Lucky

Labor Day Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

Report from Australia

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

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

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

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

An Unexpected Package

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

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

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

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

Back to School Night

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

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

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

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

Concerts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything That Came After

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

Week 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

On our anniversary, I wrote on Facebook:

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

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

For Our Lives: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 74

It was potentially quite a busy weekend. North had a lot on their social calendar and there was a March for Our Lives rally in response to the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde on Saturday afternoon and it was Pride all weekend. In DC, there was a parade on Saturday and the street festival was Sunday, plus our little town was having its first-ever Pride festival on Sunday.

Beth, Noah, and I were all going to the rally and Beth, North, and I were all considering going to some Pride activity, but at the beginning of the weekend we hadn’t decided which one(s).

Friday: Prelude

North’s friend Ranvita came over for our weekly pizza-and-movie night. Over pizza and mozzarella knots, North and Ranvita talked about the dialogue they needed to perform for their theater class the next week and whether or not they were going try to get off book. (Apparently, there was an option not to, but you couldn’t get an A on the assignment if you chose not to memorize the lines.)

Beth was working late, so it was just Noah, the two high schoolers, and me. We didn’t want Beth to miss one of the movies we’d communally selected to watch together as a family so we needed to pick a new one. We have a complex nomination-and-veto system for choosing movies and having to pick a new one that four people could agree on made me reflect on the genius of having an orderly system because picking a movie four people can agree on is hard. Well, it was really just three people because I think Ranvita was a little overwhelmed by us and she kept quiet. It was mostly North putting ideas out there and me rejecting them because they were unrated and it was too hard to know what objectionable content they might contain or Noah rejecting them because their Rotten Tomatoes score was too low.

Finally, we settled on one of Noah’s choices, Perfect Blue, an amine thriller that was rated 16+ on Common Sense Media. By this point, we’d spent so much time trying to decide on a movie that I didn’t look carefully at the details of the reviews and if I had, we might not have watched it with North’s friend who’s a year younger than they are and whose parents I don’t know at all. I liked it—it was very twisty and played with reality, fiction, dreams and hallucinations in an interesting, artsy way—but it was also quite violent and sexually explicit and some of the violence was sexual. But I do tend to be stricter about media than most of North’s friends’ parents, so I hope it didn’t scar her. She did keep saying, “That was not what I expected” afterward as we all tried to figure out the plot together.

After the movie was over and Beth had gotten home, but before Ranvita left, I saw Xander in the kitchen, dragging one of his back legs behind him. It seemed like he couldn’t move it at all. I alerted Beth and she pointed out that something like this had happened to him last summer and it only lasted about a half hour (the vet couldn’t explain it), so we waited and sure enough he made a full recovery. It’s worrying, though. As Beth said, having an elderly pet “is not for the faint of heart.” Someday it won’t be a false alarm, but that day was not this weekend.

Saturday: Protest

Beth, Noah, and I left for the rally late Saturday morning. I’d gone through the hand-painted signs we’ve kept from previous marches and rallies and found some gun control ones we could re-use. I hesitated over the more all-purpose “America Is Better Than This,” sign I made for some early Trump administration protest (I think it was immigration and the Muslim ban). I’d actually made it thinking I would re-use it, but I never did. The sad truth is while I got to fifty years old believing that, at fifty-five, I don’t anymore. Too many of my fellow Americans, including members of my extended family on both sides, watched the cruelty and corruption of the Trump years and didn’t flinch. But I do still believe in the power of protest and the ballot, so that’s why I still go to rallies and write get-out-the-vote postcards.

Beth wore an orange top and I thought about it, but even though I have two, they are both short-sleeved and the day was drizzly and unseasonably cool, so I went with a long-sleeved shirt that says Love is Love is Love on the front. It occurred to me that someone seeing it might think I was heading to Pride. We saw people obviously going to one event or the other on the Metro. In fact, in the Takoma Metro parking lot, we saw a woman I thought was probably going from the rally straight to Pride because her outfit was mostly orange, but she had a rainbow flag draped over her shoulders like a cape.

We arrived at the rally around 12:15. There was a timer at the bottom of the Jumbotron screen indicating the speeches had been going on for ten minutes or so. We missed X González but we heard plenty of speeches. We heard two sons of an eighty-six-year-old woman who died in the supermarket in Buffalo, and we heard the mayor of DC, and two young people, one who introduced and praised the mayor for her efforts on gun control and one who criticized those same efforts.

The most powerful speech, of those we saw anyway, was David Hogg, of Marjorie Stoneman Douglass. He’s an electrifying speaker. What I appreciated most about his speech was his focus on the many state-level gun control victories there have been since the Parkland shooting, including some in Florida. It’s so easy to think nothing has changed and despair, but there has been incremental progress. It made me think I really should get back to my postcard writing, which I’ve let lapse a bit. When he finished I was thinking of visiting the line of Porta-potties because I didn’t think it was going to get any better than that, but Representative Cori Bush was next with a gripping account of being a survivor of gun violence in the context of domestic violence, so I was glad I stayed for that.

During her speech, the timer stopped at 78 minutes and after she’d finished, it was announced that was how long it took for police to stop the gunman at Robb Elementary. It was an effective demonstration of how long that must have felt to the terrified children, teachers, and staff inside the building.

There was a moment of silence, but suddenly in the middle of it, people started running away from the stage. We hadn’t seen or heard what sparked it, but we ran, too, until someone from the stage implored people to stop running and said there was no threat. I didn’t find out what had happened until later, but apparently, a counter protester (I hadn’t even seen there was a counter protest—we must have been too far away) had jumped over the barrier, yelled, “I am the gun!” and threw something into the crowd. He was detained by park police and the speeches continued after that, but I saw several people crying immediately afterward and I noticed they were all kids or teens. It made me think how a lot of kids my kids’ age are traumatized by the ever-present specter of gun violence, as we hear about school shooting after school shooting. (I guess the equivalent for 80s teens was nuclear war. I was pretty much convinced there was going to be one when I was in high school, but the obvious difference is we never did have one.) It actually made me glad North did not attend the rally because two summers ago witnessing a car crash into our fence as they stood just feet away was one several factors that may have triggered their functional neurological disorder and left them partly paralyzed for months.

We didn’t stay much longer after that, because Beth needed to get back home and drive North to their friend Marisa’s birthday party. We took pictures by a field of bouquets of white and orange flowers, each of which presumably stood for some number of lives lost to gun violence. Part of the way to the Metro station, Noah and I peeled off because he wanted to stop for lunch. I’d eaten before we left, but I accompanied him to Corner Bakery and got an iced latte and a cookie—I ate half of it and saved the rest for later—and he got a sandwich, chips, and a muffin. The restaurant was filled with people in March for Our Lives t-shirts and others in rainbow gear.

If North hadn’t had a birthday party to attend it might have been nice to go from the rally to the Pride parade and meet up with them there. Pride was cancelled the past two years because of covid, but the two years before that we went to the festival and I thought the parade would have been a nice change of pace.

Noah and I came home and made a soba noodle-vegetable salad with peanut sauce for dinner together. North came home in time to watch half of O Brother Where Art Thou, after they plucked the index card with its title from the pile of approved films.

Sunday: Pride

Sunday morning, we were still undecided about Pride. Thunderstorms were predicted and Takoma Pride was postponed for two weeks hence. North was all for going to the DC festival, which had not cancelled, but Beth and I were unenthused about the idea of going to Pride in a downpour and she had work she needed to do, so she and I stayed home and North went alone to meet up with their friend Sol there. North has the same Love Is Love Is Love shirt I do (they were Christmas gifts from my mother years ago) and they actually did wear theirs to Pride.

As it turned out, it never stormed and they were able to stay a few hours. Apparently the kids had trouble finding it, initially going to the right address in the wrong quadrant of the city, but they managed on their own without calling for adult backup. North was using their wheelchair that day, as was Sol, which makes that feat more impressive. They said they had fun. They didn’t bring home too many tchotchkes, but they did pick up a tube of lip balm that looks like a tampon (which they are quite taken with it) and a new button.

I’m glad they went and I hope to go to Takoma’s smaller Pride celebration in two weeks. It’s another way of witnessing and standing up for our lives.

When You’re a Jet: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 44

When you’re a Jet,
If the spit hits the fan,
You got brothers around,
You’re a family man…

From “Jet Song” by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim

Monday

North’s musical drama camp was held outdoors for the second year in a row and that meant I was keeping an eye on the weather, both for heat and rain. In late June in Maryland, you’re likely to get both. Last year, all the rehearsal days were able to go on as scheduled for the two-week camp, but the final performance had to be pushed up a day because of a predicted storm.

This year the camp was just one week. Monday was supposed to be hot and humid and Tuesday rainy, but the rest of the week looked pleasant. Monday was indeed hot and humid—the county issued a heat warning from one p.m. to seven, but camp ended at one, so North would only be out in the worst of it for the time it took them to walk home from the park. It’s only about a fifteen to twenty-minute walk, so when they didn’t get home until 1:40, my assumption was camp had run late. (That wouldn’t be unusual.) But when North got home, they collapsed into the easy chair by the front door and informed me they’d hurt their knee during one of the dance numbers.

When they tried to get out of the chair, the knee was stiff and painful and for the rest of the day they were using both forearm crutches to get around the house. (These days they use crutches only when they leave the house and usually just one.) This was discouraging, because while they still have chronic pain, they’ve gone a long time without an injury that exacerbated it.

While they were resting in the chair, I was straightening up in the living room and decided to take all the spring birthday cards (North’s, Noah’s, and mine) and the Mother’s Day cards down from the mantel. When I took down our birthday card to North I remembered they’d never registered on the Donor Sibling Registry site and I asked if they wanted to do it. They said yes, so I handed them the card with their donor number written inside and after filling out the online forms and entering my debit card number, they found they have thirteen half-siblings on their biological father’s side, all born between 2003 and 2007, including one half-brother who is within a month of their age. However, all the messages were from parents and none were more recent than 2013. North left a message in hopes of hearing back, but I warned them it might not be realistic to expect anything soon as no one seemed to be monitoring the site closely.

That night we watched the first half of West Side Story and North let us know which songs in that part would be in the revue (“Jet Song” and “Gee, Officer Krupke”). They hadn’t been cast yet, but some of the possibilities Gretchen, the camp director, was considering for them were Tony, Diesel (called Ice in the film), and Velma. I was impressed with the idea of them being Tony but they pointed out it would be mostly songs, with just a little dialogue, and everyone sings, so there really wouldn’t be any leads. This did turn out to be true.

The show was going consist entirely of songs the Jets sing together because the group of kids who come to this camp year after year tends to be mostly white and the optics of a bunch of white kids playing the Puerto Rican Sharks wouldn’t be good. In another adjustment, North and two other kids talked Gretchen into cutting these lines from “Gee, Officer Krupke”: “My sister wears a mustache/My brother wears a dress/Goodness gracious, that’s why I’m a mess!” Gretchen tried to argue for historical context and satire but the kids thought in a three-song performance that just wouldn’t come across. They did keep this lyric: “’Cause ev’ry Puerto Rican/’S a lousy chicken!” which North said was unnerving to sing repeatedly in a public park, with passersby.

Tuesday

Tuesday morning was rainy as expected. Gretchen emailed early in the morning to say camp would end early, at noon, or possibly 11:30, and it would be held mostly on her sheltered patio– as her back yard borders the park where camp takes place—but they’d probably have to spend some time dancing in the rain. North was still having difficulty getting around so I helped them get their script and lyric sheets printed and in their backpack and I made their mid-morning snack (a fruit salad) and packed it. Beth drove them to camp.

Three hours later, Beth brought them home. They weren’t soaking wet and said the campers had spent most of the morning sheltered on Gretchen’s patio, working on lines and sewing the letters JETS onto the backs of the hoodies they’re all wearing as costumes. Eventually, they’d embroider the names of their characters on the front. In North’s case, this would be Tony, as they’d be playing the lovelorn Jet after all.

North said the campers did leave the shelter to dance for about an hour when it wasn’t raining too hard. I asked if they’d been able to dance at all with their hurt knee and they said they managed to adapt some of the moves. Because Gretchen’s known North since they were three, she has plenty of experience adjusting her choreography for North’s various mobility challenges, often with very little notice. I figured it would all work out.

After camp that afternoon, North reported, much to our surprise, that the mother of one of their half-sisters had already sent them a brief message. So we know the girl’s first name, and that she’s eighteen years old, but not much else about her. North wrote back and is waiting to hear more.

We finished watching West Side Story that evening. I noticed that in the movie, Tony’s not in “Cool,” the last song in the lineup (and neither is Riff, because he’s dead). I asked North if they’d be in it, because I guessed with just three songs, Gretchen would put everyone in all of them, and I was right.

After the movie was over, we discussed how the body count is lower in West Side Story than in Romeo and Juliet and North observed it’s odd that all these gang members seem to have classical ballet training. But I have to say that even as problematic and outdated as parts of it are, it’s still a compelling film, with a tight plot (thanks, Shakespeare) and so many wonderful songs. It will be nice to have seen it recently, if Beth and I make good on our intention to go see the Rita Moreno documentary soon or if we see the new West Side Story when it comes out this winter.

Wednesday-Thursday

By Wednesday afternoon, North was walking around the house without support. They said their knee wasn’t very painful but still pretty stiff. (They felt steady enough on their feet to make  a blueberry sauce for some vanilla ice cream we had on hand.) While the kids and I watched an episode of Shadow and Bone, North embroidered a T and an O on the hoodie they’d be wearing in the show. They did the N and the Y while I made dinner.

After diner, North received another message from the mother of a different half-sibling (age seventeen) and this mom passed on the kid’s email address, so the ball was rolling on getting in touch. By Thursday afternoon, North was scrolling through the newly found half-sibling’s Instagram feed and showed us some pictures. There’s a slight resemblance, especially in the shape of their faces, though Noah says he can’t see it. This one, who I’m going to call Alexis for now, though that’s not her name, has two moms and lives in Michigan and uses female and gender-neutral pronouns interchangeably. Because the sperm bank we used is located in Virginia and there are so many siblings I’ve been wondering if any will live nearby. I guess we may find out soon.

Thursday night, shortly before we went to bed, I noticed that our cat Xander’s belly was bare of fur and the skin looked inflamed and was oozing in places. That re-arranged our plans for the next day.

Friday

After Beth dropped North off at camp, she and I headed for the animal hospital with Xander because there were no appointments available at our regular vet and the hospital takes drop-ins.

When Matthew got sick last summer, they had people drop their animals off and leave and they’d call you when it was time to come back. Beth had called and found out that you’re still not allowed inside, so we expected something similar. Instead they wanted us to wait in the garage. (I could see the privacy screen in the corner was still there, which brought back bad memories of Matthew being euthanized in that very parking garage. I guess they’re still doing it there.)

Beth called inside and found the procedure was different now. She talked to someone on the phone who asked questions about Xander’s condition and medical history, then a tech came to the car to get him and take him inside and we were told to wait, and given an estimate of two hours. To make a long story short, it was more like four hours, and Beth had not brought her laptop because she didn’t expect any wait. She had to write something for work and was trying to draft it on her phone, “like a young person,” but it wasn’t going well, so I went to a nearby CVS and got her a pen and a notebook, so she could write on paper, like an old person. Shortly after that, almost an hour and a half into the wait, I caught a Lyft home, leaving Beth to write and take calls in the car, because we thought at least one parent should catch the drama camp performance, which was at 12:30.

I had just enough time to 1) talk to Beth on the phone and find out the vet thought it was itching from some kind of skin condition that was making Xander lick and scratch his skin raw, but that they needed to run some tests, 2) charge my phone for ten minutes or so, and 3) find some camp chairs before Noah and I left for the park. He had his camera, a tripod, and a microphone to record the performance. We got there about fifteen minutes early so we could talk to Gretchen about where he should set up and we caught the tail end of a final run-through of “Gee, Officer Krupke.”

The performance started twenty minutes late because we were waiting for all the parents to arrive, so I had time to read my texts from Beth about Xander. The lab tests showed he had both a bacterial infection on the skin of his stomach and a fungal infection in his ears (which have been looking kind of scabby). That he has two separate kinds of infections made me wonder if his immune system is suppressed for some reason, other than being old. He’s eighteen and showing his age in various ways—he’s arthritic and half-deaf and possibly a little senile. (He’s still plenty strong, though, as we learned when we gave him his medicine.) So, in the short run, he should be fine, but it’s a reminder he’s no spring chicken. The day before his vet adventure he spent almost the whole day napping on a chair in the back yard, enjoying the sun.

The actors waited in the shade of a tree and I could hear North talking about how the high of performing always makes the rehearsals worth it. This might have been for the benefit of the two newbie campers, aged ten and twelve. The rest of the cast ranged from fifteen to almost seventeen and they’ve all been acting together for years, in North’s case since they were five.  All the actors were in black hoodies and black or denim shorts or pants. North’s hoodie was actually part of their Halloween costume, and had glow-in-the-dark paint spatter on it. (I didn’t see the point in buying a second black hoodie and North agreed.)

The show consisted of a wordless prologue and the three songs, with a bit of introductory dialogue. Gretchen incorporated the playground equipment into the choreography at the very beginning. The kids emerged from the corners of the playground or slid down the slide or climbed down a ladder to converge near a bench. It was a good use of the space. Based on the dancing in the prologue, I asked North later if any of the actors had ballet training because I wondered if a couple of them might have, but North said no.

North had a solo in “Jet Song,” singing the first two lines in the stanza quoted above. They also had to take two stage falls in “Cool” and managed it well. “Gee, Officer Krupke” was last, which surprised me a little because it put the songs out of order, but without much plot to link them, it probably didn’t matter. The kids skillfully mined the song for it comedic content, especially Grace, who was playing A-rab, the much analyzed boy at the center of the song. It also let the show go out on a high note, because it really is a fun song.

Here’s the show, if you have a spare fourteen and a half minutes and you’d like to see it.

Watching it after the fact, I’m impressed with how much choreography the kids learned in a week. In a way the camp has come full circle. It started as a one-week, half-day camp when the kids were tiny and as the shows got more ambitious it grew to a two-week, full-day camp in which they produced scaled-down versions of shows that were recognizable as plays, not just a few songs from a play. But the pandemic and older kids’ busy schedules have shrunk it down to something resembling its original form. However, preteens and teens can learn a lot more complicated lyrics and dances in that amount of time than when they were preschoolers and kindergarteners.

After the show was over, the actors wanted to linger in the park and socialize. There’s a post-performance pizza tradition, so Maggie’s mom ordered pizza from Pizza Movers, which caused North to point out what we’ve all lamented many times this spring and summer, that they no longer offer delivery, so they can’t really be said to move the pizza. Maggie pointed out “They move the pizza from the kitchen to your hands,” but the general consensus was that this wasn’t good enough.

Noah and I didn’t stay for pizza, because in all the commotion of the day I’d forgotten to bring money and I was already letting North freeload off Maggie’s mom, and there weren’t a lot of other parents staying, which might have been what the kids wanted. Gretchen’s been saying this might be the last year of the camp. She said the same thing last year, but in case it is, I wanted to let them enjoy each other’s company, after North’s eleventh year of putting on a show with a gradually changing, but largely stable group of kids.

Some of these kids North’s known even longer, as North met Gretchen’s daughter Grace in Gretchen’s preschool drama class when they were both three and they met Maggie in preschool when they were both two. Speaking of Maggie and preschool, both North and Maggie are going to be counselors at tinkering camp at their old preschool the same week in July. I’m glad North has these long-lasting connections, even as they find new ones through school and activities and now the sibling registry. Keeping old friends and meeting new family members is a good thing.

Beth got home shortly after Noah and I did, with Xander. We rubbed his belly with antibacterial wipes and gave him an oral antibiotic, but it turned out the anti-fungal eardrops weren’t in the bag of supplies, so Beth had to drive back to the animal hospital after dinner to go get them. Xander is family, too, and we want to take good care of him, for as long as we’re lucky enough to have him.

Party On: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 43

Beth asked me recently when I’d take the Coronavirus Chronicles subtitle off my blog posts. At the time, North was still in hybrid school so it seemed the pandemic was still having a noticeable effect on our day-to-day lives. Now school’s out and it’s expected to be 100% in-person for the next school year and most (but not all) of the camps North would normally attend are a go this summer, so their life is creeping back to normal. Noah’s still living at home, but he’d probably be here for the summer even if the pandemic had never happened. Beth’s still working from home, except for roughly one day at week when she goes into the office. So I may keep the designation on my posts until September, when Beth goes back to the office full time and both kids are attending school in person. I think that’s when things will feel truly normal again.

Things are trending in that direction, though. As of Thursday, we’re all fully vaccinated, which means we’ve been doing things like going to Ikea to browse and sit in chairs instead of just ordering one online (Wednesday), going to the movies (Thursday), and attending a large, partly indoor party (Saturday). Plus I’ve stopped keeping my contact log, as of a few days ago. All these things feel deeply strange, but in a good way.

The end of the school year was a little anticlimactic. There was none of the normal end-of-the-year bustle of concerts, plays, award ceremonies, or other special events to attend. The last couple of days of school are always light on academics and heavy on parties and movies, but even that was different. North’s last day was Tuesday. They had a Japanese oral exam on the Thursday before that and on Friday they took a biology exam and glazed their last piece of pottery. And then on Monday and Tuesday literally nothing happened. Their English teacher had promised to screen a film version of Romeo and Juliet, but for some reason didn’t. They just had to check in and out of each class for two days, except for history during which the students chatted with the teacher about things like what their Hogwarts houses were. I asked if that seemed like a party, sitting around making casual conversation, and I got a firm no. The lack of activity of any sort, academic or otherwise, was disheartening and seemed emblematic of all the lost opportunities of this year. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that going to school in person, even part-time, made the fourth quarter the best one of this strange school year for North. It helped them engage more than they had earlier in the year.

Thursday we went to see In the Heights to celebrate the first day we were all fully vaccinated. If you’re local, it’s playing at AFI, which has recently re-opened, and we saw it in the main theater with the big screen and the art deco decorations, which was a perfect atmosphere for our reintroduction to movie theaters. It felt downright festive to sit in a dark, cavernous space and eat popcorn we didn’t make ourselves and watch a movie with people not related to us.

Saturday afternoon Beth, North, and I went to the new bubble tea place in downtown Takoma because they were serving rainbow boba in the tea for Pride, but I guess you had to request it because while other people had multi-colored boba, ours were the standard black. We got rainbow-frosted cupcakes, though, and there were rainbow flags all over the patio, so there was no dearth of pride there. (Or anywhere else in downtown Takoma, which is festooned with pride flags of all sizes and which has multiple rainbow crosswalks. Just walking down the street is like a party.)

From bubble tea, North and I went straight to a real party at Zoë’s house, while Beth headed to a goodbye party for a colleague. We had two parties at the same time– that’s how celebratory things are getting around here– so we had to divide and conquer. North’s actually attended a lot of birthday parties recently, even before being fully vaccinated—two I can remember this month, plus a quinceañera, and an end-of-school party. (Between North going to school and socializing in larger groups or our trip to Wheeling in late May or maybe from taking the bus more often, I caught my first cold in sixteen months a couple weeks ago. It was mild and totally worth it.)

The party was nice. I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a long time, parents of North’s friends from elementary and middle school, and we talked about how we’d weathered the pandemic, what our kids were up to, work, and summer plans. People played cornhole and jenga and some of the adults got a bit tipsy. We arrived around three and by six I was feeling like I’d had enough and I was considering leaving North there and going home, but a lot of people left around then and it started to feel more intimate and introvert-friendly. We ended up staying past ten, when Beth swung by from her party to take us home.

North’s first camp starts tomorrow. It’s musical drama camp, the same one they’ve attended every year since they were five.  It’s being held in a neighborhood park, as it was last summer, and considerably scaled down (a week of four-hour days instead of the two weeks of six-hour days it ran pre-pandemic). They’re doing West Side Story, not a production of the play so much as a revue of songs from it, as they did for Pirates of Penzance last year. I’m glad it’s happening at all, though. It’s largely the same group of kids who come back every year and it will be good for North to see them again.

Chorus camp is cancelled for the second year in a row and it’s the last year North would have been able to attend, as it’s for rising fifth-to-tenth graders, so that’s sad. But their sleep-away camp is on and I think that’s the one North cares about most. They’re also going to volunteer as a counselor at a tinkering camp at their old preschool for the first time and they’re excited about that. North attended this camp for several years when they were in elementary school and Noah’s been a counselor there, so it’s a family tradition.

For me, the most exciting part of our (almost) post-pandemic summer will be seeing my mother, sister, brother-in-law, and eight-year-old niece, and Beth’s mom and possibly her aunt, when we share a big house at the beach for a week in mid-July. It will be the first time I’ve seen my extended family in two years. I hope your summer is also full of festivities and joyous reunions. Happy solstice!

Anticipation: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 38

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasin’ after some finer day

From “Anticipation,” by Carly Simon

Things are slowly starting to seem, well, not normal exactly, but as if normal is on the horizon. Hopeful signs are everywhere on the pandemic and other fronts. Here are a few, plus one not so hopeful one:

Vaccination

Just a little over a week after Beth and I got vaccinated, Noah got his first shot. Like us, he had to travel outside Montgomery County, which does not seem to be getting its fair share of doses. I guess I shouldn’t complain, though, since the state seems to have enough, and it’s a small state so no site is that far away. Beth drove him to the stadium in Baltimore where the Ravens play. His second shot will be on Friday, so when that’s taken effect in mid-May, three out of four of us will be fully vaccinated. Now we just need to wait for a vaccine to be approved for twelve-to-fifteen year olds, which may happen soon. If North and their peers are able to get vaccinated sometime this summer, that should mean school will be more like regular high school in the fall, with the whole class and the teachers all in the same room at the same time. The mind boggles.

My sister and her husband are partially vaccinated, too, and they bought their airline tickets to come East to visit my cousin Holly in Pennsylvania and then to join us at the beach in Rehoboth in mid-July. All the adults in the beach house will be vaccinated, which is the condition we set.

Celebrations

Zoë had an outdoor birthday party the second weekend in April. It was in her grandparents’ backyard, which is bigger than her family’s backyard. It also has a zipline. There were about ten guests, which is probably the biggest group of teens North’s been in since drama-camp-in-the-park last summer. Beth said when she went to pick them up afterward, North seemed really, really happy. Then about two weeks later North went to Miles and Maddy’s birthday party, which took place around their family’s firepit. North has a lot of friends with spring birthdays so their dance card has at least one more upcoming birthday party plus a quinceañera on it in the next month and a half. This is a happy thing because last spring there was a dearth of parties and now they are happening, albeit in different forms than they would have pre-pandemic.

Mini-Vacation

The third weekend in April, Beth and North went camping in West Virginia, where they stayed in a camper cabin and explored Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown. Until Noah started college, Beth used to take each kid on a solo camping trip every year (Noah in the fall and North in the spring), but this was the first camping trip during the pandemic. When Beth decided to go, it occurred to me wonder why they hadn’t camped earlier, as it seems like a pretty covid-safe activity. Beth said she’d been worried about crowded campground facilities, and sure enough they encountered several drunken, beer-toting and unmasked women in the bathroom (as well as unmasked but presumably sober folks in the camp store). Of course, North couldn’t avoid the bathroom, but when only one person needed to go inside somewhere, like the camp store or a grocery store, Beth did it. They also ate at a restaurant (outdoors) for the first time since last summer, when we did it in Ithaca. Beth and North both found this very cheering.

I felt really unsettled when Beth and North left for their trip, even knowing it was just for two days, because we are always all together now and have been for over a year. The only nights the four of us haven’t spent under the same roof have been the ones North spent in the hospital with one mom or the other last summer. I have to say, I prefer a camping trip to that.

Left to our own devices, Noah and I read six chapters of Ninth House and watched four episodes of Death Note, and two movies. On Friday we ordered pizza and watched Pan’s Labyrinth. We were originally going to order from a place that used to be our go-to for pizza, but which we haven’t patronized in a long time. However, in the process of ordering we discovered they don’t deliver anymore—it’s carryout only. The name of the place is Pizza Movers. Think about that for a second. As Noah said, “It’s right there in the name. They’re supposed to move the pizza.”

The next night we made penne with an asparagus-cherry tomato sauce. After dinner, I made banana pudding on a whim, and then we watched Daughters of the Dust, which Noah needed to watch for a cinema class he’s taking. So, even though I did miss my wife and youngest, I can’t say I suffered terribly. It was nice to have so much one-on-one time with my firstborn.

It also made me think about all the little trips that will have us split up in different combinations over the next several months. After his finals in mid-May, Noah is going to go to Wheeling to visit Beth’s mom for two weeks. North will probably do the same thing some time this summer, though we haven’t set a date. North may also be able to start sleeping over at friends’ houses when kids in their age group start getting vaccinated (and after we’ve compared ground rules with other parents). Plus, their sleep-away camp will be in session this year in August, whether campers are vaccinated or not. The biggest change, of course, will be when Noah goes back to college, also in August. I imagine I will be simultaneously overjoyed and gutted when that happens, so I guess it’s good we’ll have these little practice separations first.

Occupation

The day after Beth and North got back from camping, Beth did an unusual thing. She went to her office. She’s been back there a couple times, but only to fetch things she needed. The office will be slowly reopening, possibly allowing some people to opt into returning starting in June. She wants to ease into this transition and she had a dentist appointment in the city that day, so she decided go into the empty office to work. She said the Metro platform was “less crowded than I remember” and the office was nice and quiet, which was probably because she was the only one on the whole floor.

Presentation

Beth was trying to get home from the office by 5:20 because Noah was participating in an online undergraduate symposium and she wanted to see him give his paper on what plot changes would be needed to resolve the philosophical paradoxes of time travel in Back to the Future. She ended up having to watch part of it on her phone on the bus and the rest of it at home on my computer, where I was already watching. I was glad when she got home because I’d been unable to access his complicated graphics representing branching timelines and she got them on the screen. If you know Noah, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it was all very Noah. He sounded confident while he presented and he came in within the time limit. (He’d spent a lot of time editing the paper down to ten minutes.) Beth said all the oral presentations he gave in his high school communications magnet program paid off.

Education

Meanwhile, the same Monday Beth went into the office and Noah gave his paper was also the first day of in-person classes for the first group of ninth graders, the ones who are in the red group. North is in the blue group, so they had another week to wait. The most notable change was that three of their four classes (Japanese, Algebra, and History) all met for the full hour of assigned class time, or nearly so, and this has been a pretty rare occurrence during remote schooling. However, the yoga teacher announced at the beginning of class she was going to focus on the in-person students, so she took attendance and dismissed the online students. I wondered if that was just a first day thing or if North will only have yoga now every other week. Three days later, which was the next time yoga class met, it was the same. I wasn’t thrilled about that, but I figured it is what it is.

On Tuesday, North’s English, Sculpture, and Biology classes all met for the full hour or within a few minutes of it. Even in the advisory period, during which students usually check in and are immediately dismissed, the students stayed for twenty minutes, during which they got information about people running to be student members of the school board. I am hoping this pattern of longer classes points toward more academic engagement for North this quarter, whether they’re in the classroom or at home. That would be welcome.

When I asked North what seemed different with students in the classroom, they said the obvious things, that the teachers were wearing masks and they were switching back and forth between talking to the in-person group and to the online students. They also said the Algebra teacher wandered too far from his mic sometimes and was hard to hear.

Reproduction

On Tuesday afternoon I noticed that there was no dove sitting on the nest on the ledge of our porch. The mother and father bird have been taking turns on it continually for more than three weeks and I’d been afraid the eggs might be duds. (This did happen one year.) So I climbed up on the porch wall and had a peek and there were two tiny, fluffy chicks in there. I didn’t see the chicks again for five more days, as usually one parent (and sometimes both of them) was usually sitting on the ledge at angles that hid the babies.

Deliberation

Just about an hour after I first spied the chicks, the triple guilty verdicts in Derek Chauvin’s trial were announced. It won’t bring George Floyd back, but as a friend of mine, a white woman with two mixed race kids about the ages of mine, said on Facebook, it’s “three small steps in the right direction.” I don’t want to imbue one verdict with too much meaning, but I think Naomi got it about right. It did make me feel hopeful. And I don’t even want to think how depressing it would have been if this egregious case had gone the other way.

More Education

North went to school, in a school, for the first time in thirteen months and thirteen days today. (Their last day of in-person school, in March 2020, was Friday the 13th.) That spooky detail aside, it went pretty well.

Because the students who opted to remain all-virtual plus the red team, which goes to school on alternate weeks, were at home, the class schedule was the same as it was when everyone was virtual—four one-hour blocks a day, with breaks between them so those four hours of class occur between nine a.m. and two-thirty p.m. However, on the first day North needed to be there early because there was a tour of the building for ninth graders at 7:45.

Beth was driving them to school so they wouldn’t have to be on the bus at the crack of dawn and I got up a little earlier than usual to see them off. I took the traditional first-day-of-school photo at the back gate instead of the front gate because that was the gate they’d be walking through to get to the driveway. That small difference (and the fact that it’s April and not August) should remind us of the strangeness of this year when we look back at the picture—though I doubt we’ll need any reminding.

North came home on the school bus, arriving a little before 3:30. It’s a long ride because we live out-of-boundary for their school. They said their day was “not horrible.” They recognized someone from their middle school art class on the tour. There were only two to six in-person students in each class. They took a quiz in Japanese and got an A. In Algebra, they came up with a way to solve a problem that was different than what the teacher had in mind and he praised their ingenuity. They were allowed to eat lunch outside and they did. They were pleased with the pesto and fresh mozzarella sandwich and fruit salad they’d packed. Turns out the yoga teacher isn’t teaching the in-class students either, at least not today, and she took attendance and had them sit on the bleachers with no explanation. I am baffled by this and hope it doesn’t continue. Tomorrow North will have their other classes. The Biology teacher isn’t teaching in-person, so they will attend on their laptop in the school building, but the other classes will be in person.

Predation

While North was at school, I checked on the nest and it was empty, and I know those chicks were too little to have fledged. There was no bloody, feathery mess to clean up, as happened the first time we had doves on the porch, but something must have carried them off. I took it hard, as I’d gotten attached. I always do. I hope their end was quick.

Life is fragile and uncertain, as we’ve all come to appreciate this year.

Anticipation

I know the pace of re-opening varies a lot depending on where you live. Some of you have had in-person classes since fall or have being going in and out of lockdowns, some of you are still waiting to be vaccinated, and one of you is anxious for the U.S.-Canadian border to open because your son is at school on the other side of the border. It seems like we’re all in different phases of the pandemic, and of course, no one knows if the rate of vaccination will be able to outstrip the appearance of new, more virulent variants. But despite all this, most days I am more hopeful than not that finer days are on their way. I hope you are, too.

Ready for Fifteen: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 35

A few weeks ago, North said that sometimes when they have a birthday they feel as if they just had one, but now “I feel like I’ve been fourteen forever. I’m ready for fifteen-year-old North.”  Well, fifteen-year-old North is here, as of Tuesday.

They did not have a slumber party this year, just as they did not last year, for the obvious reason. The first time it happened we felt really sorry for them, thinking their birthday poorly timed, and we made promises about a make-up slumber party later, even as they celebrated with their friends, who came one at a time to visit with them on the porch and eat cake. Now that everyone in the world has had a pandemic birthday, it doesn’t seem like as much of a hardship, although I suppose those of us with spring (and summer?) birthdays will have the misfortune of having two pandemic birthdays. Anyway, North traded the make-up slumber party for an outdoor half-birthday party (with several guests allowed to come simultaneously) in late September, when it had become apparent that restrictions weren’t ending any time soon.

Saturday Afternoon: S’mores

For North’s fifteenth birthday, they had two small celebrations. Over a month ago, Beth made a reservation for one of Montgomery County’s Picnic in the Parks Warm Up Days for the Saturday before North’s birthday. You can rent a portable firepit and up to six chairs or a picnic table with a patio heater for an hour and a half in one of two parks. County employees come by periodically to tend the fire for you.  The program started in February and the last one is next Saturday. I think all the slots are reserved, but it might be worth checking for cancellations if you’re interested. There was one empty firepit when we were there and neither of the tables was in use.

North decided they wanted the whole family to attend. That left two more people and after Zoë, they couldn’t think of anyone they wanted to invite without leaving other people out, so we were a party of five. When Zoë’s dad dropped her off, North yelled across the parking lot, “Look, it’s my best friend!”

Wheaton Local Park is a narrow field between Georgia Avenue and the Wheaton Public Library parking lot. Its winter-brown grass was dotted with campfires ringed with people. At first it felt funny to have a campfire so close to a busy thoroughfare and not a more sylvan location, but eventually you forgot about the traffic and focused on being outside on a beautiful day with a fire to watch (or I did). We didn’t really need the fire for heat, though, as the day was sunny and in the fifties. Most of us didn’t even wear jackets and Zoë was in a t-shirt.

We’d brought takeout from California Tortilla and so we ate that, and then we made S’mores. The fire was really hot, which made it hard to toast the marshmallows without burning them. My first attempt was black and bubbly on the outside and reasonably melted inside and my second was perfectly browned on the outside and raw inside. North achieved perfection after abandoning their first, burned marshmallow, which Zoë deemed good enough to eat. Noah busily made and ate more S’mores than I could count.

Noah took some pictures and when I told North and Zoë to put their masks back on so they could get closer, I said something I sometimes say to my kids when I take a picture of them together—“Look like you like each other.”

“We do like each other!” North exclaimed. And they do. They’ve know each other since they were on a kindergarten basketball team together, the Pandas, as long-time readers may recall. (Zoë was only on the team that first season, but North was a Panda through fifth grade and the team went on to play for three more years.) North and Zoë became good friends after attending basketball camp together the summer they were six and they’ve been best friends since sixth grade. While we sat by the fire, they reminisced about the Spanish immersion trip they took to Colombia the spring of seventh grade and talked about which classes they like this year and which ones they don’t like and what they will take next year in tenth grade. A (mostly fond) conversation about the mother of a mutual friend left me wondering if North’s friends ever talk about me, and if so, what they say.

If they do, they probably say that I am very strict about what movies and television North can watch. North mentioned that when they turn fifteen they can watch some carefully selected R-rated movies and Zoë said they watched Spinal Tap when they were ten, but she didn’t understand it. I said Noah’s first R-rated movie was probably something he watched for school because he was assigned to watch a lot of movies when he was in a communications magnet in high school and he said, yes, it was The Matrix, which he watched in ninth grade. North went on to list their first PG-13 movie, School of Rock, which I let them watch when they were eleven because they were acting in the play (they had to wait two years to watch any others), and their first PG movie, which was Frozen, which they had to wait to see for several months after it came out because they weren’t eight yet, even though all their friends had already seen it. I think this kind of deprivation helps build character or perhaps it will fuel their art when they return to acting.

Tuesday Morning: Caramel Macchiato

Three days later, North turned fifteen. They dressed for the occasion in a lavender long-sleeved t-shirt and a short gray jumper, both of which are hand-me-downs from me. I recently let them shop my closet because I have a lot of clothes I don’t wear anymore, but it’s still startling to see them in those clothes, especially the jumper, which I mostly wore during the Clinton administration. It drives it home how much closer they are to being in their twenties than I am.

In between their sculpture and biology classes, we walked to Starbucks so they could claim their birthday reward. They had their first cup of coffee, another new fifteen-year-old privilege. They got a caramel macchiato and a doughnut. I had a latte and a birthday cake pop because I can be literal like that. On the walk there we talked about past birthdays, when they were two and had an Easter birthday (which they say they remember), when they were five and the birthday theme was butterflies and birds and we took their birthday party guests on a birdwatching walk, and their first slumber party, when they were eight. They said wistfully that they hope to have another slumber party someday.

Tuesday Afternoon and Evening: Cake

After school, Zoë, Miles, and Maddie came over for cake. It was another warm and sunny day, which was a stroke of luck as the weather can be iffy this time of year. The guests arrived at three and around three-thirty, Beth, Noah, and I joined them in the back yard for cake, ice cream, and lemonade. The cake was strawberry with strawberry-cream cheese frosting and as I was setting out plates, forks, glasses, etc., Zoë was talking up Beth’s cake, saying she always makes good cakes for North’s birthdays. I guess she’d know, having been to all of North’s birthday parties since first grade. While they ate the cake, North and their guests reminisced about Rainbow Alliance at the middle school North and Zoë used to attend and Miles and Maddie still do (well, virtually). They were all members and it’s where they became a friend group. After we’d finished our cake, the mothers and brother went back inside.

I made a tater tot-topped vegetarian chicken casserole for dinner, because it’s a favorite of North’s. They opened presents after dinner. They’d already received money from both grandmothers. First they opened a set of scented candles from one of their friends: lavender, fig, lemon, and spring. Noah wanted to know if that last one smelled like asparagus, but North said it was floral. Next they opened a graphic novel from my sister and chocolate frogs from Noah, which he got because North liked the ones they got for Valentine’s Day (they come with Harry Potter character trading cards), a tie-dyed t-shirt in rainbow stripes, some red-and-white striped summer pajamas, and a rose and black modest bathing suit from me and Beth. But the big hit was a membership to the Donor Sibling Registry, which they can use to locate and contact half-siblings from their donor. This is something they’ve been wanting to do for a while. That evening the kids had seconds on cake while we watched the first hour of Boy Erased, North’s first rated-R movie. We’ll try to finish it sometime this week.

After two low-key birthdays, North says for their sixteenth birthday they want to “go all out.” I’m not sure what that means, but I guess we have a year to find out. Still, there was plenty of sweetness in this one and not just the sugary treats.

By the Numbers: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 31

So…. there’s certainly been a lot going on, but as you can probably get all the political analysis you need elsewhere, I’ll stick to our domestic goings-on for the most part. In between the shocking assault on the Capitol and the inauguration, we had a small celebration and a weekend getaway.

Anniversary: 01-11-21

On the second Monday of January, North looked up from their computer screen and asked me why I was so dressed up. For the record, I was wearing a white button-down shirt and tan corduroys. That’s what passes for dressed up around here. “It’s a special day,” I said, and gestured for them to turn their attention back to their English class.

Around lunchtime, they asked again. Apparently, my first answer wasn’t good enough. It was Beth’s and my winter anniversary, the double one, twenty-nine years since our commitment ceremony and eight years since our legal marriage. I didn’t notice this until after the fact, but the date, 01-11-21, makes a pleasing pattern.

But as North pointed out, we weren’t going anywhere. Beth and I would be working in separate rooms and she “would barely see” me.

Anniversaries during covid are tricky, or they have been for us. This was our second one as we celebrate our dating anniversary in July. (Not wanting to have three anniversaries was part of the reason we got married on an existing one.) During that last one, North was hospitalized (the first hospitalization of three last summer) and we basically skipped it, exchanging gifts well after the fact. All we had planned for this one was cake—I make the spice cake we had at our commitment ceremony every year—and presents, but at least these would be exchanged on the actual day.

I made sautéed Brussels sprouts and white beans for dinner because these are two of Beth’s favorite foods. North helped me with the cake frosting and in between dinner and cake, we opened gifts. I got Beth a mortar and pestle because she’d recently said the one we had is too shallow and she got me Red Hot and Blue, an album we used to have that wasn’t available until recently on Apple Music. It’s a thirty-year old collection of Cole Porter remakes that was an AIDS benefit. I’d been missing Annie Lennox’s version of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” for years. I played part of the album while I did the dishes, and then we all played a text adventure. Normally, we’d go to dinner or a movie (or both) to celebrate our anniversary, but as we got married in our living room, maybe that was an appropriate place to end the day, with everyone who was there (minus the officiant).

Ocean City

Friday: 21842

Four days later we were on the road and the reason was indirectly related to North’s aforementioned health troubles. In August, my friend Megan offered us a three-day, off-season stay in an oceanfront condo in Ocean City she’d won at a school fundraising auction. She said we deserved a get-away after all we’d been through last summer—North’s paralysis and seizures, the car that crashed through our fence, our cat’s death. Beth was a little reluctant to accept such an extravagant gift, but she said it was up to me, and my answer to Megan was “Hell yeah!”

Speaking of North’s health, I haven’t done an update in a while, so here’s the current situation in a nutshell: They’ve been able to walk normally for a few months, but have pain that was recently diagnosed as fibromyalgia, so on longer walks they sometimes use crutches or the walker. They are trying to exercise every day for a half hour. The urinary issues have been cleared up since early November. They still have non-epileptic seizures, sometimes several a day, but often none for several days in a row. Overall, they seem to be getting less frequent. For the past couple months, they’ve also had some verbal tics, in which they involuntarily say things like “woo hoo” “hello there,” or “good morning.”

So, back to the beach. We arrived at the condo a little after six and after we’d explored it, admiring the stunning ocean views in the upstairs bedroom and the living room and bay views in the kids’ bedroom, Beth went out to get some groceries and pick up pizza for dinner. While we were trying to figure out if we in a delivery area for Grotto we needed the zip code and had to look it up. Only later did we notice Ocean City’s zip code—21842—was on a piece of art on the kitchen wall. I found this amusing.

I unpacked food and distributed linens while Beth was procuring more food. After we ate, I sat on the balcony, nineteen stories up in the air, and watched the waves crash on the shore for a half hour until I got chilled and had to come in and watch the ocean from my bedroom window instead. While I was doing this, Beth and North watched The Fosters.

Saturday: 99th to 119th & Inlet to 3rd 

The next morning all I had to do was reach out and part the drapes to see the ocean. I didn’t even need to get out of bed. I did eventually, though, and ate breakfast and went down to the beach for an almost two-hour walk. It had been foggy when I first woke up, but eventually the sun broke through the clouds. When it hit the sea foam on the sand it turned it opalescent with pinks, purples, and greens. I watched a seagull hunt and eat a fish, or part of a fish, as it set it down too close to the water and its meal was swept away before it could finish. I actually saw this exact same thing happen twice. It made me wonder why they don’t take their prey to the dunes the way I often see osprey do.

Ocean City is a lot different than Rehoboth, architecturally speaking. It’s high rise after high rise, with the occasional smaller building tucked between or in front of the mammoth ones. When I set out on my walk, I studied our building, so I wouldn’t miss it on my way back, but this turned out to be an overabundance of caution, because 1) there are regular signs that tell you what intersection you’re at, and 2) the buildings are more different than I thought, both in height (ours at twenty-five stories was one of the taller ones), color, and materials, but also shape. Most are rectangular, but one was in a horseshoe shape and a couple were wedge-shaped, to allow for units with side views. At one point while I was looking at the buildings and comparing them, I did something I would have told the kids never to do, at least not in January. I turned my back on the ocean while quite close to it and got soaked almost to my knees. I considered going home at that point, but it wasn’t that cold—mid-forties and sunny—so I kept going.

I discovered a path that ran for a long stretch parallel to the ocean, between the dunes and the high rises, with regular intersecting paths for beach access. I found a snack bar and public restrooms (both closed) and various playgrounds and empty swimming pools, most of which wasn’t visible from the beach. It was like a little secret world and I was pleased to discover it. At one point the path rose slightly and you could see over the dunes. I noticed a surfer in a wetsuit, so I stayed and watched him ride the waves for a while. By this point I’d come twenty (very short) blocks, from 99th street to 119th, so I turned back.

At home I changed into dry pants and socks and left my wet things on the balcony and had an early lunch since my walk had left me hungry.

In the afternoon, Beth, North, and I went to the boardwalk. Noah had a paper to write for his film and philosophy winter term course, so he stayed at the condo. We weren’t sure what, if anything, would be open, as we’ve only been to Ocean City twice before, both times in the spring. The answer was, surprisingly, a lot of indoor entertainment (arcades, Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium, and the mirror maze), but not much food. I would have guessed the other way around since many of the stalls are open air and seem safer. Anyway, we didn’t go into any arcades or Ripley’s, though North said wistfully they would like to go back there someday.

Thrasher’s was one of the few food vendors open and I could have gone for some hot, vinegary fries, as I’d put my still-damp shoes back on and I was feeling chilly. Also, we didn’t get fries on the boardwalk when we were at the beach over Thanksgiving and it felt like a missed opportunity. But I have never seen such a long line for Thrasher’s, maybe half a city block long, and I didn’t want fries that badly. We did find a funnel cake place and North got one.  There was an open Candy Kitchen, too, and I popped in to get some treats for everyone, after waiting in line outside because only ten customers could be inside at once. Beth was hoping to find ice cream and for some reason (it was a cool, cloudy afternoon in January perhaps?) no ice cream stalls were open, so we stopped on the way home at an ice cream place on the highway and she got a sundae. There were at least two signs near the window where you order that said “No profanity” which made us wonder what had happened to make that necessary. Beth joked about ordering “fucking coffee ice cream with god-dammed Oreos.” 

The whole time we were on the boardwalk, I kept remembering the time the kids got lost there, when they were six and almost eleven. Everything reminded me of it—the benches where we sat and ate ice cream right beforehand, all the sunken restaurant patios where I looked for them in a blind panic. This was a less eventful visit and I did not mind that one bit.

At home, Noah continued to write his paper and North did a little homework and drew Harry Potter characters with a drawing program they like while Beth read The New Yorker and I read The Winter Soldier, which my book club is discussing tomorrow. It takes place in WWI field hospital and does a good job of making you really glad you never worked in a WWI field hospital.  We ordered Italian takeout for dinner and then Noah and I finished I, Robot and after that Beth, North, and I watched an episode of The Gilmore Girls.

Sunday: 99th to 79th & 40 Feet 

It was clearer when the sun rose the next day and the light that came through the gap at the top of the curtains threw a vivid orange triangle on the wall, near the ceiling and filled the room with a rosy glow. I pushed the fabric aside and saw orange-red ball that seemed to rise out of the water.  Beth and I were both awake by seven-thirty but we lazed in bed for a while before we got up. I made myself a hearty breakfast—a broccoli and Monterrey Jack omelet, veggie bacon, grapefruit, and orange juice. Fortified, I went for another long walk on the beach.

Since I’d gone twenty blocks north the day before, I decided to go twenty blocks south this time, down to 79th Street. Noah said he was going to follow me with the drone and I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not, but I didn’t see it. Later he told me by the time he got it set up it was too windy to fly it as far away as I’d gotten.

On my walk I saw a building that looked like a Mayan pyramid and one that looked like a spaceship, also a Little Free Library at a dune crossing, which is about the most delightful location for a Little Free Library I have ever seen. In the last five blocks or so of my walk the high rises petered out and there were more two and three-story buildings. Coming back, I found a beach chair someone had left around 84th Street and sat in it for ten minutes or so, watching the ocean.

Back at the house, Noah and I read the first seven chapters of Trail of Lightning, a story about a Navajo monster hunter operating in a post-apocalyptic landscape. (Psst, Allison, I think this might be up your alley.) Beth made a Chipotle run because North wanted a burrito, but everyone else ate leftovers or other food we had in the condo. 

A little before two, we left for Assateauge Island National Seashore in search of the famed wild horses and some pretty trails to hike. We’ve been to this park twice before (the last time on the same trip when the kids got lost on the Ocean City boardwalk) so I was confident we’d find both. There were plenty of signs forbidding feeding the horses or getting closer than forty feet to them, but we saw people doing both. Some people were throwing apples out their car windows and we saw a half-eaten pumpkin and some stubs of carrots left along one of the trails.

We hiked the marsh, forest, and dune trails. North only felt up to one and chose the forest trail, waiting for us in the car while we were on the other trails. They chose wisely as it was the only trail where we saw a horse. Or more likely, they just got lucky because based on the presence of horse poop, the horses roam all three trails, and the roads, and the parking lots and pretty much everywhere in the park. The horse in question was reddish-brown with a shaggy coat and a flaxen mane. It was grazing in a marshy area just outside the forest.

Even though we didn’t see horses on the other trails, we saw some very lovely landscapes. As we drove across the narrow bridge off the island, looking at the late afternoon light on the water, I felt a little drunk with the beauty of the world.

We picked up Starbucks on the drive home. At the condo, North worked on Japanese, and then we watched Locke and Key, while Beth made Pad Thai for dinner. This was the first installment in what qualifies for me as tv/movie bingeing. After dinner, Beth, Noah, and I watched Predestination, which he needed to watch for class. The professor is on a time-travel movie kick. They’re also studying The Time Traveler’s Wife, Back to the Future, and Time Crimes. It’s enough to make me wonder if she wrote her dissertation on time travel films. Anyway, have you seen Predestination? It’s something else and I can’t explain why without major spoilers. We rounded out the evening with an episode of Buffy because it’s our Sunday show and Noah didn’t want to skip a week.

Monday: Countless Gulls & 21 Waves 

The next morning when I pulled aside the curtain to peek at the sunrise, there was a band of dark clouds on the horizon, but you could see where the rising sun was because threads of reddish orange light leaked through cracks in the clouds. It looked like molten lava under black rock.

Usually on the morning we leave a beach house, it’s all hustle bustle, but we had no set checkout time, so we were more relaxed. After breakfast, Noah flew his drone off the balcony again and then we read a chapter of our monster-hunter book. We packed up everything but the kitchen, since we’d be eating lunch at the condo, and then Noah and I took a walk through a bayside neighborhood intersected with canals. There was no beach access except through private property, but we were able to get pretty close to the water and we saw an egret in a marshy area. There was a huge flock of seagulls floating on the water and we could hear their cries, even from far away. As we were walking back the sound changed to a loud rustling. We both turned around to see the whole flock rising into the air. Noah was quick with his camera and got a shot of them.

We ate lunch and finished packing up and moving out. (North was quite taken with the building’s garbage chute.) We drove to the boardwalk and found the line for Thrasher’s much shorter so I got in it, while Beth went to get funnel cake and some dark chocolate almond bark, and we sat on a bench and ate our treats. Beth walked on the boardwalk and along the edge of the closed-for-the-season amusement park while North and I went down to the water. We’d had a long discussion about whether the kids should put their feet in the water, per the Lovelady-Allen Goodbye-to-the-Ocean ritual, because none of us was sure whether this was just a Rehoboth tradition or if it applied to other beaches. I think we might have come to a different conclusion if it wasn’t January and if had been able to locate my rainboots before this trip, but North and I decided we’d stand at the shore and count twenty-one waves without actually standing in them, and I put my hand in the water for the first and last one, thinking more than that would pretty much guarantee I’d soak the shoes that had just dried out.

Around three o’clock, we left the boardwalk and drove home. We crossed the Bay Bridge around 5:25, just as the sunset was starting to fade. I felt very content. But there was more happiness just two days later, because of course, the number that has most of our attention now is forty-six.

Inauguration: 46

Beth, North, and I watched the inauguration together. North had an early dismissal and was finished with classes around 11:25, but Noah’s 11:30 class went on as scheduled, so he had to miss it. We turned on the television during Amy Klobuchar’s speech and we watched the rest of the ceremony: Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Garth Brooks singing the national anthem, “This Land is My Land,” and “Amazing Grace” and the startling youthful and talented Amanda Gorman reciting “The Hill We Climb.” We spotted many former Presidents in the audience. We watched Justice Sotomayor swear in Vice President Kamala Harris and Chief Justice Roberts swear in President Joe Biden.

Let’s just pause and take in those last three words—President Joe Biden. It was an unusual inauguration, even more heavily guarded than usual, sparsely attended as these things go, with the audience all masked and on the lawn at least, seated in distanced clumps. The parade was tiny. There will be no inaugural balls tonight. But in the end, the pomp of an inauguration isn’t the point, it’s the peaceful transfer of power from one President to another. And after January 6, I was not taking the peaceful part for granted.

In other ways, it was a completely normal inauguration. In his address, our new President sounded hopeful and determined, coherent and rational. He sounded like a President. That’s something we haven’t heard in a long time. I was more than ready for it.

Tonight Beth and I watched the inaugural concert on the mall on television, eating chocolate-peanut butter ice cream because we read somewhere that’s Biden’s favorite flavor. At the very end, when Katy Perry sang “Firework,” we could actually hear the fireworks that were going off behind the Washington Monument. The broadcast must have been on a delay because we heard them start before they did on tv. It reminded me that on January 6, we could hear the helicopters heading for the Capitol. That’s the distance we’ve travelled in two weeks.

 

Art in Autumn

I’ve been low in spirits pretty much all month, so it was nice to have two artistic events to look forward to this week. North’s acting class had its showcase on Monday afternoon and they had a piece in a middle school art show we went to see on Thursday evening. (Actually, the whole week was busy—in between the acting showcase and the art show, we had a trans kids’ and parents’ support group on Tuesday and my book club met on Wednesday.)

Acting Showcase

I had a scattered, unproductive work day on Monday, but I finished the Jason section of The Sound and the Fury (my book club book), did two loads of laundry, made a batch of vegetable stock, and got dinner mostly prepped before I left the house at 4:25, so I guess the day wasn’t a total loss. My bus was late, but I’d left plenty of time, so I still arrived at the community center ten minutes early. I waited on a bench outside because I wanted the fresh air, even if it was overcast, chilly day.

North’s been attending this acting class since mid-September. It’s the same one they’ve taken four times, starting in fifth grade. It’s run by the director of the musical theater camp North attends every summer. When I entered the auditorium, I recognized most of the kids from past classes and camps. It was a small group this year, only six kids. They’d been working in pairs, on three scenes from three different plays.

North and Gretchen’s daughter Grace went first, doing a scene from Leaves, an Irish play about how a family reacts to the attempted suicide of its oldest daughter. North and Grace were playing the two younger sisters, who are discussing their sister’s return home in what starts as a muted, moody exchange that turns emotionally explosive. They both did a very good job, but they’ve been acting together since they met in a preschool drama class when they were both three, so I suppose it’s not surprising they have good onstage chemistry. (I especially liked them together in Into the Woods as Little Red and Jack a couple summers ago.)

The other two scenes were from The Man in the Moon and Dead Poets’ Society and they were also well done. After the scenes were finished, Gretchen had the actors discuss the acting concepts they drew on while they worked on the scenes (substitution, subtext, objectives, obstacles, beat changes, etc.)

Finally, the audience was invited onstage to participate in some improv games with the actors. I declined, even though most of the mothers (and one younger sister) did get up on stage. As I told my exasperated child, it’s their job to act and mine to write about it. That’s our division of labor. The games consisted of a group-written story, constructed by having each person contribute one word at a time, and a game in which you have to create a scene entirely out of questions. That last one looked hard.

North had been on the fence about enrolling in the class this year—it was tiring last year going straight from school to acting class to play rehearsals and they didn’t know they weren’t going to be in the fall musical at Highwood until the theater closed quite suddenly in September.  I’m glad North did take the class because when they didn’t manage to sign up for an audition slot for the school play, it ended up being their only acting activity this fall. We have Grace to thank for it because she’d been cajoling North via text until they finally said yes.

Art Show

Thursday we had an early dinner and drove out to the high school that houses the Visual Arts Center (to which North’s applying) to see a middle school art show featuring pieces from twelve different schools. Art teachers at these schools selected artwork to send and North’s art teacher chose North’s mandala. It was one of only two mandalas she chose.

When we arrived, people were congregated in a hallway in front of a portable screen. The mistress of ceremonies called all the middle school art teachers up front to be recognized, and then explained that a retired middle and high school art teacher had judged the art. There were twelve categories and four to six winners in each category—first place, second place, third place, and one or more honorable mentions. As the winning art appeared on the screen the MC explained what the judge had liked about each piece and then had the artist come up front for a photo. It was interesting to hear the judge’s thought process and very supportive and affirming. North didn’t win a prize, but as they say, it’s an honor to be nominated. (The other mandala from their class won third prize in the Color category.) After all the awards had been given out, we went into the room where the art was displayed. We went to each school’s display and at North’s school, they pointed out a friend’s artwork they wanted us to see.

After the show, we went out for frozen yogurt and I asked North what they’d learned about mandalas before they made them. Nothing, they said. So I looked it up on my phone. I learned they are geometrical configurations used in the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain religions in India, and the Shinto religion in Japan and that they represent variously: balance, unity, harmony, a spiritual journey, or cosmic and psychic order. Thanks, Wikipedia! North’s mandala is full of rainbows. (Look carefully at the spokes.) So I guess they got some of those concepts in, even without detailed cultural instruction.

Art can bring us all the things the mandala symbolizes. Over the course of the past several weeks, I’ve been savoring The Sound and the Fury, a book I haven’t read since I was a first-year college student, thirty-four years ago, and which was a pivotal book for me as a reader in ways I still remember clearly. I’m glad North has artistic outlets, too. While not every book, play, or painting takes us on a spiritual journey, every time we open ourselves up to art, there’s always a chance it will.

Seize Some More Days

Last Weekend of Sweeney Todd 

As I mentioned earlier, North’s last performance of the summer was last Sunday when Sweeney Todd closed. There were only two performances that weekend, a Saturday evening show and a Sunday matinee because Highwood had two shows running at once, and And Then There Were None had the theater on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.

North wanted to see And Then There Were None because they thought their friend Cam was in it and I have a soft spot for the novel because I went through a big Agatha Christie phase in middle school, then I taught it in a class on genre fiction, and then Noah and I read it when he was in middle school. So, of course, I went with them. Highwood had to vacate its quarters on short notice earlier this year because of structural problems with the building and they’d been operating out of temporary space. The last few shows have been performed in a storefront-type space on the first floor of a medical building in downtown Silver Spring. We saw North’s friend Sadhbh play the title role in Macbeth there in May. When we arrived at the ersatz theater, got our programs, and took our seats it became apparent Cam wasn’t in the show, but Sadhbh was. That was just as good, so North wasn’t disappointed. (North thinks they may have lost track of who was who in a group chat.) It was a good production, just slightly scaled down from the novel. I was impressed with how Sadhbh breathed life into Emily Brent, given how flat Christie characters tend to be. Her judgmental glares were quite comic.

The next day I was back at the theater, this time with Beth and Noah, to see Sweeney Todd. North was in the ensemble. They didn’t play a named character but they sang in all the group scenes, died onstage as one of Sweeney Todd’s victims (sliding very nicely out of the barber chair) and had a few lines sung as a duet in “Not While I’m Around.” Some of the Toby’s lines in this song had been reassigned to North and another actor–the two were supposed to portray Toby’s conscience. This was a last minute adjustment that made North happy because they’d hoped to be cast as Toby. It’s a pretty song and well suited to North’s voice. If you’re familiar with Sweeney Todd, or any Sondheim really, you know how complicated the music is. The kids did a great job with it. The actor playing Mrs. Lovett was really excellent in the role. My only complaint was that the instrumental music was too loud, causing me to miss some of the dialogue and song lyrics.

After Sweeney

So, after a month jam-packed full of drama camp, choir camp, rehearsals, and performances, it was suddenly all over. The end of North’s summer break will be travel-heavy. They’re spending a week at sleepaway camp in Pennsylvania, then they’ll road trip up to New York with us to drop Noah off at college, and then spend a week in West Virginia with Beth’s mom. In a span of three weeks, they’ll be home just a couple days in between Ithaca and Wheeling. But before all that, they had a week relaxing at home.

Well, kind of relaxing. We packed a bunch of appointments for both kids into that week. Noah had his penultimate drum lesson of the summer, went to the psychiatrist who prescribes his ADHD meds, and got his hair cut. Both kids went to the dentist, but different dentists because Noah’s no longer going to the pediatric dentist as of this summer. North went for an evaluation at the rehabilitation center where they will be doing aqua therapy for their leg. We met with the physical therapist who will coordinate their care and got twelve appointments scheduled from late August to mid-October. The therapy pool has limited hours so they’re going to be missing a lot of school, which concerns me. The next day we went to the physical therapist North’s been seeing since March for a final visit. We’d decided it was better to have all the physical therapy coordinated in one location so we’re saying goodbye to her.

North worked on summer homework. They’d finished their summer math packet sometime in July but I had them to do some extra online review of algebra concepts and they finished the book they chose from the summer reading list, Outrun the Moon, historical fiction about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The kids cleaned the bathroom, kitchen, and porch, vacuumed and mowed and I taught Noah how to sew on a button so he can do that for himself at school.

We also found some time for fun. The kids recorded the audio for a music video of a new song of North’s, “Sweet as Cola,” on Monday and they shot the video on Wednesday and started editing it on Thursday. On Tuesday the three of us went for a creek walk, an annual late summer tradition. I wasn’t sure how steady North would be in the uneven surface of the creek bed on crutches, so we did a modified, shortened version. But they were actually fine and faster than me. I’ve been slow and careful in the creek since I fell and hurt my knee in there a couple years ago. It was nice to do even an abbreviated version of the walk. I found myself thinking nostalgically of one of the first times I took the kids to wade at that exact spot ten years ago.

North spent part of Monday and most of Thursday with Zoë, with whom they hadn’t had a non-camp week in common since June. From Friday morning until Saturday afternoon, Lyn and North had what Lyn’s mom called “an epic hangout.” They went to downtown Silver Spring by themselves to have lunch and see The Lion King. Later, Noah and I met them for pizza. North went to watch Lyn’s aerial silks class and then the two of them came back to our house and slept in a tent in the backyard. The next morning I took them both to the pool.

We dropped Lyn off at home around 3:30 and drove to the Montgomery County Fair. We spent the late afternoon and evening there, looking at farm animals, eating fair food, and riding our favorite rides. We finished with the Ferris wheel, the four of us in the little car suspended high above the ground, looking over the colored lights of the fair on a mild summer night, before our August travels scatter us in different directions.