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.

Oregon Equinox

Two days ago, I got back from a week in Oregon, where I was staying at my mom’s house as she recovered from knee surgery. While I was gone, North had their own medical adventure.

Friday: Arrival

The alarm went off at 5:30 so I could catch an 8:30 flight. Medford is small airport, so it always takes two or three flights to get there. I was lucky to only have one layover, in Denver. As I mentioned earlier it was my first flight since covid. The last time was in February 2019, when Noah and I flew to Boston to tour Boston University.

The flights were uneventful. The most notable thing about the first one was that there was a passenger dressed as a jester, complete with the stick with ribbons on it (but no hat) and the most notable thing about the second flight was that I spilled half a can of seltzer all over myself. I also managed to read about a third of Stephen King’s latest, Fairy Tale, which was a nice way to pass the time. There was a tight connection between the two flights, but I made it and arrived in Medford early in the afternoon local time.

My sister Sara, who had been looking after my mom the previous week, picked me up at the airport and took me on a series of errands. We went to Home Depot for mulch because, though she lives in Davis, California now, she and her husband haven’t sold their Ashland house yet, and they’re trying to keep the property looking spruced up. We spread the mulch and she got the sprinklers watering the lawn and fruit trees and then we tried to go to Trader Joe’s, but it was closed because of a power outage.

We went to Mom’s house and socialized for a while. Sara had more errands to do and while she was gone, I took an hour-and-fifteen-minute nap—I’d been up since what would have been 2:30 a.m. in Oregon and I was exhausted. I woke around seven and I could have easily gone back to sleep for the night, but I needed to adjust to Pacific time, plus Sara had made pizza from a kit, so I got up and had dinner with Mom and Sara.

Starting when I was in my early teens, Mom, Sara, and I had pizza every Friday night. My mom was a single working mom, and she was in grad school to boot so she was busy. I’m surprised we didn’t eat takeout more than once a week honestly. The Friday night pizza tradition lived on after my mom married my stepfather and then in my adult family, but it’s been a long, long time (maybe almost forty years?) since it was just me, my sister, and my mother around the table eating pizza on a Friday night. It was nice, like old times, except completely different.

Sara showed me how to help Mom with her PT exercises and how to massage her leg and where things were in the house and then they watched a movie, but they started it at 9:30, and I was considering it an accomplishment to stay awake until ten, so I had a shower and went to bed.

Weekend: Settling In

The next morning, I woke a little after five, which was earlier than I would have liked, but not surprising. I stayed in bed until almost eight, first trying to get back to sleep, then looking at Facebook and blogs and texting with Noah. He’d sent me two dozen pictures he took at a wildlife sanctuary he’d visited with Ida, the other boarder at his house, and some of her friends. There were koalas, kangaroos, capybaras, an ostrich, a lemur, a red panda, a Komodo dragon, a crocodile, and other animals, and the photos were gorgeous. It made me happy he’s getting out and doing things besides going to class and hanging out at his house because he tends to be a homebody.

Sara got up around eight and once we’d both eaten breakfast and talked some she went grocery shopping for me and Mom before heading back to Davis. I went for a walk and got a latte and a small chocolate cookie from a nearby coffeeshop and picked up some things Mom needed from the drug store all the while admiring the mountains that ring Ashland. There’s one arid ridge and one covered with evergreen trees. I knew there were wild blackberry canes all over Ashland from previous visits, but I was surprised to learn they’re still producing edible (and quite tasty) berries in mid-September. I sampled them all week during my rambles.

Over the course of the day, I helped Mom with her exercises twice, massaged her leg, folded laundry, swept the leaves off her porch and driveway, and walked with her to her mailbox (which is in a bank of them a short block from her house). She also folded some laundry and said with satisfaction, “We’re getting things done today.”

It rained a little in the afternoon, which is not so common in Ashland until the fall, but it was almost fall. The equinox was my second to last day there. Fall did seem closer in Ashland than at home anyway. It was cool enough for long sleeves most days and a few vanguard trees were already turning red or orange. Mom and I settled down with our books in the living room and read while the dryer hummed, and rain ran down the windows that look out on her back patio. It was very cozy, and she even dozed in her chair for a bit.

I made chili for dinner, and we watched State of Play, which was the movie Mom and Sara had started but not finished the night before while I was in bed. (Mom wanted to see how it ended so we started it over from the beginning.) It’s a twisty journalistic thriller, good but not great. Because it takes place in D.C. I was occasionally forced to say things like “No one calls it the subway, it’s the Metro.”

Sunday was similar. I did little chores around the house, read, and took a longer walk. I wandered through a cemetery, walked along the railroad tracks, saw a community garden, and ended up near the same coffeehouse where I’d been the day before. This time I got chocolate ice cream with slivered almonds and whipped cream. I made a cream of mushroom soup and salad for dinner, and we watched the first episode of Ken Burns’ The U.S. and the Holocaust. I so seldom watch broadcast tv it felt strange to have to be ready at a specific time. Mom had been experimenting with different levels and timing of her painkillers, trying to balance pain relief and side effects, but as a result of skimping on it, she had some pretty bad pain that evening.

Monday to Thursday: A New Routine

Monday was the first morning I managed to sleep until a time that started with 6, which correlated to feeling rested for the first time, and that was convenient as I started working that day. There was no reason not to, as I had my laptop, a little office with a door that closes (which is more than I have at home) and enough time. Sara left an extra monitor for me, but I found I missed having a mouse. It also would have been nice to be able to figure out how to get my laptop to communicate with Mom’s printer because I am the sort of old school person who likes reading things on paper and marking them up with a pencil.

Monday morning while I was out on an errand to drop off an application for a handicapped parking permit at the DMV (a failed mission, as it turns out that location is closed due to staffing shortages), Mom went for twenty-five-minute walk with her walker alone. One the one hand, I was encouraged she was able to do it, but on the other I wished she’d waited for me to come home so I could accompany her, just in case.

Mom had a physical therapy appointment that day and the good news was her pain and mobility were improving and the swelling in her leg was completely gone. The bad news was she and the therapist thought she wasn’t getting enough flexion in her knee and that scar tissue might be the culprit. They decided to reduce the frequency of PT appointments until she can get a doctor’s opinion about whether she needs a manipulation (or worse, more surgery) so as to save some of the appointments her insurance covers for after further treatment, if needed.

That night I made a stir-fry for dinner, and we watched a PBS show called Animals with Cameras, which is just what it sounds like. We saw footage from cameras mounted on cheetahs’ heads, seals’ backs, and baboons’ necks. The point is to learn something about the animals’ behavior, sometimes just for the sake of science, but sometimes to learn how to possibly alter it (as with baboons who raid farmers’ squash fields and who are in danger of being shot if the scientists can’t get them to stop).

The days rolled on. I worked two or three hours a day and took walks, short ones with Mom, and longer ones alone. I got coffee or tea most days, sometimes at the coffeehouse, once at a Dutch Brothers kiosk in a parking lot because I understand that’s a quintessential Oregon experience, and sometimes at a Starbucks inside a supermarket because it was the closest coffee-selling establishment to Mom’s house. I made a homemade tomato sauce with garden tomatoes a neighbor brought by to eat on whole-wheat spaghetti Tuesday, burgers with side dish of cauliflower, broccoli and carrots with cheese sauce on Wednesday, and a curried zucchini soup Thursday night. We finished watching the Holocaust documentary series and watched some more Animals with Cameras. Whenever Mom introduced me to anyone (a friend from Peace Choir who came by, a neighbor we encountered on a walk, her housecleaner) she told the person I was her daughter who came “all the way from Maryland” to stay with her. She raved about my cooking, even though it seemed pretty run of the mill to me.

By the end of the week, Mom was walking much better, not using her walker at all and only using her cane on walks outside the house, but she was still concerned that if she did need a manipulation, it would set her recovery back.

Meanwhile, At Home

Things were more eventful… Beth and North got the new covid booster on Saturday, the day after I left, and North was tired and achy for days afterward. On Saturday they made a plum pie for the Takoma Park farmers’ market annual pie contest (held for the first time since covid), but by the next day they were feeling too unwell to attend, so Beth delivered it for them. It didn’t win but it was delicious—Beth bought and froze a slice for me so I could have it when I got home. North missed school Monday and Tuesday, mostly because of lower back pain. Then late Tuesday afternoon, North lost the ability to urinate.

If you’ve been reading this blog at least two years, you probably remember this affliction. We still have catheter supplies, but they had expired, I suppose because they can’t guarantee sterility beyond a certain point. Beth and North went to the emergency room, where they had an excruciatingly long wait to be seen. They had an ultrasound in the evening and an MRI the following morning to rule out physical causes. As expected, there was nothing. They arrived in the late afternoon, and it was the middle of the night before anyone would use a catheter to empty North’s bladder so they were quite uncomfortable.

Both Beth and North brought phone chargers to the hospital because this was not their first rodeo in the ER. At first, they couldn’t find an outlet but then North did so I was able to communicate with them throughout the evening and the next day. I felt a little guilty going to bed that night when I knew Beth was likely going to be up all night in the ER (and she was) but not as much as I would have in the past. We learned two years ago how to spell each other by taking turns on hospital nights and while I expected and hoped North would be at home when I got home three days later, I knew there was a small but non-zero chance that I’d be taking a turn sleeping (or not sleeping) in their hospital room at some point.

What I didn’t expect was that Beth and North would be in the ER, not admitted, from Tuesday afternoon until the wee hours of Thursday morning. Apparently, one of the doctors thought they could not be sent home with catheter supplies without retraining both Beth and North on the procedure and this could not happen unless they were admitted. And they could not be admitted because the hospital was over capacity. By the second night, I was starting to feel guilty I wasn’t there. North managed to get several hours sleep here and there but Beth didn’t sleep for forty-three hours, when they were finally trained (without being admitted after all) and sent home with supplies.

North slept most of Thursday and stayed home Friday as well. Beth made arrangements with the school for them to be able to use the nurse’s bathroom when they return next week.

Friday was North’s half-birthday. We always celebrate the kids’ half-birthday with cupcakes, and this year was no exception. Early in the week I asked North to save me one and they said I had to eat one on the right day, so I got an almond flour cupcake with rose frosting from the natural foods store near Mom’s house and sent North a picture of it, as proof I’d honored the day that they tipped closer to seventeen than sixteen. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that their birthdays and half-birthdays occur on or near the equinoxes as the Earth is making a similar transition.

Thursday to Friday: Departure

Thursday evening Sara returned to Ashland, with Dave and Lily-Mei. They were all attending a wedding on Saturday, so they were staying the weekend with Mom (who was also going). Sara drove me to the airport Friday morning. My flight was delayed by twenty minutes, then forty minutes, and finally an hour and twenty minutes, which was concerning because my layover in Denver was exactly that long.

There was plenty of time to observe my fellow travelers before we boarded the plane. I think the prize for most interesting went to the young man wearing a graphic t-shirt with a plague mask (but no mask for our current plague), a necklace with a plastic bird skull, leather bracelets with hardware, and knee-high leather boots with a spider design embossed on them. He was painting with watercolors in a tiny leather-bound book.

I had a window seat and the flight from Medford to Denver was beautiful, with many mountains and canyons. I didn’t read at all and just looked at the landscape unfold beneath me. As the plane approached Denver and then as we sat on the tarmac waiting for an open gate, various passengers with tight connections commiserated about their chances of making their flights. Mine was scheduled to take off about ten minutes after my seatmate’s, so I don’t know if she made her flight to Wisconsin, but I did make mine to Baltimore, even after getting turned around in the airport and having to figure out how to take a train from one concourse to another.

I wasn’t the only passenger with a late flight (or even the last one to arrive) and they held the plane for us. I got to the gate about ten or fifteen minutes after the plane was supposed to have taken off. Then there was a lot of confusion about seat assignments, with someone in my assigned seat and someone else in the next seat the flight attendant thought should be empty. I ended up seated between a woman in a Mennonite-style prayer cap and a man in a ball cap who was cursing and loudly protesting the delays and who later tried to order more than one alcoholic drink (you can only have one). Once the plane took off, he was calm and friendly, but I was nervous about him for a while.

We ended up sitting on the ground for an hour after I was seated because another passenger had to be removed from the plane under mysterious circumstances. Rumor was spreading through the plane that he was on the wrong plane—but how could that even happen? At any rate, he wasn’t belligerent, but he did appear impaired in some way, possibly sick, drunk, or on drugs. I saw him while the flight attendant was taking me all over the plane trying to find a seat for me and his seatmate piped up that she thought he was in the wrong seat. Another mystery—why would you even look at anyone else’s boarding pass—but she said she had.

But the happy ending was my second plane landed around 11:45 p.m. in Baltimore, only about thirty-five minutes late, and even though she was still dragging from having missed a whole night of sleep a few days earlier and I told her I could take a Lyft home, Beth was there to pick me up. Our family may have been scattered between Australia, Oregon, and Maryland on the day the light and dark were equal but being with Beth always helps me feel balanced.

Finales: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 75

The Last Day of School

North’s last day of school was a week ago Friday. When they came home I asked how the last day of tenth grade was and they said three out of their seven teachers brought either doughnuts or doughnut holes. I guess it was that kind of year, meriting more than the customary amount of treats.

When Noah came home for the summer, I almost wrote about how happy I was he had a whole school year of in-person classes uninterrupted by covid (except for one week of online classes in January). But North had more than a month of school left at that point, and I didn’t want to jinx them. So I’ll say it now. I’m glad both kids were in school all year. I’m glad Noah played in a band, joined the drone club, and had an on-campus IT job. I’m glad North served as costumes manager in two school plays, was active in the GSA, took a rec center painting class, made some new friends, is learning to drive, and is looking for a summer job. That’s a lot in the positive column for this year.

Re-entry had its bumps, though. Starting sometime during the second quarter, North started missing a lot of school and it continued through the end of the year. They were sick several times in the winter and spring, once, in April, very sick with a high fever. That last time was probably due to the school going mask-optional in March. I guess their immune system needed to recalibrate to being around everyone’s germs. Other days they were fatigued or had joint pain.

But mostly it was migraines. The pattern their migraines had followed since they were a small child has changed. Instead of almost always occurring in the late afternoon or early evening in the fall, winter, or early spring, and generally on days when there was a big drop in temperature, now they often come in the early morning—North wakes with them—and they seem unrelated to weather. The upshot of all this was that on average they missed school about one day a week from December through June. Sometimes they would recover and go to school for part of the day, but more often they didn’t.

They were conscientious about making up work and their grades didn’t suffer in most of their classes, but as a former teacher I know how much that’s intangible but still valuable goes on in the classroom. That’s why the mostly remote year was so awful for many students and teachers, North included. I’m hoping we can find a solution that has them in less pain (this would be ideal, of course) or that they can find better ways of coping with pain so they can be in the classroom more often during their junior year.

We had pizza from North’s favorite pizza place on Friday night, at their request. We also watched a movie of their choice (Athlete A), though that was a coincidence. It was what got drawn from the hat (well, bicycle helmet) that night.

The First Week of Summer Break

Saturday afternoon, Beth took North out to practice driving and they drove on a road for the first time. Up to now, they’d been driving in parking lots at the University of Maryland, which are fairly empty because school is not in session. They seemed pleased with how it went.

Sunday afternoon they went to the Museum of Natural History with Sol and saw “mummies and rocks and insects.” While they were looking at natural (and cultural) things there, Beth and I communed with nature another way, by kayaking at Black Hills Regional Park. Beth’s been kayaking a few times this year already—the season starts in May—but it was my first time since last year. We saw a Great Blue Heron, several turtles, a cormorant,  and a big flock of geese. It was windy and in places the water was choppy and paddling was challenging, but we had a good time. The weather was lovely, sunny and in the seventies.

While we were gone, my mom called and left a message letting us know she had covid. She only found out because she was over at my sister’s house helping her pack for my sister’s family’s upcoming move and she casually mentioned that she wasn’t tasting things as well as usual and my sister immediately fetched a covid test she had on hand and sure enough it was positive.

My mom says she felt fine, but was isolating when we spoke. She just got back from a trip to Morocco and she’s not sure if she got it there or at home, but she had to test to get on the plane home and that test was negative. Maybe she got it on the flight or she had it before she flew but it was too soon to show up on the test. I’m glad her vaccines and booster did their job and kept her safe from serious illness, even though she caught it.

Monday was the first day of North’s drama camp, but it was a half-day camp and Beth had the day off because Juneteenth is a federal holiday now, so we planned an afternoon excursion to Fort Smallwood Park in Anne Arundel County where the Patapsco River meets the Chesapeake Bay. My goal for this excursion was to make both kids happy, which would mean going somewhere you can swim and fly a drone (this last condition means you have to be at least fifteen miles from DC and not in a Maryland state park).

When North got home from camp they were tired and wanted to rest a bit before we left, so it was almost 2:15 by the time we left. We arrived a little after three and set up our towels on the beach before wading into the water. It was sunny and around eighty degrees, just about a perfect day.

There were rocks piled up to delineate a pool, which was crowded with kids, but there was an opening in the wall so you could go out farther than that and we did. The water was about chest-high at its deepest, brackish, and cool but not cold. For a while the kids were out deeper than we were, and when Beth and I approached them, Noah said, “We think this outing should involve ice cream,” and it wasn’t the kind of day we wanted to say no, so we said yes, even though I had reservations about ice cream in the late afternoon, mostly for myself.

Noah got out of the water to fly while the rest of us continued to soak in the salty water. North and I talked about drama camp and they said “Finale” was their favorite song. After drying out on the sand for a while, we piled into the car and went in search of frozen treats. We stopped at Rita’s and I decided to try a child-sized chocolate frozen custard. I happened to have peanuts in my bag, so I piled them on top, in an attempt to add some balancing protein to my dessert. (It seemed to work. I didn’t go out of range, even though we had a late dinner just a couple hours later.) Overall, I think the expedition was  a success.

Tuesday evening we watched Pippin because we wanted to familiarize ourselves with the plot. The performance would be five songs and some connecting dialogue so it seemed like we’d follow it better if we watched the whole thing ahead of time. There is no feature film version, but Noah found a filmed stage performance from 1981, nine years after it premiered on Broadway. (Allison, it was filmed in Hamilton, Ontario, which made me think of you and Eve.) During all the sexy bits—and there was a surprising number of them—North would inform us, “We’re not doing that part.”

After it was over, Beth said, “That was very 1972” and it was. It kind of reminded me of Godspell stylistically, but with a plot and more sex and less religion and set in the Middle Ages. Did that even make sense? Maybe it was like more Hair, with a similar amount of anti-war sentiment and dancing and sex, but set in the Middle Ages.

Anyway, I was a little surprised North liked “Finale” best because it wasn’t their biggest number. They had a much longer solo in “Extraordinary.” They were playing Pippin. They found out several days before camp started, in an email from Gretchen, the director, saying rather than having auditions on the first day as she usually does, she’d cast three of the parts ahead of time (most of the non-ensemble parts) and given them to the three oldest campers, who are all rising eleventh graders. It turns out there was a big age gap between those three and the rest of the campers who were all in middle school. I guess having worked with the three older kids for many years—one is her own daughter—Gretchen figured she already knew what she needed to know to cast them.

Wednesday and Thursday rain was forecast, which is a concern because the camp is held outdoors in a park near Gretchen’s house. In an email Tuesday night she said in case of rain they’d work under the gazebo, perhaps focusing on making costumes and props, and in case of severe weather, they’d retreat to her porch or go inside her house (with masks). It did rain Wednesday, but not until after camp had dismissed for the day. Thursday it was already drizzling when Beth drove North to camp. It rained most of the morning and North said they spent the majority of their time sitting under the gazebo, “sewing and singing.” I said that sounded very wholesome, like a quilting bee.

Friday was performance day. Noah and arrived at the park a little early so that he could set up his tripod and camera before the audience arrived. While he did that, I watched the actors rehearse “Finale.” Parents and friends started drifting into the park. Beth came with our camping chairs. I spotted Zoë and A.J. (another friend of North and Zoë’s) on the grass.

The show started promptly. It was maybe a third of the play, but it hung together pretty well, I think, in terms of plot continuity. It was nice to see North act and sing because I hadn’t seen that since last summer’s drama camp and this was a more substantial part than they’ve had in several years. I was also glad they had a scene with Grace, who was playing Catherine, because I think they have good chemistry on stage, maybe because they’ve been acting together at least once a year since they were three years old and in a preschool drama class.

Anyway, here are two of North’s big numbers, “Corner of the Sky” and “Extraordinary,” with Grace and North’s scene in leading into the second song. Elia, who played Leading Player (the one in the top hat), is also a drama camp old-timer. If you can make out an adult voice in “Corner of the Sky,” that’s Gretchen standing behind the audience and singing. I liked the effect of voices coming from more than one direction. Also, the girl in the sparkly silver outfit with braids reminded me a lot of North when they were younger. (In the opening, not included, she did cartwheels across the stage.)

Pre-covid, there was often a cast party at our local pizzeria, but we hadn’t heard anything about it until the middle of the rehearsal when North texted me about whether I wanted to go and I said yes and then almost immediately afterward, North texted back to say it wasn’t happening, so I packed a picnic, which is what Gretchen had suggested in an email to all the parents and what has happened the past couple years, but it turned out I was the only one to bring food. Most of the actors just left when it was over, but I asked North if they wanted to eat, since I had food and they said yes, so Beth and Noah went home, and North and I stayed and ate yogurt and leftover quesadilla, and shared our cucumbers, strawberries, and grapes with Elia, Zoë, A.J., and Liliana, Zoë’s girlfriend who’d turned up to meet Zoë after the show was over. When people were done eating, I left the teens to hang out in the park for a couple hours, and headed home.

On my way out of the park, I chatted with Gretchen, who was picking up props and costumes and she said she thought this would be the last year for the older kids and she’d just do her younger kids’ camp next year. She has said this the past three years running but I think this year I believe it because so many of the kids who did this camp year after year didn’t this summer and the fact that there wasn’t a cast party or a group picnic afterward made it seem like a certain amount of esprit de corp has gone out of it. So it was all a little bittersweet, but I think overall North enjoyed it and I’m glad they did it one last time.

Second Weekend of Summer Break

Saturday we went to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for the first time in several years. It had been cancelled the past two years and we’d missed it the year before, so it had been at least four years since we’ve gone. I always have the same three goals for this experience: I like to listen to music, preferably from another culture; I like to eat interesting food; and I like to get a picture that includes the kids in front of the Washington Monument. We fulfilled all three goals.

The themes this year were the culture of the United Arab Emirates and “Earth Optimism.” We stopped at the first music stage we encountered and listened to NOON, a three-piece band from Dubai, consisting of musicians playing the oud (which looks like a mandolin), electric bass, and drums, with “echoes of funk, African and Indian rhythms, and the improvisatory impulses of jazz.” I liked it.

After that we wandered through some of the exhibits, we saw baskets and fishing nets from the UAE and a hooded falcon, and learned about bird-friendly coffee in the Earth Optimism area. (It’s grown in a way that doesn’t impact bird habitat.) I have to say nothing in the Earth Optimism area actually made me feel that optimistic, but that’s a high bar, with the climate crisis being what it is.

Next we got our Washington Monument pictures, and food. The kids got pizza and fries and we all shared a mushroom and cheese sandwich, eggplant in tomato sauce, a salad, and some basil limeade. It was all very good.

While North rested, Beth, Noah, and I went to browse the Marketplace where Beth bought some Middle Eastern and eco-friendly chocolate bars, and I got a little something for my Mom’s birthday. (Hint to Mom: it was from the Earth Optimism area.) After that, we got dessert, rosewater soft serve for North and gelato for everyone else. Beth and I split an Arabian coffee gelato. It was a fun afternoon.

Sunday Beth and I went to the Farmers’ market, where in addition to our normal shopping we picked up some more plants for my herb garden (cilantro, dill, parsley, and rosemary), and we went to the rain-delayed Takoma Pride festival. It was a small affair, just a few tables, but one of them was for the Rainbow Club at two local elementary schools (one of which is a K-2 school) and I wondered—are kids in that club already out or supporting parents and siblings? Both, I guess. You can definitely say gay in Montgomery County public schools.

Then we saw a children’s pride parade and it was very cute and cheering, and I could use a little cheering because with the fall of Roe v. Wade and the really horrifying reasoning of the opinion, it’s hard not to worry about the future of gay marriage in the United States. I don’t think Maryland will go back, but it does seem possible gay marriages could at least potentially be dissolved on the federal level and then we’d be considered married for some purposes and not for others, just like we were for half of 2013, until DOMA was overruled. And while we’ve had a lot of finales in the past couple weeks, such as the end of a challenging school year and a beloved summer camp, I hope the end of marriage equality is not on the horizon.

Between the Breaks: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 69

There was a three-week stretch between the end of Noah’s spring break and the beginning of North’s. The first week you’ve read about already—that was the week of North’s birthday and closing night of their show.

North came down with some kind of virus the middle of the second week and missed four days of school—the last two days of the third quarter and the first two days of the fourth quarter. They took a rapid covid test at home the first day they felt sick and it was negative. The next day we all went to the Silver Spring Civic Center for PCR tests. Beth’s and North’s came back negative and mine must have fallen through the cracks because I never heard back. I wasn’t particularly worried once we got North’s negative results, though, because they’re the one who comes into contact with the most people, so I didn’t pursue it. I’d had a sore throat and some congestion around the time North got sick but it never got more serious than that and Beth wasn’t sick at all. (Two days after we were tested Beth and I got our second booster shots.)

At the worst of it, last weekend, North had quite a high fever—it got up to 103.3 and they were pretty miserable with chills. They slept a lot, occasionally emerging from their room to eat or watch television. It’s always sad to see your child lethargic like that. On Sunday afternoon we cuddled on the couch and watched The Shining together. North said it wasn’t as scary as It. We’ve been on a horror movie jag and we watched both installments of that one recently.

In addition to the fact of their being sick, the timing of North’s illness worried me because I was afraid they’d miss end-of-the-quarter assignments and not be able to make them up. But they went back to school on Wednesday and they say they’re on top of everything. They came home from school pretty happy because they got a 98% on a five-page persuasive essay arguing against abstinence-only sex education that was their biggest third quarter assignment in English and the teacher asked for a copy to use as a sample for future classes. By Thursday they were well enough to stay after school and organize and put costumes from the play into storage, to come home long enough to make a pan of brownies for Zoë’s birthday, and to go her house for dinner and a movie. They’re having another friend over tomorrow to bake and watch a movie, so even though they’ve still got a lingering cough, I think they are almost recovered.

At the same time Noah was going through his own rough patch. He’s making a film for his advanced cinema production class and he’s been having trouble finding actors and a crew. Approaching people for this kind of thing isn’t his strong suit and after several people who auditioned either backed out or ghosted him he got so frustrated he was on the verge of withdrawing from the class. I felt sad for him as he’d been really looking forward to taking it and it’s ended up being very stressful for him. So I was proud of him when he texted me to let me know he’d talked about his problem in class and people volunteered for his crew. He still has no actors and he doesn’t have all the crew members he needs, but as of Friday he was saying he was going to stick with it. I volunteered to post a message to the IC parents’ Facebook page and he agreed and parents started responding right away. I posted last night and by this morning I’d sent his recruitment form to fourteen parents who expressed interest on behalf of their kids. We’ll see if that translates to some of those students contacting him and choosing to participate.

Through all this, I tried to mother both kids through food. I found a recipe for vegetable-chick pea soup with ginger and turmeric that claimed to be “the very essence of healing goodness” and made it for dinner on Monday night, by which point North had been sick for five days. They were actually already on the upswing by this point, though it would be a couple more days before they went back to school, so maybe the soup exerted some small effect. Meanwhile, I decided to send Noah a planned care package of Easter candy a little early, in hopes that a chocolate-hazelnut bunny, peanut butter eggs, mini eggs, and jelly beans would be cheering. I did not mail it in an Easter basket, for reasons of space, but I did pack the box with Easter grass. Noah was home last Easter and the one before because of covid so this was his first Easter-in-a-box from me. If he wants Easter eggs, I guess he’ll have to dye them himself as I don’t think they’d ship well.

While I was fretting about my sick and discouraged children, I also had two little mourning dove chicks on my mind. Every spring (and once in the fall) for the past several years we’ve had nesting birds on our porch and this year is no exception. This would be a joyful thing, but more often than not the babies never fledge because either the eggs don’t hatch or they do and the chicks are killed by predators. I don’t even know what kills them. According to the internet, it could be birds of prey, snakes, cats, dogs, or squirrels. Considering the nest is on a ledge near the ceiling of the porch and the column it tops is pretty smooth, I think it would have to be something that can fly (bird), jump (cat, squirrel) or reach the ledge from the porch wall (large dog). I (almost) never see any of these animals in my yard except squirrels, so that’s my best guess. I didn’t even know squirrels were omnivores.

The eggs did hatch this year and four days after I first caught of a glimpse of two babies being fed by a parent, I started seeing them unattended in the nest for short periods, and of course whenever I saw that, I’d worry for them. I kept counting the days since I first saw them and hoping they’d get bigger and fly away before something bad befell them. Several more days went by and I noticed the chicks, especially one, had grown quite a bit and the bigger one was starting to walk around the ledge and half-open its wings, which made me think it might be ready to fledge soon. (That’s a young bird, not a parent in the picture. The other one is obscured behind it.) Fingers crossed for a happy outcome.

So to sum up, North is mostly recovered and Noah has some leads and the chicks are still alive. Things could be worse.

Sixteen So Far: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 68

Pre-Birthday: Opening Night

“How was opening night?” I asked when Beth brought North home two Thursdays ago, a little before 10:30.

“Good,” they said.

“Was it a good audience?”

“I don’t know,” North said. I knew they’d been backstage helping with costume changes and repairs for the whole show but I thought some of the actors might have said something one way or the other.

“Were there any wardrobe malfunctions?”

North threw themselves down on my bed with a sigh and reported they had to glue six shoes back together over the course of the show and that the theater departments’ collection of shoes is old—“decades old!”—and that this happens a lot.

We didn’t talk much more because North’s alarm was going off in seven hours and they wanted to get to bed.

By the time I woke the next morning, they were gone, but they came home at 3:30 because there was no Friday show that week. I hadn’t seen too much of North recently because it was tech week and they’d had evening rehearsals most nights. And I didn’t see much of them that night either because they went to bed early.

I had been seeing a lot of Noah. He’d been home six days at this point. We picked him up the Friday prior at a mall parking lot north of Baltimore after a bus ride during which the driver had missed two stops (including Noah’s) and had to circle back to drop students off. The name on the side of the bus was, fittingly, Adventure Tours.

Noah’s time at home was low-key. He did some homework, applied for one of the study abroad programs he’s considering for next semester (in Queensland, Australia), drummed a little, used the new camera lenses he just bought to photograph flowers in the yard and the cat, and did some chores for me (folding laundry, vacuuming, and deep cleaning in the bathroom and kitchen). We read a short story (“Lady Astronaut of Mars,” which is the story that spawned the Lady Astronaut series) and a novel, Storm of Locusts, the second in a supernatural post-apocalyptic series set mostly on a Navajo reservation. And he watched a lot of television. We watch shows in different combinations of people and he wanted to finish as many seasons/series as possible. He and I watched all of Station Eleven; he, Beth, and I finished season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (we were halfway through it when he’d left for spring semester); and he and Beth finished a season of The Story of Boba Fett. We also watched a little Blackish as a foursome, and he and North watched one episode of Dr. Who.

We fed him well. Because he loves pasta he helped me make vegetable tortellini soup his second night at home, and I made a spinach noodle soup and tofu-veggie bowls with chow mein noodles later in the week, and there were a lot of seasonal carb-heavy treats that week, as well. I bought an apple pie for Pi Day and I found it interesting that both Beth and North but not Noah, who is the most math-oriented of any of us, noted that because the crust had a scalloped shape, it wasn’t a circle. I want to note for the record that this didn’t stop anyone from eating it. North made Nutella hamantaschen for Purim another night they didn’t have rehearsal. We’re not Jewish, but we are multicultural when it comes to dessert. Finally, I made soda bread with raisins and caraway seeds for St. Patrick’s Day. I have some cultural claim to this one, as I am partly Irish on my mother’s side. I usually make colcannon to go with it, but I had to decide between bread and potatoes this year because I can’t have both at the same meal. Perhaps I will alternate years. I served the bread with cabbage soup, Irish cheese, and Irish tea. Over the course of the week, I ate the bread and both the desserts and managed to stay in range, though it was a close thing with the pie.

Faux Birthday: Act 1

North declared last Saturday their “faux birthday.” They paid a visit to their friend Sol, bearing hamantaschen, and in the late afternoon Zoë came over. The plan was to go out for hot pot and then to see North’s show. There aren’t as many costume changes as in the fall show so North was not needed backstage at every show and they got permission to sit this one out and be in the audience, which was a treat for them, as they never saw Puffs in its entirety.

Before Zoë came over, at my request, Noah spent thirty-five minutes explaining trig functions to North, who’s been having some trouble with precalc. The instruction was more enthusiastically given than received, and led to exchanges like this:

“What’s your favorite trig function?”

“I hate them all!”

In addition to enduring math, North also had to fold laundry on their faux birthday because they hadn’t done any chores all week and I am mean. Honestly, I think they minded the math more than the laundry. The laundry wasn’t done yet when Zoë arrived, so she lent a hand.

A little before five we all set out for the restaurant, where we each cooked our own pot of soup over burners set into the tables. You start with your choice of broth and you can order ingredients to cook (vegetables, noodles, tofu, quail eggs, etc.) off the menu or pluck them off a conveyor belt that runs by the tables. We did both. There’s also a condiment table where you can get sauces and herbs to finish your creation. We did this three years ago for North’s thirteenth birthday and they’ve wanted to do it again ever since. It’s fun, but pricy, so definitely a special occasion meal. While we were there, North opened Noah’s birthday gift, these headphones, since he would be gone by their actual birthday.

As we walked toward North’s school, we saw Talia’s family also headed for the show. Talia (North’s preschool classmate and elementary school basketball teammate) was on costumes crew with North last fall but she was acting in the show this time around. We took our seats and looked over the programs.

Have you noticed whenever I’ve mentioned North being on crew for this play I never say what play it is? That’s because it’s Urinetown and I wanted to type that as few times as possible. It takes place in a dystopian, drought-plagued city, where water is so strictly rationed no one has a toilet at home and everyone has to use pay toilets, which are run by an exploitative corporation. Then there’s an uprising and I won’t spoil the rest for you in case your local high school is putting it on any time soon. It’s a musical, but also a satire of musicals that critiques capitalism as well as alternatives to capitalism and the Broadway musical as a form. It was fun and well-acted, but squirmy for me, as many of the characters need to pee much of the time and I really hate needing to pee. North enjoyed seeing all the costumes in action. Afterward Zoë said the costumes were the best part and that it really would have been just as good as a fashion show. (She’s that kind of friend.) We saw Talia’s folks on the way out again and her mom, my friend Megan, complimented the bloody shirt of the ghost of an assassinated character.

There were bouquets for sale during intermission and while I was in the restroom (peeing for free) Beth bought one for North—three red roses, a purple one, and an orange one. They’re still brightening our dining room table, though somewhat droopily now.

We came home and everyone but me had a cookies-and-cream or carrot cupcake to celebrate. I’d had a little mango soft serve at the restaurant which I chose over cupcakes because I don’t eat after eight p.m. (They saved one for me to eat the next day.) Zoë slept over and left the next morning after breakfast to go to church. North went back to bed and Noah and I finished the last few chapters of our book and went for a walk to see the half-bloomed cherry trees that line the block just around the corner from our house. He took his camera so it was a slow walk, but I didn’t mind lingering with him.

Later that morning Beth and I took Noah back to the same parking lot where we’d picked him up eight days earlier. He went into the mall to get some baked ziti for lunch, but he didn’t have time to eat it before the bus came and he’s very strict about not taking his mask off on the bus so I have no idea when he ate it, maybe at a stop along the way. We didn’t stay to watch the bus pull away.

Beth and I got salads and had our lunch at a picnic table near Historic Jerusalem Mill Village, a living history museum in Gunpowder Falls State Park. We didn’t visit the museum. I might have liked to under other circumstances, but I was sad and distracted and didn’t think I could attend to a demonstration of blacksmithing. Instead we took a walk through a nearby covered bridge and on a trail along a creek and then drove home. (When I said, before we left, that Beth had planned this outing to cheer me up, she said no, it was just something she wanted to do, and I said she should take relationship credit when she can and North and Zoë agreed.)

Even though I was melancholy that day and for a while after, I appreciate that Noah came home and also that he went back because the last time he came home for spring break he ended up stranded at home for almost a year and a half. This is better, how it’s supposed to be.

My mom called later that day and wished North a happy almost-birthday. She wanted to know if it was going to be a sweet sixteen, and North wasn’t sure if she was asking if they were having a Sweet Sixteen party, but she just meant a sweet year.

Real Birthday: Act 2

North turned sixteen on Wednesday. The SAT was being administered in the morning so everyone except juniors had the morning off. North tried to convince us to let them skip the whole day because two of their teachers had indicated not much instruction was going to take place and it was their birthday, but we made them go, because, as previously established, we are mean.

The cherry blossoms were peaking down at the Tidal Basin, so we planned a birthday morning expedition to see them. We got treats at Starbucks and drove down there, trusting there would be parking on a weekday morning. We had to drive a bit to find some, but we ended up parked by the Potomac and there are cherry trees along its shore too, so it was a scenic walk to the Tidal Basin.

The petals were perfect, puffy and white to pale pink. It was crowded, but not mobbed. We hadn’t been as a family since 2018 because three years ago Noah had too much homework and North had some injury—I packed a lunch and went alone that year—and then covid kept us away for two years—we went to the more spacious National Arboretum instead those years. It was good to be back at The Tidal Basin, as we’ve been going since 1992 and we missed it. Beth and I reminisced about how North needed to be physically restrained from jumping in the Tidal Basin as a toddler and we remembered the year it was so cold we had to wrap Noah up in a blanket inside his stroller. We’ve been to see the blossoms in everything from shorts to winter coats because March weather is unpredictable in the DC area, but this year it was about in the middle, low fifties and cloudy.

“How is sixteen so far?” I asked North as we strolled among the exuberantly blooming trees and they said they didn’t have much to go on, but good.

Beth had to take a work call so Beth and North sat on a bench and I sat on the ground and tried to be mindful and appreciative of my surroundings and we walked a bit before and after, going by the MLK memorial and the FDR memorial. I would have liked to walk longer, but North felt they’d gone as far as they could, so we drove them back to school and dropped them off a half hour before classes began.

North had hoped to have a friend over for dinner but Zoë couldn’t come and Sol couldn’t either, but North didn’t find that out until that afternoon when it was too late to ask anyone else, so they proposed we go to a movie instead. We had an early dinner—a tater tot-topped vegetarian chicken casserole I made at North’s request—and then Beth’s delicious red velvet cake and cookies-and-cream ice cream and North opened their presents. Their main gift from us was their legal name change, but we also got them a book they wanted (Song of Achilles), some gourmet black cocoa powder, two kinds of chai, and a pair of pajama bottoms with strawberries on them. I told them I had a vision of them wearing the pajama bottoms and reading the book while eating something they made with the cocoa powder and drinking the chai. They also got gift certificates and money from both grandmothers and my sister. The money is supposed to be to put toward a pair of Doc Martens, but they’ll need to save some more to buy them.

After cake and presents, we headed back out for our second outing of the day. We saw The Outfit—I didn’t know much about it beforehand, but I liked it. We didn’t go to the movies at all during the first year of the pandemic and infrequently in the second year, but this was the second movie we’ve seen in a month. We are living the high life, I tell you.

When we got home we found a little box on the porch with Zoë’s gift, several pairs of earrings. The ones North liked best have little astronauts on them.

Post-Birthday: Closing Night

Friday North stayed home from school because of pain and fatigue. This has been happening more often, which is worrying, both for the pain and the school they’re missing. They also missed the third show. We watched Turning Red  at home that night. While we were watching it, their friend River sent them a digital portrait they paid an artist to make from a photo on North’s Instagram feed as a birthday present.

Saturday was closing night. Talia’s mom was there again and when the crew came out for a curtain call along with the cast, she took the last picture here. North stayed for part of the set strike afterward, but they weren’t home too late, around 10:30 again.

It’s too soon to know how being sixteen will be for North, and if the last two years are any precedent, there may be twists and turns, but like my mom, I hope it’s a sweet year for them.

 

On the Horizon: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 66

Spring is on the horizon. There are crocuses and snowdrops in abundance down by the creek and elsewhere and I’ve seen aconite, winter jasmine, and one clump of daffodils in neighbors’ yards. Our own daffodils poked their heads out of the ground a few weeks ago, but have yet to open. The cherry tree at the end of the block that always wants to get the party started well before the other two dozen or so nearby trees are even thinking about it has swelling buds.

I moved the rosemary and parsley plants that have been living in a sunny spot in Noah’s room/Beth’s office back outside this weekend because I think they need the sun more than protection from the cold at this point. It still goes below freezing most nights, but not by much and they’re hardy enough for that. I’ll move them back inside if we have a cold snap.

The spring musical opens in a few weeks and North is costumes manager again, so they have rehearsal most days after school. It’s also the time of year when we start making plans for spring break and summer.

Travel News

The school district announced its snow day makeup plan and they scrounged up the necessary days by turning a teacher planning day in April into a half day and by adding two days to the end of the year. This is the very outcome I was hoping for because it leaves spring break intact. Now we just need to keep our fingers crossed it doesn’t snow again, but even if it does MCPS’s message implied any further snow days will be either remote instruction days or the district will apply to the state for a waiver.

It gave us enough certainty to plan our April trip to Michigan to meet one of North’s half-siblings from their donor’s side. The kids have been in touch since we got North a membership to the Donor Sibling Registry for their birthday last spring. Avery is a senior in high school, has two moms, and like North, identifies as non-binary. On the way to Ypsilanti we’re going to stop in Wheeling to see Beth’s mom, and then in Oberlin for North’s first college tour. It should be a fun trip.

And then this summer we’re going to the beach twice. Noah doesn’t know how long he’ll be home because he’s planning to spend the fall semester abroad and some of the programs he’s considering are summer-and-fall programs (or actually winter and spring since it’s Australia). This means he could be leaving any time between mid-July and late August.  We need to go to the beach early in the summer if we want him to come. But my sister’s family is moving from Ashland, Oregon to Davis, California in June or July and they can’t come until the move is complete, so we need to go late in the summer if we want them (and my mother, who is still recovering from her broken neck and will travel with them) to come. I still have some of the long-belated inheritance money I got from my father last summer, after putting most of it away for retirement and giving some away, so my elegant solution was two beach trips, one with me, Beth, and the kids the week of July 4th, and one with extended family in early August. We booked houses in Oberlin, Ypsilanti, and Rehoboth just this week. Having this settled is a relief because it was all up in the air for a while and I was anxious about it.

The one thing I wish I knew about the near future that I don’t know 100% for sure is whether Noah is coming home for all, part, or none of his spring break, which is in just two weeks. He’s directing a film for his advanced cinema production class and he was hoping if he could get a crew and actors to agree to stay on campus, filming during break would give them a solid block of time when no one has class. This made perfect sense and part of me hoped it would work out for him, but there’s no denying I would have been sad not to see him until May if that’s how it shook out, and the uncertainty was driving me more than a little crazy. Just this morning when Beth texted him about buying a bus ticket to come home, he said he probably would.

Medical News

In other news, I recently finished a program for newly diagnosed diabetics, consisting of two calls with a nurse and six Zoom sessions with a coach spread out over four months. Afterward I went in for bloodwork, and my A1C, a measure of average blood sugar from the past three months, is at the bottom of the prediabetic range, just a tad over normal. That’s with medication, of course. It doesn’t mean I don’t have diabetes any more but that between diet and the meds, my blood sugar has improved well beyond my primary care provider’s goal for me, not quite six months after diagnosis.

I’m still not happy with the reliability of the sensors I wear on my arm, which I sometimes test against a glucometer with finger pricks, and I go back and forth about whether I should give up on them and just use the blood method. The sensors, when they’re working, have two advantages, though. You don’t have to stab yourself with a sharp object several times a day and the app creates a graph that shows you when your blood sugar peaked and approximately how high. When you use finger pricks you have more accurate data points, but without much idea how they connect. I am trying to be at peace with the sensors’ erratic performance and not give up on them and take them off so soon. When it all starts to stress me out, sometimes I take a day off checking either way, and just try to eat intuitively.

Another piece of good news is that the hives I’ve had since last summer seems to be tapering off. On the allergist’s suggestion I started taking the antihistamines every other day (instead of every day) in mid-January and I noticed I wasn’t getting hives too often, so I stopped entirely the first week of February. Now I just take one when I have a breakout, which has only happened four times this month. The last time was in mid-February and three of the four times, the hives were very faint and not too itchy. Fingers crossed, maybe it’s over. We never did figure out what was triggering them.

Speaking of skin, Xander’s skin infection is back. It’s confined to a small patch on his stomach and because we caught it early, the medicated wipes seem to be stopping it from spreading, though it’s been a few weeks and it’s not getting better either. It doesn’t seem to be bothering him much, but he’s a good-natured cat, arthritis, deafness, irritated skin and all, so it can be hard to tell. He turned nineteen the week of Valentine’s Day, and after his health scares last summer, we’re all happy for all the time we have to cuddle on the couch and bed with him (and to give him a small fraction of the cat treats he requests).

One last medical update—as I mentioned above, my mom is still recovering from breaking her neck in October. She got her brace off in mid-January and is in physical therapy. She has some lingering pain, especially late in the day, and she has a limited range of motion in her neck, which impedes her ability to drive. That’s why she needs to travel with Sara and Dave.

It feels odd to have a roundup of medical issues and not mention North, but they’re pretty stable right now. They still have pain, but they’re able to get around where they need to with their cane most days. The pain psychologist they were seeing ended up not being a good fit, so after a few sessions, we decided not to continue. They’re happy about this, because they’d rather just get on with their life, without talking so much about this aspect of it.

And there’s a lot for them to get on with, the play, their birthday next month, a road trip to meet a new relative, and two beach weeks with kin they’ve known all or much of their life.

Second (and Third) Week: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 63

Second Week Begins

After the week that was mostly cancelled for snow, North had another short school week. Monday and Tuesday they were suffering after-effects from their covid booster and stayed home from school and Wednesday was a half day. I’m not sure why, but if it was teacher planning I am not going to begrudge the teachers anything they need.

Anniversary #30/9

Beth’s and my anniversary was a week ago Tuesday. It’s been thirty years since our commitment ceremony and nine years since our legal wedding. Both ceremonies took place on the same date, the first one in the living room of the apartment in D.C. where we lived when we were in our mid-twenties to mid-thirties and the second one in the living room of the house in suburban Maryland where we’ve lived since 2002.

I like to give anniversary gifts based on the traditional materials. Thirty is the pearl anniversary and this was tough one, because as Beth let me know ahead of time, she did not want a string of pearls. (There wasn’t much danger I would have gone in that direction anyway. It’s not really her style.) This is what I did get—a card with a shell on the front, a confection called licorice pearls (because Beth is on a licorice kick), a cultural biography of Pearl Buck (which I thought might be of interest because she was from West Virginia and Beth has a lot of West Virginia pride), and a gift certificate to Main Street Pearl, a bubble tea place in downtown Takoma. Beth doesn’t care for bubble tea (or any kind of tea), but they do have pastries, including a pretty good chocolate chip cookie. I got it for $9 so it would symbolize both anniversaries.

North accompanied me to the Co-op to get the card and to Main Street Pearl to get the certificate the Saturday afternoon before our anniversary because I promised to get them a bubble tea if they’d walk with me. It was a pleasant outing on a cold but sunny day. I got a warm milk tea with boba. (“You got it warm?” Beth said later, “That makes it even worse.”) We sat outside and drank our tea in subfreezing temperatures and because Main Street Pearl is gay-owned and decorated with rainbow flags year round, North made me take an online quiz about various Pride flags on their phone. I was doing pretty well at first but it got harder as it went along and I ended up with a score of nine out of fourteen. But in my defense, pride flags have gotten a lot more complicated than when I was a baby dyke and in some ways I am stuck in my youth.

Back to the anniversary… because our commitment ceremony was a homemade affair, we made our own cake and I’ve made it almost every year since on our anniversary. It’s a spice cake. The original had white frosting with purple frosting flowers (to match the potted African violets we gave away as wedding favors). However, every other time I’ve made this cake I’ve made the lemon glaze that’s included in the recipe (except the one year I made an orange glaze and North almost lost their mind). This year, as a concession to diabetes, I made even more drastic changes, cutting the recipe in half and making muffins instead of a cake, with no glaze or frosting. I made breakfast for dinner to go with them—kale and mushroom omelets, various kind of vegetarian breakfast meat, and grapefruit.

Earlier in the day Beth and I took our separate morning walks and worked—she had back-to-back meetings all afternoon and I was working on a white paper about vitamin K2—and I read several chapters of Odds Against Tomorrow, the dystopian cli fi (climate fiction) novel I was reading for book club. I had a Zoom meeting with my diabetes nurse during which she watched Beth apply a new sensor to my arm to see if the problem with the monitors is faulty application, but she said Beth’s technique looked perfect.

North emerged from their room in the late morning, took a rapid covid test, ate some chia pudding, and went back to bed. All the students in their school had received tests they were supposed to take the day before, but as North was absent the day before, Beth had gone to the library where they are distributing free tests so she could submit test results (negative) online before North goes back to school.

Once I’d finished working for the day, Noah and I finished The King of Scars, which we’d been reading since a few days after Christmas and then I started making the muffins and the rest of dinner. The cake recipe works pretty well for muffins, it turns out. North said next year I should add a little lemon juice to the batter to give it the lemony taste the glaze gave the cake. I had half a grapefruit and half a muffin at the same meal, which is a splurge for me these days, but it was a special occasion.

Beth and I exchanged gifts after dinner. She tried one of the pearls, which are coated in white chocolate, and she said the licorice filling was salty and intense and she liked it. She got me a gift certificate for Takoma Beverage Company, a coffeehouse in downtown Takoma, and made Saturday lunch reservations in the garden at Zinnia, a new restaurant on the site of an old one in a rambling old house, with a big garden. (Mrs. K’s Toll House, if you’re local.) Now the high temperature on Saturday was predicted to be in the twenties, and while we considered canceling the reservation and doing it on a milder day, in the end we decided to go as there were heaters and it had been much too long since we’ve had a date.

After I’d done the dinner dishes, Beth, Noah, and I played Settlers of Catan because we hadn’t played the whole month Noah was home and this game was a pandemic staple for us the year and a half he was home. Beth won. She almost always does.

The Rest of the Second Week

When North finally went back to school their bus arrived and it continued to arrive for the rest of the week. (The county has asked for National Guard troops to fill in for all the absent bus drivers. We’ll see if that happens.) At school, the promised KN95 masks had not materialized and North wasn’t called in to receive a rapid test to take at home the way kids who had been absent were supposed to be. I guess it’s a good thing Beth had already taken matters into her own hands and procured tests while North was absent. (This is the kind of planning at which she excels.)

In other medical disappointments, my new sensor seemed not be any more accurate than the last two, both of which I removed before they expired. I didn’t take it off, but I started checking it with finger pricks, which is suboptimal, because one of the main reasons to wear one is not having to do that. Instead of running consistently low, sometimes it was a little low and sometimes it was way too low. (I still have it on because I got some better readings from it and I just didn’t want to make Beth deal with the rigamarole of getting a replacement or do it myself, but it’s still not as accurate as I’d like.)

Also in medical updates: Thursday I went to see the allergist, who still doesn’t know why I break out in hives if I don’t take a daily antihistamine. He advised me to start taking it every other day to see if the reaction is lessening. He says 50% of mystery cases like mine resolve themselves within a year, so it’s a good idea keep checking to see if the medication is still needed. It’s been about six months. He also reviewed the results of my allergy tests from September and said if I wanted I could try going off nuts, as those were some of the biggest reactions after soy, which we’ve already ruled out. It was kind of a tepid suggestion and nuts, like soy, are an important protein source for me to manage my diabetes, so I haven’t decided if I even want to try that. (I have peanut butter for breakfast two to four times a week.) I’m not going to try it until I’ve been on the every-other-day antihistamine schedule for a while, as I don’t want to change more than one variable at a time. (On my no medication days so far, I’ve only had hives one of three days, so that’s interesting—maybe they are tapering off.)

My book club has gone back to virtual meetings, which is half sad (because I like it better in person) and half a relief because I was thinking I probably shouldn’t go in person anymore and the hybrid format is awkward, especially for the folks at home. Anyway, we had a meeting on Thursday, to discuss Odds Against Tomorrow. I realized after it was over that I’d only spoken twice and both times it was to disagree with someone, and then I felt guilty about that and then I wondered if that was a gender-conditioned reaction.

After book club we all stayed up later than three out of four of us (those of us who weren’t still on break) probably should have to watch the last two episodes of Dickinson, because there are lot of shows we wanted to finish before Noah left on Sunday morning.

Friday night we got pizza and since it was his last pizza night at home, we let Noah choose and we got Roscoe’s. It was also our last family movie night with him home, but as everyone else had already had a turn during his month at home, Beth chose and we watched Love and Friendship. She said she wanted something light.

Third Week, So Far

On Saturday morning Noah and read longer than usual in an attempt to finish the short novel (Equal Rites from the Discworld series) we’d optimistically started four days before his departure. We got about halfway through what we had left and decided to pick it up later in the day. Then Beth got home from grocery shopping and we hurriedly put the perishables in the fridge and left the rest on the kitchen floor because we had lunch reservations.

Yes, we did eat our anniversary lunch outside in twenty-one-degree weather. But there were propane heaters by the tables and I spread my cashmere scarf on the metal chair before I sat down on it and it wasn’t too bad. We didn’t even avail ourselves of the blankets the restaurant provided. And we weren’t the only ones dining al fresco. There were people making S’mores over fire pits and a lot of bundled up kids tearing around the garden, and music making the scene festive. I got devilled eggs made with pimento cheese instead of mayonnaise, a Caesar salad, and Oolong tea. Beth got hot chocolate, spinach-potato soup, sweet potato fritters, and we shared a cheese board. It was quite a spread and we had a lot of food to bring home. While I probably would not have chosen to dine outside on a colder than average day in mid-January pre-pandemic, it made me glad we can be hardy and flexible. That’s not a bad thing to consider while celebrating one’s thirtieth anniversary.

In the mid-afternoon, Beth took Noah for the first of two covid tests he needed to return to school. But instead of the PRC test he registered for, he got a rapid antigen test and those are only accepted if taken within twenty hours of a students’ move-in date, so it was basically useless. So he’ll take two more rapid antigen tests in Ithaca. (The first test was negative, by the way.)

While Beth and Noah were gone, I cut several springs from my rosemary plant and pulled the needles off and put them in one of the little glass spice jars my sister got Noah for Christmas, so he could take a bit of home with him to Ithaca. Then Beth and Noah got back, we read some more, and then made pho together. It was kind of a complicated recipe for a noodle soup, but we’ve been making Saturday dinner together ever since he was in sixth grade, and for the past five years we’ve always done it while listening to my friend Becky’s show on Takoma’s community radio station, so that was a comforting thing to do.

After dinner, there was a flurry of television viewing and book reading. Beth and Noah have been watching a Star Wars cartoon and they got in a couple episodes while I did the dinner dishes. Then the three of us watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We were unable to finish a season in the month he was home, but we got to the midpoint of season 3, which was kind of satisfying and may also make it easier to remember where we left off. After that, against all odds, Noah and I finished Equal Rites, which pleased us both. We immediately started to discuss what path we want to take as we continue through this forty-one-book series, which has several sub-series, and therefore no set order. I doubt we’ll read the whole thing, so the order is an important consideration.

It was a very nice last day of having Noah home, just about perfect.

Beth and Noah left a little before ten a.m. Sunday, around the same time North left to go meet Zoë at Starbucks. I found myself alone in the house for the first time in I don’t remember how long. Even though I had a to-do list, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, being agitated and overcome with emotion. Sadness, yes, but also happiness, because the spring semester seems to be happening and Noah’s got a good course schedule and a job I think he’ll be good at and enjoy. College is going well for him and it’s important for him to get back to his fledgling adult life.

Eventually I settled down, stripped his bed before it seemed unbearable to do it, ate some of the leftover fancy cheese from Zinnia, and started blogging. Then I had lunch, took a bus to the library to return a book, walked home through the falling snow, had a nap, tackled the pile of newspapers that piled up while I was trying to finish my actual book club book and my mother-son book club book, and listened to a couple of podcasts, which have also been piling up on my phone. North returned from Zoë’s while I was napping and that evening they watched Love, Simon on a Hulu watch party with a couple friends.

The snow had all but melted, except in patches where it’s shady or the piles the plows made in parking lots, when we got two more inches on Sunday afternoon and evening, but Monday was MLK day, so it did not result in any additional snow days.

I told Sara I’d work Monday even though it was MLK day because she’s got a lot of projects, so I did that, working on web copy for a vitamin D product. But I also shoveled our slushy walk, took a walk by the creek, and saw kids sledding (successfully) on what was more mud and wet leaves than snow. North wrote a short essay on the role of women in the Odyssey, which in their words is “to take the blame for things men do.” After dinner, North and I watched It, cuddled up the couch with Xander. North leaned against me during the scary parts, sometimes reaching over me to pet the cat.

Tuesday North woke up with a sore throat and a cough and stayed home from school. Remember, the whole reason North and I didn’t go to Ithaca with Beth and Noah, a trip I really wanted to make, was so North could go to school on Tuesday, so this was a frustrating turn of events.

Beth texted me that Noah was covid-tested, cleared, and checked into his apartment around 11:00 a.m. She took him grocery shopping and they went for a hike to see Buttermilk Falls in the snow—they got a foot there to our rapidly melting two inches—and she left Ithaca around 2:30. (She made it home by a little before nine, which is good time for that drive.) Over the course of the afternoon I finished the vitamin D copy and started some for a stress relief product.

And speaking of stress… that afternoon it was announced some more schools in our county are going remote, starting Thursday, but not which ones, so that was an exciting bit of uncertainty. By evening the schools (mostly elementary and middle schools) were identified, and North’s school is still in-person for now. My friend Megan, whose daughter Talia attends the same school, texted me “looks like we won the lottery…today anyway!” Not that North went to school today, as they were still feeling under the weather. (Rapid antigen test says it’s not covid.) This makes three weeks in a row they’ve gone to school two and half days or less, because of weather, vaccine effects, or illness. Plus, it’s supposed to sleet or snow tomorrow right before the morning rush hour, so who knows if there will even be school tomorrow?* There are still some bumps in the road of this new year, even though I’m glad Noah’s settled into it.

The certificate for North’s legal name change arrived yesterday. This was a happy moment for them, but a melancholy one for me. It’s been hard for me to give up their old name, which I loved, even though they haven’t used it for over four years. It was the right thing to do, though. It’s their name after all, and this stage of parenting seems to be a long process of letting go, which, ultimately, is a good thing.

*Update, 1/20: It was rain, not even sleet, and school was cancelled.

 

Something About December: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 59

Lights around the tree
Mama’s whistling
Takes me back again
There’s something ’bout December
 

From “Something About December,” by Christina Perri

The Festive Season Begins…

On the first of December, I put on my Christmas tree socks, took a walk past the neighbors’ house with the giant skeleton (now decked out in a Santa suit), made myself some peppermint tea, and settled in on the porch with Marley, which is a Christmas Carol prequel, partly from Marley’s point of view. I got it for Christmas last year and when I didn’t manage to read it during the holidays, I decided to save it for this December. It’s not a Christmas book really. It takes place over the course of many years, at all different times of year, but the characters—Scrooge, Marley, Fan, Belle, Fred, Bob Cratchit—are all so fixed to Christmas in my mind, it still seems like a Christmassy read. It took me ten days to read and I enjoyed it. Fair warning, though—it’s really sad. I guess it would have to be to explain how Ebenezer got as warped as he is at the beginning of A Christmas Carol.

Continuing in the Christmas spirit, Beth and I went to get our tree from Butler’s Orchard a few days later, on the first Saturday in December. As usual, we’re taking it to Blackwater Falls State Park, where we will spend Christmas. We usually get our tree just a few days before Christmas, but Beth heard there might be shortages, so we’ll be storing it in the tub of water in our garage where it’s been for the past ten days for another nine. I asked Beth if she thought our next door neighbors, who share a driveway with us (but not a garage—they have their own) will find this strange. She said if so, it would be just one more strange thing in a long list they’ve probably noticed about us. I try to remember to visit it every day, to check the water level and just to breathe in its smell.

After picking the tree, we shopped a little at the farm market, where we got some gifts and a pecan bar to share, and then we went for a walk in Black Hills Regional Park.  Beth spotted a possum, which stood perfectly still for an impressively long time when we stopped near it, though it did not appear to be faking its own death. It didn’t fall over anyway.

It was nice to be tramping through the woods with occasional views of Little Seneca Lake on a sunny, mild morning until Beth tripped over a rock or a root on the trail and fell. She hurt her knee, but she wanted to keep going, so we did, and we walked a little over an hour.

After we got home and ate a late lunch, it was time for Noah’s band concert, which was being live streamed. Beth connected a laptop to the television so we could watch it on the biggest screen in the house. Usually at band concerts, we have to strain to see our percussionist at the very back of the stage, if we can see him at all. But the camera roved all over the band and we got frequent, clear views of him playing xylophone, timpani, snare drums, bells, marimba, cymbals, triangle, bongos, and tambourine. The music was not as challenging as the music his high school band used to play, but that band was quite competitive (with a director focused on winning top marks at state festival). Noah’s college band is more laid back, consisting mainly of non-music majors with a sprinkling of music majors playing an instrument other than the one that’s their major. The concert was a lot of fun to watch, and shorter than I expected, running just under an hour.

It had been a big couple days for Noah. The day before the concert, he’d taken a test to become an FAA-certified drone pilot. It was a written test, but he had to go to the Ithaca airport to take it. This will be a handy job credential for him. Speaking of jobs, he got a job with campus IT next semester installing hardware and software.

Even Though It’s Christmastime, We Still Have Medical Appointments…

Last Tuesday North got their braces off. It was supposed to happen the day before but there was a power outage at the orthodontist’s office, so they had to wait an extra day. They were presented with a little box of now authorized treats like gum, Starbursts, gummies, and popcorn. North commented to us that these were all things they ate with braces (especially popcorn which they make several times a week) but they had the good sense not to mention that to the orthodontist. The funny thing was even though I knew full well that they’d already eaten some of the taffy I got at the beach with their braces on, I saved five pieces to give them on the big day. It just seemed like the thing to do. They had a day to enjoy their newly smooth teeth with no orthodontic equipment until they got their retainer Wednesday.

I went to the eye doctor on Thursday. It was a routine annual exam but I have had so many medical appointments over the past several months—with my primary care provider, the allergist, the ophthalmologist, the dermatologist, and finally the optometrist—that it was a relief to get the last one of the year checked off my list.

I do have to go back to the allergist in January. After two months of taking a daily antihistamine, per his advice, I went off the medication on the scheduled day, the Monday after Thanksgiving, and by the end of the day I was sporting a hive on the inside of my left wrist. I didn’t even bother to wait for it to get bad and started to take the antihistamine again. Now since I’d been off soy for this same two months, it seems that wasn’t the problem. As much as I’d like to know what the problem is, I’m really happy to know it isn’t that, because soy is an inconvenient allergy for a diabetic vegetarian.

Meanwhile, North has finished a round of physical therapy to strengthen and stabilize their right knee, so they will have fewer appointments to go to as well, at least in-person ones. They started seeing a pain psychologist online, but so far they aren’t finding it very useful.

More Festivity (and Chores) Ensue…

This past weekend Beth and I threw ourselves into Christmas preparation, with a little recreation as well. Friday evening we went out for pizza (indulging in a rare indoor restaurant dining experience), visited an outdoor holiday market in the parking lot of the Co-op, and watched the first half of a ridiculously cheesy lesbian holiday movie. (We finished it the next night.) It’s called Christmas at the Ranch and it’s so bad it’s good, if that kind of alchemy works for you. As North and I observed when we’d only watched half, the only suspense was whether the ranch hand and the elderly ranch owner’s granddaughter would get together before or after they saved the failing family business. You won’t be finding out which it is from me. You’ll have to watch it if you want to know.

Later in the weekend our Christmas cards finally arrived. We’d ordered them the last week of November and I was so worried about mail slowdowns that we addressed almost all of them all in one afternoon, which we’ve never done before. Beth also did a lot of straightening and decorating, and we both wrapped presents. I’m not quite finished with my shopping, but I’ve got my wrapping caught up to my shopping and everything that needs to be mailed has arrived. After our industrious weekend, I reflected that we’re a good team because I’m better at remembering things like who has moved in the past year and will need a new address on the card and she’s better at remembering things like where we put the new ornaments we just bought.

We haven’t baked anything, but there’s going to be less baking than usual this year, for the obvious reason, so I think starting next weekend should be fine. I plan to make gingerbread dough at home and bake it in the cabin. North’s making chocolate-peppermint cookies but I’m not sure if they’ll do it at home or at Blackwater.

As you can see, I am not completely forgoing Christmas treats. I portioned out the candy I brought home from the beach very slowly and it took two weeks to finish. Then on Saturday afternoon North and I walked to Starbucks. I was after a gingerbread biscotti and the app let me order one but when I got there they didn’t have any and they tried to give me a vanilla-almond one. (This is the second time this happened to me in a week—the first time I didn’t even realize I had the wrong biscotti until days after I bought it, when I got it out to eat. Apparently, there’s a gingerbread biscotti shortage. Consider yourself forewarned.) I took a refund instead as the vanilla one fell into the category of Not Worth The Carbs.

It was a nice outing anyway. We both got our coffee iced. For North this is par for the course year round, but for me it’s pretty unusual in December. It was unseasonably, freakishly, warm, in the seventies. North and I both wore skirts, with no leggings or tights underneath and we drank our coffee at an outside table. On our way home, we took a brief detour so I could show North the skeleton in a Santa suit. I am that taken with it. Beth and I took another walk after dinner Sunday to look at some of our neighbors’ lights.

We’re back into another week of work and school, the last full one before Christmas. Noah’s last project is due tomorrow and he’ll take a bus home on Thursday. Having him home will make it seem like the festivities are in full swing.