Somewhat Normal: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 14

Pirates of Penzance

On the second Wednesday of July, North knocked on the door of Noah’s room, where he and I were reading in the air conditioning. When I yelled, “Come in,” they lunged into the room brandishing a wooden sword they’d just finished covering in aluminum foil.  It was a prop for their role as Frederick, the reluctant pirate in a half-day, outdoor drama camp production of Pirates of Penzance.

The camp was two weeks long and held in a park, with socially distanced blocking and choreography. Because there was only half the time as usual to prepare for the show, campers were making some of their props and costumes at home and the performance would be more of a revue of selected songs than a shortened version of the play.

There were contingency plans for rain, including rescheduling camp hours during the weekend or on July 3 (which they had off because it was a federal holiday), rehearsing in bathing suits, or rehearsing at home on Zoom. However, there was no morning rain the first week and this pattern held for most of the second week. By Wednesday evening, however, the director, Gretchen, had become concerned about forecasts for all-day thunderstorms on Friday, performance day. After hurried consultation with all the families of the campers (half as many as usual to keep distancing manageable), she settled on a plan of having an extra rehearsal late Thursday afternoon and to perform Thursday evening, rather than Friday morning.

This meant North was at camp from nine to noon, at a physical therapy appointment in the city at 1:45, then at another camp session that started at five and lasted until the performance began at seven, which was followed by a distanced cast-parent pizza party in the park. This is a normal level of activity for North in non-pandemic times, but quite unusual these days.

At showtime, the audience set up our blankets and chairs in family groups. The show began with a song with complicated choreography using parasols. All the actors were double-cast as daughters of the Major General and as pirates. I was glad the kids and I had watched a 1983 film version of the show—with Kevin Kline as the pirate king, Angela Lansbury as Ruth (the lady pirate), and Linda Ronstadt as Mabel—the night before camp started because I had no familiarity with the show and otherwise I would have had trouble following it.

There were nine actors, aged thirteen to sixteen, and two were Gretchen’s daughters. Gretchen used the fact that the sisters could stand next to each other to help fill in holes in the blocking in more natural-looking ways, to the extent anything in a show like Pirates is natural. (Gretchen had them work on operatic gestures and other techniques of melodramatic acting.) Here’s a clip of North’s first scene as Frederick, reassuring the frightened maidens that he’s no longer a pirate and therefore not a threat.

The scene that got the most laughs was probably the one in which the pirates are hiding behind rocks and there was one pirate left without a rock and when he tried to share one, the other pirates whipped out their swords and admonished, “Six feet!”

It was a fun show and pleasant to watch outdoors as the heat of the day began to ebb. One of the moms had organized a big pizza order and it wasn’t until shortly before it arrived that Beth and I realized we each thought the other had conveyed our order to her. So Beth had to place a separate order for us and go get it, but we were eating pretty soon after everyone else. We were seated within conversational distance of the mom of a girl North’s known since preschool and Zoë had come to watch the performance, so we all had people to talk to while we waited.

Something Gretchen said while she was introducing the play stuck with me. She was talking about the camp experience and how nice it was to have “a little semblance of something somewhat normal.” That’s why we let North attend this camp, though so much time unmasked and with other people, even standing far apart, did make me nervous.

Ithaca 

We did another somewhat normal thing the next day—we set out on a summer road trip. The official purpose of the trip was to clean out Noah’s dorm room (which he finally had permission to enter) but we decided to make a long weekend out of it.

Beth was scheduled to work Friday morning because we’d expected North to still be in camp, so she did, and we left around noon. We had a picnic lunch about an hour north of home and arrived in Ithaca about 7:30. At the house we met the two friendly resident cats, a calico named Opal and an orange tabby named Leo. By the time we’d unpacked, procured some pizza, eaten it at the house, and cleaned up from dinner, it was time for bed, past time actually. We were up until about eleven, which for me is late. We’d had a longish wait in the rain outside the pizza place, but while we were waiting a passerby informed us and the other little clusters of people that it was “the best pizza in town,” so that was encouraging.

No one slept well because it’s an odd feature of the AirBnB that none of the windows had any dressings except blinds in the bathroom and a sheer bit of fabric on our bedroom window. So we were mostly up with the sun.

We had breakfast in the house and in the late morning Beth and Noah headed to his dorm, while I had a nap. Only two people per family were allowed in and the appointments were spread out so they didn’t see another family the whole time they were there, except one heading into another dorm. (Noah did hear one on another floor of his dorm.) When they came back to the house, Beth said the whole process was “easy peasy.” They brought take-out back with them and Noah was so happy to be reunited with his camera that he started taking pictures of North eating their lunch before he had his.

We spent the afternoon in a series of parks. We hiked part of the trail to Taughanook Falls, but North got tired, so we turned back and drove to the overlook instead. Before we left the trail, though, we waded into the almost dry river, scrambling over the pocked riverbed, full of puddles.      

At Ithaca Falls, there was deeper water to wade and swim in so we stayed there a long time. This was the third or fourth waterfall of the day and it was here Beth said, “There’s another beautiful waterfall around every damn corner.” It’s true. Ithaca is ridiculously lovely. There a reason they said “Ithaca is gorges.” (I swear I’m going to buy that t-shirt someday.) There was a conveniently located log in the water that afforded a nice view of the waterfall so we sat there awhile and Beth said, “This is the best log I have ever sat on.”

We went back to the house where Noah showed us his photos of the trip so far and he and I read a chapter of Homeland. Then we got sushi and ate it at Stewart Park in a pavilion with a view of Cayuga Lake. On the way home we picked up ice cream from Purity, Ithaca’s most famous ice cream parlor and a family favorite.

Everyone slept better because we draped a quilt over the curtain rod in our room and piled pillows in front of the windows in the kids’ room. We had another outdoorsy day planned, but first we fortified ourselves at Waffle Frolic, which is the sort of restaurant where you can get ice cream, Nutella, or frosting on waffles. There are also healthier options, but that’s what we went with, though we did use buckwheat waffles as a base and added fruit and eggs on the side, so the meal was not devoid of nutrition. There were outdoor tables and it was our first time eating at a restaurant during the whole pandemic. It was hard to hear the staff calling out names to pick up food at the counter, but once we got our food it was quite pleasant.

We visited the Ithaca farmers’ market and the food co-op where we gathered food for a picnic. The farmers’ market is under a long wooden roof, with built-in stalls. It’s less extensive than the Takoma Park farmers’ market in terms of produce on offer, but there were more craft stalls. It’s always interesting to see another town’s market.

Next we drove around looking for a place we could swim. It had rained hard the night before so a lot of swimming places were closed because of presumed poor water quality. We ended up at Long Point State Park, also on Cayuga Lake. When we entered the park, and we asked if swimming was allowed, the young man in the booth said, “We can’t say you can, but we can’t say you can’t, and we won’t come get you if you do.” This was a surprising response, as we’d gotten a clear-cut no at the last park we’d tried. A little ominous, too, given what happened later, but we decided to go for it. We ate our lunch at a picnic table and then swam in the pebbly-bottomed lake, ringed with ridges of evergreen trees.

As at all the parks, Noah took a lot of pictures. I’d been thinking about how film and photography help him to connect to nature. In other words, it answers the question “What is the purpose of this activity?” he asked us at this very lake about a year ago.

We’d planned to move on to another park, one where drones are allowed, so around two p.m. North and I started to get out of the water. (Beth and Noah were already out.) Once I was out, North called me back to the water, to help them get to their feet, but when I pulled them up, their legs wouldn’t hold them.

To be continued…

A Goodbye: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 13

On Friday morning around eight, North found our cat Matthew lying on the living room floor near the front door, half-paralyzed and crying in distress. We were all quite surprised because the day before he’d seemed perfectly normal, but now he had no control over his back legs. The first thing that came to mind was that he had type 1 diabetes and this was exactly how it first presented when he was about a year old. We’d just switched him and his brother Xander from high-protein kitten food to regular cat food and one day his legs just gave out and he collapsed onto the kitchen floor. After some short-term insulin, we got him on food for cats with diabetes and he never needed any more insulin or diabetes medicine. At the time, the vet told us as he got older, the special food might not do the trick anymore and then he’d need to go on insulin. That was sixteen years ago, so I thought that the time had finally come for more aggressive treatment.

We carried him to our bed, which is his favorite place, and brought him some water, which he drank, and for the next few hours, we took turns sitting with him alone or in various combinations. He seemed to calm down and stopped crying so much, but every now and then he’d try, unsuccessfully, to stand. Mostly he just lay quietly, breathing more quickly than usual, occasionally napping a little.

Beth was trying to reach the vet’s office but they never picked up the phone so she drove over there to see if there was anything posted on the door about holiday weekend hours. As it turned out, they were closed for the whole day, so she called an animal hospital in the city. It was the same hospital where our first cat, Emily, received treatment at the end of her life and died, eighteen years ago.

After asking a few questions, the staff person at the animal hospital asked us to bring Matthew in. We’d have to leave him in his carrier at the door and they’d take him inside and talk to us by phone as we waited outside. Even though we knew no one was going inside, North and I came along with Beth and Matthew, just in case we knew the answers to any questions, and for moral support. There weren’t many questions, though, and pretty soon after we left him, they told us to go home and said they’d call us.

Late that morning, the vet called with the bad news. It wasn’t his diabetes. It was heart disease, very advanced. They did an ultrasound and found fluid around his heart and lungs. The immediate problem was a blood clot that was preventing him from moving his legs, but his overall prognosis was poor.

We decided to go through with the euthanasia that day. This time all four of us went to the animal hospital. They are putting animals down in the parking garage because of COVID. This sounds really horrible, but they did their best to make a private space. There was a folding screen making a little room out of a corner. It was near a vent blowing cool air, so it wasn’t oppressively hot, and there was a wooden bench with a cushion on it and side tables with boxes of tissues and water.

Only one person was allowed to be there during the procedure, but we were all allowed to visit with him beforehand. The vet brought our loudly meowing cat behind the screen and stepped out, saying we could take as long as we liked and to call her when we were ready. We sat on the bench and petted him and talked to him and kissed the top of his head. He was wrapped up in a white fleece blanket and part of one of his front legs had been shaved, just above the paw, and the port for the drugs was already attached. My heart sank a little further when I saw that.

When we’d said our goodbyes, everyone but me left, and Beth called for the vet to come back from inside the building. I held Matthew while the vet administered the two drugs, the first to render him unconscious and the second one to stop his heart. They took effect more quickly than I thought they would. The vet listened to his chest with a stethoscope and said, “He’s gone.” She told me it had been the compassionate decision. Or at least that’s what I think she said. Between her face shield and her mask and the fact that we were in a garage, it was hard to hear. I just nodded and she asked if I wanted to stay with him for a while and I did. When I finally lay him down on the bench, I found Beth outside and asked her to call someone to come pick him up and I went back to wait with him again because I couldn’t bear to leave his body alone.

It’s three days later and we’re all sad and kind of shocked. One day we thought he was reasonably healthy for a seventeen-year-old cat—his most serious problem seemed to be a tendency toward constipation and some weight loss we thought was due to his digestive issues—and the next day a vet was telling us he was fatally ill.

We spent a quiet fourth of July. The Takoma Park parade and fireworks were cancelled months ago, so our observation of the holiday consisted of watching Hamilton and having a backyard picnic.  And because it was the most patriotic thing I could think to do, I wrote a small batch of postcards, encouraging Florida voters to enroll in the state’s vote by mail program. (I’ve written over a hundred postcards for this campaign alone.)

The next day, Beth, Noah, and I went to another park. We’ve continued to do this every weekend since mid-May and we have yet to repeat a park. The weekend previous we’d been to a charming little creek off the Middle Patuxent, where we could hear what I think was a good-sized bullfrog croaking underneath a mass of submerged tree roots and we could see dozens of these beautiful black-winged, turquoise-bodied dragonflies.

This week we went to South River Farm Park, which as you might guess from the name is on the South River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. We waded in the salty river and in a little pond (until some kayakers warned us out of it, telling us there were snapping turtles and snakes in there). We saw a Great Blue Heron in the pond, and picked some of the plentiful raspberries we found growing along the trail.

I was sorry North had elected not to come because I think they would have liked it but we weren’t sure whether or not the park had beach access when we set out and they didn’t want to come without knowing for sure. (And actually, this park wasn’t even the one we thought we’d visit. Our first and second choice were filled to capacity and closed.) I was timing how long it took to walk from the parking lot to the water and noting the firmness and slope of the path for future reference. Speaking of North’s condition, after the MRI last week, we learned that they have a herniated disk. It may sound like an odd reaction, but Beth and I were both really happy to learn this because it means there’s a concrete reason for their pain and it should guide the physical therapist’s plan. They already have some at-home exercises to do and they’ll have their first full-length PT session on Thursday.

After we left the park we stopped at a nursery, where I got two dwarf sunflowers and a thyme plant, then we went to a farm stand and got some excellent peaches, peach jam, cantaloupe, and tomatoes. We each ate a sweet, juicy peach in the parking lot before picking up some Chinese takeout for lunch and following it up with frozen custard and Italian ice at Rita’s. It was a nice outing and kind of therapeutic to spend so much time outside.

We brought home some extra fortune cookies and gave one of them to North. It said their luck was about to change.

“That could be good or bad,” I observed, but given that they’ve been on crutches since February, our country’s been in the grip of a pandemic since March, and a cat they loved dearly just died, we decided to read it as a good sign.

RIP, Matthew Simon
Circa February 14, 2003-July 3, 2020

He was a beautiful cat and more than a little neurotic, he loved to play with lanyards, which I think he pretended were snakes, and he was a good mouser, even in old age. We will miss him very much.

A Protest and a Park: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 12

Well, I ended my last post saying I imagined the summer would hold more protests and drone-flying excursions and that seems to be how it’s going. Last Friday we went to a slightly bigger Black Lives Matter protest in Silver Spring and then Sunday we drove out to the Chesapeake Bay to swim and fly the drone.

Earlier that week North had an in-person appointment at the pain clinic, as a follow-up from the telemedicine appointment. The doctor ordered an MRI, to check for any issues with their spine as a precaution before they start another round of physical and possibly aqua therapy. It was the aqua therapy that really seemed to turn things around last time, so we’re hoping the pool at the rehabilitation hospital has re-opened or will soon. Anyway, the MRI and their physical therapy intake appointment are both next Monday.

Black Lives Matter

We didn’t have much information about the protest before we went. I’d seen a notice on Facebook a while back and I’d picked it because I thought at a kneeling protest it might be easy to keep your distance from people. You could select a spot and stay there and everyone else would stay in their spots. I also like the idea of a reflective, silent tribute. But then a day before the protest I couldn’t find any information about an action going on at the time, place, and date I remembered (5 p.m. Juneteenth, Silver Spring Civic Building plaza). There was one there at 3 p.m. on that day and one at 5 p.m. the next day. Living where we do, you really don’t have to look too hard to find a protest. But I wasn’t sure if I’d misremembered the time or the date or if the kneeling protest had been cancelled because neither description I found said anything about that. Beth and I decided on the Friday afternoon one because it seemed like it would be less crowded than the Saturday afternoon one. We invited the kids and Noah said yes, while North declined, possibly because we were pretty short on details and they wanted to know what they were getting themselves into.

When we arrived it was raining gently. There was a crowd, but the plaza wasn’t packed and virtually everyone was wearing a mask. The crowd was mostly teens and adults, but some people had brought younger kids. We tried to keep to the edges, which meant when the speeches started, about 3:20, we couldn’t hear much. The march organizers were young, probably high school age, and there were a half dozen of them standing in a line where the skating rink is in the winter, near a big Black Lives Matter banner, handing the microphone back and forth. There’s really nothing like young activists to make you feel hopeful for the future, even when you can’t actually hear what they’re saying.

Eventually people starting moving and it became clear there was going to be a march. For about twenty minutes we filed through the streets of downtown Silver Spring, chanting the usual chants. Noah commented that he’s always thought “No justice, no peace!” is an odd thing to chant at a peaceful march. It was harder to keep our distance here, but at least we were passing people and they were passing us, so we weren’t in close contact with the same people for long.

When we returned to the plaza it was announced everyone should sit or kneel for nine minutes, the length of time the police officer who murdered George Floyd knelt on his neck. So we had shown up at the right protest, more or less by accident. It was what I wanted but I also had a little trepidation. I’m fifty-three years old, heavyset, and I injured my left knee badly several years ago and it has never been right since then. But just in the past few months it’s been bothering me noticeably less. I have no idea why. I suggested to Beth we move back to the benches because wood isn’t quite as hard as brick. I got up on the bench and tried kneeling. It wasn’t what you’d call comfortable, and it got worse with time, but it was doable. It was conducive to reflection as well.

When the nine minutes was over, the protesters began drifting out of the plaza. We went to Cold Stone, thinking it might be crowded but we were the only ones there. (Maybe the other rain-soaked protesters wanted some less chilly snack.) We took our ice cream back to the parking garage and ate it in the car.

Bay

Two days later, all four of us took a day trip to the Chesapeake Bay. It was North’s first time on a drone-flying expedition, but this one held the promise of swimming, Taco Bell, and Dairy Queen, and this combination proved enticing. The park was just past the Bay Bridge. With no traffic, this would be about an hour from our house. It was a summer weekend, though, so we weren’t expecting no traffic. And as it turned out, there was an accident on the bridge so it was actually two hours before we got to the park.

It was a short hike through marshland and woods to get to the beach. The ground was soft and it was hard going for North in places, but we got to the water. The beach was narrow but long, so people were able to stretch out along it pretty well. We were there around two hours and I didn’t see a single person wearing a mask, though Beth said she saw a few. North and I were in the water most of the time we were there and Beth and Noah joined us at the beginning. Then the two of them got out of the water and he took some footage with the drone on the beach then they took a walk toward the bridge. They found a little creek running into the Bay and he shot some footage. Here’s a compilation he made.

When they came back, I’d just gotten out of the water and we watched North. They’re always in their element in the water and it was good to see them so happy and active.

“We have to get them to the beach this summer,” I commented to Beth.

By this time it was mid-afternoon and we hadn’t had lunch yet, so we left the bay and got drive-through Taco Bell and Dairy Queen and ate it at the tables outside the Dairy Queen, which we had to ourselves. (We reminisced about Noah’s twelfth birthday and how we had cake and ice cream at those very tables while en route to Rehoboth for the weekend and how hard it was to keep the candles lit so he could blow them out.)

Looking Ahead…

Noah finally got time slot to pick up his things from his dorm room, where his camera and most of his summer clothes have been awaiting his return since early March. It’s a few weeks from now. We’re going to make a long weekend out of it, staying a couple days in Ithaca to splash in some of the abundant waterfalls and eat take-out from some of the many excellent restaurants in that foodie town.

It will be the first time we’ve been on an overnight family trip since we went to Berkeley Springs in February, but we’ll be hitting the road again less than a week later because after going back and forth for months about whether to go to Rehoboth this summer, we finally decided we would, but not as the big extended family gathering it usually is. We’re thinking of it as moving our bubble to the beach—a mere block from the beach as it turns out. We decided to prioritize proximity to the ocean, so North can spend as much time in the water as they like. We’re not sure what else we’ll do and what we won’t while we’re there. We’ll have to assess how crowded our other usual haunts are and what conditions in Delaware are like in mid-July. But North said if they could go to the beach and get takeout from Grandpa Mac’s and Grotto that would be enough for them, so I think we can swing that.

School’s Out: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 11

School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces…

Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not come back at all

From “School’s Out,” by Alice Cooper

Thursday: Last Day of School

North was promoted from middle school, virtually, on Friday evening, so I guess it’s summer break now. It may be hard to tell the difference, as North’s schoolwork had been pretty minimal since it went online, but it’s a milestone nonetheless. They finished their last assignment, a short essay on the role of slavery in the Civil War, on Thursday so they could relax and celebrate all day Friday, or “North Day,” as Beth dubbed it.

We also had a telemedicine appointment Thursday at the pain clinic, with the doctor who helped set up North’s physical and aqua therapy for their last bout of chronic pain, the one that lasted from February of seventh grade to November of eighth grade. Because North mentioned some intermittent  muscle weakness and that’s a new symptom, the doctor wants to see them in person, so we made an appointment for Monday. (I can’t go because only one parent is allowed to accompany kids to the National Children’s Medical Center right now, and since Beth drives, she’s the obvious choice. I’ve been avoiding both public transportation and ride-sharing services since March, which has really curtailed my transportation options.) As much as we all wish we weren’t in this situation, it’s a good thing to be on a path to a treatment plan.

Thursday is North’s cooking night and it was also their turn to choose our weekly family activity evening, so they made cucumber-tofu sushi and then organized a scavenger hunt. Because it’s Pride month, we were searching for little colored pieces of paper in arc shapes. (They printed a rainbow and then cut it into bands and then cut each band into several short strips.) They hid them around the house and yard while Beth was sequestered in our room on a work call and Noah and I went for a short walk so we wouldn’t see them hiding the papers. When we got back, they directed the hunt from the living room couch, where they issued occasional clues. The hunt was supposed to end when someone found strips with all six colors, but time ran out and as I had five at the end, I was declared the winner.

Friday: North Day

On Friday, Beth took the day off and wore her “Let Summer Begin” t-shirt. At lunchtime we got takeout from an Italian deli and Starbucks and we all had a picnic at Wheaton Regional Park. We also let North choose the venue for takeout pizza that night (they chose Roscoe’s) and Beth made a cake—chocolate with a raspberry filling between the layers and white chocolate frosting. We stuck the numeral nine candle in it because they are now a ninth grader. When we lit the candle, I put on Elizabeth Cotten’s “Graduation March,” but because it wasn’t the more familiar “Pomp and Circumstance,” and because there was cake, the kids decided we needed to sing “Happy Promotion” to the tune of “Happy Birthday” so we did that.

When we presented North with a promotion card and gift—an iPad, with a keyboard and pencil— they were really surprised because they weren’t expecting anything. I have to admit, I felt some retrospective guilt about the fact that we didn’t get Noah anything for eighth grade promotion—and he worked so hard in middle school!—but it’s kind of late for that now. And he did get a class party on a riverboat and an in-person promotion ceremony, while North’s class trip to Six Flags was cancelled, so maybe this evens things out.

The prerecorded promotion video was supposed to be available at 6:30, but there were technical difficulties and it was 8:30 before we were able to view it. After we’d been waiting a while we started to watch The Way, Way Back, which Beth or North found in a list of coming-of-age films. (They were both looking for one because North thought it was an appropriate genre for the evening.) When we finally got the message that the promotion videos had gone live, we paused the movie to finish the next night.

The virtual promotion was a lot like an in-person promotion. There was music from the school orchestra, speeches from the principal, faculty, and students, and awards for various virtues (Caring, Thinker, etc.)  Then the names of the roughly four hundred eighth graders scrolled down the screen. Finally, there was a slideshow of photos students and parents submitted. I sent in photos of North at Outdoor Ed in the fall of sixth grade, and in chorus concerts, plays, and coffeehouses. The teacher who organized it (North’s Spanish teacher) picked four of them and Zoë sent in a few pictures of North, too, so they were well represented. I hadn’t told North I sent in pictures, so that was a surprise, too, and they seemed pleased. I think North Day was a success.

First Weekend of Summer Break

The only thing on the agenda North didn’t get a chance to do on Friday was get their head shaved, which we’d promised them they could do once the school year was over. They’ve been wanting to do it for months, but first I was making them wait until after my sister’s wedding in July and then when the wedding was postponed until next summer I proposed after promotion as a good time for it, so they could mark the end of middle school. This was back in May and they wanted to do it right away and grumbled a bit, but Beth advised them to “take the win,” and they must have seen the wisdom in that because they stopped complaining. But by the time we’d watched the promotion on Friday night, it was dark out and all quarantine hair cutting has been taking place in the back yard, so they had to wait another day, but on Saturday morning Beth shaved their head, as promised.

Today North and Zoë got together to wade in the creek and they painted their faces to mark the fact that today was supposed to be D.C. Pride, before it was cancelled. I’m glad North is able to socialize in person with Zoë now and that it’s motivating them to move a bit more, since they have to meet outside.

Summer and Fall

North will be free for a while. Starting in July, they’re going to take an online summer school class in computer science to get their tech requirement out of the way and to give them a little something to do, as other than a two-week, half-day socially distanced drama camp, also in July, they don’t have many plans. It’s unclear if  they will be going back to school in person in August. We got a message from the school district just today informing us that no decision has been made and if we’ve heard anything one way or the other, it’s just a rumor.

As for Noah, we got his academic calendar a few weeks ago. Because his college is starting in early October and ending not much later than usual, it’s compressed—with no fall break and shortened Thanksgiving, winter, and spring breaks. Students are encouraged not to go home during either the Thanksgiving or spring breaks, but that’s not mandatory. Of course, this is all assuming these plans go as currently scheduled. The School of Health is openly lobbying for a different plan for fall semester—a hybrid one in which the students start online classes in August, switch to in-person classes for October and November and then finish up at home in December. This disturbs Noah because he’s applying for summer jobs and internships and he’d like to know the exact length of his break.

Parks and Protest

Speaking of Noah, Beth and I continue to go on weekend outings with him to fly his drone. (It was probably on one of these rambles that Beth got bitten by a tick. She was diagnosed with Lyme Disease on Monday. It was her second go-around with it, so she was able to recognize the symptoms and get on medication quickly.) A week ago we went to Quiet Waters Park in Anne Arundel County, which is on the South River. The name is something of a misnomer, because there are a lot of powerboats in the river and there’s a dedicated dog beach, which is a great idea for dogs and their people, but it’s not exactly quiet.  We did find a nice open field in front of a stage and a little botanical garden, though, and these were good places for flying. Then yesterday we went to Rockburn Branch Park, in Howard County, which was notable for the fact almost no one was wearing a mask, so we gave everyone a wide berth. There are some historic houses and barns in the park and Noah flew around and over them, then we walked along some trails, and by the numerous sports facilities (baseball diamonds, soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts, and a mountain biking skills course).

We also went to a youth-organized, socially distanced march in Takoma Park a week and a day ago. I’ve been skittish about protesting, because of COVID, but this seemed like a good starter march because the crowds would not be as big as downtown and it was going to be mostly kids and their families so I thought there would be a focus on safety. The route was pretty short and close to home, so we thought North could manage at least part of it and it would be pretty easy to get them home when they were done. I also like to support youth activism in these days when we need it more than ever.

There was a good turnout (including several families we know), nearly everyone was masked (with the exception of the guy standing on the corner yelling about how Jesus was the solution) and for the most part, folks kept their distance. “Black Lives Matter” was the most popular sign, but we also saw “Stop Killing Black People,” “No Justice, No Peace,” and “Say Their Names.” I saw the younger sister of one of North’s friends carrying one that said, “My Friends’ Lives Matter.” We carried the sign North made that says “All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Do,” taking turns with it.

North walked several blocks and then wanted to sit on the curb, so I stayed with them while Beth and Noah went on. After they decided they were done and not just resting, I went to try to catch up with Beth and Noah with the plan we’d all meet back where North was waiting for us. It took a while to find each other, as the march went off-route at the end, and I went with it while Noah and Beth stayed at the official end point. But eventually we reunited. I went to the farmers’ market to get strawberries and Beth drove the kids home. The march went well enough that we feel ready to tackle another protest next weekend in Silver Spring. This one is a kneeling protest, so I’m hoping people will stake out their spots and stay put, minimizing close contact, but we’ll see.

I imagine there will be more protests this summer and more drone-flying expeditions and I hope, more physical activity for North.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fallen: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 9

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airplane Mode: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 8

Noah’s finished with his first year of college. His last exam was an oral presentation he gave on Thursday afternoon. The class was Media Industries and he and his partner chose to design Buzzfeed-style quizzes about television shows they watched as children. His quiz was on Cyberchase, which he loved in elementary school. He said watching old episodes to make the quiz was a nostalgic treat (and I think he may have watched more than he strictly needed to make the quiz). But sadly, none of his classmates watched this show in their younger years, so even though a classmate volunteered to take the quiz to demonstrate its use, the poor kid had to guess the answers at random. I imagine the point was the graphic design, however, and not how well his peers could score on it.

Noah had been conscientious about wearing clothes for his classes for most of the seven weeks of remote learning, but toward the end his standards slipped and he gave his final presentation in pajamas. (I suppose I should mention the top looks like a black sweatshirt and based on my college teaching days, I guess that’s dressy enough for a final.)

That same day, we had a pop-up café in the house. We made up menus the night before and the parents cooked for and served the kids lunch, which we ate in the living room, and the kids served the parents dinner, which we ate in the back yard. Grilled cheese was the most popular lunch entree and fried-chicken style tofu was the most ordered dinner. This activity was, of course, North’s idea. As is often the case, they had to talk us into it, but it ended up being fun. Afterwards, we played Settlers of Catan, or everyone but North did, as they don’t care for that game.

Friday we got pizza from Roscoe’s. I told Noah he could choose since it was his first day of summer break, but he sweetly pointed out I never got a chance to choose pizza for my birthday, so we chose together. I also got to choose the movie for family movie night and I went with the Dead Poets Society. I’d never seen it and I have to say, parts of it have not held up well, the sexual politics in particular, but parts of it still appeal.

On Saturday afternoon, Beth and Noah and I went to fly his drone again. This time it didn’t feel as strange to get in the car, as I’d done it six days earlier, but it seemed to make both Beth and me happy and expansive. We talked about things we’d like to do someday, both fantasies that are unlikely to come true (a mustang convertible for her, a beach house for me) and things we might actually manage (visiting Provincetown during some future Memorial Day weekend, as we did many times in the 1990s and meeting up with the friends from we used to see there).

Noah was the car’s DJ and he was playing Airplane Mode. He’d been playing this band the last time we went to fly the drone and I asked him if this was his theme music for this activity. He said no, it was just a coincidence, but then he said he’d search for another thematically named band for the return trip. I suggested Jefferson Airplane, in jest—I doubt he has any Jefferson Airplane on his phone.

On our way out, we stopped at a UPS store so I could return a duplicate birthday gift. I so seldom run errands these days it feels unsettling, but everyone in the store wore masks and stood behind the pieces of tape on the floor, marking out six-foot increments. There’s a Starbucks in that plaza, so we got treats. I tried out the iced pineapple matcha drink. I recommend it, if you like that kind of thing. It’s a pretty green color and it felt very festive to sip in the car.

This trip we visited the Triadelphia reservoir. There are a number of little recreation areas along the shore where you can launch a boat, fish, or picnic. We stopped at two of them. There was a playground in a wooded area at the first one, closed off with snow fencing, and Noah sent the drone in there and flew it between the chains of a swing. He also landed it on a trash can and tested the limits of how high it can go. The second location was more open. There were some people grilling and picnicking but the tables were pretty far apart and we went to the back of the field to distance ourselves further and give Noah room to fly without bothering anyone. At one point I saw a bird heading straight for the drone, but when it got close it did a 180, possibly disconcerted by the loud buzzing noise it makes.

Flying the Drone from Noah Lovelady-Allen on Vimeo.

It was fun to get out of the house again and hang out in a pretty place on a warm May day and watch Noah take enjoyment in his new gadget and imagine ourselves traveling even further someday.

On the way home, Noah played twenty one pilots.

Updates: we know a little more about move-out at Ithaca. It will start in early June and last for six weeks. New York state residents will go first, then people who live within a four-hour radius of the college, and then everyone else, but it’s all contingent on conditions where you live. (There are benchmarks to meet.) If we get to go, we’ll be in the last group, so sometime in July. Sign-up slots become available next week. It all seems reasonable and prudent, but given that it will be awhile before Noah gets his things, we bought him some more summer clothes and a fan for his room to replace the one he left in Ithaca.

Also, the stay-at-home order in the District has been extended until June 8, so it will be June 22 at the earliest before Beth goes back to her office, not that she’s in any hurry.

Happy Mother’s Day, Happy Birthday: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 7

“Happy Mother’s Day”

Sunday morning Beth and I exchanged Mother’s Day greetings hours before we saw either of the kids. Beth set the alarm for 6:45 and she was out the door to go grocery shopping by 7:30. She likes to get there early, before it’s too crowded. Noah emerged from his room around 9:50 and said “Hi” to me.

“What’s the first thing you should say to me today?” I whispered in his ear, despite the fact that there was no one else in the room.

“Happy birthday?” he guessed.

“No, that’s tomorrow,” I said.

“Happy Mother’s Day!” he said and then in his own defense, “I just woke up.”

The kids were watching Portlandia a little while later and I reminded them that if they had anything they needed to wrap, they should do so. They both needed to wrap. Shipping delays waylaid North’s Mother’s Day gift to Beth and Noah forgot to change his default address when he ordered mine so it got sent to the Ithaca College mailroom, from which he is valiantly trying to rescue it. But luckily North’s gift for me and Noah’s for Beth arrived so we each had something to unwrap. I certainly can’t complain about late presents, given that the last of the books I got Noah came today and his new pajamas haven’t come yet and his birthday was nine days ago.

Anyway, I got a coffee table book about growing and cooking with herbs from North. This was nice because over the years my gardening has gotten more herb-centric, as I lose patience with other plants and their pests and diseases. Noah got Beth a jar of cherry salsa (a favorite of hers) and bottle of cherry syrup to use for homemade soda or ice cream topping. 

In the afternoon Beth and I took Noah out to fly his camera drone. It felt really strange to get in the car, as I don’t think I’ve been inside it since March. It was even stranger when the car started moving and I was suddenly more than a mile from my house, an area which apparently still exists. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see Interstate 270. The ever-present signs saying “STAY HOME/SAVE LIVES/ESSENTIAL TRAVEL ONLY” gave me only small twinges of guilt.

First we tried a state park about twenty minutes from home, but when we got to the entrance it was blocked by park police cars and there was a sign that said PARK CLOSED. We’d checked before we left and the web site it was open, so Beth guessed they were only letting a set number of people inside at a time and it was at capacity. Whatever the reason, we needed to find another place to fly. We tried a nearby air park for model airplanes and drones, but you have to be a member or be admitted as a guest and no one there was authorized to admit a guest, so we left. We passed by a county park with park police in the parking lot. Finally, the fourth place we stopped, a little county park, was unguarded and didn’t look too crowded. It consisted of a field big enough to accommodate two soccer fields (the goals were still there, but without the netting) and a path that led into the woods where people were running, walking, and biking.

One family was picnicking at the far side of the field and a man was tossing a baseball to a boy with a bat at the other end. We found a spot in the middle far away from either of these groups, and Noah set up the drone and practiced flying it and filming with it. It was a beautiful sunny day and the footage he got came out very clear, even when the drone was high above us. He practiced takeoff and landing a few times, maneuvered it through one of the soccer goals, and took a picture of the three of us with it. After he was done, we took a walk on the path through the woods. It was a nice outing.

“Happy Birthday”

The next day was my birthday. Celebrating our third semi-quarantined birthday in the span of seven weeks (fourteen, nineteen, and fifty-three) made me think about my own fourteenth and nineteenth birthdays. The fourteenth was memorable. It happened during a trip my mom and ten-year-old sister and I took to Disney World and the Gulf coast of Florida with my mother’s boyfriend and his son, who was my sister’s age. I think it was a test run to see how we’d be as a family. This turned out to be moot, as Mom and Bill eventually broke up. (She married my stepfather Jim three years after the Disney trip.) Even though the relationship didn’t last, I remember it as a happy trip.

I have no real memory of my nineteenth birthday, but it must have been unsatisfactory because I complained so much about having a birthday that was always going to fall either during reading period or exams for all four years of college that my friend Jim threw me a surprise birthday party four months to the day before my twentieth birthday.

I suppose fifty-three will be memorable in its own way. It began with Noah enthusiastically greeting me, “Happy birthday!” seemingly pleased to have gotten it right. I didn’t have a lot of work, so I spent the morning doing laundry, reading Jeanette Winterson’s Passion on the porch, and riding the stationary bike in the basement.

We decided to have cake and presents after lunch so we could have dessert after lunch and dinner. “That’s a great idea!” Beth exclaimed when I proposed it. She’d made the cake—a lemon cake with strawberry frosting—the day before so it was ready. I almost forgot I’d asked Beth to buy supplies—brie, apricot jam, and rosemary crackers—for a special birthday lunch until I was already heating up leftovers and Beth reminded me. We all ate our separate lunches and then I opened my presents, which were mostly books from Beth and my mom: Stephen King’s If It Bleeds, Theodora Goss’s European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, and Philip Roth’s Nemesis. (Later in the day Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad arrived.) Noah printed out a down-payment on his gift, the first five chapters of The Island of Dr. Moreau, which is on its way. North got me a color-changing mug. It’s black but when you put a warm beverage in it, you see the boy in the yellow slicker and the balloon from It. It was a nice collection of gifts. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a big stack of books you want to read, especially now.

After we’d eaten the cake (delicious as always), Beth went back to work and the kids and I walked to the Starbucks in Langley Park, which just re-opened last week. It’s carryout only and you order on the app. We carried everything home because you can’t go in the store. They’ve put a table in the doorway and you pick up your order there. The walk was about as long as my usual morning walk (a half hour round trip) but it felt longer because I was actually going somewhere, not just wandering. When we got home I sat on the porch again, scrolled through Facebook birthday greetings on my phone, and sipped my first latte since March, very slowly to make it last.

My mom called with birthday wishes and then I did a little work, writing a blog post about coffee and heart health, and then Noah and I read a chapter of The Martian (a book we started before either of our birthdays) and watched most of an episode of The Magicians. Dinner arrived before we’d quite finished. It was a feast of Mexican food—I had tortilla chips with salsa, salad with mango and avocado, spinach enchiladas, pineapple juice, and tres leches cake (I was so full had to save the cake for later in the evening).

Noah had an evening class to attend (his last of the semester) and the rest of us watched an episode of Gilmore Girls, which we recently started.

Now we are finished with the spring birthday season at our house. This is what we know about the rest of the spring and the summer:

  • North won’t be going back to school, at least not middle school. We found out last week that the rest of the school year will be online. North’s sad about not getting a chance to say a proper goodbye to their teachers, their school, and their classmates who will be going to different high schools.
  • We still don’t know when Noah can get his belongings out of his dorm room. There was an online meeting about it on Thursday and Noah attended but he said he didn’t learn much. We know some things about how it will work—it will be done over the course of a few weeks, you need to make an appointment, you can only have one person beside yourself in your room helping you pack—but we don’t know when it will be, which is, of course, what everyone cares about the most. (Meanwhile Noah turned in his last assignment—an infographic about climate change for his environmental science class—yesterday and took his first exam today. He has two more this week and then he will be finished.)
  • Beth’s office has pushed back the date she’ll be going back to the office a couple times, from early May to late May to two weeks after Washington, DC lifts its stay-at-home directive, whenever that is.
  • Takoma Park has cancelled its Fourth of July parade and fireworks. This decision was made largely for financial reasons, because of the strain the pandemic has put on the city budget. Apparently something similar happened during WWII.
  • My sister’s wedding has been postponed until summer 2021. We are sorry, but not surprised, as airline travel this summer seems pretty dicey. Meanwhile North’s been wanting to shave their head and I was making them wait until after the wedding, so now we’ve ordered clippers and Beth’s going to do it when school’s out, as a way of marking the end of the middle school.
  • Two of North’s camps (chorus camp in late July and sleep-away camp in mid-August) have cancelled. Drama camp (in early July) might still happen, but honestly, it seems unlikely. The one North was really hoping to attend was sleep-away camp, as it’s the only time they see those friends, but the camp is planning some online events so campers can connect. It’s also insisting on calling it an “intermission” instead of a cancellation. This seems a little precious to me.
  • Because we no longer need to find the money for four airline tickets to Oregon this summer, we decided to look into renting a house at the beach. However, when I contacted the realty we usually use and asked what kinds of circumstances the travel insurance would cover, the answer was you can only get a refund if someone in your party has covid and can’t travel because of that. Beach closures and/or travel bans aren’t covered unless you purchased the insurance in January or earlier. Considering the beach in Rehoboth is closed now, it didn’t seem prudent to go ahead and rent a house, despite the realtor’s assertion that everything would probably be back to normal by mid-June. (My interpretation of this was that it was wishful thinking on her part or maybe just what her bosses are making her say.) We may revisit this question later, if the situation improves in Maryland and Delaware and we feel safe traveling late in the summer. From the realty website, it looks as if there are more vacancies than usual this time of year, so it might be possible to get a house even if we wait.

As for the fall, your guess is as good as mine, but I hope the kids will go back to school (unless Noah decides to take the semester off to volunteer for a campaign, which he was already considering pre-corona). The school district is considering a bunch of different options, including a hybrid in-person and remote schedule, with various plans for staggered attendance. 

One little wish I have for fall is that on Beth’s fifty-fourth birthday in November we can go out to dinner, if that’s what she wants.

Hey, Nineteen: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 6

So, back in the Before Times, we thought it was sad Noah would be at school for his nineteenth birthday and we were wondering whether to order him a cake from a local bakery or if it would be better to have the cake late, but at home, where we could all partake. So, that’s a decision we won’t have to make until next spring. (He’ll be at school a year from now, right?)

Instead we had another quarantined birthday to celebrate. We started two days early, on Friday when we were ordering takeout pizza and Beth offered to let him pick the restaurant, since it was almost his birthday. He chose Mama Lucia. We ate at the backyard table, right before we walked around the Maypole.

I guess I should back up a little here. It was May Day (Beltane) and North is celebrating the Wiccan holidays these days. The night before Beltane was their night to cook, so they made a meal of traditional Beltane foods—bread with honey butter, onion and goat cheese tarts, and strawberries. They also wanted to make a Maypole. They weren’t sure if they could entice any of the rest of the family to actually dance around it so they asked if we’d walk around it and we all consented. Beth helped construct the pole, by chopping down a weed tree from the back of the yard and making a garland of buttercups to top it.

After a leisurely dinner of garlic knots, fried mozzarella, sautéed spinach, and pizza, North played a Beltane song about the May Lord and the May Lady on their phone and we took turns walking around the pole and wrapping the ribbons around it. It was fun.

We ate in the yard again the next night. We often get Thai the night before Noah’s birthday because Beth and I went out for Thai the night before he was born, three weeks early. We told the story he’s heard many times—how it was the last day of classes that semester and I went to the obstetrician later in the day and he said, “This baby’s not coming any time soon,” and I thought that was good, because I had a pile of final papers to grade. Beth and I had dinner on the balcony of a Thai restaurant near our apartment in the city. (A crowded little balcony, close to other people! The mind reels.) That night, around eleven-thirty, my water broke. When I mentioned we were in bed but hadn’t yet fallen asleep, North exclaimed at us being up so late. It’s true, we used to go to bed at eleven or later, which would be quite a late night for us now. Noah was born around six o’clock the following evening. I graded some of the papers in the hospital.

On Sunday, Beth went grocery shopping early in the morning to avoid the crowds, as is her wont these days. She was out the door before anyone else was out of bed. It was a successful run; she found tofu and Noah’s preferred brand of pasta sauce, both of which have been scarce lately. Because he asked, we’re having pasta for dinner all next week, so we needed the sauce. Beth said it was “a birthday miracle” for Noah.

After she’d returned, I’d put the groceries away, and Noah had eaten breakfast, he opened presents. He got a book called Cinemaps, which consists of maps of the sets of thirty-five movies, with color-coded lines showing where each character goes over the course of the movie. North chose it for him and it’s really cool. He also got an Amazon gift card, an iPad cover, and his big present—a camera drone.

He has more presents coming. Some of his gifts from relatives haven’t arrived. And due to a miscommunication, I only discovered he had a wish list of books two days before his birthday, so none of the ones I ordered arrived on time, but I’d been wanting to buy him books and I went a little crazy and ordered seven novels for him. Finally, he left all his summer clothes and pajamas at school when he thought he was leaving for a week (way back in early March). He has a bunch of t-shirts he left  at home when he left for college and we bought him shorts already, but he still needed short pajamas. There’s a certain brand he likes (and he owns five pairs—all at school) so I was waiting to see if we could possibly get up to Ithaca before it gets hot here. But right before his birthday we found out the date students can come collect their belongings from dorms has been pushed back from mid-May to sometime in June at the earliest. So I ordered two pairs of pajamas to tide him over.

Over the course of the day, the birthday boy talked to my mom, Facetimed with Beth’s mom, watched Portlandia with North and The Magicians with me, and then I read the last twenty-five pages of A Gentleman in Moscow to him. (We agreed to wait for his birthday books to begin arriving until we start a new book, unless nothing gets here by next weekend.) Then he completed a short online training so he could be licensed to fly a drone.

It turns out you can’t legally fly a drone within fifteen miles of Washington, DC, for security reasons, and we live a mile or two from the border, so Beth had to research where you can fly a drone near here. She located a park near Gaithersburg with a dedicated field, but by that time it was mid-afternoon and she was busy making his birthday cake (chocolate with strawberry frosting) and birthday dinner (spinach lasagna), and he wanted to watch a movie after dinner so we decided to go next weekend. We haven’t left the house to go anywhere except to go for short walks around the neighborhood, to the grocery store, or to run other household errands since late March, so driving out to a field to watch Noah try out his drone seems pretty darn exciting. I just hope it’s not too crowded, so we can stay.

Noah asked if he could pick a movie to watch without North getting veto power over it (as they have different taste in films, with just a little overlap) and we said yes. He chose Inception and we watched most of it. We’re going to finish it tonight.

It’s possible a day at home watching television and movies, and reading, and eating lasagna and cake and ice cream is close to the birthday Noah would have chosen for himself. He’s more of a homebody than his sibling and easy to please. It was nice to have him home today and not to have to be separated from him on his birthday for the first time. But it’s like what I told him a few weeks ago, when we were dyeing Easter eggs. “It’s nice to have you home for this and I hope next year you’re not here.”

40 Things: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 5

By now you’ve probably read somewhere that the word “quarantine” derives from the Italian word quaranta, for forty, because forty days was the traditional length of a quarantine. Of course, we are not technically quarantined, as we go for walks, and to buy groceries, and to pick up the occasional takeout meal or garden-related item from the hardware store. But if we were quarantined and we were in Italy in the seventeenth century, today would be the last day.*

But it’s not the last day, or even close, as far as I can tell. Another forty days or more seems entirely possible. My sister was planning to get married in mid-July and she and Dave haven’t called it off yet, but that’s definitely on the table. I don’t know if North will be going to any of the three summer camps they are registered for or if I’ll see the ocean this summer. I’m not even sure if Noah will head back to Ithaca or if North will start high school in person come late August.

But to mark the fortieth day of being at home (almost all the time), here are forty things I can tell you:

  1. Now that he’s not preparing for a concert, Noah doesn’t want to play his drums. His band instructor arranged for the composer of a piece they had been working on to have an online discussion with the members of the band and I convinced him to practice the song before the discussion just to re-familiarize himself with it. I’d hoped once he started to drum, he’d want to go back down to the basement and keep noodling around, but he hasn’t. I still hope he will.
  2. I read The Plague and I am considering reading The Swiss Family Robinson, which I found in a little free library. Other topical reading suggestions?
  3. I have stopped leaving things in the fairy tree. That’s a hollow tree near the playground where people leave toys and trinkets. I’m one of the major contributors, but I’m afraid kids’ parents might not like them bringing home items they found in a public place, so I’m stashing the things North got rid of when they cleaned their room to give away later.
  4. Speaking of playgrounds, the one closest to our house is not fenced off, but a lot of playgrounds around here are. I walked through one yesterday with snow fencing or police tape around all the equipment so kids don’t climb up on it. It seemed really sad.
  5. A couple weeks ago I planted cilantro, parsley, cucumber, kale, sunflower, and zinnia seeds. Not a single one germinated, though we have some volunteer cilantro coming up in a pot in which a cilantro plant went to seed last summer. I have since replanted most of these herbs, vegetables, and flowers.
  6. Speaking of gardening, some neighbors put out a bunch of terra cotta pots on the curb to give away and I almost took them but wondered if I should be touching them. By the time I decided I could just wash my hands when I got home and leave the pots in the yard and not touch them for a few days, someone else had taken them all.
  7. North successfully trimmed Beth’s hair.
  8. North, with some help from Beth, hand sewed cloth masks for all four of us.
  9. When we dyed Easter eggs, two of them wore tiny masks, too, made from scraps of the same fabric.
  10. The kids’ preschool teacher put out a call for current students and alumni to make and photograph themselves wearing flower crowns so she could make an album for Earth Day. North made a crown and they both posed in it. I think it’s possible Lesley is one of just a handful of people in the world Noah would do this for.
  11. In other Earth Day news, I made the Enchanted Broccoli Forest (a rice-based casserole with broccoli trees standing up in it) from the cookbook of the same name for Earth Day dinner. The only problem was I misremembered when Earth Day actually was and I served it two days early. In my defense, it is really hard to keep track of what day it is these days, isn’t it?
  12. We are still watching a lot of television. This was bothering me at the beginning, but I’m just leaning into it now. Now Beth’s the one suggesting we should maybe do some other things together.
  13. And that’s why we played Cards Against Humanity on Wednesday night. We played the family-friendly version because the kids have both played the original version with friends and they agreed they did not want to play it with their parents. You can print the cards for free here. It says it’s designed for kids eight and up, but be warned if you have kids that age, it’s more scatological than I would have liked when my kids were in elementary school. Beth won and she won big, leaving the rest of us in her dust.
  14. North wanted to paint a mural on our backyard fence, so Beth offered to buy a piece of plywood we could hang on the fence for painting. North put a coat of white paint on it yesterday.
  15. North’s been baking a lot. They’ve made a couple of cakes and yesterday they made banana bread with pancake mix because we’re running short on flour. When we get some more, they are going to make sourdough bread. (A friend of ours from college sent us some dehydrated starter in the mail.)
  16. We also need to save flour for Noah’s birthday cake and mine because we’ve got a couple more quarantined birthdays coming up in the next few weeks.
  17. It’s pleasant to think about where I’d like to get takeout on my birthday, and not to decide, so I can think about it some more.
  18. I have days when, despite the fact that we’re all well, and Beth and I both have work and we haven’t lost any income, and the kids are managing their own online schooling so we can work more easily than people with small kids at home, and I know we’re lucky (relatively speaking), this still seems really hard.
  19. I also have days when it feels almost normal.
  20. Sometimes I feel sorry for Noah, losing half a semester of being at college, because it was such an intense and special part of my life and I don’t want him to miss any of it.
  21. Sometimes I feel sorry for North because chances are they won’t get to go back to school and enjoy all the end-of-middle-school events they were looking forward to.
  22. It’s strange not to have North’s friends around.
  23. But in addition to their classes, they have had Zoom meetings with Rainbow Alliance (their school’s gay-straight alliance) and the trans kids’ support group that usually meets once a month at Children’s National Medical Center. I eavesdropped a little on the Rainbow Alliance meeting, though I’m not sure it counts as eavesdropping when North chose to do it in the living room, where I work, without headphones.
  24. It’s not easy working in the living room under these circumstances, but it’s easier than I feared at the beginning.
  25. Sometimes it feels kind of cozy to all be home together, especially since Noah has a light class load this semester and when he’s not smothered in work like he was in middle and high school, we can all hang out together, watching a lot of television or playing card games that revolve around poop jokes.
  26. He’s also more available for chores than he was in high school, so I haven’t mowed the lawn or vacuumed once this spring.
  27. These last two items together makes this time feel almost like a small do-over for a lot of what we all missed during his teen years.
  28. We are still generating an astonishing amount of dishes, but the fact that the kids are both doing more around the house and yard than usual gives me time to devote to more or less constantly cleaning up the kitchen.
  29. The kids have also tackled some chores that don’t get done very often, like window washing and cleaning cobwebs out of corners.
  30. Spring is still very pretty here. We’ve moved on to the dogwood and azalea portion of it, but I’m not taking as many pictures of flowers these days. At some point, it stopped cheering me up.
  31. I still miss going out for coffee, the whole ritual of it, sitting in a public place and sipping a latte and reading a book.
  32. I miss swimming.
  33. And book club.
  34. I am writing a lot of get-out-the-vote and voter registration postcards, which helps me think positive thoughts about the future. I was really pleased when Jill Karofsky won her state Supreme Court seat in Wisconsin, both because I wrote a big batch for her campaign and because the race was so important. Yesterday I did a small batch encouraging Floridians to enroll in Vote By Mail. I would have done more, but I’m running low on both postcards and stamps.
  35. I miss those of you I used to see in person.
  36. If we’re internet friends, I’m enjoying your blog posts and feeling more connected than ever as I read them, as we are all going through different versions of the same thing.
  37. While I’m out on my morning walk, I smile at strangers more than I used to, as we skirt away from each other.
  38. I am grateful for doctors and nurses and other health care workers.
  39. And grocery store workers and mail carriers and other essential workers.
  40. I wish you all good health.

*I’m counting from the first weekday we were all home together. If I counted from the official stay-at-home directive, it would be a couple weeks later.