Life is a Highway

 

Life’s like a road that you travel onWhen there’s one day here and the next day gone

“Life is a Highway,” Rascal Flats

Hey, guess what? North graduated from high school and Noah has news, too.

In the almost two weeks between the last day of school and graduation, North kept busy. This is what they were up to:

1. Baking

We went strawberry-picking the day before Memorial Day and North volunteered to make the strawberry-blueberry shortcake I usually make for our Memorial Day picnic. It was one of many baking projects. They also made chocolate cupcakes with strawberry-whipped cream frosting for their friend Grey’s birthday, and two batches of almond butter-chocolate chip cookies, one of which was for a picnic with friends, and one for us. They made enough of the cupcakes for us to sample them, too.

2. Socializing

Speaking of friends, they were quite social in their time off school. They had a gathering in a playground with friends from middle school (this was the one with cookies) and another gathering at Ranvita’s house with friends from high school, at which everyone made a different pasta or potato dish to share.

The first Saturday in June, roughly the same group of friends also met in downtown Silver Spring for lunch and then went to Ranvita’s house to prepare for Pride Prom, which North attended with El. North says it was more fun than regular prom because it wasn’t as loud, the music was better, and they knew more people. (Beth and I discussed how it was very lesbian to get ready for prom at your ex-girlfriend’s house and go with someone else and everyone is fine with it.)

In addition to all these group social engagements, their new friend Valerie came over and had dinner here one day, and they went to El’s house the afternoon after graduation practice to watch Fear Street 3, having previously watched the first two installments together, and then they went to Maddie’s house the day before graduation to drop off tickets—we had extra and North gave them to several of their junior friends—and they hung out there for a while.

3. Cleaning

The kids and I gave the porch its annual big clean the same day as Pride Prom. This chore involves carrying all the porch furniture onto the lawn, scrubbing the walls and floors with soapy water to remove pollen, grime, and dust, and then lugging the furniture back onto the porch. It also involves water play, usually in the form of Noah spraying North with the hose (with their consent). Because it was a sunny day, the spray made rainbows and that seemed appropriate because it was the first day of Pride month. It also reminded me to find the little Pride flags we stick in our front porch planters in June. (I often leave the flags there all summer and into the fall, taking them down after National Coming Out Day in October.)

4. Dealing with Medical Issues

We also had to squeeze in a lot of appointments before North’s departure for camp. On the day after Memorial Day alone, they had three. One of these meetings, a virtual one, was with the Office of Disability and Access at Oberlin to discuss accommodations. North wants a room on the first floor or in a building with an elevator and access to early registration so they can try to avoid late afternoon classes, as that’s when they get their migraines. The staff person they spoke to was encouraging, but their case hasn’t progressed through all the official channels yet.

Speaking of their migraines, they recently got two new prescriptions, a monthly injectable preventative that you have to be eighteen to take and a rescue nasal spray they just happened to have not tried yet. They’ve only had one injection so far, about three weeks ago, and we can’t tell if it’s making a difference yet, but it can take a while to work (sometimes up to three months), so we’re still hopeful about it. It took so long to get through the red tape that was necessary to obtain the nasal spray that it just arrived on Tuesday and they haven’t tried it yet. We really just need one medication or the other to work because North already has a rescue medicine that works for them, but it can only be taken twice a week, and they get four to five migraines a week. If either of the new medicines works well enough to reduce the number of migraines they get to two a week or fewer or effectively halt them once they start, it will greatly improve their quality of life. So, keep your fingers crossed for that.

5. Watching Television

The Sunday before graduation, North and I were talking about how they were leaving for camp in less than a week and we drew up a list of the six television shows they are watching with various members of the family to see if there was a chance of finishing either all available episodes or a season in any of those shows. It only looked possible for Dr. Who (the kids watched the most recent episode on Monday morning) and maybe Emily in Paris, which they’re watching with me. We had six episodes left in season 2, and we watched three of them on Sunday night, one on Tuesday night, and two on Wednesday night. The four of us also hit the midpoint of season 2 of Grownish.

6. Riding the Rails

In other activities, North enjoys trains, so they amused themselves by taking the Metro to stops they’ve never been just for the ride. One day soon after school let out, they rode the Red Line from one end to the other and were in process of doing the same on the Yellow Line on the Monday before graduation when they exited a train car, not noticing their phone had slipped out of their pocket onto their seat or the floor. They realized what had happened when their podcast cut out as they watched the train the phone was on pull away with it. Metro Lost and Found didn’t respond to inquiries, so we had to get North a new phone. I told them it was an extra graduation present.

7. Being Promoted to Honor Thespian

The same day they lost their phone, Beth, North, and I attended the induction ceremony for the International Thespian Society in the courtyard of their school. There was music playing from various shows that have been put on over the past three years and cake and then we watched all the new and returning thespians each light a votive candle and set it afloat in a metal tub of water. When the candles bump up against each other in the water the melting wax causes some of them fuse. The theater director, Mr. S, explained that each time it creates a different collective pattern from everyone’s individual contribution, just like live theater performance does. It’s a very simple but beautiful ceremony.

Mr. S introduced each student and announced how much credit each had earned for acting, crew work, writing Cappies reviews, participating theater outside school, or taking a theater class. You need at least ten points total in two categories to be inducted and then there are a few levels above that. North was inducted last spring with twenty points, earned thirty more this year, and was awarded ten more from taking an acting class in tenth grade (due to a recent rule change). This meant they will graduate at the Honors Thespian level. The next day at graduation rehearsal, they came home with thespian cords and a Cappies medal (plus a certificate for earning a GPA of 3.75 or higher).

8. Graduating

Graduation was at ten a.m. Thursday at DAR Constitution Hall in the District, and the students were supposed to arrive at 8:30, so we left the house at 7:20. We dropped North off and headed for Peet’s Coffee, where I got a latte and Noah and I split an apple Danish. Beth and I took off on separate walks while Noah waited for us there. The doors were supposed to open for guests at nine, so we were surprised to see the graduates still milling around outside when we arrived.

Instead of letting the kids in first, the doors opened, and everyone was let in at 9:15. North was annoyed at having to wait so long, but that’s how these things go sometimes. We found our seats and waited. We picked a spot where Noah thought would be good for photos, and we noticed Talia’s family on the other side of the hall almost directly across from us. Talia and North went to preschool together and reconnected in high school when they worked on some of the same shows together. Talia’s mom and I have been good friends since our kids were two. Because North went to high school out of boundary and most of their friends this year were juniors, I knew many fewer of the kids graduating than I did at Noah’s graduation, so it was nice to be able to see Talia’s folks experiencing the same thing, if from a distance.

So, you’ve been to a graduation before, right? They are all very similar. There are speeches. The graduates cross the stage and collect their diplomas. People are told at the beginning to hold their applause until all the names have been called and no one does that. (There was an especially fervent fan club of a girl named Sophia sitting near us.)

Beth predicted ahead of time that covid would feature prominently in the speeches since this class had their first year of high school almost completely online. The principal spoke about that and about how their first year was his first year as principal of the school, and how it took a while for him to get to know their class. The student speaker quoted the song “Life is a Highway” and used it as a metaphor for their trip through their high school years, from the online ninth grade year through the masks, distancing, and limited extracurriculars of their sophomore year to the more open last two years.

I always pay attention to names, and while I didn’t go so far as to count to see what was most popular, it seems there were quite a lot of Zoës and Sophias in North’s class. The most interesting names belonged to a boy whose two middle names were John Coltrane and a girl who was named Love Lee Angel plus one more middle name and a last name.

After we’d gone from Abrahams to Zuniga, all the names had been called. Caps flew into the air. North only tossed theirs a few inches because they’d bejeweled it with the Oberlin logo and they wanted to keep it for pictures. That was what we did next. We met El and several of North’s junior friends who’d come to perform in the choir or watch the ceremony—for pictures.

The rest of the day had been planned by North. We went to Sunflower for a late lunch. It’s our favorite vegetarian Chinese restaurant but we don’t go often because it’s in Vienna, Virginia, which is kind of a hike from where we live. We most often go in October, as it’s near our traditional pumpkin patch. We were all very hungry by the time we got there, and the food was delicious. We are especially fond of the fake shrimp.

Back in Maryland, frozen yogurt was our next stop, but I had to abstain because it was too close to lunch and my blood sugar was in what I consider the special occasion range and still rising. Next, we went to downtown Silver Spring and watched Challengers, which was fun. Miles and Maddie met us there after the movie was over for more pictures because they hadn’t managed to meet up with us in the city.

We got home and had a late dinner of frozen entrees. We figured ahead of time there would be no time to cook dinner that night, so we’d stocked up. While we ate, North opened their graduation gifts. They’d previously opened checks from both grandmothers; Noah got them an earring rack; I got them two t-shirts from Takoma businesses (a Takoma Beverage Company shirt with rainbow letters and a tie-dyed shirt from People’s Book where North’s queer poetry book club met); and Beth got them a stuffed white squirrel wearing an Oberlin College t-shirt. North had requested a stuffed white squirrel that was “less scary” than the angry-looking mascot they’d found on the campus store’s website. Beth made the t-shirt herself with an iron-on Oberlin logo. I told them my gift and Beth’s were to remind them of where they’d come from and where they were going.

And then North had to finish up their packing because the very next day they were…

Going to Camp

The next day Beth, North, and I drove to the Girl Scout camp in western Virginia where they are going to spend most of the summer as a counselor. It’s in the George Washington National Forest, near the West Virginia border. Beth had a meeting that went until one and we left soon after. The drive was supposed to take two and a half to three hours, but with traffic it took almost four, with a few brief pit stops for coffee, gas, and restrooms. We listened to podcasts (Handsome, Normal Gossip, and The Moth) and watched the scenery get less suburban and more mountainous. We arrived at camp at five, a half hour late for counselor orientation, but the staff person who met us said the tour had just started and North hadn’t missed much. We dropped their stuff off in their cabin and said a hasty goodbye.

I would have liked to get a better look at the camp, but from what I saw it was much more rustic than the Girl Scout camp they attended the summers they were nine, ten, and eleven. There are no flush toilets, and the cabins have no electricity. I know there’s a charging station counselors can use, plus washing machines, driers, and refrigerators somewhere, and a row of sinks with running water in a shelter outside the latrines, so there are some modern conveniences.

It felt strange to drive away so soon after arriving, but North gets weekends off—the campers rotate in and out every week and the sessions run from Sundays to Fridays, with Saturdays off for counselors—and there’s a bus that runs between Silver Spring and camp that both campers and counselors can take, so they intend to come home sometimes, maybe as soon as in two weeks.

Meanwhile, in News of the Other Kid….

After leaving camp, we found an Italian restaurant nearby where we had pizza before hitting the road back to our own summer as a trio. A summer, which will involve employment for Noah, as it turns out. As we approached the restaurant I got a text from him. Do any of you remember the job he interviewed for in February with a media company that took forever to get back to him? Well, he got that job. It’s a full-time video editing position that will start in about a week and last until early November. The company makes video content for businesses, organizations, and Democratic political campaigns. They’re hiring extra help for the election season.

Noah’s been working only sporadically since last summer (most often for this very office) so it’s a relief for him to have something steady for the next several months. It looks like both kids are embarking on summer adventures, expected and unexpected, as they travel life’s highway. I’m very happy for them both.

Serial Celebrations

Celebration #1: Birthday

“It’s a good thing you’re coming,” I said to North as we walked out the door Saturday morning. “Because I love you and I enjoy your company, but also because I might need your help.” The point of the outing was to claim my birthday reward at Starbucks, and I sometimes have trouble figuring out how to redeem stars and rewards on the app and one kid or the other has to help me.

This time it was clear what I needed to do, however, so I didn’t need help and soon North and I were enjoying our drinks and pastries. I got a latte and a cake pop. I would have gotten the birthday cake pop because I can be literal like that, but they had a new flavor I wanted to try (orange) so I went with that. North had a nibble and said they liked it better than the pineapple cake they got. I tried North’s berry-flavored bubble tea, and I thought it tasted like cotton candy.

I left North sitting outside Starbucks while I walked several blocks to the library to return The Scarlet Letter, which I had just read for book club, and then I returned. On our way home we dropped off some children’s books at a Little Free Library. I am still distributing the books the kids culled from their rooms back in March. The supply in the cardboard box in the living room is slowly dwindling. It felt like a very productive morning walk.

After lunch, Noah and I read The Interestings, and then we all enjoyed the strawberry cake with lemon frosting Beth made at my request. (I remembered the lemon frosting on North’s birthday cake and how good it was.) It was excellent as Beth’s cakes always are.

I opened a couple presents—two kinds of nut butter from my sister (pistachio and lemon-cashew-coconut) and an Oberlin hoodie from Beth. I’d been saying for about a year that when North chose a college, I would replace the rather worse-for-the-wear WVU hoodie I’d been wearing since North was in kindergarten with one from their new alma mater. (Many members of Beth’s family went to WVU, and it was a present from her mom.) Earlier in the week I’d opened a card from Beth’s mom informing me a tree was being planted in a national forrest in my name. The kids got me one big gift for my birthday and Mother’s Day combined, and I’d elected to open it the next day. My birthday is always near Mother’s Day and this year it was the day before, so my birthday was just the first act of the weekend festivities.

After presents Noah and I watched an episode of Angel and then we surrendered the television to North who needed to watch Thor Ragnarok for their mythology class. They’d missed movies in two classes while taking the AP English exam the week before and they had to complete assignments on both, so we’d all watched The Judge with them the night before. That one was for their law class. You know it’s almost the end of the year when the teachers start showing a lot of movies.

I talked to my mom on the phone, and she told me I had two gifts coming. She didn’t tell me what the first one was because she thought it would come soon, but the second one wasn’t going to arrive until late May. I had a pretty good idea she had pre-ordered the latest Stephen King because I’d asked for it. She confirmed my suspicion.

We went out to dinner at El Golfo. I had the spinach enchiladas, which is what I always get there, and Beth and I split a dish of chocolate mousse. They had a nice set up for people to take Mother’s Day photos. When Noah asked who would be in the picture, I said just Beth and me.

“Are you a mother? No, you are not,” I said, but North pointed out that without the kids we would not be mothers, so we took one without the offspring and one with them.

At home, we watched Grownish and then my sister called shortly before Beth and I went to bed. And the first celebration was a wrap.

Celebration #2: Mother’s Day

North asked us ahead of time if we’d like breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day and we decided to eat it at the table instead, but they did make us both breakfast to order. I had fried eggs, vegetarian sausage patties, strawberries, and Red Zinger tea. It was luxurious to have a meal cooked just for me.

North was going to spend the afternoon and evening at Maddie’s, so they asked if I’d like to watch Emily in Paris in the morning. It seemed a good idea since Noah and I had watched our show the day before. When Beth got back from grocery shopping, we opened our Mother’s Day presents from the kids. Beth got six dark chocolate bars in different flavors from the kids, and I got a new purple backpack. My old backpack, which I think I’ve had since I stopped carrying a diaper bag, is developing a hole in the bottom, so I’d asked for one. (The surprise was the color—I gave the kids several options.) I haven’t actually started using it because I have to clean out the old one and transfer all the things that I carry in it to the new one. It’s kind of a rat’s nest in there, so that will be a project.

The kids’ next project was to start prepping for dinner. I’d asked Noah if he could cook dinner, since Saturday is his night, but we’d gone out to dinner, so he had not cooked, and Sunday is Beth’s night, and it didn’t seem right for her to have to cook. He agreed and asked her what she’d like, as I had chosen the restaurant the night before. She requested the vegetarian crab cakes he’d made once before. (The main ingredients are chickpeas, artichokes, and hearts of palm blended and fried). North volunteered to help even though they wouldn’t be home to eat them, which was just as well because they don’t like them. As it turned out, both kids had evening plans, so Beth would fry the cakes herself and roast asparagus to go with them.

Once the dough was made and stowed in the fridge, and Noah and I had read a half a chapter of The Interestings, Beth and I left to take North to Maddie’s and Noah headed off to his weekly game night at a Panera in Rockville. I went with Beth and North because Beth and I were taking a walk in Brookside Gardens. While we were there, we saw a wedding party, many families on Mother’s Day outings, and group of geese with three adults and a half-dozen or so half-grown goslings.

We came home, relaxed a little, and then Beth finished preparing the not-crab cakes and we had what she deemed “a romantic dinner” for two, before snuggling on the couch to watch Abbott Elementary and The Big Door Prize. It was a nice end to a weekend in which I spent time with the whole family, and alone with my firstborn, my youngest, and with the woman who has been with me for every step of this motherhood journey.

Bittersweet

Last Field Trip

When I wrote to my sister to tell her I wouldn’t be working on Friday because I was going to chaperone a field trip, my last ever, she replied, “Last field trip…bittersweet!”

It’s just one last after another for kids and parents alike senior year. I hadn’t done this particular parenting duty for a while though. My heyday of chaperoning field trips for North was fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. (I never did one for Noah after preschool because when he was in elementary school, he had a younger sibling I was looking after and after that the schools didn’t ask very often. Plus, he never seemed to want me to do it as much as North did.)

After supervising a bunch of rowdy sixth-graders attending a chorus festival, I wasn’t in a hurry to do it again, but it had been six years and I had an inkling high school seniors in an AP English class would be better behaved.

It was also a draw that trip was to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I’d been only once before, when Beth’s mom and aunt were visiting in 2017 and I remembered feeling rushed on that visit. I was the slowest to move through the displays and I had not finished the history section and never got to culture at all.

It’s an excellent museum, but it wasn’t completely clear why the AP Lit classes were visiting. They’ve read African American literature, of course, but the trip didn’t seem explicitly tied to what they’d read. According to North, there hadn’t been any discussion ahead of time about how the visit would connect to Their Eyes Were Watching God or any other works of literature. I wondered why.

North and I left the house at 7:25 on Friday morning and caught a bus that would take us to the Takoma Metro. We had the choice to meet up either at school or at the Wheaton Metro, and the Metro stop is on North’s way to school, so we went there. We got there a little early and I ate the breakfast I’d packed from home. There was a young woman using the same low concrete wall I was using as a table to set out her breakfast from Dunkin’ Donuts and the makeup she was applying. I didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out she was on the trip, too.

Once the students, teachers, and chaperones had arrived at the Metro station I received a map of the museum and a list of the students in my group. A teacher took roll, and I was able to cross off three kids in my group who weren’t there or who had been switched to another group, but I did not have the remaining kids collected. Apparently, that would happen later. We all got on the Metro and went to Metro Center.

Here we were supposed to divide into groups, but it wasn’t clear how because I couldn’t put kids’ names to faces and they had not been told ahead of time their group numbers, which would have enabled them to find me. It was a big crowd, three sections of AP Lit, probably about seventy-five kids. North and the kids I did have with me tried to help locate the other kids on the list, but I don’t think I ever had all eight of them in one place at the same time.

I was moderately stressed about this, but whenever I let North’s teacher know I didn’t have all my group with me, she didn’t seem all that concerned, and she said she’d find the rest of them. It didn’t seem as if they were supposed to stay with me the whole time anyway, just to check in at certain points, though it also seemed all the chaperones were handling it differently. Instructions were never clear.

We walked from Metro Center to the museum and got in line. There was a group of high school students from Michigan in line next to us. Two of them were in Trump or MAGA gear, which caused North to raise their eyebrows at me. We had timed tickets for 10:15. We were given instructions to convene for lunch at the food trucks at 12:15. My group immediately dissolved and North and I were left alone to explore the museum for two hours. North said a little sadly that El was supposed to come on the trip but couldn’t because it conflicted with a coffeehouse the literary magazine was putting on at lunch that they were helping to organize, so they’d stayed at school. It was an odd echo of the fifth-grade trip to Mount Vernon, when I ended up chaperoning just North, who was using crutches and a wheelchair and couldn’t keep up with their classmates. I must say though, that just like at Mount Vernon, I enjoyed the unexpected one-on-one time with North.

We had a list of two things to try to see on each of the museum’s five levels, so we used that as our guide. We started on the first floor at the Afrofuturism exhibit, where we checked off the Janelle Monae video and Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther suit. (Throughout various parts of the museum, North was interested in actors’ and musicians’ costumes, which makes sense, as they spent a lot of time in high school on costumes crew or as costumes manager.) I found this exhibit very interesting. It took a broad view of Afrofuturism, including for instance the Abolitionist movement. Though I’d always heard of Afrofutrism as an artistic movement, the Abolitionists did imagine a different future for African Americans, so it makes sense. The exhibit also went beyond science fiction and speculative fiction, considering the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley as Afrofuturist. North and I had a good talk about the exhibit, and they were kind enough to let me go on and on about Octavia Butler.

This would not have been true if we’d made it to the history section of the museum, but we didn’t, so my most heart-rending moment came in Afrofuturism. There was a display case with three space-related uniforms. The first one belonged to a NASA astronaut. The second one was a costume worn by Nichelle Nichols, the first black woman crew member on Star Trek. The third one was from a kids’ space camp and had belonged to Trayvon Martin. His name was embroidered on it. Seeing that was a gut punch.

Next, we went all the way to the top of the museum and worked our way down from the fifth floor (Music, Art, Performance, Culture). North rested on a bench and watched a video while I made a quick scan of the floor to get a lay of the land and find the suggested items so we could visit them together first. It was easy to find Chuck Berry’s Cadillac, though probably not so impressive for North, as they’d never heard of Chuck Berry. They dutifully read the plaque about him. I tried to take a picture of the bright red car but there were too many people in the way, so I gave up. (I didn’t end up taking any pictures inside the museum.) The second destination was Neighborhood Record Store, which consisted of a faux record store where you could page through album covers, interlaced with informational placards about artists. After that, we wandered around the floor, taking in the displays, especially costumes. I think it might have been here I saw a purple cape worn by Prince that kind of surprised me with the awe and joy it made me feel. I’m not even a huge Prince fan, but still… It was one of the sweet moments, interspersed with the bitter.

We didn’t spend too much time on the main part of the fourth floor (Sports, Military, Education), but we made sure to find Kobe Bryant’s Lakers uniform and to stop at the Place Table. This was a table with a screen. Photos moved all over it and when you touched one it would stop and text about the place in the photo and what it meant to the person in the photo would appear. It was part of a larger exhibit about sense of place. I watched part of a video about an African American town on Martha’s Vineyard, while North lingered at the Place Table, reading people’s stories.

The third floor was devoted to Interactives. We watched an instructional video about how to dance in a step show. (Some people were in front of the screen dancing along.) Even though we were hurrying by this point because we needed to be out of the museum soon, North later said the Green Book display was their favorite feature in the museum. You sit in a car, with a screen for a windshield. It shows you where you are driving on a map and you have access to the Green Book, which helps you select restaurants and hotels where African Americans could stay along your route.

We were almost out of time and intended to quickly pop into the history galleries on the second floor to find the stools that came from North Carolina Woolworth’s that were used in a sit-in and to walk through the segregated train car, but these galleries were crowded, and  you are funneled into the fifteenth century, so we didn’t think we could make it to the twentieth century in the time we had left without dashing through the galleries, which did not seem like a respectful thing to do. We did glimpse the train car from an atrium a floor above.

We reported back to the lobby where I could only find one member of my group. It turned out the meeting place was outside the museum and by the time North, the other kid, and I went outside all the kids were in line at the food trucks. North’s teacher let me know everyone was accounted for and we got our lunches, walked back to the Metro, and headed home.

Other Lasts

The field trip was not the only last of North’s high school career this week. Last weekend they attended their last two Cappies shows, The Adams Family on Friday night and The Prom on Saturday night, and they wrote a review for each one. I don’t think they’ve ever attended two plays in one weekend before, so they went out with a bang. Also, the Adams Family review will be published in The Alexandria Times. This was their first published review of the year, so that made them happy, partly for the validation, but also because it gave them the last point they needed to graduate as a five-star thespian. I asked if they were happy or sad to be done with Cappies (except for the meeting to vote on awards for plays) and they said both because it was fun but also a lot of work. 

Tomorrow and Thursday North will take an IB math exam, Friday they will go to the prom with El, and the following week they have the AP Lit exam. Over the weekend, Noah was helping North with their math homework and I was at the dining room table, half-listening to them. My phone was showing me memories of my kids eighteen years ago and I showed North a picture of themselves as a one-month old. “I was little then,” they said. “I didn’t have to do calculus. When did the expectations change?” I wonder the same thing sometimes.

There are several weeks of school left, and one more dance in early June (Pride Prom) but after a busy spell, things should start winding down soon. And then high school will really be over. I can hardly wrap my head around that bittersweet reality.

Spring Fever: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 83

North’s birthday was also the first day of their spring break. Over break they studied for the IB math exam they’ll be taking in May, the two of us went to Koma for coffee on Tuesday, and on Thursday they went to the U.S. Botanical Gardens with El. That was their night to cook, and they felt ambitious enough to make sourdough bread (from a mix they got for Christmas) for the grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup they’d already been planning to make.

We often travel over spring break, but we’ve been making a lot of trips to colleges, with one more trip coming up in a couple days, and Beth has been to Wheeling to stay with her mom twice this year and she’ll be back for a third time soon, so we decided against it. But shortly before break I said in an offhand way that maybe we should take a day trip and North was all over it. They planned a very nice one, a morning browsing the historic bayside town of St. Michael’s, lunch at one of four vegetarian-friendly restaurants they identified for our consideration, and then a stroll in a nearby park. We decided to do it on Good Friday because Beth’s office is closed that day.

But we didn’t take this delightful-sounding outing. Remember how I said only two posts ago that I might not write about covid again? Silly me. Noah had started to feel mildly ill on Sunday, the day after North’s birthday, and I did, too, a day after that. I had a sore throat and some congestion. I might have had a slight fever on Tuesday—I don’t know because I didn’t take my temperature. The worst day was Wednesday, mainly because of intense fatigue. But I tested negative for covid Wednesday morning. We went ahead and went to family therapy, and when we mentioned both Noah and I had upper respiratory symptoms, the therapist immediately sent us home (per office policy, which we didn’t remember from our intake paperwork). I was already starting to feel better by Thursday.

On Friday morning, shortly before we were going to leave for St. Michael’s, North said if we were going to eat in an indoor restaurant, Noah should really test for covid, so he did… and he was positive. I followed suit and I was positive, too. Beth and North were negative. By this point, none of us was feeling very sick, but we decided to ditch the St. Michael’s trip and take our germs somewhere that was likely to be less crowded.

We got takeout from Busboys and Poets and had a picnic lunch at Fort Washington Park, which is on the Maryland side of the Potomac. It has nice river views, but it turned out the lighthouse was under construction and a lot of the places you can walk nearby were fenced off and inaccessible. We did learn about the interesting history of the fort. During the War of 1812, as British forces approached, the commander of the fort, outmanned and outgunned, decided to set fire to the fort and flee. Flaming ships were launched in the direction of the British forces. (That last tidbit seems right out of Our Flag Means Death.) The commander was court martialed for abandoning his post, btw.

Over the next several days, we didn’t strictly isolate, but we tried to stay away from each other more than usual. Well, not all of us. Noah and I hung out in his room reading and we cooked a stir-fry together on Saturday, since we couldn’t infect each other. Also, as Beth and I were sharing a bedroom and breathing the same air all night long, I wasn’t that careful around her either. But we opened windows for air circulation, and ate in separate rooms or outside. We masked on the occasions when all four of us came together to watch tv or to dye Easter eggs in the back yard.

The egg dyeing was on Saturday afternoon. As we waited for the eggs to dry and then decorated them with stickers and the little felt hats we use for this purpose every year, North read us a list of one hundred reasons they should attend Oberlin, sent to them in an email, and quizzed me on whether in my experience each one was true. (Beth had gone inside by this point.) This was fun and funny and happy and sad all at once, thinking how close North is to leaving, no matter where they go, and how precious it felt to do this kind of ridiculous activity (taping little hats to colored eggs—why do we do this?) one more time. I am not saying one last time, because who knows what the future holds? North’s college spring breaks may sometimes coincide with Easter and even if both kids move far away, who’s to say they won’t happen to visit us near Easter some year?

Later that night I said to North, “I have a question about the Easter Bunny. When there are no minors in the house any more…”

North interrupted, “I still expect him to bring me candy.”

I clarified the question was about whether the Bunny still hides the baskets and North was adamant that he still does, so the baskets were duly hidden.

North’s last day of break was Easter Monday. They made brownies in the afternoon, and I quit work a little early to watch Emily in Paris with them. I made egg salad with our Easter eggs for dinner. They went back at school today, having never gotten sick. It will be a short week for them, though, just two days, because on Thursday morning we are leaving for Oberlin’s admitted students’ day. Our last MCPS spring break is over. It’s time to think about what comes next.

Petals and Parties

Tuesday: Blossom Party

The National Park Service and the Washington Post Capital Weather Gang each make a prediction for the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms every year. This year, the only day of overlap between the two predictions was North’s birthday, so we thought there was a good chance their birthday, a Saturday, would fall during peak bloom. They wanted to go see them on their birthday, after their birthday party the night before. It seemed like a good plan. But then the second week in March it was remarkably warm, over seventy degrees most days, and the blossoms reached peak bloom on the Sunday six days before North’s birthday.

The peak lasts just four to five days on average and North had already convinced me to let them stay home from school Tuesday because the juniors were taking the SAT that day and not much instruction was going to happen. So, afraid we’d miss the blooms if we waited until Saturday, I asked the kids if they’d like to come down to the Tidal Basin with me on Tuesday and they both said yes. (I tried to talk Beth into it, too, but she couldn’t take the time away from work.)

The timing was a little tricky. North had a dentist appointment in the city at 8:30 a.m. and Noah had a concert at 6:00 p.m., also in the city, so North preferred a morning visit, and Noah would have liked an afternoon one, but North also had a virtual therapy appointment at 4:00 p.m. so they needed to be back home for that, and we settled on morning. Then North invited a friend to join us and set the time to meet them at 10:45 at the Smithsonian Metro station. From there they’d go to the MLK Memorial, where Noah and I would meet them.

Beth took North to the dentist and after the appointment left them at a coffeeshop at near the Friendship Heights Metro, as they had some time to kill. Noah and I left the house at 9:35 and arrived at the Smithsonian stop at 10:25. I was thinking we’d meet North and El there instead of the memorial, but once we got above ground it was cold, in the low forties and very windy, and the zipper on my jacket was broken, so suddenly getting warm drinks seemed like a better idea than waiting for twenty minutes, so we went to Starbucks and then walked to the MLK Memorial, where North and El were waiting on a bench, surrounded by puffy pale pink petals.

We walked to the FDR Memorial and then North and El decided to stay there while Noah and I walked the perimeter of the Tidal Basin. We haven’t done the whole loop in a long time, as there was a narrow window between when North was old enough to walk that far (maybe age five) and before they developed mobility issues (around eleven). It was a nice walk. There were a lot of people, but the path wasn’t jam-packed. We saw ducks and geese on the water and the sky was partly blue. It was warmer and less windy among the trees than it had been on the streets walking from the Metro. And the trees were just perfect.

We paid our respects to Stumpy, the famous little cherry tree with a mostly hollow trunk that doesn’t look like it should be able to bloom but does every year. There’s a lesson there, I think. Sadly, Stumpy is among the over 150 trees that are slated to be cut down after the bloom is over this year because the seawall around the Tidal Basin needs to be rebuilt to prevent the frequent floods that endanger all the trees. I understand why it’s necessary, but it’s still sad. A lot of people must feel the same way because there were a lot more people than usual taking Stumpy’s picture.

We met back up with North and El and decided to have lunch at Panera. As we walked, the 12th graders talked about their college plans and compared notes on the cliques in the theater program and the Visual Arts Center (a magnet art program within North’s school that El attends). North was navigating with their phone, and it turned out the Panera they’d found was in the Ronald Reagan Building basement. We had to go through security that was tighter than some airport security—Noah and I had to remove our watches—and then the restaurant, which I thought would be in the food court, was off down a long, empty corridor, and when we finally found it Noah discovered he’d ordered ahead to the wrong Panera, so he peeled off to go get his food. He spent the rest of the afternoon at museums, killing time until his concert. He said later it was a fun day.

Meanwhile, because there were no seats at Panera, North, El and I walked (for the second time) past a big cybersecurity event in the atrium flanked by two menacing, two-story-tall robot statues, and we returned to the food court where we joined the many middle and high school tour groups in matching hoodies or windbreakers. I was tired and hungry, and it was good to eat my grilled cheese and soup. Then we splurged on ice cream before we got on the Metro and headed home.

Friday: Bowling Party

Friday morning North left for school with a container of rainbow-sprinkle blondies. The treats weren’t for their birthday, they were for El, who shares a birthday with North. (They couldn’t come to North’s party because they were having a party of their own the same night.) Our kitchen was a busy place for a few days there because in addition to normal meals and North making blondies Thursday afternoon, Beth started making North’s three-layer lavender cake with lemon frosting on Wednesday (making lavender-infused milk and lavender syrup) and continued with the different steps through Thursday (making the cake and frosting) and Friday (assembly and decoration). North asked for a cake with a lavender plant and a bee in the frosting. Didn’t it come out well?

We met North’s friends at 5:30 at Roscoe’s, where we picked up a bunch of pizzas and other food. We ate at the public picnic tables on Laurel Avenue, with North and their friends at one table and Beth, Noah, and me at another. It was a chilly, windy afternoon and Beth and I were not dressed warmly enough, so once we’d finished eating, we walked around the empty tables under the tent, frequently looping back to ours. I caught bits of the party conversation, which centered on summer plans, jobs, mutual acquaintances, classes, and the theater program at North’s school and Miles and Maddie’s school. Five out of the six kids have just finished a show at one of those schools, either as cast or crew, so they had stories to share with each other. They also talked a bit about college, as all the guests are juniors just beginning their college search and North’s at the end of theirs.

We ate cake next—the lemon frosting was so good it rivals the fresh strawberry frosting Beth often makes and the cake was nice and moist. North opened cards, including a hand-drawn one with bees and flowers that Marisa had made that Miles and Maddie signed, too. Marisa illustrated her own wrapping paper as well. North’s presents included a pair of crocheted sunflower earrings, a journal, and some contributions to their tattoo fund. When all the presents were opened, and North had read all the affectionate messages in the cards aloud, and the cake was eaten, I observed that the bowling alley was probably heated, and everyone gathered up their things and we left.

We went duckpin bowling. This form of bowling is popular in Maryland, and I remember taking Noah to a few birthday parties at these lanes when he was in elementary school (the little balls are great for kids) and then in high school he filmed a short documentary about a bowling league there. However, we are not big bowlers, and we hadn’t been there as a family since the summer North was four, on an outing they do not recall. We got another pizza and pitcher of soda that came free with the lane, and we also ordered fried pickles and tater tots. The kids made short work of the fried treats and ate most of the pizza, too. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and conversation was lively. After our two hours were up, the guests’ parents came to pick them up—Anastasia, who is the only one with a drivers’ license, and who had helped ferry guests to the bowling alley, joked that she didn’t think she’d have to wait long for her ride.

Marisa came home with us because she was sleeping over. Her older brother goes to St. Mary’s, so she and North talked about its pros and cons in the car. Beth and I went to bed soon after we got home, so I don’t know much about what they did, but I heard them making popcorn in the kitchen around one a.m. and North says they watched Bottoms. In the morning after a breakfast of bagels and fruit salad, Marisa’s dad came to get her, and the party was over. I couldn’t help but think in a gently melancholy way of all the birthday parties both kids have had in this house over the years—starting with Noah’s first birthday party—and how this was probably the last one.

Saturday: Blossom After-Party

But I didn’t have much time for nostalgic thoughts on North’s actual birthday. It was a very busy day and it started with a bang. North found out that morning that they got into Oberlin and with more aid than we expected. So now Oberlin is in the mix, much to everyone’s surprise, honestly. We will be headed to Ohio for an admitted students’ day the first week of April. Now North has heard from all six schools where they applied, and they got into five. (Only Mount Holyoke turned them down.)

Later that morning Beth and I went to an appliance store to look at induction stoves and we bought one. We’re doing a mini-kitchen renovation—we’re getting a new stove, new flooring, and a new back door. More on that in a later post perhaps.

In the early afternoon we left for our main outing of the day. We were returning to the Tidal Basin because North wanted to go on their actual birthday and because Beth hadn’t been yet. North wanted to bookend this trip with visits to Starbucks and Baskin-Robbins to collect free coffee and ice cream.

After a warm week caused the blossoms to pop early, we had a rather chilly week and that prolonged the bloom, so the timing wasn’t bad after all. It wasn’t easy getting there, though. There was a lot of traffic and we got diverted away from the road we were intending to take and had to drive over the bridge to Virginia. It was hard to get turned around back in the right direction and then we needed a bathroom break, so we stopped at National Airport, so the detour was a lengthy one.

When we finally got back to the Tidal Basin, we actually found a parking spot in one of the lots not too far from the blossoms and we walked there. There were more blossoms in the air and on the ground than there had been on Tuesday, but there were still plenty on the trees. We walked to the Jefferson Memorial and walked up the stairs to the statue. After that North wanted to rest on a bench, so the rest of us went to the FDR Memorial and then to where the food trucks and stage was. We watched some flamenco dancers and Noah got churros. It was a bit of a rushed visit because it was getting late, but any time I get to go to the Tidal Basin twice in a bloom period, I consider it a bonus.

On the way home, we stopped at Baskin Robbins, where everyone but me got ice cream—it was already six and I thought if I had some my blood sugar would not come down in time for dinner, even if we ate late. North opened some family presents we’d brought with us, a check from Beth’s mom, a pair of cherry blossom earrings, three skeins of lavender yarn, and a brown-sugar cinnamon syrup for coffee. North was pleased with everything.

Back at home Noah and I made a tater tot casserole, which was the birthday dinner North requested. Noah menu plans on Saturdays and he agreed to this dish, even though he doesn’t like vegetarian chicken or peas and he’s not even a big fan of tater tots and he ended up eating leftover pizza for dinner. The rest of us ate the casserole, which is quite good if not low carb—we made one corner of it only half-covered with tots for me. After dinner we ate leftover cake and started to watch See How They Run, which North chose, but we only had time for about half of it.

After the After Party: Sunday to Tuesday

It was just a coincidence that Beth and I undertook this nostalgia-inducing project the day after North turned eighteen, but North is in the process of clearing unwanted possessions out of their room as well as removing things they left behind in Noah’s room the last time that they switched bedrooms (in 2019), and there’s been a steady stream of dolls, stuffed animals, and books exiting both rooms.

On Sunday Beth and I sorted through the toys, and I did the books on Tuesday. I resisted the urge to keep very many toys. Other than a couple that belonged to me as a child, I only kept a rag doll that Noah was devoted to as a toddler. North is keeping a few stuffed animals, so I didn’t save any of theirs. Beth, who is less of a pack rat than me, said she was proud of me.  It was a little harder to part with books, but I filled a cardboard box with kids’ books to give away, and only kept about a quarter of what North didn’t want.

We have everything sorted to go to Value Village, the fairy tree (a hollow tree near the playground where people leave trinkets), Little Free Libraries, and the art materials library (think a Little Free Library for art supplies). It will take a while to get rid of everything—I can only carry so much on my walks—but we are freeing up space in both rooms. Noah has a new bookcase he can fit in his room now that the toy box and doll crib are gone, and he’s agreed to house the Harry Potter books and the Series of Unfortunate Events books there. When the question of ultimate ownership of these tomes came up, I said whoever produces grandchildren first gets them. I try not to give the kids the impression I expect them to have kids of their own or that I am owed grandchildren. I don’t want to be that kind of mom, but after the momentous week we’ve had, I must admit the thought of reading those books again to a beloved child, however far in the future, is comforting.

Merry and Bright

Eight days out, Christmas preparations are in full swing. The living room and yard are decorated. My shopping is finished, barring any last-minute impulse purchases. Our Christmas cards are a little more than half addressed, and I’m more than halfway finished wrapping presents, but there are some left and more come in the mail every day, so it’s hard to get caught up. I am not stressed about the gifts, but I do wish the cards were in the mail.

In addition to the pinwheel cookies, our resident baker made Christmas crack, or toffee bark if you prefer to call it that, which I think I might. They filled a tin with it and gave it to our new next-door neighbors as a housewarming gift, and in the two days since they made it, we finished the rest. Sometime this week I’m going to make gingerbread dough, which we’ll take to Blackwater with us and bake there.

We’ve been watching a lot of Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies, mostly with gay or lesbian protagonists. We usually watch one or two in December, but so far, we’ve watched four and I don’t think we’re finished. I can’t really say what accounts for this behavior. To balance it out, the kids and I have also been watching Christmas horror (Krampus and the Day of the Beast) and Friday night all of us watched Tokyo Godfathers, which is also kind of dark and takes place at Christmas (though North asserts is not a Christmas movie).

Our main Christmas activities over the past few days have been a visit to Brookside Gardens to see the lights, and a trip to Butler’s Orchard to get a Christmas tree. We went to Brookside on Thursday. It was hard to pick a day because of the need to ration North’s migraine medicine, but we settled on that day partly because it’s North’s night to cook and if we went to the lights on the same evening they could take part in two medication-enabled activities for the price of one. This is the kind of strategizing we do constantly. I commented after we’d figured out the plan that North’s headaches are like Noah’s homework used to be, the axis around which the whole family turns.

Anyway, it was a fun outing, and it felt particularly festive because just that day North had found out they got into Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, bringing the number of schools to which they’ve been admitted to four. (The third one was Towson University, which I don’t think I mentioned.) Both Saint Mary’s and Towson are state schools. Saint Mary’s is the public honors college. So now their current choices are one school in Wales, one in Rhode Island, and two in Maryland. They’ve heard from all the schools to which they applied early action, and there will be a pause of a few months before they hear from the remaining two (Oberlin and Mount Holyoke) to which they applied regular decision. It will be interesting to see where they land.

Getting back to Brookside…at a stand just inside the entrance, Beth and the kids got hot chocolate, cookies, and funnel cake. My blood sugar had gone higher than I expected on dinner (or maybe my newly changed sensor wasn’t fully calibrated yet) so I decided to abstain, except for a sip of Beth’s hot chocolate and few bites of North’s funnel cake.

Once we had food we started to walk through the gardens. The lights were lovely, as always, and mostly the same as always. (Beth did notice a snail she thought was new.) I have too many favorites to list, but the Loch Ness monster is probably my top pick. It blows fog out of its mouth. I’m also fond of the croaking frog. We saw a toddler boy standing by it with a look of pure wonder on his face.

We walked through the display a little more quickly than usual, as it was chilly evening. Also, Noah had forgotten his camera and usually he stops to take a lot of pictures. I was kind of sorry not have those. I took some, but his are always better, partly because he has a fancy camera and partly because he’s a skilled photographer.

Two days later we headed out to Butler’s, where we get strawberries in the spring and blueberries and blackberries in the summer, in addition to Christmas trees in December. I don’t know why, but there were a lot fewer trees on offer than usual. There was also a sign saying they only had six-foot trees, although, as Beth pointed out, the orchard seemed to have “a generous interpretation” of six feet. Many were probably more like five and half feet, based on how they measured up against our son, who’s 5’ 8’’. We picked a silver fir that was probably about six feet tall that North liked. I was concerned that it might not be big enough for our ornament collection, but there was nothing much bigger, so we had it baled and put on top of the car. (And later when I looked at a picture from last year of North standing near our tree right after we’d picked it out, it looked about the same size, so we’ll see.)

We went to the farm market where we shopped for little gifts and treats for ourselves. I got a caramel pecan turtle truffle and a slice of gingerbread for later. Noah got a bottle of something called “eggnog milk” because he wanted to see if it was any different from regular eggnog. He reported later that it was not.

There’s another week of school and work before winter break. We’ll be opening presents from my West Coast relatives a little early, on the Solstice, to make room in our always-crowded car for the drive to West Virginia. That will add a little more merriment to the last days of the wait for Christmas.

Magic, Wonder, Joy

Almost a week ago Beth, Noah, and I picked North up from school toward the end of fourth period and drove to the Wheaton Metro stop, where we boarded a train headed for the city. We had gotten tickets for the White House Christmas tour from Beth’s office.

We’d been to White House tours or events a number of times in the over thirty years we’ve lived in the DC metro area. Five, the number is five: a Christmas tour during the Clinton Administration; an East Wing tour and the Easter Egg roll in the Obama years; and two garden tours, once during the Obama administration and one last fall. And now we’ve come full circle and done the Christmas tour again.

A lot of labor groups had been scheduled for that day; you could tell from the conversations of people in line. We saw our around-the-corner neighbors Chris and Mel and their two teen and preteen daughters. (Chris works at the AFL-CIO.) They had to step out of line at one of the security checkpoints because there was a problem with someone’s i.d., but it was resolved, and they were able to rejoin the line. I was glad for them. It would have been sad to be turned away.

At the entrance to the East Wing there seemed to be a tree growing through the porch roof. I’m guessing it was the bottom and top halves of two trees, or maybe the same tree, set up above and below the porch. Anyway, it was a fun effect. When we entered, we walked through a hallway full of sparkly lights and cookie-and-candy-themed decorations hanging from the ceiling and the walls. Actually, there was candy everywhere. The theme was “Magic, Wonder, and Joy” and given the prominence of sweets, I’m guessing that President Biden or the First Lady must have a sweet tooth.

The whole tour really was magical. I enjoyed looking at photographs of the former first families (especially the Carters, given Rosalynn’s recent death) in the White House at Christmas time, the portrait of Michelle Obama, and all the Christmas trees, decorated with different themes. There was a gold star family tree with the names of fallen soldiers, a tree covered in numbers meant to evoke an advent calendar, a tree with the names of the all the states on it, and one with letters from children.

I appreciated getting glimpses of the Capitol and the Washington Monument through the windows of the East Wing, framed with wreaths, ribbons, and ornaments. One room had Nutcracker decorations, there was an antique creche that’s been on display every year since 1967, and a gingerbread house in the shape of the White House. Because it’s the two-hundredth anniversary of the publication of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” there was a display of vintage editions of the famous poem behind glass and there was also a giant sugar cookie in the shape of the book set up behind the gingerbread White House. North said it would be fun to be a White House baker, commenting “Life goals.”

Reindeer twined along a track near the ceiling toward the end of the tour and the U.S. Marine Band was playing near the exit. As we walked out, Beth said that when she’s in the White House it just seems like a museum and it’s always when she walks out and looks back that it hits her where she just was.

Right before we left, we were handed chocolate bars. I was saving mine for later, so I asked if it was good chocolate as others were eating theirs. It was decent, middle-of-the-road chocolate, it was concluded. Much like Joe Biden himself, I joked. On the way home, North was paging through the brochure and said they might try the pinwheel cookie recipe in it. And a few days later, they did. It was a moderately complex operation–making two kinds of dough, rolling them out on top of each other, rolling them up, and cutting them into slices. They came out beautifully and they were quite tasty. There’s orange peel in the vanilla dough and you can really taste it. North said they might add them to their regular Christmas baking rotation.

Our house is not as elaborately decorated as the White House (or as it is for Halloween), but Beth and Noah put up the outside lights this weekend, and North decorated a wreath. I haven’t gotten the mantle decorations or the Christmas village set up yet, but it’s on the agenda for this week or maybe even later today. And the first Christmas cards have been trickling in, so the mantle is not devoid of cheer. Little by little, the magic is taking shape.

October Harvest

Sisterly Visit

My sister came East for a wedding the second weekend in October, and we got to see her for a few hours Saturday afternoon. We were hoping to take her on our annual pumpkin stand outing, but events conspired against us. The day was rainy, North had to review a show for Cappies, and Sara had to leave earlier than she originally thought because she didn’t realize she was invited to the rehearsal dinner. So that left us a three-and-a-half-hour gap when everyone was available, but it was nice to see her anyway. When Sara comes East, we mostly meet up at the beach, or before our mom moved West at Mom’s house, so she hasn’t been to our house in twenty years. We showed her around the house (she admired the newly yellow kitchen walls and the not-so-new kids’ self-portraits from preschool on the living room walls). I took her through the front yard full of Halloween decorations and the mostly moribund garden out back.

Then we had a leisurely lunch at Busboys and Poets, where she was impressed with the array of gluten-free options (I’d chosen it with this in mind) and then we came home and served her gluten-free mochi brownies Noah had made the night before and then we sent her on her way to Winchester, Virginia with a piece of gluten-free almond-flour cornbread North had made for dinner a couple days previous.

Last Open House

The next Tuesday there was an Open House at North’s school. This was a surprise because the school has not had them in years past, unlike all five of the other MCPS schools our kids have attended.  (The first couple years I thought it was because of covid, but I later learned they just didn’t do it.) I have always enjoyed getting a glimpse of the kids’ school day, so when I found out it was happening, it was a given that I was going—the only question was how many and which periods I would visit.

It turned out the Open House didn’t cover the whole day, just the end of second and fifth, and all of third and sixth periods. Luckily, the classes I most wanted to see just happened to be third (AP Lit) and sixth (Mythology and Modern Culture), so I was having a hard time choosing the morning or afternoon block when I decided to do both, even though it was busy work week. I haven’t had a chance to do this since North was in middle school, and I knew in the future, I’d remember having gone, but I would not remember writing a blog post about adaptogens for a supplement company.

North has an abbreviated schedule with no first or second period class, so I commuted with them to school for third period. They take a bus-to-train-to-bus route every day, leaving an hour and a half before they need to be at school. We got there about half hour early, which is what happens when North catches every bus and train. We sat at the tables outside the school, and I ate the yogurt and plum I’d packed for breakfast.

AP Lit started with a warm-up in which the students had to write down an example of juxtaposition, euphony, and/or motif. The teachers asked people to share, and a few did, then she went over definitions and examples of each term on the electronic board. I noticed that the Emily Dickinson poem she put up for euphony wasn’t on the screen long enough for anyone to read and find where the euphony was. (I can’t help it. Whenever I’m in a high school English class I tend to think how I would teach it differently.)

Next the kids were asked to produce poems they’d chosen to bring to class to share and they rotated through pairs, reading their poems aloud for each other (or exchanging copies to read silently) then explaining to each other why they chose the poems they did. This activity also seemed rushed. I might have done fewer rotations in hope of achieving a deeper discussion. The teacher then asked for people to share their poems with the whole class, and a few kids did.

The last activity was silently reading an Amiri Baraka poem, “An Agony, As Now,” and annotating it in preparation for a timed writing on it the following class. I got a copy, too, and I have to say, it’s a hard poem. While the students were working on that, she had them come up to her desk one by one and pick a poet for an individual poetry project. One girl who had just read “The Road Less Travelled” out loud announced no one could pick Robert Frost because she loved Robert Frost, and she was calling dibs on him. It didn’t work. Someone who got called up before her chose Frost and the girl was put out. North later said she probably wasn’t that upset, she’s just dramatic. North didn’t get their first choice (Emily Dickinson) either, but they got their second choice (Anne Sexton), and they seemed okay with that outcome. At least they did not complain loudly.

I went back to the outside tables for fourth period while North went to computer science. I’d brought my laptop, and I thought I might work, but I read the newspaper and wrote some of this. North usually eats in the theater room, but they came out to join me for lunch. It’s nice they’re allowed to eat outside. The day was pleasant when the sun was out, but a little chilly when it went behind the clouds. I probably should have brought a jacket. There were kids eating at the picnic tables and on the sidewalk and throwing footballs around and one annoying boy kept trying to ride a locked Lime scooter without paying for it, causing it to beep loudly. North said, “That kid has to be a freshman,” with scorn befitting a senior. The lunch period is generously long, fifty minutes. (In my high school we only had twenty-five minutes.) We both ate and they did some math homework and we talked.

There was an information session for parents prior to the afternoon class block and I ended up stuck in for most of fifth period. You weren’t supposed to go to your kids’ classes until it was over. It was sparsely attended, as was the Open House as a whole. It wasn’t well publicized and as I mentioned, the school hasn’t done it before, or at least not in the last few years. The parents at the session skewed toward those with kids in ninth grade. In fact, at one point a mother introduced herself as having a ninth and twelfth grader and the principal joked, “but you’re not here for your twelfth grader” and right after that I had to introduce myself as the mother of a senior, which was a little awkward.

I managed to catch the last five minutes of North’s math class. The students are about to start a statistics research project and the teacher was explaining how to construct a hypothesis for it and what a null hypothesis means. North’s project will be to determine if schools in more affluent areas win more Cappies awards for their school plays and which categories are most affected. They got curious when, as a critic, they noticed how much more elaborate the costumes and sets are in wealthier schools.

Mythology was next. The vibe was more laid back than in AP Lit. The teacher spent almost the whole class going from small group to small group talking to them about their ancient Egyptian culture research projects. North was in the mummies group and the group told the teacher they were going to focus on the how-to aspect of mummification and how social hierarchy affected who was mummified and who was not. The teacher suggested they include information on canopic jars and the evolution of mummification techniques. The teacher obviously has a lot of enthusiasm for the material, which is always nice to see. I noticed some of the groups were getting off topic, though, when the teacher wasn’t with them. When I mentioned it to North later, they said, “Well, it’s an elective, so that will happen.” Seventh period was closed to parents, so North headed off to ceramics and I made my way home, walking to the Metro stop for the exercise and then taking a train and a bus.

Working Man

Noah was out of the house all day Thursday and Friday working. As of two weeks ago, he’s junior editor on an as-needed basis for a video production company in DC. In those two weeks, they’ve had him come into the office six days. So far, he’s worked on two projects, sorting footage from a conference into categories and matching different voiceovers to an ad for biofuels. He has no guaranteed hours, so it’s hard to tell how regular it’s going to be, but it’s good work experience and nice for him to have some money coming in, in addition to what he makes on the more occasional work he does for Mike. I think he must be feeling flush because he bought concert tickets for Royal and the Serpent and Nightly and he’s going to a live recording of the Nightvale podcast. The office is not near a Metro stop, so like his sibling, he has a long bus-to-train-to-bus commute.

Alluring Applications

And speaking of his sibling, they have completed three of their six college applications: to Johnson and Wales University (the culinary school in Rhode Island and their top pick), Saint Mary’s College of Maryland (the public honors college), and Aberystwyth University in Wales (yes, Wales). Towson University (another Maryland public school) is up next. They have been very organized and on top of this, getting the applications with November 1 deadlines finished before fall play rehearsals goes into crunch time, which will happen very soon. Yesterday they mentioned they’d forgotten to switch their career path from chef in one of the non-culinary school options, but then they said breezily that might just make them seem “mysterious and alluring.”

Pumpkin Day

Friday morning, the day before our rescheduled pumpkin outing, having had a sore throat and some congestion for a couple days, I decided to take a covid test. I was wondering if it would derail the expedition a second time. Would it have? I honestly don’t know. We were going to be outside for all the planned activities and maybe if I stayed away from the pumpkin stand, allowing others to go up to it and if I didn’t go inside the restaurant to pick up the food… I was already trying to talk myself into it, even though I was simultaneously thinking I probably shouldn’t be in a car with the whole family for a non-essential activity. But the test was negative, to my relief. That’s a very specific kind of relief that exists now, isn’t it? The, oh it’s just a cold relief.

We set out around 3:20, and traffic was heavy for a while, but we got to the farm stand in plenty of time. On the way, we listened to my Halloween playlist, which North downloaded to their phone because the Apple one we listened to on the way to Cedar Point has too many songs that don’t belong on a Halloween playlist, in their opinion. The downside of this was that we couldn’t complain to each other about the playlist, so we turned our critical eye to people’s Halloween decorations, or rather the relative scarcity of them. The ones we saw were quite nice.

When we arrived, were surprised to find the stand unstaffed with instructions on a laminated sheet at the counter explaining how to pay electronically. The whole set up was quite trusting, but apparently, it’s working for them. We loaded up the car with jack-o-lantern pumpkins, a soup pumpkin, decorative gourds, sauerkraut, apples, apple butter, apple cider doughnuts, and apple cider.

We’ve been coming to this stand since before the kids were born, back when the farm was located there and there were pumpkins in the fields, and a cider press and farm animals. (It’s moved out to cheaper land as the area has gentrified.) In 2018, we thought it would be the last time with Noah, but he came with us in 2020 when he was spending his sophomore year of college at home, and again this year, so I’m not going to make any predictions about whether it will be North’s last time or not, but it could be. Or maybe one or both kids will settle in the DC area, and we’ll be bringing our grandkids there. You never know.

From the farm stand we set out for Meadowlark Botanical Gardens for a pre-dinner stroll. It was a pretty day and we enjoyed the changing leaves, fall flowers and berries, the koi in the ponds, and the pavilion, arch, totem poles, and statues in the Korean Bell Garden. We also got a glimpse of the holiday lights in the shape of flowers, mushrooms, and small trees that are being installed.

As always when we visit these gardens in October, the place is teeming with dressed up teenagers taking homecoming photos. Between the girls in tiny dresses and teetering heels, the boys in suits, and a wedding party, people in formal wear probably outnumbered visitors in street clothes. It makes you feel undressed, taking a walk on a Saturday afternoon, dressed in khakis and a flannel shirt. We didn’t realize it when the wedding was in progress because everyone was up on a deck that was partly obscured, but as we were leaving, we saw the two brides in big white dresses and realized it was a lesbian wedding. It made me think about how when Beth and I had our commitment ceremony in 1992, it would have been quite daring to have it in such a public outdoor space. The world really has changed.

Sitting in a pavilion overlooking a small lake, we ordered from Sunflower, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant and our traditional dinner spot for this outing, and we went to pick it up.

We took it to the picnic tables at Nottoway Park, to eat. We used to eat inside the restaurant, but starting in 2020, we added the picnic component, and we’ve kept it, even though we occasionally eat inside restaurants now. There is a nice community garden in the park and after we’d had our fill of seaweed salad, dumplings, two kinds of soup, two kinds of noodles, vegetarian shrimp, sushi, and a stir-fry, we took a little walk down there. There were tomatoes still thriving and a lot of fall vegetables (cabbage, chard, collards, etc.) and zinnias in many of the plots. It was almost full dark, and a half moon had risen as we left.

Our last stop was for ice cream. We tried a new-to-us place, which I recommend if you’re local. I got half pumpkin and half green tea. Beth placed a similar order, half pumpkin, half coffee. I told her it was like a pumpkin spice latte in ice cream form. We ducked into a nearby CVS to look for candy corn, but Christmas had overtaken the store and there was none to be found. (Beth found some the next day.)

“Another successful pumpkin outing,” Beth said as we carried the pumpkins to the porch after driving home. Noah noted that none of them fell out of the hatch onto the highway.

“Is that the bar?” I asked. It isn’t, though. Even if we’d smashed a pumpkin or two, we’d still have had another chance to pick out pumpkins and autumnal treats, walk in a beautiful place, and eat delicious food together one more time. That feels like a windfall.

Here’s our October harvest:

  1. A rare visit from a sister, sister-in-law, and aunt
  2. A last chance to get a sneak peek into North’s school day
  3. Encouraging developments on the job front
  4. Three completed college applications
  5. Pumpkins, gourds, apples, and other fall delights

September Pivot

Last Thursday, I posted this on Facebook: “Steph Lovelady wore socks to book club last night and slept with a blanket and thinks September may have done its annual pivot.” So far, it seems to be true. We’re enjoying highs in the seventies and low eighties and the humidity has vanished. We are pivoting in other ways, too, settling into the new routine of the school year.

North is three and a half weeks into their senior year and their extracurriculars are getting started. They are a triple threat in the theater department. They are lead critic for their school’s Cappies delegation, they have two small roles in the fall play, and they are on costumes crew. They’re also attending improv club and are active in their school’s GSA*. Oh, and they’ve joined a book club that meets at a local bookstore and reads LGBT+ poetry. (They started attending this over the summer.)

Cappies will be like last year, in that they will attend plays at other high schools and write reviews. Being lead critic means they will also be organizing the assignments for their school’s delegation. Outside of drama camp North hasn’t acted since middle school and as long-time readers know, when they were younger that used to be a big part of their life. The play was written by a recent graduate of their high school, so technically, it’s a world premiere. It has a medieval setting and North has an ensemble role as a servant and a small speaking part as a nun. It will be fun to see them onstage again. They could have been costumes manager again, but they decided (wisely, I think) that they had enough on their plate as it was, though they will still be pitching in with costumes on days when they don’t have rehearsal.

You may remember that two years ago the GSA began organizing to eliminate or alter the Powder Puff flag football game that precedes the Homecoming football game to make it less sexist. It took a while, but their efforts are paying off. At a recent meeting with student government, the SGA** said that kids of all genders can participate in the flag football game (which was formerly all girls) and the cheerleading (which was formerly all boys) and that none of the cheerleaders will wear tutus. But in an unexpected turn of events, this morning North learned the whole cheerleading event is cancelled, though the flag football game is still a go (and open to all).

Now because of long-standing tradition and the fact that up to now the recruiting was single sex for each event, it will probably still be mostly girls playing flag football, but it’s a start, and more than the GSA expected. There’s talk of making it more like a field day in which people of any gender try out sports they don’t play next year. And they are getting rid of the name Powder Puff. I’m proud of North for advocating for something they believe in and for persisting across three school years before they saw results.

Noah hasn’t had much work, but he is travelling to Pennsylvania next week to help Mike film a commercial for a supplement store. And Mike thinks he may have a lead on some work logging footage at a conference after that, with some friends of his. It’s not certain yet, but I hope it’s something that could help Noah get his foot in the door. Tonight he attended a Zoom call for Ithaca students, alumni, and professors to discuss the job market in post-production film work in the context of the writers’ strike.

Since he has a lot of free time, he’s been helping with housework and yardwork. Last week on top of his normal chores, he organized the chaos that was our Tupperware drawer (he even labeled the shelves), scrubbed the mildew off the bathroom ceiling and walls, and got the weeds along the fence that divides the driveway from the yard somewhat under control.

Meanwhile, we’ve been on several excursions recently, in groups of three and four:

Takoma Park Folk Festival

Two Sundays ago, we all attended the Takoma Park Folk Festival. I look forward to this event every year. We got there soon after it started because Joe Uehlein, who is the father of a friend of North’s and the husband of a friend of Beth’s, was playing “songs to fit the times in which we live,” according to the program, and I like to support performers I know.

It had been raining earlier in the morning and it was damp and attendance at Joe’s set was a little sparse, but as the day wore on, it got sunnier, and more people turned out. We stayed for several hours, taking in performances by Susanna Laird (“a mix of folk, blues, gospel, and jazz”), Brad Engler (“classic folk themes and spirited vocals and guitar”) and Friends and Amigos (“indie-pop covers and originals in English and Portuguese”).

We saw a few people we knew around the festival. The younger sister of North’s best friend from elementary school was working at the face-painting booth, and I waved at a mom of one of Noah’s preschool classmates from a distance and wondered if the small child she had with her was her grandchild. She has a daughter a few years older than Noah, so it’s possible. Finally, the mother of one of North’s preschool classmates came and joined us while we were listening to Friends and Amigos. She’s our city council representative now, so she wanted to talk city politics.

In addition to listening to music, we ate festival food (I had an eggroll and ice cream) and Beth and North checked out the craft fair. It was a pleasant afternoon.

Airport 77s Concert

Just five days later, on Friday night, Noah, Beth, and I went to hear the Airport 77s, a local band, play at the Sligo Creek Golf Course. I hadn’t heard of the band or the weekly series of concerts the golf course hosts, but Mike, who has filmed a music video for the group, was going to play the bass for a couple songs, and he’d invited us to come watch.

It turns out a golf course surrounded by stately old trees is a really nice place to listen to a concert on a mild September evening. The set was a mix of covers (mostly of 70s and 80s classic rock) and originals–“Dad rock,” in Beth’s words, which is appropriate–Mike and his wife Sara have three girls, the oldest of whom is North’s age. Just a couple songs in, Beth said, “We’re the demographic” and we totally were. We found ourselves singing along often.

We got chipwiches from the concession stand settled in to listen. There were a lot of families with small kids, and we were seated near a booth that was giving away crayons and coloring pages, so there was a steady stream of adorable children running by our blanket.

Mike came on toward the end of the two-hour concert, joining the band for Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up,” and the Romantics, “What I Like About You.” He was introduced as “the second meanest guitar player in Silver Spring,” and “Captain Chaos.” We went up to chat with him for a little bit once the show was over and he was in a cheerful post-performance mood.

A Haunting in Venice

Saturday afternoon, the kids and I went to see A Haunting in Venice. Beth sat it out, going kayaking instead, because this movie is more of a mystery/horror hybrid that the previous ones in the series and she is not a fan of horror. (Season 6 of Buffy is proving challenging for her.)

I went through a big Agatha Christie phase in eighth and ninth grade, reading dozens of her books, and I went on to teach And Then There Were None in my genre fiction class at GWU from the late nineties to mid-aughts. When Noah was in middle school, I read And Then There Were None aloud to him and he read at least one other Christie novel on his own. It may have even been Hallowe’en Party, the book on which A Haunting in Venice is extremely loosely based. North hasn’t read any Christie, but they did see a stage version of And Then There Were None because a friend of theirs was acting in it several years ago.

I enjoyed the film. Even though the plot has very little to do with the novel, it preserves that Christie feeling that makes me so nostalgic and I appreciate how all these recent Poirot films flesh out the characters a little. It’s not searing psychological drama, but the characters are more well-rounded that in Christie’s novels, which are really all about the puzzle and not the people.

Sitting in the theater I had a moment of deep contentment, thinking of my fourteen-year-old self and imagining how happy it would have made her to know my middle-aged self would be here, enjoying this movie with my grown and almost grown kids.

Takoma Park Farmers’ Market Pie Contest

As soon as we got home from the movie, North got to work on their entry in the annual farmers’ market pie contest. They’ve entered a pie every year since they were seven or eight (with a break when the event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 for covid). When they were ten, they won for most unusual pie, with a cantaloupe pie, and when they were thirteen, they won for best kids’ pie with a mushroom pie. This year they made a Dutch pear pie. It’s just like a Dutch apple pie, but with pears. They used a pie crust recipe they learned to make at the Johnson and Wales culinary camp they attended this summer, and the filling was spiced pears with a strudel topping. They called it Perfect Pear Pie and in my completely unbiased opinion, it really was. All the elements worked together nicely. Anyway, it didn’t win, but we enjoyed the slices we bought.

The contest is a benefit for the farmers’ market matching funds for SNAP recipients and that’s a good enough cause to justify eating multiple slices of pie, so in addition to two slices of North’s pie, we got a slice of fig custard pie, pecan pie, and chai custard and split the five pieces between the four of us. They were all excellent. The judges must have quite a hard job each year.

Next weekend, we will celebrate another kind of pivot. Saturday, the fall equinox, is North’s half-birthday and suddenly (or so it seems to me) they will be closer to eighteen than seventeen. That seems momentous, as eighteen is such a milestone. We always have cupcakes on the kids’ half birthdays, so I know there will be sweetness in the day. I hope fall gets off to a sweet start for you, too.

p.s. Do you like North’s new glasses?

*Gay-Straight Alliance, or maybe Gender and Sexuality Alliance. No one is really sure.
** Student Government Association

Watery Weekend

I know it was a week ago, but how was your Labor Day weekend? Our was hot—it got up to the high nineties on Sunday and Monday—so we sought out water, wading or swimming in a creek, a river, a bay, and a pool.

Saturday: Sligo Creek

The kids and I go on a creek walk every year at the end of the summer, usually the week before school starts, but when we don’t manage that, over Labor Day weekend. That’s what happened this year, as the week before school started first North had covid and then we were at the beach.

Our neighborhood is sometimes called Between the Creeks because, you guessed it, it’s between two creeks. Usually we wade in Long Branch, but this year North proposed Sligo because they’d discovered a pretty stretch of it while on a walk recently. Noah and I were game.

I needed to pick up Their Eyes Were Watching God from the library for book club and the library’s new temporary-during-renovation location is in a storefront near Sligo Creek, so we made that part of the outing. There’s a Starbucks on the way, too, so we’d been out of the house for about an hour before we entered the creek, carefully stepping around the poison ivy on the shore. The heat hadn’t set in yet—it was only in the mid-eighties that day—so it was pleasant to amble around doing errands and then spend another hour wading in the creek.

North led us to a deep pool and then to a fallen log where the kids tried to limbo. Noah found a dead moth, still perched on a ragged leather jacket caught on a branch. We crossed underneath two bridges, a footbridge (pictured) and the tunnel-like space under the New Hampshire Avenue bridge, where the rafters are filled with more branches, presumably from the last time the water was that high.

We came home in the late afternoon, washed our feet and legs with poison ivy scrub, just in case, and Noah and I made manicotti with homemade tomato sauce for dinner, then finished Kiki’s Delivery Service, which we’d started the night before. It was a very nice day.

Sunday: Patapsco River/Chesapeake Bay

Sunday afternoon, we drove to Fort Smallwood Park in Anne Arundel County at the confluence of the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay. We’ve been there a couple times before. The draw is that drones are allowed and there’s swimming, so there’s something for everyone in the family. In the car Noah realized he’d forgotten his bathing suit and he didn’t want to swim in his clothes, despite our encouragement to do just that. Instead, he waded up to his knees, flew his drone, and lay on a towel on the sand and read a Game of Thrones book.

Beth, North, and I went deeper into the water. It was slightly salty, with little swells from power boats, and a pleasant temperature. We stood in the water and talked. I floated on my back a while. That might have been when my phone, which I’d accidentally left in my swim bottom pocket fell to its final resting place at the bottom of the river. I didn’t realize what had happened until I got back to my towel and started looking for it. Then I remembered I’d had it with me right before I went in the water. I was intending to take a picture of Beth and North, but they were too far out to get a good one, so I went to take it back to my bag and to stash my wedding ring somewhere safe, too. (It’s a little loose so I don’t like to wear it in bodies of water.) Apparently, I only put the ring away and not the phone.

I thought about going back into the water and looking for it, but the water was too murky, the area we’d covered was too large, and it just seemed impossible, so I didn’t even try. Everyone was reading, so I tried to force myself to concentrate on the afterword to Robinson Crusoe, which I’d finally finished a couple days earlier, but it was hard because my mind kept wandering from Crusoe’s watery misfortune to mine.

When we were about to leave and I was on my way to the restrooms I looked carefully at the clearer shallow water along the shore, just in case the phone had washed ashore, but it hadn’t. Before we got in the car, I asked North to try to track it with their phone one last time, but their phone couldn’t reach mine, so we drove away, leaving it behind.

We stopped twice on the way home and I consoled myself with a child-sized frozen custard at Rita’s and then an hour later, a Pineapple Paradise drink at Starbucks (while Beth dropped off bags of clothes at Value Village). What the hell, I thought, my glucose monitor wouldn’t be tracking my blood sugar for a while anyway. (I take the readings with my phone.)

Monday: Long Branch Pool

Beth got me a new phone at the AT&T store the next morning after spending a long time on the phone with AT&T the night before. She is very good to me.

She and I went to Long Branch pool that afternoon, the last day it was open for the season. North and I went a few times at the beginning of the summer, but I don’t think we went at all in July or August. Noah isn’t much for swimming pools and he declined to come, as did North, who was originally planning to come but decided it was too hot to leave the house a second time that day. (They went for a walk with me that morning and we got iced lattes at Takoma Beverage Company.)

I thought the water might be too warm for swimming laps, but it was actually a perfect temperature. I guess that was because it hadn’t been hot for very long—and the week before had been unseasonably mild. I did twenty-five laps in the crowded and somewhat chaotic lap lane and then I went down the slide for good measure, since I won’t be able to do it again until next year. Beth soaked in the main part of the pool and then retreated to a chair to read a magazine. I would have liked to read there for a bit, too, but I needed to get back to the house to make dinner, so I hit the showers and we left.

Despite the heat, we had a picnic dinner—vegetarian hot dogs, baked beans, devilled eggs, corn on the cob, watermelon, and vanilla ice cream with peach-sour cherry sauce. (I’d recently found the sour cherries leftover from earlier in the summer at the bottom of the chest freezer.) Noah hosed and scrubbed the dirt off the patio table, and North shucked the corn and made the sauce. We usually have a backyard picnic with some variation of this meal on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day, but it was the first of the long summer weekends we were all together, as Noah left for California before Memorial Day, and the four of us we were scattered over three states on the Fourth. It was nice to have one last (well, also first) summer picnic dinner together.

After Labor Day

In addition to all the profound contributions of the labor movement to our lives, Labor Day also makes us think that fall is around the corner. Despite this, it was hot the week afterward, our hottest weather of the summer actually, with a high close to 100 degrees at least one day. But today it started to feel more bearable after a rain. (Out for a walk afterward, I actually saw steam rising from the street.)

Tomorrow the high temperature is only supposed to be in the low eighties and the weather chart has some enticing numbers that start with seven after that. The cooler weather will come just in time for the Takoma Folk Festival tomorrow and the pie contest the weekend after that, both classic September events for us. We’re looking forward to hearing some live music and North is currently deciding what kind of pie to bake.

As for October, we are already making plans for a trip to an amusement park (probably Cedar Point) over Columbus Day/Día de la Raza/Indigenous People’s Day weekend and a quick visit from my sister the following weekend. She had a wedding to attend in Virginia and is swinging by for a day. Among other activities, we’re thinking of taking her to the farm stand where we always get our pumpkins. Summer weekends are (almost) over, but we’re gearing up for fall ones.