Winter One Acts

Two Saturdays ago, we went to the Winter One Acts at North’s school to see some of their friends, including Ranvita, act in them. In the spirit of concise storytelling, I’m going to present what we’ve been up to over the past few weeks in bite-sized pieces, three paragraphs max per topic. Can I be that brief? We’ll see.

Theater

It felt novel for the winter one acts to be put on in winter, as last year a covid surge and subsequent scheduling problems delayed them until May and the year before, of course, they didn’t happen at all, as school was closed for most of the year and there were no extracurriculars even when it opened briefly in the spring.

It was our first outing of the year as we didn’t do much for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. We got an invitation to go to a small New Year’s Eve party our neighbors were holding, but we didn’t feel up for it. We didn’t do our usual New Year’s Day hike or cheese board either. We did all watch Carol because North found it on a list of New Year’s-themed movies. Afterward we all agreed it was a good film (Beth and I had already seen it) but the connection to New Year’s was tenuous at best. Afterward the kids stayed up to usher in the new year with salty snacks, sparkling juice, and tv, as is their sibling-bonding tradition.

Back to the plays…there were three one acts, followed by an improv presentation. Ranvita had a small part in the first one act, which was also the best one. It involved John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Cornelius Vanderbilt playing Monopoly in the afterlife and it was very funny. Ranvita also had several parts in the improv pieces. These weren’t being improvised in the moment but were workshopped as improv and then turned into very short plays. The schtick was the actors were trying to get through thirty of them in less than an hour (and they succeeded). It was fun to watch and North seemed to enjoy seeing friends, especially Ranvita, and they gave her a bouquet. They haven’t been able to see much of each other the past few months, but they did have a brunch date recently.

Game Nights

The next night, Beth, Noah, and I played Settlers of Catan with the Seafarers’ extension kit Noah got for Christmas. As you might guess from the game, there are ships involved, and you can use them to settle smaller islands off the coast of Catan. It took us a little while to figure out how strategy differs in this version, but we were getting it by the end, I think. Noah won the game. On other nights during his break, we played Sleeping Queens, Jeopardy, and Scattergories, some of these more than once.

Therapy

We have family therapy every Monday and Tuesday these days. Mondays it’s a virtual session in the late afternoon after North has gotten home from their day program. Noah joined us for a couple of these sessions. On Tuesdays it’s hybrid and it’s not just us, but all the families of all the kids in North’s program all together, which I have to say is kind of an odd format. All the kids are there in person, as it’s the end of their day. Some parents come in person, and some attend virtually. Often, Beth and I are the only parents in the room.

Beth has been working in a room she’s renting in a co-working space in a big office building near North’s facility, so she doesn’t have to make the hour and a half round-trip drive twice every day. Since she’s right next door, she always goes to multi-family group in person. I usually do, too, since the one time I tried attending virtually I couldn’t hear well and the person I could hear least well was North. Getting to Columbia by myself wouldn’t be easy, so attending group in person means I spend the day in Beth’s office on Tuesdays. There are four desks, so I can set up my laptop on one of them and I have new environs for my daily walk, so it’s not bad.

Anniversary

Beth and I had an anniversary a week ago today. It’s now been thirty-one years since our commitment ceremony and ten since our legal wedding (they were on the same date). We had breakfast for dinner, and I made muffins using the recipe for the spice cake that was our wedding cake (both times). I’ve made it almost every anniversary since 1992, usually with a lemon glaze, though the original wedding cake had white frosting with purple frosting violets on it. North is quite attached to the lemon glaze and was kind of outraged the year I made an orange glaze instead. Last year was my first year with diabetes and I left the glaze off entirely, but I’ve gotten a little more relaxed and when I was wavering about the glaze, North advocated for it and I ended up making it.

We exchanged presents after dinner. One of the advantages of having an anniversary two and a half weeks after Christmas is that you can just check your wife’s Christmas list and see what she didn’t get. I got Beth a kit of salad dressing spice blends and she got me Hamnet, which were unbought items from our lists. But I also got her two fancy dark chocolate bars, and she got me a roll of postcard stamps because I can always use them for get-out-the-vote campaigns and postage is going up later this month.

Her card said “Always and Forever” on the front, which is exactly what I wrote on the inside of mine. I’m taking that as a sign that we’re going the distance. ‘Til death do us part.

More Baking

I’d been in the mood to make cookies for a while, and I thought I should do it before Noah left so I could send some of them with him. The day I ended up making them was the Sunday of MLK weekend, which was also the thirteenth anniversary of my father’s death. It seemed kind of appropriate because he loved sweets of all sorts and Snickers bars especially, so something with chocolate and peanuts seemed a fitting tribute. North’s been baking, too. Their last creation was a very tasty carrot cake with a chocolate ganache. We’re still eating it.

Media Binges

The end of Noah’s time at home is often a rush to finish television seasons and books and this one was no different. In four weeks, he and I started and finished the current seasons of What We Do in the Shadows and The Handmaid’s Tale. I didn’t think we were going to manage that last one, but he ended up staying home a few days longer than he thought he would, and the extra days included a long weekend, so we watched the last four episodes in two days. That season was something else, wasn’t it?

With Beth, we also made it to the end of season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (bingeing the last three episodes in the middle of the day on MLK day while North was at their program). Noah is puzzled at how the series will continue for two more seasons, as the title character dies in the season finale, but we’re not telling. With everyone, we got to the midpoint of season 7 of Blackish. We’ve reached the covid era episodes and while the first couple about it were excellent and very evocative, I was disappointed that it basically fell out of the plot after that, as if it barely happened and didn’t deeply alter our lives for years.

As for books, over the course of his break, Noah and I also read What Strange Paradise, The Nova Incident, and Wyrd Sisters. We often save a Terry Pratchett novel for last because they are short and easy to fit into a little scrap of time if we happen to have one left. We finished it on Monday, the last full day before he left. (Meanwhile two days earlier, North and I finished The Inferno, which we’d been reading since early December.)

Goodbye

Once we’d finished Wyrd Sisters, around 3:45 on Monday, I had a bit of an empty feeling, because there was nothing else to finish, after spending much of the last three days in a sprint to read and watch all the things. But there was plenty to do: we had a family therapy session (Noah skipped this one to pack) and I made dinner, a vegetable-bean-noodle soup, not unlike what I made for his first night home, and North made the carrot cake, and I packed Noah some snacks for the bus (pecans, dried cranberries, and a half-dozen of the cookies), and that night we all played an online Jeopardy game. Noah made a valiant effort to fill up on homemade treats while he could, eating two slices of cake and a cookie.

Yesterday morning, we all got into the car at 7:55 a.m. and drove to a mall parking lot just outside Baltimore, where at 9:15, we put him on a bus that said “Let’s Go” on the side. And heeding its suggestion, we all did, to college, to treatment, and to a little office in a co-working suite.

All the Good Things

Christmas Eve

We drove to Blackwater a day later than planned on a frigid morning. It was eighteen degrees when we left Takoma, and the temperature rose and fell between ten and fourteen for most of the trip. Beth thought the traffic would be bad because, like us, others would have delayed their travel and there would be two days’ worth of travelers on the road, but for whatever reason, we didn’t run into traffic at all. Maybe everyone who could drove early rather than late.

About an hour and a half into the trip we started seeing patches of snow on the ground and by the end when we climbed up into the hills, there was a several-inch layer, and high winds blowing it all around and the temperature fell to minus two. Negative numbers on a thermometer are a novel sight for us Marylanders, so that was exciting. There was also a bit of tricky driving for Beth.

We arrived at the lodge a little after three and I was glad to get out of the car because the leg cramps that were bothering me around Thanksgiving had returned on this trip and it helps to walk when I get them. We learned the power was out at the lodge and some of the cabins, but not the ones in our section of the park so we got the keys, drove there, and unpacked the car. I tried to shovel the porch steps before Beth’s mom arrived, but the snow was too hard packed to get off the risers.

Setting up the tree that had been tied up in our garage for weeks and then on top of the car for hours was a high priority. We wanted to give the limbs a few hours to fall so we could decorate it. Once I’d unpacked the food, North took over the kitchen, making chocolate-peppermint cookies, and Beth decorated the mantle with evergreen boughs she’d cut from the bottom of the tree, adding a string of lights and our figurines of characters from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and then the house was nearly Christmas-ready.

Beth’s mom, brother John, and sister-in-law Abby arrived an hour or so after we did, after a more challenging drive than ours, because they came from the opposite direction. We sat and talked until dinnertime. Beth heated up chili from cans (blending three different brands) and made almond flour cornbread and salad.

After dinner, Beth strung the lights around the tree, and the kids and I put up the ornaments. John and Abby had their own place in a nearby resort, and they left to go get settled in before we’d finished the tree. We watched Frosty the Snowman and Frosty Returns before bed. I skipped part of the latter one because I don’t consider it essential, and it was late, and I wanted to get a shower and go to bed.

In our rush that night, we inadvertently skipped our yearly reading of “A Visit with St. Nicholas,” which we all regretted when we remembered the next day. We also failed to put out cookies for Santa (which North often wants to do, even though it’s been a long time since any of us have believed in Santa) or to open one early present each. I have no strong attachment or objection to this last practice—it’s one we adopted only several years ago. Noah doesn’t like change, so he doesn’t like it and it often leads to sibling strife anyway, so that might have been just as well that we forgot.

Christmas Day

I was the first one up on Christmas morning, which wasn’t really a surprise. I’m sleeping better than I was a month ago, but it’s rare for me to sleep past 6:30 and that’s about when I woke. (Note: every other morning in Blackwater I slept past seven.) I went out to the living room to enjoy the tree lights and look at all your Christmas Eve Facebook posts. One by one, people got up and opened their stocking gifts.

North was responsible for Christmas brunch, so they set to work making scrambled eggs, various vegetarian breakfast meats, sliced fruit, and chocolate-peppermint muffins. Noah and I read while North cooked. John and Abby came over around ten and we ate. Everything was delicious.

Next it was time for presents. This year more presents than usual couldn’t be wrapped either because they were subscriptions—I renewed Beth’s to the New Yorker and we upgraded North’s to the Donor Sibling Registry to lifetime membership—or they had already been received—when my Fitbit broke in November, Beth got me a new one as an early Christmas present. But there was still plenty under the tree. Books, soap, socks and other clothing, tea, chocolate and other treats were popular. Plus, Noah got an extension kit for Settlers of Catan and YaYa got new earbuds.

After presents, John, Abby, and YaYa went for a drive to look at the snow. By early afternoon the temperature had risen into the double digits, if just barely, and Beth and I were both eager to get outside, so we went for a walk. The kids gave this activity a hard pass. At first, we thought we’d just go as far as the canyon overlook, but when we got there, we decided to keep going to the frozen lake, ringed with towering evergreen trees. As we walked over the dam, Beth turned to me and grinned.

I said, “This makes you happy.”

“It does,” she replied. “Look at this! It’s snowy, it’s cold—all the good things.”

We were out almost an hour and when we returned, the kids and I made gingerbread cookies from the dough I’d made at home and decorated them with colored sugar, raisins, dried cranberries, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and pecans. They came out just right and I reflected that it’s easier not to burn some when the kids are old enough to heed my directions to roll them all out to the same thickness. After gingerbread, North and I read a few cantos of the Inferno.

Just before dinner, North felt a headache coming on. They’d saved a dose of their rescue medicine for Christmas, just in case, so they were able to join us for Christmas dinner. YaYa made her famous spinach lasagna and afterward we sampled a chocolate Pandoro. None of us were familiar with this traditional Italian Christmas cake, and we found it a little dry, but it’s always good to try new things. John and Abby went back to their place and after a struggle to download it—the Wi-Fi was awful in the cabin—we watched Christmas is Here Again.

Speaking of the Wi-Fi, earlier in the day I’d had a difficult time getting my day’s photos onto Facebook, but I finally succeeded. I found myself surprised at how much this mattered to me. I had an even worse time the next day, but it seemed to matter more that I have a nice post for Christmas, partly because I enjoy the communal nature of holidays on Facebook, when many people are experiencing and sharing similar things, but also because I knew I’d like to see the photos pop up in my memories on future Christmas days. Ah, modern life…

Second Day of Christmas

John and Abby came over in the morning for breakfast and to say goodbye, as they were headed back to Wheeling. We were considering hiking down to the bottom of Blackwater’s eponymous falls, but John thought it was too cold—it was only ten degrees. He seemed torn and I think Beth could have used her older sister powers to sway him, but she didn’t.

I read with both kids in the morning and in the early afternoon, Beth and I set out to hike the Balanced Rock trail. It took about an hour and a half. We crossed a footbridge over a half-frozen creek lined with impressive icicles, traversed fields of little snow-covered evergreen trees and rhododendron bushes with their leaves curled against the cold, and finally climbed up to the two boulders that give the trail its name. About halfway there, Beth said, “Look at the wintry woods. Isn’t it the best?”

Answering automatically at first, I said, “Yes…well, no.” Beth made an indignant sound before I could explain. “The ocean is best,” I said, “but this is very, very nice.” And it was. In the whole walk, the only people we saw were two snowplow drivers when the trail crossed a park road. They were witness to the only time I slipped and fell.

We visited the lodge before going back home to see if its power was restored, because I was interested in swimming later if the pool was open and Beth thought people might want to go to the gift shop, but there was a sign on the door saying there was still no power.

Back at home, Beth heated up the Spanish drinking chocolate North got her for her birthday, and we enjoyed it with cookies. It was very rich and luxurious. I alternated between trying to get Facebook to agree to post my photos of the hike, with only partial success, and folding the last of three loads of laundry I’d done that day. (This is less than it sounds like—the washer and dryer were tiny.) Noah and I watched two episodes of What We Do in the Shadows and then I made dinner—cauliflower with cheese sauce and vegetarian Italian sausage.

North had a migraine and had hit the limit for their medication, so they went to bed in the late afternoon, and we didn’t see them until after nine. We’d planned to watch Glass Onion, but since North wanted to see it, we decided to wait. We tried to download The Fabelmans but it took so long we didn’t have time to watch it. This gave me a chance to read a few stray sections of the Post I’d brought and wanted to read before starting any of my Christmas books and to get this account of our adventures caught up. Just before bed, Beth wrangled the Wi-Fi into letting her post the rest of my hike photos.

Third Day of Christmas

Beth had to work in the morning, preparing for a press release for a video game workers’ unionization drive. I went back to bed after breakfast and started to read The Daughter of Dr. Moreau, which was one of three books I got for Christmas.

After a while I roused myself to do some dishes and from the kitchen window, I saw a young buck foraging for grass under the snow in the circular driveway in front of the cabin. It caused me to reflect that over the past couple days, I’d probably seen more deer than people. We were always seeing them in front of and behind the house. The snow behind the house was pocked with their hoofprints. One day when Noah was photographing a half-grown fawn, it came toward him up onto the back deck. This made me think people feed them, and eventually North and YaYa were feeding them Pandoro and apple.

When Beth finished her tasks, Noah wasn’t up yet, so the rest of us went to the upper overlook to see the falls around eleven-thirty. It’s a short, level trail, good for YaYa and North. It was lovely, as always. The falls were mostly frozen with two cataracts running down the icy surface. The nearby trees were all frosted with frozen spray and there were huge icicles, stained gold with tannin, on the rockface nearby.

We came home for lunch and Noah got up, so we did the other trail to the falls, the one that goes lower and closer. You descend a wooden staircase with viewing platforms at two different levels. The staircase was covered with packed snow, but that’s better than slush or ice, and we made it down to the bottom without much trouble. From that better vantage point, I could see big spheres of ice swirling around in the water at the base of the waterfall. The larger ones were big enough that if they were rocks, you’d call them boulders.

We visited the falls gift shop and dropped Noah back at the house before Beth and I set off on our longest hike of the day, along the ridge behind Pendleton Lake to the Pase Point overview. The trail has occasional views of the canyon and crosses little creeks, but mostly goes through woods and groves of rhododendron. It took about an hour to get from the cabin to Pase Point, where we emerged from the woods to stand on a ledge between boulders and take in a full view of the snow-covered canyon below.

We were wiped out from almost three hours of hiking, so Beth and I took a little nap before I got up to help Noah make soba noodle soup for dinner. Afterward we watched Glass Onion, which is fun film, especially if like me you went through an Agatha Christie phase in middle and high school.

Fourth Day of Christmas

Beth and I went on separate walks in the morning. Every day we were there it was a little warmer and that day it was just over freezing when I left the cabin, less bundled up than previously. I returned to the falls, finding them with slightly less ice and slightly more water tumbling over the ice, and quite a few more people on the staircase. I guess the warmer temperatures brought folks outside.

I climbed back up the staircase and continued up the park road to the bridge that crosses the Blackwater River, and stood on the span, looking down at the smooth ice with a current of open water wending through the middle. On the way back, I admired a decorated evergreen in a median I hadn’t spotted the first time I passed it.

When I got back to the cabin, I noticed Beth had managed to clear the porch stairs of snow as it had finally softened. She’d also taken some evergreen branches we had piled on a chair and woven them into the railing. It was a festive touch I hoped the park staff would leave up for the next people. I told her she’d spruced up the porch and she laughed at the unintended pun.

In a happy turn of events, the power came back on at the lodge and the pool was open. The sled run was open, too, but tickets were sold out, as were tickets for tubing. In the early afternoon, Beth took YaYa and me to the lodge, so I could swim and YaYa could use the exercise room. Beth floated and stretched in the pool while I swam sixty laps in the tiny pool. It’s in a pleasant, airy room with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on evergreen trees. It’s nice to swim in a warm room and be able to see tiny icicles hanging from the gutters of the building and a dusting of snow on tree branches during the backstroke laps. After my swim, we soaked in the hot tub.

When we got back, North was excited to report they had hand-fed a deer an apple and even petted its head. I was surprised. The deer at Blackwater are very tame, but none of us had ever touched one

After a late lunch for me and an even later breakfast for him, Noah and I read and then watched a couple episodes of What We Do in the Shadows. Next in various combinations, we took ornaments and lights off the tree and dragged it into the woods behind the house, worked on the puzzle of movie posters (finishing it despite YaYa’s prediction that it wasn’t possible in the time left), and folded the last of the trip laundry.

We ate leftovers for dinner and afterward, Noah hooked his laptop up to the computer screen so he could show us a slideshow of the over six hundred pictures he took at Blackwater and people could select the ones they wanted. Then we spun off into different groups to read and watch television—North and I read a couple cantos of the Inferno. We got to the eighth circle of hell (of nine), but that’s not as far as it sounds because more than a third of the poem takes place in that circle. Beth and Noah watched Andor, and YaYa watched as much of Great Expectations as she could before the Wi-Fi gave out.

Fifth Day of Christmas

Beth and I both took early morning walks. For me, this meant leaving the house at 7:55—Beth was out earlier than me and came back later. I decided on the canyon overlook as my destination as I’d already been to the falls and the lake twice each and other than those, the overlook is best short walk from the cabin. When I got there the sun was just rising over the top of the ridge and touching the top of the canyon with light.

I was back at the house a half hour later, ate breakfast, and started packing up the cabin. We checked out at ten and after about a half hour of driving, we passed the crest lined with windmills and crossed the Eastern Continental Divide, where we left the snow and our holiday behind.

Before the Holiday

Monday afternoon at 2:40, Beth and I left the house together. She was headed to pick North up from their partial hospitalization facility, and I was headed to pick Noah up from the airport. Beth dropped me off at the Metro stop, where I shared an elevator with someone who didn’t see fit to extinguish his joint during the ride, so the elevator filled with pot smoke. I was annoyed, but it didn’t diminish my excitement to see Noah for the first time in three and a half months.

Despite what I said before about not taking pictures of the Great Barrier Reef, Noah did end up sending me some cool ones, taken from the air when he was returning to Robina, where he lived this fall (well, spring). He had a two-week stretch between the end of classes and his homecoming. Aside from the trip to the reef, he visited the beach, did some Christmas shopping, and then travelled to Sydney a couple days before his flight home. He sampled noodle dishes in Chinatown and went to see the harbor and the Sydney Opera House.

Noah’s phone battery died on the plane home, so he didn’t know I was waiting for him at the baggage claim, but we managed to find each other. He was travel-weary and didn’t want to contend with all his luggage on the Metro, so I called a Lyft. We had some trouble finding the driver and when we did connect, the driver was irritated with me and rude and accused me of wasting his time. Then in the car when I cracked the window because he was unmasked, he rolled it back up. Also, he was vaping the whole time. It was the first time in my many times in a Lyft I didn’t tip the driver, but I didn’t report him either because I didn’t want to be a Karen.

In the car I alternated between peppering Noah with questions and letting him be. He looked very tired after a journey across the Pacific and the United States. I thought he might want to go straight to bed, but he consented to stay up long enough to eat the lentil-noodle-chard soup I’d made, to keep me company and chop cilantro as I put the finishing touches on the soup, and even to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas after we ate.

Once he did crash, though, it was an epic sleep. He went to bed at 10 p.m. and didn’t get up until 8:40 the following evening. When Beth and I left in the early afternoon to go to participate in multi-family group therapy at North’s facility and then bring them home for the day, I thought for sure he’d be up when we got back but he wasn’t. And because North had a migraine that night, it was just Beth and me eating the broccoli-cheddar-quinoa fritters I’d made because everyone likes them. By the end of the day, I was checking on him every couple of hours to make sure he was still breathing.

Having slept that long, Noah couldn’t sleep Tuesday night, and he ended up with this sleep dysregulated for several days, but I told him he needed to be up by late afternoon on Wednesday because we had a family activity planned.

It was the solstice and when we travel for Christmas (which we almost always do) we have a tradition of opening a few presents on the solstice to lighten our load a little. We’re spending the holiday with Beth’s mom, brother, and sister-in-law, so once North got home for the day we opened presents from my side of the family. We gathered in the living room, cheerfully lit with lights on the mantle and in the Christmas village I just inherited from my mom (who’s downsizing), and ate butter cookies decorated with red and green sugar and butter-pecan snowballs I bought at the bakery for the occasion while we unwrapped gifts. Beth got a set of pumpkin-carving tools she’d been wanting and fancy chocolate bars. I got two books and three jars of unusual nut butters. Noah got a book and a camera strap, and North got a check.

Beth, North, and I had a virtual family therapy session and after that, we had tofu-veggie bowls for dinner and then we went to Brookside Gardens to see the light display. We’ve done this a few times, but it’s just as magical every time to walk along the wooded paths, admiring the colored lights outlining tree branches or in the shapes of animals and plants. There were a few new features, a machine blowing bubbles made of liquid nitrogen, and steam issuing from the sea dragon’s mouth, but mostly it was the same as I remembered. That’s nice sometimes.

It was also nice that the outing wasn’t derailed by a migraine. It could have been because North’s still having them quite frequently, more days than not. From that we can gather that at the current dose, the new preventative medicine isn’t helping, but they’re not at the full dose yet. They’re building up to it. The good news is that the rescue medicine is very effective. Most of the time it heads the headache off in an hour or less. But…North is only allowed to take it twice a week, so they need to ration it. Every time a headache starts, they are forced to consider if it’s medication-worthy, based on what they have going on that day. Anyway, this time when a headache started right before dinner, they decided yes, it was a medication day.

As it turned out, it was Noah who was ready to leave the gardens before anyone else. He’s not only having trouble adjusting to a time difference of more than half a day, but he’s also having trouble with winter weather, having just come from summer, and he’d lost one of his gloves. It wasn’t super cold, around freezing, but that was too cold for him.

We were planning to leave for Blackwater Falls State Park on Friday morning. If you live in the U.S. or Canada, you’re aware of the massive weather system that derailed that plan. Most of our route would have been fine, but there was a stretch of road that was treacherous, with snow and very high winds, so after monitoring it all morning, an hour before we were set to leave we decided to stay home an extra day. Blackwater is one of Beth’s very favorite places in the whole world, and we’ve spent every Christmas since 2016 in a cabin there, so we were all disappointed to have our stay there cut a day short.

But there were some compensations. North and I took a walk to Starbucks. It was raining for most of the morning and temperatures fell rapidly as the day progressed, so it turned over to snow briefly before the skies cleared. It was over quickly, and it didn’t stick, but it was our first snow of the year, so I thought the occasion merited warm beverages. The walk there was fine, but the wind picked up as we were at a table outside, enjoying our hot chocolate and chai, and we decided to get moving again. North’s feet were wet because they’d stepped in a puddle on the way there and I wasn’t wearing gloves and wished I was, but it was still a fun outing.

At home, I read with both kids—The Inferno with North, while they inked a cityscape that they’re working on for art class and What Strange Paradise with Noah, his Christmas present from my sister, one of the gifts we opened early.

Beth and Noah watched Andor and we all watched a lot of Rankin-Bass Christmas specials—Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and The Year Without a Santa Claus, the last one while we ate cheap delivery pizza, which as I ate it, I realized was just what I wanted. And even if we weren’t where we wanted to be, and with all the people we wanted to be with, it was still good to have an idle day before the holiday, with just the four of us.

A Wild Ride: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 77

Tuesday: Hello, Covid

It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, parent-teacher conference day at North’s school. I was in between my second conference (French) and the third (Foundation of Tech) when I got a text from Beth informing me that while I was gone, North, who’d woken that morning with a cough, headache, stuffiness, slight fever, and dizziness, had tested positive for covid. It sounds kind of obvious in retrospect, but I was surprised. After two years and eight months of dodging this virus, I guess I was feeling we were invincible, even though my mom got it in the spring, and my sister’s whole family got it earlier this month.

Two days earlier we had let North leave the house without adult supervision for the first time since they got back from the hospital. They’d had brunch at a crowded diner with several friends. It was an exception to our no-eating-inside-restaurants policy, though we don’t know for sure that’s where they got it. Given that the incubation period is two to fourteen days, the second most likely option seems like the school play, which we attended about a week and a half before they started to feel ill. And I suppose there was the cat café, and we did go see a movie (Ticket to Paradise), but neither the café nor the theater had very many people in it. Ironically, they’d been around people less than usual during the two weeks before they got sick, first on a closed hospital unit and then at home.

I wondered whether I should bail on the rest of my conferences, being an official close contact of someone with covid. That might have been the ethical thing to do, but I was already there and masked, and given that North’s been out of school for several weeks, I really wanted to touch base with each of their teachers to explain what’s going on and discuss various possible paths forward for North academically. It seemed important, and the conferences were less than fifteen minutes each, so I went through with it.

When I got home, Beth said, “I feel like the degree of difficulty of our lives just keeps getting higher,” elaborating that we were like the proverbial frogs being slowly boiled in a pot. There were a few reasons this was bad timing for our family’s first bout with covid. (Is there such a thing as good timing for it?)

  • We were supposed to have an in-person intake interview at one of the partial hospitalization programs to which we’ve applied the following morning.
  • We were leaving our annual Thanksgiving-at-the-beach trip immediately after the interview.
  • The next day was also Beth’s birthday.

Beth called the hospital and to our surprise, they said we could do the interview virtually, so that was a relief. After a brief discussion, we decided we would go ahead with the beach trip.  It usually involves Christmas shopping on Black Friday at the shops in downtown Rehoboth and we’d have to skip that, but I said it would be worth it to me to go if all we did was hang out at the house, have Thanksgiving dinner, order takeout the other nights, and take walks on the beach. That was what our first pandemic Thanksgiving trip to the beach was like anyway. (On our very first pandemic beach trip North was paralyzed, and we didn’t cancel then either. We are hardy travelers.)

There were risks, of course. Driving there would mean several hours of close contact with North and if Beth got sick in Rehoboth, then the drive home would be difficult or we could even get stuck there, but if you know how we feel as a family about the beach (me most of all), you’re probably not surprised that we went.

So many of you have shared your covid experiences on your blogs or on Facebook that we’ve had a range of models for whether or how to isolate infected family members from non-infected ones. We didn’t even discuss isolating from North. Given their current situation, it didn’t seem like a good course of action. We began masking when we were in the same room with them, but we weren’t avoiding them, and most of the time we even ate together inside, so that made the decision to spend a few hours in a car together slightly more rational.

After that was decided and after we’d filled out some pre-interview forms to scan and send to the hospital, I made Beth’s birthday cake, a chocolate cake with coffee frosting I’ve made many, many times. You’d think I’d remember the recipe well enough that I wouldn’t almost forget to add the egg, actually forget the vanilla, and accidentally turn the frosting into a glaze by halving all the ingredients except the coffee, but you’d be wrong. What can I say? I haven’t been sleeping well and I’ve had a lot on my mind. It was comforting to make it anyway, because it smelled good baking and there were batter and frosting bowls to lick, and it made the stressful day seem more festive.

Wednesday: Happy Birthday, Dear Beth

The next morning while we were packing for the trip prior to the interview, Beth got a call from the hospital informing us it was cancelled because that health care visits can’t happen over Zoom across state lines. The hospital is in Virginia and we’re in Maryland. Later I remembered we’ve run up against this rule before while travelling. I guess there’s some sort of exception for D.C. because we’ve had a lot of virtual meetings with providers in the District. This was quite frustrating. We couldn’t get a new appointment until the second week of December, and we won’t even be on the wait list until we have the interview. But there was nothing we could do about it.

We hit the road around eleven and arrived in Rehoboth around three-thirty, with a stop for a lunch of  drive-through Taco Bell and Dairy Queen eaten at the tables outside the DQ near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We masked in the car and kept the windows partially down. It was a warm day—it got up to sixty degrees—so that wasn’t a hardship.

Near the end of the drive, Beth got a call from another partial hospitalization program where we’d been waiting for an intake interview since North got out of the psychiatric unit almost two weeks earlier. It’s in Annapolis, but they are opening a new location in Prince George’s County, which is closer to us than Annapolis, and they wanted to know if we’d like to interview for that location. Beth said yes. They’re supposed to call back by Monday to arrange it. So, on that front, it was one step back, one step forward. Because the facility is new, we’re hoping there will be less of a wait there.

We got to the house, a two-story yellow frame cottage with pale blue shutters, a living room and kitchen on the first floor and three small bedrooms on the upper floor, a narrow staircase between them, and a screened porch in front. We settled in, unpacking food and clothes, making up the beds, and deciding on our order of Japanese takeout for dinner. I was on the beach by five to see the sunset. When I got back Beth left to get the food and we ate her birthday dinner around the kitchen table.

After dinner, she opened presents. There was imported Spanish drinking chocolate powder from North, three fancy chocolate bars from Noah (one from Colombia, one from India, and one from Tanzania), and a bottle of French olive oil from me. It was all very international. Beth’s a fan of good chocolate and olive oil, so she was happy. Next, we ate cake and ice cream, and watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and The Mayflower Voyagers.

Before bed, we took a walk down to the beach to see the stars. We could see Orion’s belt and one of the dippers– we weren’t sure which one. Beth stayed on the boardwalk while North and I went down to the sand. While we were separated, my sister’s family called Beth on her cell and sang “Happy Birthday” to her and let her know her present was on the way.

As we were going to bed, I asked Beth how her birthday had been, and she said it was “a wild ride,” but that it ended well. In my card I’d written (before North came down with covid), “I hope it’s better than getting deloused, or getting your gallbladder out, or getting a flat tire.” I suppose this one will go down as one of Beth’s many memorable birthdays.

Thursday: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving started for me at 4:49. Remember how I said I’m not sleeping well? I stayed in bed until six, trying to get back to sleep, and then I relocated to the living room couch so the light from my cell and laptop where I was reading Facebook and blogs wouldn’t wake Beth. Around 6:45, I decided that as long as I was up, I might as well see the sunrise on the beach, which was only a five-minute walk away.

I used to watch the sun rise on the beach more often, when the kids were younger, and we all used wake at ungodly earlier hours. Well, I can’t exactly say I’m thankful for my recent insomnia, even on a day dedicated to gratitude, but… I was genuinely grateful that morning to see the orange ball of the sun rising over the ocean, touching the beach grass with faint light, putting touches of pink in the sky, painting the wet sand silver with streaks of gold, and making a big, ruffly, clear jellyfish I found at the waterline seem to glow from within.

I walked on the beach until the dawn colors had all drained away from the sky and the sand, went back to the house, ate breakfast, and made a batch of low-sugar cranberry sauce before anyone else was up. Everyone cooked a little throughout the day. Beth made the mushroom gravy and finished the broccoli-cheese casserole that North started. (North felt well enough to cook at first and then got dizzy and had to go lie down.) I made the basting sauce for the tofu roast and Beth made mashed potatoes. We’ve pared down our traditional feast a little over the past couple years since I got diagnosed with diabetes. I stopped making the brandied sweet potatoes because I was the only one who liked them, and we longer make breadcrumb stuffing because the roast comes stuffed with wild rice and Noah was the one who liked the original stuffing best.

Late in the morning, we all made our traditional turkey table decorations from apples, toothpicks, raisins, dried cranberries, and olives. “Will you make these with your kids?” I asked North.

“Yes,” they said. “Will you make them with them?”

“Yes,” I said. It was a cheering vision of the future.

Beth and I had lunch out on the screened porch—leftover Japanese, crackers, cheese, nuts, and fruit. Then we all had overlapping naps. I didn’t manage to fall asleep, but I came close, and it was nice to rest. North slept most of the afternoon. We’d hoped to take our Christmas card photos on the beach that afternoon, but they weren’t up for it. After my nap, I put the roast in the oven and went for another walk on the beach and boardwalk.  When I came back to baste it again, Beth went for a walk of her own.

We ate a little after six and everything was delicious. Before we ate, we offered thanks for North being out of the hospital, for being together, for the fact that though we wished Noah was with us that the reason he wasn’t was that he was studying in Australia, something he’d wanted to do for years, and for the vaccines and boosters that kept North’s case of covid mild and that had protected me and Beth so far.

Speaking of Noah, at seven we had a Zoom call with him. It’s only the third time we’ve done it since he’s been abroad. The first time, with me and Beth, was to let him know North had been hospitalized and the second, with all four of us, was the last night North was in the hospital. He’d been trying to call them at the hospital and between the fifteen-hour time difference, difficulties with his changing between domestic and international SIM cards, and the fact that all the kids on the unit shared one phone and it was usually in use, he had not managed it until we linked him into one of our pre-scheduled Zoom calls.

We asked him if he’d done anything for Thanksgiving and he said no. It reminded me of studying in Spain the fall of my junior year of college and how it’s strange to be abroad on this very American holiday. My celebration that year consisted of a sweet potato boiled on a hot plate in a dorm room. We also found out his last school assignment is due the first week of December and he has two whole weeks of free time before he comes home. Beth and I both urged him to travel. He’s already planning a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, but he hasn’t explored much outside the town where he’s living, so it seems like a good opportunity to see more of the country where he’s been living since September. He mentioned in a puzzled way that a lot of the international students have been taking trips to New Zealand and Bali and missing class to do it.

It was good to talk to him. It was the first time I’ve been to Rehoboth without him since before he was born—in fact I think the last time we went without him might have been the trip when we brought printouts of sperm donor profiles to pick out his. It was also the first time we haven’t been together on Thanksgiving, so I was missing him a lot.

After the call, we watched an episode of Gilmore Girls, and then North and I walked to the beach again to look at the stars. There were seabirds resting on the waves, visible only as white spots bobbing up and down in the distance or occasionally taking flight and streaking across the dark sky.

(Not So) Black Friday

I managed to sleep until 5:30 the next morning, a slight improvement.  Because my daybreak walk at the beach had been so rewarding the previous morning, I decided to do it again. It was cloudy and drizzling so there really was no sunrise to watch, but I never regret a walk on the beach.

I came home, made myself breakfast, and then left again to go pick up a few books I’d pre-ordered from Browse-About before North got sick. I double-masked and was in and out in a few minutes, resisting the temptation to stay and shop a little. On the way home, I detoured to the beach. It was high tide and an extensive network of little pools and channels of water had formed all over the sand. It was very cool, but I had to wend my way carefully to avoid getting stranded somewhere that would soon be covered by an incoming wave.

There was a family on the beach with preschool-aged twins running around, one in a ladybug rain slicker and one in a bee slicker. The hoods of their jackets had antennae. They were adorable and made me miss my little ones, who are not so little now.

When I got back home, Beth drove out to Route 1 in Black Friday traffic to get Grandpa Mac takeout for North. They’d slept all morning, so it was their first meal of the day. (Then Beth drove back when the order was wrong to get a replacement. This is a testament to Beth’s love for North.) I blogged and read and did laundry so we could bring home mostly clean clothes. It felt odd, not to be busy on the day I usually either start or get serious about my Christmas shopping.

In the late afternoon we had our Christmas card photo shoot on the beach. North and left ahead of Beth and went to the boardwalk where we purchased a frozen custard for North. We all met up and took pictures on the sand and jetties. While Beth and I had our backs to the ocean a rogue wave caught us by surprise and we both got our feet soaked. North took a series of photos of us running out of the ocean. I am considering using one of them on the card. After all, we haven’t had a picture-perfect year.

Beth and North went back to the house while I went to Grotto’s and ordered a pizza and mozzarella sticks for pickup. While they cooked, I went back to the beach to watch the sunset turn a bank of clouds in the northern part of the sky vivid pink and color the water and sand with swirls of pink, gold, and blue. I brought the pizza back home and after an hour or so, I heated it up and we had an early dinner before heading back to the boardwalk for the holiday sing-along and Christmas tree lighting.

When we reached downtown, Beth went to get soft pretzel bites for North while North and I found a place to sit away from the crowds near the bandstand. We found a bench on the boardwalk where we could hear the singing and see the tree but without standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of celebrants. We noticed someone was flying a drone near the tree, presumably to get an overhead view when the lights came on.

Although the other people sitting on boardwalk benches and passing by weren’t singing, we did. The first song was “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and for a half an hour, there was a series of mainly secular Christmas songs like “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” At seven sharp, the lights on the tree flashed on, just as they always do. The sameness of this event is deeply satisfying.

On the way home, Beth confirmed that the orange light North and I had been seeing in the sky over the ocean the past two nights was in fact a planet—Mars. We marveled that you could see its color from so very far away.

That night before bed, because I’d had a sore throat all day and I was getting stuffy, I took a covid test. To my surprise, it was negative.

Saturday: Goodbye, Beach

Another morning, another early waking, this time around 5:40, another lovely sunrise on the beach, which I enjoyed along with parents with kids, people with dogs, walkers, runners, and people camped out on the sand wrapped in blankets watching the fiery sun hover at the horizon over the ocean. It’s quite the perq if you have to be up before dawn.

I came home and had breakfast and we packed up the house. Even though he’s busy with end-of-semester projects, Noah texted me the pictures of himself wearing a green t-shirt and standing on an Australian beach that I’d requested. We’ll juxtapose one with our beach photos on the Christmas card.

We stayed in Rehoboth for about an hour after we vacated the house. Beth took her daily walk and North and I had a slower ramble along the beach and boardwalk, with a long rest on a boardwalk bench. It was a wild ride getting to the beach, but once we got there it was actually a sedate couple of days, with more naps and less bustling about in shops than we usually have on Thanksgiving weekend, but I’m glad we went, and I hope it will prove restorative.

Note: Beth and I both tested positive for covid on Sunday morning.

Where They Are, Part 2

To cut to the chase, home is where North is now.  After thirteen days on the adolescent psychiatric ward at Children’s, North came home a week ago today. We are trying to get them into a partial hospitalization program. This means a day program with psychiatric treatment that would last anywhere from two to six weeks. They’d be home evenings and weekends. We’re in various stages of the application process at three different facilities. They all have waitlists, but we’ve gotten as far as a phone screening completed at one and a phone screening completed, plus an in-person interview scheduled at another.

In the meanwhile, North’s not going to school. Beth and I are both working reduced hours to spend time with them. We’ve been playing Sleeping Queens and Clue and watching television and North and I continue to make our way through The Iliad. We’re up to Book 17. When we get through it, we’re going to start The Inferno. North is helping with housework and the still-in-progress project of taking Halloween decorations down. Plus, they’re working on a complicated paint-by-number mandala. Beth and/or I go on outings with them most days, either errands like grocery shopping or more recreational excursions.

Leaving the Hospital: Thursday

We found out North was being discharged Thursday afternoon and picked them up around six, after we’d finished one of the aforementioned phone screenings. I quit working and made dinner, a mushroom-white bean soup, early so it would be ready when we got home. North was appreciative of home cooking after two weeks of hospital food. That evening we watched Frankenweenie because in the hospital they’d been shown the first half hour of it as a group activity, and they wanted to know how it ended. It was deeply comforting to eat dinner around the same table and then eat white chocolate fangs leftover from Halloween and watch a movie.

Settling in at Home: Friday

Friday afternoon Beth and North dropped me off at Walgreens to get my flu vaccine and covid booster while they browsed at a nearby Asian market, where North got the kind of noodles they like. Back at home, after we finished a book of the Iliad, I read the last act of The Doll’s House to North. They’d read The Glass Menagerie and most of The Doll’s House in the hospital. North seemed to enjoy the play and cheered Nora in her decisions not to kill herself and to leave her awful husband. Fridays are usually movie nights, so after a dinner of homemade olive and mushroom pizza, we watched Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was North’s first time seeing it and I have to say they seemed a little skeptical of it. “So, the horror is gay people?” was their comment when it was over.

Faux Halloween: Saturday

North will be seeing their therapist, Andrew, twice a week until they get into a day program and Saturday morning was the first appointment since getting out of the hospital. That one was in person. Then we all had a virtual meeting with their psychiatrist, Dr. W, on Tuesday and North had a second (virtual) meeting with Andrew today. We’ll have an in-person family meeting with him on Saturday.

Saturday was also the day North designated as Faux Halloween. We watched The Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting in the afternoon, and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in the early evening, while eating Chipotle and more Halloween candy.

Then Zoë came over and we all left for North’s school, to see the closing night performance of Clue. It was a fun production, and as North was the co-costumes manager, we all admired the color-coded costumes and a reversable cummerbund that a character flipped over to indicate he’d been shot—the reverse side was bloodstained. Speaking of costumes, toward the end the play the same actor experienced a costume malfunction. His pants ripped and he had to use one hand to hold them up for the remainder of the play. He was such a pro, though, I really wasn’t sure if it was part of the play or not. He made it look like it was, but North says it wasn’t. After the play was over, Ranvita (who was on crew) found North and they had time for a hug, but North didn’t want to linger and talk to people. The actress who played Mrs. Peacock did stop them to say, “I missed you!” as we were on our way out. (North later said Mrs. Peacock’s costume was their favorite.)

Zoë came home with us and slept over. She and North watched Ma after Beth and I had gone to bed.

Starbucks Outing: Monday

“I know you’ve already been to Starbucks twice since you got home…” I started on Monday morning.

“But I want to go again,” North finished for me.

So, we walked to the Starbucks closest to our house. It’s about a fifteen-minute walk. North seemed happy to be outside and pointed out a lot of animals including a cat in the street who did not wish to socialize with us and a lot of birds. They noticed a blue jay in a tree, the iridescent colors of the starlings’ feathers in the shopping center parking lot, and the flock of pigeons taking off from telephone wires, swooping through the sky and returning to the same wire. I reminded them that they were four and we were outside the very same Starbucks watching birds swoop across the sky in formation and they told me: “Birds know what they’re doing, and people don’t.”

“I stand by that,” they said.

Cat-Related Outings: Wednesday and Thursday

On Wednesday Beth and North went to the county animal shelter to donate Xander’s food and treats and they got to visit with some cats. Beth said it was a little sad, but mostly nice. North said it was sad to leave without one young and vocal black cat in particular because they’d taken a fancy to him. The next day Beth and North had an even longer visit with the residents of a cat café in Annapolis. I didn’t go on either outing, partly so I could get some work done, but mostly because I’m just not ready. I don’t want to pet or play with cats who aren’t Xander yet.

That’s basically where we are. North has a chart on their door they use to keep us appraised of their mood. It’s nice to see it in green sometimes, but it’s okay that isn’t always. We’re in a kind of a limbo, doing the best we can, taking one day at a time.

Where They Are

Wednesday evening Beth and I were on a Zoom call with North and North had just asked if I’d been writing about them on Facebook or my blog this week. I said no. They said not to post anything on Facebook, but as for the blog, “You can say where I am but not why.” So that’s what I will tell you.

Admission: 21 Hours

North is in an adolescent psychiatric ward and has been for eight days. On Thursday of last week during a routine quarterly visit with their psychiatrist, they said some things that caused Dr. W to recommend we go to the emergency room. She called ahead, approving North to be admitted, thinking this way we wouldn’t be waiting all night in the ER. We did get out of the ER in a relatively swift hour and a half, but instead of spending the night there, we spent it, and most of the next day, in the psychiatric screening area where patients wait to be admitted to the children’s or adolescent psych unit of the hospital or discharged home. We’ve actually been to this screening area before, about three years ago—I never blogged about it. That time, we decided to take North home in the middle of the night.

This time around, once we arrived in the ER, North stopped speaking, though they would communicate through gestures and writing. If you’ve been reading this blog a while you might remember when North stopped talking for six weeks in third grade. That time, they felt physically unable to speak above a whisper, though there was no organic cause and when it got better, there was no clear reason. This time is a little different as North can speak under some circumstances, but I’ll get back to that later.

It wasn’t clear why the admissions process took so long, as North had been pre-approved and there were beds available, but if you’ve spent much time in hospitals—and I hope you haven’t— you know how mysterious and excruciatingly slow everything can be.

The screening area, which we started to call the bardo, consisted of a hallway with a desk and chairs for staff and more chairs for patients and parents who were waiting, and five exam rooms and one restroom branching off the sides. Each exam room had one bed, some chairs, and a tv. There was a cutout in the door so staff in the hall could see inside. If you turned off the lights, the room was dim but not dark. North got an exam room right away and didn’t have to wait in the hall. After they changed into a hospital gown and we were briefly interviewed and a nurse had taken blood and they’d provided a urine sample and taken a covid test, North was able to sleep, but Beth and I sat in plastic chairs all night. You aren’t allowed to bring anything into the area, so we didn’t have our phones, or books, or anything to occupy ourselves and once North was asleep, we couldn’t even talk to each other because we didn’t want to wake them. It was a long night.

At one point after a shift change one of the staff who didn’t know that North is using catheters—yes, that’s still going on—saw them go to the bathroom holding one and asked me if we’d gotten it from a nurse, and I said yes. I wasn’t intentionally lying—I was exhausted and misremembered, but we’d brought them from home, and soon no fewer than four hospital staff were swarming around North and their illicit medical device. So, now we know how to get people’s attention in the hospital.

Kids were arriving and leaving all night and the next day, sometimes sent up to the inpatient unit, sometimes sent home. I left the screening area a few times, either to go the locker with our belongings so I could use my phone to scan the glucose monitor on my arm or in search of food, because while they feed the kids, they don’t feed the parents. When you leave and re-enter you must be screened, and it can take a while for security to arrive to do it, so I tried to keep my excursions to a minimum. By Friday afternoon I was starting to wonder if Beth or I should go home and get some sleep and then come back and relieve the other in case it was going to be another night, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave, and Beth wouldn’t either. As far as I could tell, North was the only kid there with two parents in attendance and at least half of them had no parents accompanying them.

For much of Friday we watched a lot of truly dreadful daytime television—one of those shows in which people are suing each other (not Judge Judy, but similar) a crime drama with bad writing and acting, and The Young and the Restless.  I paced the length of the little room for over an hour and a half, which made Beth so nervous she went out into the hallway, but I kept at it for a while after she left because it was having the opposite effect on me. Finally, we found a channel that was playing nothing but consecutive episodes of Friends, Beth came back to the room, I promised not to pace anymore and climbed into North’s bed with them, and we all watched several episodes. I haven’t seen Friends since it was on the air, and I’m sure there must be some episodes that haven’t aged well (that’s certainly true of Buffy) but from the ones we saw it seems to have held up. It was just what we needed, distracting and funny and North seemed to like it. It even made them laugh a few times.

Finally, at four o’clock Friday afternoon, almost twenty-one hours after we’d arrived at the hospital, North was taken up to the inpatient unit. Beth and I went with them but weren’t allowed past the lobby. We stayed there for another hour and a half, mostly waiting for someone to come talk to us and filling out paperwork. And then we left our baby there, went home, ate, showered, and fell into bed at seven. I slept for eleven and a half hours.

The Home Front: Weekend Plus Halloween

The next day was Saturday, the day of the Halloween parade. North hadn’t been planning to attend anyway because it was the first day of tech week for the school play and if they’d been home, they would have been at rehearsal. Last year Beth and I went to the parade without North (who had the same conflict) just to watch because we love it. We hadn’t decided if we were going this year and I’d completely forgotten what day it was until Beth asked me, tentatively that morning if I wanted to go. I didn’t. It seemed impossibly sad.  I went out on some errands that afternoon and I ended up near downtown Takoma shortly after the parade must have ended because there were a lot of kids in costume, including an unusual number of skeletons, wandering around. In the Co-op, a small Buzz Lightyear was in line in front of me and told me he got his balloon sword at the parade.

Halloween proper was sad, too. We did our civic duty—put out the rest of our massive stock of decorations, lit our jack-o-lanterns (which we’d finished the night before we took North to the hospital, all cats this year in Xander’s honor), and gave out candy. I found seeing the costumed kids at the door alternately cheering and unbearable. To distract myself, I started awarding them prizes, (unbeknownst to them) on Facebook. Here’s what it looked like:

6:08 p.m.

Steph thinks the best trick-or-treater in the 5:00 to 6:00 hour was the “unicorn witch,” even though she wouldn’t have known that’s what the tot was without the voluntarily offered clarification. But it made sense—she wore a unicorn headband and a long black dress.

7:22 p.m.

Best costume in the 6:00 to 7:00 hour: Flower in flowerpot. Second place, hot dog.

8:10 p.m.

7:00 to 8:00 hour. Elaborate homemade piñata costume. Second place, witch with cauldron for candy and stuffed cat familiar, for attention to detail and impressive use of the word “familiar.”

9:00 p.m.

8:00 to 9:00 hour: Marshmallow. And that’s a wrap. Blowing out the pumpkins and turning out all the lights.

When it was all over, I told Beth this year was sadder than the year North missed trick-or-treating because of the sixth-grade Outdoor Ed field trip. “Way sadder,” she agreed.

Hospitalization: Eight Days and Counting

Earlier in the day on Halloween I delivered some homework to North, copies of The Glass Menagerie and The Doll’s House and questions to answer about the plays. (They will have to do this in crayon, as no other writing implements are allowed.) We’ve been going to the hospital frequently to deliver clean clothes and other items, though frustratingly, sometimes it takes days for the items to make their way to North. It was a week before they had a hairbrush, even though they were allowed one. We even brought a second one, thinking maybe the first one got lost. The same day they got to brush their hair, they got Muffin, their stuffed monkey. This required special permission, so it made a little more sense.

When one or both of us go to the hospital, usually Beth drives, but when I brought the plays on Monday, I took public transportation and the hospital shuttle so she could get some work done and so I could see North through the glass of the lobby. Whenever you come into the unit, they bring your kid out to wave at you.

On Wednesday afternoon I got to visit with them for an hour in the classroom. I delivered some art homework and a note from Zoë and a crocheted bee she made for North, a Zobëë, she called it. At North’s request I brought the cards and tokens for Love Letter so we could play (they beat me 7-0) and the Iliad. I read the beginning of book 12 out loud. This isn’t even homework. North got interested in it after they read the Odyssey last year and they’ve been reading it on and off since last summer. Somewhere around book 7, I started reading it to them because they thought it might go faster that way. (After room inspection that night both the card game and the bee were confiscated.)

We’ve also had at least one phone or Zoom call every day they’ve been there. At first it was kind of ad hoc and it was hard to get through but once we got on the schedule for every weekday evening at seven, it’s been easier. It’s good to see them once a day. We can see their room, which has a view of the Capitol, the Howard university bell tower, and the reservoir, and a dark blue wall with white silhouettes of whales and sharks. They’ve been doing a lot of adult coloring book pages with the ever-present crayons, and they are taped to the wall, along with Zoë’s note. We can have these calls because North will speak to us when no one else is around.

We get a call from Dr. D, the main psychiatrist who is working with North, every weekday except Wednesdays, and one day we had a family meeting, which was a Zoom call with North, Dr. D, and a coordinator. In this call North communicated by writing and holding the paper up to the camera. This is what they’ve been doing in group and individual therapy as well, though they have been working on saying a couple words per session.

We’ll have another family meeting on Monday, which if Dr. D is right, might be near the end of North’s stay. No promises, but she says she’s cautiously hoping it will be “early next week.”

At Home: Five More Days

Meanwhile, Beth and I have been working in the day and watching A League of Their Own or Abbott Elementary at night, plus Licorice Pizza on Friday night. I was writing postcards to voters in Kentucky and Georgia until the mailing deadline passed and on Friday, independently of each other, Beth and I took our ballots to the drop-off box near the community center. Beth also took North’s because in Takoma Park, you are allowed to vote for municipal offices at age sixteen. It seemed a little sad they couldn’t have the satisfaction of dropping their very first ballot into the box themselves, but it was good they’d already completed, signed, and sealed it.

On Tuesday I had lunch with my friend Megan. We’ve been good friends since North and Megan’s daughter were in preschool together, so she knows pretty much all of North’s long backstory. It was nice to talk to someone who didn’t need a lot of explanation. In other self-care, Beth went kayaking this morning and we went to Brookside Gardens for a walk this afternoon.

We very much hope North will be coming home soon. They’ve asked us to leave up the Halloween decorations, so we have. I’ve even left the Halloween cats dish towel hanging from the oven door and my black cat, bat, and vampire-festooned pencils and Mummy eraser out on my desk. We’re planning a little Halloween do-over for our reunion. We’ll watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and eat Halloween candy we saved. I am looking forward to that.

October Outings

Note: this blog post was already mostly written when Xander got sick, so the bulk of it of it takes place before the last one. Think of it as an artsy flashback…

We’re a family prone to traditions and sometimes that gives the years and months and weeks a pleasing, predictable rhythm. That’s why I was disappointed when a couple of the things we usually do in October either didn’t happen or we couldn’t attend, but despite this, we’ve had several nice outings recently.

Where We Didn’t/Won’t Go

  1. Visitation Day

Most MCPS schools have a parent visitation day on Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day when you can come observe your kids’ classes. (It’s that day because the schools are in session and many parents have it off work as it’s a federal holiday.) We’ve gone at both elementary schools the kids attended, both middle schools, and Noah’s high school. Before this year, I would have said all MCPS schools host this event, but it turns out North’s school doesn’t. You’d think I’d know this as North is a junior, but their ninth-grade year was nearly all remote and last year there weren’t many events parents were invited to in the building, especially early in the year, so I wasn’t surprised when the date passed with no invitation.

But this year, since Back to School Night was in person again, I thought Visitation Day would be on as well, but there we no announcements, so we started to wonder. Trying to find out anything about it from the school was surprisingly difficult. When I called the main office the person who answered the phone didn’t know and transferred me to someone else’s voicemail, where I left a message that was never returned. When Beth emailed the principal, he never answered. When I asked North to ask their teachers, they forgot, although they seemed open to us coming, especially to their painting class. When I called the main office again, a different person who answered the phone didn’t seem to know what I was talking about but said there was nothing on the school calendar for that day. This seemed like a good indication the event wasn’t happening, but I’d posted something to the school’s Facebook page, just in case, and then in response, the mother of a senior told a story about how the last year before covid she’d gone to see just one class and her daughter’s teacher who was a veteran at the school had no idea why she was there. That made me think, okay, maybe this school has never done this, and it wasn’t a casualty of covid until another senior parent posted, no, visitation day did happen the last year before covid, so now I don’t know what to think about the past or the future, but it didn’t happen this year.  I really liked getting a glimpse of my kids’ school lives, as you can probably guess from the fact that I pursued this so doggedly, but even so, I wasn’t going to show up uninvited.

  1. Halloween Parade

The other thing that’s probably off the table for us, though we don’t know for sure yet, is the Halloween parade and costume contest. It’s happening, two days before Halloween, but North thinks it conflicts with tech week for the school play, so they won’t be able to compete, which is sad because over the years my kids have been enthusiastic participants in the parade and contest, which they have each won at least once. The same conflict stopped North from going last year, so I’m guessing it will also conflict next year which means North’s probably done with the costume contest, which is sad because we didn’t even know the last year was the last year. Beth and I have thought about volunteering to be judges, but I think I want to wait until North has graduated and there’s no chance that we’d be judging any of their peers, not that too many of them are still participating.

Where We Did Go

  1. Gingerbread Sundae (Date #1)

This wasn’t an October outing per se, as we went the last day of September, but it was autumnal, so I’m including it. Around this time of year, I always get a craving for the gingerbread sundae at Mark’s, a restaurant in downtown Takoma. I like to have it just as it’s getting a little cool, but warm enough that ice cream still seems appealing. Last year I was newly diagnosed with diabetes and skipped it, but I have a better idea of what I can eat now, and ice cream is rich enough that the fat slows down the sugar and it usually doesn’t cause as big a spike as other desserts. I invited Beth to go on a mini date with me on a Friday afternoon and split a sundae and that’s what we did. The day was cooler than had been predicted when we’d arranged it, but she’d cleared her schedule, so we went anyway. We asked for a table outside, because we’re not eating inside restaurants, and we had the little alley next to Mark’s all to ourselves (as the day was not only cool but it looked like rain, though it held off long enough), so it was kind of romantic. They were out of the gingerbread syrup, but the combination of warm gingerbread and cold ice cream was still pleasing.

  1. Family Movie Outing

Later that weekend, all three of us saw Don’t Worry, Darling. I enjoyed it, even though it’s the kind of movie that when you think about it later, it makes less sense than it seemed to while you were watching it. I can say Florence Pugh is quite good in it, the cinematography is striking, and it has an excellent soundtrack.

  1. Mother and Child Pupusa Excursion

At the end of summer, I realized that North and I never went to the Langley Park farmers’ market for pupusas, which is something we usually do at least once in the summer, so I checked the school calendar for half days or days off on Wednesdays before the market closes for the season in late November. There was a half day in September, but North had to stay after school for the play. However, Yom Kippur fell on a Wednesday and there was no school that day, so we got pupusas for lunch and coffee and pumpkin pastries (a muffin for North and a slice of pumpkin loaf for me that I saved for later). North says the farmers’ market pupusas are better than restaurant ones and I speculated it’s because food often tastes better outside. North thinks it’s because they get the ratio of filling to dough just right.

  1. White House Garden Tour (Date #2)

There’s a garden tour at the White House every spring and fall and Beth was offered tickets through her office. We’ve done this tour before, but not for eleven years, and I thought it would be fun, so Beth and I went. (North declined.) It’s a self-guided tour. There were framed photos of presidents and first ladies from the Carters to the Trumps planting trees in front of the trees themselves and you can see how they’ve grown. (President Carter’s Cedar of Lebanon is quite impressive now.)

There was a bottleneck at the kitchen garden so a staffer was hurrying people past it, which was too bad, because I would have liked to get a better look, but I saw herbs, peppers of different colors, sunflowers, and a bank of surprisingly tall marigolds. We’ve been to the White House to see the Christmas decorations (once in the Clinton administration), to tour the East Wing, take the Garden Tour, and attend the Easter Egg Roll (all in the Obama years), but this was the first time we’d been there during the Biden administration. It made me think I’d like to do the Christmas tour again sometime. On the way back to the Metro, we got coffee (me) and hot chocolate (Beth) and then we went to Value Village to get an orange shirt for North to wear at our annual pumpkin patch photo shoot later in the month.

  1. Lunch (Date #3)

The other thing we usually do on Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day, besides visit the kids’ schools, is to go out to lunch. The upside was that we didn’t have to squeeze it between one school and the other as we often did in years past. We went to Busboys and Poets. Beth got a salad with vegan tuna, and I had cauliflower with aioli and vegan barbequed chicken. It was a pretty day, sunny and in the sixties so it was pleasant to eat outside, and we spent some time hanging out when we got home before I decided to get some housework and paying work done.

If you’re wondering if it’s normal for us to have three dates in a week and half, the answer is no, but we were on a roll. Sometimes that happens.

  1. Play

This year North is participating in Cappies, an organization of student theater critics that sends students to review plays at area high schools and then grants awards at the end of the year. On Friday they attended their first show. A high school in McLean, Virginia was putting on The Man Who Came to Dinner. Beth was going, too, because it’s a long drive to McLean and it made more sense to stay than to go home and come back, and I thought if everyone else was going, I’d get in on the fun, too. We’d purchased the tickets before Xander got sick and once he did, I was leaning toward staying home with him, but then he deteriorated more quickly than we thought he would, and we had him euthanized the morning of the play. So, we were all heartsore, and I almost didn’t go, but I wanted to be together on such a sad night—although North would be seated with the other Cappies—so I went.

The host school feeds the Cappies dinner beforehand, but Beth and I needed dinner, so I heated up some leftover frozen pizza and wrapped it up in foil before we left in hopes that it would stay warm and it did, faintly. On the way we stopped at a Starbucks where North and I got Dragon Drinks while Beth went to a nearby grocery store to get marinated mushrooms, a salad, and Babybel cheese to supplement the pizza. We ate in the car in the school parking lot and Beth said we were tailgating. Meanwhile, North was dining inside the school. They’d expected something like pizza on paper plates, but they were served roasted chicken and Caesar salad on china, which would have been nice, except North doesn’t eat meat, so all they had for dinner was salad and mints.

The play is a madcap 1930s comedy about an imperious literary critic who breaks his hip while at dinner at a factory owner’s house and is bedridden there for weeks, and proceeds to take over the house, receive many colorful guests, and irritate his host, while befriending his children, older sister, and servants (and in some cases turning them against him). The main plot involves the critic’s scheming interference in his secretary’s love life. Beth missed part of the second act because she had to go watch a vote count for an Apple store in Oklahoma City that was voting to unionize—happily, the union won. When she came back all I was able to tell her about what she missed was, “There were shenanigans and machinations.” It’s that kind of play.

The production was well done. The set was gorgeous, and the actors did a great job. (As a costumes manager, North noted there were some impressively quick costume changes.)

It was over by ten, and because I didn’t realize there was a Cappies meeting after the show for the purpose of debriefing, I thought we’d be getting home at a reasonable time, but we had to wait in the school lobby until 11:15, when North was finally released. I was exhausted from the long, draining day and when we got home and Beth and I fell into bed, it was midnight. But North stayed up to write their review.

  1. Pumpkin Patch Expedition

We took our annual pilgrimage to Northern Virginia to get pumpkins the next day. We had to do it when we’d scheduled it, because it’s a long outing and Beth’s going to be out of town this weekend, plus North had invited Ranvita. I wasn’t reluctant, though. I was still heavy-hearted—we all were—but in my experience, getting outside when I’m sad never hurts and sometimes helps.

We left mid-afternoon, picked up Ranvita, and drove to Potomac Vegetable Farms, where we’ve been getting our jack-o-lantern pumpkins since before the kids were born. The reason is the farm is owned by the family of a friend from college. As the suburbs encroach on it, though, it gets smaller and smaller. There used to be a cider press where you could watch cider made and farm animals to visit. They do still have live chickens for sale. Because they’re widening the highway in front of the farm, there’s less land between the road and the stand and the area where the pallets piled with pumpkins have been in previous years is gone. The pumpkins were right in front of the stand, but there were enough for us to peruse, make our selections, and pose for the traditional photos. Usually it’s just the kids, but this year we had North take one of us, too. We also bought decorative gourds, apples, cider, salsa, and a baking mix for North.

We texted some of the pictures we took (of piles of pumpkins and gourds) to Noah and asked him to guess where we were. It’s a game we play sometimes. This wasn’t a hard one, though, as he’d been to this farm almost every October from birth until he left for college (and once after that during his pandemic online school year). It was nice to include him a little, as I’ve found in the six days since Xander died that I miss Noah more, and Matthew, too. Even though it’s natural for kids to grow up and leave and cats to grow old and die—and with the kids it’s a good thing—part of me stubbornly wants it to be the six of us together again as it was for so long.

We got back in the car and resumed listening to and critiquing an Apple Music Halloween playlist. There were standards like “Thriller,” “I Put a Spell on You” (Nina Simone version), and “Season of the Witch,” but North objected to Justin Bieber’s “Ghost” because they say it’s about ghosting someone, not ghosts, and no one thought Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” belonged on a Halloween playlist because it’s not really about blood.

There’s a vegetarian Chinese restaurant we like near the farm stand and because there’s a bit of a gap between the time the stand closes and when we want to eat dinner, we’ve gotten into the habit of taking a walk in Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. As always, since we’re there in mid-October, there were a lot of kids taking Homecoming pictures. While North and Ranvita (whose foot was in a boot from an accident at play rehearsal) were resting in a pagoda and Beth and I were walking down separate paths (as I had taken longer to decide on my food order and she left first), Beth saw a young lesbian couple hanging out and taking pictures with their straight friends and she said it warmed her heart that in many places at least these days, queer kids “get to be regular kids.” It’s one of the good things about our kids’ generation.

We picked up the food and took it to another park where we ate at a picnic table. We were there because of the community gardens there that North wanted to show Ranvita, so after we ate our sweet potato and avocado sushi, spring rolls, miso soup, seaweed salad, noodles, and seitan-snow pea stir-fry, we wandered through the different plots, admiring the fall vegetables and flowers.

North said they wished they were a plant person because it would fit their vibe, but they really weren’t. I asked what they’d do after the apocalypse if they couldn’t grow food, and they said they’d cook the food someone else grew. Then we all chose our post-apocalyptic jobs, and North decided in addition to cooking, they’d watch children. “I’m very domestic in the apocalypse,” they observed. For my part, I thought I could teach and if it was a vampire apocalypse, I’d have some useful knowledge because I used to teach horror fiction and I know more than the average person about vampires. I was imagining myself in a Van Helsing/Rupert Giles type role. It didn’t occur to me until later that given that I write a lot about herbs, I could be an herbalist and that might be useful in the absence of vampires.

Our next stop was frozen yogurt. We’ve developed this whole pumpkin-gathering trip agenda over the years and while it does change (as when we had to start dining outside and when our favorite dessert place went out of business), it keeps growing and growing. “The problem with our family,” Beth started at one point, explaining to Ranvita how once we do something more than once everyone wants to keep doing it, but North interrupted, saying firmly, “There is no problem with our family.”

Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t, but it was good to hear them say that. And the familiarity of the routine was comforting on a day when sadness ran just under the surface of our pleasures.

Fun Days

Saturday

Around five in the afternoon I was on the beach photographing my feet. The first picture I took to mark the moment the first little waves rushed over my sandals. Touching the water is often what makes it seem as if we’ve arrived at the beach. Shortly after we got to the little mint green house where we’d be staying for the week, Beth and Noah got back in the car, to get groceries and visit the Crocs outlet. North went into their room and closed the door, presumably to nap, so I made the ten-minute walk to the beach by myself.

The second two photos I took to remind myself of what the jetties near the beach access path I’d need to find again looked like because there were a lot of paths and few good landmarks on this stretch of beach, no houses, just scrub pines, and even the lifeguard chair had no number, which is kind of unusual. I ended up putting three of the photos on Facebook because I was taken with them. I took a walk along the waterline, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smell of the beach, before turning back to the house, walking in the back door at 5:50, the exact moment Beth and Noah were stepping through the front door. This was satisfying because it meant I’d had as long a walk as possible without making my cooking partner wait.

Noah and I had planned to cook dinner together, a soba noodle salad with tofu and vegetables. He’s been on a soba noodle salad kick. This was the third or fourth variation he’s made this summer. (His cooking leans heavily on pasta and the buckwheat noodles agree with my blood sugar better than white, which might be part of the reason he keeps planning them.) After dinner we watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which in combination with having just arrived at the beach, is a truly superior way to end an evening.

Sunday

Beth was up early the next day. She had gone for a walk and then left to go kayaking before anyone else made it out of the house. North and I went to the beach late in the morning. It was mostly overcast with the sun breaking through every now and then, so I wasn’t too worried about being on the beach near noon. The water was cold, but not forbiddingly so, and the waves were moderate, not quite as big as I’d like, but still nice. In the water and later on the towel, where we retreated to warm up, we had a nice long conversation. They told me about things that happened at the day camp where they’d been volunteering as a junior counselor the week before and what might happen at the overnight camp where they’ll be in a leadership program in August. (The answer is they’re really not sure, as they’ve never done it before as it’s for sixteen and seventeen year olds, but it’s at a camp for kids with LGBTQ+ parents they’ve loved as a camper, so they figure it will be fun.) It was nice to have an unusually large chunk of one-on-one time with them.

Back at the house we ate lunch and then Noah and I read a couple chapters of The Magician’s Land, the third book in the Magicians trilogy, which we’ve been reading since late May. We watched the television series a year ago, so it’s a little strange to be reading the book, because it feels as if I should know what’s going to happen next, but I don’t, because the plots keep diverging and coming back together. I do recommend it, though, if you’re a fan of fantasy.

I headed back to the boardwalk afterward, to check out a new coffee place on the boardwalk Beth told me about. I’m always on the lookout for a shaded place with an ocean view where one can hang out for extended period of time and if they serve coffee, that’s a bonus. It was closed when I got there, but the tables were still out, on a brick platform overlooking the boardwalk, and I had my water bottle full of ice water and a book to read (Rhode Island Red—my book club always reads a mystery in July) so I had nearly everything I’d wanted. I read three chapters and headed back home where Beth was making her traditional beach week dinner—gazpacho, a cheese plate, olives, salt-crusted new potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, and baguette. We ate this delicious feast out on the spacious deck, under the leafy cover of the big trees that grow there.

We ate a little on the early side so I could get the dishes done in time for a seven p.m. departure. Rehoboth was having its fireworks a day early (presumably so tourists driving back home on the last day of the three-day weekend could attend and spend money in town). The display wasn’t supposed to start until 9:30 but we wanted to get ice cream and secure a spot on the sure-to-be-crowded beach. I’d been experimenting with ice cream in the past week or so, after not having more than a few bites at a time since my diabetes diagnosis ten months ago. I knew a child-size portion with nuts on top would be fine, especially if I walked a little before or after, and having learned our lesson about never driving into or out of Rehoboth on the Fourth eight years ago, we’d walked there. I got a peanut butter-chocolate twist, to go with the nuts I’d brought.

It was good we got there when we did because the beach filled up with people, as did the street that surrounds the nearby bandstand, where a group was playing classic rock covers (Average White Band, Beatles, Van Morrison, you get the picture). I was glad the music wasn’t patriotic, as it’s a little hard to muster much patriotism these days, with the recent Supreme Court rulings heavy on everyone’s mind. Beth said they played “Proud to Be an American,” but from the beach the music was sometimes faint and I didn’t hear it, which was just as well because it would have been hard not to yell “Unless you’re a woman of reproductive age!” after the chorus “at least I know I’m free.”

I told the kids to bring something to entertain themselves and they both brought books. Noah was reading Game of Thrones and North had The Iliad. (They got interested in it because they read part of The Odyssey for their English class this past school year.) I read another few chapters of my mystery, until it got too dark to read. It was a lovely evening. It had been humid earlier in the day, but it wasn’t any more and the light on the ocean was lovely before the sun went down and when it did you could see a crescent moon rising in the west.

There were a few drones up in the air, against the rules, but apparently it wasn’t impossible to fly, as it is in permanently restricted areas around D.C. The show started around 9:40, by which point I was impatient because it was ten minutes late and under normal circumstances, I’m in bed by ten. It was a nice display, not as fancy as what you’d see in D.C. but probably comparable to Takoma’s fireworks, though I haven’t seen those in years, as they haven’t happened in years. (They didn’t have any this year either, but it was the first time Takoma’s parade happened since 2019. We missed it, of course, being out of town, but I saw pictures on Facebook.)

Monday

Monday was the actual Fourth and Beth suggested we get the before-lunch ice cream we usually get on the Fourth, even though it wouldn’t be from the ice cream trucks that gather at the end of the parade route in Takoma. She’d gone kayaking again and returned around eleven-thirty. I broke ranks and ate an early lunch before she got home because I wanted to stay on the boardwalk afterward and I didn’t want to have to come home for lunch. Beth said since I was not partaking of before-lunch ice cream as tradition dictates, I should take the picture of those who were, so I did. I did have some frozen custard, though, strawberry-banana twist, even though there’s no photographic evidence.

Everyone else went home, but I went back to the boardwalk café, which was open this time, so I got an iced latte and read, blogged, and watched dolphins leaping in the sea from my seat in the shade for two hours.

When I got back to the house, I found Beth and Noah working on a puzzle of Mount Rushmore they’d chosen from the house’s selection of puzzles and North frying tofu for a late lunch. They wanted to go to the beach and so did I, but they didn’t want to walk, so Beth drove us.

We had another nice swim and talk, starting with their immediate job prospects (a babysitting gig they’re interviewing for when we get back) and moving onto college and career plans. In one scenario, they attend culinary school in Rhode Island, then study abroad in France, then open a bakery in Provincetown. They have given some thought to how they will afford the astronomical rents in this gay mecca: “Step one: I marry rich… Solid, right?” In another scenario, they major in pre-law, go to law school, become a public defender, and reform the legal system. In both scenarios, they foster kids before having their own.

When we got out of the water, I was tired, having been up late two nights in a row, so I lay down and closed my eyes. We were sitting next to a loud group and I kept thinking I’d like to move the towel so I could hear the ocean, but I was comfy on the sand in the sun and I couldn’t muster the energy to move. North texted Beth to come pick them up but I stayed a while before walking home.

When I arrived preparations for our Fourth of July picnic were underway. Everyone had a cooking assignment. Mine was boiling hot dogs and devilling eggs. We ate out on the deck again and then we finished a movie we’d started at home, Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga. It was fun, if you’re in the mood for something light.

After the movie, Beth, Noah, and I headed for the boardwalk where he got ice cream and she got almond bark. The main purpose of the outing was to go sit on the beach and see if we could see fireworks from any of the neighboring jurisdictions that were having theirs on the actual holiday. The answer was yes. We could see the Dewey fireworks to the south and Cape May’s far to the north. Plus people were setting off their own private stash just north of us in Cape Henlopen, and at one point there were more going off just behind the big hotels to our west. Sometimes it was hard to know which direction to look. But because the fireworks were further away than the night before they were of course smaller and quieter. The beach wasn’t empty—it’s never empty, not even in winter—but it wasn’t packed either. It was eerie and beautiful to be sitting there, almost alone, watching the distant bursts of color lighting up the night in three directions.

Tuesday

Beth and I went to the farmers’ market the next morning to get tomatoes, cucumbers, peaches, berries, and giant soft pretzels for the kids. I was tempted to get some cucumber starts because ours are growing very slowly, not even flowering yet, but we weren’t sure the little plants would survive four to five days in their tiny pots, plus a stint in the hot car the day we left the beach, so we didn’t buy any. I also resisted the siren song of some tasty-looking blueberry doughnuts.

Later in the morning Beth took the kids to the water park. I puttered around the house, starting laundry, and after lunch I went back to the boardwalk café and got mint chocolate chip ice cream—and not a child’s size this time because my experiments with ice cream had gone so well. It was good and I stayed in range. I can’t tell you how cheering this was. It must be all the fat, slowing down the impact of the sugar. In addition to eating ice cream, I read a few more chapters of my mystery, and then I hit the beach.

The day was overcast and the water was choppy. The waves weren’t big but they were close together. The water was a uniform gray, without the blue, green, and golden-brown highlights you see on sunnier days. In the water I watched a preteen boy do tricks on his boogey board. He stood on it like it was a surfboard and when it crested a wave, he’d jump off, do a somersault in the air, and land in the water. It was really something else.

By four, I was out of the water and it had started to sprinkle. People were packing up and leaving and I considered staying because I do enjoy a less populated beach, but Noah and I hadn’t read that day, and there was laundry to cycle, and it was my night to cook, so I left, too. It was cozy on the sun porch reading while intermittent rain hit the windows, and the dryer hummed.

For dinner I made veggie burgers, green beans, and a tomato-cucumber-mozzarella salad. After dinner we watched a couple episodes of Blackish (all of us) and Only Murders in the Building (me and Noah).

Wednesday

Rain was predicted in the afternoon, so I made sure to get to the beach in the morning. Beth was kayaking, Noah was doing something on his phone, and North was still asleep when I left. The water was much calmer. I would have liked more waves, but there was an advantage, which was that I could see a lot of dolphins, swimming out past where the waves would normally block my view, and I saw one jump all the way out of the water, tip to tail. It was a stunning sight. There were pelicans and osprey, too, quite the nature show.

Beth brought home Italian takeout for lunch. The kids had pasta and Beth and I split a rolled, breaded eggplant appetizer with cheese and tomato sauce, making the rest of our lunches ourselves. There were Italian cookies, too.

It was at lunch that we realized my online book club meeting that evening was going to conflict with our plans to go to Funland. (I’d forgotten about book club when we made these plans.) But then I double checked and the email about book club was ambiguous, saying the meeting was Wednesday, July 7, a date which does not exist this year, so I wasn’t sure if it was Wednesday or Thursday. I wrote the leader and not getting a response, called the library, which organizes the club, but the librarian wasn’t sure, so I called the community center where the room for the people who attend in person is booked (the meetings are hybrid). Eventually I found out book club met Thursday so we could go ahead with Funland, as planned.

Beth and North went to the beach while Noah and I stayed at the house to read, but when we were done, I joined them for a short swim. Beth had texted me that the waves looked big. She actually has an app on her phone that reports wave height that she uses for kayaking. I wasn’t sure if five-foot waves were bigger than average or not, and it turns out they weren’t as big as I thought they’d be, but I can’t really regret a second ocean swim in one day. Afterward I walked to town to buy some candy at Candy Kitchen, and to get an iced latte. I took it to the tables at the now closed café (I know now it closes at two) which I was starting to regard as my personal office and blogged some more.

When I got back to the house at 6:10, I was a little surprised North wasn’t making dinner yet, but Beth told me they’d gone to bed with a migraine, so it turned out we didn’t go to Funland that night after all. The rest of us made our own dinners (Noah had pasta, I made scrambled eggs with tomatoes, vegetarian bacon, and potatoes, and Beth made herself tacos, which was the planned meal) and then we watched an episode of Buffy. Afterward Noah settled in to listen to a tech podcast, Beth went for a walk, and I continued to blog.

Thursday

Thursday I was out of the house for most of the day and barely at the beach. We had brunch at Egg. Noah and I both ordered the lemon-blueberry crepes and I gave him half of mine, which turned out to be about the right amount of crepes for both of us. (He really likes crepes.) I supplemented mine with poached eggs and a glass of milk for balance and walked immediately before and after the meal and I didn’t get a big spike.

Where I walked after brunch was BrowseAbout Books, where I’d promised to buy both kids some books. (Beth split off the group to go get a massage.) North got Her Body and Other Parties; Noah got Clash of Kings and Rule of Wolves.

From there we walked to Funland. It wasn’t open yet, so we all read on a bench nearby—and then I took a short walk on the beach—and then the kids rode the Paratrooper (a mutual favorite) and tried out the new Free Spin, which has replaced the Free Fall. They disapprove of any change at Funland on principal, but otherwise they liked it, I think. Noah went back for a second ride on the Paratrooper while North rode the Sea Dragon and the Graviton (which I heard a little girl called “The Stick to the Wall,” which is an accurate description as any). North lost their phone on the Graviton and the ride was halted for five minutes while employees searched for it, which North says was embarrassing, but worth getting the phone back.

We took a break for funnel cake and it turns out a quarter of a funnel cake is still too much for me if I don’t add a protein or exercise much, but now I know. Noah headed home and North and I went back to Funland to ride the Haunted Mansion and to buy a puzzle of images from Funland and a Haunted Mansion t-shirt I’ve had my eyes on for years. It’s the only ride I go on there and I love it. (I wore the shirt to bed the first night we were home and made the delightful discovery that the moon behind the haunted house glows in the dark.) North said I should use the subhead “Fun Day” for this day because we went to Funland and had funnel cake, but I wasn’t using subheads beyond the days of the week and I didn’t have a title yet, so now I had one.

Beth picked us up and Noah and I had time for two chapters of The Magician’s Land before it was time to leave for dinner. We had 4:30 reservations because it’s really hard to get reservations for the roof at The Cultured Pearl and we decided we’d rather eat outside than at a more traditional dinner time. It’s really beautiful up there with reeds and koi ponds between all the tables and drapery on top of and around them. In a day full of culinary risks, I tried tempura, and by eating a lot of edamame beforehand, I was able to manage it without a spike. Two successes out three’s not bad, I reasoned. Oh, and if you ever have the opportunity to try edamame with Old Bay seasoning or smoked mayonnaise, go for it. It’s a fun change from just salt.

Beth and the kids got dessert afterward and I came along but didn’t indulge. Afterward everyone else drove home, but I walked along the beach. When I got back, Beth and North had left for the Crocs outlet since North didn’t go when Noah did, Noah worked on the Mount Rushmore puzzle, and I logged onto my book club.

That night I took my first shower in the house (I’d been using the outdoor shower) and it didn’t drain. The toilets wouldn’t flush either. Beth emailed the owner of the house and we went to bed. I thought I noticed a faint, swampy aroma wafting from the bathroom but I told myself I was imagining it.

Friday

Maybe not though, because in the morning sewage had started backing up into the shower. Just a little, but any sewage in the shower is more than you want. The owner called a plumber and he was at the house by 9:15. The longer he stayed the less cheerful and communicative he became, which was concerning, but at 10:25, he came in and said the problem was fixed. I trusted him enough to start a load of laundry and no soapy water came up out of the shower drain, so everything seemed to working as it should. (The owner of the house rebated us $500 for the inconvenience, which was quite generous.)

By the time the plumber left, it was getting to be the time of day I try to avoid on the beach, especially if it’s sunny, which it was, so I stayed at the house, read with Noah and did laundry again. When Beth got home from kayaking, she brought home Grandpa Mac for the kids. We all ate lunch and by two p.m. all four of us were at the beach together for the first time since the fireworks. The waves were actually big that day, so Beth just put her feet in the water for a bit and Noah was in and out pretty quickly. The two of them retreated to the sand and his book and her magazine.

I swam for two hours, mostly with North, with a break in the middle to get ice cream and water ice at the snack bar on the beach access path. The waves were absolutely amazing, the best I’ve experienced in years. It was somewhat less conducive to conversation than our previous swims. In fact, once North asked me a question just a big wave towered over us and I just said, “No talk!” before we dived under it or jumped into its swell to be pulled up and over it, I don’t remember which.

There was a strong northward tug in the water so we had to get out of the water when we got close to the red flag and walk back to the other end of the lifeguards’ range several times. It was one of those times we decided we needed a rest and frozen treats. As I headed back into the water, full of cookies-and-cream ice cream (and alone this time, though North eventually joined me again), I told Beth “I’m so happy!” and she laughed and said, “I know.” The next time I got pulled too far north and had to get out of water I thought I might be done, because I was tired and cold, but North was waiting for me on the beach and it wasn’t hard to convince me to get back in the water. Some years, many years, we spend a whole week at the beach without waves like this, so I thought we should seize the day. The next time we had to get out, though, I collapsed on my towel. Everyone was heading back to the house to shower and get ready to go out to dinner, but I lingered a bit, resting and watching the waves hurl themselves on the shore.

We had dinner at Grotto. We got a table on the patio right away, much to our surprise, and we had to put off the server who wanted our order a few times while we waited for Beth to arrive—she’d been looking for parking. Everyone had mozzarella sticks, the kids split a pizza, and Beth and I split a salad and a stromboli. I felt happy and kind of stoned from my swim, but it gradually wore off when I started thinking about needing to pack and clean out the refrigerator and all the leaving-the-vacation-house chores we had to do. Despite this, we watched a movie when we got home, Kramer vs. Kramer. I hadn’t seen it in a long time and it’s so evocative of its time, perhaps especially for a child of a late 1970s divorce (though my parents’ divorce wasn’t much like the Kramers’).

Saturday

We did all the aforementioned chores, left the house a little after ten, and split up. I’m actually not sure where the kids went, but Beth went for a walk and before I had one last swim and before we all had a lunch of fries and crepes and pizza, and before the kids and I went down to the water one last time to put our feet in the ocean and say goodbye to it, I did some errands, which included picking up the two gift certificates I promised my sister for her birthday in March. One was for the bookstore and one for the tea and spice shop. She’ll be able to redeem them in August when we return to the beach for another week, this time with extended family. It’s never easy to leave the beach, but it’s certainly easier when you’ve had such a string of fun days and when your next trip is only four weeks away.

If a Tree Falls: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 73

If we’re Facebook friends, you’ve already seen pictures of the large section of the stately silver maple tree in our back yard that fell on our house a week ago Sunday, and read updates about the leak in the kitchen ceiling and initial encounters with roofers. But I’m going to start at the beginning. I hear it’s a very good place to start.

Before the Tree Fell On the House

It was a thunderstorm with high winds that felled about a quarter of the tree. Like most summer (and late spring) thunderstorms, it was preceded by a stretch of hot, muggy weather. It started Friday morning and lasted until late Sunday afternoon.

On Saturday the kids and I cleaned the porch, which is an annual chore involving bathing suits, a hose, and buckets of water. We do it this time of year because the pollen that’s usually thick on every surface has basically finished falling by this point. We lugged all the furniture, recycling bins, ladders, etc. off the porch, cleaned the floor and the tops of the walls, then scrubbed all the stuff on the lawn and hauled it back up. Noah provided music, including a rather startling remake of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” with a techno beat.

It wouldn’t be a porch clean if Noah didn’t spray North with the hose or pour a bucket of water over their head (with their consent, of course) so that happened, too. We don’t always put soap in the buckets of water but we did this year and now that the porch floor is painted pale green rather than a sort of cross between gray and olive green, this makes a big difference. I was impressed with how much cleaner it looked when we were done.

When the Tree Fell on the House

The next afternoon we were all doing our own thing. Noah had a temp job operating a boom for Mike, a local filmmaker who sometimes has work for him. Mike was filming a documentary and they were in a church recording someone giving a speech about climate change. Noah was filling in for a member of the crew who had covid. North was taking a nap. Beth was working on a financial aid form for Noah’s senior year. I was out on the newly clean porch reading The Picture of Dorian Gray and watching a thunderstorm roll in. It got dark, rain started to fall, unusually high winds kicked up, and then there was an extremely loud crash from somewhere behind the house. I had no idea what it was, but I went inside and Beth told me before I could see. I got an umbrella and went out to the back yard to investigate.

Because the tree was covering the roof, it was hard to see exactly where the damage was, but soon water was pouring in through the kitchen light fixture, and dripping down the wall and onto the stove, so over the kitchen was a safe guess. Fortunately, no other rooms in the house were affected. Beth sprang into action searching online for emergency roofers and making inquiries on the neighborhood listserv and I texted a friend whose house sustained roof damage during a hurricane many years ago to get recommendations from her. We couldn’t get anyone to come until the following morning so we put a bucket and a big metal mixing bowl surrounded by towels on the floor and pots on the stove. Beth and I worked around these receptacles as she made dinner and I did the dishes, the latter activity by the light of a camping lantern because the dome of the light fixture had filled with water and come crashing down to the floor, where it broke, and even though was still functioning, it was wet and it seemed unwise to use it.

It rained on and off through the evening and little overnight but the bucket and bowl did not overflow and Monday was sunny and mild. A crew from our usual tree service came in the morning to cut up and haul away the tree. At that point we could see that most of the damage to the roof was in the overhang, but there was a small hole visible, unsurprisingly, over the kitchen. A roofer came in the afternoon and applied a small tarp. Before he left, he explained his superior tarp-applying technique and told me there was no chance any water could get in before we had repairs made. So you know where this is going, right?

Tuesday was unseasonably chilly (like sweatshirt weather) and rainy. And sure enough, while it wasn’t cascading out of the ceiling any more, there was water slowly dripping out of the light fixture and down the wall over the stove again. The roofer came back, applied two more little tarps and this time did not make any guarantees. We were kind of appalled that even though he’d told us it would be the same price for a tarp no matter what the size, that he charged us triple that quoted price because there were three, when a big one could have covered the same area. Needless to say, we’ve decided to use a different roofer for the main repairs.

It didn’t rain again until Friday, but the new tarps kept it out. We couldn’t do anything else until the insurance adjusters came to assess the damage and that wouldn’t happen until Memorial Day, so there was an almost week-long lull in roof-related activity.     

After the Tree Fell on the House

On Thursday Noah took a bus to Silver Spring, had lunch at Panera, and saw a movie (Men). When he got back he said it was the first time he’d ever been to a movie theater by himself and I asked what it was like and he said pretty much the same but with no one else to pay. He’s been home two and a half weeks now and we’ve read a book (The Desolations of Devil’s Acre) and started another (The Magicians) and watched a season of a television series (The Wheel of Time) and started season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and he and Beth are watching that new Star Wars show and he’s watched a couple episodes of Dr. Who with North and he’s reading Game of Thrones and watching I don’t know what on his own. He has not been looking for a summer job, other than letting Mike know he’s available, because he still doesn’t know if he’s leaving for Australia in July or September, which he thinks would be relevant to potential employers and I guess he does have a point.

The reason he doesn’t know is he’s still waiting to hear if he’s been accepted to one of the two programs to which he applied. Inconveniently, it’s the one with the earlier start time (in Melbourne). In fact, he thinks if he doesn’t hear soon there won’t be time to apply for a student visa (you need an acceptance letter to do it) so he’s leaning toward the program to which he has been accepted (in Queensland).

North is looking for a job. They had an interview at local bakery and didn’t get the job but they’ve also applied to Giant, Panera, and Starbucks. Plus, they’re taking an two-week online drivers’ ed class that meets in the evenings so they’re busier than usual. Beth took them out to practice for the first time Sunday in a parking lot at the University of Maryland and it went well.

Saturday we went strawberry picking. When we set out, I didn’t realize how happy it would make me to be all together in the car, listening to Lady Gaga, going somewhere farther away than North’s school (which was the site of our last all-family outing when we saw the spring musical during Noah’s spring break). We didn’t even leave the county, but still, it felt like a tiny adventure.

North made sure to wear their strawberry crocs for this expedition and apparently a lot of people had the same idea. As soon as we arrived we saw a baby in a strawberry sleeper, and at least a half dozen little girls in strawberry t-shirts and dresses. (I had not realized strawberries on children’s clothing were so gendered.) North was so taken with the sleeper they resolved on the spot if they ever have children and they take them strawberry picking, they will buy them some strawberry-themed clothes for the occasion.

We’ve been to Butler’s to pick berries a couple times during the pandemic, but this was the first time they were running the wagons instead of having people drive out to the fields. We deliberated about masks. The wagons are open-sided and we generally don’t mask outside, but the benches can get crowded. Three out of four family opted to mask on the wagons and we were in the minority of riders, but not alone. North wore theirs in the field, too, but I think they may have just forgotten to take it off. (They’re so used to wearing one at school they sometimes leave it on for a while after they get off the bus.) We picked four quarts relatively quickly and stopped there because we didn’t want to pick more than we could eat before they spoiled.

Attracted by the smell of frying doughnuts, we visited the snack bar, where we got strawberry-frosted doughnuts, a cream-filled strawberry roll, a strawberry slushie and iced tea. (I had half the strawberry roll and it took my blood sugar right up to the limit of where I was willing to go.) We skipped the giant slide and the farm animals and headed for the farm market where we got produce, two tomato plants, local cheese, Amish pasta, and more treats. Then we drove home, listening to Taylor Swift. It was a highly satisfactory outing.

Two days later, Memorial Day, was a busy day. North went out for lunch to a diner in Silver Spring with three friends, Beth and Noah installed one of our two AC window units, Beth put tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplants in the ground, and I made our Memorial Day picnic, with some KP help from Noah. The traditional menu for this meal is carb-heavy—including potato salad, corn, watermelon, baked beans, and strawberry shortcake. I decided I’d just have smaller servings of everything and see how it went. We eat this same picnic three times a summer (also at the Fourth of July and Labor Day) so it was worth the experiment. I added a hard-boiled egg to the potato salad and made devilled eggs, and had two hot dogs with melted cheese, in hopes the protein and fat would balance out the carbs. It seemed to work, surprisingly well, actually.

I can usually make reliably good shortcake, but this year I used a new recipe and didn’t read it carefully enough and I failed to chill the dough and they came out more like cookies than biscuits. I was disappointed about this because if I was going to eat dessert after an already risky meal, I wanted it to be just right. But then as I was cooking other things “MacArthur Park” came on in my music and singing along loudly was more therapeutic than you’d think, even though the problem was not that someone left the shortcake out in the rain and no sweet green icing was running down. And no one refused to eat the cookie-like shortcake topped with strawberries, blueberries, and whipped cream, so I guess it wasn’t a disaster.

The other thing that happened that day was that the insurance adjusters came to inspect the damage to our roof. Xander quickly made friends with one of them, twining around her legs and gazing up at her. Either he really took a shine to her (he really has never met a person he didn’t like) or it was because while the four people were talking in the kitchen she was standing closest to the refrigerator where his cat treats are kept.

It will be a couple weeks before we hear back about how much money we’ll get and as the current tarps seem to be doing their job, we’re not in a hurry, so we’ll wait to see what they say before we hire roofers and painters. This will probably be a long process, because that’s what happens if a tree falls.

When Children Die

I wish I could end the post here, but it seems wrong to chatter on for over two thousand words about housekeeping, and home repairs, and a day trip, all of which happened during the week of our worst school shooting in almost a decade and not say something about it. But what is there to say that hasn’t already been said?

When the shooting in Newtown happened, North was in first grade, just like the victims. When the shooting in Parkland happened, Noah was in high school, just like the victims. And now my niece is elementary school, just a year younger than the fourth graders in Uvalde who lost their young, precious lives so senselessly. I can’t fathom the grief of their families and it makes me heartsick how little progress on sensible gun reform we seem to have made as a nation in past nine and half years.

But that’s not the same as giving up. I wrote a check to the Brady Center and we will probably be marching in the gun control march in DC the second weekend in June. Because that’s what happens when there’s a mass shooting big enough to startle us out of our complacency. But of course, these shootings are happening all the time, (fifteen shootings with at least four dead since Uvalde, in case the article is behind a paywall for you). I know a check and a day spent marching isn’t enough, but it’s what I’ve got.

Mothers’ Days: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 72

Mother’s Day

We have a bunch of family holidays in a row the first couple weeks of May, first Noah’s birthday, then Mother’s Day, then my birthday. (Well, that was the order this year. Sometimes my birthday is before or on Mother’s Day.) Just like Noah’s birthday, it was my first Mother’s Day and my first birthday without him since before he existed. Mother’s Day could have been sad, but it wasn’t. I think I’d burned through my emotion about being separated from him on these days earlier in the week.

Noah sent gifts and asked North to wrap them and he texted me and Beth his Mother’s Day greetings, so he did his filial duty. I did, too, calling my mom, and chatting for over an hour. We talked about her recent trip to Idaho for her sister’s funeral and her upcoming trip to Morocco. (I’d sent her a collection of single-serve bags of nuts, dried fruit, and other mostly healthy treats for the trip. She seemed pleased with them.)

For the most part it was a regular Sunday. Beth went grocery shopping in the morning and in the afternoon she and North attended a painting class they’re taking together. That week they were working on paintings of found objects and Beth’s painting was of a collection of objects she found while weeding our fence line, including a rubber bat from Halloween and a metal numeral seven from when we replaced our house numbers on the porch years ago. This is one of my favorites of all her artwork from this class.

While Beth and North were out of the house I read a big chunk of my book club book. For a book we’re only spending one meeting on, it’s on the long side and I didn’t start it as soon as I should have so I was glad to knock out ninety pages of it in one sitting. That would have been an almost unheard of luxury a decade ago.

It was mid-afternoon before the three of us were all awake and in the house and not hurrying to put groceries away (me) or leave the house (Beth and North) so that’s when Beth and I opened presents. From North I got a cord for my reading glasses, the kind you wear around your neck, the idea being maybe I won’t lose them so often. From Noah I got a book. I asked for it because although I thought I’d already read it, I don’t own it and now that the trilogy’s complete, I wanted to start fresh. (However, when I read the whole novella in one gulp the following evening, I realized I hadn’t read it after all.) Beth got a chocolate bar and lavender soap from North and an iPad case from Noah. The gifts were nice and it’s also nice that the kids mainly handle Mother’s Day gift buying on their own now, with a small nudge from each mom on behalf of the other.

After we opened gifts, I had a little nap. In what you may be recognizing by now as a motif, as I was getting into bed I was thinking how as a mother of younger kids I would either have to time this to coincide with child’s nap or co-ordinate with Beth, but now I can just lie down on a weekend afternoon when I want. (Well, I did time it so I wouldn’t miss any of my Fitbit’s hourly step goals, so maybe I’m not as free as I thought.)

Beth made dinner, which she often does on Mother’s Day because Sunday is her cooking night. That she should do this has never seemed quite right to me, but if we’d gotten takeout she probably would have paid, so it’s hard to fete her that way, especially since I cook four to five nights a week and don’t really want to take on an extra shift on Mother’s Day either. That’s one the tricky parts of Mother’s Day for lesbian moms. Anyway, she made a nice dinner, a spicy tomato soup with vegetarian chicken and watercress, served with aged Gouda, a Spanish cheese, and crackers she made from almond flour and homemade cashew flour and I did the dishes. After dinner, we watched an episode of Severance.

So much reflection on how different the holiday is now that the kids are grown or close to it, reminded me of this Mother’s Day blog post from 2009.  Here’s the most relevant paragraph:

I feel like we haven’t really gotten the hang of Mother’s Day despite eight years of practice. The first one we didn’t expect to celebrate as mothers because Noah arrived three weeks before his late May due date. We were so overwhelmed with new motherhood we agreed to just let the day go uncelebrated. There have been years when we went out for a meal or arranged to each give the other a scheduled break, time to read or leave the house unaccompanied or take an uninterrupted bath, but other years we just seem too busy to work it in. This year was like that. While my Facebook friends were posting upbeat Mother’s Day messages I posted a cranky one about how lesbian moms and straight single moms should be issued a “Dad for the Day” to co-ordinate a day of rest for them.

After that outburst on my part Beth gave me a day off for my birthday, right after Mother’s Day. I guess she saw the writing on the wall and realized I needed it. I was a stay-at-home mom with one in elementary school and one in preschool then, so it was much appreciated.

Birthday

Back in the present, I turned fifty-five three days after Mother’s Day. Beth was going to be out of town for most of the day because she was driving up to Ithaca on a four-day trip to get Noah. His advanced cinema production class was having a showcase on Thursday and if she showed up earlier than she’d originally planned, she’d have the opportunity to see it. She was hesitant about leaving me on my birthday, and Noah was apologetic about it too, but I told her to go, we didn’t want North to miss three days of school so someone needed to stay and there was no point in both of us missing the showcase. Plus if she went I might have some idea how it went, whereas if she didn’t, Noah would probably tell me it was “good” or “fine.”

Beth was staying home until lunchtime so she could work a half day and we decided to have breakfast out at Takoma Beverage Company. Before we ate I opened my presents from her, the second two books in the Cairo Trilogy (we recently read the first one in my book club). I had a latte and poached eggs, but I also splurged on a waffle with sweetened, lemon-infused whipped cream, fresh berries and blueberry compote, and maple syrup. It was like a diabetic fever dream. I almost didn’t check my sensor until after the data for that meal expired, but I faced the music and it wasn’t bad at all, probably because between walking home from the restaurant and working in the yard I was on my feet for almost two and a half hours straight after breakfast. (Also, in addition to the protein I paired it with at the restaurant, I had vegetarian sausage before we left home as an extra precaution.)

Anyway, what I was doing in the yard was planting daffodil bulbs, which I realize you’re supposed to do in the fall, but I had bucket full of them a neighbor had discarded with the greens still attached, and presumably still photosynthesizing, plus more Beth dug up from our back yard a year ago and I’d forgotten to relocate in the fall and might forget again if I didn’t get them in the ground now. I’m not sure how many of the ones that were out of the ground for so long are still alive, but almost half of them put out little exploratory leaves this spring even with no roots in the ground, so I think some of them should flower next year. I made a nice long row of them along the front and side fence, over the course of three days.

After lunch Beth hit the road and I did a little work on web copy for a greens powder and a sugar-free dark chocolate bar. Then I read a few chapters of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I’d started reading before all my birthday books arrived because North is reading it for their English class and that put me in the mood for it. In my birthday stack I now had the books Beth gave me and two more my mother sent—Piranesi and Sometimes You Have to Lie, which is a biography of Louise Fitzhugh, author of Harriet the Spy.

When North got home from school, I opened their present, a jar of hazelnut-pistachio butter. I’d asked for interesting nut butters and I think that qualifies. I also opened Noah’s gift, which he’d entrusted to North. It was Gwendy’s Magic Feather, the sequel to the book he’d gotten me for Mother’s Day, which I’d already finished. North and I split a slice of lemon cake I’d picked up at the co-op because even though I wasn’t having my official birthday cake until Noah got home, I wanted a little cake on the actual day, too. That ended up having a bigger impact that the waffle, but it was a special occasion.

Noah texted me a little after six to tell me he’d finished his last assignment for the semester. Over the space of two days he’d taken an exam, given two oral presentations, and finished his film. Now all he had to do was attend the film showcase on Thursday, go to his last IT work shift on Friday, and pack up his apartment before hitting the road with Beth on Saturday. His text made his return seem closer.

A few days earlier North had volunteered to make dinner on my birthday, even though it wasn’t their night to cook, and asked what I wanted. What I really wanted was fettucine alfredo, but I thought about it and decided the sauce would be good enough, so I had a vegetarian chicken cutlet with homemade alfredo sauce and roasted asparagus. (North made pasta and broccoli for their own meal because they don’t care for asparagus. When it was time to eat they stuck a candle in the cutlet and lit it.)

My sister and niece called after dinner to sing me “Happy Birthday” and when the dishes were done, North and I watched the first half of The Omen. Watching a horror movie was their idea, but they let me choose, so I continue to expose them to the horror of my youth, not that I watched The Omen in 1976, as I was only nine then, but it’s set in a time I remember. Perhaps we’ll work our way up to The Exorcist.

Mother and Child Reunion

Beth and Noah arrived home three days later. In the interim, North and I finished The Omen on Thursday and went to see a presentation of four student-directed one acts at their school on Friday because several of their friends were acting in them. This event was originally scheduled for January, but after-school activities were cancelled because of omicron for a while and even though they resumed months ago for some reason it only got rescheduled last week.

The plays were for the most part impressively well written and well-acted. Because two of North’s preschool classmates go to their school (after attending different elementary and middle schools) and are active in theater, I was able to chat with some parents I hadn’t seen in quite a while. Afterward, North and I went out for pizza and ate it al fresco. It was a fun outing.

I was just starting to make dinner the next evening when Beth and Noah pulled into the driveway. I saw the car from the kitchen window and met them in the driveway. Even though Noah’s not tall, he is for our family, in which everyone else ranges from five one to five four, so I often think he’s grown when I first see him after a couple months apart. Or maybe it’s just his new maturity. After all, when I last saw him, he was only twenty.

We unloaded the car and he asked if he should help cook because it was Saturday and that’s his cooking night when he’s home. Never one to turn down help, I said sure. I was making an egg and asparagus salad because he’s fond of asparagus if not egg (I left it out of his helping and gave him some tofu cubes instead) and we served it with the sunflower seed-studded sourdough rye bread we got at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, which had been in the freezer waiting for his return since last month because good bread is one of his favorite things to eat.

After dinner we watched his film. North and Zoë, who was sleeping over, wandered into the living room in the middle so we started it over. It was very professionally done. I noticed the actors looked a little older than college age. It turned out he never did find any Ithaca students and he hired two local actors. His crew consisted of his friend Gabriel, who also wrote the script, and a few volunteers from his film class. (He returned the favor, serving on their crews.) Beth told me that the difference between the better films and the rest was mostly in lighting and sound quality and also that the professor, who was very taciturn, praised his film and no one else’s. Of course, he’s not completely satisfied with it, and he wishes he’d had time to add some music, but overall I think he’s pleased with the final product. I’m glad it all worked out and he didn’t have to withdraw from the class. To wrap up the evening we started season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am hoping to finish at least one season before he leaves for Australia. (We don’t actually know when he’s leaving as one program he’s considering starts in July and the other in September.)

Today Noah continued to consume media with different members of the family. He watched an episode of Dr. Who with North after Zoë left and then he and I started a new book (The Desolations of Devil’s Acre, last book in the Miss Peregrine series) and a new television series (The Wheel of Time). We had our shared birthday cake after dinner. The weekend was too busy for baking, so we had a bakery cake, chocolate with cookies-and-cream frosting.

Our May celebrations of birth and motherhood are officially over, but it doesn’t feel like it because now what we’re celebrating is having everyone under one roof for a spell. Plus, we still have leftover cake.