiring the colored lights outlining tree branches or in the shapes of animals and plants. There were a few new features, a machine blowing bubbles made of liquid nitrogen, and steam issuing from the sea dragon’s mouth, but mostly it was the same as I remembered. That’s nice sometimes.

It was also nice that the outing wasn’t derailed by a migraine. It could have been because North’s still having them quite frequently, more days than not. From that we can gather that at the current dose, the new preventative medicine isn’t helping, but they’re not at the full dose yet. They’re building up to it. The good news is that the rescue medicine is very effective. Most of the time it heads the headache off in an hour or less. But…North is only allowed to take it twice a week, so they need to ration it. Every time a headache starts, they are forced to consider if it’s medication-worthy, based on what they have going on that day. Anyway, this time when a headache started right before dinner, they decided yes, it was a medication day.

As it turned out, it was Noah who was ready to leave the gardens before anyone else. He’s not only having trouble adjusting to a time difference of more than half a day, but he’s also having trouble with winter weather, having just come from summer, and he’d lost one of his gloves. It wasn’t super cold, around freezing, but that was too cold for him.

We were planning to leave for Blackwater Falls State Park on Friday morning. If you live in the U.S. or Canada, you’re aware of the massive weather system that derailed that plan. Most of our route would have been fine, but there was a stretch of road that was treacherous, with snow and very high winds, so after monitoring it all morning, an hour before we were set to leave we decided to stay home an extra day. Blackwater is one of Beth’s very favorite places in the whole world, and we’ve spent every Christmas since 2016 in a cabin there, so we were all disappointed to have our stay there cut a day short.

But there were some compensations. North and I took a walk to Starbucks. It was raining for most of the morning and temperatures fell rapidly as the day progressed, so it turned over to snow briefly before the skies cleared. It was over quickly, and it didn’t stick, but it was our first snow of the year, so I thought the occasion merited warm beverages. The walk there was fine, but the wind picked up as we were at a table outside, enjoying our hot chocolate and chai, and we decided to get moving again. North’s feet were wet because they’d stepped in a puddle on the way there and I wasn’t wearing gloves and wished I was, but it was still a fun outing.

At home, I read with both kids—The Inferno with North, while they inked a cityscape that they’re working on for art class and What Strange Paradise with Noah, his Christmas present from my sister, one of the gifts we opened early.

Beth and Noah watched Andor and we all watched a lot of Rankin-Bass Christmas specials—Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and The Year Without a Santa Claus, the last one while we ate cheap delivery pizza, which as I ate it, I realized was just what I wanted. And even if we weren’t where we wanted to be, and with all the people we wanted to be with, it was still good to have an idle day before the holiday, with just the four of us.

Where They Are, Part 3

When I last wrote, I was frustrated by the long wait to get North into a partial hospitalization program and into the interim instructional services (IIS) program. A lot has changed since then.

Monday

On Monday, North found out that their review of Eurydice had been accepted for publication in a local paper in Falls Church. Fewer than 10% of the reviews Cappies write are published, so it’s an honor. They also got their PSAT scores and were pleased with them, especially the English score. Finally, we got word that North’s application for IIS was accepted.

Tuesday

For North take part in IIS, they needed to make some schedule changes and those came through the next day. Contrary to what I said before (and what we originally read about the program), there are no in-person tutors. It’s all online and there are limited course offerings, so North had to drop all their AP and IB classes and switch to honors versions of their English, History, and math classes. When they eventually go back to school, probably third quarter, they will stay in those new classes. They are also going to drop French and Foundations of Tech because there are no IIS versions and it seemed too hard to get caught up. So, the only two classes of their original seven they will return to will be astronomy (which has an IIS version) and painting (which doesn’t). When I met with all North’s teachers right before Thanksgiving, the art teacher seemed willing to be flexible about North’s second quarter work. I’m glad they will probably stay in that class because they enjoy it.

Wednesday

Even though North’s been admitted to IIS, they’ve only been enrolled in the astronomy class so far. They started to watch the lessons on Wednesday. They’ve attended a class—it meets twice a week– and taken some quizzes and have done all of last week’s work and some of next week’s, too. They’re supposed to hear from the English, history, and statistics teachers on Monday. I am glad to have a plan in place that should let them finish eleventh grade this year.

On Wednesday morning North and I went to the post office to mail their Christmas presents to my mom, sister, and niece. It was good we got that errand done because Thursday turned out to be unexpectedly busy. Later in the day on Wednesday we got the call that there was a spot for North in a partial hospitalization program. We’d have an intake appointment on Thursday and if all went well, they’d start the program on Friday. It was the same one that offered us a spot when North had covid. It’s in Columbia, about forty-five minutes north of where we live and one of the closer locations of the five programs to which we’d applied. (Two were in Virginia.) We were all very happy and relieved to get this news.

North also had a migraine that afternoon and took their new medication for the first time. They were feeling better after an hour—usually it takes several hours—so that was cheering, too. (However, the second time they took it, on Saturday, it didn’t take effect as quickly.) That night after Beth and I had gone to bed, North put up the Christmas decorations in the living room and made red velvet cookies. The decoration wasn’t a surprise, they told me they were going to do it, but the cookies were. They were also excellent.

Thursday

On Thursday we had a slew of appointments. North had a psychiatrist appointment in the morning. I was under the impression it was virtual because the last one was, but it was in-person, so when it was time to leave, I was still out on my morning walk and Beth texted me to say she’d drive to where I was and pick me up. That was a little rattling. North’s regular psychiatrist Dr. W just had a baby, so it was with her substitute Dr C. Luckily, though, North knows and likes him. He led the trans kids support group they attended in middle school.

We got back home just in time for me to attend a virtual meeting with my own health care provider about some mysterious leg cramps and pain I’d been experiencing. It had been worst while we were at the beach and right after and seemed to be resolving by the time I saw her, but I kept the appointment to talk about what to do if it comes back. I’m wondering now if it had something to do with having covid, because of the timing.

After lunch and squeezing in a little work, we hit the road for our intake appointment, listening to Christmas music in the car on the way. The program is in a suite in an office building, but the space is a little cheerier than what I saw of the adolescent psych unit when North was hospitalized. In the main lounge area, there were a lot of puzzles, games, stuffed animals, and evidence of crafts projects in progress. There were pillows and a throw on the couch and a rug on the floor. There were also big windows overlooking the grounds of Merriweather Post Pavilion, where there was a Christmas light show.

We met with a counselor, first as a family, then just me and Beth, and then just North. It took a little over two and a half hours. The whole thing felt thorough and unrushed, and we were able to go into more detail than we often can with psychiatric professionals. That was reassuring. When it was North’s turn, the counselor said we should feel free to leave the building if we wanted, so we went for a walk in the light display. It wasn’t dark out yet and it hadn’t opened, but none of the people setting up told us to leave. When we got back, the counselor said we were good to go, and North should come back in the morning.

Friday

The first day went well. North says there are seven kids in the program, and they are in various kinds of therapy most of the day, with a study hall to do schoolwork. There was art therapy that day and they decorated bags to fill with affirmations. Beth and I will be attending a multi-family group therapy session every Tuesday and then family therapy for just the three of us at a time to be determined. That night, we got pizza and watched a cheesy Christmas-themed lesbian rom com (Merry and Gay), which was just what we all wanted.

Weekend

On Saturday we went to Butler’s Orchard to get a Christmas tree. North saw the one they wanted early in the process, but we walked around to look at the others, just in case. Then while Beth was paying for it and watching one of the kids who was working there tie it to the roof, I took North to the snack bar. I saw people walking away from it with hot chocolate and noticed the cups were small but topped with a generous amount of whipped cream. I thought that ratio of sugar to fat might work for me, so I got one (and I didn’t go out of range on it). North got a pretzel and some hot cider. Next, we went to the farm market, where we browsed and bought some treats and Christmas presents. It was a very nice outing. We continued with the festive activities on Sunday afternoon while North was at Zoë’s house—Beth worked on the outside lights, and I addressed Christmas cards and wrote this.

Meanwhile, in Australia

While all this was going on, Noah went snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. He couldn’t take pictures because it’s underwater, and I wasn’t able to get much out of him about it. He said a boat took them out, and they all wore wetsuits to protect themselves from jellyfish, and that it looked “like a coral reef…with fish.” I am glad he had this experience, and perhaps I will learn more about it when he comes home, which will be in a little over a week. Between now and then he’s going to spend a couple days in Sydney. It’s good he’s getting a chance to explore a bit now that his classes are over.

He’ll be exploring the West Coast this summer, as it turns out. He got into a program Ithaca runs in Los Angeles, that helps communications students or recent grads get internships. There’s also housing, plus optional classes he can take. He’ll be leaving right after graduation. It seems things are falling into place for both kids.

Where They Are, Part 2

To cut to the chase, home is where North is now.  After thirteen days on the adolescent psychiatric ward at Children’s, North came home a week ago today. We are trying to get them into a partial hospitalization program. This means a day program with psychiatric treatment that would last anywhere from two to six weeks. They’d be home evenings and weekends. We’re in various stages of the application process at three different facilities. They all have waitlists, but we’ve gotten as far as a phone screening completed at one and a phone screening completed, plus an in-person interview scheduled at another.

In the meanwhile, North’s not going to school. Beth and I are both working reduced hours to spend time with them. We’ve been playing Sleeping Queens and Clue and watching television and North and I continue to make our way through The Iliad. We’re up to Book 17. When we get through it, we’re going to start The Inferno. North is helping with housework and the still-in-progress project of taking Halloween decorations down. Plus, they’re working on a complicated paint-by-number mandala. Beth and/or I go on outings with them most days, either errands like grocery shopping or more recreational excursions.

Leaving the Hospital: Thursday

We found out North was being discharged Thursday afternoon and picked them up around six, after we’d finished one of the aforementioned phone screenings. I quit working and made dinner, a mushroom-white bean soup, early so it would be ready when we got home. North was appreciative of home cooking after two weeks of hospital food. That evening we watched Frankenweenie because in the hospital they’d been shown the first half hour of it as a group activity, and they wanted to know how it ended. It was deeply comforting to eat dinner around the same table and then eat white chocolate fangs leftover from Halloween and watch a movie.

Settling in at Home: Friday

Friday afternoon Beth and North dropped me off at Walgreens to get my flu vaccine and covid booster while they browsed at a nearby Asian market, where North got the kind of noodles they like. Back at home, after we finished a book of the Iliad, I read the last act of The Doll’s House to North. They’d read The Glass Menagerie and most of The Doll’s House in the hospital. North seemed to enjoy the play and cheered Nora in her decisions not to kill herself and to leave her awful husband. Fridays are usually movie nights, so after a dinner of homemade olive and mushroom pizza, we watched Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was North’s first time seeing it and I have to say they seemed a little skeptical of it. “So, the horror is gay people?” was their comment when it was over.

Faux Halloween: Saturday

North will be seeing their therapist, Andrew, twice a week until they get into a day program and Saturday morning was the first appointment since getting out of the hospital. That one was in person. Then we all had a virtual meeting with their psychiatrist, Dr. W, on Tuesday and North had a second (virtual) meeting with Andrew today. We’ll have an in-person family meeting with him on Saturday.

Saturday was also the day North designated as Faux Halloween. We watched The Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting in the afternoon, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in the early evening, while eating Chipotle and more Halloween candy.

Then Zoë came over and we all left for North’s school, to see the closing night performance of Clue. It was a fun production, and as North was the co-costumes manager, we all admired the color-coded costumes and a reversable cummerbund that a character flipped over to indicate he’d been shot—the reverse side was bloodstained. Speaking of costumes, toward the end the play the same actor experienced a costume malfunction. His pants ripped and he had to use one hand to hold them up for the remainder of the play. He was such a pro, though, I really wasn’t sure if it was part of the play or not. He made it look like it was, but North says it wasn’t. After the play was over, Ranvita (who was on crew) found North and they had time for a hug, but North didn’t want to linger and talk to people. The actress who played Mrs. Peacock did stop them to say, “I missed you!” as we were on our way out. (North later said Mrs. Peacock’s costume was their favorite.)

Zoë came home with us and slept over. She and North watched Ma after Beth and I had gone to bed.

Starbucks Outing: Monday

“I know you’ve already been to Starbucks twice since you got home…” I started on Monday morning.

“But I want to go again,” North finished for me.

So, we walked to the Starbucks closest to our house. It’s about a fifteen-minute walk. North seemed happy to be outside and pointed out a lot of animals including a cat in the street who did not wish to socialize with us and a lot of birds. They noticed a blue jay in a tree, the iridescent colors of the starlings’ feathers in the shopping center parking lot, and the flock of pigeons taking off from telephone wires, swooping through the sky and returning to the same wire. I reminded them that they were four and we were outside the very same Starbucks watching birds swoop across the sky in formation and they told me: “Birds know what they’re doing, and people don’t.”

“I stand by that,” they said.

Cat-Related Outings: Wednesday and Thursday

On Wednesday Beth and North went to the county animal shelter to donate Xander’s food and treats and they got to visit with some cats. Beth said it was a little sad, but mostly nice. North said it was sad to leave without one young and vocal black cat in particular because they’d taken a fancy to him. The next day Beth and North had an even longer visit with the residents of a cat café in Annapolis. I didn’t go on either outing, partly so I could get some work done, but mostly because I’m just not ready. I don’t want to pet or play with cats who aren’t Xander yet.

That’s basically where we are. North has a chart on their door they use to keep us appraised of their mood. It’s nice to see it in green sometimes, but it’s okay that isn’t always. We’re in a kind of a limbo, doing the best we can, taking one day at a time.

October Outings

Note: this blog post was already mostly written when Xander got sick, so the bulk of it of it takes place before the last one. Think of it as an artsy flashback…

We’re a family prone to traditions and sometimes that gives the years and months and weeks a pleasing, predictable rhythm. That’s why I was disappointed when a couple of the things we usually do in October either didn’t happen or we couldn’t attend, but despite this, we’ve had several nice outings recently.

Where We Didn’t/Won’t Go

  1. Visitation Day

Most MCPS schools have a parent visitation day on Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day when you can come observe your kids’ classes. (It’s that day because the schools are in session and many parents have it off work as it’s a federal holiday.) We’ve gone at both elementary schools the kids attended, both middle schools, and Noah’s high school. Before this year, I would have said all MCPS schools host this event, but it turns out North’s school doesn’t. You’d think I’d know this as North is a junior, but their ninth-grade year was nearly all remote and last year there weren’t many events parents were invited to in the building, especially early in the year, so I wasn’t surprised when the date passed with no invitation.

But this year, since Back to School Night was in person again, I thought Visitation Day would be on as well, but there we no announcements, so we started to wonder. Trying to find out anything about it from the school was surprisingly difficult. When I called the main office the person who answered the phone didn’t know and transferred me to someone else’s voicemail, where I left a message that was never returned. When Beth emailed the principal, he never answered. When I asked North to ask their teachers, they forgot, although they seemed open to us coming, especially to their painting class. When I called the main office again, a different person who answered the phone didn’t seem to know what I was talking about but said there was nothing on the school calendar for that day. This seemed like a good indication the event wasn’t happening, but I’d posted something to the school’s Facebook page, just in case, and then in response, the mother of a senior told a story about how the last year before covid she’d gone to see just one class and her daughter’s teacher who was a veteran at the school had no idea why she was there. That made me think, okay, maybe this school has never done this, and it wasn’t a casualty of covid until another senior parent posted, no, visitation day did happen the last year before covid, so now I don’t know what to think about the past or the future, but it didn’t happen this year.  I really liked getting a glimpse of my kids’ school lives, as you can probably guess from the fact that I pursued this so doggedly, but even so, I wasn’t going to show up uninvited.

  1. Halloween Parade

The other thing that’s probably off the table for us, though we don’t know for sure yet, is the Halloween parade and costume contest. It’s happening, two days before Halloween, but North thinks it conflicts with tech week for the school play, so they won’t be able to compete, which is sad because over the years my kids have been enthusiastic participants in the parade and contest, which they have each won at least once. The same conflict stopped North from going last year, so I’m guessing it will also conflict next year which means North’s probably done with the costume contest, which is sad because we didn’t even know the last year was the last year. Beth and I have thought about volunteering to be judges, but I think I want to wait until North has graduated and there’s no chance that we’d be judging any of their peers, not that too many of them are still participating.

Where We Did Go

  1. Gingerbread Sundae (Date #1)

This wasn’t an October outing per se, as we went the last day of September, but it was autumnal, so I’m including it. Around this time of year, I always get a craving for the gingerbread sundae at Mark’s, a restaurant in downtown Takoma. I like to have it just as it’s getting a little cool, but warm enough that ice cream still seems appealing. Last year I was newly diagnosed with diabetes and skipped it, but I have a better idea of what I can eat now, and ice cream is rich enough that the fat slows down the sugar and it usually doesn’t cause as big a spike as other desserts. I invited Beth to go on a mini date with me on a Friday afternoon and split a sundae and that’s what we did. The day was cooler than had been predicted when we’d arranged it, but she’d cleared her schedule, so we went anyway. We asked for a table outside, because we’re not eating inside restaurants, and we had the little alley next to Mark’s all to ourselves (as the day was not only cool but it looked like rain, though it held off long enough), so it was kind of romantic. They were out of the gingerbread syrup, but the combination of warm gingerbread and cold ice cream was still pleasing.

  1. Family Movie Outing

Later that weekend, all three of us saw Don’t Worry, Darling. I enjoyed it, even though it’s the kind of movie that when you think about it later, it makes less sense than it seemed to while you were watching it. I can say Florence Pugh is quite good in it, the cinematography is striking, and it has an excellent soundtrack.

  1. Mother and Child Pupusa Excursion

At the end of summer, I realized that North and I never went to the Langley Park farmers’ market for pupusas, which is something we usually do at least once in the summer, so I checked the school calendar for half days or days off on Wednesdays before the market closes for the season in late November. There was a half day in September, but North had to stay after school for the play. However, Yom Kippur fell on a Wednesday and there was no school that day, so we got pupusas for lunch and coffee and pumpkin pastries (a muffin for North and a slice of pumpkin loaf for me that I saved for later). North says the farmers’ market pupusas are better than restaurant ones and I speculated it’s because food often tastes better outside. North thinks it’s because they get the ratio of filling to dough just right.

  1. White House Garden Tour (Date #2)

There’s a garden tour at the White House every spring and fall and Beth was offered tickets through her office. We’ve done this tour before, but not for eleven years, and I thought it would be fun, so Beth and I went. (North declined.) It’s a self-guided tour. There were framed photos of presidents and first ladies from the Carters to the Trumps planting trees in front of the trees themselves and you can see how they’ve grown. (President Carter’s Cedar of Lebanon is quite impressive now.)

There was a bottleneck at the kitchen garden so a staffer was hurrying people past it, which was too bad, because I would have liked to get a better look, but I saw herbs, peppers of different colors, sunflowers, and a bank of surprisingly tall marigolds. We’ve been to the White House to see the Christmas decorations (once in the Clinton administration), to tour the East Wing, take the Garden Tour, and attend the Easter Egg Roll (all in the Obama years), but this was the first time we’d been there during the Biden administration. It made me think I’d like to do the Christmas tour again sometime. On the way back to the Metro, we got coffee (me) and hot chocolate (Beth) and then we went to Value Village to get an orange shirt for North to wear at our annual pumpkin patch photo shoot later in the month.

  1. Lunch (Date #3)

The other thing we usually do on Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day, besides visit the kids’ schools, is to go out to lunch. The upside was that we didn’t have to squeeze it between one school and the other as we often did in years past. We went to Busboys and Poets. Beth got a salad with vegan tuna, and I had cauliflower with aioli and vegan barbequed chicken. It was a pretty day, sunny and in the sixties so it was pleasant to eat outside, and we spent some time hanging out when we got home before I decided to get some housework and paying work done.

If you’re wondering if it’s normal for us to have three dates in a week and half, the answer is no, but we were on a roll. Sometimes that happens.

  1. Play

This year North is participating in Cappies, an organization of student theater critics that sends students to review plays at area high schools and then grants awards at the end of the year. On Friday they attended their first show. A high school in McLean, Virginia was putting on The Man Who Came to Dinner. Beth was going, too, because it’s a long drive to McLean and it made more sense to stay than to go home and come back, and I thought if everyone else was going, I’d get in on the fun, too. We’d purchased the tickets before Xander got sick and once he did, I was leaning toward staying home with him, but then he deteriorated more quickly than we thought he would, and we had him euthanized the morning of the play. So, we were all heartsore, and I almost didn’t go, but I wanted to be together on such a sad night—although North would be seated with the other Cappies—so I went.

The host school feeds the Cappies dinner beforehand, but Beth and I needed dinner, so I heated up some leftover frozen pizza and wrapped it up in foil before we left in hopes that it would stay warm and it did, faintly. On the way we stopped at a Starbucks where North and I got Dragon Drinks while Beth went to a nearby grocery store to get marinated mushrooms, a salad, and Babybel cheese to supplement the pizza. We ate in the car in the school parking lot and Beth said we were tailgating. Meanwhile, North was dining inside the school. They’d expected something like pizza on paper plates, but they were served roasted chicken and Caesar salad on china, which would have been nice, except North doesn’t eat meat, so all they had for dinner was salad and mints.

The play is a madcap 1930s comedy about an imperious literary critic who breaks his hip while at dinner at a factory owner’s house and is bedridden there for weeks, and proceeds to take over the house, receive many colorful guests, and irritate his host, while befriending his children, older sister, and servants (and in some cases turning them against him). The main plot involves the critic’s scheming interference in his secretary’s love life. Beth missed part of the second act because she had to go watch a vote count for an Apple store in Oklahoma City that was voting to unionize—happily, the union won. When she came back all I was able to tell her about what she missed was, “There were shenanigans and machinations.” It’s that kind of play.

The production was well done. The set was gorgeous, and the actors did a great job. (As a costumes manager, North noted there were some impressively quick costume changes.)

It was over by ten, and because I didn’t realize there was a Cappies meeting after the show for the purpose of debriefing, I thought we’d be getting home at a reasonable time, but we had to wait in the school lobby until 11:15, when North was finally released. I was exhausted from the long, draining day and when we got home and Beth and I fell into bed, it was midnight. But North stayed up to write their review.

  1. Pumpkin Patch Expedition

We took our annual pilgrimage to Northern Virginia to get pumpkins the next day. We had to do it when we’d scheduled it, because it’s a long outing and Beth’s going to be out of town this weekend, plus North had invited Ranvita. I wasn’t reluctant, though. I was still heavy-hearted—we all were—but in my experience, getting outside when I’m sad never hurts and sometimes helps.

We left mid-afternoon, picked up Ranvita, and drove to Potomac Vegetable Farms, where we’ve been getting our jack-o-lantern pumpkins since before the kids were born. The reason is the farm is owned by the family of a friend from college. As the suburbs encroach on it, though, it gets smaller and smaller. There used to be a cider press where you could watch cider made and farm animals to visit. They do still have live chickens for sale. Because they’re widening the highway in front of the farm, there’s less land between the road and the stand and the area where the pallets piled with pumpkins have been in previous years is gone. The pumpkins were right in front of the stand, but there were enough for us to peruse, make our selections, and pose for the traditional photos. Usually it’s just the kids, but this year we had North take one of us, too. We also bought decorative gourds, apples, cider, salsa, and a baking mix for North.

We texted some of the pictures we took (of piles of pumpkins and gourds) to Noah and asked him to guess where we were. It’s a game we play sometimes. This wasn’t a hard one, though, as he’d been to this farm almost every October from birth until he left for college (and once after that during his pandemic online school year). It was nice to include him a little, as I’ve found in the six days since Xander died that I miss Noah more, and Matthew, too. Even though it’s natural for kids to grow up and leave and cats to grow old and die—and with the kids it’s a good thing—part of me stubbornly wants it to be the six of us together again as it was for so long.

We got back in the car and resumed listening to and critiquing an Apple Music Halloween playlist. There were standards like “Thriller,” “I Put a Spell on You” (Nina Simone version), and “Season of the Witch,” but North objected to Justin Bieber’s “Ghost” because they say it’s about ghosting someone, not ghosts, and no one thought Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” belonged on a Halloween playlist because it’s not really about blood.

There’s a vegetarian Chinese restaurant we like near the farm stand and because there’s a bit of a gap between the time the stand closes and when we want to eat dinner, we’ve gotten into the habit of taking a walk in Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. As always, since we’re there in mid-October, there were a lot of kids taking Homecoming pictures. While North and Ranvita (whose foot was in a boot from an accident at play rehearsal) were resting in a pagoda and Beth and I were walking down separate paths (as I had taken longer to decide on my food order and she left first), Beth saw a young lesbian couple hanging out and taking pictures with their straight friends and she said it warmed her heart that in many places at least these days, queer kids “get to be regular kids.” It’s one of the good things about our kids’ generation.

We picked up the food and took it to another park where we ate at a picnic table. We were there because of the community gardens there that North wanted to show Ranvita, so after we ate our sweet potato and avocado sushi, spring rolls, miso soup, seaweed salad, noodles, and seitan-snow pea stir-fry, we wandered through the different plots, admiring the fall vegetables and flowers.

North said they wished they were a plant person because it would fit their vibe, but they really weren’t. I asked what they’d do after the apocalypse if they couldn’t grow food, and they said they’d cook the food someone else grew. Then we all chose our post-apocalyptic jobs, and North decided in addition to cooking, they’d watch children. “I’m very domestic in the apocalypse,” they observed. For my part, I thought I could teach and if it was a vampire apocalypse, I’d have some useful knowledge because I used to teach horror fiction and I know more than the average person about vampires. I was imagining myself in a Van Helsing/Rupert Giles type role. It didn’t occur to me until later that given that I write a lot about herbs, I could be an herbalist and that might be useful in the absence of vampires.

Our next stop was frozen yogurt. We’ve developed this whole pumpkin-gathering trip agenda over the years and while it does change (as when we had to start dining outside and when our favorite dessert place went out of business), it keeps growing and growing. “The problem with our family,” Beth started at one point, explaining to Ranvita how once we do something more than once everyone wants to keep doing it, but North interrupted, saying firmly, “There is no problem with our family.”

Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t, but it was good to hear them say that. And the familiarity of the routine was comforting on a day when sadness ran just under the surface of our pleasures.

Lucky

Labor Day Weekend

After Noah left, we had a three-day weekend. It was low-key, but nice. We all watched The Edge of Seventeen on Friday night, Beth went kayaking on Saturday morning, and on Saturday evening I listened to my friend Becky’s radio show on Takoma’s community radio station while making dinner. I almost skipped it because when Noah isn’t here, this show reminds me of our routine of cooking together and listening to it on Saturday nights and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that, but Becky and her co-host were giving away tickets to see Neko Case and Patty Griffin and I thought I might as well give it a try. There were four pairs of tickets and you had to send an email after they played a song by one of the artists. I kept trying, but I realized toward the end of the show I’d inserted an extra period in the email address, so I tried once more with the right address, and I won! The first three winners were announced on the air, but I didn’t find out until after the show was over. We were all watching Gilmore Girls and I got a message from Becky.

That same night Noah landed safely in Australia, got through customs, and boarded his third and final flight, from Sydney to the Gold Coast. We were relieved there was no issue with his visa or his medications. “What a night!” Beth said.

North hung out with Sol on Sunday afternoon and evening, first at the mall and then at our house. Beth and I went to the pool while the kids were at the mall. It was only the second time I’d been to an outdoor pool this summer, so I was glad to do it. Unlike the last time we went, the water temperature was pleasant. I swam fifteen laps—I would have done more if we’d had more time—and went down the water slide a couple times, which was fun and made me wonder why I don’t do that more often when I’m at a pool that has one.

On Labor Day, Beth was doing some straightening up in the basement and she gave me two boxes. One contained student papers, teaching materials, and dissertation research notes from 1997 to 2001. During this time, I was finishing my PhD at the University of Maryland, teaching there and at George Washington University. I had no idea I still had any of those papers. I thought I’d gotten rid of them long ago, but I guess a missed a box. I went through it cursorily just to make sure there was nothing in it I wanted, but not too carefully because spending too much time thinking about my academic past sometimes sucks me down into a shame spiral.

The other box was of mementos that spanned from childhood to my mid-twenties. Some were things I’d thought were lost, like my high school diploma and my senior year yearbook. There was also some artwork, mostly not done by me, including a portrait of me at age eleven, which my sister remembered was drawn by a stranger we met at the playground. And there were letters and a folder of printouts of email I’d exchanged with a work friend when I used to work at Project VOTE (a now defunct non-profit that registered low-income African Americans to vote) back in the early 90s. I read the email rather than the letters, because it was easier to read than handwriting and because it looked like about the right amount to read in an evening without going down a rabbit hole that would last longer than that. Reading it was a more emotional experience than I expected. I remembered David and I were close, but I’d forgotten how close. Working in that office was intense and when he left to take another job, it wasn’t the same and we drifted apart pretty quickly. This is the kind of moment in which you can feel sad about a faded friendship, or you can appreciate what it meant to you while you had it, and I managed to go with the latter for the most part.

We usually have a picnic in the back yard on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day, but it was raining, so we ate our veggie dogs, baked beans, deviled eggs, corn-on-the-cob, and watermelon on the porch instead. It was actually nice, to sit and watch the drizzle and hope it would bring cooler, less muggy weather.

Report from Australia

Meanwhile on the other side of the world… Noah arrived at his place, which is a boarding house. He has his own room and shares a kitchen, bathroom, and common areas with the landlady and another boarder, a Norwegian, but not the same Norwegian he’d been corresponding with earlier about sharing an apartment. This one is a young woman. Noah said the landlady is nice, that she took him to the mall so he could get some things he needed, and she took him on a tour of the university. There wasn’t a desk in his room, and he wanted one, so he bought one, which I guess he’ll leave for the next boarder.

His orientation started Tuesday with some online modules and continued in person on Wednesday through Friday. He said most of the international students are Americans or Norwegians. He’ll start classes on Monday. He sent me a picture of the gate of the university and said, “Good to know it’s real and I haven’t fallen for an elaborate scam.”

Here are some of his observations about Australia, from the first days he was there:

  • Light switches are backwards (up = off)
  • At the mall I went to the escalators were like airport conveyors but at an incline. The airport had stair-style escalators so it’s not universal
  • Masks required on the domestic flight, lots of masks at the airport (about 50%) but very few at the mall
  • Even as a non-driver, cars driving on the left is disorienting. Also, I assume that means the cultural standard is to walk on the left when possible
  • The spoons in this house are all very small or very large. But that’s probably just the house

An Unexpected Package

I was on the porch, reading an online trade magazine for work Wednesday afternoon when a UPS delivery person dropped off a small box. When I saw it had a pattern of Hershey’s kisses on it, I had a sudden inkling of what it might be.

Two days after we got back from Hershey Park, I realized I’d lost a coin purse containing my debit card, my ID, a SMARTrip (a bus and train pass), and a twenty-dollar bill. The last place I’d spent money was Chocolate World, right as we were leaving the park. I considered calling to see if there was a lost and found but I thought at such a big complex it would be a bureaucratic ordeal, so I didn’t do it. I cancelled the debit card and transferred the money on the SMARTrip to another card, but I hadn’t managed to order a new ID because of ongoing computer problems at the MVA (speaking of bureaucratic ordeals).

And, then as you have no doubt guessed by now, someone found the coin purse and turned it in, and the Customer Service department at Chocolate World mailed it back to me, free of charge. Nothing was missing, not even the cash. So, I didn’t need to wrangle with the MVA’s recalcitrant online system anymore, I had twenty dollars I thought I lost, plus a coin purse I rather like. Between winning concert tickets and this, I was feeling pretty lucky.

We also found out that same day that North’s application to be a theater reviewer for local high schools was successful, so they are going to be doing that. It should be fun, and they will get to go to a lot of plays throughout the DC metro area.

Back to School Night

On Thursday we went to Back to School Night at North’s school. It was the first year since before covid that this event was in person. Since North’s a junior, and we missed two years, this means it was our first time meeting their teachers at their high school and we had to learn our way around the building. (It was also our second to last Back to School Night ever I realized as we walked back to the car. That was a startling thought.)

Because North is not at our home high school there were fewer parents we knew than we knew at their elementary or middle school (or Noah’s high school), so I was surprised when Talia’s parents walked into the AP World History classroom. Talia went to preschool with North, played on a basketball team with them through most of elementary school, was on the costumes crew with them for the fall play last year, and her mom Megan is a good friend of mine. North hadn’t mentioned she was in the class. Chatting before the teacher’s presentation we learned Talia’s folks were going to the same concert we were the following night. (The presentation itself was the most detailed in terms of the curriculum. So far, it also seems to North’s hardest class.)

It was nice to get to see the teachers in person. North’s Astronomy teacher is fresh out of school and so young I wasn’t sure she was the teacher when I saw her standing in the classroom door. The AP Lit teacher wasn’t present because she’s eight months pregnant and was attending an infant CPR class. She made a video for parents to watch. The French teacher is quite energetic, and the math teacher seems enthusiastic about math and down to earth. The tech teacher basically said it was a gut class and there was no excuse not to get an A, if the kids made an effort. The painting teacher told us to let her know if our kids are interested in painting with oils, because it’s not part of the regular curriculum. (When we told North later, they said they are interested.)

I was glad to have gone, even though I had to miss book club (and we were reading Octavia Butler).

Concerts

The weekend was quite musical. Friday night we went to the Neko Case/Patty Griffin concert and Sunday we attended the first Takoma Park Folk Festival to be held since before covid.

Late Friday afternoon we said goodbye to North and Ranvita who were settling in for pizza and a movie (they watched Call Me By Your Name) and we drove to Virginia and picked up our own pizza and some mozzarella sticks for a picnic on the lawn of Wolf Trap. Beth had made a Caprese salad with a tomato and some basil from the garden to go with it. We also got some soft serve from the concessions stand.

The weather was really nice, just a perfect temperature (when we arrived) and not too humid. When the sun set, I actually wished I’d worn long sleeves and socks. I lay on the blanket and read a few chapters of Gwendy’s Final Task while we waited for the concert to start. I’d been texting with Megan to see if she and her husband Tom were on the lawn or in the pavilion. They had seats inside, but she said they were in line for merch, and they’d come visit us on their way inside. Then they ran into other friends, ran out of time, and we didn’t end up connecting.

While all this was going on, I happened to look at the tickets for the first time. I just wanted to see how much they cost (and it didn’t say, just “complimentary”) but then I noticed they had seat numbers on them. Despite what the radio station manager said, they weren’t lawn tickets after all. After some brief consideration—because it is nice on the lawn on a pretty night—we decided to move inside, where we’d have a better view. Also, I thought it might be a little warmer in there (and it was). The seats were near the back in a sparsely populated section and the pavilion is open on the sides we didn’t feel the need to put on our masks. Before the music started, I spotted our around-the-corner neighbor Chris and Beth went over to talk to her. Then Chris came to sit with us for a while during intermission and she and Beth talked shop—they both work in the labor movement—and about Chris’s daughter’s adjustment to middle school.

Patty Griffin came on first, but I’m not sure I’d say she was opening for Neko Case because their sets were almost equal in length. Both shows were great. I know more of Neko Case’s songs than Patty Griffin’s, but it’s easier to make out Griffin’s lyrics so I was following along a little better during her part of the show. There was a nearly full moon that night, so Griffin sang “250,000 Miles” and Case sang “I Wish I Was the Moon.” Patty Griffin had a song about Bluebeard I liked, and I was glad to hear Neko Case sing “Last Lion of Albion.” It was a very nice evening, and we got to bed by 11:45, which is quite late for us, but at least we didn’t turn into pumpkins, which may well have happened if we’d been out at midnight. It’s been so long I have no idea.

Two days later we were watching live music again at the Takoma Park Folk Festival, which was cancelled for two years running because of covid. It was raining in the morning, but the festival carried on with the performers under tents. When we arrived around one, the rain had stopped, and we spread our blanket on the wet grass under trees that occasionally dripped on us. Overall, it wasn’t as well attended as usual, probably because of the weather, but we had fun. We saw Ruthie and the Wranglers, some people from the Folklore Society of Greater Washington singing Celtic songs, and Holly Montgomery and I enjoyed them all.

North got a plate of noodles and a Thai iced tea when we first arrived and then between the second and third set, we got ice cream. As always, we saw a lot of people we knew, the mother of a preschool classmate of North’s, the younger sister of their best friend from elementary school who was working the information booth, and another elementary school friend and her mom, who were also volunteering. I would have liked to stay a little longer and hear some more international music, but North got a headache near the end of Holly Montgomery’s set so we left. Still, I was glad to be back on the familiar grounds of a local middle school listening to live music for the first time in years. When we saw Leila and her mom Shaneena, we talked about how this year life is really starting to feel normal. More than a recovered coin purse or free concert tickets, that may be the luckiest thing about right now.

Perfect Week

North had one week between camp and the start of the school year. They didn’t have any babysitting jobs or social engagements, though they did go to school on Thursday evening to staff a table for the GSA at the picnic to welcome incoming ninth graders and other new students. North is going to have a leadership role in the GSA this year and building membership is one of the organization’s goals. They said it was a success. They talked to a lot of people, got ten signups, and talked to a faculty member about the campaign to replace the annual powderpuff football game with something less sexist.

Creek Walk

On Wednesday afternoon, the kids and I went on a creek walk, which we do almost every summer, usually near the end. Occasionally these outings end in mishap, as when I fell and hurt my knee six years ago (it has never been quite right since then) or when Noah got fifteen bee stings last summer, which is why Beth urged us to “Be careful!” when we left shortly before three. We promised we would be.

We walked Starbucks for refreshments and then we made our way to the creek. It was quite pleasant. No one got hurt and it was nice to be in the water on a warm day. We found some deep places, where North submerged themselves almost completely by sitting on the creek bed and we walked further than I thought they’d want to, all the way to the bridge closest to our house. We would have gone under to arrive at our side of the street—it’s always kind of cool to be under the street, or I think it is—but North spied a man under the bridge who seemed to be relieving himself, so we gave him some privacy and backtracked until we came to a place that was clear enough of underbrush to get out onto the path and walk home that way. Walking in the creek always makes me nostalgic for when the kids were younger and used to pretend there were trolls under the footbridge where we typically start. Even if that sort of imaginative embellishment is in the past, I’m glad neither of them feels too old for this activity.

Hershey Park

Friday afternoon Beth and I quit work early and we all piled into the car to drive to Hershey Park for one last, quick trip of the summer. We arrived in time to check into our hotel and spend a couple hours in the park. We got pizza for dinner, rode a few rides, and everyone but me got desserts, either ice cream or in North’s case a chocolate-covered frozen banana. (I would have ice cream the next day, when I was able to space it apart from other carbs.) We got two rooms so the kids could have their own space and we could have ours. We also had a king-sized bed and a fancy shower that didn’t have a curtain or wall because it was big enough to have its own entryway. It was deluxe.

We said goodnight to the kids and told them to be ready to leave the hotel at 9:30 the next morning. The park doesn’t open until eleven, so we thought we’d do the factory tour ride at Chocolate World beforehand because it opens earlier. Beth and I went down to the hotel breakfast bar around eight, but there wasn’t a single thing I could eat, at least not in the morning when my metabolism is very reactive. The vegetarian fare was all muffins, waffles, flavored yogurt, and a couple unappealing looking apples. Beth got a little container of vanilla yogurt and some juice. We’d decided to go to a nearby grocery store in search of food, but there was a Starbucks in the parking lot so I was able to get a latte, kale and mushroom egg bites, and some string cheese, which I supplemented with some mixed nuts I’d brought with me, while Beth picked up a few items for herself at the grocery store.

We got to Chocolate World a little before ten. I expected we’d be in a very small minority of people masking indoors and we were, but it was even fewer people than I would have guessed, almost no one, even in crowded spaces where you stand near the same people for a long time (for instance in the line for the factory ride).

Shortly before eleven we left Chocolate World and got a wheelchair for North from customer service. They used one when they went to Hershey Park on a camp field trip earlier in the month and wanted one because it would be a long day of walking. They also had a pass for expedited entry on some rides, which hadn’t expired yet. We were able to accompany them and avoid the lines. The way it works is you can enter your first ride of the day without a wait and then the ride attendant writes on the pass how long you have to wait before entering another ride. It’s based on the average wait time for that ride. As North said, “you wait after instead of before.” It saves you from having to stand in line if that’s difficult for you and it also saves some time because you can use your wait time for getting to the next ride or eating or going to the bathroom.

So there were some advantages to using the chair and the pass, but also some disadvantages. It was work pushing it uphill (Beth, Noah, and I took turns) and we often had to split up and leave someone behind to watch the chair. We only did this later in the day because of what happened while the kids and I were riding the smaller of the two flume rides. We left the chair at the bottom of a staircase, and three teenage boys stole it. Beth, who was waiting outside the ride, actually saw them leave with it, and she wondered if it could be North’s, but she wasn’t sure, so she didn’t confront them. It wasn’t until we got off the ride and found it missing that we all realized what had happened. Beth texted security and they tracked down the culprits and returned the chair before our kids had even returned from their next ride.

It was a busy day. We made a list of rides we wanted to do in the morning but as the day progressed, we had to keep paring it down. I was sorry that we skipped the mine ride because it’s one Beth will do. She is the least adventurous of us at amusement parks and as of this summer I am the second least. When North was at Hershey Park during camp, they rode the Candymonium,  the newest and biggest coaster in the park, which at 210 feet, is just a little taller than the biggest coaster I’ve ever ridden, the Magnum at Cedar Point. (I have not been on that coaster since I was twenty-two, for the record.) Given the fact that Noah rode the Great Bear, his first big coaster, on a band field trip in middle school makes me think that being with peers and not your parents makes you more daring when it comes to amusement park rides (and other things of course, for good and for ill).

North tried the Great Bear this year for the first time, Noah rode the Candymonium with North, and the two of them also did the bigger of the two flume rides for the first time. As the kids pointed out, it’s because they keep adding rides that we can’t find time for all our favorites in one evening and one day anymore. The kids and I also rode the Wild Mouse, the Comet, the smaller of the three wooden coasters in the park, and the Sooper Dooper Looper, the smallest looping coaster. It has just one loop, but it was one of the first looping coasters ever built, so it has historic significance. These rides are at the very edge of my own comfort zone. (After some consideration the day before about whether I didn’t want to be the kind of person who wears my tie-dyed Sooper Dooper Looper t-shirt while riding the Sooper Dooper Looper or whether that’s exactly the kind of person I wanted to be, I went with the latter.) We all rode the swings and the Ferris Wheel, which is Beth’s favorite. She took the picture of the park from up there.

We also went to the waterpark, but the lines were so long we gave up on doing a waterslide or the lazy river, but the wave pool had no line or just a short one when different members of our party arrived. It was nice to get wet, though, because by late afternoon we were all hot and tired. Beth and I took turns watching the wheelchair so everyone could go into the pool.

As we left the park, North took one last ride on the Candymonium while Beth returned the wheelchair and Noah and I did some shopping at Chocolate World. We were intending to eat dinner there, but the place we usually eat—it has several vegetable side dishes you can use to make a meal—was closed and the only option was pizza. Neither Beth nor I wanted pizza two nights in a row, so we went to Panera before hitting the road for home.

There wasn’t much traffic, so we were home by 10:15, which was good because Beth and I are usually in bed by ten and because Noah had scheduled a call about another place to live in Australia at eleven. If you’re thinking, wait, I thought he found somewhere to live, that fell through. This one is a room in a house where the owner also lives, a ten to twenty-minute walk to campus. He was offered the place on the phone and accepted, but he hasn’t paid the deposit yet, so I’m still a little nervous about it. Meanwhile he has an AirBnB booked for his first week and we’re not cancelling it quite yet, just in case.

Last Night of Summer Break

Sunday evening, after we enjoyed a nice summery dinner of barbequed tofu, fried okra, corn on the cob, and sliced tomatoes that Beth cooked, we went to Sweet Frog. We’ve always taken the kids out for ice cream (or occasionally frozen yogurt) on the night before school starts. It’s something my mom used to do for me and my sister and the tradition continues.

I finished first, having taken a relatively small amount of soft serve from the dispenser. I got up and walked up and down the block because I was short on steps, and when I returned Beth got up and did something similar because she was short on activity minutes. When she returned, she showed us that her Apple watch told her she’d had “a perfect week.” I’m not sure North would agree that a week brought their summer break to an end was a perfect one, plus we weren’t at the beach, but we were all together after a week split up into three groups and on the cusp of a longer separation from Noah, and we got to enjoy natural and not so natural amusements, so I’d say it was pretty near perfect.

Everything That Came After

We’ve been home from the beach now for almost two weeks and while I can’t say we’ve had as much fun as we did there, life here is not devoid of fun. Here’s what we’ve been up to recently:

Week 1

The weekend we got back, the kids and I watched the last two episodes of Stranger Things. Noah refused to watch it at the beach because he considered the resolution on the television there subpar and as a student of media, he takes the visual elements of entertainment seriously, at least for some shows. It was worth the wait. I mean, that last episode… Wow. Now we just have to wait another two to three years for the next season.

That Sunday, North and Ranvita had a picnic dinner/stargazing date. North made a peach-blueberry galette for the picnic (and we got to eat the leftovers). North and Ranvita been dating for several months now, but I only just received permission to mention that. I also learned recently in a very interesting conversation that in between North’s sixth-grade boyfriend Xavier and Ranvita, there have been three other romantic relationships I didn’t know about at the time. Beth and I had guessed one of them was an unrequited crush (“because she seemed to make you so unhappy,” I said when North told me and North said “She did make me unhappy.”) The other two just flew under our radar, including a relationship that lasted more than a year and a half, without us realizing the girl in question was more than a friend. They’re still friends, as it ended amicably.

The next Monday was 7/11, so Noah partook of a free Slurpee from 7-Eleven. He had to go alone, though, because I wouldn’t have minded the walk, but didn’t want the sugar, and North wouldn’t have minded the sugar but didn’t want the walk.

That Friday it was the thirty-fifth anniversary of Beth’s and my first date, which we celebrate in addition to our wedding anniversary. I’d spent the week we were at the beach thinking about what to get her and I considered several options but when she told me she’d been to the bookstore to see if they still had t-shirts that say “Let Summer Begin” to replace a favorite of hers that’s getting a hole and that she hadn’t seen one in her size on the rack, I decided to go back and enquire if there were any in storage. The answer was no, but since Beth’s had this shirt for years and they’re still carrying it, it seemed possible they might restock before we go to the beach again in August, so I got her a gift certificate she can use if they do and for something else if they don’t. In a funny coincidence, she got me a t-shirt, too. I’d mentioned back in June that I don’t have enough gay t-shirts so she got me a purple one with the rooster that’s the symbol of Takoma Park, surrounded by the colors of the progress pride flag, arranged into a color wheel-type design.

We went out for pizza that night, sans kids. (They had Little Caesar’s delivered to the house.) We got a caprese salad, a vegetarian sausage and mushroom pizza, and gelato and ate it at a table tucked into in the alley next to the restaurant. I had two pieces of pizza and considering how my glucose monitor runs low, I probably went out range on that plus the gelato, but it was considered decision. I decided I wanted to just have what I wanted and except for a lemonade (I couldn’t quite go there), I did just that. I have no regrets.

While we were out, North was at their first babysitting job of the summer, for a two-month old baby girl. They sat for her again yesterday—it’s looking like it might be a semi-regular thing. North seems quite smitten with the baby—“so cute!”—and happy to have a source of income.

The other thing that happened that day was that Beth bought Noah’s airline ticket to Queensland, Australia. He’s leaving the Friday before Labor Day. He still needs to find housing and register for classes, but that step made it seem much more real that he’s actually doing this. I am happy for him to have this adventure, as he’s wanted to do it for a long time and it was delayed a year by the pandemic.

Week 2

Sunday we went blueberry and blackberry picking. I wasn’t sure we’d go because it’s unusual for us to go berry picking twice in a year and we’d gone to pick strawberries in May. I’m glad we did, though, because it’s a fun family outing and we came home with two quarts of blackberries and five pounds of blueberries, plus produce, egg noodles, cheese, and treats from the farm market. I froze half the blackberries and most of the blueberries and we are working our way through the rest. I made the blueberry kuchen I make every year after berry picking on Monday night, substituting almond flour for half the flour and coconut sugar for half the sugar. It turned out a little more cakey than usual, but it was still good.

Tuesday I voted in the Maryland primary. It was the first time in a long while that I voted in person on Election Day but I didn’t get my research done in time to vote early and I didn’t get around to requesting a ballot to drop in a box, as Beth and Noah did. It was a really long ballot, with twenty-one offices to consider and for some offices you could vote for multiple people.

There was an advantage to going in person, though. It’s nice to see other voters and the poll workers and the people campaigning outside the polling place; it’s like watching the wheels of democracy turning. I told North that even though voting in the primary is more work than voting in the general (because there are actual decisions to make), it’s also more fun because the choices are generally good, and while I want the candidates I voted for to win, it will be fine if they don’t, so there’s less stress than in a general election when there’s more at stake. I anticipate the midterms, with control of both the House and the Senate in question, will be kind of agonizing.

North had applied to be a poll worker, but never heard back. I told them that at least at my polling place it looked like they weren’t short-staffed, so there probably wasn’t much need for new workers. They went to the movies with Ranvita that day instead.

On Wednesday North started the lengthy process of making focaccia (it requires multiple rises over two days) and babysat again, while Beth, Noah, and I finished season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Originally I was hoping to finish two seasons this summer, but that’s looking unrealistic at our current pace, so now my goal is reaching the midpoint of season 5.

Today we ate the focaccia at dinner, with a Caprese salad. The focaccia was outstanding and it was nice to have a cold dinner, as we’re in the midst of a heat wave that’s only supposed to get worse. We might get into the triple digits on Sunday and we’re currently trying decide if that’s too hot to go to the pool, which we haven’t done all summer. (Will it be mobbed? Will the water be gross and warm? Or will it be the only thing worth doing on a day like that?) And that brings us up to date.

On our anniversary, I wrote on Facebook:

Steph Lovelady kissed a girl for the first time 35 years ago today and this morning talked with a roofer about repairs to the roof of the house where she has lived with said girl (plus kids and cats) for the past twenty years and tonight went out to dinner with her to celebrate the kiss and everything that came after.

Some of what came after is fun, like picking berries with our young adult and nearly adult children and gaining insight into their lives, and some is mundane, like talking to roofers about home repairs, but it’s all part of the life we’ve built together, day by day, over three and half decades.

Finales: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 75

The Last Day of School

North’s last day of school was a week ago Friday. When they came home I asked how the last day of tenth grade was and they said three out of their seven teachers brought either doughnuts or doughnut holes. I guess it was that kind of year, meriting more than the customary amount of treats.

When Noah came home for the summer, I almost wrote about how happy I was he had a whole school year of in-person classes uninterrupted by covid (except for one week of online classes in January). But North had more than a month of school left at that point, and I didn’t want to jinx them. So I’ll say it now. I’m glad both kids were in school all year. I’m glad Noah played in a band, joined the drone club, and had an on-campus IT job. I’m glad North served as costumes manager in two school plays, was active in the GSA, took a rec center painting class, made some new friends, is learning to drive, and is looking for a summer job. That’s a lot in the positive column for this year.

Re-entry had its bumps, though. Starting sometime during the second quarter, North started missing a lot of school and it continued through the end of the year. They were sick several times in the winter and spring, once, in April, very sick with a high fever. That last time was probably due to the school going mask-optional in March. I guess their immune system needed to recalibrate to being around everyone’s germs. Other days they were fatigued or had joint pain.

But mostly it was migraines. The pattern their migraines had followed since they were a small child has changed. Instead of almost always occurring in the late afternoon or early evening in the fall, winter, or early spring, and generally on days when there was a big drop in temperature, now they often come in the early morning—North wakes with them—and they seem unrelated to weather. The upshot of all this was that on average they missed school about one day a week from December through June. Sometimes they would recover and go to school for part of the day, but more often they didn’t.

They were conscientious about making up work and their grades didn’t suffer in most of their classes, but as a former teacher I know how much that’s intangible but still valuable goes on in the classroom. That’s why the mostly remote year was so awful for many students and teachers, North included. I’m hoping we can find a solution that has them in less pain (this would be ideal, of course) or that they can find better ways of coping with pain so they can be in the classroom more often during their junior year.

We had pizza from North’s favorite pizza place on Friday night, at their request. We also watched a movie of their choice (Athlete A), though that was a coincidence. It was what got drawn from the hat (well, bicycle helmet) that night.

The First Week of Summer Break

Saturday afternoon, Beth took North out to practice driving and they drove on a road for the first time. Up to now, they’d been driving in parking lots at the University of Maryland, which are fairly empty because school is not in session. They seemed pleased with how it went.

Sunday afternoon they went to the Museum of Natural History with Sol and saw “mummies and rocks and insects.” While they were looking at natural (and cultural) things there, Beth and I communed with nature another way, by kayaking at Black Hills Regional Park. Beth’s been kayaking a few times this year already—the season starts in May—but it was my first time since last year. We saw a Great Blue Heron, several turtles, a cormorant,  and a big flock of geese. It was windy and in places the water was choppy and paddling was challenging, but we had a good time. The weather was lovely, sunny and in the seventies.

While we were gone, my mom called and left a message letting us know she had covid. She only found out because she was over at my sister’s house helping her pack for my sister’s family’s upcoming move and she casually mentioned that she wasn’t tasting things as well as usual and my sister immediately fetched a covid test she had on hand and sure enough it was positive.

My mom says she felt fine, but was isolating when we spoke. She just got back from a trip to Morocco and she’s not sure if she got it there or at home, but she had to test to get on the plane home and that test was negative. Maybe she got it on the flight or she had it before she flew but it was too soon to show up on the test. I’m glad her vaccines and booster did their job and kept her safe from serious illness, even though she caught it.

Monday was the first day of North’s drama camp, but it was a half-day camp and Beth had the day off because Juneteenth is a federal holiday now, so we planned an afternoon excursion to Fort Smallwood Park in Anne Arundel County where the Patapsco River meets the Chesapeake Bay. My goal for this excursion was to make both kids happy, which would mean going somewhere you can swim and fly a drone (this last condition means you have to be at least fifteen miles from DC and not in a Maryland state park).

When North got home from camp they were tired and wanted to rest a bit before we left, so it was almost 2:15 by the time we left. We arrived a little after three and set up our towels on the beach before wading into the water. It was sunny and around eighty degrees, just about a perfect day.

There were rocks piled up to delineate a pool, which was crowded with kids, but there was an opening in the wall so you could go out farther than that and we did. The water was about chest-high at its deepest, brackish, and cool but not cold. For a while the kids were out deeper than we were, and when Beth and I approached them, Noah said, “We think this outing should involve ice cream,” and it wasn’t the kind of day we wanted to say no, so we said yes, even though I had reservations about ice cream in the late afternoon, mostly for myself.

Noah got out of the water to fly while the rest of us continued to soak in the salty water. North and I talked about drama camp and they said “Finale” was their favorite song. After drying out on the sand for a while, we piled into the car and went in search of frozen treats. We stopped at Rita’s and I decided to try a child-sized chocolate frozen custard. I happened to have peanuts in my bag, so I piled them on top, in an attempt to add some balancing protein to my dessert. (It seemed to work. I didn’t go out of range, even though we had a late dinner just a couple hours later.) Overall, I think the expedition was  a success.

Tuesday evening we watched Pippin because we wanted to familiarize ourselves with the plot. The performance would be five songs and some connecting dialogue so it seemed like we’d follow it better if we watched the whole thing ahead of time. There is no feature film version, but Noah found a filmed stage performance from 1981, nine years after it premiered on Broadway. (Allison, it was filmed in Hamilton, Ontario, which made me think of you and Eve.) During all the sexy bits—and there was a surprising number of them—North would inform us, “We’re not doing that part.”

After it was over, Beth said, “That was very 1972” and it was. It kind of reminded me of Godspell stylistically, but with a plot and more sex and less religion and set in the Middle Ages. Did that even make sense? Maybe it was like more Hair, with a similar amount of anti-war sentiment and dancing and sex, but set in the Middle Ages.

Anyway, I was a little surprised North liked “Finale” best because it wasn’t their biggest number. They had a much longer solo in “Extraordinary.” They were playing Pippin. They found out several days before camp started, in an email from Gretchen, the director, saying rather than having auditions on the first day as she usually does, she’d cast three of the parts ahead of time (most of the non-ensemble parts) and given them to the three oldest campers, who are all rising eleventh graders. It turns out there was a big age gap between those three and the rest of the campers who were all in middle school. I guess having worked with the three older kids for many years—one is her own daughter—Gretchen figured she already knew what she needed to know to cast them.

Wednesday and Thursday rain was forecast, which is a concern because the camp is held outdoors in a park near Gretchen’s house. In an email Tuesday night she said in case of rain they’d work under the gazebo, perhaps focusing on making costumes and props, and in case of severe weather, they’d retreat to her porch or go inside her house (with masks). It did rain Wednesday, but not until after camp had dismissed for the day. Thursday it was already drizzling when Beth drove North to camp. It rained most of the morning and North said they spent the majority of their time sitting under the gazebo, “sewing and singing.” I said that sounded very wholesome, like a quilting bee.

Friday was performance day. Noah and arrived at the park a little early so that he could set up his tripod and camera before the audience arrived. While he did that, I watched the actors rehearse “Finale.” Parents and friends started drifting into the park. Beth came with our camping chairs. I spotted Zoë and A.J. (another friend of North and Zoë’s) on the grass.

The show started promptly. It was maybe a third of the play, but it hung together pretty well, I think, in terms of plot continuity. It was nice to see North act and sing because I hadn’t seen that since last summer’s drama camp and this was a more substantial part than they’ve had in several years. I was also glad they had a scene with Grace, who was playing Catherine, because I think they have good chemistry on stage, maybe because they’ve been acting together at least once a year since they were three years old and in a preschool drama class.

Anyway, here are two of North’s big numbers, “Corner of the Sky” and “Extraordinary,” with Grace and North’s scene in leading into the second song. Elia, who played Leading Player (the one in the top hat), is also a drama camp old-timer. If you can make out an adult voice in “Corner of the Sky,” that’s Gretchen standing behind the audience and singing. I liked the effect of voices coming from more than one direction. Also, the girl in the sparkly silver outfit with braids reminded me a lot of North when they were younger. (In the opening, not included, she did cartwheels across the stage.)

Pre-covid, there was often a cast party at our local pizzeria, but we hadn’t heard anything about it until the middle of the rehearsal when North texted me about whether I wanted to go and I said yes and then almost immediately afterward, North texted back to say it wasn’t happening, so I packed a picnic, which is what Gretchen had suggested in an email to all the parents and what has happened the past couple years, but it turned out I was the only one to bring food. Most of the actors just left when it was over, but I asked North if they wanted to eat, since I had food and they said yes, so Beth and Noah went home, and North and I stayed and ate yogurt and leftover quesadilla, and shared our cucumbers, strawberries, and grapes with Elia, Zoë, A.J., and Liliana, Zoë’s girlfriend who’d turned up to meet Zoë after the show was over. When people were done eating, I left the teens to hang out in the park for a couple hours, and headed home.

On my way out of the park, I chatted with Gretchen, who was picking up props and costumes and she said she thought this would be the last year for the older kids and she’d just do her younger kids’ camp next year. She has said this the past three years running but I think this year I believe it because so many of the kids who did this camp year after year didn’t this summer and the fact that there wasn’t a cast party or a group picnic afterward made it seem like a certain amount of esprit de corp has gone out of it. So it was all a little bittersweet, but I think overall North enjoyed it and I’m glad they did it one last time.

Second Weekend of Summer Break

Saturday we went to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for the first time in several years. It had been cancelled the past two years and we’d missed it the year before, so it had been at least four years since we’ve gone. I always have the same three goals for this experience: I like to listen to music, preferably from another culture; I like to eat interesting food; and I like to get a picture that includes the kids in front of the Washington Monument. We fulfilled all three goals.

The themes this year were the culture of the United Arab Emirates and “Earth Optimism.” We stopped at the first music stage we encountered and listened to NOON, a three-piece band from Dubai, consisting of musicians playing the oud (which looks like a mandolin), electric bass, and drums, with “echoes of funk, African and Indian rhythms, and the improvisatory impulses of jazz.” I liked it.

After that we wandered through some of the exhibits, we saw baskets and fishing nets from the UAE and a hooded falcon, and learned about bird-friendly coffee in the Earth Optimism area. (It’s grown in a way that doesn’t impact bird habitat.) I have to say nothing in the Earth Optimism area actually made me feel that optimistic, but that’s a high bar, with the climate crisis being what it is.

Next we got our Washington Monument pictures, and food. The kids got pizza and fries and we all shared a mushroom and cheese sandwich, eggplant in tomato sauce, a salad, and some basil limeade. It was all very good.

While North rested, Beth, Noah, and I went to browse the Marketplace where Beth bought some Middle Eastern and eco-friendly chocolate bars, and I got a little something for my Mom’s birthday. (Hint to Mom: it was from the Earth Optimism area.) After that, we got dessert, rosewater soft serve for North and gelato for everyone else. Beth and I split an Arabian coffee gelato. It was a fun afternoon.

Sunday Beth and I went to the Farmers’ market, where in addition to our normal shopping we picked up some more plants for my herb garden (cilantro, dill, parsley, and rosemary), and we went to the rain-delayed Takoma Pride festival. It was a small affair, just a few tables, but one of them was for the Rainbow Club at two local elementary schools (one of which is a K-2 school) and I wondered—are kids in that club already out or supporting parents and siblings? Both, I guess. You can definitely say gay in Montgomery County public schools.

Then we saw a children’s pride parade and it was very cute and cheering, and I could use a little cheering because with the fall of Roe v. Wade and the really horrifying reasoning of the opinion, it’s hard not to worry about the future of gay marriage in the United States. I don’t think Maryland will go back, but it does seem possible gay marriages could at least potentially be dissolved on the federal level and then we’d be considered married for some purposes and not for others, just like we were for half of 2013, until DOMA was overruled. And while we’ve had a lot of finales in the past couple weeks, such as the end of a challenging school year and a beloved summer camp, I hope the end of marriage equality is not on the horizon.

If a Tree Falls: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 73

If we’re Facebook friends, you’ve already seen pictures of the large section of the stately silver maple tree in our back yard that fell on our house a week ago Sunday, and read updates about the leak in the kitchen ceiling and initial encounters with roofers. But I’m going to start at the beginning. I hear it’s a very good place to start.

Before the Tree Fell On the House

It was a thunderstorm with high winds that felled about a quarter of the tree. Like most summer (and late spring) thunderstorms, it was preceded by a stretch of hot, muggy weather. It started Friday morning and lasted until late Sunday afternoon.

On Saturday the kids and I cleaned the porch, which is an annual chore involving bathing suits, a hose, and buckets of water. We do it this time of year because the pollen that’s usually thick on every surface has basically finished falling by this point. We lugged all the furniture, recycling bins, ladders, etc. off the porch, cleaned the floor and the tops of the walls, then scrubbed all the stuff on the lawn and hauled it back up. Noah provided music, including a rather startling remake of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” with a techno beat.

It wouldn’t be a porch clean if Noah didn’t spray North with the hose or pour a bucket of water over their head (with their consent, of course) so that happened, too. We don’t always put soap in the buckets of water but we did this year and now that the porch floor is painted pale green rather than a sort of cross between gray and olive green, this makes a big difference. I was impressed with how much cleaner it looked when we were done.

When the Tree Fell on the House

The next afternoon we were all doing our own thing. Noah had a temp job operating a boom for Mike, a local filmmaker who sometimes has work for him. Mike was filming a documentary and they were in a church recording someone giving a speech about climate change. Noah was filling in for a member of the crew who had covid. North was taking a nap. Beth was working on a financial aid form for Noah’s senior year. I was out on the newly clean porch reading The Picture of Dorian Gray and watching a thunderstorm roll in. It got dark, rain started to fall, unusually high winds kicked up, and then there was an extremely loud crash from somewhere behind the house. I had no idea what it was, but I went inside and Beth told me before I could see. I got an umbrella and went out to the back yard to investigate.

Because the tree was covering the roof, it was hard to see exactly where the damage was, but soon water was pouring in through the kitchen light fixture, and dripping down the wall and onto the stove, so over the kitchen was a safe guess. Fortunately, no other rooms in the house were affected. Beth sprang into action searching online for emergency roofers and making inquiries on the neighborhood listserv and I texted a friend whose house sustained roof damage during a hurricane many years ago to get recommendations from her. We couldn’t get anyone to come until the following morning so we put a bucket and a big metal mixing bowl surrounded by towels on the floor and pots on the stove. Beth and I worked around these receptacles as she made dinner and I did the dishes, the latter activity by the light of a camping lantern because the dome of the light fixture had filled with water and come crashing down to the floor, where it broke, and even though was still functioning, it was wet and it seemed unwise to use it.

It rained on and off through the evening and little overnight but the bucket and bowl did not overflow and Monday was sunny and mild. A crew from our usual tree service came in the morning to cut up and haul away the tree. At that point we could see that most of the damage to the roof was in the overhang, but there was a small hole visible, unsurprisingly, over the kitchen. A roofer came in the afternoon and applied a small tarp. Before he left, he explained his superior tarp-applying technique and told me there was no chance any water could get in before we had repairs made. So you know where this is going, right?

Tuesday was unseasonably chilly (like sweatshirt weather) and rainy. And sure enough, while it wasn’t cascading out of the ceiling any more, there was water slowly dripping out of the light fixture and down the wall over the stove again. The roofer came back, applied two more little tarps and this time did not make any guarantees. We were kind of appalled that even though he’d told us it would be the same price for a tarp no matter what the size, that he charged us triple that quoted price because there were three, when a big one could have covered the same area. Needless to say, we’ve decided to use a different roofer for the main repairs.

It didn’t rain again until Friday, but the new tarps kept it out. We couldn’t do anything else until the insurance adjusters came to assess the damage and that wouldn’t happen until Memorial Day, so there was an almost week-long lull in roof-related activity.     

After the Tree Fell on the House

On Thursday Noah took a bus to Silver Spring, had lunch at Panera, and saw a movie (Men). When he got back he said it was the first time he’d ever been to a movie theater by himself and I asked what it was like and he said pretty much the same but with no one else to pay. He’s been home two and a half weeks now and we’ve read a book (The Desolations of Devil’s Acre) and started another (The Magicians) and watched a season of a television series (The Wheel of Time) and started season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and he and Beth are watching that new Star Wars show and he’s watched a couple episodes of Dr. Who with North and he’s reading Game of Thrones and watching I don’t know what on his own. He has not been looking for a summer job, other than letting Mike know he’s available, because he still doesn’t know if he’s leaving for Australia in July or September, which he thinks would be relevant to potential employers and I guess he does have a point.

The reason he doesn’t know is he’s still waiting to hear if he’s been accepted to one of the two programs to which he applied. Inconveniently, it’s the one with the earlier start time (in Melbourne). In fact, he thinks if he doesn’t hear soon there won’t be time to apply for a student visa (you need an acceptance letter to do it) so he’s leaning toward the program to which he has been accepted (in Queensland).

North is looking for a job. They had an interview at local bakery and didn’t get the job but they’ve also applied to Giant, Panera, and Starbucks. Plus, they’re taking an two-week online drivers’ ed class that meets in the evenings so they’re busier than usual. Beth took them out to practice for the first time Sunday in a parking lot at the University of Maryland and it went well.

Saturday we went strawberry picking. When we set out, I didn’t realize how happy it would make me to be all together in the car, listening to Lady Gaga, going somewhere farther away than North’s school (which was the site of our last all-family outing when we saw the spring musical during Noah’s spring break). We didn’t even leave the county, but still, it felt like a tiny adventure.

North made sure to wear their strawberry crocs for this expedition and apparently a lot of people had the same idea. As soon as we arrived we saw a baby in a strawberry sleeper, and at least a half dozen little girls in strawberry t-shirts and dresses. (I had not realized strawberries on children’s clothing were so gendered.) North was so taken with the sleeper they resolved on the spot if they ever have children and they take them strawberry picking, they will buy them some strawberry-themed clothes for the occasion.

We’ve been to Butler’s to pick berries a couple times during the pandemic, but this was the first time they were running the wagons instead of having people drive out to the fields. We deliberated about masks. The wagons are open-sided and we generally don’t mask outside, but the benches can get crowded. Three out of four family opted to mask on the wagons and we were in the minority of riders, but not alone. North wore theirs in the field, too, but I think they may have just forgotten to take it off. (They’re so used to wearing one at school they sometimes leave it on for a while after they get off the bus.) We picked four quarts relatively quickly and stopped there because we didn’t want to pick more than we could eat before they spoiled.

Attracted by the smell of frying doughnuts, we visited the snack bar, where we got strawberry-frosted doughnuts, a cream-filled strawberry roll, a strawberry slushie and iced tea. (I had half the strawberry roll and it took my blood sugar right up to the limit of where I was willing to go.) We skipped the giant slide and the farm animals and headed for the farm market where we got produce, two tomato plants, local cheese, Amish pasta, and more treats. Then we drove home, listening to Taylor Swift. It was a highly satisfactory outing.

Two days later, Memorial Day, was a busy day. North went out for lunch to a diner in Silver Spring with three friends, Beth and Noah installed one of our two AC window units, Beth put tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants in the ground, and I made our Memorial Day picnic, with some KP help from Noah. The traditional menu for this meal is carb-heavy—including potato salad, corn, watermelon, baked beans, and strawberry shortcake. I decided I’d just have smaller servings of everything and see how it went. We eat this same picnic three times a summer (also at the Fourth of July and Labor Day) so it was worth the experiment. I added a hard-boiled egg to the potato salad and made devilled eggs, and had two hot dogs with melted cheese, in hopes the protein and fat would balance out the carbs. It seemed to work, surprisingly well, actually.

I can usually make reliably good shortcake, but this year I used a new recipe and didn’t read it carefully enough and I failed to chill the dough and they came out more like cookies than biscuits. I was disappointed about this because if I was going to eat dessert after an already risky meal, I wanted it to be just right. But then as I was cooking other things “MacArthur Park” came on in my music and singing along loudly was more therapeutic than you’d think, even though the problem was not that someone left the shortcake out in the rain and no sweet green icing was running down. And no one refused to eat the cookie-like shortcake topped with strawberries, blueberries, and whipped cream, so I guess it wasn’t a disaster.

The other thing that happened that day was that the insurance adjusters came to inspect the damage to our roof. Xander quickly made friends with one of them, twining around her legs and gazing up at her. Either he really took a shine to her (he really has never met a person he didn’t like) or it was because while the four people were talking in the kitchen she was standing closest to the refrigerator where his cat treats are kept.

It will be a couple weeks before we hear back about how much money we’ll get and as the current tarps seem to be doing their job, we’re not in a hurry, so we’ll wait to see what they say before we hire roofers and painters. This will probably be a long process, because that’s what happens if a tree falls.

When Children Die

I wish I could end the post here, but it seems wrong to chatter on for over two thousand words about housekeeping, and home repairs, and a day trip, all of which happened during the week of our worst school shooting in almost a decade and not say something about it. But what is there to say that hasn’t already been said?

When the shooting in Newtown happened, North was in first grade, just like the victims. When the shooting in Parkland happened, Noah was in high school, just like the victims. And now my niece is elementary school, just a year younger than the fourth graders in Uvalde who lost their young, precious lives so senselessly. I can’t fathom the grief of their families and it makes me heartsick how little progress on sensible gun reform we seem to have made as a nation in past nine and half years.

But that’s not the same as giving up. I wrote a check to the Brady Center and we will probably be marching in the gun control march in DC the second weekend in June. Because that’s what happens when there’s a mass shooting big enough to startle us out of our complacency. But of course, these shootings are happening all the time, (fifteen shootings with at least four dead since Uvalde, in case the article is behind a paywall for you). I know a check and a day spent marching isn’t enough, but it’s what I’ve got.

After Dark: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 65

We’ve had two weeknight excursions recently, which is unusual for us these days. We used to have more school events (concerts, plays, meetings), but between being down to one kid and covid, these are now either online or rare occurrences. But this month, we patronized the arts, taking in an outdoor art exhibit and a concert.

Outing #1: Winter Lanterns

On the first day of February, the Lunar New Year, we went to the Kennedy Center to see the Winter Lanterns display. It’s the second time we’ve done it. The last time was two years ago, shortly before covid struck. I think it was cancelled the next year. We considered going the weekend before or after when there would have been food trucks, but it was supposed to be warmer during the week and the idea of going on the actual date of the new year appealed, so that’s what we did. I made a tofu, fennel, and shiitake soup and a cabbage-Asian pear slaw from a Korean vegan cookbook North got for Christmas, so we were not without culturally relevant sustenance before we left. It was a more involved dinner than I usually make so I had to knock off work a little early to prepare it.

I wasn’t sure if it would be the same lanterns as the first time we went or new ones. The answer was a mix. We wandered around the terraces outside the Kennedy Center looking at the colorful flowers, butterflies, pandas, sea creatures, and birds lighting up the night. I especially liked the owls, flamingoes, jellyfish, and turtles. One of the rectangular pools was frozen solid, which surprised me because it had been up in the forties that day—North poked it with their cane to verify. It was all very beautiful. It’s a shame Noah’s always at school when it happens. I think he’d like it and he’s the best photographer in the family.

Between Outings

Two nights later, still on the new year theme, North made a spicy tofu stew and udon with black bean sauce from the same cookbook. Afterward we watched an online information session about the culinary arts program at another high school in our school district. (This is one of those meetings that would have probably been in person in the Before Times.) North applied and got in through a lottery and was trying to decide whether to attend during their junior year. It’s a one-year, half-day program. If they went, they’d have their academic classes at their current school in the morning, take a bus to the other school, and attend the culinary arts program in the afternoon. During the last quarter of the school year the kids run a restaurant other students, faculty, and staff patronize. North was initially torn, but is leaning against attending, as they’re feeling they don’t want their days split between two schools.

The weekend was pretty quiet. Zoë came over on Friday after school and we had homemade pizza and watched Vita and Virginia. It occurred to me as we watched it that I’ve passed from being willing to awkwardly power through sex scenes in television and movies with my older child, to doing it with my younger child, to doing it with a friend of my younger child. In case that’s a milestone, I will note here it happened when my youngest was not quite sixteen.

Beth went ice skating on Saturday and I went for a longer than usual walk and saw snowdrops in a yard a block or two from the Co-op. I was glad to see them, because I always welcome little heralds of spring in February. We have a little cluster of purple crocuses in our side yard, which we didn’t plant, probably relocated by a squirrel. The dozens of daffodils in our front yard have poked their heads up out of the ground as well, though for their own sake, I hope they stay shut for several more weeks.

Outing #2: Billie Eilish Concert

We went to see Billie Eilish on Wednesday night. We bought tickets for this concert, which was supposed to take place in March 2020, for North’s fourteenth birthday. When the concert was originally postponed, North was so sad they organized an at-home concert, complete with glowsticks, concessions, and homemade concert t-shirts to cheer themselves up. Beth was able to find her shirt and she wore it to the real concert.

Even now, almost twenty-three months later, I had some trepidation about going to a big, inside event with omicron still circulating, but it’s on the downswing where we live and proof of vaccination and masking were required. Plus it was now or never. Sadly, North’s not even as much of an Eilish fan as they used to be, though they do still like her. They’re more excited about the Girl in Red concert they’re going to with Zoë and some other friends next month.

We had an early dinner and then drove to the Metro stop and took the train into the city. We all have the Clear app on our phones, downloaded for this event, because it was the first time since we were vaccinated last spring that we had to provide in-person proof of vaccination. We showed it to the guards at the door and we were admitted. It was all pretty efficient. We walked by concession and merch stands with long lines. North didn’t ask for a $45 t-shirt or anything to eat, so we didn’t buy anything. I wondered if we would have gotten some souvenirs two years ago. I noticed every restroom I saw in the arena had been converted to a women’s room, with laminated signs covering up the regular ones and plastic sheeting covering the urinals. I guess there must have been a men’s room somewhere but I didn’t see one and there probably wasn’t need of many, as the crowd was overwhelmingly female, also young—most concert-goers were in their teens and twenties, with a sprinkling of preteens and a fair number of middle-aged parents, mostly moms, accompanying kids.

It was re-assuring how universal masking was. You had to be masked to get in, but it would have been easy to remove your mask once seated and no one I saw was doing that, except briefly to eat. I think in the whole evening, I only saw one person wearing a mask below the nose in that great mass of humanity.

My other worry about the concert, other than being in a crowd of twenty thousand people, was being out late on a school night. Beth and I are early-to-bed people. We’re usually in bed by ten, ten-thirty at the latest and we weren’t sure how late we’d be out, so I was happy when the lights went down for the opening act, Australian rapper Tkay Maidza, relatively promptly at 7:35. I was surprised to recognize one of her songs, a cover of the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” late in her set, and I had to tell first Beth, then North, “I know this song!” Neither of them was particularly impressed with my familiarity with late eighties popular music, but you’ve got to go with what you have.

After the opening act, there was almost an hour to wait before Eilish came on. I was impatient and kept checking my watch and re-calculating when we might get to bed, but finally a trapdoor opened on the stage and she came bouncing out. I think a trampoline must have been involved. She was wearing an oversized black t-shirt, bike shorts, kneepads, and sneakers and she had her hair dyed black and she wore it in pigtails. In keeping with her entrance, her energy was high throughout the show.

She opened with “Bury a Friend” and I was immediately surprised by how loud the song was. I mean, I knew she was playing in a hockey stadium and not an intimate little coffeehouse, but her recorded music has a quiet if intense vibe, and I was expecting it to be something like that, amplified enough for everyone to hear, of course, but not much more than that. But instead of quiet and intense, it was loud and intense. There were a lot lights crisscrossing the stadium and smoke and visuals on the screens behind her. Once it was cars seeming to speed toward her as a traffic lane lines appeared on the stage. Sometimes a shark swam behind her or a giant spider appeared. Toward the end there was a montage of home movies from her childhood and there was another of images related to climate change. So there was a lot to take in. At one point she got into a cherry picker and it swung her around, close to different parts of the crowd. She also orchestrated a wave of cell phone lights in the crowd by pointing to different parts of the stadium. North and I participated in that. It reminded me of the glowsticks at our makeshift concert two years ago.

I did not know as many of the songs as I expected. Even though North played Billie Eilish in the car for all the time for years, maybe from the age of twelve to fourteen, they haven’t done that recently for two reasons. First, they are listening more to other artists. Second, they don’t play music in the car for everyone to hear much anymore, preferring to use their headphones. And as it turns out, Eilish has written some new material in the two years I haven’t been paying much attention.

If you want to read more about the concert, here’s a review. One thing that struck me was how cheerful her stage presence and banter was, in contrast to a lot of her lyrics, which tend toward the gloomy. Beth said she was probably happy to be performing again. And the name of her newest album is Happier Than Ever (even though in the cover photo she’s crying).

In the end we got home and into bed by 11:40, which was better than I feared. It was a fun outing, but I couldn’t help thinking it wasn’t the same experience it would have been two years ago, when North was over the moon about going.

There are so many things we can’t get back, most of North’s ninth grade year and all of Noah’s sophomore year of college for starters. But I never lose sight of how lucky we were and are. We didn’t get sick or lose any loved ones and there was a sweet coziness to the time we all spent in our bubble of four that I can imagine being nostalgic for some time in the future. Right now, I’m grateful the kids are back to considerably more normal school and social lives. North is back in the theater, working as costumes manager for the spring musical and looking forward to having people inside the house for their birthday next month, after two years of outdoor birthday parties. Meanwhile, Noah is pulling together a crew and actors for a movie he’s making for his advanced cinema production class and his junior project is to make an app that lets you mark what you think is a good take as you’re filming so you can find them more easily as you edit. They’re both back to doing what they love. What parent wouldn’t want that?

After the Outings: Weekend and Valentine’s Day

We had another quiet weekend. We watched the Olympics on Friday night. We’ve been watching more than usual, which is nice because I always enjoy it when I think to watch it. I like the figure skating best, but we’ve watched some speed skating, ski jumping, snowboarding, and skeleton, too.

On Saturday night, we watched the first two-thirds or so of Hair, which I haven’t seen since I was twelve and I nominated for family movie night out of curiosity to see how it would hold up. First, I can see why my mom was so mad at my dad for taking an twelve and eight year old to see this film, with all its celebration of drug use and the sexually explicit lyrics, and I can see why it would have seemed like a lot of fun to a kid to imagine be a hippie dancing and singing in Central Park, which is how I responded at the time. The sexual politics leave something to be desired— especially the way Berger appeals to Sheila by storming past all her boundaries. And the attempts to be transgressive and liberated about interracial love are just cringy now. “Black Boys/White Boys” made North exclaim, “What is this song?” more than once. And I don’t even know what’s going on with the officers of draft board all seeming to be gay. I think that must have gone over my head the first time I saw it. But despite all this, I have to admit I am still fond of this movie. I guess I imprinted on it.

On Sunday North made a Black Forest cake as a Valentine’s Day treat. It was very complicated, involving layers of chocolate mousse, cherries, and whipped cream inside the cake and more mousse and cherries on top and shaved chocolate on the top and sides. We decided to eat the cake and exchange presents when North got home from school on Monday instead of after dinner because it helps me spread out my blood sugar rises not to have dessert right after a meal. Also, we weren’t sure if North would be up at dinner, because in the past few months they’ve taken to napping in the late afternoons and early evenings and then staying up late, so it’s hit or miss whether they eat with us.

That day at lunch North cut their apple slices and vegetarian Canadian bacon into heart shapes to get in the mood and then put together a pink and purple outfit for the next day. When they couldn’t find any pink socks I almost gave them one of their Valentine’s Day presents early, but they found some. After they’d gone to bed (earlier than us that night), Beth attached a heart-shaped balloon she got at the grocery store to North’s chair at the dining room table to greet them in the morning.

When North got home from play practice, Beth and I took a break from work to eat the cake and to open presents. Everyone got a little candy; I got a big bag of loose fruit-and-hibiscus tea; Beth got marshmallow-scented lotion, and a biography of Walt Whitman (an item from her Christmas list she never got); and North got two pairs of socks (one pink with strawberries and one with rainbow stripes on a black background). I told North I was going for a Rainbow Goth look. (Lest anyone worry Noah was left out, we mailed a box of fundraiser candy from North’s school and a card to him.)

Does it go without saying that the cake was delicious? Well, just in case it doesn’t I will say it—it was excellent. I decided before we ate that it was a special occasion and I was willing to go up near the top of my target blood sugar range, which is more or less what happened. (I had to delay dinner while I waited for it to come down.) Dinner was tomato-lentil stew with feta and fresh mint and parsley from my indoor herb garden. I also made little heart-shaped toasts. We ate this festive meal in shifts, as North was asleep and I couldn’t eat yet when it was ready.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you had some sweetness in the day and after dark, too