Mixed Pie

Noah seems to be doing well at school. He reports his work load feels more manageable than it was in high school and he has some free time, which he’s used partly for socializing. He’s mentioned playing cards and going out to dinner in town with people. He’s also involved in an extracurricular activity—he applied for and got an editing position for a show on ICTV, the student-run television station. This all makes me really, really happy.

It still seems strange and often hard not to have him here, particularly when we went to the Takoma Park Folk Festival without him two weeks ago, after having gone with him almost every year since he was a toddler. But we went and it was still fun. Plus, I can’t say I really minded having only one Back-to-School Night to attend.

Having fewer meetings is just as well as I have been really busy lately with work. Both jobs picked up at the same time—I’m back on retainer with Sara– and even though it still adds up to part-time work, it feels like a lot. It seems I’m always rushing to prepare for a conference call or an in-person meeting at EPA. (Okay, I’ve only had two of those, but I haven’t been to a work meeting in ages, so it was a notable event for me.) I’m also spending a lot of time running North to aqua therapy or physical therapy at the rehabilitation hospital or appointments at the gender clinic, which are both in the city and something of a schlep.

We’ve had some time for recreation, too, though. Last weekend we went to a housewarming at Zoë’s folks’ gorgeous new house, where we saw a lot of people we know, unsurprisingly, as North and Zoë have known each other since kindergarten. And this weekend North entered the annual Takoma Park Farmers’ Market pie contest.

North’s entered this contest every year since they were seven or eight years old. They won “most unusual” pie when they were ten with their cantaloupe pie, but not since then. This year they decided to try a savory pie, a mushroom one. The filling was button, cremini, oyster, portobello, and shiitake mushrooms with a gravy-like sauce and the crust was whole wheat with parmesan.

We had some fun trying to name it. On Saturday, I told North, “It’s tempting to call it Magic Mushroom Pie, but you probably shouldn’t.”

“No!” North exclaimed. My next suggestion was “Marvelous Mushroom Pie,” but they thought that still sounded “druggy.”

Later North was talking about how high the mushrooms were piled in the skillet, so I suggested, “Mile-High Mushroom Pie,” and North said to Beth, “I think Mommy wants people to think there are drugs in my pie!”

In the end North called it “North’s Mixed Mushroom Pie with Cheesy Crust” and it came out very well. The filling was well seasoned and moist without being too wet to hold together when it was sliced and the crust was hearty enough to contain the filling. The judges must have thought so, too, because there was a tie for first place in the kids’ category and the Mixed Mushroom Pie was one of the winners. We actually found out before the winners were announced because the judges set the winner cards next to the winning pies ahead of time. But when they announced the winner, North got their picture taken with the mayor, and was awarded a ribbon, a free farmers’ market tote bag, and two five-dollar tokens to use at the market.  Then we got in line and bought six slices of pie, three for lunch, and three for dessert. We all got North’s pie for our first course, then I had a slice of peach pie, Beth had lemon custard with blueberries, and North had chocolate cookie pie.

It’s always nice to win something, but this one came at a particularly good time for North. They’ve been saddened and stressed by a few things lately. Highwood, the theater where they’ve been acting for the past couple years seems to be imploding. Of the two main staff people, one got another job and moved away and the other one was fired, and then most of the board quit. It’s unclear if it will be able to rise from the ashes or not, but there’s no fall musical in rehearsal right now, and North had been planning to try out for that. Highwood is a big part of North’s social world and it “leaves a hole,” as Beth said in discussing it with another Highwood parent. North’s taking an acting class at the rec center (the same one they’ve taken a few times before) and I’m sure they’ll enjoy it but it’s not the same thing as being in a full-scale production of a play. I’ve been suggesting they join the drama club at school, too, but it hasn’t started up yet.

There’s been some small progress with their leg pain—the aqua therapists at the rehabilitation hospital are impressed with their stamina in the pool and they’re using a cane instead of crutches on their better days—but it’s not as much progress as any of us would like. Some people’s reactions aren’t helping. North didn’t participate in gym class for nearly the whole second semester of seventh grade and at our request, their current gym teacher is having them walk around the track while other students are running or playing games. It’s not ideal but it’s an improvement over sitting and watching. So it was quite annoying that one day last week when they were walking around the track a fair distance behind their own class and another class came running by them the teacher for that class (who was North’s gym teacher in sixth and seventh grade) said “everyone knows” that they’re faking. And there have also been occasional comments along this line from students. North is sensitive about these accusations so that’s getting them down. But I’m happy to report when we told North’s counselor what happened she spoke to the teacher and he apologized to North. (The counselor is kind of fierce and we all think she may have read the teacher the riot act.)

So overall the beginning of eighth grade has been something of a mixed bag. On the plus side, North, who’s been negative about math for a couple years, likes their geometry teacher and her class, which is great and North’s also enjoying taking art for the first time since elementary school and having Zoë in some of their classes, unlike last year when they didn’t have any together.

Today is both the fall equinox and North’s half-birthday, so after dinner we had the traditional half-birthday cupcakes. We picked them up at a bakery over the weekend. I got carrot cake, Beth got chocolate chip, and the celebrant got red velvet. The weather is still hot here. The predicted high for today is 92 and I see a lot of 88s and 89s in the extended forecast, but I know eventually it will get cooler and the leaves will start to turn and it will feel like fall. I hope as that happens we see some other turning points at the theater and in North’s recovery.

August and Everything After

In August and everything after/I’m after everything
From “August and Everything After,” by Counting Crows

Sunday: Camp and Cousins 

“I’m ready if you are,” I said to Beth around 9:30 on Sunday morning. We were packing up the car for a four-day trip during which we’d pick North up at camp, spend a little time in Ithaca together as a family, and then drop Noah off at college. As soon as the words were out of my mouth I wondered if I really was ready for this trip, but ready or not, it was time.

We arrived at Camp Highlight around 12:30. Beth and Noah packed North’s things into the already full car while North drifted around the crowd saying goodbye to campers and counselors. It wasn’t goodbye for long, though, as we saw some of them again almost immediately. A bunch of campers and their families were meeting up at diner for lunch and North successfully lobbied us to join them. Beth, Noah, and I got our own table, while North went to sit with a big group of campers. Camp Highlight is a camp for kids of LGBT+ parents, which made me wonder if the staff noticed the sudden influx of middle-aged gay and lesbian couples along with their eight-to-fifteen-year-old kids in red t-shirts, but maybe it happens every year. It was difficult to peel North away and get back on the road, but eventually we did.

Our next stop was a few hours north at my cousin Holly and her daughter Annie’s house, near Wilkes-Barre. Holly grew up out West, but in the four years she’d been living in Pennsylvania, we hadn’t seen each other. In fact, we hadn’t seen each other in twenty-one years. I’m sorry about that, as I never got to meet her husband Mark, who died last November of cancer.

Holly’s house is a charming old farmhouse painted pale yellow and filled with old furniture and eclectic decorations, including her own paintings. We had what Holly called “a quick but lovely visit.” We chatted and ate. Holly set out a huge spread—cheese, olives, fruit, green beans, hummus, chips and salsa, and chocolate. We hardly needed dinner that night. And that was a good thing because we got to our Air BnB outside Ithaca later than expected. There was food provided for guests in the fridge, so North had eggs and potatoes, Noah made a baked potato, and I just had a bowl of cereal and we all went to bed.

Monday: Lake Cayuga

The next day we explored our surroundings. The house had a big yard with a hot tub (broken, sadly), a koi pond with goldfish and frogs, and a hammock. There was also a garden with vegetables you could pick and an apple tree with a couple of ripe apples and many unripe ones. There was a meditation room with a curved glass wall and ceiling overlooking the nearby hills, which you could also see from the porch. It was really delightful. We are already thinking about staying there again.

We were about a half hour from Ithaca and we drove into town to have breakfast at the famous Ithaca Bakery, which we hadn’t managed to hit on our previous two trips there. Beth got the rosemary-salt bagel on the recommendation of friend whose kid is a sophomore at Ithaca and she didn’t regret it. Next we hit Wegman’s for groceries and some prescriptions for Noah that Beth had ordered to arrive there. And sure enough, they were waiting for us.

We went back to the house, where we relaxed (the kids watched an episode of Dr. Who, finishing a season they’d been watching for months). Then we packed a picnic lunch and went swimming at Cayuga Lake. Shortly after we arrived, Noah, who’s not exactly the outdoorsy type, asked “What is the goal of this activity?” He did wade a little and throw rocks in the water, which he always enjoyed as a little boy. Mostly, though, he sat in the shade and looked at his phone while the rest of us swam. We stayed until late afternoon and then returned to the house.

Noah and I finished up Pet Semetary, the last book in our mother-and-son book club, at least for a while, and then Beth fried some green tomatoes from the garden and we had green beans (also from the garden) and deli macaroni and cheese with it. We ate out on the porch, enjoying the view and the pleasant temperatures. It had been quite hot and humid at home, so Western New York was a welcome change. After dinner, we drove into Ithaca to have dessert at Purity Ice Cream.

That night we had our last family poetry reading, a bedtime tradition we’ve had since Noah was in first grade. I don’t know why this was harder for me that finishing our book, maybe it was because the end of Pet Semetary isn’t all that suited to melancholy nostalgia, what with all the violent death and ill-fated resurrections. Or maybe finishing our last summer novel (of seven) and our last poetry book on the same day was just too much. The book was Honeybee, by Naomi Shihab Nye, and the last poem we read (out of order because it was seven pages long and we’d skipped it the night before when we were pressed for time) was called “Last Day of School.” It’s about a woman revisiting her old elementary school and it ends, “there will never, never be a last day of school.” After Noah finished reading the poem, I dissolved into tears and Noah gave me a long hug.  I know most fifty-something moms’ and teens’ reading lives are not as entwined as mine and Noah’s have been, and it could seem odd, but for me it’s been a beautiful gift.

Tuesday: Move-In Day and Robert H. Treman State Park

The next day Noah packed up all his belongings and we drove up to the college, with a pit stop for breakfast at Waffle Frolic on Ithaca Commons. Noah stood in lines to get his i.d. and his dorm room key and then we moved him into his room. It was a very smooth process and there were a lot of orientation staff there for the express purpose of helping carry things up to the rooms. We met his roommate and the roommate’s brother and mother, but only briefly because you’re only allowed to park in the small lot for fifteen minutes so we had to leave pretty soon after they arrived. We did some on-campus errands, including getting a photo by the famous fountain and buying a lot of Ithaca College swag at the campus store: a t-shirt for Beth’s mom and sweatshirts for me and North; I also felt I needed a mug, pencils, and a car magnet. We went to Student Health to see about the process for having Noah’s ADHD meds shipped to campus and visited the mail room for small packages and the other mail room for large packages—he had both. The large package was a box fan for his window.

Later on the Ithaca parents’ Facebook page we heard people complaining about the heat on move-in day, which made us shake our heads and decide that these people were definitely not from the Washington, D.C. area. It was a little warm in Noah’s third-floor room, but I didn’t even break a sweat carrying things up there. The roommate brought a narrow, vertical fan that stands in the middle of the room and Noah had his fan, so I think they’ll be fine until it gets cool, which I hear happens pretty quickly. (We almost returned Noah’s fan because he and his roommate initially couldn’t fit it into the window, but the next day they moved some furniture so it could tilt it into the window frame.)

Noah didn’t want lunch—we’d had a late breakfast and his was a waffle sundae that to his regret he couldn’t finish, so we left him there to unpack and attend a hall meeting and a dorm cluster meeting. Left to our own devices for the rest of the day, we ate lunch at the house (North opted for Taco Bell drive-through) and then went to Robert H. Treman State Park where you can swim in a bitter-cold swimming hole with a waterfall at one end. We’d been there last year on our visit to Ithaca but North wasn’t with us then and we thought they’d enjoy it. Well, they enjoyed it, to put it mildly. They swam for two hours in the 64-degree water, swam against the current to the waterfall and back three times, and did countless handstands. It was good to see them so active in the water and it made me hopeful about their aqua therapy, which was set to start later that week.

While we were discussing dinner plans, North pointed out we’d eaten at the house two nights in a row and we were on vacation. Beth asked what they’d like to eat and North found a sushi place on the Commons where we had a feast of bubble tea, hot and sour soup, seaweed salad, edamame, agedashi tofu, and of course, sushi. We got cucumber rolls because they’re North’s favorite and a kind that had thinly sliced mango and avocado on the outside and sweet potato inside. We walked to Sweet Melissa’s for ice cream afterward, though I skipped dessert because the bubble tea had been pretty sweet and there was leftover mochi at home.

Wednesday: On Our Way Back Home

There were events for parents most of the next day, but we decided we’d attend a couple before lunch and be on our way. Breakfast was provided, so we ate in the gym and Noah joined us after he’d had breakfast in the dining hall. We listened to some speeches from college administrators together and then the students were divided into small groups and left while we listened to more speeches—mostly about how not to be helicopter parents— and then we ate a buffet lunch. I’m not quite sure what the students did in their groups because we didn’t get a chance to talk to Noah much after that. He had a pretty tight schedule. We were initially hoping to go back to his room so we could drop off some clothes he’d left at the Air BnB (he’d put a few things into the week’s worth of camp laundry I did for North on arriving there and I hadn’t taken the clothes out of the dryer). Anyway, there was never time for that, so we brought the bag of clothes to give him as he was entering a session for new students of the School of Communications. We said goodbye quickly in the hallway outside the auditorium.

In the weeks and months before Noah left for college I’d imagined that moment of parting many times and it wasn’t anything like I expected, rushed and without tears. For a while it looked like we might not be able to find him at all and we’d have to leave without saying goodbye. He might have preferred that—he tried to say goodbye via text—but that would have been more than I could have borne.

After

Leaving a kid at college is hard to describe, such a mix of happiness and sadness. It’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced. We had two days at home as the threesome we’ll be most of the time for the next five years. North went to their first aqua therapy session, finished their summer reading homework, and made soft pretzels. Beth and I worked, North and I walked to Little Caesars and brought home a pizza (something they’ve been wanting to do all summer) and we all watched a movie called Lemonade Mouth. Then yesterday morning, Beth drove North to Wheeling, where they’ll spend the last week of their summer vacation with Beth’s mom. I stayed behind, alone in the house, which was sometimes lonely and sometimes restorative. I read the newspaper, had lunch out, mowed the lawn, cleaned the kitchen, went to the farmers’ market, and wrote this. Beth got home this afternoon and she and I will practice being empty nesters for a work week, until we leave on Saturday to spend Labor Day weekend in Wheeling and collect North.

I miss Noah terribly. How could I not? But I’m also proud and excited for him as he steps away from us and finds out what August and everything after will look like.

Seize Some More Days

Last Weekend of Sweeney Todd 

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

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

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

After Sweeney

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re Done

Noah graduated from high school on Friday morning. In case there was any chance we’d forget, there were plenty of reminders in the week before. He had to go to school to pick up his cap and gown and tickets on Tuesday afternoon and then on Thursday there were not one but two rehearsals, one for graduating seniors in the morning and one for the members of the band and orchestra who’d volunteered to play at graduation in the afternoon. (He also registered for his college classes on Monday, the day registration opened.) 

In between these tasks, he helped me make baked ziti and clean fans, mowed the lawn, and started editing interviews he conducted in October for a podcast he’s been making for the kids’ preschool. Last summer and fall he interviewed a bunch of alumni and their parents about their experiences at the school as a volunteer project. He produced a few episodes from his summer interviews before school started in September, but other than taping a few more interviews, he hasn’t worked on it since then. Working on this and volunteering for two weeks at a film-making camp for middle schoolers are going to be his main summer occupations. But he also had enough down time to watch the livestream of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote and to watch a half dozen episodes of Orphan Black with me over the course of several days.

Beth’s mom flew in for Noah’s graduation, arriving Thursday afternoon. Beth picked her up at the airport, but no one else could come to meet her because Noah was at the band rehearsal and I was taking North to a physical therapy appointment.  Beth and YaYa got caught in rush hour traffic and it was two hours before Beth had dropped her off at her hotel to check in and swung around to get Noah, North, and me so we could all meet for dinner. Noah and I read from The Lottery and Other Stories while we waited.

Once we were all together, we had dinner at a tapas restaurant in Silver Spring. We got a selection of olives, pan a la Catalana, a cheese plate, mushrooms sautéed in garlic, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and patatas bravas.  They have a nice dessert sampler there, with churros, flan, tres leches cake, and sopapillas, but Noah wanted ice cream and it was his occasion, so we went to Ben and Jerry’s instead. Kung Fu tea is next door and North wanted bubble tea so we split up temporarily, though eventually we all ended up seated at Ben and Jerry’s.

As everyone was finishing up their desserts, North experienced another flare up in their leg (the third in a week). I was afraid we’d all be stuck there until it passed, but Beth brought the car around and I encouraged North to power through enough to stand up and walk to the car. (My back up plan was to see if Noah could carry them. I know I can’t.) Fortunately, they were able to walk across the street and get into the car, where we had some painkiller in the glove compartment. That night they slept on some cushions on the floor of their room because they couldn’t get up to the ladder to their loft bed.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one evening, after North was settled into bed, Beth noticed something was amiss with our cat Matthew’s paw. There was matted fur with something bright red in the center. From a distance, it looked like he was badly hurt and I was imagining a late night trip to an all-night vet, when we got closer and saw he had something clear and sticky all over that paw and a scrap of red paper had stuck to it. So we all got to go to bed, which was good because the next day we were all had to get up early.

Graduation was taking place at the basketball stadium at the University of Maryland and there were at least two graduations taking place there that day. Noah’s was at 9:00 a.m. and the musicians had to be at school to help move instruments into the van that was transporting instruments to the stadium at 6:15. He set an alarm for 4:45, slept through it, and Beth woke him at 5:05. She dropped him off at school came back to shower and eat, and Beth, North, and I headed over to YaYa’s hotel a little before 7:30. He texted Beth to tell her that the U-Haul’s parking brake was stuck and it looked like they might not be able to get any of the percussion instruments to College Park.

In further misadventures, as we got into the car North noticed Noah’s white, purple, and black cord lying in the driveway, where it must have fallen while he was getting into the car at the crack of dawn. It was for completing the Communications Arts Program and he was supposed to wear it around his neck. Beth scooped it up, in hopes of getting it to him.

We got to the stadium around 8:10 so there was ample parking and we could have sat anywhere we wanted, but North didn’t want to navigate the steep steps, so we stayed up in the nosebleed seats near the entrance. The band was practicing on the court, with all their percussion instruments (someone had fixed the van’s brake), so Beth walked down to the lowest seats, called his name and tossed the cord to him. It was lucky he was playing with the band because otherwise he would have been sequestered wherever the rest of the graduates were and it was unclear if she would have been allowed back there.

The ceremony started promptly at nine. The band played a tribute to John Williams, which began with the Star Wars theme and then some processional music by Wagner, “Pomp and Circumstance,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as the 718 seniors (minus members of the band, orchestra and chorus) filed onto the court in two lines, one in red robes and one in white. Until several years ago, boys wore red and girls wore white, but now it’s gender-neutral. You can choose whatever color you want. Red is slightly more popular.  Once everyone was seated, there was a red rectangle on the left, a smaller white rectangle on the right, filled in with more red at the bottom, plus the black robes of faculty down the outer sides, along the aisle between the rectangles, and in the back. It was kind of a cool, watching this design take shape.

It was also a treat to be able to see Noah playing, as percussion is usually in the back at concerts. It was in the back here, too, but because of the stadium seating we could see everyone on the court. Even as high as we were, I could still sometimes hear him on the snare drum and the bells, though sometimes the bass drum drowned him out.

I haven’t been to a high school graduation since my own (as I was in Iowa, taking a grad school summer school course when my younger sister graduated from high school in Pennsylvania).  But it was about what you’d expect. A lot of speeches, interspersed with a chorus performance, a band and orchestra performance of the school’s alma mater, and then after about an hour, the names. It takes a long time to read 718 names, almost another hour. And, to my surprise (and apparently Noah’s, too) the musicians were all called first, so he walked across the stage, shook his principal’s hand and received his diploma case (the actual diplomas were distributed later) quite early in the proceedings. I’m not sure why he didn’t know this was going to happen, as he’d been to two rehearsals the day before, but it went smoothly enough. It looked like everyone knew what they were doing.

Listening to the rest of the names and watching kids on the Jumbotron was full of sentimental moments as Noah’s classmates from preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school went by. Because Blair is such a big school and Noah’s been something of a lone wolf the past several years, I didn’t even realize some of them went to his school. A few names I was waiting for, but it was hard to know exactly when they’d be called because the graduates went up in alternating groups of red and white so alphabetization was only approximate. Finally, all the names, from Abarca to Zimand, had been called, the students turned their tassels and they were graduates. They weren’t supposed to toss their caps, but of course, some of them, including my usually rule-bound son, did. North asked later, how you got your own cap back if you did that and he said if you were in the main area , you probably didn’t, but if you were only graduate sitting with the band in the percussion section, it wasn’t that hard. The band played a recessional from Aida, and everyone filed out.

We expected a long wait for Noah because he had to help pack up the percussion instruments and go get his diploma. As we lingered outside the building, on a pretty early June day, we chatted with the mother of Jazmín, one of his preschool classmates, and the father of Ruby, his best friend for most of kindergarten. We talked about where the kids are going to college and later Beth reminisced about how once when Noah fell and was hurt on a kindergarten field trip to a grocery store a few blocks from the school, Ruby’s dad was chaperoning and carried him all the way back to school. Noah came out earlier than we expected. Apparently, as he was helping with the instruments, the band teacher told him, “Go on. You’re done.” We took pictures of him with YaYa, with North, with Beth and me, and with Beth and YaYa. Then we dropped North off at school for their afternoon classes and went out to lunch. Told he could have lunch anywhere he wanted, he chose Noodles and Company. He’s a man of simple tastes.

We went back to YaYa’s hotel so she could change clothes and then back to our house, where we hung out, napped, and read. When North got home from school, Noah opened graduation cards and presents. He got a t-shirt for tech podcast he listens to, a pair of cordless headphones, a teleprompter, and a lot of checks, cash, and gift cards. North’s present to him was a series of five paintings. The captions read: What I love about you (an amusement park scene)…Is that even on the scariest of rides… (a roller coaster)…You’ll always hold my hand (two clasped hands)… And let me know that I am safe (closeup of an eye)…and I will always believe it (heart).

Noah wanted to deposit his check, so Beth ran him up the credit union, and then YaYa, Beth, North, and I went for a stroll around the neighborhood before a pizza dinner. Then we came home and Noah packed for an almost two-week visit with YaYa. In the morning, we all had breakfast together at Panera before Beth drove YaYa and Noah to the airport.

He’s done. Now it’s time for him to go on, to West Virginia for some grandmotherly spoiling, then a week at the beach with more family, then a month and a half at home making podcasts and teaching kids to make movies, and then on to the great adventure of college. 

Shine on Me

“I used to go to school here,” Noah said mock-wistfully as we drove into the parking lot of his high school, the one he stopped attending a little over a week ago. I made a mental note to tell him to stop making this joke, lest his sibling’s head explode, but this time, North didn’t seem to mind. We were there for their spring chorus concert and they were in a good mood, joking with Noah and laughing.

Because the concert is in June, North was all decked out in rainbow gear, or as much as you can be when the bulk of your outfit is supposed to be black and white. They wore a white short-sleeved button-down shirt, black leggings and black ankle boots, brightened with a black bowtie with multicolored musical notes and rainbow-striped socks peeking out over the tops of the boots.

They were also using a colorful new pair of crutches. Although it’s been almost four months since North broke their tibia and the bone and ligaments have long since healed, they’re still experiencing pain. We are all very frustrated by this. The orthopedist referred us to the pain clinic at Children’s National Medical Center, but our appointment isn’t until July so we ordered North a pair of forearm crutches, which are supposed to be better for your posture if you’re on crutches long term. They’re purple and teal, with pink grip tape around the handles.

It’s kind of depressing to be thinking about North using crutches for the long-term, but that’s where we are. In fact, recently, they’ve been experiencing flare-ups of more intense pain. When this happens, they sometimes sleep on a futon on the living room floor because they can’t get up the ladder of their bunk bed. Last week one particularly ill-timed episode cut short their chorus field trip to King’s Dominion. Beth had to rush home from work and then drive a couple hours (almost as far as Richmond) to fetch them and bring them home.

The chorus was participating in Music in the Parks. Bands, orchestras, and choruses perform in the morning and then enjoy an afternoon at an amusement park. When Noah was in middle school his band always went to Hershey Park. North got to perform, have lunch, and ride one ride before their leg started to hurt badly and then they spent much of the afternoon in the first aid station, waiting for Beth. Eventually, they recovered enough to go on one more ride and attend the awards ceremony before Beth arrived. I was sad about this turn of events because North had wanted to go on this field trip for years and last year it was inexplicably cancelled and next year they’re probably taking art instead of chorus, so this was their only shot.

It wasn’t a total loss, though, because they did perform and the chorus did pretty well, coming in second out of four middle school choruses. The chorus was ranked two on a scale of five (the lower numbers are better). At festival in March, they’d scored a four and this had been a pretty bitter disappointment, so it was nice to have their improvement recognized.

But back to the concert… It was an orchestra, piano, and chorus concert, held at Noah’s school because North’s school doesn’t have an auditorium and they rotate between different high schools whenever there’s a concert. It’s always nice when it’s at Blair, because it’s the closest high school.

While we waited for the concert to start, I scanned the program, looking for familiar names. I saw a few, but not one of North’s elementary school classmates, at least none of the ones I knew, is still in orchestra or chorus.

The orchestra played six songs. My favorite was a Bach piece called “Sleepers Wake,” maybe because I have a recording of it, so it’s familiar. The orchestra teacher explained he’d let the band choose one of their performance pieces from a website of band music. They chose a song called “Tour of California,” which he said reminded him up driving up the Pacific coast on a motorcycle. After the band, two piano students performed—a girl did a duet with the piano teacher, who is also the chorus teacher, and boy played alone. They were both beginners and sounded pretty good, considering.

After intermission, the chorus came on. They had four songs: “Alleluia! Sing Alleluia,” (more Bach) “She Sings,” “Rise Up,” (the Andra Day song, not the Diane Birch song, the Indigo Girls song, or the one from Hamilton with that chorus, which is actually called something else) and, finally, “Shine on Me,” a gospel tune.  Beth said she liked the first one best, North liked the second one, and I favored the last one. Maybe none of us picked “Rise Up” because it was an eighth-grade spotlight so North didn’t sing in it. (The eighth graders are going to sing it again at promotion.)

After saying goodbye to the eighth-graders, Mr. N, the chorus director, thanked the returning sixth and seventh graders and wished the members of the chorus who were taking other electives next year well and expressed his hope they’d be back on the stage someday. Then he spoke about Music in the Parks, and how much the chorus had improved in a little over two months. Well, that’s how I would have put it, but he put a surprising emphasis on the chorus’s low scores at festival, more than on their good scores at Music in the Parks, so that was strange and kind of uncomfortable.

But I don’t think Mr. N needs to worry about North returning to the stage. This summer they’ll be in chorus camp, a drama camp production of Wicked, and most likely in a production of Sweeney Todd. They always find a way to shine.

It was close to North’s bedtime when the concert ended but they wanted to go out for frozen yogurt and it was a beautiful evening and almost the end of a long year for them, so a little celebration seemed in order.

Texts from Colombia: An Adventure

When North was in second grade, I told them we were going on an “adventure,” when we were actually just going on a walk. This was a holdover from when the kids were very small and I used to call any outing an adventure. North patiently explained to me that it’s only an adventure if it involves “climbing a tree or going to another country.” This became a family joke.

Well, North’s climbed a few trees since then, but until this month they hadn’t had the other kind of adventure. They returned from the seventh and eighth-grade Spanish immersion trip to Colombia on Monday evening. I wasn’t there, so I’m going to tell the story in North’s own words, though their texts, mostly to Beth. I check my texts less frequently, so Beth was the main conduit of information. Also, some of my text exchanges with North were in Spanish. I included a little of that as bonus content for those of you who can read Spanish. All texts are shared with North’s permission and they were at least as redacted as the Mueller report.

Note: All time stamps are U.S. Eastern time. It was an hour earlier in Bogotá.

4/5, 5:51 p.m.

North: On the plane
I get to be buddies with Zoë
But the customs line is sooo long
And I have to stand

4/6, 1:01 a.m.

North: IM IN COLOMBIA
I  met P and J [North’s host couple], very nice, I’m tired so I don’t completely remember our plans for this weekend, but they sound fun and we’ll be hanging out with Zoës family [North’s host family consisted of a school administrator and her husband. They had no kids, so they often socialized with Zoë’s host family, and at school, North and Zoë both shadowed Zoë’s student.]

4/6, 6:34 a.m.

Beth: You didn’t get much sleep

North: Nope
I think what she said were doing today is that we’re going to drive through a little town with lots of mountains and a lake, and then we’re having dinner with Zoës family

Beth: Sounds amazing!

North: Yeah and we’re making plans to spend most of Sunday with her family too, on Sunday we have a welcome dinner for our chaperones that I’m going to, and the students have welcome breakfast at the school on Monday

4/6, 2:11 p.m.

North: I ordered at a restaurant in Spanish
Oh yeah and I’ve been communication solely in Spanish for the past twelve hours
I am in pain because apparently public bathrooms aren’t a thing in Colombia

Beth: Sorry!

North: 2 hours later we got home and I used the bathroom
It was wonderful

Beth: Sorry you had to be uncomfortable for so long
Early to bed tonight?

North: Not right now we’re going out to dinner with zoë’s hosts

Beth: Have fun!

North: Were you expecting me to go to bed at 6:30?

Beth: No, but maybe by 9?

4/6, 10:32 p.m.

North: It’s always seemed normal to me, but I’m realizing now that the fact that I can speak 2 languages is really cool. Language is still such an abstract thing that we don’t quite understand, and the fact that some people can understand more than one is really spectacular if you think about it.
We’re still not home from dinner btw [North learned first-hand about the late hours people in Spanish-speaking countries often keep on this trip.]

4/7, 9:18 a.m.

North: We were walking around and my host brought me into a clothing store. I think it’s her way of saying, “your wardrobe is atrocious” [P quite generously bought North a lot of clothes on the trip.]

North: A guy stopped us on the street, tied strings around our wrists and told us how much Jesús  loves us (hint: he apparently loves us a lot)

4/9, 5:51 p.m

Me: Que hiciste hoy?

North: Fuimos al museo de oro, y el quinto de Bolívar 

Me: Divertiste? Usaste una silla de ruedas o caminaste?

North: Silla de ruedas porque temenos que caminar much, era muy divertido

4/9, 5:53 p.m.

North: I’m starting to see bits of freckles peeking out

Beth: Sunshine power!

4/10, 6:59 a.m.

North: I like this whole going to school for half an hour then getting on the bus with Zoe for two hours thing. It’s nice [The American students spent one whole day at the host school, but the rest of the days, they were mainly on field trips.]

Beth: It will be hard to go back to your regular routine

North: In the US, kinder eggs are illegal, here, it’s illegal for a minor to drink coffee

Beth: Interesting! How old do you have to be for coffee

North: 18

4/9, 6:37 p.m.

North: My knee has been getting more stiff and painful recently, it’s getting harder to do my exercises…We’ve mostly been using the wheelchairs on field trips because I don’t enjoy standing on one foot for hours on end

4/9, 9:08 p.m.

North: Zoë got me a kinder egg

Beth: Nice!

North: Cuz I wasn’t allowed to get the one I found at the store
I’ll be careful not to choke and die

4/11, 7:45 a.m.

North: Today we had papaya with Parmesan on top for breakfast
I did not like it
In the slightest
But I ate all of it
I wouldn’t recommend it

Beth: Good for you for eating it

4/11, 10:05 a.m.

North: Is putting sunscreen on your hands a thing? [The kids got a lot of warnings about using sunscreen because the sun is stronger at the high altitude of Bogotá.]

Beth: Yes

North: My hands never burn it’s weird

4/11, 3:32 p.m.

North: Guess what I got you?

Beth: Salt? [There was a field trip to a salt mine that day and Beth, who is a connoisseur of salt requested they bring some home]

North: You guessed it!

Beth: Thanks!

North: They had no small bags so

Beth: Wow that might put your luggage overweight!

4/11, 5:39 p.m.

North: The back of my neck is burned and my cheeks are redder than usual

Beth: They said that might happen! Lots of sun in the salt mine?

North: It seemed dark lol but outside of it yeah

North: Today they said something I was very annoyed about, the only after school activity available was robotics and they said, “but robotics is not for girls.” There is so much wrong that sentence and I would have proved them wrong and gone to robotics, but I don’t like robotics.

Beth: Computers were not for girls when I was in junior high. It’s terrible but people keep fighting for change and change happens

4/11, 8:38 p.m.

North: Tim Burton dumbo just came out here so we saw it
It’s literally the equivalent of 3 dollars each for tickets

Beth: Was Dumbo dubbed into Spanish

North: Yep
It was fairly easy to understand but the lips not matching the words was trippy

North: I’d love to go to this school. No yelling teachers, people are very causal and call their teachers by their first names and use informal conjugations, the food is amazing, and THE HALLWAYS ARE OUTSIDE

North: It’s past 9:00 and we still haven’t ordered
I’m never going to bed tonight

Beth: You are going to need a lot of rest when you get home

North: But I still have to get up at 6:30 the next morning to get to school
Well shoot, I just realized that the two adults coming home with me are drinking
Who will drive safely
Nobody [We don’t drink, so North’s not accustomed to seeing adults drinking and doesn’t really have much context for what’s safe, so they needed some reassurance.]

Beth: If they are having a glass of wine with dinner it will be OK
I am sure your teachers will make sure you are safe

4/12, 6:48 a.m.

North: It’s driving P crazy that she can’t coordinate my outfit cause we’re going to the wetlands today and I can only wear stuff that can get dirty

North: Oh no
I just looked
They put cheese on mango
You can’t mess up mango
But I just saw it happen

North: I have to somehow navigate wetlands on crutches today
It’s our community service

11:16 a.m.

North: Somebody decided that rather than having me organize a library with the eighth graders it would be a good idea to take me on a 2 hour hike

4/12, 7:03 p.m.

Me: Did you survive the hike?

North: Barely

Me: What kind of terrain?

North: Tall grass, it was wonderful for crutches

Me: And did you dance at the dance?

North: Nope

Me: What’s the plan for tomorrow?

North: Idk

Me: Well you can rest your leg Monday on the plane

Me: You’re visiting a colonial village according to P 

4/12, 9:15 p.m.

North: Did I mention that I spent $12 on the hate u give only for it to be available for free on the flights
I just realized I forgot to wear my retainer on this entire trip

Beth: You can start tonight!

Beth: Did you go on the mountain hike?

North: Nope [This was the only activity North skipped due being on crutches, on a very active trip.]

4/13, 6:06 p.m.

North: There are so many stray dogs here but they’re all so calm, they don’t bark and aren’t scary at all. I’m petting a dog [North is very afraid of almost all dogs. Finding a host family without a dog was one of the factors that delayed North getting matched with a family until almost before the trip started. Being vegetarian was another. It’s possible being non-binary was yet another, although North says they were perceived as a girl by almost everyone. They weren’t even sure if P and J knew, though the trip organizers from North’s school told us months ago that they were looking for a tolerant family so I assume they did.]

4/14, 8:42 a.m.

Beth: Sounds like the hotel was kind of a disaster… I mean adventure. Ms U sent out a message [After they left their host families, the Americans spent a couple more days in Colombia and stayed in two very different hotels]

North: There were fleas, exposed wires in the shower, and of course no WiFi and little service
But there was a cat

Beth: A stray or did it live at the hotel?

North: It was a stray but lives in the hotel where guests pet, feed it and let it into their rooms

4/14, 8:34 p.m.

North: This is like the size of a room you would get for all four of us and it’s just me and Zoë

4/15 1:05 p.m. 

Beth: Welcome back to the USA [North was going through customs in Atlanta]

North: I put the salt in my carry on.
They thought it was drugs

Beth: Did they confiscate it?
Is it weird to be back where most people are speaking English?

North: They just scanned it thoroughly and patted me down
It’s fine

4/15, 5:30 p.m.

North: About to take off. I have the entire row to myself

A few hours later, North came off the plane, tired but very happy. It’s been nice having everyone at home together for the past five days, but I’m glad they finally got to have the non-tree climbing kind of adventure, thanks to the hard work of the teachers and administrators of both schools and the generosity of their Colombian hosts. ¡Gracias a todos!

Our Funny Valentine

“This will be a memorable Valentine’s Day, even if it’s not the best one,” North commented as we ate our Valentine’s Day dinner of tomato, cabbage, and rice soup with heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches. They were wearing a large new brace with a hinge and a cutout for the knee on their left leg.  They fell on some wet pavement in front of their school Monday morning and fractured the growth plate at the top of their left tibia, though it took several days to get the right diagnosis.

At first we thought it was a sprained knee and not even a severe sprain as they could put a little weight on it. But it wasn’t better after two days and a night and they needed a doctor’s note to keep using the elevator at school, so Beth took them to urgent care on Tuesday night. The doctor there thought it was a fracture, but the radiologist who read the X-rays the next day disagreed. By Thursday morning, we had a more definitive opinion from an orthopedist who had examined North and person and seen the X-rays and he said it was fractured in a different place than where the urgent care doctor had thought. This was the same orthopedist we saw when North was breaking bone after bone in fifth grade (with some sprains thrown in for variety). I desperately hope we are not on the cusp of another series of orthopedic injuries, but in case we are I’m glad the doctor is familiar with North’s case history.

North was out of school for the first two periods at the orthopedist the morning of Valentine’s Day, so they missed getting candy from any friends who brought some in because apparently it was all distributed by the time they got to school. I wasn’t that sorry for them as North hadn’t brought any candy to school for anyone else and they got white chocolate-strawberry truffles and gummy cinnamon hearts at home later in the day.

North’s gift to the whole family was a bouquet of four yellow roses, one for each of us. We’d discussed this plan before they were injured so I decided to go to the florist and buy them myself while I was out on Valentines-related errands on Tuesday morning because I thought when they got home from school they’d rather rest, rather than going out into the cold rain on crutches in search of flowers.

In lieu of their normal chores, I had them do KP for dinner every night from Monday to Thursday, seated at the dining room table with a big cutting board, a knife, and a pile of vegetables, fruit, and/or herbs. Some days I didn’t need much chopped and this was a very short chore, but on Valentine’s Day it was more involved. They chopped vegetables for the soup, including a big pile of cabbage, and then they juiced half an orange and sectioned five and a half more, grapefruit-style, to get the flesh free of the membranes. (The only reason I didn’t have them zest two more oranges was that I forgot I needed those until after they’d left the table.)  I was making an orange pound cake with chocolate whipped cream as a Valentine’s dessert.

We exchanged cards and gifts after dinner. Some of the cards were funny like the one from me and Beth to Noah of waffles holding hands that said, “We love you a waffle lot,” and some sweet, like Beth’s to me with stars in a heart shape that said, “You are the stars in my sky.” In addition to the roses, there were three pairs of socks with hearts on them for North, a long sleeve tie-dyed t-shirt for Noah, a Starbucks card for me, a loaf of chocolate-cherry bread for Beth, and candy for everyone. So there was some sweetness in the day for everyone, despite our youngest being hobbled again. And North didn’t let the injury stop them from going about their normal routine at school, rehearsal for the school play, honors chorus rehearsal, therapy, practice for their youth TED talk, or church. It would take more than a broken leg to slow down this child.

It was a good week for Noah, too. He got into RIT, which Beth knew before anyone else because she has access to the email account he uses for communications from colleges. (This was the first time an email has come in advance of the letter. When you open it you see the letter that’s coming in the mail with confetti graphics streaming across it. It was quite festive.) Beth was waiting for him to discover it on his own, but she finally suggested he check his mail on Wednesday evening. The official letter came on Friday.

On that same day he got another letter informing him he was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, which was welcome news indeed, because it will probably mean money for college, and possibly significant money, depending on how the college he eventually chooses rewards that distinction. I’d been forcing myself not to open the National Merit letter since it arrived that morning, five hours before he got home from school, so of course when he did get home, he drew out the suspense by opening it after a Valentine from my mom and the RIT letter, which had “We have some good news for you” printed right on the envelope, in case he’d forgotten the email.

So now he just needs to hear from BU and to find out whether he was admitted to the honors college at RIT and more about scholarships and need-based aid at various colleges and he’ll have all the information he needs to make his choice. Some days it seems strange that we’ll know where he’s going to college in a two and a half months at the latest and other days it seems that’s a long time to wait, given that this whole process started in March of last year.

After opening all that happy mail, we read a little of our new book, Welcome to Night Vale, and then he drummed for an hour and a half. Practicing that long is usually a sign he’s in a good mood, so I was happy to hear it. Second semester continues to be a slog for him—it’s looking like it’s not going to be an easy one after all—so it’s good for him to see the tangible rewards of all his hard work.

We’re two days into a long weekend. Noah’s been working most of the time, of course. What else would he do? But we’ve also enjoyed a few small pleasures. We all watched the penultimate episode of A Series of Unfortunate Events on Friday night; Beth, North and I watched One Day at a Time last night; and the kids watched Dr. Who together this morning. I had a nice talk with my sister on the phone yesterday and swam some extra laps at the pool today. Beth made soft tacos with homemade queso and avocado cream for dinner tonight and she’ll make pancakes or waffles for President’s Day breakfast. It’s a tradition. We have a lot of those in our everyday life, and when you’re in the right frame of mind, those comforting rhythms can seem like a valentine, sometimes a funny one, sometimes a sweet one.

All Around the World

June’s in physical therapy three times a week now, which we hope will eventually get her back on her feet. At her last orthopedist appointment, she was issued a new boot, so now she has one for each foot. The second boot allows her to propel herself on the kneeling scooter we’d been using to push her around to house, when she’s wearing them, that is. (She often takes them off because she finds them uncomfortable.)

Thursday was notable because it was the only morning last week June didn’t have a medical appointment of some kind. It was also her birthday. I found Noah’s old number eleven shirt and asked if she wanted to wear it to school. She did. While I wheeled her out of school that afternoon and asked about her day, she said Zoë showered her with homemade confetti at lunch. She seemed pleased by this.

That evening we had a lemon Bundt cake from the grocery store after dinner (we were saving her birthday cake for her party) and she opened presents—coupons for a weekend trip to New York and a dye job for her hair, a book and a promise of another, headphones, rods for her 3D pen and a lot of clothes. Some were spring or summer clothes, others were related to the international theme of her party. She got a baseball-style shirt with a world map on it, a t-shirt with camel, another with tropical birds, and pajamas with an assortment of Australian animals.

Friday after school, Megan came over to help with party preparations. She and June made the pieces for the Pin-Australia-on-the-Map game by outlining the continent onto tracing paper and then using that as a model to cut out several copies out of construction paper. Then they wrote the name of a party guest on each game piece and decorated them. Next, they printed a world map to tape to a blue balloon and researched international party games. They were hampered in this by the fact that a lot of the games they found required more mobility than June has right now. They settled on Statues, which they decided could stand for Greece, and Pass the Parcel, which is apparently the British name for Hot Potato. From the name, they got the idea to use June’s birthday presents as the parcels. I asked if they wanted to fill the goody bags but June said they could do it before the party, as Megan was coming over an hour early the next day.

After June’s guitar lesson (which was held in a first-floor storefront under the music school to accommodate her injury), Beth and I spent most of Saturday cleaning, decorating, shopping for party food, and baking. I spread the table with the international flag tablecloth and Beth set up the flag centerpiece and hung the flag banner over the living room. Wasn’t Beth’s world map cake a thing of beauty? It was her first time working with fondant. I told her motherhood has revealed hidden talents in her.

Around two-thirty, two and a half hours before party time, we got a phone call from one of the guests who had to cancel. June was upset because this particular girl has a history of no shows, because she’s in sixth grade and now they’re not at the same school they see less of each other, and also because it was now too late to invite someone else. (I’d told her she could have five guests and she’d only have four.)

But she recovered as party time approached. She took a bath and changed into the Indian blouse and skirt Beth found for her at the thrift store. June had requested her guests come in international costume if they had one.

Megan, wearing a beautiful Mexican dress and veil, arrived a little after four. She and June set to work decorating the gift bags with stickers with the names of different countries and stuffing them with pencils and erasers with the flags of different countries, Eiffel Tower and fleur de lis lollipops, globe stress balls, and rubber ducks in international costumes. (I always enjoy this aspect of June’s parties. A few weeks earlier, when it was time to send out invitations she and I went through a desk drawer where we keep free greeting cards from non-profits and picked out a few different designs—an African village scene, the Eiffel Tower, and cherry blossoms to represent Japan—and we taped a sheet with the party information into them and I bought some Chinese New Year stamps to mail them.)

The party guests started to arrive. Naomi wore a lovely Guatemalan skirt with a white blouse. Zoë and Evie took a more casual approach. Zoë’s t-shirt had a wallaby on it and Evie’s said Bahamas. It was a warm day, around 75 degrees, so the guests hung out on the porch talking before they came inside to play Pass the Parcel. As each round ended, June opened the presents. She got a Japanese paper lantern kit and a set of Peruvian worry dolls, among other presents. A couple of the homemade cards featured either a drawing or watercolor of the Earth, which I thought was a nice touch.

The guest were mingling well. I’d wondered if Naomi, who’s in fourth grade, would feel left out but I forgot she’s in Girls on the Run so she knew almost everyone. I also wondered if June chose to invite kids in different grades this year to prevent excessive discussion of who got into what middle school magnet. After she was waitlisted at the humanities magnet, we found out a couple weeks ago that she was not admitted.

While Beth and Noah went to get the pizza, I set up the taco fixings on the dining room table. June’s idea of an international buffet consisted of pizza, tacos, and a pitcher of mango lassi, which Beth made earlier in the day. We ate on Union Jack plates, with Eiffel Tower napkins, and Chinese dragon cups.

After dinner and cake, everyone moved into the living room where we watched Mulan. (Later I wondered if I missed an educational opportunity by not steering June toward an actual foreign film for kids, but as she gets older I leave more and more of the party planning to her.) Anyway, it was a popular choice. The guests were critical of how the girls had to doll themselves up for the matchmaker and of the soldiers’ view of women in the song “A Girl Worth Fighting For” and they cheered when Mulan saved the day in the palace scene.

After the movie, the girls got into their pajamas and played Mafia. They came back to this game in the morning. June’s basketball team played it at the end-of-season party, as well. It’s all the rage in the late elementary school set. When I joked about it being sort of international, since the Mafia originated in Sicily, they all looked at me blankly and June asked, “What is the Mafia?” Turns out no-one knew.

I eavesdropped on their bedtime conversation a bit, as that’s a duty of a mother at a slumber party, I think. The most interesting moment was when they were trying to come up with a definition for the word “pervert.” They decided it meant a peeping Tom.

Soon after that I turned out the lights and left. I’m not sure how late they stayed up. I told them to be quiet by ten and they were more or less quiet by ten-thirty, quiet enough for Beth and me to get to sleep anyway. By 6:40 they were all up, so Beth started toasting bagels and I set the table with cream cheese, butter, and fruit salad and took the girls’ orders for orange juice, milk, or water.

After they played Mafia again and got dressed, we moved out to the porch where Beth had strung up the Chinese dragon piñata and I’d taped a big world map to the house. They all got a couple turns swinging at the piñata until it showered candy, erasers, and temporary tattoos down on them. I was going to help collect candy for my hobbled daughter, but was she was doing a pretty good job crawling around for it herself so I quit.

Next, they played Pin-Australia-on-the-Map. The reason June wanted the guests’ names on their playing pieces was so we could know who got closest to the right location. But this took most of the guesswork out of the game, as June got close on the first try and then everyone felt for the existing cutouts on the map and all the Australias ended up at least partially on top of each other. Nonetheless, Zoë was declared the winner as hers most closely overlapped Australia on the map.

Most of the last forty minutes of party time was spent in trading piñata candy and tchotchkes. Parents started arriving at ten and ten minutes later a profound quiet had settled over the house, the quiet of a house suddenly emptied of tween girls.

“Well, now you’re done turning eleven,” Beth said.

Happy birthday, dear June. Maybe someday your adventures will take you all around the world. But for now, I’d settle for seeing you walk to the school bus stop.

Head to Toe

I think I’ve failed to mention here that June broke her ankle again. That actually happened around three weeks ago, at basketball practice. She got knocked over during a scrimmage and re-broke the growth plate of her right fibula, right where she broke it in October. She got a new boot and was getting around okay until her left foot started to bother her. We assumed it was strained from walking with the boot but about a week and a half ago the pain got worse and then she couldn’t walk at all. Beth took her to urgent care and they x-rayed that foot. It wasn’t broken, but she was rendered immobile. 

We took her to the end-of-season Panda party (hosted as usual by Talia’s family) because she begged to go, and we all ended up having a good time. June held court from her chair and when the girls wanted to go outside and run around, we helped her to a bench, where she could sit and watch. I think she might have been giving out clues in some kind of mystery game they invented.

She stayed home from school Monday and Tuesday there was no school because of a weather event. We got three inches of the white stuff. It was the first school cancellation of the year and it was unlikely June would have gone to school that day anyway so I couldn’t be too grouchy about it. It was kind of sad, though, because June was too hurt to go play outside and while I might have been able to convince Noah to take June sledding if she’d been able-bodied, he wasn’t going to do it alone, so everyone just stayed inside. I ghost wrote a blog post on apple cider vinegar and Noah worked on a research paper. (I did make hot chocolate for the kids and brownies that evening because Beth was in the mood, so I was not a completely inadequate winter mother and wife).

Megan came over for a play date and as June was bed-ridden, they decided to play hospital. Soon June’s room was supplied with an EKG graph, an IV line, and other medical accoutrement.

That night right before I got into the shower, June, who was in bed but not asleep, started complaining of dizziness. Beth said she’d come back and check on her in a little bit. When I got out of the shower, June was sobbing. The dizziness had worsened and she was seeing double. When June cried, “I can’t move my hands!” Beth said, “Call 911,” and I did.

Soon there were three paramedics in June’s bedroom. (I wondered later if they noticed the prescient medical décor.) They did a good job calming her down so she stopped hyperventilating and after asking some questions, they carried her out to the ambulance waiting in front of our house. I rode with her to the hospital and Beth and Noah followed in the car. I was grateful it hadn’t happened the night before when the streets were slushy.

We had to wait a little while in the ER, which Beth said was a good sign, that they weren’t taking her right away. Eventually, June got signed in. Beth and I could go with her to the exam room, but Noah had to stay behind. During a lull in all the tests, Beth drove him back home so he could get some sleep.

Over the course of the night, we saw many, many medical professionals and nearly everyone was truly kind, caring, and reassuring. (Over and over we had to say we were both June’s mothers and I thought how not very long ago, this would have been harder than it was for us. We were even in a Catholic hospital and it was a non-issue.)

June had an EKG, a CT scan, and an MRI, plus blood work. Everything was normal and her blood pressure, which had risen into the 140s over the 90s, probably from stress, also returned to normal. So, we knew she didn’t have a skull fracture, blood on her brain, or a brain tumor. (No one said anything about what they were looking for until they knew it wasn’t an issue, which I kind of appreciated, but of course Beth and I were both already thinking brain tumor, and not saying it to each other either.) However, despite all these tests, June still had all the symptoms that brought her to the hospital.

Around four in the morning, they transferred us to Children’s Medical Center, so June could see a pediatric neurologist. I rode in the ambulance again and Beth drove. It was eerie driving along familiar streets in downtown Silver Spring and D.C. in the dead of night. I was surprised how much traffic there was along Georgia Avenue, even though nothing but gas stations was open. The driver was kind of chatty so I asked him if he always worked nights. He said yes. I told him it was only my third time staying up all night and the first two times I was in labor.

All night June had been staying calm, putting up with new and scary tests and getting pricked with needles multiple times. She had an IV of saline at the first hospital and then another one with more saline and migraine medication at the second hospital. But soon after arriving at Children’s, she lost her resilience. She was crying and saying she just wanted it to be over and to go home. (I might have lost my composure earlier in the ordeal than she did.) One difficulty was that the IV fluids made her need to use the bathroom urgently and because she couldn’t walk and she couldn’t go in a bedpan, we had to get her unhooked and take her there in a wheelchair every time and this meant she was often uncomfortable because had to wait until someone could disconnect her IV.

But the second IV drip started to relieve some of her symptoms. She gradually re-gained the ability to move her fingers and toes and her hands warmed up. (They’d been ice cold earlier.)  The pauses between visits from medical professionals started to get longer and around 6:15 June fell asleep on her gurney and slept there most of the morning whenever she wasn’t being examined. Beth and I dozed off in our plastic chairs as well. I slept around forty-five minutes in two pieces.

When we got a diagnosis, it was complications of a migraine. It was a little surprising because although she did have a headache it wasn’t severe and it lasted all night, unlike her normal headaches, which are intense and relatively short-lived. But when June was first diagnosed with migraine-like headaches three years ago they told us the pattern could change around puberty and she is almost eleven.  They gave us a prescription for high-dose ibuprofen and a reference for an outpatient neurological consultation.

June was discharged a little after noon, improved but still a little dizzy and seeing double. The three of us slept all afternoon. When I woke up, I made a kale, potato, and mushroom soup because eating something nourishing seemed appealing.

June still couldn’t walk and I thought she could use another day to recover, so she stayed home Thursday. But I had a long phone conversation with the school nurse about everything that had happened over the past week and secured permission for June to use the health center’s wheelchair, which allowed her to return to school Friday.

I also tried to get her Saturday morning guitar lesson—have I mentioned she’s taking guitar?— moved off site because her music school is on the second floor of a building with no elevator. (They are expanding into a more accessible space eventually but it’s not ready.) We’d had to cancel her lesson the weekend before because of the stairs and I was on a mission to return her life to as close to normal as possible. I failed here, though, because they can’t do lessons outside the building for insurance reasons. So June practiced at home.

We have an appointment with a physical therapist on Monday and an orthopedist on Tuesday. Our neurologist appointment isn’t until May but they said if they get a cancellation they’ll see us earlier. We’re hoping soon June will be better from head to toe.

I’ll give Beth the last word. This is what she said on Facebook, on Wednesday: “I am grateful to have so many well-trained and caring health care professionals within a few miles of our house. I am grateful to have a job with good health insurance so that I didn’t even hesitate to take her to the hospital. I am more committed than ever to fighting to preserve the gains we’ve made in providing affordable health care to people living in the United States and look forward to the day when we make universal health care a reality.”

Brace Yourself

In a period of just nine days, Noah got his braces off, June got hers on, and she swapped her boot for an ankle brace.

June got her braces two years younger than Noah and she’ll be wearing them longer, and in two phases because she has more serious bite issues. Her teeth were sore for a while and she complained at dinner the first night she had them, “Noah is flaunting his braceless teeth at me.” But she got a lot of compliments on the teal color she chose and she said her friends at school told her she looks “adorable” with them, so there’s that. She’s supposed to brush after every meal now and a boy who saw her in the hallway with her toothbrush called her a nerd for brushing at school. I asked her if that upset her and she said no, “because I already didn’t like him.”

Today June got her boot off after wearing it for almost four weeks. She has a brace now she can wear with shoes. She’s a little wobbly on her feet and isn’t supposed to try to run for another three weeks, but it’s progress.

We are all also trying to brace ourselves for the upcoming change in administration. It’s not easy. It’s hard to know whether to be more appalled by the steady stream of horrifying appointments—a white supremacist as chief advisor, a climate change denier in charge of the transition at the EPA, an opponent of civil rights at the Justice Department—or the hate crimes committed by people who now feel emboldened.

You’re probably painfully aware that there’s been a spike in hate crimes nationally. Just in our little corner of the world, a Black Lives Matter sign at UCC church in Silver Spring that a friend of mine attends has been repeatedly vandalized. An Episcopal church in Silver Spring with a majority immigrant congregation had their sign advertising Spanish-language services defaced with the words “Trump Nation. Whites Only.”

And in more chilling examples, swastikas were drawn at a Bethesda middle school and at the French immersion elementary school a biracial friend of June’s attends, someone wrote “KILL KILL KILL BLACKS” on a restroom wall. Then last Friday a group of white nationalists were doing Nazi salutes at an Italian restaurant in Friendship Heights, a restaurant we frequent because it’s near the kids’ dentist. A boy who went to Noah’s preschool a year ahead of him and who’s now a junior at his high school heard about it on Twitter and got there in time for the protest.

When I went to book club about a week after the election, I expected to find the members in a variety of emotional states, from glum to energized to organize. It’s not a politically-focused book club, but it’s an older lefty crowd for the most part. I’m the youngest regularly attending member, at forty-nine. When I got arrived, there was no pre-discussion chatter, which is a little unusual. Everyone was silent until we started discussing our book, The Secret Chord. It’s historical fiction, based on the life of King David. The election never came up, which was also unusual. People often want to connect what we’re reading to current events and it’s hard to stop thinking about this particular event.

Once we’d finished and were preparing to leave, one man who’s fairly involved in local politics, said without preamble or explanation, “Does anyone have any reason be hopeful?”

There was a long silence. It seemed no one was going to say anything so I searched for something, even though I haven’t exactly been a ray of sunshine lately. I said the fact that we’d just read a book that takes place three thousand years ago might encourage us to take the long view. The story was full of betrayal and violence, based as it is on the Old Testament. But David’s tumultuous reign led to the more peaceful and just reign of his son Solomon. I didn’t say it that well at the time, but I wish I had because they were all so sad…

But as I read political discussions among liberals and progressives on Facebook, it’s hard to see the way forward. Did Trump win because he mined a deep seam of racism and misogyny in American culture? Or did Clinton lose because she didn’t focus on economic issues important to the white working class, who voted for Trump despite his hateful rhetoric and not because of it? (Although if that’s the case, it’s sobering to note that racism wasn’t a deal-breaker for big chunk of the electorate.) Or has the role of class been overstated here, given how many middle and upper class whites voted for Trump, in which case it might be about race after all. No one on the left seems to agree, which makes it hard to know how to proceed.

But are we really just going to argue about what to call the march on the day after the inauguration and whether we should be wearing safety pins or not? I hope not.
And speaking of safety pins, I found one on one of June’s shirts as I was hanging wash on the line last week. Somehow I didn’t notice it when she was wearing it. I’d explained briefly why some people were wearing them and she’d decided to wear one to school herself. I know people are divided on whether this is a helpful gesture or not, but I was moved that she took it upon herself to do it.

Something else that made me feel hopeful last week was the massive walkouts at local high schools. The week after the election, there were walkouts Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in suburban Maryland and the District. These were mostly peaceful, but unfortunately violence broke out in Rockville when a kid in Trump hat confronted the crowd and was kicked and punched by protesters. I don’t condone or excuse that.

Here’s an article about the walkout at Noah’s school, where about a third of the student body walked out and a smaller group took to the streets.

Noah was at the orthodontist getting his braces off when the protest started but when he got back to school and discovered his English class empty—because every single kid had walked out—he went to the stadium to join them. He didn’t take part in the street protest. He’s not a natural rebel and he hates crowds, so I’m not surprised but I’m glad he participated in part of it and that his school’s walkout was peaceful. I’m proud of all the kids who go to his large, diverse school and their passion and commitment to social justice.

At each rally I go to (and so far I’ve been to two—one in Takoma and one in Silver Spring), Blair students have given speeches alongside religious leaders, local and federal government officials, school system administrators, and members of the police. These teenagers haven’t succumbed to despair, which helps pull me back from the brink when I get close.

For my part, I’ve signed petitions and picked up the phone although I absolutely hate making political phone calls. Last week I asked my mom and sister if in lieu of Christmas gifts we could all donate to progressive organizations and send each other cards to open on Christmas that say what organizations we chose. They both said yes and that made me feel good, like we could all dig a little deeper into our wallets now. It’s a small thing, but like Noah, I’m not a natural rebel. Maybe over the next several years, I will learn.