First Week: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 62

First Day: New Year’s Day

Last weekend Beth and I went on a First Day hike at Patuxent River State Park. These are organized by various state and municipal parks to encourage people to get out into nature on the first day of the year. We go on one most years, usually just me and Beth, as the kids are often tired from seeing in the new year, which Beth and I never do, even when we have a party to attend, which we did not this year for the obvious reasons. We generally either stay home or come home early, leave the kids with many bowls of salty snacks, and go to bed well before midnight, which is what we did this year. I think of it as sibling bonding time.

We chose a hike on a newly made trail that goes past Howard Chapel Cemetery, a small historic African-American cemetery where descendants of Enoch Howard—who bought himself and his family out of slavery and then bought the land of his enslavers—are buried. Despite the wet conditions, fifteen or twenty people (and three dogs, one charmingly named Ruthie for Ruth Bader Ginsburg) had showed up. Because the trail was so new and it had been raining earlier in the day, it was very muddy in places. One hiker slipped and twisted her ankle so one of the two rangers stayed with her until a park employee could come get her back to the trailhead.

The rest of us kept going, led by a very cheerful guide along the wooded path, up the ridge, to the cemetery and then back down. It took two hours and I didn’t slip and fall in the mud until pretty near the end. (I sustained no injury. The mud was quite soft.)

Back at home, I put together a cheese plate, which is another New Year’s tradition of ours, and we ate a lot of cheese. Later that day, I made Hoppin’ John for dinner, because it’s good luck and we are not taking any chances as we approach Year Three of the pandemic.

First Week: Monday to Friday

The first week back after break was an abbreviated one for North. We got seven inches of snow in the wee hours of Monday morning and that was enough for two snow days and a two-hour delay on Wednesday, when they finally went back to school. Thursday there was a full day of school and then it snowed again (three more inches) and they had Friday off, too.

If you’ve read this blog for a couple years or more you know I’m no fan of snow days, but more than a year of remote school has put things in perspective at least a little. Plus, I’m not sure in-person school should even be happening right now, with omicron what it is. I was a little grumpy about the snow days (because I just can’t help it) but I made the best of it. Given that the weather was unusually cold all week, I declared it Soup Week, and we had soup for dinner four nights last week (hot dog and bean, cheddar-broccoli, chili, and curried noodle soup). That was as much festive spirit as I could muster. And the snow did get both kids outside. North took a long walk with Zoë on Monday and Noah went out and took pictures of our yard (some featured here).

The not quite two days of school North did have were disrupted for other reasons as well. There are district-wide school bus driver shortages and their route was cancelled. Beth had to drive them to and from school Wednesday and Thursday, which is more of a hardship than it would be if their school wasn’t a half hour drive away. Two of their teachers (English and Psychology) are out with covid and they say attendance is as low as 50% in most of their classes. I don’t know if kids are out sick or their parents are keeping them home out of caution. I do know people who are doing that, so it was probably both.

The school district was using a metric that if 5% of students, faculty, and staff in any given school tested positive for covid, the school would go remote. Then between Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, it went from just a handful of schools at 5% or higher to 60% of the schools in our enormous school district (including North’s school) reaching that level. And then they gave up on that metric. In-school classes are continuing, but who knows for how long? If the district, albeit under pressure from the governor, changed its minds on a dime once, it could happen again. And the schools are stretched incredibly thin. Teachers have to use their free periods to cover for absent colleagues and sometime there’s just no teacher in the room and the kids just get a message about what work to complete in class. This has been the case in North’s psychology class. In Noah’s old high school (which is huge and has four thousand students) they are down to two janitors.

On Wednesday, before the 5% rule was abandoned, I started a pool on Facebook asking when people thought the school district as a whole would shut down under the weight of all these burdens. Everyone guessed it would be last week or early next week. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. There is going to be distribution of home test kits and KN95 masks to all students on Monday. I’m not even sure what I want to happen. To say remote school was not a good fit for North would be putting it mildly. None of us want to go back to that. But it would be worth it if a short closure, say two weeks or even a month, prevented a longer one later. But is that what would happen if the schools close their doors? I keep remembering how the two-week closure in March 2020 ended up stretching to April 2021. Honestly, I’m glad it’s not up to me.

Meanwhile, Ithaca announced on Friday that the first week of the spring semester will be virtual. It does not affect when Noah goes back because he has training for his IT job the week before classes start and those dates have not changed. Beth’s driving him up to school on the Sunday of MLK weekend and returning on Tuesday, his move-in day. Students (with limited exemptions) are required to be vaccinated and boosted, to test three days before their move-in days, and again on the move-in day, so I feel like the college has a clear, serious plan.  Of course, it’s a private college and it has more freedom to take effective health measures than a public school system that has to be open to everyone, vaccinated or not, and which is subject to pressure from the state government.

Before Noah was assigned his move-in date (just a few days ago) we were hoping we could all go up to Ithaca for MLK weekend and drop him off a day earlier. I do enjoy a road trip and seeing him in his adopted hometown. Plus, Ithaca is a fun place, with a lot of natural beauty and good restaurants (not that we would have patronized them in person). But North has school the day he moves into his apartment, so North and I will be staying behind. I am sad about this.

I’ve been kind of blue and discombobulated all week, truth be told. Partly it’s the disruption of our schedule, partly it’s not knowing what’s coming next, plus I’m still having trouble with glucose monitor reliability, which is really vexing me, and there’s more I don’t care to go into, but I’m hoping 2022 is an improvement over its first week. North got their booster shot today, so that’s a start.

Twenty Halloweens: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 55

You’ve probably guessed I’m here to tell you about Halloween and I am, but first a few non-Halloween-related items. 

Assorted October News

Noah’s fall break was a little two weeks ago. It was just a four-day weekend, too short to justify his spending two of those four days in transit to come home and go back to school, so he stayed put. Two years ago we all met up in Hershey, which is in between Takoma Park and Ithaca and we went to Hershey Park in the Dark, which was a lot of fun, but that wasn’t feasible this year because Beth’s union’s online convention was the week after his break and Beth was absolutely swamped with work. But a candy-themed amusement park would be a diabetic challenge, I suppose, so maybe it was for the best.

The week after his break I finally stripped off the sheets that had been on Noah’s bed since he left in August and washed them. I thought replacing them with flannel sheets for when he comes home at Thanksgiving would cheer me up, but in mid-October Thanksgiving was still seeming pretty far off, so it didn’t. Now that it’s November, it’s seeming less impossibly far away.

Around the same time, the skin infection on Xander’s stomach came back, though this time it was not as extensive as it was in the summer. He has a bald spot there that was bright red a couple weeks ago. We’ve been treating it twice a day with leftover medicated wipes and it’s gotten much better, a very pale pink that might be his natural skin color. It’s hard to say as under ideal circumstances, you don’t see a cat’s skin.

In more serious medical news, my mom had a bad fall almost two weeks ago. She was hiking in Olympic peninsula with her gentleman friend Jon, and while climbing up a staircase to see a waterfall, she slipped off it, and tumbled fifty feet down a hill until she ran into a tree, which broke her fall. It also broke her neck. She fractured five vertebrae. She had to be airlifted to Seattle, where she’s been in the hospital ever since. Apparently when the EMTs told Mom they were going to put her in a basket to get her into the helicopter she said, “Does this mean I’m a basket case?”

She had surgery the next day to fuse three of the vertebrae and she’s in a neck collar. Jon stayed as long as he could, but he has health issues of his own and he had some medical appointments he couldn’t miss, so he had to travel back to Oregon alone. My sister flew out to Seattle to take his place and when Mom is discharged, which is supposed to happen tomorrow, she’ll drive her back to Ashland. Jon’s going to move in to Mom’s house for a while, and her friends have organized a meal train, and she’s found a home health care worker, so the pieces seem to be falling into place for her recovery, which is supposed to last two or three months. It’s times like this I wish we all lived closer to each other.

Halloween #20

Back in Maryland, on the second to last Saturday in October, we went to the farm stand in Northern Virginia where we always get our pumpkins. We’ve been going there since some time in the 1990s because it’s run by the family of a friend of ours from college. There was bad traffic on the way there so the drive was over an hour and we arrived three minutes before the stand closed at four o’clock. But the woman staffing it seemed laid back and didn’t hurry us. In fact, she took another customer who arrived after we did. We didn’t linger, though, as we picked out pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns, a pie pumpkin for soup, decorative gourds, cider, salsa, and some produce.

We usually have Chinese food after this outing, but it was early for dinner, so we had a walk in Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, where there were quite a few different groups having professional photos done, families, and a group of teenagers. Beth thought the teen group might have been having  homecoming pictures taken, but is that even a thing, homecoming photos? It’s not like a wedding, or even prom. Anyway, some of the girls were in heels so high and dresses so short walking over a short bridge was a serious challenge. It was kind of nerve-wracking to watch. I was afraid one of them would fall.

Eventually, we got takeout and ate it at another park. Eating Chinese when you can’t eat soy may be an even more serious challenge than walking outside in stiletto heels. (I couldn’t say for sure, as I’ve never tried the heels.) I had to skip all the fun fake meat I like at this particular restaurant—the shrimp is really good—and I decided for this evening only I’d have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy for soy sauce. Based on taste, I think the spring rolls and seaweed-mushroom soup didn’t have it anyway, but the sauce on my eggplant dish probably did.

On the way home, we stopped for frozen yogurt. North wanted dessert and I suggested Sweet Frog since it’s serve yourself, and I could choose the original tart flavor and get a small portion. I did try some sugary toppings, mostly brownie bits and crushed Oreos, and I added whipped cream. It didn’t feel too austere and my blood sugar didn’t go out of range, so I think it was a successful dessert experience.

The next night we carved our pumpkins. Beth did the gargoyle, I did the spider, and North did the face with the knife. I had some tricky moments with mine, but I think they all came out well and North’s was particularly impressive. After carving, we watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It felt odd to do these things without Noah, as we watched the show with him every year before college, and in Hershey two years ago, and a year ago he was home to watch it and carve a pumpkin. Of course, I’m glad and grateful he’s at school and having an almost normal semester, but it’s still hard to have him gone sometimes.

Three days before Halloween, I led my book club’s discussion on The Haunting of Hill House. I used to teach this book in class on genre fiction, so you think it would be pretty easy to pull together a presentation. But I haven’t taught it since 2004 and while I did find my teaching notes, they were pretty cryptic, as I wrote them a few days before teaching, not expecting to need to make sense of them seventeen years later. So I was very stressed for a while because I love this book and I wanted to do a good job and I was worried I’d forgotten everything I used to know or think about it. But I re-read a Shirley Jackson biography and I had extensive underlining in the novel and my teaching notes did remind me there’s some criticism of Hill House in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, which I had on hand, so I was able to cobble together an outline of what I wanted to discuss. 

And… it wasn’t a disaster. It actually went really well. Book club only recently started meeting in person again this month and attendance has been sparse. Five people came, which is about how many came for the last session (on Vanity Fair) but people were engaged and I had just about the right amount of material and I came home so buzzed I couldn’t get to sleep for a long time. In fact, though earlier in the day I’d been thinking I will never volunteer to do this again, on the drive home I was wondering how it would be to do Frankenstein or Dracula.

North went to school in costume on Friday. They went as a drowned person this year, with pale green face paint, and seaweed and skeleton hands on their shirt (which are supposed to be pulling them down). The GSA had a party after school they called Homo Hoco, a sort of alternative homecoming, so North got to wear their costume to that, too.

They actually designed the costume with Takoma’s Halloween parade and costume contest in mind, but they found out just a few days ahead of time that Saturday afternoon’s parade conflicted with a mandatory play rehearsal, so they had to miss it. If you’ve been reading this blog a while you know how important this contest has been to both of my kids since they were little, so that was a blow.

I was sad for North but also myself because I love the parade contest and we’ve had kids in it eighteen of the twenty Halloweens we’ve lived in Takoma (the exceptions being the first year when it was cancelled because of the DC snipers and last year when it was cancelled by covid). Even when the parade was rained out, the contest always went on, inside an elementary school gym, and we were always there. Before my mom moved out West, she often came for a Halloween weekend visit and marched in the parade with us.

And then I realized we could go, even without North. I proposed it to Beth and she seemed a little surprised, but then she agreed. We walked down to the community center, which was the end point of the parade, so we could watch it go by and then stay for the judging. The parade was cancelled last year so it’s been a couple years and what struck me was how few people we know were there. Noah’s peers are off at college and North’s have either decided they’re too old for the parade or, like North, have extracurricular obligations. Even Keira, who’s a year older than North, a many-time contest winner, and the only teen I know to take the contest as seriously as my kids, wasn’t there.

I saw only two adults I knew– a member of my book club who was there with his elementary-age sons, and the mother of three boys, the older two of whom used to wait at elementary and middle school bus stops with my kids, who was there with her youngest (who marched in his soccer uniform). When she saw us, she said she’d been looking all over for North because she wanted to see their costume and she was sad to hear North wasn’t there.

There were a lot of nice costumes, as always. I especially liked the toddler in a homemade owl costume with many felt feathers, the tiny boy dressed as the Swedish chef from the Muppets, the boy dressed as a gumball machine, the girl who was a bookshelf, and the two wizards pulling a papier-mâché dragon on wheels.  The owl, Swedish chef, and the dragon won prizes in their age groups, but the gumball machine and the bookshelf didn’t. Beth also thought the woman who walked the parade route dressed as a scarecrow on stilts deserved a prize for her efforts. We paid careful attention to the scariest prize for teen and adult, because that would have been North’s competition. Beth correctly guessed it would go to the boy in the red-splattered t-shirt, gloves, and hockey mask.

As the winners were announced, Beth took their pictures and texted them to Noah so the two of them could judge the judging. This is also a family tradition. Beth and I have often thought that since we have such firmly held opinions about costumes, we should volunteer to be judges once our kids are finished participating in it. If we’d known North wasn’t going to be in it earlier, I would have volunteered this year. I have a vision of us being old women who’ve been judging the contest for decades, but Beth thinks they might not let us do it after the first year because of the intensity of our opinions.

As we left, Beth mentioned that Noah did not even ask why we were even watching the costume contest judging if North wasn’t in it. In our family, it’s not a question that needed to be asked.

On Halloween proper, North made baked apples and we ate them while we watched The Bad Seed, or North and I did—Beth got her fill of mildly scary movies when the three of us watched Nightbooks earlier in the weekend. While we were watching the movie, Beth was putting the finishing touches on the yard. Here’s a video she took once it got dark:

After the movie, North heated up and ate a frozen burrito for dinner, applied their makeup for just the right deathly pallor, put on their costume and left for Zoë’s neighborhood where a big group of friends and friends of friends were going trick-or-treating. The group included Zoë (who went as Mr. Clean), Norma (grim reaper), and North’s elementary school best friend Megan (witch).

[Aside: It makes me glad North is able to socialize more. I remember last fall them saying all they wanted was to go to a movie with Zoë and Norma, “and have them tell me why it was bad even though I liked it.” And two weekends ago, they did just that, meeting up in Silver Spring to see The Addams Family 2, and then Beth picked them up and brought home two pizzas from Little Caesar’s and they stayed for a couple hours. I don’t know if Zoë and Norma ragged on the movie or not, but the whole event left North almost radiantly happy.]

Staring just before six, when two boys dressed as praying mantises came up to our porch, Beth and I took turns sitting on the porch and handing out candy. We bought less candy than usual so not to have a lot of leftovers and—wouldn’t you know it?—we had more trick-or-treaters than usual. After a half hour or so, I started emptying the festive gift bags Beth had assembled into the bowl and telling kids to take just one piece each, as we were running low. Most of them listened so we didn’t run out and we finished the night a little after nine o’clock with one last duo of un-costumed preteens and just six pieces of candy left.

As always, we got many compliments on our decorations. Our around-the-corner neighbor said it was “the best house in the neighborhood” and one kid said, “I like your decorations… No, I love your decorations.” One parent commented, “I guess you guys are really into this holiday.”

Yes, we are. We’ve enjoyed our twenty Halloweens in this house and look forward to all the ones to come, whether we’re judging the contest or marching with our grandkids in the parade.

Sugar, Sugar: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 54

Here are some of the song titles I considered as a title for this largely diabetes-related post:

“Sugar, Sugar”
“Sugar Won’t Work”
“I Want Some Sugar in My Bowl”
“Pour Some Sugar on Me”
“Blood Sugar Sex Magik”

As you can see, I went with the simplest and broadest one because I have had a lot of different feelings about my diabetes over the past six weeks.

For a little over two weeks I’ve worn a continuous glucose monitor on my arm. Here’s how it works, when it works (more on when it doesn’t work later). I have an app on my phone and when I hold the phone up to the monitor it takes a reading, which I can view in various ways: a line graph of the last twenty-four hours (with the line running through, above, or below a green band that represents the desirable range), a color-coded log of all the readings, a graph of my average blood sugar at different times of the day in line or bar graph form, etc.  Beth is quite taken with the cool tech aspect of it.

When I first heard about the monitor, I was a little alarmed at the idea of living with this level of surveillance accountability. Several healthcare professionals–my primary care provider, a nurse, and eventually a diabetes coach I haven’t met yet–all have or will have access to the data. But despite my misgivings, it is educational to have real time feedback and it’s more convenient than the finger sticks I used to do when I had gestational diabetes in 2006. It quickly won me over, in theory.

However… in practice I am having a lot of trouble with the sensors. They expire after two weeks and have to be replaced. Of the first four I applied, only one worked. Two wouldn’t take a reading at all and one gave numbers that were clearly wrong. For instance, it told me my blood sugar had fallen into the 40s, which the nurse told me couldn’t be true because I would have felt quite ill (dizzy, with blurred vision, etc.) and I did not. Later it told me my blood sugar had jumped from 50 to 150 after eating a taco and some salad, which isn’t in line with how I’ve been responding to food, so I discarded that sensor. And whenever I do that, or one won’t start, we, and by we, I mean Beth, spends half an hour on the phone arguing with recalcitrant agents about why we need a new one. I am deeply grateful for this service, as it’s the kind of thing that would cause me to burst into tears and give up.

So after a few days without one, I have a new sensor I’ve been wearing since yesterday evening and it seemed a little off–the values are not completely out of the ballpark, but consistently lower than what I’d expect. So I dug out my old glucose monitor and got some new strips for it (the original ones expired in 2007) and I tested the sensor against the fingerstick method and at least the one time I tried it, my instinct was right. The fingerstick reading was 13 points higher than the sensor. It’s discouraging not to be able to trust the numbers because when it worked, it seemed to be a good tool for helping me stay in range.

And speaking of the range, I found out just the other day that I’d misunderstood the range my primary care provider had given me as a target and I actually have more leeway than I thought. This is good because even though I was staying in range, it was hard. I was very limited in the foods I could eat and I was often hungry (which is pretty much how I remember gestational diabetes).

Now there is going to be a lot of detail about what I can and can’t eat. If that seems unbearably boring, skip to the end of the post for updates on the kids and other non-food related items.

Still reading?

Breakfast is a challenge. When you have diabetes whatever you eat first hits you much harder than it would if you ate it later in the day, so it originally seemed foods I could eat in small quantities later in the day (almost any kind of grain or fruit) I couldn’t eat in the morning, which is too bad because a bowl of cereal with fruit is pretty much my standard weekday breakfast.

I kept experimenting with ways to eat cereal. Could I stay in range if I ate the grain-free cereal in which chickpeas impersonate oats? No. If I tried that cereal with unsweetened almond milk instead of cow’s milk? No. Is hot cereal better? Yes, but not enough. How about a half portion of oatmeal with walnuts in it and eggs and veggie sausage on the side. Bingo. A three-quarters portion of grits with cheese? You should have stopped while you were ahead.

However, when I went back and looked at my chart, I found only two breakfasts put me out of the new range, both of them cold cereal, though the full portion of oatmeal took me right up to the new limit. Smaller portions of hot cereal seem feasible, and in the meanwhile I’ve found a couple protein-rich breakfasts that work (Greek yogurt mixed with peanut butter or eggs with vegetarian sausage). Today I tried the yogurt and peanut butter with half a banana mashed into it and even if I mentally add ten to fifteen points to what the sensor told me, it went fine.

The nurse has encouraged experimentation, even if I go out of range, because everyone’s response to food is individual and if I stick to just a few safe foods I’ll never really know what I can eat. When I said never eating dessert again would not be sustainable for me, she latched onto that word and seemed really happy about it. I guess I stumbled on a buzzword. She suggested I try a small dessert, just to see what happens. So last week I went to Starbucks and bought a pumpkin scone. You know, the ones with frosting and five hundred calories? I love those. It’s my favorite fall pastry and I’d been bemoaning all the seasonal foods I can’t eat to Beth and she’d suggested I try getting a scone and cutting it into small pieces to eat over the course of several days. So I did and to my delight, I did not go out of range (and that was the old range). I had a piece every day for three days in a row. (I gave one to North.)

Besides cereal and dessert, what I really want to eat is pizza. It’s what we have for dinner every Friday. In fact, it’s a tradition that dates back to my family of origin, so a Friday night without pizza would seem very sad. Both times I tried it, eating only one slice with a salad, I thought I’d gone out of range, but as it turned out, I hadn’t.

I’m glad to be able to eat more fruit. I was already eating small portions in the afternoon paired with a protein (e.g. half an apple with peanut butter, half a peach in a salad with goat cheese, fourteen raisins in cream cheese on a celery stick, etc.) but because I wasn’t eating it at breakfast, my fruit consumption went down while my vegetable consumption stayed about the same, so overall I was eating less produce, which was disheartening and made me worry a little about my fiber intake.

At one point in our conversation, the nurse told me the goal was to fit diabetes into my life instead of fitting myself into diabetes. At this point, that’s aspirational. I’m spending a lot more time than I’d like thinking about food, but that’s probably to be expected in the beginning.

Uncomfortable in My Skin

And to complicate matters… four weeks after my diabetes diagnosis and just two days after I started wearing the monitor, I went to see an allergist. I’d been breaking out in hives all over my body since mid-July. I think I only mentioned it once, around the time it started, because I was able to keep it more or less under control with antihistamines. Back in August, my primary care provider suggested I keep a food and hives log and I did, but neither of us could find any pattern in it. Next she said to try two weeks of taking an antihistamine every day, not just when the hives appeared, to see if a break from them would cause my body to reset, but they came right back as soon as I stopped.

So the allergist was the next step. I got a skin test for dozens of allergies and basically my whole back broke out in welts. The allergist said it didn’t seem likely I am actually suddenly allergic to all the things I reacted to, a list which includes: soy, rye, oats, various nuts, a couple kinds of seafood, a couple kinds of seeds, dust mites, cats, cockroaches, rabbits, mice, and a bunch of different kinds of grasses and pollens. He suspected that some unknown thing was causing my body to be (possibly temporarily) highly reactive and it might not be a true allergy or sensitivity.

His plan was to repeat the antihistamine-every-day experiment, but for two months instead of two weeks, to see if a longer hive-free period was needed to banish them. But he also said while it would not be practical to stop eating all the foods on the list, I should avoid soy during this test period, because that was the food that provoked the strongest reaction. That’s right, soy, while I’m trying to eat a high-protein, vegetarian diet. So, that’s been fun. The good news is a lot of the higher end fake meat we don’t usually buy is soy-free, so now we have an excuse to buy it. I am hoping I will be cleared to eat soy again, but I have noticed I do have fewer breakthrough hives than when I was taking a daily antihistamine and still eating soy, so maybe not.

Non-Dietary Related News

Little by little, events that were cancelled last year are happening. First, the Takoma Park street festival was the first weekend of October. Since the folk festival (usually held in September) didn’t happen two years in a row, it was nice to get a little fix of live music at a stage tucked in a side street between all the booths of vendors. Better still, the performer we went to see was a girl who went to the kids’ preschool, one year ahead of North. Anna Grace and North also attended drama camp together for many years and they both acted at Highwood Theatre before it closed two years ago. She sang Hazel Dickens, Janis Joplin, and Jerry Garcia covers, along with some of her father’s music. Her dad is also a musician and they have been performing together for years. It was fun to see them making music together.

Next, my book club met in person last week for the first time since January 2020. In fact, we’re meeting three times in October and twice in November to discuss Vanity Fair (four times) and The Haunting of Hill House (once). I’m leading the discussion on Hill House, so I’ve been busy re-reading the book and a thick biography of Shirley Jackson and watching the 1963 film version and trying to remember what I used to know about Hill House and Jackson when I taught this book.

Best of all, the Halloween parade and costume contest is on. Long-time readers know how important this event is to my kids. North and Beth went to Value Village to buy costume components last weekend. They’re going to be a drowning person.

Meanwhile, North’s been keeping busy with the school play. They’re costumes manager and one the kids on the costume crew is a preschool classmate. North and Talia went to different elementary and middle schools, but they played on the same basketball team for six years (remember the Pandas?) and when a teacher said they seemed to be working well together, Talia said, “Well, we’ve known each other since we were two.” One of the lead actors is also a Purple School alum, from another class.

North has also gotten involved in student activism at their school. They formed an organization to try to replace the powderpuff football game that’s held every year before Homecoming with some less sexist, more gender-inclusive activity. They call themselves the Powerpuffs. So far they’ve met with a school counselor, student government, and the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. They are going to talk to the principal soon. It seems like it will be an uphill battle, as a lot of people are invested in this tradition, but since Homecoming was last week, they got some publicity. North has been managing their social media presence. I think it’s helped North meet some like-minded people.  As ninth grade was almost entirely online, North didn’t make friends at their new school until this year. It’s nice that between theater and the Powerpuffs, they’re back in the mix socially.

Noah is doing well, too. He’s enjoying his apartment and cooking for himself so much that he’s decided to switch to the minimal five-meal-a-week dining plan. We’re giving him the money that change will save for groceries. He’s playing in a band for non-music majors that will have a concert in early December, he’s still doing video editing for ICTV, and he’s joined the drone club. He went flying with them on Saturday and when he texted me about getting to fly a more advanced drone than the one he owns, he seemed happy. He provided a lot of detail, which is not always a feature of his texts, and he even used an exclamation point. He’s also thinking about getting a job and he asked Beth to mail him a couple of his dress shirts for interviews.

I’m really proud of how both kids are bouncing back after the pandemic school year. Maybe they can inspire me as I face my own new challenges.

August, Slipping Away: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 49

August slipped away into a moment in time
‘Cause it was never mine

From “august” by Taylor Swift

August is a bittersweet month. Even when the kids were younger and I was checking the days off until school started (sometimes in my head, sometimes literally on my work wall calendar), there was a little bit of me that was sad to see the long, lazy afternoons of eating popsicles and blowing bubbles on the porch and reading under the biggest tree in our yard and splashing in the inflatable pool come to an end. Once their day camps were over for the summer, we’d often have one last hurrah in the form of a trip to the county fair or an amusement park and that would be what made it feel as if summer was really over.

August took on a whole new intensity two years ago when Noah was about to leave for college. I was excited for him to embark of the adventure of his young adult life and at the same time undone by the idea that he was actually leaving. And then last August we were mired in North’s cascade of medical problems and unsure when or if Noah would go back to school for his sophomore year. (The answer was never. He did it entirely online, at home.)

And that takes us to this year. North’s at sleepaway camp right now. Both Ithaca and MCPS are planning on full-time, in-person classes for the fall. We’re leaving to drive Noah to school on Thursday, his classes start the following week, and North goes back to school the week after that. But I have a nagging worry that sometime this fall, the Delta variant will send one or both of them back to virtual classes (attended from Noah’s apartment in Ithaca and/or our house). Time will tell. Meanwhile, the kids said their goodbyes when we dropped North off at camp Sunday (more on that later). When we pick them up from camp, he’ll be gone.

I am happy that North got to go to camp and both kids get to return to a more normal high school and college experience, masks, social distancing and all. But, of course, I am sad that after seventeen months at home, Noah will be leaving again. Sometimes it seems like he never left and that we’re doing this milestone all over again, with all its joy and heartache.

The first time it occurred to me to count the days until our departure for Ithaca, it was twenty-five days away. Now it’s two. In the past couple weeks there have been a lot of lasts.

  • The first Tuesday in August, Beth, Noah, and I played Settlers of Catan. We’ve been playing it once or twice a month since early in the pandemic. Beth won. She nearly always does, but Noah often gives her a run for her money.
  • Later that week, all four of us finished the second season of Dickinson. We watch television shows in a lot of different combinations, but we’ve been gradually finishing up or coming to stopping places in the shows Noah watches with one or more of us. First it was season two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then season four of Blackish, then Dickinson. And finally, just yesterday, Noah and I watched the series finale of The Leftovers.
  • The following Saturday, Beth, Noah, and I went kayaking. We set out from Jackson Landing in Patuxent River Park in Prince George’s County. It’s a very pretty stretch of water and we saw a heron up close, osprey, and a lot of red-winged blackbirds. The water was glassy smooth when we started out, but soon it started to rain and then there were spreading circles all over its surface. As the rain got harder, there were bubbles where the drops hit the river. We went down a narrow inlet so shallow Noah and I both ran aground. I saw a frog in the water there—it swam right into the side of my kayak. My guess is it was a young and inexperienced frog. We turned back a little earlier than we might have if not for the rain, but we were on the water almost an hour and a half and then we had Noodles & Company and Starbucks for lunch.
  • Two days later, the kids and I went on a creek walk, which is something we usually do near the end of the summer. (It was our only creek walk of the pandemic, as North wasn’t walking well enough to do one last August, but I guess it was still technically the last one.) We hadn’t been in the water long when we noticed there were two big deadfalls blocking our path. We all scrambled over the first one (pictured), but the second one was probably twice as tall and looked like too much of a challenge, so North and I decided to get out of the water and go around it. But Noah tackled it and soon he was sitting on top of it, looking satisfied, while North and I looked on from the path next to the creek. Then all of a sudden he was yelling and running down the side, losing both of his crocs in the mud at the bottom. Apparently there was a beehive in the branches and he’d disturbed it. He ended up with around fifteen stings, including five on just one wrist. (I tried to count them later, but I kept losing track.) When he reached us, his swim top was covered in live bees, probably a dozen or so. I sent North to go fetch his crocs out of the mud—they almost lost one of their own in the process—while I slowly, carefully brushed each insect away. Noah has longer nails than I do, so he used them to remove a few stingers. When that was done, I looked back and an ominous cloud of bees had risen over the deadfall, but North already had all four crocs in hand and had moved a safe distance away. We washed the shoes in the creek and walked home on the path, in order to get back more quickly. One bee followed us for a long while, circling my head. At home, Noah found another in the bathroom, which may have come in with him. I captured it with a plastic cup and released it outside. Once he’d washed the mud off himself, I checked him again for stingers and put baking soda paste on his stings. He was in pain for a couple hours, even having taken some ibuprofen, so I pampered him a little, making him fried tofu cubes for lunch. Beth, who was out while all this happened, brought him some M&Ms after I texted her about it. Eventually he recovered enough to fold laundry and play his drums and go about the rest of his day.
  • We had our last family activity night on Tuesday. It was Beth’s turn to pick and she went with a game of Taboo. We usually pair one kid with one parent but this time we played parents against kids and Beth and I wiped up the floor with our offspring.
  • Wednesday was my last cooking night with everyone at home, so I made a family favorite—skillet mac and cheese. I served it with sauteed kale from the garden and I made a peach-blackberry cobbler with some of the berries I froze after we went berry picking last month.
  • Friday was our last family movie night. We watched My Girl, which I’d put in the pile of index cards we draw from every week. (I picked it weeks ago, before Noah’s mishap with the bees.) The weekend prior Noah had his last turn and we watched The Castle in the Sky, an anime film by Hayao Miyazaki. These have been a running favorite of his—we’ve seen five of them while he’s been home. Before that we watched Footloose (the original 1984 version, not the remake) because Beth was aghast that I had never seen it and of course, the kids hadn’t either. She says it’s a “magnificent cultural artifact.” North’s last contribution was Yes Day.
  • We would have liked to go to the Montgomery County Fair on Saturday, but North’s camp had instructed all the campers (who took and mailed in covid tests four days before camp started) to avoid large crowds after taking their tests and the Montgomery County Fair is as big as most state fairs, so we couldn’t in good faith go and then send North to camp, where half the campers are under twelve and unvaccinated. Instead, we had our last droning excursion. Right before we left the kids compared notes and North was surprised to learn Noah was going to fly the drone and that it wasn’t just a trip to go swimming in the South River at Mayo Beach Park in Anne Arundel County while Noah was surprised to learn “there was a water component” to the outing. I don’t know if the kids just heard what they wanted to or if they were really incompletely informed. I thought I mentioned the river to Noah. Anyway, we had a picnic lunch (Beth made her signature tofu salad and North made lemonade) and then Noah flew the drone and we had a long soak in the salty, muddy water of the tidal river. The beach was uncrowded and the day was hot and muggy (after a miserably hot week) so it was nice to be in the water, far away from the other swimmers. Afterward we went to Rita’s and got Italian ice and soft serve. It was a nice day.

Sunday morning we left to drop North off at camp. It’s in central Pennsylvania, about a two and a half hour drive away. We listened to the first few episodes of Edith, a fictionalized podcast about Edith Wilson and had lunch at a pizza place near camp. We ate out on the patio, all alone. There was another family eating inside in a big room all by themselves, and a lot of unmasked people sitting close to each other at and near the bar. None of the waiters wore masks either. It felt as if we’d driven more than a couple hours from home.

At camp, North was greeted warmly by counselors who remembered them from two and three years ago. We registered, visited the nurse to drop off North’s meds and for a lice check, and then we brought their things to their cabin, where Noah and North said goodbye for (fingers crossed) a few months. Right before we got home, we made a detour to Value Village to buy kitchenware for Noah, who’s living in an on-campus apartment this year. If I needed any reminder that he’s really leaving soon after all this time at home, that was it.

This week he’s been taking care of loose ends; he got his first haircut in seventeen months and applied for a passport. (He wants to study abroad the fall semester of his senior year, in Australia.) He had his last online drum lesson of the summer this evening. Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to play hooky and go to the movies with him. We’re going to see Green Knight.

In one more last, Noah and I are still reading the last book of our mother-son pandemic book club, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor. We’ve got ninety pages left, so we will probably end up taking it to Ithaca and finishing while we’re there. Beth and I are staying a couple days after we arrive, to enjoy the natural beauty and fine dining in and around his college town, and to spend just a little more time with our firstborn before he resumes the on-campus portion of his college life.

After the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 48

Going Home

So for some reason we didn’t decide to squat in the beach house and we drove home from the beach. On the way out of town we stopped at the Crocs outlet and Beth, North, and I each got a pair. Beth’s are gray and mine are black with a white band, which I thought was kind of daring, as I’ve always had navy blue ones, but North got a pair of black, glittery platform Crocs with spikes on them. They are the most unusual pair they’ve had since they were five and had a pair of glow-in-the-dark unicorn Crocs they adored. So in case you were wondering how long it takes to go from unicorn to Goth-themed footwear, the answer is a decade.

We went out for pizza and salads at Matchbook in Silver Spring, near YaYa’s hotel. In the morning, Beth helped YaYa with her new phone, then she brought her by the house so everyone could hang out in the back yard a bit, where we showed her our garden and said our goodbyes before Beth drove her to the airport. We were all sad to say see the last member of the beach house crew leave.

Post-Beach Weekend #1

But one of the nice things about a Friday-to-Friday rental is you still have the whole weekend when you get home, so you’re not spending it all doing laundry (me) or grocery shopping (Beth). We had time for two outings, first to an outdoor screening of Cruella and then to a park to walk around a lake and fly Noah’s drone.

Mike (the filmmaker who sometimes employs Noah) and his wife Sara (the Secretary-Treasurer of the union where Beth works) hosted a backyard showing of Cruella the Saturday after we returned. Because Mike’s a filmmaker, it wasn’t projected on a sheet or the side of the house, but on a portable movie screen, as big as you might see in a small theater. They provided popcorn, candy, and drinks, and showed Warner Brothers cartoons before the feature presentation. I didn’t know too many of the people there other than Mike, Sara, and their three girls, but it was a fun event. My assessment of the movie (and Beth’s, too) is that was enjoyable and the performances are good (especially Emma Thompson as the Baroness), but it doesn’t really do the work of a prequel because it’s hard to see how Cruella’s character arc leads to her character in the original. For what it’s worth, Sara argued that it’s supposed to cause you to see the original Cruella in a new light, but I’m not sure about that.

Sunday afternoon, Beth, Noah and I went droning. Noah had some trouble with his drone the last day we were at the beach and he’d made some repairs to it at home, but since you can’t fly a drone as close to Washington D.C. as we live, he wanted to go to a park where he could test the repairs. We went to Centennial Park in Howard County. We’d been there once last summer, in early August, just a few weeks into North’s paralysis. I was surprised how well I remembered the path around the lake. We even saw a heron by the same little bridge where we’d seen a heron the year before. Because we weren’t pushing North in a wheelchair this time (North wasn’t there at all, having elected to stay home), we walked further this time, all the way around the two-and-a-half-mile lake loop, and off a little spur to see a pond. Noah flew in a few places and the drone functioned perfectly. As we often did last summer, we got Starbucks on the way home. Sipping my pink drink evoked that odd summer and all its twists and turns.

Last Week of July

Neither of the kids had camp, a volunteer gig, or work the next week, but North had an appointment at the pain clinic, an orthodontist appointment, and a therapy session, and Xander had an appointment with a veterinary cardiologist. Only the therapy was online, so Beth was busy driving the kid and the cat around. (Noah had a drum lesson, too, but gets to the music school by himself on the bus.)

Monday we went to the pain clinic at Children’s National Hospital for a follow-up visit about North’s chronic pain. The doctor thought their gait looked good, and we ended up with a prescription for six sessions of physical therapy, probably starting with aqua therapy to see if that can help them walk longer distances and with less pain. North will also be seeing a pain psychologist in the fall to work on coping methods. North’s not super excited about another round of physical therapy.

Wednesday North and I went to the Crossroads farmers’ market and got pupusas for lunch. This walk is not quite three-quarters of a mile each way and that’s in North’s comfort zone, but this time they did it with no crutch and in platform crocs to boot, so it must have been a good day for them.

That same day Noah and I finished reading The Gods of Jade and Shadow and watching the first season of The Leftovers. We’re hoping to get one more season in before he leaves for school in mid-August. (People in various combinations that include Noah have also met summer goals of finishing season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and season 4 of Blackish, and the whole family is closing in on season 2 of Dickinson.)

On Thursday, Beth took Xander to see a veterinary cardiologist, on our vet’s recommendation. I would have gone in case there were any hard decisions to make at the appointment, but they are only letting one person per animal in the clinic. And the upshot is his heart looks surprisingly good for a cat his age, whose littermate died of a blood clot. His blood pressure is good and he has some mild to moderate thickening of his heart muscle. We’re supposed to give him aspirin hidden in a cat treat, more because of his brother’s medical history than anything the cardiologist saw on the scan, and if we want we can get him re-assessed in six to nine months. The vet thought when he seems to lose control of one or both his back legs (and this happened again the day before the appointment) it’s his arthritis acting up.

I’ve thought he might be having a life-threatening emergency three times now this summer, so this is a relief. We considered boarding him at a kennel when we went to the beach, but we decided to have a cat sitter check in on him every day and I’m glad now that’s what we did because being boarded would have been stressful for him.

Post-Beach Weekend #2

The big event this weekend was a trip to Butler’s Orchard. We’ve been to the farm market a couple times this summer, but we hadn’t picked anything ourselves. The weather was lovely, low eighties and not that humid, and three kinds of berries were in season, so it seemed like a good time to go. We got two quarts of blackberries, a quart of blueberries, and two pints of raspberries. Blueberry season is almost over so there weren’t many people in that field, but there were more folks among the blackberry canes and I could hear parents of small children saying things like: “Now we’re only going to pick the black ones, not the red ones. No, not the red ones. That one’s not ripe yet. We’ll go to the raspberries later, that’s where we pick the red ones.” Let’s say it was evocative of berry picking in my children’s younger days. I appreciate not having to say anything like that or having to worry about either of them running into the path of an oncoming farm truck. 

There’s a sign as you leave that says, “Have a Berry Nice Day” and, as I usually do, I asked if everyone had, and Beth said yes. I did, too.

When we got home I froze half the blackberries and half the raspberries, and today I made a blueberry kuchen and there’s raspberry ice cream in the freezer that North made. Sometime in the next couple weeks I’ll use some of the blackberries in a peach-blackberry cobbler, so I think we shouldn’t have any trouble enjoying the fruits of our labors. Now that it’s August, I can feel the end of summer on the horizon, which makes me happy and sad for the obvious reasons. I hope your late summer days are happy and fruitful.

Like the Fourth of July: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 45

You just gotta ignite the sky, and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

From “Firework,” by Tor Erik Hermansen, et al. Performed by Katy Perry

We had a nice Fourth of July weekend. I hope you did, too, or a nice Canada Day weekend for the Canadians among you. But before I get to that…

An Update on Xander

Just five days after we took him to the animal hospital for his skin and ear infections, he gave us another scare. Wednesday morning right after Beth gave him his medicine, he fell down and seemed to lose control of his back legs. Well, this is exactly what happened to Matthew the day he died (and they were brothers), so Beth and I feared the worst.

Beth had been scheduled to go into her office but she let her colleagues know she wouldn’t be in and we were packing for a day in the animal hospital garage and debating whether we should wake the kids and ask if they wanted to come, when, after about a half hour of partial paralysis, Xander got up and started walking around as if nothing were wrong. Beth called and left a message for the animal hospital, explaining what had happened, and asking if we should bring him in. The answer was no, though of course, this doesn’t seem like a good sign for his general health. He had an appointment already scheduled at our regular vet’s office Friday, so we’ll see what the vet thinks then.

Meanwhile, almost a week has passed and he seems in good spirits. The infection on his stomach seemed to clear up, then it relapsed a little, but it still looks better than it did originally. The eardrops make his ears so greasy, it’s hard to tell if the crud is gone. He’s able to jump on and off the bed and climb stairs. He’s been going out into the yard occasionally to enjoy the sun and soaking up all the extra love and attention everyone is inexplicably bestowing on him. He’s always been an easy-going cat and he’s not letting the indignities of old age get to him.

Kayaking

Beth had a three-day weekend for the Fourth. She took up kayaking this spring and on Saturday morning, Noah and I went with her to Black Hills Regional Park to try our hands at it. Partly that’s because Beth wants to go on a dolphin-watching kayaking tour of the Chesapeake Bay when we’re at the beach later this month and I was unsure, having never kayaked, or maybe we did just once in our twenties or early thirties. Beth thinks we went canoeing on the Potomac. I thought it was kayaking on the C&O canal. Our youth is shrouded in mystery. The point is, if I’d ever been in kayak at all, the last time was more than twenty years ago.  Noah decided to come along, too, but North opted out. They attended a kayaking-and-canoeing themed week at Girl Scout camp when they were nine and thought they remembered it well enough.

It was a beautiful morning, sunny and remarkably mild for July, in the high seventies. The little lake was very busy with people in kayaks, canoes, rowboats, paddleboats, and paddleboards. It turns out Noah is a natural at kayaking. He got the hang of it right away. It took me longer. I found it tiring, and I was much slower than Beth and Noah, and I kept drifting to the right and needing to correct course.

We slipped through a tunnel under a berm to emerge in a smaller area where there were no other boaters. There were a lot of turtles, however, swimming and sunning on logs, and a family of geese, two adults and five half-grown goslings. There were also a lot of tree trunks poking up out of the water, because it’s an artificial lake that was flooded around thirty-five years ago. I think it would look eerie on an overcast day.

After we’d explored that area, we crossed back to the other side to go down a fork of the lake where Beth had seen a beavers’ dam on a previous outing. I was worn out, though, and didn’t think I could make it that far so I decided to rest at the mouth of the fork while Beth and Noah went ahead. (Neither of them ended up making it to the dam this time.) The wind sent me drifting further down the fork than I meant to go and I started to worry how I’d paddle out against the current, but when I turned around and started back, something clicked into place. I sat up straighter than I had when I’d been using the backrest and I found it easier to paddle. We were out of time, though, having rented the kayaks for two hours. I decided I’d like to come back and try it again before hitting the Bay in a kayak.

After we left the lake, we had lunch at Noodles & Company, and then ran a series of errands, including but not limited to stopping at Butler’s farm market for fruit, vegetables, pasta, and pastries, going to the animal hospital for a refill on Xander’s eardrops, and picking up my newly resoled Birks. It was a very nice outing.

Fourth of July

Sunday was the Fourth. For the second year in a row there was no parade and no fireworks in Takoma. It was actually the third year for no fireworks because there have been renovations going on at the middle school that usually hosts the fireworks for that long and there’s no comparable open space anywhere in town. I wasn’t sure why the parade was cancelled, because our vaccination numbers in Montgomery County are very good—98% of seniors and 88% of everyone age twelve and up has had at least one shot. But Beth pointed out, the parade probably takes a long time to plan and when the call needed to be made, it wasn’t clear what things would look like in July. And of course, there are the under-twelves to consider.

However, there were fireworks in D.C. (There were fireworks there last year, too, but it seemed inadvisable to go to the mall.) So our plans for the day included a picnic dinner in our backyard and a trip downtown. There’s a good view from the roof of Beth’s office building and it was open this year, so that’s where we went.

Until dinner, the day was a pretty normal summer Sunday. Beth went grocery shopping and I put the groceries away. Beth worked in the garden, putting our zinnia seedlings and watermelon vines into the ground, and assembled most of the picnic dinner, while I made the deviled eggs and the sour cherry sauce for ice cream. We all missed Takoma’s quirky and spirited parade. Beth said it didn’t feel “like the Fourth of July” without it.

We left for the fireworks around eight. On the drive there I observed people having cookouts in tiny yards in front of rowhouses, and large groups of twenty and thirty-somethings walking to the mall, which reminded me of when I was a twenty and thirty-something who lived within walking distance of the mall.

When we got to Beth’s office building we had a choice of two different levels and we chose the lower one. The penthouse deck has a portico design and Noah thought the columns might block our view. All the other CWA employees and their families chose the higher level, though, so we had the lower deck to ourselves. We got our chairs set up and Noah took pictures of the Capitol. We could see fireworks from various suburban municipalities and D.C. neighborhood displays all around us in a sort of panoramic effect.

The official D.C. fireworks began at 9:08, right on schedule. When they were in smiley face patterns the little kids up on the penthouse deck exclaimed and when they were in heart shapes they just about lost their minds. During some of the classic circle displays, one of them said, “It looks like the coronavirus” and then I couldn’t unsee it. Fortunately, the next few looked less spiky and more like dandelions. The display lasted about twenty minutes. On our way out of the building, I asked Beth if it seemed more like the Fourth of July, now that we’d seen fireworks, and she said yes.

On the drive home, we saw quite a few more neighborhood fireworks, and as we drove down North Capitol Street, we could see people setting them off on a side street. Noah played his Fourth of July playlist. It starts with Katy Perry’s “Firework,” but it grows every year. Beth and I sang along with Springsteen’s “Independence Day,” which may have been added for our benefit. Traffic wasn’t horrible, so by the time the playlist ended we were just blocks from home.

Date #4

There was one day left in the weekend, so Beth and I had a date that lasted from late morning to late afternoon. We went to see the Rita Moreno documentary at AFI, which I recommend, and then out for arepas. The original plan was tapas, but that restaurant wasn’t open for lunch. We got tequeños (because Beth loves the cilantro-garlic sauce that comes with them) and two arepas to share, one with avocado and cheese and the other with black beans and cheese. I tried the sugar cane juice, which was very sweet. I probably wouldn’t get it again, but I was glad to have satisfied my curiosity.

We swung by the house so I could cycle laundry and then we went to swim at Long Branch pool. We invited the kids along to this portion of the festivities and while we weren’t surprised Noah said no, we were surprised when North did. They are usually up for a trip to the pool. But since we were alone, I guess it was an extension of the date, though we were separated for most of it, as I was swimming laps.

Later I posted on Facebook that it was our first date since the pandemic started, but then I remembered we went out for pizza one night in late May when Noah was at YaYa’s and North was sleeping over at Zoë’s and that was definitely a date, so I corrected the post to say second.

But it made me wonder exactly what constitutes a date? How about the picnic of takeout Greek food we had on under a park shelter on a rainy day in late March on our way back from being vaccinated in Western Maryland? Or the walk through the snowy woods in Blackwater Falls State Park on Christmas day? My cousin Holly, who’s widowed, said those both count, so I will take her word for it. But I draw the line at counting the trip to Ikea we took a couple weeks ago. However many dates there have been, I’m optimistic they will become more frequent in the months to come. And that’s a happy thought.

Commencements: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 30

New Year’s Eve Eve

After we got home from Blackwater, there were another five days before work and school resumed. We squeezed in a little more holiday spirit on Wednesday night by going to the Festival of Lights display at Watkins Regional Park in Prince George’s County. My initial thought was to go on New Year’s Eve as the neighbors’ party we usually attend was not taking place this year and we had no plans. But then I realized a lot of other people probably had no plans on New Year’s Eve either, given the circumstances. So we thought it would be less crowded the night before New Year’s Eve.

We’ve never been to this display before. Last year we went to the walk-through one at Brookside Gardens for the first time and it was really magical. In non-pandemic times, I’d choose Brookside, but this one was nice, too. There was about a fifteen-minute wait to get in and then the display took a half hour to drive through. It was more extensive than I thought it would be and very pretty. In addition to the Santas, gingerbread people, and reindeer you might expect, there were also a lot of tunnels of lights, a big tree, and a few scenes from The Wizard of Oz. This is a tribute to the Wizard of Oz-themed playground in the park, I learned ahead of time from a review. The show is over now, but I recommend it for future years if you’re local and looking for this kind of thing. I wasn’t able to get any pictures because I didn’t want Beth to hold up the line of cars behind us by stopping, but there’s a video here if they haven’t taken it down yet by the time you read this. 

New Year’s Eve 

Thursday afternoon, Beth, Noah, and I went for a walk near the Rocky Gorge Reservoir in Howard County. The main purpose of the walk was to make sure Noah’s drone was working, after the trouble he had with it at Blackwater. We do usually take a hike on New Year’s Day, but New Year’s Day the weather was predicted to be in the thirties and rainy, so instead of taking the first hike of the year, we took the last.

The first trail where we stopped near the reservoir was closed so we had to look for another one and while we were deciding where to go next Beth had to take a work call about the union that CWA has organized at Google. The announcement was going to be made the first Monday in January and preparation for it has been a big focus of Beth’s work recently. Noah and I ambled around a field near the parking lot while we waited for her.

Eventually we found another trail, and after a walk through the woods, we found ourselves in an austere and slightly spooky spot along the Patuxent River, where Noah flew the drone over the water and among the bare (and oddly shaggy-barked) tree branches with no problems. The river was still and flat as glass and there was very little sound other than occasional light drizzle hitting the dead leaves, two woodpeckers tapping on the trees, and the honking of geese in the distance.

North made rice noodles with tofu and broccoli for dinner and then we watched Soul, which seemed like a suitable film for thinking about new beginnings. The kids stayed up to see the new year, but Beth and I didn’t. I was half-tempted to do it, even though I don’t like staying up late, because it would have been satisfying to see 2020 make its exit. When Beth and I were still up at eleven, which is late for us, North was trying to convince us to stay up, as it was only another hour. We went to bed instead, but not before drinking a toast to 2021 with sparkling juice and eating twelve grapes, for good luck in the new year. The kids saved their grapes for midnight and then forgot to eat them.

New Year’s Day 

Taking no chances with lucky foods, I made black-eyed peas the next day. Usually this is what we have for dinner on New Year’s Day, but as with Christmas, it fell on a Friday and that’s pizza night, so we had the black-eyed peas for lunch. I have been known to burn them some years so I hovered over the pot nearly the whole time they were cooking just in case.

We also have a fancy cheese tradition for New Year’s, which isn’t supposed to be lucky, we just like cheese. That afternoon I got out my cheeseboard, which always makes me happy, and I set out Brie, Manchego, aged cheddar and gouda, along with a pear spread and rosemary crackers my sister got us for Christmas so Beth, Noah, and I could have a mid-afternoon repast. (North’s not so big on the fancy cheese.) That night we watched The Banker, or most of it. We finished the next night.

Weekend 

Beth went grocery shopping and went to the Apple store to try to get North’s cracked iPad screen replaced, but I don’t think any of the rest of us even left the house Saturday and Sunday. Instead Noah and I finished reading The Shining and started I, Robot. We both have a lot of new books but he has more—we stacked them next to each other to check. And then he and I finished watching the second season of What We Do in the Shadows and he and Beth finished the second season of The Mandalorian. I read a couple stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and we all watched the second episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, several weeks after we watched the first episode. Beth and I watched this show when it was on the air, starting in 1997, and it’s always been a favorite of mine. It’s fun to be watching it again. We’ve decided to make it a regular Sunday night activity.

The other thing I watched over the weekend was a one-hour video of my high school graduation a classmate put on Facebook. When I clicked I thought it would be a short clip, but it was the whole thing, and I thought, well, I’m not going to spend an hour watching this, I’ll just watch a little. But it turns out watching your high school commencement thirty-five-and-a-half years after the fact is oddly compelling and I watched the whole darn thing. All those young faces and familiar and half-forgotten names stirred something half-pleasurable and half-painful in me. High school wasn’t an easy time in my life, especially the first two years, but it was formative.

And I have a little anecdote that I think says something about human nature, or maybe just my nature. If you’d asked me before I watched the video if I won any awards at graduation, I would have hesitated, thinking maybe but I couldn’t remember, and if I did I wouldn’t be sure which one. What I did remember clearly is that I didn’t win a Spanish department award I thought I would. Watching, I learned I did win an English department award, sharing it with three classmates. Why should I remember the disappointment and not the recognition? Happening so close to New Year’s, it made me wonder if I should resolve to see the good that’s right in front of me. But that was more or less my intention starting this blog, almost fourteen years ago, and I think it has often served that purpose.

Monday

Monday we were all back in the saddle, attending classes and working online. North had English, ceramics, yoga, and Algebra. Noah attended the first class meeting of his winter term class on philosophy and cinema and practiced his drums for the first time in almost two weeks. Did I mention he’s taking online drum lessons at his old music school? He started in early December. I reviewed background materials and worked on an outline for a white paper on a sleep remedy. But no one had a longer or more profitable day than Beth. She set the alarm for 5:30 because the article in the New York Times about the Google union would be released at 6:00 a.m. She spent virtually the whole day on the phone with reporters from other news outlets. Here’s the Post’s story, which quotes her. It was an exhausting day for her, but she was pleased with how the launch went—“about as well as it could go,” she said.

2021 is off to a promising start so far. Fingers crossed for Georgia.

Update: Wednesday, January 6

In re Georgia: Yippee!

In re the armed insurrection in the Capitol today: I really don’t know what to say. On the one hand, I’ve been afraid of something like this for the past four years. On the other hand, I was still shocked when it actually happened. And many people have said this already, but if it had been black or brown people trying to storm the building, it would have been a bloodbath.  

January 20 cannot come soon enough.

Surprisingly Okay: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 23

Medical Tidbits

Beth’s colleagues often ask how North’s doing at the beginning of phone calls and the other day I heard her answer, “Surprisingly okay” and for the most part, that’s true. Not much changed for a long while and we all adjusted to the new normal, as much as we still want the seizures and other symptoms to end.

The long-awaited urology appointment was the last Monday of September and it was kind of a bust. The doctor went over the results of the spinal MRI, noted there was no compression on the urethra contributing to North’s difficulty urinating and said she’d see North again in three months if nothing changed. We were all disappointed by the lack of a treatment plan. In the interim, though, Beth got a new diagnostic MRI scheduled, this time a brain MRI with a spinal tap. It’s happening later this week.

Then two days later, in dual setbacks, North was diagnosed with a second UTI and dropped a pasta sauce jar on their bare foot and bruised it badly. They were back to using the wheelchair to get around the house for a day or two. We got their foot x-rayed, but it was not broken, so their physical therapist gave them some exercises for it. It’s still bothering them, but it seems to be getting better.

Scholastic Snippets

On the upside, North’s interim grades (for the midpoint of the first quarter) were good, all As and Bs. This was a relief as the quarter got off to a rough start because they missed a lot of class, due to being in the hospital, and had trouble keeping up.

Noah’s doing well, too. His classes seem more challenging than last semester but he’s not overloaded with homework. His philosophy professor was so impressed with his work he suggested he consider majoring or minoring in the field, and Noah likes the class well enough to consider doing it. It would be a second minor, as he’s already declared one in computer science. He also attended an online informational session about study abroad programs and is seriously thinking of going to Australia next fall. He’s working as a video editor for several shows on ICTV and he’s also going to help a local filmmaker shoot and edit a play his neighbors are putting on, based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret. (It’s being filmed because there will be no live audience.) A friend of mine said he seems to be “flourishing” and he is, though of course I wish he could be back at school with his friends (and using the film studios that drew him to Ithaca in the first place).

An Outing

The first weekend in October we visited Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, mainly because it’s adjacent to a trail we intended to hike and we thought it might offer a wheelchair accessible entrance to the trail, but we detoured into the park and it ended up being an interesting side trip. An educational one, too, as it turned out neither of the kids had heard of Banneker, a very famous Marylander. We walked up to the reconstructed Banneker family cabin as a Brownie troop was taking a tour and as Beth, Noah, and North waited at a distance outside, I explored the vegetable and herb gardens.  When the Brownies had left, the park ranger offered to let us in the cabin and give us her talk about it. We took her up on it and then we browsed through the little museum nearby before tackling the trail.

Trolley Trail #9 trail, as you might guess from the name, is built on the track bed of an old trolley line. It’s part boardwalk, part asphalt, and goes through a wooded area along a creek. Noah flew his drone to a little waterfall and over the tree canopy. The trail is sloped, so the whole mile and a half down, knowing we’d have to push the wheelchair back up, I was fretting a little, wondering if we were biting off more than we could chew. But with three of us to take turns, it wasn’t as bad as I feared and it was a pretty walk.

Home Decorating

The following week we got our porch painted a new color. When we moved into this house in 2002, the house was tan with gray trim, or at least I thought it was gray. I learned just this week that everyone else in my family perceived it as a sort of olive green. It’s amazing the things you don’t know about the people you live with, I swear.  Nine years later we painted most of the trim dark green but left the porch floor, columns, and steps gray/green. My first idea this time around was to match the porch to the trim again by having it painted dark green, but on consideration, we decided if it wasn’t quite matched it would look funny so we went with a very pale green we thought would complement the darker green. I think I like it. It reflects more light into the living room, which is nice, but it also shows dirt more. I am trying not to let the fact that we painted at this exact moment because we were cited by the city for peeling paint take the pleasure out of this little makeover.

Once the porch was painted we started decorating it and the lawn for Halloween, and if you know my family in person or through this blog, you know that’s cheering. We don’t have everything out yet, but we’ve made a good start. We all bought one new item this year and mine was the charming fellow in the third picture. I picked him because he looks like he’s wearing a plague mask and that seemed just perfect for 2020. I even violated my own no-more-Halloween-decorations-that-require-batteries to buy him.

In other seasonal news, this weekend we made pumpkin ravioli from scratch. I roasted two little pumpkins and made the filling and a pumpkin-walnut-sage sauce to go on top. Beth rolled out the dough in Noah’s pasta machine and he used the hand tools to fashion the ravioli out of the sheets. It was quite a project, but the results were delicious.

Visitation Day

Today was Columbus Day, or Dia de la Raza, or Indigenous People’s Day—take your pick. In normal times in our school district, parents are invited to observe their kids’ classes on this day (because a lot of parents have it off but the schools are still open). At some schools it’s called Visitation Day. I’ve always enjoyed watching the kids’ classes and the name is pretty amusing, too. It’s as if we’ve been invited to watch a séance.

This year there was no notification from the school about being invited to watch your kids’ classes on Zoom, but I know a lot of parents of younger kids are doing it every day and nothing was stopping us, so we decided to observe two of North’s classes—English and yoga. We chose English because it was kind of unorganized for a while when the teacher quit and we wanted to see if the sub had got her footing yet. I’ve been curious about yoga because North usually does it in their room and we’ve never seen or heard little bits of it, the way I have with most of their other classes.

On the morning of Visitation Day, North woke up with a new symptom. Their right hand was clenched in a loose fist and they were unable to open it. My first thought went to the two complex migraines North’s had that left their hands and feet paralyzed but this was just one hand and the affected hand was not cold to the touch the way their paralyzed extremities in past episodes.

This was discouraging, but we carried on with the day. English started at nine and at the beginning of class, the teacher instructed the class to read “The Lottery,” annotate it, and write a paragraph about it. She gave them thirty-five minutes to complete this task and said she’d take questions at that point. I was a little disappointed in this lesson plan because it seemed like discussion would be a better use of  scarce and precious class time (each class has two one-hour slots a week, if the teachers use all their allotted time). The reading and writing could have been done before or after class, as homework.

Anyway, there wasn’t much to watch, so while North worked I read the paper, checked my email and some blogs I read regularly, and eventually since it was an English class, picked up Beloved, which my book club will be discussing on Zoom later this week.  At 9:40, the class reconvened. There were no student questions so the teacher asked a few, mostly about setting, and then just as things could have gotten interesting, she dismissed them to finish other work. North took an online grammar quiz and aced it. And then class was over. The discussion of “The Lottery” took a little over five minutes of class time. The whole experience made me glad North had already read this excellent story in middle school and this wasn’t their whole exposure to it.

Since we watched so little of English, I asked North if we could watch sculpture but they were insistent the agreement was two classes, so I didn’t push it. I did come over to hold their head up during at least two seizures, and I saw the teacher holding up a polyhedron that seemed to be made of folded paper, but North was wearing their headset so I don’t know what she was saying about it. I’m guessing North might be making something similar some time. Sculpture wrapped up after twenty-five minutes.

Yoga started at twelve-thirty. The teacher showed the class a yoga video and had them follow along. The sequence started with tabletop and included (not in this order and with most poses repeated) cobra, extended side angle, lunge, plank, warrior one, and warrior two, ending with corpse pose. North said it was physically harder than usual. Often the class meditates instead of or in addition to doing yoga poses. The class lasted about a half hour. Usually North attends this class in their room, on their bed, but after watching them do it on our bed, noticing how it was hard to balance in the standing positions on a bed, we are reconsidering this set up. During yoga class, North’s hand unfurled. After class I told them, “See. Yoga is good for you,” and they laughed, but I meant it. I think it could be good for them, physically and mentally.

After yoga, Beth and I went on a little date, our first since before covid, probably since our anniversary in January. We were nudged into the realization that we should do this by the fact that we always have a lunch date on Visitation Day in between spying on the kid(s)’ classes. It was rainy and in the high fifties, so not the most inviting weather for a picnic, but not forbidding either if we had shelter.

We left before North’s last class of the day, algebra, which met during a gap between Noah’s ethnomathematics and philosophy classes so we left him in charge of sitting in the living room and making sure North was in a comfortable position if they had a seizure.

We got arepas, plantains, and teqeños from Arepas Pues in Silver Spring (highly recommended if you’re local) and ate them in a pavilion in Wheaton Regional Park. Afterward we took a little walk through the woods and down to a pond. The path was scattered with the first of the season’s fallen leaves and pine needles. We picked up coffee and hot chocolate on the way home. It was nice. It was better than okay.

Report from the Fourth Quarantine: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 19

After the first forty days of our new pandemic lives, and then again after eighty, I wrote posts marking off each traditional forty-day period for a quarantine with lists of forty things. I skipped one hundred twenty days because that was the week after North stopped walking and was hospitalized and it wasn’t a good day for me to write or for Beth to post. (It’s true—I am so tech-challenged I don’t post my own blog.)

I missed the one hundred sixtieth day, too, but it was only yesterday, so I’m plowing ahead with forty things about the past week:

  1. On Monday, North and I made an unbirthday cake because it wasn’t anyone’s birthday. I did this five years ago on a whim and North still talks about it so I thought it might be cheering to do it again. The cake was red velvet with cream cheese frosting.
  2. There wasn’t room for the leftovers in the fridge, so I left the partially eaten cake in the oven and forgot it was there while I was preheating it the next day to roast eggplant, but I remembered pretty early in the preheating process and the frosting just got a little runny.
  3. However, the next day when I was preheating the oven again for roast cauliflower, I left it in longer. The crumbs on the empty part of the pan burned, but the cake didn’t, and the frosting actually acquired a pleasant toasted marshmallow taste, so all was not lost. I do think it’s a good demonstration of how preoccupied I am these days. Fortunately we finished the cake on the third night, or who knows what would have happened to it?
  4. Tuesday we got notice that Ithaca College is going completely online for the fall semester. This wasn’t a complete surprise, given what’s going on at other colleges and universities that have opened for in-person classes and had to shut down. I’m not critical of the school’s decision, but I am sad for Noah.
  5. He’d been tracking Maryland’s numbers, which have been trending in the right direction to get off New York State quarantine list, so I think he was hoping to be allowed back on campus. We all have mixed feelings, of course, but it seems no matter what, he isn’t going to have a normal college experience, at least not in the first two years.
  6. On Wednesday North had their longest seizure ever. It lasted more than an hour and a half and sent us to the emergency room.
  7. For several days before this, they’d been having one to three of what we now think of as the medium-length seizures a day, the ones that last around five minutes. (Since then they’ve increased and yesterday they had six.)
  8. When I got home from my morning walk a little before eleven, Beth was sitting with North, whom she’d found seizing. When it had been going on for at least ten minutes (North later told us it was closer to twenty or thirty) we called 911, for the second time in a week and a half.
  9. When the paramedics got there, one of them remembered North. This isn’t something any mother wants.
  10. This time we didn’t get a choice of hospital—we went to the closest one. Given that the last time we called 911, the paramedics weren’t even sure we should go to the hospital, this made it seem more serious.
  11. As we did last time, I rode in the ambulance, but in the front this time, not because I asked to, but because there were a lot of medical personnel in back with North. Meanwhile Beth followed us to the hospital in the car and waited outside. North got two anti-convulsant shots in the ambulance.
  12. When we arrived, there were so many people crowded around North in the tiny exam room that there wasn’t room for me and I had to stand in the hall answering intake questions for people with clipboards.
  13. Eventually, people cleared out. When I got in the room, North had an IV with a different kind of anti-seizure medicine, and eventually they started to recover, though they’d intermittently slip back into smaller seizures. It was sort of like a series of aftershocks. It was 12:20 by the time they stopped all together.
  14. Beth brought North’s stuffed monkey Muffin from home and had a nurse bring it to them. He was conscientious about wearing a mask.
  15. North got their second covid test of the summer and it was negative.
  16. We were there until three o’clock and several times various people told us we would probably be transferred to Children’s. As bad as the experience was, Beth, North, and I were all thinking that maybe it could be the impetus for more timely scans. We already had an EEG scheduled for the first week of September, but we were all hoping for answers sooner.
  17. ER visits have a kind of rhythm to them, in my experience, and once it seemed we were in the wait-alone-a-long-time part, it was hours past lunch time, so I decided—with North’s encouragement—to go see if I could find us some food.
  18. It took me a while and a number of redirects from passersby but eventually I found the coffee shop where I bought yogurt, grapes, Cheetos, and an iced latte. The cafeteria was in sight of the coffee shop but I was in hurry to get back because North was alone so I thought we could get by with what I bought.
  19. I got lost again getting back to the ER and had to exit the building because some doors are blocked off now to stop people from circulating as freely through the building as they did pre-covid. I ran into Beth, sitting outside the main entrance, so I gave her an update. (Of course, we’d been texting the whole time.)
  20. Beth had North’s phone she’d brought from home and she let me know that Zoë, who was supposed to come over that afternoon and had knocked on the door only to have no one answer, had been calling. Beth filled Zoë in.
  21. When I got back to North’s room, they had a balloon and a teddy bear and some hard candies, which had been delivered by a social worker. The balloon looked like a cookie and said, “One Tough Cookie.” Apparently the first words the social worker spoke on entering the room was, “I hear you’re one tough cookie.”
  22. This whole interaction reminded me of the volunteers with the heart-shaped balloons in The Hostile Hospital (Series of Unfortunate Events, book eight), but Beth said, even if they had no way of knowing it the balloon’s message is true of most patients, in North’s case, it is.
  23. Shortly after this the doctor came back and told us North was being discharged, not to Children’s but home. We were surprised, and frankly disappointed not be able to get more answers that day. He also advised us not to come back to the ER, but to ride the seizures out at home, no matter how long they are. He seemed to be of the opinion that it wasn’t any of the medication North received that stopped the seizure but that it had burned out on its own and he said medicating a non-epileptic seizure could do more harm than good.
  24. All the medical professionals we’ve seen suspect North’s seizures are non-epileptic, which seems to cause a lot of them to lose interest. Beth really had to advocate to get the EEG we do have scheduled. When telling us North wasn’t being transferred to Children’s, the doctor actually said “It would be a waste of a transport.”
  25. The next day Beth went to work trying to get an EEG before September. Both our pediatrician’s office and North’s psychiatrist have been working their contacts to find us a bed at either Children’s or Georgetown. We’ll take whatever we can get first. Among other reasons, we need an official diagnosis before the school system will even begin to talk to us about accommodations and it’s clear North is going to need some.
  26. In the meantime, we made some changes at home. We stopped leaving North alone except to go to the bathroom and they’ve been sleeping in Beth’s and my bed with Beth while I sleep in their bed. They are not crazy about the lack of privacy. (And today we relented a little, leaving them in alone in a safe position in our bed for a half hour or so. They did have a seizure during that time, but they didn’t fall off the bed so I guess the experiment was a success.)
  27. So, life goes on. Thursday it was North’s turn to pick the weekly after dinner family activity so we had a faux campfire, with microwave s’mores, votive candles on the patio table, what stargazing was possible on a cloudy night, and a chorus of crickets and cicadas.
  28. Friday in physical therapy North walked 185 feet with a walker, surprising the physical therapist.
  29. After North got back from PT, my friend Megan and her daughter Talia came over for a socially distanced backyard visit.
  30. We all met twelve years ago when North and Talia were in preschool together. Megan is one of my best friends and North and Talia stayed in touch throughout elementary school because they were on the same rec league basketball team—the Pandas, as long-time readers will remember. After attending different elementary and middle schools, they will be at the same high school, and North thought it would be nice to get re-acquainted.
  31. It was nice. I positioned chairs in the backyard in pairs far away enough from each other so that the adults and the teens could have separate, private conversations. This was only my second get-together with a friend since March and it was good to talk in person to an adult other than Beth. It turns out I had a lot to say. I think I monopolized the conversation, but I’m guessing Megan will forgive me.
  32. As for the kids, North said it wasn’t awkward, even though they haven’t seen each other in a few years. Also, we prepared Talia for what North’s seizures are like, but they didn’t have any more than a few seconds long during the visit.
  33. While Megan and Talia were over, we got a phone call from our pediatrician letting us know they were getting closer to scheduling an EEG, and they thought they could get one early next week. Fingers crossed.
  34. Saturday morning, Beth, North and I had a telemedicine appointment with North’s therapist and at the end he offered to write his own letter to the school, in support of accommodations: we want North to be allowed to have their camera off so they’re not seizing online, extra time on assignments if they seize during one, and no penalties for not participating orally if they’ve just seized and can’t speak.
  35. That afternoon we went for an outing at Downs Park in Anne Arundel County. We got Chinese takeout and ate it at a picnic table in the park, then we went for a walk. North alternated between using the walker and the wheelchair. I’d say they walked about half the time, which was encouraging to see.
  36. The park had nice views of the Bay, some wooded trails, an aviary with a red-tailed hawk, a Great Horned owl, and turkey vulture, all injured. The vulture was being rehabilitated to be released, but the other two were permanent residents. (The owl only had one eye so probably didn’t have the depth perception to hunt, Noah guessed.)
  37. While we were there we found a moss-covered stone bench with a plaque saying it was a wishing bench, so of course, we felt compelled to sit on it and make wishes.
  38. I won’t tell you what I wished for because everyone knows if you tell a wish it doesn’t come true. But if I’d had a second wish, it would have been less personal and more political. I bet you can guess what it is.
  39. And speaking of politics, we haven’t been to as many protests as I thought we would this summer, for reasons that are probably obvious, but I’m sorry we weren’t able to make one in support of the post office this weekend. Did you ever think we’d need to protest for the post office? But that’s where we are. For now I’ll have to content myself with writing postcards to voters. I mailed my six hundredth one today, in another batch encouraging Democratic voters in Florida to enroll to vote by mail.
  40. Keep doing whatever you’re doing to help our country weather this dangerous passage and if you have any wishes to spare, send a few our way.

A Goodbye: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 13

On Friday morning around eight, North found our cat Matthew lying on the living room floor near the front door, half-paralyzed and crying in distress. We were all quite surprised because the day before he’d seemed perfectly normal, but now he had no control over his back legs. The first thing that came to mind was that he had type 1 diabetes and this was exactly how it first presented when he was about a year old. We’d just switched him and his brother Xander from high-protein kitten food to regular cat food and one day his legs just gave out and he collapsed onto the kitchen floor. After some short-term insulin, we got him on food for cats with diabetes and he never needed any more insulin or diabetes medicine. At the time, the vet told us as he got older, the special food might not do the trick anymore and then he’d need to go on insulin. That was sixteen years ago, so I thought that the time had finally come for more aggressive treatment.

We carried him to our bed, which is his favorite place, and brought him some water, which he drank, and for the next few hours, we took turns sitting with him alone or in various combinations. He seemed to calm down and stopped crying so much, but every now and then he’d try, unsuccessfully, to stand. Mostly he just lay quietly, breathing more quickly than usual, occasionally napping a little.

Beth was trying to reach the vet’s office but they never picked up the phone so she drove over there to see if there was anything posted on the door about holiday weekend hours. As it turned out, they were closed for the whole day, so she called an animal hospital in the city. It was the same hospital where our first cat, Emily, received treatment at the end of her life and died, eighteen years ago.

After asking a few questions, the staff person at the animal hospital asked us to bring Matthew in. We’d have to leave him in his carrier at the door and they’d take him inside and talk to us by phone as we waited outside. Even though we knew no one was going inside, North and I came along with Beth and Matthew, just in case we knew the answers to any questions, and for moral support. There weren’t many questions, though, and pretty soon after we left him, they told us to go home and said they’d call us.

Late that morning, the vet called with the bad news. It wasn’t his diabetes. It was heart disease, very advanced. They did an ultrasound and found fluid around his heart and lungs. The immediate problem was a blood clot that was preventing him from moving his legs, but his overall prognosis was poor.

We decided to go through with the euthanasia that day. This time all four of us went to the animal hospital. They are putting animals down in the parking garage because of COVID. This sounds really horrible, but they did their best to make a private space. There was a folding screen making a little room out of a corner. It was near a vent blowing cool air, so it wasn’t oppressively hot, and there was a wooden bench with a cushion on it and side tables with boxes of tissues and water.

Only one person was allowed to be there during the procedure, but we were all allowed to visit with him beforehand. The vet brought our loudly meowing cat behind the screen and stepped out, saying we could take as long as we liked and to call her when we were ready. We sat on the bench and petted him and talked to him and kissed the top of his head. He was wrapped up in a white fleece blanket and part of one of his front legs had been shaved, just above the paw, and the port for the drugs was already attached. My heart sank a little further when I saw that.

When we’d said our goodbyes, everyone but me left, and Beth called for the vet to come back from inside the building. I held Matthew while the vet administered the two drugs, the first to render him unconscious and the second one to stop his heart. They took effect more quickly than I thought they would. The vet listened to his chest with a stethoscope and said, “He’s gone.” She told me it had been the compassionate decision. Or at least that’s what I think she said. Between her face shield and her mask and the fact that we were in a garage, it was hard to hear. I just nodded and she asked if I wanted to stay with him for a while and I did. When I finally lay him down on the bench, I found Beth outside and asked her to call someone to come pick him up and I went back to wait with him again because I couldn’t bear to leave his body alone.

It’s three days later and we’re all sad and kind of shocked. One day we thought he was reasonably healthy for a seventeen-year-old cat—his most serious problem seemed to be a tendency toward constipation and some weight loss we thought was due to his digestive issues—and the next day a vet was telling us he was fatally ill.

We spent a quiet fourth of July. The Takoma Park parade and fireworks were cancelled months ago, so our observation of the holiday consisted of watching Hamilton and having a backyard picnic.  And because it was the most patriotic thing I could think to do, I wrote a small batch of postcards, encouraging Florida voters to enroll in the state’s vote by mail program. (I’ve written over a hundred postcards for this campaign alone.)

The next day, Beth, Noah, and I went to another park. We’ve continued to do this every weekend since mid-May and we have yet to repeat a park. The weekend previous we’d been to a charming little creek off the Middle Patuxent, where we could hear what I think was a good-sized bullfrog croaking underneath a mass of submerged tree roots and we could see dozens of these beautiful black-winged, turquoise-bodied dragonflies.

This week we went to South River Farm Park, which as you might guess from the name is on the South River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. We waded in the salty river and in a little pond (until some kayakers warned us out of it, telling us there were snapping turtles and snakes in there). We saw a Great Blue Heron in the pond, and picked some of the plentiful raspberries we found growing along the trail.

I was sorry North had elected not to come because I think they would have liked it but we weren’t sure whether or not the park had beach access when we set out and they didn’t want to come without knowing for sure. (And actually, this park wasn’t even the one we thought we’d visit. Our first and second choice were filled to capacity and closed.) I was timing how long it took to walk from the parking lot to the water and noting the firmness and slope of the path for future reference. Speaking of North’s condition, after the MRI last week, we learned that they have a herniated disk. It may sound like an odd reaction, but Beth and I were both really happy to learn this because it means there’s a concrete reason for their pain and it should guide the physical therapist’s plan. They already have some at-home exercises to do and they’ll have their first full-length PT session on Thursday.

After we left the park we stopped at a nursery, where I got two dwarf sunflowers and a thyme plant, then we went to a farm stand and got some excellent peaches, peach jam, cantaloupe, and tomatoes. We each ate a sweet, juicy peach in the parking lot before picking up some Chinese takeout for lunch and following it up with frozen custard and Italian ice at Rita’s. It was a nice outing and kind of therapeutic to spend so much time outside.

We brought home some extra fortune cookies and gave one of them to North. It said their luck was about to change.

“That could be good or bad,” I observed, but given that they’ve been on crutches since February, our country’s been in the grip of a pandemic since March, and a cat they loved dearly just died, we decided to read it as a good sign.

RIP, Matthew Simon
Circa February 14, 2003-July 3, 2020

He was a beautiful cat and more than a little neurotic, he loved to play with lanyards, which I think he pretended were snakes, and he was a good mouser, even in old age. We will miss him very much.