Wait For It: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 78

So, we had covid and it was pretty anticlimactic. For me it was like a cold, and not even a bad one—I had a sore throat, congestion, and a cough. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, the first night we were home from the beach, Beth and I were both slammed with fatigue almost exactly at the same time. We went to bed that night at 8:30 and I thought we might be in for something bad, but neither of us got very sick. I guess being vaccinated and triple boosted helps.

I tested on Wednesday because I was thinking of going to book club. I was five days out from my first symptoms, and I felt fine, if a little phlegmy. But I was still testing positive. It was such a faint line I was holding the test at different angles and squinting at it when North came by and said, “Do you need my young eyes?” Eventually all three of us concluded there was the faintest of lines there, a contrast to the dark line I got three days earlier. I elected to attend book club virtually (it’s still hybrid). The average age of members is probably around seventy and some of them are in their eighties and frail, plus masking in the group has gone from almost universal to about fifty percent, just in the past few months. It didn’t seem responsible to go, so I stayed home.

North, who had covid first, also had it worse, more fatigue, chills, and dizziness and after they thought they’d recovered, on the Monday after Thanksgiving, they had a fever. This was unfortunate because on Tuesday one of the partial hospitalization programs (not either of the ones I mentioned in my last post—we’ve applied to a lot of them) called with a spot for North the very next day. Not an interview, an actual placement. We’d interviewed at this one in early November, before North was even out of the hospital.  I asked about their covid policy and learned you must be symptom-free for three days after having had covid and since North had a fever the day before, we had to give up the spot. Pause here for a long sigh. Anyway, we are still next on the list at this place, so we’ll see.

The other thing we’re waiting for, besides a space in partial hospitalization program, is for North to be enrolled in the school system’s interim instruction program. It’s designed for kids for are hospitalized or can’t come to school for other reasons. A tutor comes to you. It took a while to get North’s psychiatrist to fill out the necessary paperwork and now it’s taking a while for the school to get back to us, but you’re not surprised by any of this, are you?

By Friday, North was testing negative, and they’d been symptom-free a few days, so they went to see their therapist in person Saturday morning. In other medical appointments last week, we had virtual ones with North’s pediatrician to catch her up on the general situation and another one with a neurologist to discuss North’s worsening migraines. They’ve been much more frequent, starting last spring, and we all wonder if being in pain so often is dragging down North’s energy and mood. The neurologist prescribed some new meds, one for prevention and one for treatment. Fingers crossed they make a difference.

We’d been thinking of going to a Christmas market in an old bank building in downtown Takoma Saturday afternoon, but Beth was still testing positive, so we decided to skip it. North and I ran some errands of the post office and drug store variety together on Friday. I was glad to get them out of the house and walking around outside on a sunny day. (I bribed them to come with me with an iced peppermint white chocolate mocha and a slice of lemon pound cake.) At the beginning of North’s time at home, we were taking them on a lot of outings, but these have petered out at bit as Beth and I both got back to working somewhat more normal hours. None of us expected this hospitalization interregnum to last so long (three and a half weeks and counting).

We took the bus to downtown Takoma, and I wanted to walk home, but North didn’t so Beth and I consulted and decided we’d let them take the bus home alone. It was the second time we’d let them go out into the world without one of us since getting out of the hospital. (The first time was the Diner of Covid Doom.) I waited at the stop with them and texted Beth when they got on the bus, and she texted me when North got home. It reminded me of when they were in sixth grade and new at taking public transportation and how I used to wait with them at the stop. I asked North if they remembered that and they said, “No, but it checks out.”

The third time North went somewhere without us was Saturday night, and it was for something more fun than tagging along on their mother’s errands. They had been assigned to review a production of Eurydice at a high school in Alexandria as part of their participation in Cappies. We discussed amongst ourselves whether we should ask school officials if North was still allowed to participate in extracurriculars as they’d been out of school for over five weeks at this point. We decided to ask was to invite a no, so we didn’t. It was encouraging that they wanted to do it and it seemed appealingly normal. There was a carpool, so Beth drove North to their school where another parent picked them up and took them to the play with some other reviewers.

The result of this activity was that Beth and I had a rare evening alone in the house. My friend Megan brought us dinner—cauliflower steaks, cauliflower soup, bread, and salad, delivered in a bag tied with two jaunty yellow balloons. I recommend having a friend who will facilitate your at-home date night when you are too tired (and possibly contagious) to leave the house. Thanks, Megan!

Everything was delicious and Beth and I had a nice stretch of time to talk and hang out before she took a disco nap, starting around 8:30. These Cappies events run late and unfortunately, the carpool would take North back to their school rather than home, so Beth was going to have to drive about an hour to fetch them well after our usual bedtime. I did not wait up—even though I’m sleeping a little better this week. It’s still hit or miss, so I didn’t want to risk a short night’s sleep. Beth and North got home around 11:30 and I didn’t even hear them come in or notice Beth getting into bed.

On Sunday morning I tested negative, which made me happy because I wanted to go swimming. The pool where I used to swim lap weekly for years and which closed during March 2020, first for the pandemic and then for extensive repairs, just re-opened last week. Even though in the past few days I’d been riding buses and going into stores, briefly and double masked, breathing hard unmasked on someone in the same pool lane seemed like a different level of risk. But now I could swim in good conscience.

However… when I got there around one-thirty the door was locked and the hand-written sign on the door said 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. I recognized these as the weekday hours. (The pool is in an elementary school.) Are these the hours every day now? Are they only open on weekdays? Who knows?

I think the universe is trying to teach me something about patience.

A Wild Ride: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 77

Tuesday: Hello, Covid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday: Happy Birthday, Dear Beth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday: Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Not So) Black Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday: Goodbye, Beach

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

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

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

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

2.5, or Mostly Normal: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 76

At the end of the last school year, I stopped using the Coronavirus Chronicles subtitle—back today for a guest appearance—on my blog posts. I’d originally intended to retire it when the kids went back to full-time, in-person school at the beginning of that school year. I thought that milestone would make life feel normal, and it certainly made it feel more normal, but at the same time everything felt very precarious, like we could go back to remote school at any point. Ithaca had a week of online classes in January and the public schools here probably should have done the same around the same time as school was just a hot mess for a while there, with so many teachers out sick that a lot of North’s classes became unchaperoned study halls, and the school buses just didn’t come as often as not. I can’t remember how long this went on, but it feels like it was most of the month.

This year feels different, as friends of mine who teaches middle school recently commented. It seems to have taken a whole year back in the classroom for everyone, teachers and kids and parents, to regain their footing. That was why I stopped using the subtitle. I expect the kids will stay in school and I’m used to Beth working at home most days, so it didn’t feel as if covid was relevant to every post anymore.

But of course, covid isn’t over, people are still contracting it and dying of it every day. The Post stopped including the graphs with the covid case numbers and death toll on a daily basis sometime last spring. It’s weekly now, on Sundays. The death toll hit one million in May and as of last Sunday, it stood at 1,046,656. I heard on a science podcast this week that more than 400 Americans die of covid a day. That’s still a lot of people.

And I think more people I know have had it in the past year than the year and a half before that, though thankfully, they have mostly been mild cases. My mother had it in June. A lot of you have had it. Since we’ve hit the two-and-a-half-year mark of the pandemic, (a quarter of a decade!) I thought I’d look back at how covid has affected us since I last did a covid round up six months ago. But instead of chronologically, I’m going to do it thematically this time.

Mom Gets Covid

The only close family members who’ve had covid are my mother, Beth’s brother, and her sister-in-law—John and Abby had it early on. (A lot of my friends and members of my extended family have had it at one time or another.)

6/26

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

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

Covid Creates a Job Opportunity

6/13

Mike was filming a documentary and they were in a church recording someone giving a speech about climate change. Noah was filling in for a member of the crew who had covid.

Tests

I found it kind of strange Noah didn’t have to take a covid test to get on an international flight, since my mom did to fly to and from Morocco and North had to take one to go to camp, but requirements do vary quite a bit.

4/9

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

8/13

She dropped North’s required covid test for sleepaway camp in the mail, and then she picked up the kids at the movies and me at the house and drove us to dinner at a make-your-own-bowl place out on the highway, and drove us all plus my mom to Sweet Frog for frozen yogurt and then home.

Shots

We’re vaccinated and double boosted as of April. We are going to get the bivalent booster soon.

4/9

Two days after we were tested Beth and I got our second booster shots.

Masks 

This is the one that comes up the most often, even though it can seem trivial. We still wear masks at stores and on public transportation and North wears one at school and on the school bus. I still notice when people are wearing them or not and I’m often thinking about whether I need one in spaces that are outside but crowded, or semi-enclosed.

3/27

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

4/18

Leaving for our Midwestern road trip: Back to our travels: we hit the road around 10:30 and immediately turned around because a block or two from the house North and I realized we had not packed any masks. We were the only people wearing masks when we stopped at The Blue Goose Fruit Market and Bakery for treats and I was one of two masked customers when I went into Taco Bell to pick up our lunch order.

5/3

Watching Noah’s band concert online: I was actually thinking as I watched it was good the three masked percussionists were in the back row because they were behind, rather than in front of all those wind and brass instruments blowing air out toward the audience. (Audience members were asked to mask even though Ithaca’s been mask-optional since March, possibly for this reason.)

5/30

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

6/26

Looking back at the school year: They were sick several times in the winter and spring, once, in April, very sick with a high fever. That last time was probably due to the school going mask-optional in March.

A message from the director of North’s outdoor drama camp: In an email Tuesday night she said in case of rain they’d work under the gazebo, perhaps focusing on making costumes and props, and in case of severe weather, they’d retreat to her porch or go inside her house (with masks).

8/29

In Hershey Park: We got to Chocolate World a little before ten. I expected we’d be in a very small minority of people masking indoors and we were, but it was even fewer people than I would have guessed, almost no one, even in crowded spaces where you stand near the same people for a long time (for instance in the line for the factory ride).

9/3

When North went back to school in August: They say only about a quarter of kids are still masking and when I asked if that was enough for them not to feel self-conscious, they said yes.

9/11

A text from Noah, commenting on mask usage in Australia: Masks required on the domestic flight, lots of masks at the airport (about 50%) but very few at the mall

At Wolf Trap concert hall: The seats were near the back in a sparsely populated section and the pavilion is open on the sides we didn’t feel the need to put on our masks.

Covid as a Marker of Time

We are still experiencing first-time since covid events, as recently as this month.

3/27

First Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin: The petals were perfect, puffy and white to pale pink. It was crowded, but not mobbed. We hadn’t been as a family since 2018 because three years ago Noah had too much homework and North had some injury– I packed a lunch and went alone that year—and then covid kept us away for two years—we went to the more spacious National Arboretum instead those years.

4/9

First Easter Care Package: I decided to send Noah a planned care package of Easter candy a little early, in hopes that a chocolate-hazelnut bunny, peanut butter eggs, mini eggs, and jelly beans would be cheering. I did not mail it in an Easter basket, for reasons of space, but I did pack the box with Easter grass. Noah was home last Easter and the one before because of covid so this was his first Easter-in-a-box from me.

6/13

First Pride: If North hadn’t had a birthday party to attend it might have been nice to go from the rally to the Pride parade and meet up with them there. Pride was cancelled the past two years because of covid, but the two years before that we went to the festival and I thought the parade would have been a nice change of pace.

9/11

First Back to School Night: On Thursday we went to Back to School Night at North’s school. It was the first year since before covid that this event was in person.

First Folk Festival: Sunday we attended the first Takoma Park Folk Festival to be held since before covid.

Today

Finally, I boarded my first airplane since before covid this morning to go visit my mom in Oregon. She had a knee replaced a couple weeks ago and her recovery has been difficult. My aunt and sister have both stayed with her already and I’m taking my turn. More on this visit in a future post…

Meanwhile, some traditions have not returned:

6/26

Drama camp cast party: Pre-covid, there was often a cast party at our local pizzeria, but we hadn’t hear anything about it until the middle of the rehearsal when North texted me about whether I wanted to go and I said yes and then almost immediately afterward, North texted back to say it wasn’t happening, so I packed a picnic, which is what Gretchen had suggested in an email to all the parents and what has happened the past couple years, but it turned out I was the only one to bring food.

Fingers crossed, I won’t add another covid post until March, when it’s been three years. Until then we’ll go on with our lives, vaccinated and occasionally masked, but mostly normal.

Finales: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 75

The Last Day of School

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Week of Summer Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Weekend of Summer Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If a Tree Falls: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 73

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

Before the Tree Fell On the House

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

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

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

When the Tree Fell on the House

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

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

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

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

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

After the Tree Fell on the House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Children Die

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

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

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

Mothers’ Days: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 72

Mother’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother and Child Reunion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Years: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 67

It’s been two years now since our first weekday suddenly and unexpectedly at home together as a foursome. Three days earlier North got sent home from middle school, for what was supposed to be two weeks, and then they never set foot in that building again. At the time, Noah was home from his first year of college on spring break, which had just been extended by three weeks. He ended up staying home for almost a year and a half. I summed up the first year and the next six months of our pandemic lives in these posts. We’ve been much closer to regular life during these past six months, thanks to vaccinations, but as the delta and omicron variants have reminded us, it’s not over yet and it could always surge again.

Here’s how the last quarter of the pandemic went for us in a nutshell, or seven nutshells.

September: At the eighteen-month mark of the pandemic, there was a big change. We weren’t all living and working and studying under one roof any more. Noah was back at college after two and a half semesters online and North was in school in person, too, after over a year of remote school followed by a couple months of hybrid instruction in the spring. The delta variant peaked in the middle of the month and receded and we started to trust a little more that the kids would stay in school. We continued our pandemic hobby of kayaking. I went to see an allergist about the hives that had been plaguing me since July. After inconclusive testing, he recommended trying going off soy for two months, which was a challenge for a vegetarian diabetic. (Spoiler: it wasn’t the soy.)

October: North started organizing an effort to replace their high school’s Powderpuff football game with something less sexist. Noah joined the drone club at Ithaca. My mother fell while hiking and fractured five vertebrae. She was in the hospital for two weeks and in a neck brace for three months, but she’s doing much better now. I led my book club’s discussion of The Haunting of Hill House. We upheld our reputation as the most committed Halloween decorators in our neighborhood. Beth and I went to watch the Halloween parade even though North couldn’t be in it because of a play rehearsal conflict. The death toll for covid reached 700,000.

November: I started wearing a Fitbit and joined the ranks of people can tell you how many steps they’ve taken on any given day, if you care to know, which I don’t imagine you do. North was the costumes manager for their school’s production of Puffs. Noah came home for Thanksgiving break and we celebrated Beth’s birthday and Thanksgiving at the beach, where we enjoyed the return of the Christmas tree lighting and in-person Christmas shopping. (The year before the former was cancelled and we’d eschewed the latter.)

December: We watched a live broadcast of Noah’s band concert and he passed the test to become an FAA-certified drone pilot. North got their braces off. Noah came home for winter break. Omicron started to emerge, but we all tested negative for covid and spent Christmas in a cabin in Blackwater Falls State Park with Beth’s mom and aunt. At the cabin we baked and hiked and read and did a puzzle and enjoyed each other’s company and the waterfalls and other beautiful scenery of the park. The death toll for covid hit 800,000.

January: Beth and I took a long hike on New Year’s Day and saw a historic African-American cemetery. Omicron gained strength and when North returned to school, in their words “it was a hot mess.” There was a shortage of bus drivers and Beth had to drive them to school for a while. Teachers were out in record numbers; some classes, including some of North’s, were just left completely unsupervised; and student attendance was low. I didn’t see how it could go on like that and I expected the school system go remote, as did most parents I knew. But it didn’t, and then omicron peaked and began to fade and conditions at school gradually improved. Much to our relief, North got their booster shot, making the whole family fully vaccinated and boosted. Beth and I celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of our commitment ceremony and the ninth anniversary of our legal wedding with an outdoor lunch in twenty-one-degree weather. Noah left for school and spent a week training for his new IT job, then another week in online classes before in-person classes resumed. We had a bunch of snow days—four, I think—some for very little or no actual snow, though we did get a seven-inch snowfall early in the month.

February: We went to see the always lovely Winter Lanterns display at the Kennedy Center to celebrate the Lunar New Year and attended an almost two-years-delayed Billie Eilish concert with twenty thousand other vaccinated and masked people in a hockey stadium. After having finished a coaching program for newly diagnosed diabetics in January, I was pleased that my average blood sugar from late November to late February was near the bottom of the prediabetic range. Also, my hives finally (knock on wood) seem to be gone, as of mid-February. Russia invaded Ukraine and like the rest of the world, we watched in horror. The covid death toll reached 900,000. 

March: Noah came home for spring break after having considered staying there to work. He’s been home since Friday. Ithaca lifted its mask mandate about a week before break started. On the day it happened, Noah said most people were still wearing them and when he came home I asked if that was still true and he said yes.  A week ago, MCPS followed suit and went mask-optional, too. North says more kids are wearing masks than not, but that the teachers have been more likely to shed them. There’s even a slogan to go with the new policy, because of course there is: On or Off, It’s Just Me. (I told North “I hope it’s not just you.”) Our county has dropped its mask mandate, but individual businesses can still require masks and many do. Takoma Park announced it was keeping its mandate for city buildings, like the community center (where my book club meets), the recreation center, and the library and then the very day after this notice arrived in the mail it was reversed. You still have to wear a mask to ride the buses or trains. I wear a mask when I’m indoors in a public place, but I downgraded back to cloth after a few months in K95s. That’s as far as I’m willing to go right now.

The current U.S. death toll from covid stands at 965,764. About 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated, with everyone five and older eligible. The global death toll is a little over six million, with about 57% of people vaccinated.

With the kids at school, and Beth’s work-from-home status probably permanent now, life can feel almost but not quite normal. I only read one pandemic-related book in the past six months (Pull of the Stars), though Noah and I are watching Station Eleven this week. (We hope to finish before he goes back to school.) My book club has gone hybrid and I usually go in person. In fact, I went tonight and, though voluntary, masking was universal.

How does the pandemic feel where you live? Are you hopeful or wary? I’m somewhere in between, depending on the day. Chances are I’ll be reporting back in another six months and I hope at that point things are continuing to get better, even if it’s incremental and inconsistent.

On the Horizon: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 66

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

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

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

Travel News

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

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

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

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

Medical News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Dark: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 65

We’ve had two weeknight excursions recently, which is unusual for us these days. We used to have more school events (concerts, plays, meetings), but between being down to one kid and covid, these are now either online or rare occurrences. But this month, we patronized the arts, taking in an outdoor art exhibit and a concert.

Outing #1: Winter Lanterns

On the first day of February, the Lunar New Year, we went to the Kennedy Center to see the Winter Lanterns display. It’s the second time we’ve done it. The last time was two years ago, shortly before covid struck. I think it was cancelled the next year. We considered going the weekend before or after when there would have been food trucks, but it was supposed to be warmer during the week and the idea of going on the actual date of the new year appealed, so that’s what we did. I made a tofu, fennel, and shiitake soup and a cabbage-Asian pear slaw from a Korean vegan cookbook North got for Christmas, so we were not without culturally relevant sustenance before we left. It was a more involved dinner than I usually make so I had to knock off work a little early to prepare it.

I wasn’t sure if it would be the same lanterns as the first time we went or new ones. The answer was a mix. We wandered around the terraces outside the Kennedy Center looking at the colorful flowers, butterflies, pandas, sea creatures, and birds lighting up the night. I especially liked the owls, flamingoes, jellyfish, and turtles. One of the rectangular pools was frozen solid, which surprised me because it had been up in the forties that day—North poked it with their cane to verify. It was all very beautiful. It’s a shame Noah’s always at school when it happens. I think he’d like it and he’s the best photographer in the family.

Between Outings

Two nights later, still on the new year theme, North made a spicy tofu stew and udon with black bean sauce from the same cookbook. Afterward we watched an online information session about the culinary arts program at another high school in our school district. (This is one of those meetings that would have probably been in person in the Before Times.) North applied and got in through a lottery and was trying to decide whether to attend during their junior year. It’s a one-year, half-day program. If they went, they’d have their academic classes at their current school in the morning, take a bus to the other school, and attend the culinary arts program in the afternoon. During the last quarter of the school year the kids run a restaurant other students, faculty, and staff patronize. North was initially torn, but is leaning against attending, as they’re feeling they don’t want their days split between two schools.

The weekend was pretty quiet. Zoë came over on Friday after school and we had homemade pizza and watched Vita and Virginia. It occurred to me as we watched it that I’ve passed from being willing to awkwardly power through sex scenes in television and movies with my older child, to doing it with my younger child, to doing it with a friend of my younger child. In case that’s a milestone, I will note here it happened when my youngest was not quite sixteen.

Beth went ice skating on Saturday and I went for a longer than usual walk and saw snowdrops in a yard a block or two from the Co-op. I was glad to see them, because I always welcome little heralds of spring in February. We have a little cluster of purple crocuses in our side yard, which we didn’t plant, probably relocated by a squirrel. The dozens of daffodils in our front yard have poked their heads up out of the ground as well, though for their own sake, I hope they stay shut for several more weeks.

Outing #2: Billie Eilish Concert

We went to see Billie Eilish on Wednesday night. We bought tickets for this concert, which was supposed to take place in March 2020, for North’s fourteenth birthday. When the concert was originally postponed, North was so sad they organized an at-home concert, complete with glowsticks, concessions, and homemade concert t-shirts to cheer themselves up. Beth was able to find her shirt and she wore it to the real concert.

Even now, almost twenty-three months later, I had some trepidation about going to a big, inside event with omicron still circulating, but it’s on the downswing where we live and proof of vaccination and masking were required. Plus it was now or never. Sadly, North’s not even as much of an Eilish fan as they used to be, though they do still like her. They’re more excited about the Girl in Red concert they’re going to with Zoë and some other friends next month.

We had an early dinner and then drove to the Metro stop and took the train into the city. We all have the Clear app on our phones, downloaded for this event, because it was the first time since we were vaccinated last spring that we had to provide in-person proof of vaccination. We showed it to the guards at the door and we were admitted. It was all pretty efficient. We walked by concession and merch stands with long lines. North didn’t ask for a $45 t-shirt or anything to eat, so we didn’t buy anything. I wondered if we would have gotten some souvenirs two years ago. I noticed every restroom I saw in the arena had been converted to a women’s room, with laminated signs covering up the regular ones and plastic sheeting covering the urinals. I guess there must have been a men’s room somewhere but I didn’t see one and there probably wasn’t need of many, as the crowd was overwhelmingly female, also young—most concert-goers were in their teens and twenties, with a sprinkling of preteens and a fair number of middle-aged parents, mostly moms, accompanying kids.

It was re-assuring how universal masking was. You had to be masked to get in, but it would have been easy to remove your mask once seated and no one I saw was doing that, except briefly to eat. I think in the whole evening, I only saw one person wearing a mask below the nose in that great mass of humanity.

My other worry about the concert, other than being in a crowd of twenty thousand people, was being out late on a school night. Beth and I are early-to-bed people. We’re usually in bed by ten, ten-thirty at the latest and we weren’t sure how late we’d be out, so I was happy when the lights went down for the opening act, Australian rapper Tkay Maidza, relatively promptly at 7:35. I was surprised to recognize one of her songs, a cover of the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” late in her set, and I had to tell first Beth, then North, “I know this song!” Neither of them was particularly impressed with my familiarity with late eighties popular music, but you’ve got to go with what you have.

After the opening act, there was almost an hour to wait before Eilish came on. I was impatient and kept checking my watch and re-calculating when we might get to bed, but finally a trapdoor opened on the stage and she came bouncing out. I think a trampoline must have been involved. She was wearing an oversized black t-shirt, bike shorts, kneepads, and sneakers and she had her hair dyed black and she wore it in pigtails. In keeping with her entrance, her energy was high throughout the show.

She opened with “Bury a Friend” and I was immediately surprised by how loud the song was. I mean, I knew she was playing in a hockey stadium and not an intimate little coffeehouse, but her recorded music has a quiet if intense vibe, and I was expecting it to be something like that, amplified enough for everyone to hear, of course, but not much more than that. But instead of quiet and intense, it was loud and intense. There were a lot lights crisscrossing the stadium and smoke and visuals on the screens behind her. Once it was cars seeming to speed toward her as a traffic lane lines appeared on the stage. Sometimes a shark swam behind her or a giant spider appeared. Toward the end there was a montage of home movies from her childhood and there was another of images related to climate change. So there was a lot to take in. At one point she got into a cherry picker and it swung her around, close to different parts of the crowd. She also orchestrated a wave of cell phone lights in the crowd by pointing to different parts of the stadium. North and I participated in that. It reminded me of the glowsticks at our makeshift concert two years ago.

I did not know as many of the songs as I expected. Even though North played Billie Eilish in the car for all the time for years, maybe from the age of twelve to fourteen, they haven’t done that recently for two reasons. First, they are listening more to other artists. Second, they don’t play music in the car for everyone to hear much anymore, preferring to use their headphones. And as it turns out, Eilish has written some new material in the two years I haven’t been paying much attention.

If you want to read more about the concert, here’s a review. One thing that struck me was how cheerful her stage presence and banter was, in contrast to a lot of her lyrics, which tend toward the gloomy. Beth said she was probably happy to be performing again. And the name of her newest album is Happier Than Ever (even though in the cover photo she’s crying).

In the end we got home and into bed by 11:40, which was better than I feared. It was a fun outing, but I couldn’t help thinking it wasn’t the same experience it would have been two years ago, when North was over the moon about going.

There are so many things we can’t get back, most of North’s ninth grade year and all of Noah’s sophomore year of college for starters. But I never lose sight of how lucky we were and are. We didn’t get sick or lose any loved ones and there was a sweet coziness to the time we all spent in our bubble of four that I can imagine being nostalgic for some time in the future. Right now, I’m grateful the kids are back to considerably more normal school and social lives. North is back in the theater, working as costumes manager for the spring musical and looking forward to having people inside the house for their birthday next month, after two years of outdoor birthday parties. Meanwhile, Noah is pulling together a crew and actors for a movie he’s making for his advanced cinema production class and his junior project is to make an app that lets you mark what you think is a good take as you’re filming so you can find them more easily as you edit. They’re both back to doing what they love. What parent wouldn’t want that?

After the Outings: Weekend and Valentine’s Day

We had another quiet weekend. We watched the Olympics on Friday night. We’ve been watching more than usual, which is nice because I always enjoy it when I think to watch it. I like the figure skating best, but we’ve watched some speed skating, ski jumping, snowboarding, and skeleton, too.

On Saturday night, we watched the first two-thirds or so of Hair, which I haven’t seen since I was twelve and I nominated for family movie night out of curiosity to see how it would hold up. First, I can see why my mom was so mad at my dad for taking an twelve and eight year old to see this film, with all its celebration of drug use and the sexually explicit lyrics, and I can see why it would have seemed like a lot of fun to a kid to imagine be a hippie dancing and singing in Central Park, which is how I responded at the time. The sexual politics leave something to be desired— especially the way Berger appeals to Sheila by storming past all her boundaries. And the attempts to be transgressive and liberated about interracial love are just cringy now. “Black Boys/White Boys” made North exclaim, “What is this song?” more than once. And I don’t even know what’s going on with the officers of draft board all seeming to be gay. I think that must have gone over my head the first time I saw it. But despite all this, I have to admit I am still fond of this movie. I guess I imprinted on it.

On Sunday North made a Black Forest cake as a Valentine’s Day treat. It was very complicated, involving layers of chocolate mousse, cherries, and whipped cream inside the cake and more mousse and cherries on top and shaved chocolate on the top and sides. We decided to eat the cake and exchange presents when North got home from school on Monday instead of after dinner because it helps me spread out my blood sugar rises not to have dessert right after a meal. Also, we weren’t sure if North would be up at dinner, because in the past few months they’ve taken to napping in the late afternoons and early evenings and then staying up late, so it’s hit or miss whether they eat with us.

That day at lunch North cut their apple slices and vegetarian Canadian bacon into heart shapes to get in the mood and then put together a pink and purple outfit for the next day. When they couldn’t find any pink socks I almost gave them one of their Valentine’s Day presents early, but they found some. After they’d gone to bed (earlier than us that night), Beth attached a heart-shaped balloon she got at the grocery store to North’s chair at the dining room table to greet them in the morning.

When North got home from play practice, Beth and I took a break from work to eat the cake and to open presents. Everyone got a little candy; I got a big bag of loose fruit-and-hibiscus tea; Beth got marshmallow-scented lotion, and a biography of Walt Whitman (an item from her Christmas list she never got); and North got two pairs of socks (one pink with strawberries and one with rainbow stripes on a black background). I told North I was going for a Rainbow Goth look. (Lest anyone worry Noah was left out, we mailed a box of fundraiser candy from North’s school and a card to him.)

Does it go without saying that the cake was delicious? Well, just in case it doesn’t I will say it—it was excellent. I decided before we ate that it was a special occasion and I was willing to go up near the top of my target blood sugar range, which is more or less what happened. (I had to delay dinner while I waited for it to come down.) Dinner was tomato-lentil stew with feta and fresh mint and parsley from my indoor herb garden. I also made little heart-shaped toasts. We ate this festive meal in shifts, as North was asleep and I couldn’t eat yet when it was ready.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you had some sweetness in the day and after dark, too

Ten-Year Challenge: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 64

About a week ago, Nicole posted about the ten-year challenge. Here’s her first paragraph:

Recently I’ve seen a lot of “ten year challenge” posts on social media, which is one of those strange phenomena of our time. A challenge, in my mind, is to be ninety-seven weeks into a global pandemic and to still get out of bed every morning, putting one foot in front of the other and keeping hope and optimism in day to day life. A challenge is to parent effectively when there are constant disappointments and changes that are out of anyone’s personal control; a challenge is to keep making dinner, day in and day out, with no end in sight and nothing exciting to anticipate. What about the “ten year challenge” is a challenge, exactly? Is the challenge in finding photos that are a decade apart? Or does the challenge actually lie in the posting of photos that are a decade apart, forcing us all to face the changes that ten years have brought and the vast improvements in our ability to take photos with good lighting and posing? I feel like it’s the latter.

I commented:

This made me go back to my blog archive and see if there were any pictures of me from January 2012. There was one of me and Beth in front of a gay bookstore in Philadelphia, where we were having a weekend getaway while my mom kept the kids.

What’s changed (not just physical):

My mom doesn’t live in that area anymore
I only have one kid at home and that one is almost old enough to be left alone for a weekend (maybe?)
Beth and I were both heavier then

What hasn’t:

I’d still consider a bookstore a fun date destination
I still have the coat and the sweater I’m wearing in the picture
My hair is in a ponytail, which is still how I wear it about half the time

I’m starting to wonder if I could get a blog post out of this.

Nicole encouraged me to go for it, so here we are. The end of January seems like a good time for this post, as we’ve just come through the month named after Janus, the god of beginnings, who has one face looking forward and the other back.

If you have kids, the biggest changes that occur in ten years are going to be in them. In January 2012, my kids were in kindergarten and fifth grade. Now they are a sophomore in high school and junior in college. How did we go from both in elementary school to one in college and the other getting mail from colleges almost every day? Time is relentless, people. Also of note, ten years ago North identified as a girl and they no longer do.

I blogged four times that month. In the first post, we visited the neighborhood in the city where Beth and I lived for ten years before Noah was born and one year after that. We had lunch and bought some books at Kramerbooks and then took in a Degas exhibit at the Phillips Gallery. (This actually happened in December, but I wrote about it in January.) Here’s what I had to say about it:

June enjoyed the ballerina paintings (and looking at herself in the mirrored wall with a barre) but she went through the exhibit at her usual brisk pace, which meant we could not linger as long as the adults might have liked.  Noah liked the sculptures best and was also interested in the computer images of what lies under the visible layer of paint.  When we finished with Degas, we visited some other parts of the museum.  We went into the Rothko room, much to the alarm of the guards, who insisted that June’s hand be held at all times.  (The paintings in that room are not under glass.) June gave the guard an exasperated look when she heard this.  Clearly he did not know how well behaved she is and how many tiger paws she has (twenty-three, third place in her class- not that she’s keeping track).*  For a while the kids played a game of Noah’s invention called “Guess the Medium,” in which he’d have June guess whether a piece of art was done in paint, chalk, water color, etc. I caught a glimpse of them spontaneously holding hands in front of a painting (though later Noah claimed he’d done no such thing).  It was a lovely, lovely day, just like old times, except completely different.

*Tiger paws were slips of paper with a drawing on a tiger paw on them, redeemable for prizes and given as rewards at North’s elementary school. Just a few weeks ago I found a bunch of unredeemed tiger paws from third grade in a drawer. They got less exciting as North moved through the grades apparently. Noah was always pretty indifferent to them.

I haven’t been a museum since pre-pandemic times. During that hopeful stretch last summer when we went to see movies in theaters, and ate inside restaurants, and I’d sometimes go inside stores unmasked, I would have, if I’d thought of it. I don’t know how long it will be until I do again. Next month we’re going to a Billie Eilish concert (rescheduled from March 2020, it was North’s fourteenth birthday present) and that’s more of a risk than going to a museum, but we’d have to forfeit the tickets if we didn’t go, and we are all vaccinated and boosted so we’re crossing our fingers and going.

In the second post, I chronicled the first-ever Panda basketball practice and game.

The Purple Pandas were playing an all-boy team in green t-shirts.  Malachi and one of June’s former preschool classmates were playing on that team and they both got baskets.  (Ram also got a “bleedy nose,” as June put it later.  I didn’t see how it happened but I saw him crying and comforted by several adults and later I saw someone come to clean the blood up off the court.) Actually Malachi didn’t just get a basket, he got the majority of his team’s baskets.  I knew he liked sports and now I know why.  The kid’s got game.  The green team shut out the Purple Pandas, who often looked shocked when the green players knocked the ball out of their hands, despite having been warned by Mike both Friday and today that this would happen, that it wasn’t rude or mean, it was just part of the game.  As the game progressed the girls got better at running to defend their basket when they lost control of the ball, instead of just standing there looking shocked. So that was progress.  A few of them, including Sally (formerly known as the Raccoon*) and her first-grade sister showed some hustle by the end of the game.

*North’s preschool used insect, plant, and animal symbols to identify the kids on their artwork, cubbies, attendance charts, etc. and I used those as pseudonyms for North’s classmates.

North played on the Pandas for six years, from kindergarten to fifth grade, and the team stayed together another three years after that until the pandemic cut their last season short. North’s current extracurricular activity is the spring musical. They will be costume manager again. Rehearsals just started last week. North and Beth are also thinking about taking an art class together either at the rec center or our local community college.

The third post was about Beth’s and my anniversary getaway.

We drove everyone up to Mom and Jim’s house on Saturday afternoon after June’s basketball game, dropped the kids off and enjoyed two nights and one day to ourselves in the City of Brotherly Love.  We had two very nice dinners at the Kyber Pass Pub and Cuba Libre. If you go to the first, the vegetarian meats (BBQ and fried chicken Po Boys) and the fried vegetables (okra and sweet potato fries) are very good. If you go to the second, you must order the buñuelos con espinaca. We visited Reading Terminal Market and had lunch there.  I got a vegetarian cheesesteak at a stand where the service was so bad it crossed over from aggravating to comic, but the cheesesteak was not half bad once I finally got it. We browsed at Giovanni’s Room and came out with a few books. We spent a lot of time in our hotel room and in a local coffee shop reading. We saw a non-animated, R-rated movie, the lesbian coming-of-age film The Pariah, which was well acted and a good story, though there were some odd things going on with the camera work, probably meant to indicate the protagonist’s emotional state.  Our room had a gas fireplace and a Jacuzzi and we employed them both.

We’ve actually taken a lot of road trips during the pandemic, at first just moving our bubble of four from one place to another, enjoying outdoor activities and eating takeout, then after everyone got vaccinated, visiting relatives in West Virginia or meeting up with them at the beach. We might be hitting the road in April during North’s spring break to meet one of their half-siblings whom they met through the Donor Sibling Registry and who lives in Michigan with their two moms. As for a weekend alone, as I mentioned in my comment on Nicole’s post my mom doesn’t live nearby anymore and we don’t feel quite ready to leave North alone for a weekend, but the empty nest is less than three years from now, so I guess by then the world will be our oyster.

The last post was about a day the kids had off school. They always have a day off between second and third quarter. North had two playdates so Noah and I spent the morning together, taking a walk to Starbucks and reading a historical novel, Forge, until his sibling came home.

When June came out of her room forty minutes later she had a stack of Dora books she wanted me to read to her and even though Dora is not my idea of quality children’s literature, the idea of cuddling up in bed and having some one-on-one time with my younger child in between her many social engagements seemed appealing.  Before I read to her I reminded Noah of the items left on his list (homework, percussion practice, typing practice) and I made him lunch. I fixed him some leftover ziti with butter and grated parmesan and a bowl of applesauce with cinnamon sprinkled on top.

“Ziti with parmesan and butter. What could be better than that?” Noah said with satisfaction as I placed his lunch in front of him.

“A castle with princesses and ponies,” June piped up.

You’re going to eat princesses and ponies for lunch?” I said in mock surprise and soon she was over at the toy castle, pretending to be a dragon munching on the royals.  But I was thinking silently that I know something much better than noodles or princesses: a morning with my firstborn as he stands on the threshold of midterms and whatever else middle school has to offer.

Well, middle school is long over for both kids. But Noah does still love pasta, and he plays percussion in a band for non-music majors at school, and we still enjoy sharing books together. North’s taste in books runs more to gay and lesbian romance than Dora these days, and they’ve been digging into the books they’re reading in English class, reading more of the Odyssey than was assigned and dipping into the Iliad as well, just for fun. They read The Shining recently and they’re thinking of reading Dante’s Inferno, so I’d say they’re becoming a rather eclectic reader, after several years of not reading much for pleasure.

That was January 2012. In between then and now, Beth and I got legally married, my mother and stepfather moved to Oregon, my stepfather died, my sister adopted my niece and married my brother-in-law, and North came out as non-binary. We lived through the Trump presidency and a global pandemic. Our lives ten years from now are as unfathomable to us now as our current lives would have been then. It’s not impossible that we could have a grandchild, but not if my kids both wait as long as I did to have children or choose not to have kids. There’s only one way to find out what lies ahead and that’s to live through the next ten years. I am up to that challenge.