Until (40 More Things): Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 10

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons

From “Ella’s Song,” by Bernice Johnson Reagon

It’s been another forty days since my last “40 Things” post. It was my intention to mark our eightieth day of semi-quarantine with another list of forty things and I seem to be going through with it, though I really wasn’t expecting a nationwide wave of protests to be added to a pandemic when I was first thinking about writing this.

I could write about how hopeful the slow ebb of the first wave of the coronavirus made me feel, how things suddenly feel different than they did forty days ago, even though I’m pretty much counting on an eventual second wave.  But that feeling’s been largely overshadowed by current events, so maybe I should write about my horror at the death of George Floyd, the sheer sadism of it, and my anger at how the protests have been met, especially those in D.C., because I call the D.C. metro area my home. But I could also write about the less consequential things we’ve been up to since Memorial Day because I do want these posts to be a chronicle of what everyday life was like for us during these strange times. I’m just going to do all three, in roughly chronological order.

  1. On Memorial Day, George Floyd was murdered. You know the circumstances. What strikes me about it is how long it took. This wasn’t unconscious bias causing someone to make a terribly misguided split-second decision. This decision was made over and over again, to keep doing it, to keep killing him, despite his pleas and those of onlookers.
  2. Protests spread across the country and were met with violence almost immediately. Even journalists are getting harassed and injured. I find this stunning. There’s no free society without a free press.
  3. Two days after Memorial Day, Noah cast his first non-municipal vote (in the Maryland primary). I know a woman who made a cardboard voting booth for her eighteen year old daughter to use to fill out her ballot at home. I didn’t go that far, but I did take his picture at the mailbox, because it felt like a milestone.
  4. And while voting itself isn’t going to solve everything, it’s part of the solution. That’s why Noah has applied for summer/fall internship at When We All Vote.
  5. That same day, the death toll for covid-19 reached 100,000 in the United States. I knew it was coming because I watch those numbers pretty carefully, but it shook me anyway, all those deaths, so many of them avoidable, and resulting from the incompetence and indifference of our national leadership.
  6. Thursday of that week there was a car crash outside our house. The car ended up on its side on the sidewalk in front of our house. Fortunately and surprisingly, no one was seriously hurt, but it took out part of our retaining wall and fence and a decades-old butterfly bush, which may seem like a trivial thing to be upset about right now, but I was.
  7. North was in the yard at the time and very shaken up. They didn’t see what caused it but they did see the out-of-control vehicle speeding toward them.
  8. Noah made his first 911 call to report it. I am aware of the irony of calling the police this week, but it didn’t seem like a situation that was likely to get anyone killed.
  9. And then an old colleague from my teaching days offered me a replacement butterfly bush she’s digging up from her yard. I was touched by this, as we don’t know each other too well. Thanks, Phyllis!
  10. That night it was my turn to pick our weekly family activity and I chose a walk to Starbucks, but it turns out it closes at 2 p.m. these days so I proposed a short walk around the neighborhood instead. I chose this activity because I’ve been trying to get North to be more active. We strolled about fifteen or twenty minutes, and I was glad to see North walking that long. The combination of their pain and not really having anywhere to go has led to them rarely leaving the house.
  11. My mom pointed out this is a role reversal because Noah, who tends to be a homebody, has wanted to go on frequent outings so he can fly his drone.
  12. On Friday morning I was going to take the kids on the delayed Starbucks run, but about three-quarters of a block from home, North decided it was going to be too much, so we went back home. One step forward, one step back…
  13. Later that day North was ambulatory enough to participate in our annual porch swabbing. This is a chore the kids actually enjoy. We take everything off the porch and they pour buckets of water on the dusty floor and sweep it off with a push broom. Then we scrub the bikes and porch furniture and other things we keep on the porch and haul it all back up.
  14. They also do this every year.
  15. The next day was Saturday and we went strawberry picking at the farm where we go blueberry picking almost every July. We’ve been going there for years but we’d never picked strawberries because they ripen before school’s out and Noah always had too much homework for an outing like that.
  16. This was fun and because the berries grow close to the ground North spent a lot of time sitting on the straw between the rows and didn’t have to wrangle crutches and a basket at the same time.
  17. We reminisced, as we always do when picking berries about how much harder it was with little kids, especially when we overheard parents saying things like “Remember, only the red ones” and “We don’t really need any straw in the basket.”
  18. If you’re local and wondering what it’s like to pick strawberries in a pandemic, I was very impressed with the way everything was thought out and organized. You have to make reservations ahead of time online and you can pre-order anything you want from the farm stand for curbside pickup. The signage made it clear where you were supposed to go and people in the field were good about distancing and wearing masks and there was a drive-up stand where you could get strawberry slushies and warm doughnuts and kettle corn, so of course, we did. (We ate the doughnuts at a picnic table at a nearby park.)
  19. If you’re local and you have time to do something besides protest this weekend, it’s probably the last weekend of the season for strawberries.
  20. We came home laden with vegetables, ribbon noodles, a strawberry-rhubarb pie, and four quarts of strawberries. (We restrained ourselves from picking more than we could eat.)
  21. I used some of them to make strawberry soup, which was basically like a smoothie in a bowl—I even put whipped cream on top—and much to my surprise, neither of the kids seemed to think it was a proper dinner, even with accompanying cheese and crackers.
  22. That same day North’s new adult-sized forearm crutches arrived. They like having taller crutches, but they lament the lack of bright colors in the adult sizes. There’s a little purple on the new ones, but they’re mostly black.
  23. North also met up with Zoë for the first time in two months late Saturday afternoon. A couple days in advance of Montgomery County entering Phase 1 of its reopening, we said they could go for a walk on Sligo Creek Parkway, which is closed to traffic on weekends and wide enough for a socially distant walk. Not seeing any friends for months has been tough on North, so I’m glad they got to see Zoë, walk together, and then soak their feet in the creek.
  24. They’re planning to get together again next weekend and roast marshmallows at Zoë’s family’s fire pit.
  25. North will have another opportunity to interact with their peers for two weeks in July because the director of their cancelled drama camp reconfigured the camp as an outdoor, socially distanced version of itself, and it’s back on. It will only be a half day and I’m really not sure how the kids are going to be able to project well enough to be heard in masks and all far apart from each other, but I trust Gretchen to make it work. The camp is not run out of the recreation center anymore and it’s by invitation only and North keeps saying, with some amusement, “I got an invitation for a private camp.
  26. On Sunday, Beth, Noah and I went to fly the drone at Savage Park in Howard County. As we travel into the outer suburbs it’s interesting to see how many people are wearing masks. To me it looked like fewer than in Montgomery County, but more than in Anne Arundel.
  27. We walked over a very cool railroad bridge that spanned the Little Patuxent River, near the historic cotton mills, and then into the park. We went first to a big field with four baseball diamonds and a lot of green space in between. The dirt on the diamonds was neatly raked, with only a few footsteps. I wondered a little sadly how long it had been since anyone played ball there.
  28. Beth tried her hand at flying the drone.
  29. Next we took a path through the woods and down to the river. Noah flew over the water and I waded into the water, partly because I’d stepped right into a patch of poison ivy and the leaves had brushed my bare ankle and I wanted to rinse it off, but also because it’s pleasant to sit on a rock in a river on a day that’s warm but not hot, with your feet in water that’s cool but not cold. Beth sat on a dead tree that had grown in a shape very much like a bench before it died.
  30. After we’d been there quite a while, Noah said, “Look at the snake” and he pointed to the tree branches over Beth’s head and there was a big, black snake there. Then we watched as very, very slowly, it made its way into a surprisingly small hole in the dead tree. It was quite the tight fit at the snake’s middle portion, but it got inside the presumably hollow tree.
  31. The next day was Monday. I always mail work-related clippings to Sara on or near the first of the month. In April and May I just put stamps on the envelope and dropped it in the mailbox, but I decided to mark being in Phase 1 by going to the post office in person and running some errands in town. Beth drove me to downtown Takoma and I walked home because I’m still wary of public transportation.
  32. None of the places I went—the post office, Takoma Beverage Company for an iced latte, or CVS—were places you couldn’t go before Monday, but I hadn’t been to any of them since March so it felt celebratory. I bought a spare pair of reading glasses and some treats and it felt like such a luxury, especially when I walked to Opal Daniels Park, which was nearly deserted, and sat on a bench and drank my coffee and dunked Oreos into it.
  33. That evening peaceful protests in front of the White House were broken up with tear gas and rubber bullets, twenty-five minutes before the 7 p.m. curfew so the President could pose in front of St. John’s Church with a Bible. The hypocrisy of this is just astounding, especially when you consider that parishioners and clergy can’t even use the church now, as it’s inside the new security perimeter.
  34. People are still demonstrating, however. Families we know have been there, with kids. It feels really important, but it also feels dangerous, not just because of the police/military, but because of the crowded conditions. So far, we haven’t gone. But Beth, North, and Noah have all contributed to bail funds. (They all decided to do this independently of each other.) And we’re considering going to a smaller protest in Takoma this weekend.
  35. People are helping other people, too. The man who took in the protesters fleeing police lives just several blocks from the apartment where we lived before Noah was born and during the first year of his life.
  36. The day after the protests were violently quelled was the first day the Post reported fewer than five hundred deaths nationally and fewer than twenty-five in Maryland. Not long ago, figures twice that high would have seemed like a good day, so it was a welcome reminder that we seem to be slowly turning the corner on that front, at least for now.
  37. The next two days, though, figures were much higher, close to one thousand each day.
  38. North made sign that says “All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Do.” It remains to be seen if it’s a yard sign, or if we’ll take it to a protest.
  39. They also painted a background of vines on their backyard mural. They’re going to add flowers next, because we still need art and beauty.
  40. And this shouldn’t need saying, but it still does: Black lives matter.

 

Fallen: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 9

Memorial Day is a strange and often jarring holiday, partly mournful for the war dead, partly celebratory because it’s a three-day weekend on the cusp of summer, so people are going to go to the pool, or have a cookout, or they usually would. This was an even stranger Memorial Day weekend than usual, with death so present in everyone’s mind.

The last time I wrote a Memorial Day post was thirteen years ago. We went to Harper’s Ferry with Beth’s mom and her aunts, which caused me to think about the Civil War and our ongoing wars. Here’s how we spent it this year, both in recreation and contemplation.

Saturday

We continue to take little weekend outings. It’s been nice to get out of the house after staying so close to it for so long. When Beth needed to fill the car with gas about a week ago, it was the first time in at least two months. This weekend we went on two outings. The first one was another drone-flying expedition, to Fort Smallwood Park in Anne Arundel County. It’s on a peninsula where the Patapsco River and Rock Creek flow into the Chesapeake Bay, so there are a lot of nice views of the water. I was surprised to see how many fewer people were wearing masks than in our neck of the woods. We were definitely in the minority, but people were keeping their distance for the most part. The beach was roped off, but I was able to get close enough to hear the little waves lapping at the shore and watch the sailboats and powerboats and ducks and geese. That was nice (though wading in the water would have been nicer).

Noah flew his drone out over the water and tried out some new maneuvers, setting it to automatically circle or spiral around us. He got some nice images of the roof of a pavilion and its shadow. North said it looks like an ad for the park. Have a look:

We also visited a grove of trees planted to honor fallen soldiers from Anne Arundel County. Each one had a flag and a plaque. All the soldiers died in Afghanistan and Iraq. I didn’t look at every plaque, but all the dates I saw were either between 2005 and 2007 or 2012 and 2013. The toll of our post-9/11 wars is always a sobering thing, even when you are looking at a very small slice of it.

Sunday

The second expedition was a picnic, at North’s request. The four of us drove out to a shopping center and got takeout from California Tortilla and Starbucks, which we took to Wheaton Regional Park. The picnic tables there are open for use and we had a six-table pavilion to ourselves. Well, almost. There was a surprisingly bold squirrel watching us eat from the next table over. Eventually it jumped up on our table and stood less than a foot away from Noah and me. I was starting to wonder if it was just used to being fed or if it might be rabid when it jumped down and scurried away.

After lunch, we drove to nearby Brookside Gardens and had a short stroll amidst the ferns and rhododendrons and slightly past prime azaleas. A family of geese with three half-grown goslings came pretty close to us while we were in a gazebo. I guess we were attractive to wildlife that day. I would have liked a longer walk, but I didn’t want to push North. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this here, but their chronic pain is back and getting worse. In February they fell in the bathroom and cracked their shin against the bathtub. As these things so often go for them, the pain never went away and now they’re feeling it in both legs and their spine. As a result, they’ve been getting out less than any of us, hardly at all really. I hope being out of the house for a while did them a little good. I know it helps my outlook.

Monday

Beth usually makes pancakes or waffles for breakfast on the last day of a three-day weekend and this weekend was no exception. It’s harder to time now that the kids roll out of their beds hours after we do, but we all managed to gather around the table and eat pancakes with blueberries and banana slices and vegetarian bacon. It was kind of a red, white, and blue breakfast, but I didn’t think to take a picture. I did remember to take a picture of the red, white, and blue dessert we had after our backyard picnic of veggie hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, and watermelon. I make shortcake every year, usually on Memorial Day, because late May is strawberry season here and I love truly ripe strawberries beyond reason.

In keeping, perhaps, with the solemn part of the weekend, The New York Times printed the names of one thousand of the almost one hundred thousand Americans who have died from covid-19 to date. Chances are you’ve seen an image of it in your social media feed. Here’s an interactive version I explored Monday morning and found moving: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/05/24/us/us-coronavirus-deaths-100000.html

Nearly one hundred thousand people in three and a half months. That’s more people dead than American soldiers who died in Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the those post-9/11 conflicts I was considering earlier. It’s absolutely staggering. I check the front page of the Post and the front page of the Metro section every day and look at the statistics. If less than a thousand people die in a day, and less than fifty in Maryland, it feels like a good day. There are more and more of those days recently. It seems as if the first wave at least is slowly receding. That’s something.

Looking Ahead

So now that summer’s on the horizon, what’s ahead?

North has three weeks of middle school left. Promotion will be online. We’re going to watch it and have cake afterward to make it seem more festive. We received word recently that the eighth-graders’ community projects are cancelled, unless students want to carry on without institutional support. North’s school usually has a community service requirement that goes beyond the school district’s requirement. Eighth-graders design and implement their own projects. North and Zoë were sewing teddy bears to donate to patients at Children’s National Medical Center. Between North’s migraine, chronic pain, and the gender clinic, we spend a lot of time there, so the idea of giving back was appealing. Plus, the teddy bear is their symbol.

Well, I understand a lot of students’ projects are probably unworkable now and why even if North and Zoë wanted to continue with the project, a hospital might not want to accept homemade objects right now. Still, it seems sad and frustrating that in a time of such increased community need and when so many teenagers have nothing but free time, someone couldn’t have found a way to re-invent the community project and direct those kids’ energy toward something useful. But I guess since I didn’t step forward to organize it, I can’t complain.

North’s last camp (musical drama camp at the rec center) was also cancelled. They’ve gone to this camp every year since they were five, so it will be missed. The director is considering running her own private camp, outside and socially distanced, but I’m not sure about it. We’re waiting to see what conditions look like closer to July.

As for Noah, Ithaca announced it will start the fall semester six weeks late, in early October. The school says it will be a full school year, but they haven’t released a calendar yet, so we’re not sure how that will work. But we do know he’ll be home for another four months and change. He’s in the process of looking for a summer job, internship, or volunteer gig.

It’s going to be a strange summer, but we’re fortunate in this: we’re together and we’re healthy and the world still has goslings and flowers and strawberries and brave people who serve their country every day in hospitals and grocery stores and other places in ways recognized and unrecognized.

Lovelady-Allens in the Time of the Coronavirus, Part 1

Well, things have gotten alarming, haven’t they? Here are all the headlines from the Metro section of Thursday’s Washington Post.

“National Cathedral, more than 200 other local churches to close for 2 weeks: Some services to be live-streamed: Episcopal Diocese of Washington plans to continue social work; church-run schools will weigh closures”

“Schools step up closure planning: Sidwell Friends shifts online as others will shut to prepare and clean”

“Cherry blossom fest events curtailed: Organizers cancel some, postpone others amid coronavirus worries”

“College students scramble as in-person classes axed: Georgetown and U-VA are among schools that are moving to online-only teaching”

“Aiming to keep doors open amid outbreak, nonprofits weigh difficult decisions”

No doubt there’s been a similar cascade of church, school, and special event closings and cancellations where you live. 

On Wednesday night, in the middle of what was supposed to be Noah’s week-long spring break, we found out he’d be home an extra three weeks at least. Break’s extended for a week, then there will be two weeks of online classes and then the college will re-assess. His school year’s been extended a week as well, to recoup the time from the extra week of break, which I’m assuming faculty are using to try to figure out how to turn their classes into online classes. I have a lot of professor friends, having been one myself back in another lifetime, and right now they’re all saying on Facebook that this is basically an impossible task.

Then Thursday afternoon the governor announced all Maryland public schools would close for two weeks, starting next Monday. (North’s class went on a field trip to the National Geographic museum to see a Jane Goodall exhibit that day and the very next day, the museum closed.) There were supposed to be packets of work to bring home Friday, but North came home empty-handed. Apparently, the packets didn’t arrive at the school. There’s review material available online, but it’s optional. Not for North, of course, because we’re that kind of parents, but for the student body in general. Apparently, the missing packets were not that extensive, though. One of North’s friends who goes to another school finished hers over the weekend.

Beth’s office is switching to telework, too. They had a trial run on Friday, after which they decided everyone would stay home for two weeks. So it’s looking like the house is going to be a lot fuller than usual during my work weeks for the next few weeks, with all four of us home. I have a little trepidation about that, especially as my office consists of a desk in the corner of the living room. But Beth’s in the same boat (or worse, having no desk at all) so we can commiserate.

Once we knew everyone was going to be home a while, Beth and I found ourselves wrestling with a lot of questions. First was how strictly to impose social distancing on ourselves, well mostly on North, the only extrovert in the family. If it’s too dangerous to be at school, should they be at friends’ houses? Or at the Billie Eilish concert we bought tickets for as an early birthday present? And in the event the concert was cancelled, could they have the slumber party they requested as a consolation prize?

One of these questions resolved itself. The concert was postponed with a promise to honor tickets at a later date. That was a relief because it spared us from having to be the bad guys (and yes, that was a pun). And we decided no party, but our current stance on hanging out with friends is one at a time, if they stay outside and don’t touch each other. This needed specifying because North is physically demonstrative with friends.

Even before all this, it was already kind of a strange break for Noah. Every other break he’s had in college so far we’ve immediately or almost immediately gone somewhere—Hershey Park during fall break, Rehoboth during Thanksgiving break, Blackwater Falls State Park during winter break.  But this time because North wasn’t off school we didn’t make plans to go anywhere. (And now that both kids will be off at the same time, overnight travel seems ill-advised.)

So he’s been having a low-key break. Beth fetched him from Ithaca a little over a week ago, because his last class was too late in the day for him to take the bus he usually takes. Last weekend and the following several days we all went about our normal routines while he watched a lot of movies and television. He didn’t even have any homework to do, other than occasionally practicing his drums for band. (He ended up with a surprisingly light course load this semester.)

Monday he had a dentist appointment and did some yard work for me, then he was sick for two days—no fever, no cough—and he pretty much laid low. By late Wednesday afternoon he was recovered enough for a walk to Starbucks when North got home from school. Thursday he did some more yard work. Friday he did some housework and got a haircut. Over the course of the week we read The Rest of Us Just Live Here and started The Caledonian Gambit.

One thing we did plan for Noah’s original break and had decided to go ahead with was a maple syrup festival at Cunningham Falls State Park. We decided that since it mostly an outdoor event, the risk was relatively low. And if we’re going to be even more restricted in our movements later (because who know how this is going to turn out?) we thought it would be nice to have an outing. But the festival, which was scheduled for today, was cancelled.

Noah and I spent the day at home. We read some more and, because we have time for a new television series, watched the first two episodes of Counterpart. North spent the afternoon with Zoë, roaming around Takoma. Beth was mostly at home, but ventured out to drop North off and pick them up and do a little grocery shopping. Among other things, we needed pies for Pi Day.  We now have Dutch apple and chocolate cream. Beth had also been to the grocery store yesterday and reports that they’d been low on frozen vegetables, canned beans, and potatoes yesterday and today they were almost completely wiped out of fresh produce. (Tip for locals, the Co-op is pretty well stocked.)

Here are today’s Metro headlines.

“Metro reducing rail and bus services”

“Local cases: Where the area stands”

“All of region’s schools to shutter: Coronavirus move is a first: extended closures pose huge range of challenges”

“This is the scariest thing”

“Buying, hoarding and some fighting, too”

“Md. Legislators prepare for possibility of session ending soon”

Among all the bad news, we do have a little good news. North found out today they got into their first-choice high school in the second chance lottery. We are still waiting to hear from the VAC, but North’s very happy.

Meanwhile, North has made the following homebound schedule for themselves:

  1. Drink four glasses of water
  2. Drink a cup of tea
  3. Meditate for five minutes
  4. Listen to a song that I like
  5. Read a book for fifteen minutes
  6. Listen to an audiobook for fifteen minutes, not as part of my bedtime routine
  7. Eat a meal I enjoy
  8. Take a bath every other day
  9. Take a walk
  10. Swing in the hammock for ten minutes
  11. Find an online course to take and do some of it
  12. Call or facetime a friend
  13. Draw
  14. Journal
  15. Sew teddy bears
  16. Listen to an audiobook as part of my bedtime routine

Noah and I plan to read every day and watch our new show on days when my work permits. Beth and I are going to try to do something outside every day, including getting the garden started. And we’re going to make a list of chores for the newly available teenage labor force.

So, we’re hunkered down for the long haul. We’re all feeling well, we have each other, and we have pie.

How are you?

Cool As…

Thursday: Halloween

It was kind of a strange Halloween. We’re missing a kid and the other one went straight to Norma’s apartment after school with Zoë and from there they went to Zoë’s house where they met up with Evie and all four of them trick-or-treated in Zoë’s neighborhood, so I barely saw North all day.

Around 5:15, I started playing my Halloween playlist and went out into the yard, righting fallen tombstones, and turning on the strings of ghost and bat lights and other light-up decorations and lighting candles in our mildewed, squirrel-bitten jack-o-lanterns. It was too light out to really see anything illuminated yet but I was about to start cooking and I thought trick-or-treaters might start to come soon so I wanted to have those tasks out of the way.

I usually make a quick dinner on Halloween so the kids can get out the door, but as there was no one who needed to get out the door, I made one of the more complicated dinners of the week—a vegetable-bean casserole topped with slices of sweet potato and sprigs of rosemary from my new rosemary plant. (I always like to buy some hardy herbs when the rest of the garden is dead or dying.)

The casserole was still in the oven when Beth got home around 6:30. By then we’d had about a half dozen trick-or-treaters, starting with the amusing juxtaposition of Michael Meyers and a cheerleader. I’d guessed correctly people might start coming earlier than usual because a storm with heavy rain and high winds was predicted, though over the course of the day, the storm’s estimated start time got pushed back from eight to nine, a boon for trick-or-treaters. The National Weather Service was advising people to take down their decorations if they didn’t want them blown away, but we decided to leave them up, at least for a while. It takes a long time to get our yard decorated and it was just too sad to think about taking it all down on Halloween. Plus, North was planning to bring Norma, Zoë, and Evie on a tour of our yard when Zoë’s folks brought them home.

While the casserole finished cooking, Beth gathered up the recycling (though she didn’t take it outside because of the wind) and set up the fog machines. The bigger one took some YouTube trouble shooting but she eventually got it going.

Beth and I had been wondering if we’ll tone down the yard display when both kids are gone, but while Beth was outside working on the fog machines, she heard a group of approaching trick-or-treaters say, “This house is cool as shit” and then as they got closer they lamented, “They don’t have smoke this year!” So it seems we might need to keep it up. We have a reputation to uphold after all.

We ended up with about twenty-five or thirty trick-or-treaters, a normal amount, just shifted earlier. The last group, two Hogwarts students and a soccer player, came at 7:45. North was home by 8:35, hungry because they’d applied the layer of latex over their mouth at 4:00 and had skipped dinner so they wouldn’t have to take it off and reapply. They showed their friends around the yard, and shortly after that, around 9:00, we went out into a gentle rain and started bringing in the lightweight decorations, but we left the heavier ones and the ones that were securely attached to something and an hour later we went to bed, hoping for the best.

Friday: Day of the Dead/All Saints’ Day

It did pour rain that night and it was quite windy, but the next morning, nothing seemed to be missing. Beth and North went to work and school. I had a scattered, abbreviated work day because I’d had trouble getting to sleep the night before and I needed to leave the house to take North to physical therapy at 2:25. I didn’t skip my customary morning walk, though, because I wanted to have one last chance to go down some side streets I hadn’t explored recently and check out those neighbors’ Halloween decorations.

North hadn’t had a physical therapy appointment in a few weeks. They’re doing much better, going to school and on outings without crutches or cane more often than not, and we’re wrapping up their treatment. (They have just one more appointment next week.) They were using a cane that day, possibly because they’d walked a lot while trick-or-treating, but they did great in therapy, impressing the therapist with their leg strength. For the first time ever, when the therapist asked them to rate their pain, they said they had none, just a little fatigue. I think the aquatic therapy really helped.

North was a bit agitated during the appointment, though, because they discovered early in the session that their phone wasn’t in their pocket, and using my phone to track it, we learned it was travelling away from the rehab hospital, presumably in the Lyft we’d taken there. I called and texted the driver, but got no response.

While we waited for the Lyft to take us from North’s school to the hospital and then after the appointment while we waited for the hospital shuttle to take us to the Metro, when North wasn’t fretting about the lost phone, we were busy negotiating discussing our evening plans. We’d considered going to a ghost story reading at Rhizome, a local art space (the one where Noah’s film camp met this summer). But looking at the promotional material made me wonder if it was really aimed at adults and older teens, plus there was a “necromancers’ cotillion” and the idea of dancing in public was kind of horrifying. (I probably haven’t done that since North outgrew Circle Time at the library.) The timing was also problematic. There wouldn’t be time to go home, eat dinner, and get there, but too much time to kill if we went straight there from the Metro.

Beth had texted me some information about a possible alternative, a showing of Phantom Carriage, a 1920s silent horror movie at AFI. It would have been right up my alley, since I love vintage horror, (and Noah would have liked it, too, since he has a soft spot for silent film), but it was a non-starter for North.

However, they didn’t seem wed to going to Rhizome, and countered with going to see either the Addams Family or Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. I was tired and thinking if North’s choice was to see a movie that wasn’t a one-time event, we could do it Saturday instead and just go home, eat frozen pizza, and watch something at home that night. But North pleaded successfully for pizza at Mod and a movie out. We texted Beth to invite her and to my surprise, she said yes, but she couldn’t make it to Mod in time to eat with us. So I stashed the leftovers in my backpack for her to reheat and eat at home, and we met at the theater, where we watched The Addams Family.

Saturday: All Souls’ Day

Saturday morning I had a message from Lyft about the lost phone and we made plans to meet up with the driver at a Starbucks to hand it off. Beth and I took down the Halloween decorations and boxed them up in the early afternoon and a little later, Beth and North went to get the phone. They were very happy to get it back and they had seventy-nine text messages to read, not to mention emails and Instagram messages. They were also glad not to have to pay half the cost of a new phone (per a prior agreement if the phone was broken or lost).

Our yard is looking a little sad and lonely now, without all its October playmates, but I have to say giving treats to costumed kids, seeing North get closer and closer to normal mobility, having a family outing, and not having to buy half a new phone is cool as… well, you know.

Hershey Park in the Dark

Friday 

Friday evening as we approached our hotel in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, I started sending Noah a series of texts:

We just crossed the PA border

20 miles

15 

6

Traffic

We’re further than I thought

Counting down to the wrong city

3

Siri says 5 minutes

We can see the hotel

Can you guess if I was excited to see him? Ithaca had a four-day fall break (Thursday to Sunday) right after midterms and we decided to meet up and go to Hersheypark in the Dark.* What is Hershey Park in the Dark? It’s a Halloween celebration that takes place the last two weekends of October and the first weekend of November. There are decorations, they play Halloween music everywhere, kids twelve and under in costume can collect candy at various stations through the park, and some of the coasters have their lights turned off either after nine p.m. or all day for the Laff Track, which is an indoor coaster. We visit an amusement park most summers (either Hershey Park or Cedar Point in Ohio) but we didn’t manage it this summer and Hershey is in between Takoma and Ithaca, so it seemed like a good plan.

Noah took a shuttle from campus to downtown Ithaca on Friday morning, caught a bus from Ithaca to Scranton and then another one from Scranton to Harrisburg, managing the tight transfer like a pro and arriving in Harrisburg hours before we did because we couldn’t leave until North got home from school on Friday afternoon. So he got a late lunch and took a Lyft to the hotel. We were hoping he’d finish his homework on Thursday before he travelled, or while waiting for us, but when we got to the hotel we found him in the lobby working on a paper about 4chan for his Emerging Media class on his laptop. Beth had called ahead of time to authorize him to check in but when she did it the hotel staff failed to mention you have to be twenty-one to check into a room.

After a flurry of hugs, we settled into the room and presented him with a care package with so many items that we’d bought him a new duffel bag to carry it all back to school. There were Halloween cookies from the batch we’d made the weekend before, a string of ghost lights for his dorm room, batteries for the lights, a small pumpkin to put on his desk the way he used to every October at home, two pairs of fleece pajamas he’d left at home and wanted, a bottle of Fiji water (his favorite bottled water—yes he has one), and maybe some more things I’ve forgotten.

Once he’d received his tributes, we headed out to the park, where were going to have a late dinner and go on a few rides. We had to kill a little time because free evening admission on the evening prior to main day of your visit doesn’t start until seven-thirty. So we went to Chocolate World, which is a separate, free attraction, and took the factory ride. The kids are very fond of this ride, though they agree the song the cow statues sing is not as good as the one they used to sing when they were younger. Isn’t that how it always is?

We entered the park and got pizza and garlic knots. I had chocolate milk with mine because it was Hershey Park. We ate at an outside table and it just felt profoundly good and right to be eating a meal all together for the first time in over eight weeks.

When we finished we started walking through the park. There were autumnal touches—cornstalks, hay bales, and shellacked pumpkins everywhere, but I was surprised at the scarcity of Halloween-specific decorations. There were occasional light displays—a spider, a cat emerging from a jack-o-lantern—and a few real jack-o-lanterns, but not nearly as much as I expected. It was all G-rated, which is appropriate given how many small kids were in attendance. It was fun seeing kids in their costumes everywhere we went. The best costume was homemade, as the best ones always are. A preteen girl had made a cardboard roller coaster car with “sooper dooper looper” painted on the front and was walking around in it. There were also some people in group costumes—devil and angel, Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, etc.

The ride lines weren’t long, so we had time for several coasters and dessert before the park closed at ten. We all rode the Trailblazer, which is a mine ride and a family favorite, and the kids and I rode the sooper dooper looper (the only looping coaster I will ride—it has just one loop and isn’t insanely tall) and the Comet, the smallest of the park’s three wooden coasters. This was North’s first time on the Comet and they really liked it. It may be my favorite ride in the park. I love a classic wooden coaster, but the Comet is just about my speed. I have no desire to go on the bigger ones.

Noah always says the Comet is the scariest ride he does at Hershey Park, even though he goes on much bigger and twistier ones. It’s the way the wooden frame shakes a little. I agree with him that this makes it scarier than a similarly sized metal coaster, but it doesn’t make as much of a difference for me as it does for him. I think it’s because I took Noah on a wooden coaster that scared the pants off him at Cedar Point when he was twelve and he imprinted on it. So based on his (and my) description, North was always scared to try the Comet until they went on a wooden coaster at King’s Dominion on the chorus field trip last spring and found to their surprise, it wasn’t that bad. We all have our own limits.

We spent most of the rest of the evening walking around getting a chocolate-peanut butter funnel cake, a whoopie pie, and a soft pretzel. There was enough time to ride the carousel all together and then we went back to the hotel, happy and a little windburned from sailing together through the night sky.

Saturday

In the morning after breakfast North and I hit the hotel pool while Beth took Noah to a pharmacy to get a flu shot. (He didn’t get one the day they had them at school because he didn’t know what the hours were and missed it.) North and I stayed at the pool a long time, probably a couple hours. They showed me how to do some of their aqua therapy exercises and then I did sixty laps in the tiny pool while they splashed around. I think it’s possible aqua therapy may have helped North turn a corner with their leg pain because they are using the cane instead of the forearm crutches all the time now, and one day last week they went to school without either. So even though we’ve finished all the scheduled aqua therapy appointments, we try to get North to a pool once a week and they do the exercises on their own. (More good news: we found out yesterday a bone density scan came back normal.) After I finished my laps, I read a couple chapters of Orphan Train in one of the chaise lounges and then we went back up to the room to shower.

When we were dressed and Beth and Noah were back from the pharmacy, we all settled in to watch a DVD of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, which we’d brought from home. At one point I glanced over to the other bed, where Noah had thrown an arm around North’s shoulder and they were cuddled up against him. I half wish I’d taken a picture of this and I’m half glad I didn’t make either of them self-conscious by doing it.

By the time we’d finished watching, it was lunch time so we started our day in the park with a meal again. We went to a food court where the kids got pasta and Beth and I got two cheese pies, two spinach pies, and a Greek salad to share. I got salad dressing on my shirt and the kids were amused by my attempts to wash out the stain by repeatedly pouring seltzer on myself while we waited for rides.

We did the Wild Mouse together, which Beth will ride because it has no big drops, just some hairpin turns and an unnerving lack of structure around the track. Then Beth and North got in line for the Laff Track, an indoor coaster I can’t go on because it goes backwards. I can’t even sit backwards on the Metro without getting sick. Noah and I took off in the direction of the Sidewinder. Noah read in some park promotional material that it was “for guests who want to spend more time upside down” and he wanted to add a new coaster to his repertoire. I just wanted to watch. There was a bench with a good view of two of the three loops and after watching a lot of cars go by, I finally spotted him going through each of them forward and then backward. That was fun.

The line at the Sidewinder was shorter than the Laff Track line so Noah and did the Wild Mouse again and even so, we had to wait a bit for Beth and North to emerge. North enjoyed riding it in total darkness, but Beth was very ill, so she swore off riding anything else for the rest of the day, and we all sat with her for a while. Eventually she was well enough to eat, so she and I split a pumpkin milkshake with chocolate-covered pretzel rods stuck in it and a slice a pumpkin roll on top, while the kids got more reasonably-sized frozen treats. The kids and I went on the swings and then we decided to take a break from the park so Noah could work on his paper and I could nap. I’d been up past my bedtime the night before and I knew it was likely we’d do it again and I am just not good with late nights. North didn’t want to leave the park, but they contented themselves with another swim while Beth rested in a chaise lounge poolside.

In the early evening we went to Hershey Gardens to see Pumpkin Glow, a display of over two hundred carved pumpkins. We’d never been so we didn’t realize how popular it was. There’s a long wait to park and then a long line to get in. It’s also kind of pricey. But it was worth it. It was magical walking along the winding paths of the botanical gardens in the dark (again with tons of cute kids in their Halloween costumes) encountering carved pumpkins at every turn. They’re done by students at a nearby community college and they were quite artistic. There were traditional Halloween designs, but also a lot of animals, and characters from kids’ movies and superhero movies. The first ones you see are in a little pond in front of the conservatory so their reflections double them. Most of these had aquatic designs—a starfish, a pirate ship, etc.

After Pumpkin Glow, we went back to Chocolate World, where we had a late dinner, and then back into the park. It was past eight, we’d done all the crucial rides, and the lines had gotten a lot longer than they were Friday night, so we checked the estimated wait times on the app and decided the sooper dooper looper had the highest return on investment. After that we rode the swings again and then headed back to Chocolate World for some candy shopping. It was past ten before we left for the hotel.

Sunday

North didn’t want to eat at the hotel breakfast bar both mornings, so after we checked out of the hotel, we went to a coffeehouse that had excellent pumpkin scones and where I spilled my mocha down the same shirt from the day before, adding chocolate stains to the grease stain. The kids thought this was pretty hilarious. I bought Noah some celery sticks with peanut butter because he didn’t bring any food with him on the way to Hershey and that’s a healthy snack I know he’ll eat. (I used to make it for him when he was too busy with schoolwork to leave his desk.) He was about to leave and I was feeling the need to mother him a little.

It was good to see Noah. He seems well, likes his classes, and reports having a little time to socialize, though less I think than at the beginning of the semester. His editing job at ICTV hasn’t started yet. They hired a bunch of people and he hasn’t had a turn. He’s thinking of taking a semester off to do an internship or volunteer for a campaign next fall, or maybe studying abroad in the fall of the his junior year, or possibly both because he has so many AP credits he could graduate a year early but the structure of his program makes that difficult. Studying in Australia came up, much to everyone’s surprise. He’s thinking big.

Noah was departing from a mall parking lot north of Baltimore, so he rode with us most of the way home, trying to work on his paper in the car, and he had an early lunch of pasta at the mall before it was time to go out and wait for the bus. It was a chilly, rainy day so we waited in the car until the bus—charmingly called Chariots for Hire—pulled up. We said our goodbyes, hugged him, and pulled out of the lot. I successfully resisted the urge to look back at the bus and reminded myself Thanksgiving break is less than five weeks away.


*This is the only time I will spell the name of the park this ridiculous way in this blog post, but I feel obliged to admit this is how they spell it, apparently since 1971, if Wikipedia is to be believed. But this was one of the amusement parks of my youth and I honestly didn’t remember it being spelled that way. Clearly, I have feelings about it. If you’re from Pennsylvania and you can remember how it was spelled in the 1970s and 80s, please let me know in the comments.

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.