Pre-Birthday: Opening Night
“How was opening night?” I asked when Beth brought North home two Thursdays ago, a little before 10:30.
“Good,” they said.
“Was it a good audience?”
“I don’t know,” North said. I knew they’d been backstage helping with costume changes and repairs for the whole show but I thought some of the actors might have said something one way or the other.
“Were there any wardrobe malfunctions?”
North threw themselves down on my bed with a sigh and reported they had to glue six shoes back together over the course of the show and that the theater departments’ collection of shoes is old—“decades old!”—and that this happens a lot.
We didn’t talk much more because North’s alarm was going off in seven hours and they wanted to get to bed.
By the time I woke the next morning, they were gone, but they came home at 3:30 because there was no Friday show that week. I hadn’t seen too much of North recently because it was tech week and they’d had evening rehearsals most nights. And I didn’t see much of them that night either because they went to bed early.
I had been seeing a lot of Noah. He’d been home six days at this point. We picked him up the Friday prior at a mall parking lot north of Baltimore after a bus ride during which the driver had missed two stops (including Noah’s) and had to circle back to drop students off. The name on the side of the bus was, fittingly, Adventure Tours.
Noah’s time at home was low-key. He did some homework, applied for one of the study abroad programs he’s considering for next semester (in Queensland, Australia), drummed a little, used the new camera lenses he just bought to photograph flowers in the yard and the cat, and did some chores for me (folding laundry, vacuuming, and deep cleaning in the bathroom and kitchen). We read a short story (“Lady Astronaut of Mars,” which is the story that spawned the Lady Astronaut series) and a novel, Storm of Locusts, the second in a supernatural post-apocalyptic series set mostly on a Navajo reservation. And he watched a lot of television. We watch shows in different combinations of people and he wanted to finish as many seasons/series as possible. He and I watched all of Station Eleven; he, Beth, and I finished season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (we were halfway through it when he’d left for spring semester); and he and Beth finished a season of The Story of Boba Fett. We also watched a little Blackish as a foursome, and he and North watched one episode of Dr. Who.
We fed him well. Because he loves pasta he helped me make vegetable tortellini soup his second night at home, and I made a spinach noodle soup and tofu-veggie bowls with chow mein noodles later in the week, and there were a lot of seasonal carb-heavy treats that week, as well. I bought an apple pie for Pi Day and I found it interesting that both Beth and North but not Noah, who is the most math-oriented of any of us, noted that because the crust had a scalloped shape, it wasn’t a circle. I want to note for the record that this didn’t stop anyone from eating it. North made Nutella hamantaschen for Purim another night they didn’t have rehearsal. We’re not Jewish, but we are multicultural when it comes to dessert. Finally, I made soda bread with raisins and caraway seeds for St. Patrick’s Day. I have some cultural claim to this one, as I am partly Irish on my mother’s side. I usually make colcannon to go with it, but I had to decide between bread and potatoes this year because I can’t have both at the same meal. Perhaps I will alternate years. I served the bread with cabbage soup, Irish cheese, and Irish tea. Over the course of the week, I ate the bread and both the desserts and managed to stay in range, though it was a close thing with the pie.
Faux Birthday: Act 1
North declared last Saturday their “faux birthday.” They paid a visit to their friend Sol, bearing hamantaschen, and in the late afternoon Zoë came over. The plan was to go out for hot pot and then to see North’s show. There aren’t as many costume changes as in the fall show so North was not needed backstage at every show and they got permission to sit this one out and be in the audience, which was a treat for them, as they never saw Puffs in its entirety.
Before Zoë came over, at my request, Noah spent thirty-five minutes explaining trig functions to North, who’s been having some trouble with precalc. The instruction was more enthusiastically given than received, and led to exchanges like this:
“What’s your favorite trig function?”
“I hate them all!”
In addition to enduring math, North also had to fold laundry on their faux birthday because they hadn’t done any chores all week and I am mean. Honestly, I think they minded the math more than the laundry. The laundry wasn’t done yet when Zoë arrived, so she lent a hand.
A little before five we all set out for the restaurant, where we each cooked our own pot of soup over burners set into the tables. You start with your choice of broth and you can order ingredients to cook (vegetables, noodles, tofu, quail eggs, etc.) off the menu or pluck them off a conveyor belt that runs by the tables. We did both. There’s also a condiment table where you can get sauces and herbs to finish your creation. We did this three years ago for North’s thirteenth birthday and they’ve wanted to do it again ever since. It’s fun, but pricy, so definitely a special occasion meal. While we were there, North opened Noah’s birthday gift, these headphones, since he would be gone by their actual birthday.
As we walked toward North’s school, we saw Talia’s family also headed for the show. Talia (North’s preschool classmate and elementary school basketball teammate) was on costumes crew with North last fall but she was acting in the show this time around. We took our seats and looked over the programs.
Have you noticed whenever I’ve mentioned North being on crew for this play I never say what play it is? That’s because it’s Urinetown and I wanted to type that as few times as possible. It takes place in a dystopian, drought-plagued city, where water is so strictly rationed no one has a toilet at home and everyone has to use pay toilets, which are run by an exploitative corporation. Then there’s an uprising and I won’t spoil the rest for you in case your local high school is putting it on any time soon. It’s a musical, but also a satire of musicals that critiques capitalism as well as alternatives to capitalism and the Broadway musical as a form. It was fun and well-acted, but squirmy for me, as many of the characters need to pee much of the time and I really hate needing to pee. North enjoyed seeing all the costumes in action. Afterward Zoë said the costumes were the best part and that it really would have been just as good as a fashion show. (She’s that kind of friend.) We saw Talia’s folks on the way out again and her mom, my friend Megan, complimented the bloody shirt of the ghost of an assassinated character.
There were bouquets for sale during intermission and while I was in the restroom (peeing for free) Beth bought one for North—three red roses, a purple one, and an orange one. They’re still brightening our dining room table, though somewhat droopily now.
We came home and everyone but me had a cookies-and-cream or carrot cupcake to celebrate. I’d had a little mango soft serve at the restaurant which I chose over cupcakes because I don’t eat after eight p.m. (They saved one for me to eat the next day.) Zoë slept over and left the next morning after breakfast to go to church. North went back to bed and Noah and I finished the last few chapters of our book and went for a walk to see the half-bloomed cherry trees that line the block just around the corner from our house. He took his camera so it was a slow walk, but I didn’t mind lingering with him.
Later that morning Beth and I took Noah back to the same parking lot where we’d picked him up eight days earlier. He went into the mall to get some baked ziti for lunch, but he didn’t have time to eat it before the bus came and he’s very strict about not taking his mask off on the bus so I have no idea when he ate it, maybe at a stop along the way. We didn’t stay to watch the bus pull away.
Beth and I got salads and had our lunch at a picnic table near Historic Jerusalem Mill Village, a living history museum in Gunpowder Falls State Park. We didn’t visit the museum. I might have liked to under other circumstances, but I was sad and distracted and didn’t think I could attend to a demonstration of blacksmithing. Instead we took a walk through a nearby covered bridge and on a trail along a creek and then drove home. (When I said, before we left, that Beth had planned this outing to cheer me up, she said no, it was just something she wanted to do, and I said she should take relationship credit when she can and North and Zoë agreed.)
Even though I was melancholy that day and for a while after, I appreciate that Noah came home and also that he went back because the last time he came home for spring break he ended up stranded at home for almost a year and a half. This is better, how it’s supposed to be.
My mom called later that day and wished North a happy almost-birthday. She wanted to know if it was going to be a sweet sixteen, and North wasn’t sure if she was asking if they were having a Sweet Sixteen party, but she just meant a sweet year.
Real Birthday: Act 2
North turned sixteen on Wednesday. The SAT was being administered in the morning so everyone except juniors had the morning off. North tried to convince us to let them skip the whole day because two of their teachers had indicated not much instruction was going to take place and it was their birthday, but we made them go, because, as previously established, we are mean.
The cherry blossoms were peaking down at the Tidal Basin, so we planned a birthday morning expedition to see them. We got treats at Starbucks and drove down there, trusting there would be parking on a weekday morning. We had to drive a bit to find some, but we ended up parked by the Potomac and there are cherry trees along its shore too, so it was a scenic walk to the Tidal Basin.
The petals were perfect, puffy and white to pale pink. It was crowded, but not mobbed. We hadn’t been as a family since 2018 because three years ago Noah had too much homework and North had some injury—I packed a lunch and went alone that year—and then covid kept us away for two years—we went to the more spacious National Arboretum instead those years. It was good to be back at The Tidal Basin, as we’ve been going since 1992 and we missed it. Beth and I reminisced about how North needed to be physically restrained from jumping in the Tidal Basin as a toddler and we remembered the year it was so cold we had to wrap Noah up in a blanket inside his stroller. We’ve been to see the blossoms in everything from shorts to winter coats because March weather is unpredictable in the DC area, but this year it was about in the middle, low fifties and cloudy.
“How is sixteen so far?” I asked North as we strolled among the exuberantly blooming trees and they said they didn’t have much to go on, but good.
Beth had to take a work call so Beth and North sat on a bench and I sat on the ground and tried to be mindful and appreciative of my surroundings and we walked a bit before and after, going by the MLK memorial and the FDR memorial. I would have liked to walk longer, but North felt they’d gone as far as they could, so we drove them back to school and dropped them off a half hour before classes began.
North had hoped to have a friend over for dinner but Zoë couldn’t come and Sol couldn’t either, but North didn’t find that out until that afternoon when it was too late to ask anyone else, so they proposed we go to a movie instead. We had an early dinner—a tater tot-topped vegetarian chicken casserole I made at North’s request—and then Beth’s delicious red velvet cake and cookies-and-cream ice cream and North opened their presents. Their main gift from us was their legal name change, but we also got them a book they wanted (Song of Achilles), some gourmet black cocoa powder, two kinds of chai, and a pair of pajama bottoms with strawberries on them. I told them I had a vision of them wearing the pajama bottoms and reading the book while eating something they made with the cocoa powder and drinking the chai. They also got gift certificates and money from both grandmothers and my sister. The money is supposed to be to put toward a pair of Doc Martens, but they’ll need to save some more to buy them.
After cake and presents, we headed back out for our second outing of the day. We saw The Outfit—I didn’t know much about it beforehand, but I liked it. We didn’t go to the movies at all during the first year of the pandemic and infrequently in the second year, but this was the second movie we’ve seen in a month. We are living the high life, I tell you.
When we got home we found a little box on the porch with Zoë’s gift, several pairs of earrings. The ones North liked best have little astronauts on them.
Post-Birthday: Closing Night
Friday North stayed home from school because of pain and fatigue. This has been happening more often, which is worrying, both for the pain and the school they’re missing. They also missed the third show. We watched Turning Red at home that night. While we were watching it, their friend River sent them a digital portrait they paid an artist to make from a photo on North’s Instagram feed as a birthday present.
Saturday was closing night. Talia’s mom was there again and when the crew came out for a curtain call along with the cast, she took the last picture here. North stayed for part of the set strike afterward, but they weren’t home too late, around 10:30 again.
It’s too soon to know how being sixteen will be for North, and if the last two years are any precedent, there may be twists and turns, but like my mom, I hope it’s a sweet year for them.