With a Little Bit of Luck

My Fair Lady just finished its six-performance, four-day run yesterday. The two weeks before the performances neither kid had camp, which was probably good for North because the two weeks they were rehearsing Into the Woods and My Fair Lady at the same time were exhausting. And going to camp during the week when they had evening rehearsals or performances running until at least ten p.m. and some nights past eleven would have been even harder.  So it was nice for them to be able to sleep in a little and not have to worry about going anywhere during the day. (On Sunday they slept until almost eight-thirty, which might have been the latest they’ve ever slept in their life. I don’t know how long they would have slept if Noah hadn’t woken them up for their traditional Sunday morning viewing of Dr. Who.)

I think it was actually harder on the grownups staying up past our bedtimes and getting up around the same time as usual for six days in a row. (On Saturday afternoon Beth crashed and slept for almost two hours. That same night I gave up on staying up until Beth brought North home and I’d been asleep for an hour when they got back.)

As for the daytime, it was a bit of a challenge working in my corner-of-the-living-room office with both kids home. I had to keep telling people to turn off the television or watch it with headphones on, and both kids were watching a lot of television—Anne with an E, Liv and Maddie and recorded episodes of Late Night With Stephen Colbert. I’ll let you guess who chose what. But they weren’t complete sluggards. Noah finished a rough draft of a college application essay and he started shadowing a friend of Beth’s who’s a filmmaker and both kids worked on the video they started filming the week we were at the beach and they finished it. Here it is:

North wrote and performed the song and Noah filmed it and edited it and added some stock footage and the piano music.

I put the kids to work around the house, too. The kids cleaned the bathroom, Noah vacuumed and mowed, North mopped the kitchen floor and ran errands for me, and we all weeded a lot. We put a dent in what grew during an almost solid week of rain but at least the ground was so soggy the weeds came right up. North had a couple friends over, but it took quite a few inquiries to find even two people who weren’t out of town or at a day camp. North and I went on a bit of a dessert-making spree. We had a lot of berries from our recent berry-picking expedition so I made a blueberry kuchen and a blackberry sauce for ice cream and North and I collaborated on a blueberry-ricotta-hazelnut cake. North made tapioca pudding, too.

Beth, North, and I also attended our first support group for trans and non-binary kids and their parents (two separate groups that meet at the same time) at Children’s National Medical Center. We’ve had a series of appointments there recently for intake purposes. This was our fourth time there in three months. The groups were sparsely attended– apparently they always are in the summer– but it was interesting. It was just Beth and me and two other moms (of two different kids) but it seemed all three families were in very different places when it came to adjusting to their kids’ identities.

As opening night drew close, to prepare ourselves for the show, we all watched the film version of My Fair Lady. It’s three hours long and we never had three hours free all at once, so we watched it in installments over the course of three nights. It turns out North has a very firm opinion on Julie Andrews v. Audrey Hepburn as Eliza. They’re on Team Andrews all the way. They also think Eliza should not have gone back to Henry at the end. We were all in agreement about that but North was the most emphatic of all of us. It made me reflect how it was just a year ago that North listened to Beth’s and my thoughts about the troubling nature of Belle and the Beast’s relationship with patient resignation but zero interest. A lot has changed in the past year.

Finally it was time for the show. On Thursday afternoon around four I was working and North came into the living room and said, “Don’t I have to be on a bus in twenty minutes?” and I said no, it was an hour and twenty minutes and they pointed out it wasn’t a rehearsal today it was the actual show and they needed to be at the theater at five. I don’t know how I forgot. All I can say is I’d been up past my bedtime two nights in a row by that point and I don’t function well when I’m short on sleep. I threw together something for them to eat (a couple veggie dogs and some microwaved new potatoes) and they were out the door on time to catch their 4:25 bus.

North had been getting themselves to the theater on rehearsal days for six weeks. It all went smoothly except one day last week when they got accidentally on an 18 instead of a 17. After a frantic text exchange with me they got off before the routes of the two buses diverged and then got on the next 17. They were only ten minutes late, but the directors were a little testy about it because it was tech week.

Beth, Noah, and I attended the second performance of the play on Friday evening, after a quick stop for a bouquet of sunflowers, red roses, and sea lavender and another stop for dinner at Mod Pizza. This time I remembered North’s dinner in time—I ordered them their own delivery pizza to eat before leaving for their call time.

We arrived and took our seats in the little theater. Highwood has three performance spaces in the same building. My Fair Lady was the same room where we’d seen Godspell the weekend before. (We go to a lot of shows at Highwood because North always wants to see their friends perform.) Because we’d recently seen the film, I knew North’s character, or rather their characters—they were playing three—wouldn’t appear for a while. Their biggest part was Jamie, one of Alfred Doolittle’s drinking buddies, so they had five lines of dialogue with Alfred over the course of the play and they sang in “With a Little Bit of Luck” and “Get Me to the Church on Time.” Alfred is a comedic role (and coincidentally the one North tried out for) and Jamie only appears with Alfred so North’s scenes allowed them to use their gift for comic facial expressions. They had to dance a lot, too, and even though they like acting and singing more than dancing, they did great with the dances, which involved a lot of leaps. North also played a servant in the Higgins household, singing in the “Servants’ Chorus,” and a guest at the ball.

The ball was performed in the second-floor hallways ringing the atrium just before intermission. The members of the audience were asked to leave their seats and stand against the walls while the actors ascended the staircase that winds up from the first floor and they were announced by name and then waltzed past the audience. I thought it was creative staging that took advantage of the somewhat eccentric layout of the building.

As always, it was an impressive show. The two leads were fantastic. The girl who played Eliza did a decent Cockney accent, had a lovely, delicate singing voice, and she even looked a tiny bit like Audrey Hepburn. The girl who played Professor Higgins has been attending drama camps with North since North was four and Anna was five. (The first one was at their preschool. More recently, Anna was the witch in the Into the Woods at the rec center and Patty in School of Rock at Highwood.) Anna really inhabited the role of Higgins in all its arrogance. And she did some impressive ad libbing when another actor missed his cue. I didn’t even realize something had gone wrong until North told us later.

Seeing Anna and North in the same show inspired me dig around to find this photo of that long-ago drama camp at their preschool. Look carefully at North’s shirt. It doesn’t say Dairy Queen—it’s Drama Queen. I’m still in touch with the moms of several of these kids and none of them were even in Noah or North’s class. It’s that kind of school, a tight-knit community where kids make friends that last for years. And with a little bit of luck, we’ll be seeing North and their friends—old and new—perform together for many years to come.

Rock Around the Clock, Part 3

When we woke up on the fourth of July, I discovered I wasn’t that enthused about any of our normal Independence Day traditions—going to the parade, the backyard picnic, the fireworks. I tried to remember how I’d felt last year and I couldn’t but then Facebook Memories helpfully reminded me:

Steph asked Beth at 7:30, before they were even out of bed, if she thought they could just enjoy the parade and their picnic dinner and the fireworks and not get depressed about the state of American democracy and Beth said no. But Takoma’s parade is so quirky and spirited, it was cheering, and Steph and Noah made a tasty sour cherry sauce for ice cream, and now the whole family is in a big crowd waiting for fireworks so the day does not seem entirely tragic. Not even mostly tragic. Maybe 30/70.

I re-posted it with the caption, “About 70/30 today.” Things just seem so bleak right now. But I decided if going through the motions helped last year it might help this year. Cutting to the chase, it didn’t, but at least it didn’t make me feel worse, which seemed like a real possibility. It a was hot day and we arrived late to the parade and missed some of it, but I always like its small town, community-spirited feel. Afterward we got eggrolls, fried rice, and fried plantains from people who were probably first or second generation immigrants at a food stand and it made me think about immigration and how central it is to America’s identity.

We had our picnic, with the same foods we usually have except Beth made homemade potato salad instead of buying it at the grocery store and I made devilled eggs.  North husked the corn and helped chop potatoes, and Noah pitted cherries for the sour cherry sauce, so it was a whole family effort.

We went to the fireworks and they were pretty, but they go off very close to where you watch them and maybe something about the wind was different this year because we were showered with grit all through the show, which was alarming. I was on edge and half-afraid we’d end the night at an urgent care with an eye injury.

Anyway, I didn’t come here to talk about the fourth of July, I came to tell you about the second. Truly dedicated readers may remember my “Rock Around the Clock” posts. In 2008 and 2013 I kept a record of what I was doing every hour on July first. While I’m writing these, they often don’t seem compelling, but I’ve discovered these slices of life are interesting to look at years later (for me anyway) because so much changes in five years. Just for starters, my daughter is now my non-binary child, a change I’m still adjusting to, ten months after they told us.

It’s time to do it again, but this year I pushed it forward a day so it would be a week day, like the other two posts. This made it fall on what would have been my father’s seventy-fifth birthday, but I didn’t mark it. He’s been gone about eight and a half years and some years I feel his birthday, or the day he died, or Father’s Day keenly and other years less so. Another sad change since 2013 is that my stepfather also died, sixteen months ago.

Though these posts are mostly personal, in 2013 I wrote a little about the political changes our country had recently undergone. Everything seemed so hopeful back then, didn’t it? The contrast is startling and sad but it makes me wonder how quickly the tide could change again. Blue wave, anyone?

7 a.m. 

Beth’s alarm had gone off a half hour earlier and she was getting ready for her first day back at work since vacation, probably eating breakfast. I was still in bed, looking at Facebook on my phone and enjoying the air conditioning for a little while longer before emerging from the bedroom. Specifically, I was reading Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America,” which one of my friends had posted. Noah was asleep. I don’t know whether North was awake or asleep because one of the changes in my life since the last time I wrote one of these posts and especially since North’s bedroom is now across the house from mine, is that I don’t always know the instant my youngest child is awake. This is a freedom I would have found astounding ten or even five years ago.

8 a.m.

Beth had left for work, without enthusiasm. I was loading the dishwasher, after having looked up bus schedule information for North, who was getting ready for the first day of a two-week drama camp. They’d packed a lunch and were making breakfast, a reheated grilled cheese sandwich from the farewell lunch at Busboys and Poets we’d had the day before with Beth’s mom and her aunt Carole. (YaYa and Carole drove home from the beach with us on Saturday, went out for Lebanese with us, stayed overnight in Silver Spring, and flew home Sunday afternoon, after breakfasting at the hotel buffet and attending church with Beth and North, then shopping at the farmers’ market, where I joined them and went out to lunch with them.)

Noah had just finished eating a bowl of cereal and had retreated back to the air-conditioned part of the house. We have two new-to-us, less leaky window units this year, one that cools North’s room and one that cools our room, Noah’s, and the bathroom. The living room, dining room, and kitchen have no A/C. But on Beth’s advice I was intending to try closing the windows, opening the door to North’s room, positioning a fan in the doorway, and seeing if the cool air would reach my desk in the corner of the living room because the high on that day was 99 and if you’ve ever been in the mid-Atlantic in July, you know it’s not a dry heat.

9 a.m.

North had left, more happily than Beth. Having two kids who get themselves around on public transportation is a pleasant feature of this phase of life, though when North’s in chorus camp later this month Beth, Noah and I will probably drop them off and pick them up because the camp is at the University of Maryland and the trip involves crossing many lanes of traffic on University Boulevard and navigating a busy transit center.

Noah was still in the cool part of the house, watching something on his phone. I’d eased myself back into my work week by reading the copywriting e-newsletters I’d missed while on vacation. I was thinking of getting up from my desk and prodding Noah to do something productive.

10 a.m.

Noah was researching colleges, specifically Denison. I know that because I saw it on the computer screen in his room when I came in and handed him a pile of clean laundry. While I’d folded it, I’d been listening to a podcast (NPR’s Embedded) about President Obama’s Syria policy, which was a small corrective to romanticizing the past, I suppose.

11 a.m.

I was back in Noah’s room, getting a fan for the Make-Steph’s-Work-Area-Less-Sweltering Project. He said was leaning toward visiting Ithaca College, Carnegie Mellon, and University of Maryland-Baltimore this summer. (Oberlin was already on the list.) I was pleasantly surprised at his decisiveness and his offer to set up the visits himself. (I set up the spring break ones.)

Noon

Noah was in the kitchen, making pasta for his lunch. I was at my desk, working on August Facebook posts for a skin care company. My own skin was less sweaty since I’d set up two fans, one to draw air out of North’s room and one to blow directly on me.

1 p.m. 

Noah was installing software on the computer in his room. I was eating a lunch of cheese, crackers, and apricots while reading a newspaper that arrived while we were gone because the paper had arrived most of the days we were gone (even though we’d cancelled it) and our paper that day had gone into the bushes, (not to be discovered for three more days).

2 p.m. 

Noah was cleaning the basement bathroom. I was reviewing background material for a supplement company newsletter.

3 p.m.

I’d moved on to the first newsletter article. Noah was still cleaning the bathroom, which was puzzling because it’s a small bathroom, but if there’s ever a time to just let him work at his own pace, it’s a Monday in early July, so I didn’t investigate or try to hurry him along.

4 p.m.

I was reading The Dark Tower to Noah. We’d finished Song of Susannah the day before and embarked directly upon the last volume of the Dark Tower series. North had come home, watered the garden, and was reading, too, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

5 p.m. 

North was eating dinner—salad with cantaloupe and veggie bacon—early because they had an evening rehearsal for My Fair Lady and needed to be at the bus stop by 5:20. I made it for them and then kept them company while they ate and discussed how Into the Woods auditions had gone at camp. They reported that auditions went well, but they thought another camper did a better job trying out for Little Red, clearly wanted the part, and would probably get it. North said Gretchen had them try out for Jack as well as Little Red and Rapunzel and seemed most pleased with the audition for Jack. I said Jack was a pretty good part, and since most of the kids at this camp are girls Gretchen might want to use North for a male part. North’s been playing all male parts since coming out as non-binary, though they try out for male and female ones. (Sure enough, they found out the next day they’d been cast as Jack. Although they weren’t originally considering it, they’re happy with this role.)

6 p.m.

Beth was home, unusually early because she’d had a headache all day. I was making dinner, a version of the salad I’d made for North but with a homemade oil and vinegar dressing. It seemed like a good day for a dinner that required no more cooking than crisping up veggie bacon in the microwave.

7 p.m.

Having finished making, eating, and cleaning up from dinner, and having discussed the possibility of adding R.I.T. to our summer college tour in late August with Beth and Noah, I was checking Facebook prior to my last work task of the day, collecting the month’s clippings to mail to Sara the next day. I always throw in some stickers and temporary tattoos for Lan-Lan. Slowly, I’m emptying the drawer that used to overflow with stickers when the kids were little. This makes me happy and sad at the same time.

8 p.m.

I was working on my previous blog post, the one about our beach trip. Beth and Noah were in the back of the house. Noah was watching something on the iPad and Beth was lying in bed listening to a podcast.

9 p.m. 

Beth had picked North up from rehearsal and North had gone to bed. I was still blogging.

10 p.m.

I’d given up on finishing the beach blog post. Beth and I were in bed, but not sleeping because we were lamenting: 1) the lack of leverage the labor movement has in this historical moment; 2) the President’s petty refusal to lower flags to half-mast for those killed at the Capital Gazette, (a decision he later reversed); and 3) the loss of the Supreme Court, perhaps for a whole generation.

Noah was still up, moving around in his room and the bathroom so we could hear doors opening and closing and see lights going on and off—our bedroom door and his have to stay open when the A/C is on.  We’d also recently seen North, who’d gotten up to use the bathroom and to get “bonus” goodnight hugs from everyone. I think it was at least forty-five minutes before I got to sleep, but eventually I did and the second day of July 2018 was over.

Rainbow Ribbons

Yonder come my lady
Rainbow ribbons in her hair
Six white horses and a carriage
She’s returning from the fair

From “Cyprus Avenue,” by Van Morrison 

We went to Pride last weekend, which we hadn’t done in eleven years. The last time we went I wrote about how I’d gotten a little jaded about Pride over the years but how marching in the parade with the kids made me see it through my six-year-old son’s eyes and brought some of the wonder back to it. This time I saw it through my twelve-year-old non-binary child’s eyes.

DC Pride has two components, the parade and the festival. The last time we went we marched in the parade but this time we went to the festival instead, partly because we had plans on Saturday. It was a jam-packed and very social weekend for North. Saturday afternoon we went to see West Side Story, because North knew some of the actors in it. We had an extra ticket because Noah was too overwhelmed with homework to use his, so North invited their friend Leila, who’s a big fan of Romeo and Juliet (and came to see North in it last month). This was a lot of fun. I like that play and it was a good production. After we dropped Leila off at her house, we took North straight to Evie’s house for a Harry Potter-themed birthday sleepover. When Evie’s dad opened the door in a cape, I remembered costumes were encouraged and even though North had located a robe and a tie ahead of time, they had neglected to bring them to the party. I offered to go home and get the costume, but they declined. Shortly after we got home, we took Noah out for Italian and then ice cream.

Saturday morning after Beth went grocery shopping and North got home from Evie’s, we picked Megan up and headed into the city. North was so excited they wanted to be there as close to the noon starting time as possible, so Beth and North skipped church that morning. North predicted we’d see a lot of people headed for Pride on the Metro. We were the only obvious ones at the Takoma stop and on the red line (we had two rainbow flags and an HRC flag between us) but there was a pack of teenage girls with rainbow glitter on their faces and rainbow ribbons in their hair once we got onto the green line.

North was wearing their Rainbow Alliance t-shirt—after long consideration of which of their three LGBT-themed shirts to wear, they decided it was likely to be the most unique. I was wearing a shirt from the 1993 March on Washington with the HRCF torch. That’s HRC’s old name and logo, you whippersnappers. (Also, get off my lawn.) I was going for an old-school “I was gay before it was cool” look, I told Beth. Beth wasn’t wearing anything identifiably gay. “You aren’t very rainbow,” I told her.

But we took care of that in short order. Before we even arrived at the festival, we received some free Mardi Gras beads and as the day went on we acquired free rainbow stickers and rainbow sweatbands. Someone also handed Megan a package of condoms. “What are these?” she asked us. Beth told her and I gently took them from her. After a few minutes elapsed, she said quietly, “Oh, I remember what those are for.”

Even though there were a lot of freebies, not everything was free. Over the course of a few hours, we bought and ate vegan shrimp and macaroni and cheese, an enormous dish of butterfly potatoes even the four of us couldn’t finish, shaved ice, ice cream, and funnel cake. Beth also bought North a big trans flag, from the many different kinds of flags on offer. We didn’t know what they all meant and spent some time guessing, “I think that one’s bisexual,” etc. If you’d like a guide to LGBT flags, you can find one here.  By the way, I guessed right about the bisexual one (out loud) and the asexual one (silently). I know you’re impressed with how hip and up-to-date I am.

Actually, Pride made both Beth and me feel a little old because it’s so different than it used to be. All through the nineties, we used to attend the festival when it fit (with room to spare) on the athletic field of a D.C. middle school. We always saw a lot of people we knew there, working at the booths or strolling around, and it had a festive, community feeling to it, sort of like the Fourth of July parade or the Folk Festival in Takoma Park. Now Pride stretches over several city blocks and the only people we saw that we knew there were, in kind of a funny twist, Leila’s family. It seems a little more impersonal now and a lot more corporate. Beth made herself feel better about this by stopping at the American Airlines booth where you were encouraged to write messages and leaving a pro-union message. (CWA represents the ticket agents at American.)

North wasn’t having any cynical thoughts, though. As I watched them sitting on a curb, eating a root beer shaved ice, wrapped in their flag like a cape and looking really happy, I thought about what a big year it’s been for them, being in middle school, acting in three shows, trying on a new identity. “This isn’t a sight I would have imagined a year ago,” I said to Beth. As surprising as North’s coming out as non-binary was (and continues to be for me), it’s now an important part of the story of their life.

So perhaps it was fitting that in between eating festival food, and people watching, and playing cornhole, and petting cats at the humane society adoption truck, we visited the booth of the sperm bank we used to begin that life. I wondered how many other parents of donor kids brought them by, maybe a lot, but the staff seemed pleased and proclaimed North “beautiful.” Of course, I agree, and I always will, no matter what flag they fly.

In Fair Verona, Where We Lay Our Scene

Star-Cross’d: Tech Week

 Romeo and Julian just finished its three-day run. Opening night was Friday and then there were two shows each on Saturday and Sunday. Between tech week and the performances, North was getting to bed at least two hours past bedtime every day but one for a solid week and Beth and I were up past bedtime almost all week, too. I was reminded how during tech week for School of Rock in December, I was thinking we would never ever do this again. (And then after the run was over, I realized North had loved it so much that we had to do it again, though we did skip the March shows.)

North slept later than usual most mornings and napped one afternoon before rehearsal, but they weren’t late to school even once, even though I said I’d be fine with that. They were headachy in the afternoons twice, which I thought could be related to sleep deprivation, but they fended it off with painkiller, hydration, and rest and it never turned into a full-blown migraine. (North has gotten pretty good at detecting and preventing incipient migraines this year.)

One rainy morning I found them sitting on the porch steps waiting for the school bus (it stops right in front of our house, so sometimes when it rains North waits on the porch instead of at the stop). They were eating tortilla chips. “Is that all you’ve had to eat?” I asked and they nodded tiredly.

I went back inside thinking if they couldn’t be well rested, they could at least be better nourished, so I brought them a mug of water and some strawberries for starters and then went inside to see if I could melt some cheddar cheese over leftover kidney beans (a concoction North especially likes) before the bus came. I got the cheese melted to the exact consistency they like but when I brought it outside, North and the school bus were gone.

North took the Ride-On bus to rehearsal by themselves all week. (Last fall I went with them on the bus to School of Rock rehearsals because it dark in the late afternoons back then.) On Monday, after a month and a half of doing this, they had a bad experience. They were harassed by two older boys on the bus, which was the first time anything like that has happened to them. It didn’t escalate, but it was scary, both for them and for us.

Beth and I gave advice—sit close to the driver or to an adult woman—but it sucks to have tell your twelve-year-old how to minimize the chance of being a target of men and boys. I was a couple years older than that before I was ever harassed, so I wasn’t really expecting it so soon, but the only positive thing about it was that thanks to #MeToo, we’ve had these conversations already, more than once, and North knows it’s one of the hazards of existing in public space as a person who’s not a cis boy or man. There was no rehearsal the next day and on Wednesday I offered to go with them on the bus in case the same boys were there, but North said no, so with some trepidation I let them go alone and they didn’t see those boys for the rest of the week.

It reminded me of something else that happened to them for the first time this month. They helped organize their school’s Day of Silence for LGBT+ issues. Because they weren’t speaking and had the cards explaining why, some kids in the hall asked if they were in “the faggot group.” I wasn’t called that (or more often “dyke”) by passers-by until I was twenty. Sometimes it seems the world is getting worse, even when I know that in this case, it’s just a case of kids being out earlier, which is happening precisely because the world is getting better.

And speaking of Rainbow Alliance, while also getting back to the play—I think this is a post about the play—on Thursday, they stayed after school for a Rainbow Alliance meeting. I knew getting home on a bus, eating dinner, and getting on another bus to rehearsal would be tight, but we’d successfully managed this maneuver a couple times earlier this year so I thought it would be okay.

Well, North had the worst combination of bus luck. The 12 they needed to take from school to home was late. We’d been texting so I knew and I’d packed dinner for them to take to the theater. They just needed to get home, grab it and go. They got home just in the nick of time, with knees scraped and bleeding from running and falling on the way from the 12 stop to our house. I cleaned them quickly and because I was talking to them, I accompanied them to the 17 stop so we could continue the conversation. We were turned toward each other and not looking at the street when the bus, several minutes early, sped by the stop without stopping, because no one had stepped to the curb. (More than one line stops there, so you have to signal to the driver.)

North, who had been stressed for almost an hour about catching this bus, burst into tears. I hugged them and told them to come inside and have some of the tomato-rice soup I’d made earlier than I usually make dinner so they could have a hot meal before rehearsal.  I thought they might as well as there was no chance of them getting there on time now. They ate—both the soup and the cold supper I’d packed—I did a more thorough job cleaning and bandaging their knees, emailed the theater director to say North would be late, and then I sent them back outside, ten minutes before the next 17 was due and instructed them not to take their eyes off the street.

I watched them get on it from inside the house and almost immediately after that, I got a text from Beth who wanted to know if I was at the meeting at North’s school about the trip to Madrid the seventh and eighth-graders in the Spanish immersion program will go on next year. I wasn’t there and neither was she. Despite putting it on both our electronic and paper calendars, we’d both forgotten about it. Meanwhile, it was one of those nights it was clear from the time he got home that there was no way Noah could finish his homework (and he didn’t, but he was only thirty pages of reading short when he went to bed). It was just one of those star-crossed days. 

Performance: The Two (And a Half) Hours’ Traffic of Our Stage

On Friday, North, fed and freshly showered, caught their bus for their five p.m. call time. I was relieved their departure went smoothly so they wouldn’t arrive rattled. Beth got home around six-twenty and Beth, Noah, and I went out for pre-show pizza in Silver Spring, picking up a bouquet of yellow roses and speckled lilies on the way.

North had mentioned they kept missing their cues in rehearsal, which I thought was strange, as it’s not a problem they’ve had in other plays, but it was still happening as late as the last rehearsal on Thursday night. I was thinking about this nervously as we took our seats in the theater. I needn’t have. They missed no cues, they knew their lines, they were comically expressive as the Capulet’s servant, Peter. North has pointed out to us (and to their English teacher during a class discussion of Romeo and Juliet) that it’s Peter, who in inviting Romeo to the party where he meets Juliet, sets the whole play into motion. “Without him, there’s no play,” North says authoritatively.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a modern-dress, gender-blind production. Both leads were played by trans boys. The language of the play was unaltered, except for gendered language, so both Romeo and Julian call each other, “my lord,” etc. They also made the two leads a bit older, both in their late teens instead of thirteen and sixteen. But the plot is the same, which calls attention to all the gendered assumptions in it. Why, for instance, is Romeo free to wander around Verona with his friends, stay out all night, and get into brawls while Julian can leave his house only to go to confession, has no friends, and is being married off against his will? Free-range parenting versus helicopter parenting?

The play was also slightly abbreviated, the comic relief scene after Julian’s fake death in the fourth act is cut (too bad for North because Peter figures prominently in it) as is almost all of the fifth act after Julian’s real death. Even so, the play lasted two hours and forty minutes, including intermission, not the two hours the prologue promises, so I can’t really complain about the cuts. It was quite a late night already.

Over the weekend, Beth and I both tried to catch up on our sleep. Beth, who gets up earlier than me on weekdays and was run ragged from picking North up from late-night Tech Week rehearsals and the shows, slept late on Saturday and then took a long nap Saturday afternoon. I took a nap Saturday, too. No one felt up to cooking, so we used a gift certificate Beth had for the Cheesecake Factory on Saturday and we got Burmese takeout on Sunday. We did manage to summon the energy for mowing and other yard work, because it’s May and it’s been rainy and everything’s growing like crazy.

North was at the theater from 11:30 in the morning to 11:00 p.m. on Saturday and until 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, so we barely saw them. But in the little sliver of time we did, we heard that on Saturday night, North’s friends Leila and Morgan and Leila’s mom came to see the show. North is always excited to have friends in the audience so they were happy to see them afterward. When Beth picked them up that night, she let North linger long enough to get a root beer float at the concession stand because she’d given them money to get one between shows but the actors weren’t allowed to visit the stand until after the second show. This was also a consolation prize because some of the actors were going out to a diner for pancakes after the show and North wanted to go, but this proposal (going out at eleven o’clock at night with mostly older kids and possibly no adults—that part was never clear) was met with a hard no.

When North came home after the Sunday shows, they said the closing night audience was the best audience of all five. They laughed at more of the jokes and clapped harder. In fact, North said there was applause when they exited the stage after their biggest scene in the first act and because it wasn’t the end of the scene, they surmised, “They were clapping for me.” I was glad to hear the show ended on an positive note.

On Monday I was meeting Beth in the city for event (her office reserved a theater for a showing of the documentary RBG) so I left shortly after the kids got home from school. Before I went, I asked North how they felt about the show being over and they said it was sad, but they were glad to have a free afternoon. That’s kind of a novelty and before you know it, it will be summer and North will be rehearsing for My Fair Lady.

Have Your Cake and Eat it, Too

Thursday: Pre-birthday

“I’ve never been to any part of this hospital other than the emergency room and neurology,” North noted on Thursday morning as we were walking through the corridors of Children’s National Hospital. It was true, we were in a different part of the hospital than the one where we go for the specialist we see about North’s migraines. We had an intake appointment with a doctor, a social worker, and some other staff members in the Gender Development Program. We were there all morning, filling out forms and talking to people. We’re getting into their system now in case we ever need their services. We also signed up to get on the email list for two support groups we may attend, one for trans and non-binary kids and one for their parents. We have a follow-up appointment scheduled for July.

After the appointment was over we dropped North off at school and Beth and I went out for a pre-birthday lunch at Arepas Pues in Silver Spring. It was very good. Beth says she is going to be craving the cilantro sauce that came with the tequeños (fried cheese sticks) because cilantro has that effect on her. Arepas Pues is next to Smoothie King and I remembered I had a frequent buyer card in my wallet I hadn’t used in years because I am not actually a frequent buyer at Smoothie King. But the card was full because I used to be a frequent buyer, back when both kids used to go to drama camp in Silver Spring every spring break and summer and we’d often go get smoothies after camp.

Well, when I tried to redeem the card for a free smoothie, the cashier looked at it like she’d never seen such a thing, then called another employee over, then talked to someone on the phone and the upshot was there was no free smoothie for me. I was mildly annoyed because even though they clearly don’t use these stamp cards any more (they have an app now) the card had no expiration date. It would have been pretty easy to give me a smoothie, but I didn’t make a fuss because I’ve been a young person working retail and I didn’t want to be that customer.

Friday: 51/3 = 17

The next day was my birthday. Fifty-one is kind of an anti-climactic birthday, but it’s pleasing to me that now that Noah is seventeen and I’m fifty-one I’ve been a parent exactly one-third of my life. The day was pretty ordinary, at least until the evening. I sat on the porch and read a short story from this collection as well as the first few pages of Romeo and Juliet because I want to brush up on the play before I see it next weekend (North has a small part as a servant in the Capulet house). Then I finished ghost-writing a blog post on GMOs, exercised, and cleaned the kitchen. I had nice talks with both my sister and my mom on the phone.

When North got home from school I reminded them Beth was going to pick them up in a half hour for an appointment to get their braces off (the first phase is finished now and they have two years’ reprieve before the second phase) and then I left to go to Starbucks to redeem my birthday reward. Here I had better luck and successfully obtained a free iced strawberry-green tea and a couple cake pops.

When I got home North was gone but Noah was home, so we read Wolves of the Calla for almost an hour. We’ve been reading this book since January and we are tantalizingly close to the end, but I knew he’d be studying for AP exams all weekend and it was unlikely we’ll get to it again until next weekend. Then he practiced his bells and drums and Beth and North got back from the orthodontist with no braces and a new retainer and we all piled in the car to go to Highwood Theater.

It was Fine Arts Night, which is part preview for the two shows they have in production (Romeo and Julian and West Side Story) and part open mike night for the kids acting in these or previous Highwood shows. We had to drop North off for rehearsal at 6:30 but the event didn’t start until 8:00, so North while ate at home (a small pizza Beth picked up for them on the way home from the orthodontist), the rest of us had my birthday dinner of wood-fire oven baked pizza with eggplant and mushrooms and Greek salad on the patio of Pacci’s on a near perfect spring evening. We skipped dessert because we were going to have a red velvet-strawberry ice cream cake after the show.

The scenes from Romeo and Julian were the play prologue, the fight scene, and the balcony scene. The play was cast gender-blind and will be performed in modern clothes. Both leads are played by trans boys. I’m looking forward to seeing the whole thing on Friday. The kids in West Side Story did the scene in which Tony is convinced to come to the dance and the scene in which Maria sings, “I Feel Pretty.” Chances are we’ll go to that show, too, although North’s not in it. We pretty much go to all Highwood shows now because North always has friends in them.

Because kids come back to act in this student-based theater season after season, they get to know each other and they’re bonded. During the open mike part of the show, every single kid got thunderous applause from the other kids and many of them were enveloped in huge group hugs after they sang.  That’s what happened to North after they sang their original song “Guess What?” Beth said later it made her happy that North has found their people. Here’s how the song starts:

Guest what?
I’m not like anybody else
And guess what?
Maybe sometimes I mess it up myself
But guess what?
Maybe someday I’m going to be
Something you could never even see

‘Cause it’s not in my light hair
Not in my blue eyes
Not in my fair skin
Not in my freckles
Not in my big feet
Or the way I hold my tongue
But in the way I sing
And have always sung
‘Cause music takes the bad parts out of everything
And somehow kind of picks and chooses for me
And I love it oh so much
When I need it, it’s my crutch
Music’s always there
For me.

The show was diverse with teens singing songs from musicals, an adorable boy of eight or nine singing “Movin’ Right Along,” from The Muppet Movie, a girl about the same age singing “Octopus’s Garden” and accompanying herself on the ukulele, and a band of high school students that focused on classic rock (Pink Floyd, Toto, and Talking Heads). The teenage girl who sang “Hold the Line,” really rocked it.

The show was a lot of fun, but it was also long, about two hours instead of the one hour we were expecting. I was thinking I might rather delay my cake and presents until the next day (as Noah had the week before) rather than rushing through them at the end of a long day. I still wanted to pick up the cake, though, because Cold Stone was right around the corner, and it seemed silly to go make Beth go back to Silver Spring the next day.

Well, Cold Stone is open after ten on a Friday night, but thinking back to my own days as a Baskin Robbins employee one summer in college, I might have realized this isn’t the best time to pick up a cake. The staff was busy and unprepared for what I assumed would be a simple transaction. (I was in the store alone while Beth and the kids waited in the car.) I thought just giving them Beth’s last name would be enough but apparently there were a lot of cakes in the back and they didn’t have names on them. And because I hadn’t ordered the cake I didn’t know what size it was or if she’d ordered lettering. I said it might say, “Happy Birthday, Steph,” thinking that might narrow things down, but there was no such cake. (I later learned it just said “Happy Birthday.”) Employees kept coming to talk to me and wandering off and then new ones would come. Eventually Beth texted me the receipt and I thought that would help but it didn’t. Finally, they just took a cake from the display freezer and wrote “Happy B-day, Steph” on it right there and then and I was free to leave. It was ten-thirty by the time we got home and everyone went to bed, with no cake.

Saturday: Birthday, Belated

We had the cake after lunch the next day, after I organized a campaign to get everyone to finish their lunches by 12:15 (because North had to leave for rehearsal at 12:45). I opened my presents—an umbrella, headphones, a promise to get my Birkenstocks resoled and to buy Stephen King’s new book The Outsider when it comes out later this month. Earlier I’d received a Starbucks card from my mom and a card telling me Beth’s mom had a tree planted in my name in a national forest. I was very happy with the gifts. Beth’s card said “Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too,” which I thought was funny given the trouble we’d had with the cake.

Sunday: Mother’s Day

The next day was Mother’s Day so there were more gifts. Beth got a pink carnation at the supermarket, where they were giving them away to moms. The kids got Beth some treats—a dark chocolate bar and a bag of chocolate wafer cookies. I got another Starbucks card from Noah and a little herb garden in a pot from North. It has oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and nasturtiums. It was a thoughtful gift, as I’d been saying I thought I’d focus the garden on herbs and flowers this year because I’m tired of squirrels, rabbits, and deer eating our vegetables and melons. I already had basil, chives, cilantro, and parsley in various stages, so this makes a nice assortment. (And because I can’t stop myself sometimes, I do have some lettuce plants in the ground already and cucumber seeds planted in starter pots. And when North brought kale seeds home from church on Mother’s Day, I planted some of those, too, though I’m saving most of them for a fall crop.)

Monday to Thursday

We’re near the end of a busy week for both kids. Noah took four AP exams—in Biology, Calculus BC, English Language and Composition, and World History. He just took the last one this morning. It’s tech week for Romeo and Julian, which means North has had rehearsal until ten o’clock on Monday, Wednesday, and tonight and then the show runs from Friday to Sunday, three evening shows and two matinees.

North also got to go to a ceremony at school honoring kids who were on the honor roll and/or got straight As third quarter. It was their first time getting straight As so that was exciting. And then they were nominated by their chorus teacher to join the Tri-M Music Honor Society and that was even more exciting. Finally, after an article in the school magazine in which North was interviewed about why separating boys and girls in gym class was problematic for non-binary kids, their gym teacher started having them do their pacer tests all together. North is proud to have made a difference. And we’re proud, too.

Life seems full these days, in a good way. I’m appreciating this more keenly because early spring—from early March to mid-April or so—was a hard, out-of-sorts time for me. Now it’s better. It’s like I have my cake and I’m eating it, too.

When April Has Showered Sweetly With His Rains

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur 
Of which vertú engendred is the flour… 

Oh, let’s just do this in modern English, shall we?

When April has showered sweetly with his rains…
When the West wind has breathed so sweetly…
Through every grove and field…
When shoots and flowers…
Have broken through the earth…
When the sun shines…
And the birds sing…
This is when good folks to Canterbury go

The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted by Lindsay Price

April may have been when good folks went to Canterbury, but for us it’s when it starts to seem there’s another artistic event every day. Here’s what we did over the past week: North sang with the church youth choir during the Earth Day service, Noah’s band competed in the state band festival, North and I read poems at a poetry reading at the public library, I attended my book club, North acted in two performances of the school play, and three short films Noah helped make were screened at a film festival for high school and middle school filmmakers at the American Film Institute.

Sunday: Earth Day Service

There’s a children’s choir and a youth choir at church and when North expressed interest in singing with one of them, they were inexplicably put in the youth choir, even though the children’s choir goes through eighth grade and the rest of the kids in the youth choir are all in high school. As the children’s choir is bigger and seems better organized, I asked if they’d rather switch but they said they like the music in youth choir better, so we’re letting it be.

It was a very musical service. The two choirs performed “This Pretty Planet” together as the gathering music at the beginning of the service. The younger kids were in white tops, dark pants or skirts and kerchiefs made of green felt to which they’d attached cutouts of lady bugs, flowers, etc. The older kids were in street clothes. They sang the song in a round. It goes like this:

This pretty planet spinning through space,
Your garden, your harbor, 
Your holy place,
Golden sun going down,
Gentle blue giant spin us around.
All through the night, safe ’til the morning light.

During the offertory the children’s choir sang two more songs alone and then for the commencement music the youth choir sang another song “The Oneness of Everything.” It’s a long song, but here’s how it starts:

Far beyond the grasp of hands, or light to meet the eye,
Past the reaches of the mind
There find the key to nature’s harmony
In an architecture so entwined.
Like the birds, whose patterns grace the sky
And carry all who join in love, expanding,
The message of peace will rise in flight
Taking the weight of the world upon its wings,
With the oneness of everything.

Considering they practiced just once (right before the service) they sounded pretty good.

And speaking of music, one of the several hymns the congregation sang together, “Mother Earth, Beloved Garden,” was written by someone I knew in college. (We were in a housing and dining co-op together and I had a class with her girlfriend.) I wouldn’t have even noticed if Beth hadn’t pointed to her name in the hymnal, but I was pleased to see it.

Tuesday: State Band Festival and Favorite Poem Night

At festival earlier this spring, one of the three bands Noah played in got straight superiors so they advanced to the state level, which was held at Towson University on Tuesday. Noah managed to leave the house in his band clothes and they got top marks again for their performance pieces and their sight reading. They played a Sousa march, a piece by Copland, and song called “Children’s March.” Noah played crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, triangle, and bells. He seemed pleased with their scores in a muted, Noah sort of way.

That evening, North and I read at Favorite Poem night at the public library. It’s the third year in a row I’ve done this—and North’s first year—but I considered doing it for years before I did. The problem was I took the name a little too literally and it was hard to commit to any one poem as being my favorite. Finally, two years ago I decided one of my favorites would be good enough and read Emily Dickinson’s “One Need Not Be a Chamber to Be Haunted.” And then last year I had just read a Pablo Neruda poem, “The Wide Ocean,” at my stepfather’s memorial service, so I read that one again at the library. As I was trying to decide what to read this year, I thought I could do the two poems my father chose to have read at his memorial service eight years ago, as those are meaningful to me, if not exactly favorites. So, I read an excerpt from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” and Raymond Carver’s “Late Fragment.”

North read “Pronoun,” which is the first poem of in Freakboy, a novel-in-verse about three characters with different gender identities and expressions. There were a couple other kids at the reading, including one North knew from acting class. He did a very dramatic recitation of an e.e. cummings poem he had by heart. I think he stole the show, but another memorable moment occurred when the last reader was reading “Casey at the Bat” off his phone, not realizing it was truncated. Left without the last couple stanzas (right after the second strike), he looked at the crowd and said, “Well, you know how it ends, right?” and a good chunk of the audience chanted back, “There is no joy in Mudville—Mighty Casey has struck out!” much to North’s surprise. Later I explained, “Well, it’s a famous poem,” and they wanted to know, “Is it an old people poem?”

Wednesday: Book Club

Wednesday my book club had its fourth and final meeting on Kristin Lavransdatter, a three-volume, 1125-page novel set in fourteenth-century Norway following the life of a woman from early childhood to death. I struggled to finish the book by the last meeting but I managed it, just barely, because I’d invested so much time in it over the past couple months I couldn’t bear for there to be any spoilers. And I won’t give you any, in case you intend to read it, which you should if you like historical novels with sweeping, multigenerational plots and intimate psychological portraits.

Wednesday and Thursday: Canterbury Tales

The spring play at North’s school was The Canterbury Tales and it opened Wednesday and closed Thursday. The kids have been in rehearsal for months, having auditioned and received their scripts shortly before winter break. For the last several weeks, North’s been in rehearsals for two plays at once, as Romeo and Julian rehearsals at Highwood Theater overlapped with this play. It worked because all the school play rehearsals were after school and all the Highwood ones were either in the evening or on weekends, but it still made for some busy days. One recent Saturday North had a costume fitting for one play in the morning and a rehearsal for the other in the afternoon.

Beth got involved with the play, too, helping sew costumes on two Saturdays and designing the programs. The director had the idea to have Beth re-write all the kids’ bios using gender-neutral pronouns as a show of support for North. It was well-intentioned, but North, Beth, and I all thought using pronouns other than what the kids preferred wasn’t quite the right thing to do. After all North doesn’t like it when that happens to them—so I suggested writing the bios in the first person with no gendered pronouns at all and that’s what Beth did.

Beth and I attended the play on Thursday. In case you’re wondering what a middle school production of The Canterbury Tales would be like, the answer is: in modern English, mostly in prose, cut down to seven tales, and only mildly bawdy (although bawdy enough to surprise some parents).

The play was performed in the band room, which is an amphitheater-style room so the actors were in the front and the audience was on folding chairs around and above them. It was very well done: the costumes looked great, almost all the kids projected, and even though a lot of them had never acted before, there wasn’t much stumbling over lines and the actors portrayed their characters convincingly and with humor. North’s friend Zoë was one of the novices, and she did a great job playing the knight in the Wife of Bath’s tale. She seems to be a natural.

North played the Pardoner, one of the pilgrims, so they were on stage in the opening scene, in all the scenes between the tales and they narrated their own tale. It was a good one, featuring the black-cloaked figure of Death, who touched people on the shoulders causing them to act in ways that set their own deaths into motion and then stalked away cackling. In the intercalary scenes North’s character was a comic figure, with a lot of good one-liners. If you’re looking for them in the picture, they’re second from the left—in between the church choir performance and the play they dyed their hair purple. Also, the crutch isn’t a prop– they fell over a chair and twisted their ankle a couple days before the first performance.

Saturday: Montgomery County Youth Media Festival

Saturday morning we went to the American Film Institute to see the Montgomery County Youth Media Festival. Noah and his collaborators submitted three short films and they were all accepted, which is impressive considering the festival as a whole had about a one-third acceptance rate. All Noah’s films were made with other members of the production team at Blair Network Communications, the television station at Noah’s school.

Of Noah’s three films, the two in the documentary category were short bits profiling school events, one held by of the Free Minds Book club, which was facilitating correspondence between incarcerated kids and Blair students, and another by the Japanese club, which was teaching students to make rice balls and raising money for world hunger. The film in the narrative category was the longest one (and Noah’s favorite). It was a PSA about not being late to class. It featured the school mascot, the Blazer, and his fictional nemesis (invented for this film), the Reverse Blazer, who attempts to make a kid late to class by plucking him out of the hall and causing him to teleport to the athletic field. The Blazer then appears and pursues the Reverse Blazer, but the Reverse Blazer escapes, so as the Blazer explains everyone must be diligent about being on time for class because the Reverse Blazer is still out there. This film got a lot of laughs from the audience, which is also what happened when it aired on BNC.

Noah’s school dominated the documentary category with nine of the thirteen finalists; this isn’t that surprising because Blair houses the Communications Arts Program and filmmaking is central to the curriculum. The narrative film category was more balanced, with The Blazer being the only entry from Blair. I also noticed about a third of the middle school films were from Noah’s middle school, which also has a communications magnet.

The winner in the documentary category was a film about refugees in Paris, made by one of Noah’s classmates. A horror film won the narrative category. My interpretation of it was that it was about hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation in three kids in a college (or maybe boarding school) dorm. There was a lot of impressive film making but I have to say Noah’s peers seem to be a morose bunch (either that or the judges who picked the finalists are). It seemed every other film was about death or mental illness. At first I was surprised, not that kids would make films on these topics but that so many of them would and then I remembered being a teenager and I wasn’t so surprised any more.

I would have liked to stay for the whole festival but it was five hours and we did have other things to do that day so we left during the break between high school and middle school films and went out to lunch at Noodles and Company and then got bubble tea (for North) and ice cream for the rest of us before heading home.

It’s been a busy but fun week with our young artists. And we have a bit of a breather before our next two performances, which will be Noah’s band concert on Thursday and Romeo and Julian in mid-May.

Kids

Kids!
You can talk and talk till your face is blue!
Kids!
But they still just do what they want to do!

From “Kids” by Lee Adams (Bye, Bye Birdie)

In the space of ten days, the kids have: seen three plays, played and sang in music festivals (both with a solo), walked out of school to protest gun violence, gone on two field trips, participated in a day of service, sung karaoke and performed in an acting class showcase. On hearing about just one of these days, Beth’s mom said, “North’s a busy bee.” Here’s how it all went down:

Saturday: Bye, Bye Birdie

The theater where North did School of Rock last fall had two shows running on consecutive weekends this month, Bye, Bye Birdie and Sweet Charity. North wanted to go because they had friends in each show so we did. We saw Bye, Bye Birdie first. It was a fun show and nice to see so many kids from School of Rock perform again. I got a root beer float from the concession stand during intermission because it seemed appropriate for the time period. And speaking of the time period, when the show was over I had to explain to North what it meant to get pinned. They looked at me skeptically and said, “People don’t do that anymore, do they?” As we left the theater and walked down the staircase toward a corridor lined with actors waiting to greet the audience, several kids yelled North’s name. They all seemed happy to see each other.

Monday: Band Festival

Noah played in a band festival and just as at North’s chorus concert earlier this month, there was an issue with his band clothes. The problem was he forgot to wear them and he arrived at school in street clothes. Beth saved his bacon by running the band clothes to school for him. He forgot to ask for a belt so she didn’t take one and his concert pants wouldn’t stay up, so he wore the fleece pants he’d worn to school, which luckily, were black. Because of a percussionist shortage, Noah played not only with his own band but his school’s two other bands. He had to learn a timpani part with one day’s notice for one of them. (Having no timpani at home, he practiced it on his bells.) The ensemble (his regular band) got straight superiors and will advance to the state festival, which is always gratifying for him. I’m proud of his flexibility and hard work.

Tuesday: Walkout and Field Trip

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the seventeen-minute walkouts all across the country last Tuesday to commemorate the one month anniversary of the Parkland shootings. The kids at Noah’s school decided to have theirs in front of the White House (and then the Capitol) so he was out of school nearly the whole day, rather than just seventeen minutes. Nancy Pelosi, John Lewis, Bernie Sanders, and our senator (Chris Van Hollen) and representative (Jamie Raskin) and the representative from Parkland, Florida and another one from the Sandy Hook area spoke to the assembled kids. Noah said the sound system was better than at the last walkout and he could hear the speeches. A kid we know who’s a senior at Noah’s school got to shake John Lewis’s hand.

Most of Noah’s teachers let their classes know there wouldn’t be anything happening that day, just in case they should happen to find themselves elsewhere, say, in front of the White House. I know it was not as easy for students in less accommodating schools and in more conservative parts of the country. But in schools in big cities and small towns all over the country, they did it anyway. Beth, who has a more politically diverse group of Facebook friends than I do, said she was surprised how much support these student protests are getting from all quarters. She says it’s like the NRA is the Wizard of Oz and the kids have pulled away the curtain. I hope so.

I like Randy Rainbow’s take on the protests as well. The song, perfectly enough, is a parody of “Kids” from Bye, Bye Birdie. I couldn’t place it at first, but finally I realized why it sounded familiar.

Meanwhile, at North’s school there was a walkout to the athletic field, but the whole sixth grade was on a previously scheduled field trip to see Hidden Figures at AFI. About ten of them, including North, walked out of the movie for seventeen minutes.

Thursday: Day of Service

On Thursday, there was a Day of Service for the kids in the Communications Arts Program at Noah’s school. He volunteered at Community Forklift, a group that collects and redistributes tools and architectural salvage to provide the community with affordable home improvement supplies and reduce construction waste. He says he carried a lot of doors around the warehouse.

Friday: Chorus Festival

Friday was North’s turn for festival. After many years of hearing about Noah going, they were very excited. And after all the trouble we’d had with concert clothes, they had their clothes out two days in advance. So you won’t be surprised to hear when they put on their pants the morning of the festival, they discovered the snap was broken. We looked all over for safety pins but could only find some small ones that weren’t strong enough for the stretchy material of the pants. I texted the chorus teacher who said it was okay to wear their shirt untucked and as the pants were staying up without the snap, they went with that look. The only other option was black capris leggings and it would have been hard to tuck a shirt into those, too.

I’d volunteered to chaperone the trip, so I showed up at the chorus room at eight a.m. while North was checking in with their first period teacher. As the kids started showing up, the room began to buzz with young people in high spirits. Then some of the kids noticed the flurries outside and this nearly caused them to lose their minds. The chorus teacher had to shout to make his directions heard. He sent me outside to see if the buses had arrived while the seventh and eighth grade chorus practiced a song. The buses had arrived and soon we were boarding them. There was only one other chaperone and she and the teacher rode with the seventh and eighth graders so I was the only adult other than the bus driver on the sixth-grade bus. Let’s just say they weren’t saving their voices for the competition.

Once we were at the high school where the festival took place, we sat in the audience and watched choruses from other middle schools perform. Each chorus sang three songs and then one of the four judges would come on stage and critique the performance and ask them to sing certain lines again. Then the chorus would exit the stage, go to another room and do a sight reading test for a fifth judge.

We saw a lot of schools and I’m not a musician so it would be hard for me to say that one school was better than another. They all sounded pretty good to me. I was interested in the way different schools organized their choruses. Some schools sang all together, others were divided by grade (this is how North’s school does it), others into a boys’ chorus and a girls’ chorus, at least one had an advanced subgroup sing after the main group. The dress codes were different, too. Black and white was the most common color scheme, but there was a red and black school, a blue and black one and a burgundy and black one. Some co-ed choruses had different dress codes for boys and girls. I thought about what a headache that would be for North and other non-binary kids and I was glad in their chorus all genders sing together and everyone wears white tops and black bottoms.

The sixth-grade chorus went relatively early in the proceedings, but after we’d had a chance to see a few others schools go. None of those schools had a soloist so I was wondering if the onstage judge would give North individualized feedback in front of a whole auditorium of people and if that would be nerve-wracking for them. Anyway, their solo went well, by which I mean they sounded good and their pants didn’t fall down during it. They were singing in Hebrew and later I asked if they knew what the words meant and they said, “No idea.” When the judge came onstage he asked for an extra round of applause for the soloist, but all the critique was for the chorus as a whole, which I think was just about the best outcome for them, public recognition without public criticism.

We watched some more schools and after we’d been there a few hours, a kid from another chorus fainted onstage, falling straight onto his face. It was during the critique portion of the proceedings and once he’d come to and had some water and was able to stand, his whole chorus exited without finishing.

Shortly afterward the seventh and eighth grade chorus from North’s school performed. And then one of their singers got woozy and had to leave the stage but he didn’t actually lose consciousness so the show went on. (North later speculated it was because the stage lights were so hot.) Because the other chaperone went to sit with the sick boy and the chorus teacher went to the seventh and eighth grade sight reading, I was left in charge of the twenty-some sixth-graders, who were supposed to leave the auditorium and wait in the lobby near the doors so once the seventh and eighth-graders came out, we could all board the buses.

It was a long wait—at least fifteen minutes—and the kids were very wound up. I decided early on the most control I would try exert was to keep kids from exiting the building and to break up roughhousing (both of which I needed to do multiple times). When they started to rock a vending machine because a treat had gotten stuck, I just let them, though I didn’t feel good about it.

Finally the teacher and the other chorus came out and we got back on the buses for a ride that was even louder than the ride to the festival and included a few kids loudly singing music with rather alarming lyrics. I was glad North had asked to borrow my earbuds and was listening to something else. Before we left, the teacher came on the bus to tell them their scores—straight excellent ratings for their performance and a superior for the sight reading. You need straight superiors to advance to the state festival so that’s it for chorus field trips until the Music in the Parks festival in the late spring when they’ll go to Hershey Park.

Saturday: Little Mermaid, Sweet Charity, and Karaoke

A friend of North’s who goes to a different school invited them to see a production of The Little Mermaid at her school. North knew three of the actors, from school and drama camp, including the one playing Ariel, so that was nice. We were going to see Sweet Charity later that same day and we had an extra ticket because Noah was swamped with work so we picked North and Leila up after the first play and took both kids out to lunch and then to the second play. I’d been iffy about seeing Sweet Charity because the subject matter is somewhat adult and it ended up being even more risqué than I’d imagined a middle and high school production would be so I was a bit nervous the whole time I was watching it, wondering what was going to happen next. It wasn’t a disaster, but I did feel the need to apologize to Leila’s mom afterward, even though Leila liked it and did not appear to be traumatized. I do have a reputation as the strict mom to uphold. 

We dropped Leila off but then while I was messaging her mom about the play, she asked if North would like to go do karaoke with Leila and her dad at a local church, so I hurriedly fed North and Beth drove them over to the church. There was a big crowd apparently, and North never got a chance to sing, but they enjoyed watching. Leila’s mom said “Roar,” was performed five times.

Monday: Acting Class Showcase

North’s been taking an acting class at the rec center this winter. The last meeting was Monday and there was a showcase for friends and family. I showed up fifteen minutes before the audience was supposed to arrive to deliver North’s costume—a pair of pajamas—and ducked back out to wait for the audience to be admitted. While I was rummaging through their pajama drawer I realized the green and gray striped ones were in Slytherin colors, which was perfect because North was playing Scorpius from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

They started with some acting warm-up games and then the scenes began. It was an eclectic mix: The Parent Trap, The Dead Poets’ Society, City of Ember, Anne of Green Gables, The Gilmore Girls, and Waiting for Godot. North’s scene from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was the one in which Scorpius is convincing Albus to destroy the time turner. North was very expressive and did a good job inhabiting the role. There was a lot of good acting on display. Other than North’s scene, I think I liked the one from The Gilmore Girls the best, even though I never watched that show. The actors were fantastic and the emotional stakes were clearly established.

After each scene the teacher, Gretchen, had the actors repeat some part of the scene with the lights up brighter so parents could take pictures. Then when all the scenes were over, the kids discussed some of the acting techniques they’d learned in the class and how they applied them. They finished up with an improv game in which the players have to repurpose a prop. Members of the audience were invited to join. I didn’t, but Zoë, who’d come to see North perform, did. She’ll be in the school play with North next month and I think she might be interested in taking this class some time.

If she does and North’s in it again, I will be happy to be in the audience. I love watching my kids and other people’s kids do just what they want to do, on stage, in front of the White House and wherever else they happen to be. If there’s a bright spot in these troubled times, they are it.

Why We Sing

“Where’s my dress shirt?” North was yelling from their room, fifteen minutes before we needed to leave for the Honors Chorus concert. I yelled back that it was hanging up in their closet, on the far right side. No, it wasn’t, they insisted. I went in to check. No white shirt.

The dress code requirements had been lengthy and quite specific, so the idea of North not having a white shirt—the most basic concert requirement—was alarming. The shirt in question was an old band shirt of Noah’s, but I knew we’d given away all his white band shirts in bigger sizes to family we know with a younger musician back when North was wearing more feminine white blouses or sweaters to concerts and I didn’t think they’d ever wear those shirts. (Ironically, around the time I gave up on the idea of a potential tomboy phase making Noah’s hand-me-downs useful and started giving his clothes away he was wearing the very size North mostly wears now. I’ve often wished for those clothes back.) I told North to search the cluttered closet floor with the flashlight on their cell phone while I went to fetch my own white button-down, in a women’s plus size that would surely come to North’s knees, for them to try.

But before I returned with it, North found the shirt, in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the closet. It was wrinkled, but that wouldn’t show from a distance. That it was a white button-down shirt or blouse would and that was the important thing. North gathered up their music and the dinner of finger foods (apple and cucumber slices, carrot sticks, and slices of American cheese and vegetarian turkey) I’d made so they could eat in the car. After we dropped them off at an upcounty high school for the dress rehearsal, we switched the music in the car from shuffling songs from The Greatest Showman (North’s current musical obsession) to songs from Hamilton and drove to the hot pot restaurant where Beth, Noah, and I were going to have dinner.

Have you ever been to restaurant like this? There are burners set into the tables and they bring you your choice of broth to set on it. Then you order raw ingredients to cook in your broth. You can also pluck plates of noodles, vegetables, tofu, seafood, etc. from a conveyor belt that runs between the tables. It was fun but surprisingly pricy, especially for vegetarians because it’s price fixe and we weren’t eating any of the ingredients that usually cost the most. Also, we didn’t see the condiment table until we left and on seeing it Beth was thinking her soup would have been better with garlic. Beth is a big fan of garlic.

We drove back to the high school and found seats in the auditorium. Soon one hundred and twenty singers from forty different middle schools were filing onto the risers (look to the far left for North– for once they’re not the one on crutches) and various teachers and administrators were talking about the Honors Chorus and the program. It was mentioned several times by various speakers that the kids only got to have six of the eight scheduled rehearsals because of weather-related cancellations (one was the “wet pavement day” I wrote about two posts ago).

The chorus sang seven songs, all about joy or peace. I’m wondering if the chorus director has been feeling a little depressed and needed some uplifting. The first three songs were in foreign languages—Xhosa, Latin, and Hebrew. The Xhosa song, “Kwangena Thina Bo,” was described in the program as a celebratory folk song from South Africa. A translation was provided: “When we sing, people rejoice, dance and ululate, because of our music.” The kids stepped down off the risers and did a stamping dance while they sang. (It was the first of several times they all moved into different positions—a process that went very smoothly considering they only learned the changes at the dress rehearsal that very night). The Latin song was “Deo Dicamus Gratias.” As you can guess from the name if you know Latin or a Romance language, it was a song of thanks to God. The Hebrew song, “Ma Navu” was translated thusly: “How beautiful are upon the mountains/The feet of the messenger of good tidings/of salvation and peace.”

For the next two songs, the chorus was split up into tenors, basses and baritones, who sang “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and then sopranos and altos, who sang a medley of two camp meeting songs, “Rise, Oh Fathers” and “No Time.” North said in the car on the way home that they thought soprano/alto harmonies are usually more interesting than harmonies in the lower registers. (It’s one of the reasons they like being a soprano, I think.) I don’t know enough about choral music to say if that observation is true in general, but it was true of these two songs. Or maybe I was biased because my kid was singing in the soprano/alto group, but I thought the kids sounded great on that one.

The whole chorus reunited to sing a very pretty African-American spiritual “Oh! What a Beautiful City,” and “Why We Sing.” During this last number, all the chorus teachers from the students’ home schools who were present in the audience were invited up on the stage to sing with the chorus.  The lyrics were printed in the program.

Here’s how the song ends:

Music builds a bridge, it can tear down a wall.
Music is a language that can speak to one and all.

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

And then, in less than an hour, the concert was over. It’s standard at this point for the chorus director or an administrator to make a plea for arts funding in the schools and that’s what happened, but I thought this time the pitch was particularly passionate and focused on giving all students in the county equal access. It made me think about how they didn’t have a chorus or hold auditions for the county’s elementary honors chorus at North’s overcrowded, cash-strapped school last year so North didn’t get to try out or participate. (There was also a paragraph in the program about overemphasis on standardized tests squeezing out arts education, so clearly the director is serious about these issues.)

We left the auditorium had to wait a puzzlingly long time in the hallway for the kids to emerge. It turned out they were having a brief backstage after-concert party with a karaoke machine.

On the way home, North, who’d been quiet on the drive to the concert, was chatty. They told us about a PowerPoint presentation they and two other students from Rainbow Alliance (their school’s Gay-Straight Union) are going to make at a teachers’ meeting explaining how students are sometimes divided by gender in class, most often but not only in gym class and how this creates problems for non-binary students. Then once we were almost home, North mentioned how they’d managed to solve a problem they’d been having with an in-class group science project, making a diorama of the habitat of the black-footed ferret. The others kids weren’t pulling their weight and North was worried they wouldn’t finish on time if the other kids didn’t pitch in, so they organized the whole group and assigned everyone tasks. They said it mostly worked.

One thing we can always count on is this child lifting their voice, whether to build a bridge or tear down a wall, on stage, at school, or anywhere else.

A Strange Halloween

Before Halloween

As I mentioned earlier, North went on the MCPS sixth-grade outdoor education field trip this week. They left on Monday morning and returned Wednesday afternoon. In some ways, this trip seemed less momentous than when Noah went on it because when he went it was the first time he’d been away from home and not in the care of relatives. I didn’t blog about it because he told us almost nothing about whatever happened on that trip. Really, it was something like, “we saw a snake and a turtle.” But I do remember missing him sharply, even though he was away less than three days. North on the other hand has been to sleepaway camp the past three summers, so I was used to the separation and didn’t faze me. But in other ways it was more complicated than Noah’s Outdoor Ed experience because the kids’ sleeping quarters were segregated by gender and this was distressing to North.

I should say here that the school has been pretty accommodating of North’s new gender identity. They are permitted to use the unisex restroom in the nurse’s office and the counsellor has briefed all their teachers on their preferred name and pronouns. Most of the teachers (with one exception) are on board and most of the kids who know have taken it in stride (again with one exception). But it took a while to figure out how we’d handle the housing problem.

North didn’t want to sleep in the girls’ area and they didn’t want to be all alone in a separate room and those were the choices on offer, either that or come home both nights. Coming home wasn’t an ideal solution because Outdoor Ed is supposed to be a team-building exercise for the class and breaking it up into three pieces would compromise that. Plus, Beth would have to drive forty-five minutes to Rockville to fetch them Monday night and then forty-five minutes back home and then do it all over Tuesday morning, Tuesday evening, and Wednesday morning. But if North chose the separate room, Beth would have to miss work, so she could act as a chaperone because they weren’t allowed to be alone overnight. This wasn’t ideal either, but that’s what North chose. I have to admit I asked if they could consider sleeping in the girls’ area just to simplify things. After all, only a few months ago they were quite happily attending Girl Scout sleep-away camp. They were not open to the idea, to say the least.

Beth drove North to school Monday morning. In the rush, they forgot the bag lunch they were supposed to bring so Beth gave them the apple slices and crackers from her lunch—North didn’t want the garlic cheese curds. When I found the forgotten lunch on the couch, it made me a little sad to see the plain brown bag.  I decorated every elementary school field trip lunch bag, covering them with stickers, and even though I didn’t think I’d keep doing it in middle school (for one thing North’s making their own lunch now). I hadn’t even thought about how I wasn’t doing it until that moment. Always with the growing up…

Anyway, I learned from Beth that when they arrived at school kids were piling their luggage up into two piles—boys’ and girls’. So rather than just dropping North off as planned, Beth parked the car and found the sixth-grade team leader to find out where North should leave their luggage. He said in either pile was fine—North was on both lists. But this is the whole point for North. They don’t want to choose, so Mr. O took their luggage with him.

Beth went from the middle school to work, came home, raved over the dinner of butternut squash fritters, apple slices, and vegetarian sausage I’d made (maybe because all she had for lunch was cheese curds and she was very hungry), and then she drove out to the environmental education facility, where she’d stay until Wednesday morning. (The kids would be there until Wednesday afternoon.)

Monday evening I kept thinking of how my time alone with Noah could be fun—we could read Stephen King, watch scary movies, put the finishing touches on the Halloween decorations—if only he didn’t have so much homework. Instead, on Monday he did a calculus packet, finished a biology lab report, and read and answered questions on a chapter of his biology textbook. I told him he should go trick-or-treating Tuesday no matter what his homework load, and he agreed.

Halloween

But he didn’t get a lot of homework on Tuesday and when he got home from school on Halloween, he got the electric things and the fog machine working, then read an essay about the role of joy in various ancient religious traditions for his World History class. Because he finished shortly before dinner time, we even snuck in a little Wizard and Glass. It was only fifteen minutes, but I’d hoped to read with him while Beth and North were out of town, so it made me happy.

Meanwhile, I got occasional updates from Beth—they were learning about watersheds and had done a Predator/Prey simulation. North was a carnivore and Beth was a habitat-destroying developer. “Not cast to type,” was her comment. Later she said they were going to see a presentation by someone called Reptile Man, who I assumed was a man who spoke about and displayed reptiles and not a half-reptile, half-man mutant. But you never know, it was Halloween. (Later there was photographic evidence of Reptile Man’s giant albino python.) The kids also watched a little of Ghosthunters on Icy Trails, but they didn’t have time to finish it. (This was one of my pet peeves at a kid. I hated it when we’d see just part of a movie in school.)

Noah set out to trick or treat around seven, and I listened to my new Halloween playlist almost twice through, read Austerlitz, looked at Facebook photos of all your kids in their adorable or gruesome Halloween costumes, and occasionally gave out candy, from the time the first trick or treater, a teenage boy in some sort of mod get up, arrived at 6:40 during “Werewolves of London” until the last two, a chef and a detective, arrived at 8:30 during the second playing of “Vampire Girl.” We didn’t get too many kids, probably less than a dozen. I kept thinking I heard people on the porch but usually it was just the fog machine switching itself on and off.

Noah came home and reported that among the people who gave him candy were a former employee of Equifax and someone who works for the federal government and is investigating Equifax. They both appreciated his costume. Noah and I blew out the candles and unplugged all the electronic things around 9:10, but I left the porch light on another fifteen minutes or so, just in case someone else came. It was a strange Halloween, without Beth and North, and I didn’t feel quite finished.

Day of the Dead

Beth dropped by the house the next morning, after Noah had left for school. She said everyone did a lot of walking outside and the kids made masks and the teachers were in costume. The theme was fantasy football so they were dressed partly in football jerseys but with wardrobe elements fantasy characters would wear. It was a nod to Halloween, I guess.

That afternoon I went to North’s school to pick them up. We went to the nurse’s office to get the vitamins and Lactaid they’d taken to Outdoor Ed and while we were there we had to iron out a detail about permission for North to use the nurse’s bathroom. We handled the vitamin pickup first and during this discussion the nurses kept referring to North as “he,” even though the name we’d written on the bottle was “June,” as we still use that name for official business. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard someone take North for a boy since they got their hair cut short and started wearing more boyish clothes, but it still startles me. I let it go until we got the vitamins back, then I explained the situation with North’s gender identity and the bathroom to both nurses. They seemed open to the idea and then seemed to recall they’d heard something about a kid needing to use the nurse’s restroom, but they hadn’t been introduced to North. It’s a big school and sometimes communication isn’t seamless.

As we approached the bus stop, we saw a 12 pulling away. I knew it would be twenty minutes before the next one, but I didn’t really mind. I knew I was more likely to hear details about Outdoor Ed while we were in transit than once we got home, and I did. North cut their arm falling in the creek while taking water samples, they enjoyed the confidence exercise (a sort of obstacle course), there was a campfire. The predator/prey exercise was fun. They saw many snakes, not just the python. The food was okay, but not great. The vegetarians had cheese dippers, which they describe as an inferior sort of mozzarella stick with the tomato sauce on the inside, way too many times. All in all, they seemed happy with the experience and eager to get home and see how much candy I’d saved for them. I asked if they’d like to light the jack-o-lanterns one last time that evening, since it was still Day of the Dead, and they said yes.

I made a pumpkin-apple cake with a cinnamon-pecan glaze to celebrate everyone being home together and Noah wanted to know if we could have cake every time we were all at dinner together. North made dessert, too, little sugar skulls molded of a powdered sugar-and-water paste, and with that little gesture, our strange Halloween was over.

I’m North

Guest blog post

Hi! I’m North. But you might know me as June from other blogs. That’s my old name. I’ll be North today. I like cats, and most every animal except for dogs. My favorite color is aquamarine, (specific, right?) my favorite food is olives, and my favorite animal is deer. Sounds like a pretty average kid, right? Well in some aspects, you are right. I’m in middle school, hate gym class, and love lunch (no, seriously. I’m in love.). But there’s one thing about me that isn’t ordinary. You probably already know it. I’m transgender. There, just officially came out on the internet. No going back from that.

Ok, let’s get something straight. When I say transgender, I probably don’t mean what you think I mean. I was assigned female at birth, which I am not. But, if I had been assigned male at birth, they would have been equally wrong. I’m genderfluid, which means on any given day, I could feel anywhere on, or off the gender spectrum. I could fell more feminine, masculine, in the middle, or genderless! There are countless ways I could feel on any given day. But no matter how I feel, always refer to me in the third person using they/them pronouns. If you don’t know what those are, look them up! I’m sure there are countless people on the internet who can explain it better than me. But the simple version is, that they are used to refer to a person not female, nor male. You can also always use these if you aren’t sure. Remember, it’s always ok to ask somebody about their pronouns. Just pull them away for a second, and ask. A lot of transgender people feel good when you ask them their pronouns. It indicates a sense of respect for that person. So, if you aren’t sure, just ask.

Ok, I’m going to tell you some things that you probably should, and shouldn’t do around transgender individuals. Keep in mind that I am just one of the many, many, transgender individuals out there, and I do not speak for everyone. These are just some generalizations that I believe most transgender people do or do not like.

Let’s start on the positives, things that most trans people like: Asking their pronouns. This indicates that you don’t want to offend this person by referring to them in the wrong way. Letting them pass. If you know your friend is trans, they are meeting new people, and think they’re doing a really great job at passing, let them pass. Let people think they were born that way, even if you know they weren’t.

Now, what most trans people don’t like: Dead naming. If somebody goes by a different name than their birth name, that name probably doesn’t make them feel good, so just don’t say it.

Using the wrong pronouns. If you knew them before, and mess up occasionally, that’s okay, but just try to use the right pronouns.

Well, I gotta go now. You might see me again, I don’t know. Well, Goodbye, Aloha, Ciao, Hasta luego, See ya!

Happy National Coming Out Day!