The B-52s

A New Job

A few days before my birthday something unexpected happened. I got a new job. The week before that Sara had called to let me know that because she lost three major clients all at once she was going to have to take me off retainer temporarily until she could rebuild her client base. She’d still have some work for me, but no guaranteed hours. It wasn’t a good time for our income to dip. We’ve had some unusual one-time expenses recently and soon there will be college tuition. So the next day I put out some feelers with a couple people I know, hoping to find a little stop-gap work.

One of these people was Mike, who used to be North’s basketball coach and is the father of a preschool classmate. He has a business helping non-profits and government agencies interpret their data and make it more accessible. We’d talked about working together several years ago, but at the time he wanted someone to work more hours than I wanted to work. He asked me a to send a resume and some writing samples. On Wednesday, five days after I contacted him, he’d hired me. My first job is to work on report about coastal conditions for the EPA website. I’m editing a chapter on the Great Lakes.

It was a surprise to find work so soon and it was pretty stressful at first because it’s been a really, really long time since I’ve worked for anyone not related to me and that felt intimidating, even though Mike’s a very nice person. Also, office work involves learning a lot more computerized systems than it did in the mid-nineties (when I last worked somewhere other than a two-person family business or academia). It actually surprised me how complicated it seemed to figure out how to navigate an unfamiliar email and calendar system, find shared files, record my hours, etc. I started to wonder if I was too old to learn how to work in a modern environment. A week in, it’s getting better, though I do still have moments of panic and time management is a challenge. As a result of starting during a production rush for this EPA report, I’ve had to delay working on some projects Sara does have for me, which I regret a little. But once I learn how to balance the two jobs, this combination could just the thing, since I was hoping to be working more hours next fall when Noah’s at college. It just came earlier than I anticipated.

A New Age

So back in the realm of things I did expect, I turned fifty-two on Saturday. That morning I was in the dining room with Beth when North walked in and said, “It’s the fifty two year olds.”

“We’re the B-52s,” I said, “Because we be fifty-two.”

But North had never heard of the B-52s and Beth was engrossed in her phone and not paying attention, so the joke fell flat.

Despite this inauspicious beginning, it was a nice birthday. I spent a lot of time reading the weekend sections of the Post and there was a little street festival going on about fifteen minutes from our house so Beth and I headed down there in the early afternoon and had a lunch of bean and cheese pupusas, plantain chips, and agua fresca. (Mine was cucumber-lime. Beth got mixed fruit.) While we ate it we listened to a band play and watched a juggler. The kids had stayed at home, so it was a little like a date.

That evening we went out to a Thai/Japanese restaurant and then came home for cake and ice cream and presents. The cake was chocolate with peanut butter frosting, which is what I asked for and what Beth delivered. Though I am the family’s main cook, she’s the main birthday cake baker. It was delicious, as always. The frosting was just like the inside of a Reese’s peanut butter egg.

My presents included a new reusable tote with a Japanese print on it (I am always losing them and needing more), a big pot for growing herbs, a gift certificate to the hardware store to get more pots, but not “more pot,” which is what the kids insist I said. They aren’t selling marijuana at ACE, at least not yet. Noah said “they’d totally sell it at the farmers’ market” if it were legal. Before my actual birthday I’d already received a check and some charitable donations in my name (to the Arbor Day Foundation and RAICES) from various relatives. Thanks, everyone!

Mother’s Day

The next day was Mother’s Day. There were more presents in the morning. Beth got a new phone case and a bottle of raspberry syrup she likes to use in summer drinks. I got gift certificates for Starbucks and Takoma Beverage Company and the promise of a new Guatemalan cloth coin purse.

North wanted to spend part of the day with each of us, so they went grocery shopping with Beth, and then to the pool and the library with me. (These are Beth’s and my normal Sunday errands.) I was glad to get North in the pool so they could exercise their injured leg. We’ve been trying to get them to rely less on the crutches, but they still have pain, so it’s been difficult.

Beth drove us to the pool and then drove home and then drove back to the pool when I called to tell her both North and I had forgotten to pack our bathing suits (well, North had half of theirs). And then when we were finished at the pool and library, she picked us up and took us to Kung Fu Tea, where we had a little Mother’s Day tea, though not the kind with fancy china. (I’ll note here Beth doesn’t even like tea so she abstained.)

Finally, North wanted to make this Mother’s Day video with us to post on Instagram:

Then Beth posted it to Facebook and said, “North has magical powers to get me to do things outside my comfort zone. Nevertheless I am glad to be their mom.” I feel about the same.  

It was hard to decide what to do about dinner because Sunday is Beth’s night to cook and that didn’t seem right on Mother’s Day, so we got Italian takeout, but she paid for it and drove to go pick it up and I did the dishes so maybe that wasn’t much better than a normal Sunday when she’d cook and I’d do the dishes. Some aspects of Mother’s Day are tricky when both parents are moms. But it’s easier than when the kids were smaller and needier. Plus, the food was good and the leftovers lasted for a few days of lunches for me and a dinner alternative one night when Noah didn’t care for what I’d cooked.

Monday everyone went back to work and school. That afternoon we received some good news in the mail about Noah’s merit aid at Ithaca. We were expecting a small award for his being a National Merit finalist, but it went up by more than we expected, which was a nice surprise.

Fifty-two is off to an interesting start.

That Went Well

There always seems to be a week in fourth quarter when all the things happen. This year it was the week that spanned the end of April and the beginning of May. Noah’s band went to state band festival on Tuesday, North’s school play ran from Wednesday to Friday, Noah’s spring band concert was Thursday, and Noah turned eighteen on Friday.

Tuesday: State Band Festival

In mid-March Noah’s band did well enough at the county-level band festival to advance to state. This wasn’t a surprise as he’s been in a band that went to state most years since he was in sixth grade. The only exceptions were seventh grade when his band didn’t qualify and ninth, when he wasn’t in band, due to schedule conflicts. This record is a testament, in part, to the talented and dedicated band teachers he’s had over the course of his elementary, middle, and high school years. Even though it wasn’t a surprise they went to state, I was pleased because these competitions mean a lot to Noah. At state this year, the Blair Wind Ensemble earned all superiors. They were judged the best high school band in the county and one of the five best in the state.

Thursday: Spring Jazz and Band Concert

Just two days later it was time for the spring concert. North had to miss it because they were acting in the play and that was sad because it was Noah’s last high school band concert. I am not going to say it was his last concert because I hope he continues with percussion in college. For nine years, it’s given him a much needed artistic outlet.

There are five bands in Noah’s high school so the concerts tend to be on the long side—three hours isn’t unusual. They are also very good, so the length is fine if you’re expecting it and you’re not worried about how much homework your kid has to do when he gets home. We were expecting it and arranged for another actor’s mom to drive North home from the play. And I wasn’t worried about Noah’s homework, because he didn’t have any that night. So we settled in.

The Jazz Combo and Jazz Ensemble go first and second. Among their numbers were standards like “All of Me,” and “Girl From Ipanema.” The female vocalist sang a Dinah Washington song I’d never heard of but liked, called “Relax Max” and the male vocalist sang, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” which works surprisingly well as a jazz piece, though I don’t tend to think of Freddy Mercury as a jazz musician.

Concert Band was next. This band consists mostly of ninth graders. It’s the only non-audition band of the five. They played a song written to commemorate a mining disaster (these band pieces often have morbid back stories), “Arabian Dances,” which sounded familiar so I imagine Noah’s played it at a concert at some point, and “Eye of the Tiger,” which is a perennial band concert favorite, for reasons I don’t understand at all. I know Noah played part of it at least once at band camp during an 80s medley and I’m pretty that wasn’t the only time. I mean, I don’t have anything against it and there’s definitely some nostalgia for the parents, but still, it’s puzzling.

I guess it’s a sign your kid has been in band a long time when you recognize at least one piece all the bands are playing. For Symphonic Band (the intermediate band) it was “The Heart of Madness,” which was inspired by three stories by Edgar Allan Poe. At one point, you can hear the tell-tale heart beating away. Noah played that at band camp one year. He might have even played the heart part.

The Wind Ensemble played last. As usual, Noah was busy running back and forth between the different instrument stations. He played snare, marimba, xylophone, and triangle. The marimba and xylophone were positioned off the side of the stage instead of the back, so we actually got to see him playing, which was a treat. On the marimba, he used four sticks at once. I’ve seen him do that at home on his bells, but never on stage. It’s an impressive sight. The Wind Ensemble played three songs. The last one, “First Suite in E-flat for Military Band,” had three movements and apparently it’s very difficult. The judges at festival praised the band teacher for being “brave enough” to try it.

Before each band’s last piece, the director called the seniors to the front of the stage and read a paragraph the students had written about their experience in band and in which they announce where they are going to college. I’ve always liked this part of the spring concert. I thought I’d cry when the band teacher read Noah’s blurb, but I managed to keep it together. Noah was the only senior going to Ithaca, but between the band concert and the orchestra concert Beth and Noah attended on Tuesday there were at least a couple each going to RIT and UMBC.

After the concert was over, as we walked to the car, Noah said “I think that went well,” which for him qualifies as exuberance. He still has one more band performance—he’s playing at his own graduation—but I couldn’t help thinking he was right, that it’s gone very well, all of it.

Friday: A Midsummer Night’s Midterm

Friday we finally got to see the play, on closing night. Rehearsals for the play started in January or February. Both Beth and I had been a little concerned because there weren’t as many as we’d come to expect from last year’s school play, especially at the beginning, and North kept mentioning that people didn’t know their lines alarmingly close to opening night. From what I could tell the director was pretty laid back compared to most directors North’s had, either at drama camp, school, or Highwood.

We needn’t have worried. It was a fun play and a really good performance. It’s about a group of students studying for a test on Midsummer Night’s Dream and it consists of scenes from that play, interspersed with dialogue from the students, who offer explanations of what’s going on as well as commentary. Noah said he didn’t think the frame narrative offered much, but I think it’s probably very helpful for middle school audiences unfamiliar with the play, and it added humor, too, especially when the Shakespearean characters responded to the students.

There were two dozen kids acting in the play and everyone did a good job. The kids playing the four lovers delivered their long Shakespearean speeches with feeling and without stumbling over their lines. Puck and Oberon were endearingly mischievous. Hippolyta was a majestic Amazon queen. The kid who played the wall in the Pyramus and Thisbe skit (the play-within-the-play-within-the-play) was a ham in the best way. North was another one of the players performing at Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding. The director had asked them if they wanted a male or female part and North said either, so he gave them Flute/Thisbe, a man playing a woman. It was in the Thisbe half of the role North really shone, speaking all their lines in a warbling falsetto and dying with great aplomb. (A good death scene is always fun.)

After the play it took a while to get out of the school because the actors took a cast photo and then they all had to hug each other and it takes a long time for twenty-four kids to hug each other. (Does figuring out how many hugs that comes to sound like an elementary school math problem?)

We stopped at the grocery store on the way home for ice cream because it was Noah’s birthday. Yes, he did spend the evening of his eighteenth birthday attending his sibling’s play, after a pizza dinner at Mod with me and Beth, while North was at school getting ready for the play. (We also had fettucine alfredo for dinner the night before his birthday and went out for Italian the night after. Noah’s birthdays tend to involve a lot of pizza and/or pasta.)

At home, he opened presents. The big one (a zoom lens for his camera) he’d opened early because he thought he knew what it was and he wanted Beth to use it to take photos at his band concert. But he still had a few to open— a raspberry pi (https://www.raspberrypi.org), a USB controller, a bag of sea salt caramels, two books, and two t-shirts, one from Ithaca and one from Takoma, so he remembers where he’s going and where he came from. It’s a bittersweet moment as he’s balanced between these two places, but I didn’t dwell too much on it, at least not that night. It was late in the evening, after all, and we had cake to eat.

Fast Break

The day after North got back from Colombia they went to school for exactly one day and then it was spring break. The break was shorter than usual this year, because of the Governor’s order dictating when the school year has to start and end. Instead of the usual ten days, it was six (from the Wednesday before Easter through Easter Monday). Between that and the fact that we’d all been traveling a lot recently, we decided not to go anywhere over break this year.

So the break was short, but eventful. North attended Gretchen’s spring break drama camp, which they’ve never done before because we’re usually gone. It was just three half-days and culminated in a performance of two songs (with choreography) from Dear Evan Hansen. North had a solo in one of the songs, just a few lines, but no one had any long solos, as there wasn’t much material and there were fourteen kids. Eight of them were singing Evan’s lines. North was one of two Zoës and even danced a little, as much as their crutches would permit. (Gretchen never goes easy on anyone. I think that’s one of the things North likes about her.) Most of North’s friends were out of town, so in the afternoons after camp they amused themselves by dying their hair blue-green and making brownies.

North also spent a lot of time on the porch in the sky chair, watching the mourning dove nest. Two doves built it in late March and the chicks hatched while North was in Colombia. I’d been worried about the nest because last year the doves built a nest in the exact same place and it was attacked by some kind of predator, which killed the chicks, leaving a bloody mess behind. But that happened almost as soon as they hatched and these two chicks were bigger and already venturing to the edge of the ledge and flapping their wings by the beginning of break. (The picture is of the dove sitting on the eggs. I didn’t want to get close enough to the little ones to take their pictures.)

Meanwhile, Beth, Noah, and I were all working for most of break. I kept more or less my normal hours, but Beth had Good Friday off, so Noah decided to take it off, too. He went into break behind in a couple subjects—possibly because of our back-to-back trips to visit RIT and Ithaca the two previous weekends—and he spent the five other days catching up.  Well, I’m not sure how much he worked Thursday, what with all the distracting commentary on the Mueller report there was to read.

But we made the most of that day off Friday. I read several chapters of The Handmaid’s Tale to him in the morning. After attending North’s performance in the early afternoon, we split up, and went to two different movies. Beth took North to see Fast Color, which they both gave good reviews. Noah and I went to see Us, which I recommend if horror is your thing (but I don’t if it isn’t—it’s bloodier than Get Out.) At the bus stop as we waited to go home, Noah and I discussed possible allusions to The Time Machine and the film’s treatment of class. I am really going to miss this kid.

Saturday we dyed Easter eggs. I made the two-toned ones on the ends of the line, the yellow/green and pink/purple ones. One of North’s eggs, partly pink and partly blue, was inspired by the trans flag. Beth did the one in the floppy hat. A long time ago we got a kit with these hats and we’ve been re-using them ever since then. Noah did the one that looks like it’s sticking out its tongue, but he actually clipped an ear off a bunny sticker. It represents the creatures that eat rabbits in Us. It reminded me of the time I was a teenager making gingerbread cookies with my family and I made one in the shape of Marie Antoinette, beheaded and holding her head. (I used tic tacs for the blood.) Come to think of it, this egg is a lot more subtle.

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Sunday Beth and I spent much of the day working in the yard, taking down weed trees, tearing vines off the fence, mowing the lawn and preparing garden plots. I planted peas in one of them, possibly too late, seeing as how they already have pea shoots at the farmers’ market—and parsley and cilantro seeds in pots the next day, so now I guess I can say the garden is started. (We’ve also got rosemary that survived the winter and mint, oregano, and sage coming back from last year with no help from me.)

The next day Beth went back to work but the kids were home for one more day. North’s big project for the day was making whole-wheat bagels. It was Earth Day so on my daily walk through the neighborhood, I decided to photograph the flowers and flowering trees that bloom so exuberantly this time of year.

We’d encouraged Noah to make a decision about college over break and it was the last day so at dinner on Monday we asked him what he thought. We went through the pros and cons of the three schools he was considering and by the end of the meal, he’d decided. He’ll be going to Ithaca. I’m happy for him and very proud of his hard work in three different magnet programs over the past nine years. Sometimes it seems hard to believe that after thirteen months, nine colleges visited, seven initially notified of his scores, four applied to, and two visited a second time, the decision is finally made. The next part of his path is visible and waiting for him.

Tuesday the kids went back to school and I discovered the dove’s nest was abandoned. This wasn’t surprising as I’d seen one of the fledglings out of the nest, walking around the porch floor a few days earlier and then it was back up on the ledge later, so I knew it could fly, even though I never saw it. It’s been four days now and they haven’t come back. I am glad the young birds are launched into their new lives, but it does seem as if whoever is in charge of the symbolism of my life got a little heavy-handed here. I mean, a literal empty nest on my porch? It’s five years and several months until mine is empty, but it’s seeming a lot more close and real these days.

Teenagers, Part 1

Teenagers, kick our butts. Tell us what the future will bring.

From “Teenagers, Kick Our Butts,” by Dar Williams

Sometime in late February, North presented us with a list of things they wanted to do for their thirteenth birthday. Get an ear pierced and see a PG-13 movie were on the list. (They’ve only seen one, School of Rock, that we let them watch in sixth grade because they were acting in the play.) They also wanted to go out for hot pot, because about a year ago Beth, Noah, and I went without them and they’d wanted to try it ever since then.

While most of the festivities will take place closer to their birthday, the date for hot pot was Saturday, two weeks before their birthday. The reason was that North was giving a TEDx talk that day, and a friend from Peter and the Starcatcher was coming to watch it and they thought it would be fun to have Cam come over afterward and then go to dinner with us.

TEDx talks are locally organized events, loosely affiliated with official TED talks. This one was for young people (middle school to college-aged) from Takoma Park. North, at not quite thirteen, was the youngest speaker and the oldest was nineteen. North’s been writing, editing, and practicing this speech, with coaching at occasional Saturday meetings at the community center, since last spring.

We arrived at the auditorium and took our seats. North was up first. Their topic was assumptions, different situations in which people might make false assumptions about each other and the importance of asking questions instead of assuming. Of course, gender was their central example because people generally assume boy or girl when they meet North. (The exact ratio seems to vary with their hair length. They got it cut about a week and a half ago and I recently heard someone call them “he” for the first time in a while.) As I watched North and then the other speakers, I thought about how hard public speaking can be, and how North makes it look easy.

After North, there were three more speakers: a high school sophomore who spoke about immigrating from Ghana and made an argument for pro-immigration policies, a senior who advocated for more student-focused pedagogy in schools, and a college student who spoke about finding one’s purpose and succeeding in school. There was also a breakdancer and a couple of singers, one of whom sang “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” while accompanying herself on the ukulele, which is apparently a thing kids do now. The kids’ presentations were interspersed with videos of two adults and one kid (Greta Thunberg, the Swedish girl who’s on a school strike for climate change) giving their own TED and TEDx talks. The MCs read poetry about gun violence and climate change before the talks on those topics. It was kind of a hodgepodge, but the point was to showcase what’s on the mind of Takoma youth, so it was probably a good representation of that. And hearing teenagers speak out always gives me hope. After all, it shows us what the future will bring.

Shortly before the event, Representative Jamie Raskin met with the speakers and MCs backstage, a fact we might never have found out if he hadn’t tweeted a picture of himself with them because North didn’t think meeting a Congressman was worth mentioning. It can be hard to impress kids who live near D.C. sometimes.

Cam had an appointment and couldn’t come straight home with us, but came over later in the afternoon and joined us for hot pot and frozen yogurt. There was a lot of giggling coming from North’s room while they were in there and the two of us them were singing Billie Eilish songs all the way to the restaurant, which is about a half hour away. North was happy to finally experience cooking their own noodles and veggies on burners set into the tables and grabbing ingredients from the conveyor belt that runs between the tables.

I managed to get my taro cooked all the way through this time and tried quail eggs, which I’ve never had before. (They taste pretty much like chicken eggs, but tiny.) It was a fun outing, but it’s just the beginning of the celebration. North is fond of birthdays and thirteen is a big one. Here’s a little advice for my almost-teen. I gave Noah the same advice, from Dar Williams’ song, on his thirteenth birthday. It still holds.

Find your voice, do what it takes 
Make sure you make lots of mistakes 
And find the future that redeems 
Give us hell, give us dreams 
And grow and grow and grow

In Concert

This is why we sing, why we lift our voice
Why we stand as one in harmony
This is why we sing, why we lift our voice
Take my hand and sing with me.

From “Why We Sing” by Greg Gilpin

North just had three concerts in the space of a week. The first two were at Highwood Theatre and the last one was with the Montgomery County Middle School Honors Chorus.

Friday: Fine Arts Night

Every month or so Highwood has an event called Fine Arts Night, which serves as a preview of  songs and scenes from upcoming plays as well a talent show for the kids who act there. North’s not in a show at Highwood right now, but they were set to give a solo concert just two days later and one of the administrators suggested they sing one of their concert pieces at Fine Arts Night, as practice and to promote their concert. It was a good idea, even if it did come only one day before Fine Arts Night. North’s pretty game for this sort of thing, though, so they said yes. 

The solo concert was an opportunity they won at an fundraising auction for the theater last fall. After a period of enthusiasm, they had cold feet for a while, especially when the friend who agreed to perform with them backed out. But they had a few coaching sessions at the theater to go over logistics, rehearse, and get performance feedback, and that helped.

Highwood’s next show is Titanic, so there were a few scenes from that. One of North’s friends from Peter and the Starcatcher, Sadhbh, is in it, so chances are we’ll be seeing it. Various kids sang or played instruments. There was everything from a nine or ten year old boy playing Bach on the keyboards to Sadhbh singing David Bowie’s “Life on Mars.”

North performed near the end. I accompanied them to the stage because they can’t carry their ukulele while on crutches. Once they were settled on the stool with the uke, I leaned in and whispered, “I’d say break a leg, but you already did,” which made them laugh. (And then they used the line at the concert two days later.)

They sang “Forget,” one of their original songs. It starts:

Forget the unforgettable
It’s kind of in the past
All those stories, all those secrets
Yeah, you know they’ll never last
So forget the unforgettable
Things done inside your mind
And just come with me tonight

I enjoyed the first half of the song, but there was an Improv Night going in one of Highwood’s other performance spaces, right next door, and in the middle of the song, it got noisy over there and it was hard to hear. North assured us afterwards that at the solo concert, there would be a mike.

Sunday: Solo Concert

Sunday afternoon we were back at Highwood. I wasn’t sure how many people would come and I was a little nervous about that because while the theater promoted the show on its Facebook page, North hadn’t told too many people about it. But there were ten or twelve people in the audience (including Beth, Noah, and me). A friend of North’s from Tri-M was there, plus North’s friend (from elementary school, Scouts, and basketball) Leila and her mother and brother, and the rest were Highwood friends. While people were filing in, Noah set up his camera to film the concert.

North sang eight songs, two of which had backing tracks Noah made for them. Four songs were originals, including “Chasing Stars,” the song North and Noah made into a music video last summer, plus some newer ones, “Trampoline,” “Eyes,” and “Forget.” They also sang Halsey’s “Without Me,” Billie Eilish’s “Bellyache,” Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” (which they apparently only know from the Twenty-One Pilots cover), and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Of the originals I liked “Forget” best and this time I got to hear the whole song, though of course “Chasing Stars” will always be close to my heart because of the video. Of the covers, I liked “Hallelujah” best maybe because they’ve been noodling around with it since last summer and I’ve been able to hear it develop or maybe just because I really like Leonard Cohen. I thought the Presley tune might be a hit with the grandmothers, though, when they see the video.

Here’s a lyrics video Noah and North made for “Trampoline” over the Thanksgiving weekend and winter break and a clip of North singing “Forget” and “Hallelujah” at the concert. They’re about a minute and a half and seven minutes long.

After it was over Leila’s mom said to us, “I look forward to hearing North’s first album,” only half-joking, I think. Afterward, we presented North with a bouquet from Beth’s mom and their friends crowded around them in the hallway and said the kind of things theater kids say to each other after a show. If you were ever a young performer, you may know what I mean. Sadhbh asked if she could take North out for tea at a café down the street and then over to her house and that’s what they did.

Thursday: Honors Chorus Concert

Just like last year, the county Honors Chorus concert had two weather-cancelled practices, so they had only six rehearsals instead of the planned eight. I guess if they really want eight rehearsals it shouldn’t meet in January and February.

The concert was at 7:30 but the singers were supposed to arrive at six, so I fed North a frozen pot pie at 4:40, and then they got into their black and white clothes and we hit the road a little after five. Montgomery County is a large county, and we live at the southern edge of it so the centrally located practices and concerts are always a schlep. While North was rehearsing, Beth, Noah, and I went out for Japanese at a restaurant that turned out to be a bit further away from the school where the concert was taking place than we intended to go, but we got back in time.

The auditorium was large and set up in a steep amphitheater. North had previously complained about getting up and down those steps on crutches. Speaking of crutches, North told us right before we dropped them off that four of the sopranos were on crutches, all with broken tibias. The four injured singers came out first and sat on chairs in front of the risers and someone came and took their crutches away. The crutch-wrangler was busy throughout the concert bringing crutches back and taking them away because there was one song that was just tenors, basses, and baritones and one that was just sopranos and altos and kids kept exiting and returning to the stage, and re-arranging themselves on the risers. Another mobility complication was a song with a Zulu folk dance, which the kids did partly on the risers and partly on the stage in front of them. For that dance, those who were incapacitated stayed seated and waved their arms rhythmically.

There were seven songs. One in Latin (“Dies Irae,” which is part of Mozart’s Requiem), the Zulu song “Amavolovolo,” “Dawn’s Awake,” (based on a poem from the Harlem Renaissance), a Spanish lullaby, “Crióme Mi Madre,” “I Sing Because I’m Happy,” (a gospel-style adaptation of the hymn “His Eye is On the Sparrow”), “I’ll Make the Difference,” and “Why We Sing,” which is the traditional closing song for honors chorus concerts. I can’t choose a favorite song. They were all lovely. The program explained the theme of the concert was different roles music plays in our lives: music as change, music as expression, music as hope, music as comfort, music as joy, music as inspiration, and music for all.

This is what Beth said about the concert on Facebook:

Great to see these middle schoolers doing something they love last night. It’s not easy being a member of the honors chorus. Weekly practices were at a school that’s 45 minutes away, started at 7 and lasted an hour and 45 minutes after a long day at school. The directors pushed the kids hard. But each week North would leave practice happier than when they arrived, filled with the joy of working toward a common goal. So grateful for the teachers who work so hard and care so much about helping our kids learn and grow.

During the concert, which will be our third of five school concerts this year (two band concerts and three chorus concerts), I had the startling realization that because Noah will be at college next year and North wants to switch their elective from chorus to art in eighth grade, next year there will probably be none. North’s been drawing and painting more recently, so it makes sense to take a class to explore that, but I will be a little sad to give up my seat in the audience after nine straight years of school concerts. Music has changed my kids, helped them express themselves, given them hope, comfort, joy, and inspiration. And listening to them play instruments and sing has given me those things, too. That’s why I hope Noah will continue to drum in college. And of course, North’s not finished singing. Chances are there will be musicals and maybe concerts outside of school venues in their future. I should have plenty of opportunities to see them in concert.

Officially Done

Well, I said I’d tell you how the snow day went if there was one and you knew there’d be one, right? The snow picked up again late Sunday afternoon and evening. We had eleven inches by the time we went to bed that night and after that there was no more accumulation. School was cancelled Monday and there was a two-hour delay on Tuesday. Because the cancellation was announced on Sunday afternoon and the roads were messy, North asked to stay over at Zoë’s house, where they’d been since morning. They came home late Monday afternoon with tales of sledding and making snow sculptures and toting a bag of chocolate chocolate-chip cookies they’d baked with Zoë.

Beth’s office was closed, so she worked at home, and I did, too. Noah kept plugging away at his two Ithaca scholarship application essays and finished them. He’s now all done with applications, though he and I might be taking a trip to visit Boston University next month, as that’s the only school he applied to without visiting.

Champlain College, one of schools we visited last spring (though he didn’t end up applying there), sent an “Officially Done” sticker in one of their mailers, with the suggestion that he wear it when he finished all his college applications. I stuck it to his shirt when he submitted the application and he gamely agreed to let me post of picture of him wearing it on Facebook. Then he took it off and stuck it to his bedroom door, right next to the “2019” sticker he got during one of many gun control protests last winter and spring. It represents the year he can vote in federal and state elections. (In Takoma Park, the voting age for municipal elections is sixteen.) But it’s also the year he leaves for college, so it makes sense for those two stickers to keep company.

He didn’t have much time to celebrate, though, because he had an oral presentation and Logic homework due the next day. He didn’t end up finishing the Logic, but he put a dent in it. I’d been camped out in his room for a couple hours, still reading Jack London (short stories now, having finished The Call of the Wild the day before) and occasionally offering opinions when he’d get stuck with the essays. Once he switched over to homework, I went for a long walk in the snowy woods by creek and through a tangle of side streets in our neighborhood I’d never explored. I actually got a little lost, so the walk was longer than I intended, but I was home in time to make a mushroom and kale frittata for dinner, which we followed up with brownies Beth made earlier in the day. I won’t complain about the snow day. It was okay. I didn’t get as much work done as I would have if I’d had the house to myself, but was good for Noah to have more time to work. That’s a common trade-off.

I was glad there was school on Tuesday, even if it was an abbreviated day. One reason was that it meant North’s winter chorus concert would go on as scheduled. North found out about a week before the concert that they had a solo and they were excited about that, so I gently nudged Noah into coming to the concert, even though he had work to do (including the now overdue Logic). He’s already been accepted to two colleges and he’s missed a lot of his sibling’s performances over the years. Now that there are only a few left it seems more important that he be there. North was happy he came. And perhaps thirty-seven years from now, the two of them won’t be having social media exchanges like this one I had with my sister when I mentioned he was at the concert:

Sara: Just like when you stopped your homework to watch my one 5th grade performance of P.T. Barnum. Oh wait. No you didn’t. #notbitter

Me: He has skipped probably more performances than we could count for homework. I skipped one.

Sara: Yeah, but it was THE ONLY ONE.

Me: That’s not true. I remember going to a District Chorus concert. And various gymnastics performances and field hockey games.

Sara:  I mean the only performance of P.T. Barnum. And I had the lead. And a solo.

Sara: WHY DO YOU STILL NOT LOVE ME???

Anyway… We all had an early dinner and drove out to the high school where the concert was taking place. (North’s school has no auditorium.) The performers had to be there forty-five minutes before concert time so we took our seats and Noah opened up his laptop and worked on his oral presentation until the concert started.

There were three groups singing—the Glee Club, the sixth-grade chorus, and the Advanced (seventh- and eighth-grade) Chorus. North’s in the Glee Club and Advanced Chorus and because the soprano and alto sections of the Advanced Chorus joined the sixth-grade chorus for one of their songs, they were singing eight of the ten songs.

Their solo was in the very first song of the concert, “Remember Me,” from Coco. In fact, it was the first few lines of the song. So the concert opened with Mr. N introducing North and North stepping up to the mike and singing:

Remember me
Though I have to say goodbye
Remember me
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart

It was lovely. We were very proud.  The next Glee Club song was “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman. Apparently, there was a movie music theme.  There was also a songs-in-foreign languages theme, as the sixth-grade chorus sang in German, Hebrew, and Spanish. (Mr. N said they were putting the “International” into Silver Spring International Middle School.) And later the Advanced Chorus would sing a Polynesian song and one in Zulu.

Toward the end of the concert, the Advanced Chorus sang three poems set to music. “Night Fall,” by Roger Emerson, “Dreams,” by Langston Hughes, and a section of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells.”  While they sang “Dreams,” the lyrics were projected on two screens to either side of the stage.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Mr. N made some comments about how the day of the concert was Martin Luther King’s actual birthday and how if he could be there he’d be pleased to see kids of different races and social backgrounds all making music together.

“The Bells” is a particular favorite of mine. I used to teach it. They sang the first stanza, while one student accompanied the singers with jingle bells.

Hear the sledges with the bells—
Hear the sledges with the bells—
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

North said this song was their favorite and I liked it, too. I thought the music was well suited to the words and the singing was fast but delicate and precise, just like bells.

The whole concert was over in less than an hour. It was nice North got a solo because next quarter they’re switching their Wednesday afterschool activity from Glee Club to Drama Club and only Glee Club members got solos, so chances are they won’t have a chance for that at the spring concert.

As we left, I was thinking a little sadly about how my father, who died nine years ago on the day of the concert, will never be in the audience for one of North’s concerts or plays. Not that he’d be traveling down from New York for school concerts if he were still alive, but if North gets their way, they may someday have a performance in his adopted home town. And depending on where North’s adventures take them years from now, I may not make every single performance either, but I know I am far from officially done watching my youngest on stage.

Taking Flight, Part 2

We’ve had a very exciting few days around here. Noah got his first college acceptance letter on Friday, North’s show wrapped up on Sunday, and then Noah got his second acceptance letter on Tuesday.

College Letter #1

Noah applied early action to UMBC and Ithaca College. The UMBC application was due earlier—he was working on it on Halloween before and after trick-or-treating—and the notification was supposed to be in “late December,” but I’d seen so many of you posting pictures of your kids’ college acceptance letters I wondered if it might come early and it did.  There was no mystery about what was inside. “YES” was printed in gold letters on the outside of the envelope. The mail came late that day and Beth brought it in with her when she came home from work.

We took it in to Noah’s room, but he wasn’t that excited about it, as UMBC was his safety school. In fact, Beth had to prod him to open it so we could see if there was anything about aid in the package. There wasn’t. I was happier than Noah was, not because I’d been in much suspense about whether he’d get in to UMBC, but because it felt like the ball was rolling now. And UMBC is a solid, affordable choice, if maybe a little too close to home.

Closing Night

Two days later we went to closing night of Peter and the Starcatcher to see North in the younger cast. These actors were in third to seventh grade, so the performances were not as polished as those from the older cast, but the play was still fun. The principal characters, Peter and Molly, were well acted. The actor playing Peter brought out a whole different side of the character and his growth over the course of the play. And we all loved North’s melodramatic death scene as Slank.

This is what he says as he drowns:

Oh, the waves swallow me up in a great shroud of sea. And the sharks start nibbling at me feet, just like me mother’s kisses. Mother! You left me on the steps of a tattoo parlor, wrapped in a half-eaten bag of fish and chips, round me neck a note: Orphan Bill Slank, too wicked to end well!

They delivered these lines just perfectly as they flailed on the stage floor under a strip of undulating blue fabric meant to represent waves.

Beth pointed out later that North had a good almost-death scene as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast a couple summers ago. And I added if they want to do it again, Highwood is doing MacBeth next spring and no matter what role they play they have a decent chance for an on-stage death.

North was also quite animated and charming as Fighting Prawn, though the whole native-culture-as-comic trope bothers me, even though F.P. is sympathetic and given good reasons for his hostility toward the English. The script does comment critically on British colonialism during the time the story takes place and it’s definitely an improvement of the treatment of the Indians in Peter Pan, but still…

After the show, North was a bit sad about not seeing their friends in the cast for a while. There’s always a bit of a letdown afterward, but we’re all enjoying getting to bed on time and having North home in the evenings. Well, at least until Honors Chorus starts next month, but that’s only one evening a week.

College Letter #2

On Tuesday, I brought in the mail and noticed a large, plain envelope from Ithaca. Because Noah had only applied there a couple weeks earlier—while we were at the beach for Thanksgiving—and wasn’t supposed to hear from them until early February “at the latest,” which I took to mean sometime in January at the earliest, I thought it was just more in the stream of college mail he gets more or less constantly and in envelopes of all sizes. Most of these he never looks at, so I opened it in case it had anything interesting in it. (Boston University recently sent some relevant information about scholarship opportunities for National Merit semifinalists that sat unopened for a long time before I opened it.) 

Anyway, you know what was in the envelope because I told you in the first paragraph of this blog post. He got in to Ithaca. I told him when he got home. And this time he was happy because Ithaca is tied with R.I.T. for his top choice. He gave me a big hug and we did a little dance together. It wasn’t even until about fifteen minutes after he got home that we noticed another letter behind the first one in the folder, offering him a merit scholarship for students in media, named after Rod Serling, who used to teach at Ithaca. His archives are there as well. It would cover about a third of his tuition. If he goes there, we will have to call it his Twilight Zone scholarship. (It’s better than Agent Orange scholarship, which is what a college friend of mine who majored in chemistry and had a scholarship from Dow Chemical called his.)

Noah’s also applied to Boston University—he just sent that one in last weekend—but now he’s considering winnowing down his list. He may just apply to R.I.T. and forget the rest, which would make for a more relaxed winter break and January. Either way, he’s taking flight, as we watch fondly and proudly.

Taking Flight

Act I, Thursday Morning: CAP Presentation

“It was a big day for Noah,” Beth said when it was all over.

“It was,” he agreed.

It started with him dressing up in a suit for the first time ever. There have actually been a lot of occasions when we considered buying Noah a suit—mostly notably when he was in sixth grade and we got legally married, and for various oral presentations he’s made in high school. The C in CAP stands for Communication, so there have a been a lot of presentations over the past few years. But we got married in our living room, and he had a school-issued tuxedo shirt for band that year, so a suit seemed like overkill and then he had a habit of saying, “I really should have a suit for this,” a day or two before or he needed to make a presentation so we never bought one.

This time he thought to ask well ahead of his senior CAP presentation. The senior presentation summarizes five school assignments—two required and three of the students’ choosing—and explains what the student learned in them and in CAP in general. Noah spoke about and played clips from the movie he made this fall about the process of making his Halloween costume, the podcast of interviews with parents and alumni of his preschool, a dystopian film about social media, a paper comparing 1984 to the Trump campaign, and a research paper about a local hospital’s plans to move and the impact of the move on the community. The assignments spanned his four years of high school and gave a nice overview of his skills as a researcher, writer, audio technician, and filmmaker. It’s also the last big assignment he has in a CAP class because in their senior year, CAP students mostly take classes outside of CAP. The senior seminar will focus on interview and resume skills before it ends in late January and his AP Lit class will last until the end of the school year, but other than that, he’s finished with CAP.

Around one o’clock in the afternoon of his presentation day, there was a bomb threat at his school and everyone had to evacuate and stand out in the cold for an hour and a half until the time school would normally be dismissed. I think it’s telling that, after hearing from the school, texting him and ascertaining he was alive, the first thing Beth and I both thought of was to be grateful it happened after his presentation, which was during the second period of the day. While they were standing around and chatting, his senior seminar teacher told him he’d passed. (Anyone who fails gets a phone call from a teacher that evening and has to do the presentation again, a possibility much dreaded by CAP students.)

Act II, Thursday Evening: Winter Band Concert

Afterschool activities were cancelled while the police searched the building, but they completed their search in time for evening activities to go on as scheduled, which was nice because Noah had his penultimate high school band concert that night. He got home at his usual time and studied for a King Lear test before we had an early dinner of spinach quesadillas with black beans and corn on the side (which North ate an hour before we did before hopping on a bus to play rehearsal). By six o’clock, we were on our way to his school.

There are five bands at Noah’s school: two jazz bands, the ninth-grade Concert Band, Symphonic Band, and the Wind Ensemble. Noah plays percussion in the Wind Ensemble. There were a couple seasonal nods in the jazz selections. The Jazz Combo played “Autumn Leaves,” and “Let it Snow! Let it Snow Let it Snow!” The non-jazz bands play in order of expertise, so they get better as the concert goes along, not that any of them sound bad. Blair has a great music program.

So, the Wind Ensemble played last. Noah got to play drum kit in their first song, “Ride.” That’s a rare treat, though it also makes him a little nervous because it’s more visible than most percussion roles. He played snare, triangle, and chimes in the next piece. The real showstopper (and I guess it literally stopped the show, being the last song of the concert) was the “1812 Overture.” They played a version arranged without strings and also without cannons. Later Beth and I both made the joke that on a day with a bomb threat the cannon-free version might be better. But even without cannons, they rocked it. Noah played snare drums, triangle, and tambourine. And he got a chance to do it again the next day when they gave a shortened version of the concert for a group of visiting preschoolers. (He says the preschoolers were an appreciative audience, clapping every time the music stopped, even if the musicians were only warming up and doing scales.)

After the concert, Noah noted that at his next band concert, the band teacher will be calling him up to the stage and announcing where he’s going to college. It’s a spring concert tradition for all the seniors. It was something to think about as we drove to the theater to pick North up from their last rehearsal before Peter and the Starcatcher opened, because that happened the next day…

Act III, Friday Evening: Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter and the Starcatcher is a prequel to Peter Pan. I’d seen North play Peter in a scene during their acting class showcase last month and few more scenes done by the whole cast at a preview event a week before opening night, but other than that, I didn’t know much about it. North is playing four roles, two in each of the rotating casts. In the older cast, they are Alf (a sailor) and a mermaid. In the younger cast, they are Slank (the captain of one of the two ships), and Fighting Prawn (the king of the fictional island of Mollusk). Being in two casts meant North had to be at nearly every rehearsal for two and a half months. It’s been intense and it’s meant a lot of late nights.

Opening night featured the older cast, who are (mostly) in seventh to twelfth grade. The set was beautiful and quite elaborate, featuring two ships with moving parts and an alligator that runs along the ceiling. North’s part as Alf was bigger than I thought from what they’d been saying and I also didn’t know Alf had romantic scenes with a character played by an eighteen-year-old boy in drag. But that’s part of why we go to the theater—to be surprised.

Later North told me they’d been assigned some of another sailor’s lines at the last minute because of an illness that caused several parts to get re-arranged and there was supposed to be a kiss but the director nixed it because of the age gap between North and the actor playing their love interest. “Did you want to kiss him?” I asked and their eyes got big and they said, “No!”

It was a fun show, with good acting in many roles, but especially the girls playing the pirates Black Stache and Smee, who had excellent chemistry with each other. North’s often cast in comic roles and Alf was no exception. They’re playing more against type in the other version of the show, at least with Slank, who is something of a villain. Fighting Prawn is comic, too (though I think the script’s attempt to re-write the Indians of Peter Pan only partly succeeds in erasing the racism of the original).

As I write, North’s at the second of five shows this weekend. They will be at the theater from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. today and from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. tomorrow. And then they will do it all over again next weekend, with five more shows. We’ll go to closing night so we can see North in their younger cast roles.

You might expect flying in a show about Peter Pan, and other than the alligator and a stuffed cat, there isn’t in this one, but nevertheless, the theater’s announcements about the upcoming show said it was “taking flight.” It’s been quite an exciting few days here, watching our kids test their wings in endeavors academic, musical, and theatrical.

Chasing Stars

The night of the midterm elections we gathered in front of the television with popcorn and Halloween candy to watch the results. I thought I might overeat from the stress, but I soon found I’d crossed over into too-nervous-to-eat territory, especially as the House victories did not pile up as quickly as we would have liked and Noah, who was watching both the television and FiveThirtyEight on his laptop, announced that the probability of the Democrats taking the House had dipped. When it got down to 39 percent, he looked stricken and I thought how 2016 was his only reference point for following and deeply caring about an election. “It’s happening again,” he murmured.

But as you know, it didn’t. The Democrats took the House and there’s a remarkably diverse group of firsts headed for Washington, DC—the first Muslim women, the first Native American women, the youngest Congresswoman ever. Democrats gained seven governorships and didn’t lose any, and they made gains in state legislatures across the country. If it wasn’t for losing ground in the Senate, and some heartbreaking close misses at more Governorships in Georgia and Florida, it would have seemed like an unalloyed victory. We all went to bed past our bedtimes, more relieved than ebullient.

The next day I checked and the candidates I wrote postcards for did worse than average—only about twenty percent won—and that was disappointing, but Beth pointed out they wouldn’t recruit postcard writers for safe races, so I’m planning to write some more for Mike Espy’s Senate run-off in Mississippi this weekend.

And, as you also know, in the week and a half since the election, the wave only got bigger. Every time I hear how many seats the Democrats won in the House it’s a different number, but I know it’s in the mid-thirties and there are still undecided races, including at least one of my postcard candidates in California. Meanwhile the losses in the Senate are smaller than initially predicted. My postcard victory rate is up to about twenty-five percent.

Two days after the election, there were pro-Mueller investigation rallies all over the country after the President fired Jeff Sessions. There were two nearby, one in front of the White House and another one, which was more convenient but probably less impactful, in downtown Silver Spring. All day I was torn between which, if any, to attend. One complicating factor was that North had left the house without their ukulele, which they needed for a coffeehouse rehearsal after school, and they’d also forgotten their script for play rehearsal after that. I wasn’t sure if delivering the instrument and the script to school for them would constitute helicopter parenting but it would have taken me within walking distance of the Silver Spring protest, so I was considering that plan, even though it would have gotten me there very early and I’d promised to read several scenes of King Lear to Noah after school.

But then North texted me to say they’d found a ukulele to borrow and Noah came home and wanted to know if I could also quiz him on a huge pile of notes for a test in his Logic class on the history of mathematics and I hadn’t managed to make dinner ahead of time, so it seemed simplest to stay home, read Lear to Noah, quiz him on the Logic, and make a tomato-eggplant stew.

Beth went to the White House protest and because North thought I might be at the Silver Spring protest and they were in that neighborhood with time to kill between rehearsals anyway, they went to that one and sent me short video of people chanting. So the Lovelady-Allens were represented at each of the rallies even if we didn’t all make it.

Middle School Coffeehouse 

The next day we attended the coffeehouse at North’s school. They were going to play the ukulele and sing their original song “Chasing Stars.” I know most of you saw the music video Noah and North made of it when I put it on Facebook in July, but just in case you didn’t, here’s your chance.

The advertised start time for the coffeehouse was 6:00 and the performers were supposed to arrive at 5:45, so North left fifteen minutes before Noah and me. Noah had stayed after school to finish the Logic test and I was hoping he’d have time to practice his drums before we left but he took a long time to get started and after only fifteen minutes, I had to tell him to stop. Or I thought I did. The bus got us there at 5:50 and then we waited almost an hour for the coffeehouse to start. Apparently, there had been a mistake in the publicity and it wasn’t supposed to start until 6:30, then the band and orchestra teacher announced, much to Beth’s and my dismay, that they were delaying the start because the rain might be slowing traffic. So… let’s say it would have been safe for Noah to finish drumming. I was frustrated because he’s been so busy he’s been skipping practice a lot. I was also bored because in our rush to leave the house, I’d forgotten my phone and I hadn’t brought anything else to read either. I tried to take my own advice—given in a recent ghost-written blog post—about using unexpected waiting time as an opportunity for mindfulness, but I failed at it.

Once it finally started, the show was very nice. North went second out of ten performers. They sang well, but looked nervous, especially at the beginning of the song. They relaxed into it somewhat as they went on. As I told them later, when I used to give conference papers I always liked to go early so I could enjoy everyone else’s presentation and they nodded, either agreeing or humoring me.

And there was a lot to enjoy after North’s song. There are many talented singers and musicians at their school. Kids sang songs by Adele, the White Stripes, and Vance Joy and other pop singers. One boy played “Fur Elise” on the piano and there was a violinist who played a very impressive and intricate piece. North wasn’t the only one playing an original composition. A boy who went to North’s elementary school and attends the same church as Beth and North played a song he’d written on the piano and two more boys performed their own jointly written song for guitar and mandolin. Everyone did a great job.

Toward the end of the show, there was a sixth-grade girl whose background music cut out in the middle of her performance of “Feel Better When I’m Dancing” and she just kept singing, completely self-possessed. Eventually people in the audience started clapping and stomping their feet to the beat to replace the missing music. It was one of those moments that makes you feel better about humanity. Also, I think that girl is going places.

Snow Day

About a week later, North was supposed to have the chance to perform “Chasing Stars” again at their induction into Tri-M, the music honor society. They were elected the President of their school’s chapter last spring, so they were going to give a speech and sing.

But we got a couple inches of snow that morning and school and all after school activities were cancelled. This is the earliest measurable snow I remember having in all the sixteen and a half years we’ve lived in Maryland and the latest in the morning a snow day has ever been called. I got an alert on my phone at 5:00 a.m. saying it would be at least a two-hour delay, with a possible cancellation, to be decided by 7:00. This is pretty standard procedure. At 6:50, the alert said it would be a two-hour delay. I didn’t quite trust it, though, because it was still snowing and it was supposed to snow until noon. Sure enough, at 8:45, fifteen minutes before Noah was supposed to leave the house, Zoë called and North put her on speaker phone and I heard the dreaded words, “No school!”

North was actually disappointed when the two-hour delay was called because the seventh grade had a field trip to Medieval Times planned and the students had been explicitly told a two-hour delay would scotch it, but North was consoling themselves with the fact that the induction ceremony would go on if there was school. Well, so much for that.

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate snow days?  Yes? Okay. I’ll spare you the unreasonably emotional rant. I mean, what’s the point in saying it all again? It really makes no sense now that my kids are old enough not to be underfoot all day. Still, I felt really sad that morning, actually crying at the kitchen window as I watched it come down. I’m not sure exactly why snow days do that to me, but I have a theory it’s a trigger for me because my father died shortly before the big blizzard of 2010 that had the kids out of school for weeks. Fortunately, snow when we’re away from home doesn’t have that effect on me, so if it snows while we’re at Blackwater this Christmas, I can enjoy it.

North, perhaps wanting to avoid their morose mother or perhaps hoping to escape before I thought to give them a chore, left the house shortly after nine, meeting Zoë at a park. They spent the rest of the day at Zoë’s house, where the two of them made a snowwoman in a bikini, played with Zoë’s Guinea pigs, and watched television, not returning until after dinner. Noah spent most of the day in his room working on his senior presentation. I folded laundry, worked, and went on some errands, partly to get out of the house, partly because I needed stamps for the weekend’s postcard writing. I even stopped in a nearby store thinking I might try to do some holiday shopping but apparently that was a bridge too far because I started thinking about the impossibility of anything ever genuinely pleasing anyone and then I decided maybe I should just go home and leave the shopping for a less grim day.

High School Film Screening

The next day was Friday. There had been some speculation that there might be a two-hour delay but the kids went to school on time. That evening there was a screening of films made by students at Noah’s school and another local high school at a local art space. We got there about a half hour before the films started so we had some pizza and then went upstairs to look at the art on display. There was an exhibit of poems printed over each other, some abstract black and white architectural photographs, and a room in which visitors were encouraged to add a line to a collective poem written on the wall in marker.

The films started late, but comparing it to the coffeehouse the week before, it was remarkable how much less impatient I felt when I’d been fed and given something interesting to look at. The films were excellent. One of them we’d seen at the Montgomery County Youth Media Festival last spring, but most of them were new. Noah’s was about the White Oak duckpin bowling alley and the community of bowlers there. (One of Noah’s favorite parts of making the film was getting to go behind the lanes and seeing the pin -setting machinery.)

You can watch it here if you like. It’s about six minutes long:

We also really liked the film about a local tattoo artist who will cover gang and white supremacist tattoos for free. The students from Bethesda-Chevy Chase mostly showed footage from their weekly news show. In addition to screening the films, it was a chance for the students from the two schools to network and discuss possible collaboration. It was a fun event.

So, how to wrap this up? The election results were encouraging, but there’s still a lot of work to do, and we are all chasing stars in our own way, whether political or artistic.

The Middle of the Middle and the End of the End

The Last Few Days of Summer

Well, it happened again. The seemingly endless summer break that stretched out before us in mid-June ended. Today Noah started his last year of high school and North embarked upon the middle year of middle school.

Friday

I took the kids on our traditional end-of-summer creek walk. We splashed through the creek, observed the spider webs that span it and the crawfish that crawl on the bottom. There were a couple of deer on the bank near where we got in and they were seemingly unimpressed with us and disinclined to run away until we were quite close. I could see the velvet on the male’s antlers. 

North swam in the deeper spots, but Noah stuck to wading, maybe because we discovered when we set out that his bathing suit was missing (left we thought in the changing room at the swimming hole in Ithaca or in the hotel in Altoona) so he was dressed. As I moved slowly and cautiously through the creek and over the fallen logs that blocked our way, mindful of the bad fall I took two years ago in the creek, Noah started to point out slippery rocks and good handholds to me. It felt like a role reversal, and a sweet one.

Saturday

We left the house at nine a.m. and drove to the Kennedy Center. Highwood Theatre was having its season preview in a small performance space there and North was singing in three numbers, one each from Peter and the Starcatcher, The Wedding Singer, and Footloose. They don’t actually know which fall show they will be in yet. They’re trying out for an audition-only production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder in about a week so we’ll know shortly after that. The preview consisted of songs and scenes from several plays, including The Glass Menagerie and Sweeney Todd. It looks like it will be an interesting season. I’m sure we’ll be seeing many of the shows. North didn’t have any solos but they were one of two featured backup singers in “It’s Your Wedding Day” and when the other kid forgot a line it turned into a solo.

Sunday

North was busy making a test run of the strawberry-yogurt parfait and cucumber-tomato-fresh mozzarella concoction they are assembling in mason jars for school day breakfasts and lunches. Noah spent most of the day editing podcast audio and updating his journal about the experience.

Monday

Beth made pancakes for breakfast, as she traditionally does on the third morning of three-day weekends. North was busy decorating their school supplies, making stripes on the binder with duct tape and affixing stickers of musical notes to it. In the afternoon Beth and North went to a church pool party and we had picnic dinner in the backyard. Beth asked the kids what they wanted out of the coming year. Noah said to graduate and get into college. Beth predicted he would get into one or more. North wanted to have their friends in their classes and to make new friends.

After dinner we all went to Ben & Jerry’s for last-night-of-summer ice cream, another family tradition. We let Noah choose the venue because it’s his last year of high school. It would have felt a little more celebratory if he was finished his essay about the podcast (and essay I didn’t know about until that morning) but you can’t have everything. As it was he was up late working on it. The podcast itself turned out really well.

Tuesday: First Day of School

The big day came and the kids went to school. Noah found his errant bathing suit while he was packing his backpack and was on his way to the bus stop at seven and forty minutes later North went to meet their bus (and then waited twenty minutes because it was late). I went about my day and I was startled when Noah came home about an hour early at 2:55.

“Why are you home?” I asked.

“This is when I get home now,” he said cheerfully. For the first time in his high school career he doesn’t have a ninth period class, which was happy news. He was pleased with his schedule, too, because he’s in Silver Lens (which produces longer films than the ones he made last year for the school television station) and the highest level band (where he’s percussion section leader) and while he didn’t get the teacher he wanted for the CAP senior seminar, he also didn’t get the one he’d least like to have. This teacher is awful, so he really dodged a bullet there. The other two are both good. He’s had all three before. (And even better he didn’t know the objectionable teacher was teaching the class so he didn’t have to worry about it all summer.)  He had no homework due the next day so we read The Book of Dust, which we’d just started over the weekend and then he took a nap.

North got home and reported they don’t have any classes with Zoë or Giulia, but their day was good otherwise. They also had no homework. We read Serafina and the Splintered Heart until it was time for me to start making dinner.

About a week before my kids went back to school, my niece Lily-Mei (aka Lan-Lan) started kindergarten, or the beginning of the beginning of her K-12 education, at a nature-based public charter school. Here’s to a great school year for my kids, my sister’s kid, and your kids, whether they are at the beginning, the middle, or the end.